Friday, February 03, 2006


On Sunday as I was walking- walking and thinking- I met Canute. Canute is an old School friend of mine. He asked me the ubiquitous question “So, what are you up to these days?” See everyone wants to know what you do, and that in one word; lawyer, banker, felon et cetera. But some of us do this and that, which is to mean that we do nothing. So for clarity I will say I am a Pro- Bum. That is to mean that I bum professionally. I spend my non- working day in the ‘hood, chilling. My office is at the stone slabs outside Mutua’s Kiosk. My job description includes: Posing, Flicking my fingers for a Half- life, sipping on Napshizzle and sundry liquor, Walking, Talking and attempting pseudo- intellectual commentary on life from the Living- Dead’s point of view.

I didn’t break it all down that way for Canute, when I met him last Sunday. When I met him on the dusty road into Kibera. (Right next to another
Rehabilitated Public toilet, I have spotted and this one a Project of The Rotary Club of Kenya). But I mentioned, to him, my hacktivism and how I have found a forum for my pseudo- intellectualism on the Internet. (At Tribe for Instance). He asked why I wasn’t posting at Starehe. I cannot really answer that but I have referred to Starehe in my discussion on Peace Corps at the Africa Tribe. Really, I shouldn’t call it a discussion. Rather I gave my Kshs 00.02/- worth.

In relation to my question in the Peace Corps post: [“Who is better qualified to facilitate community based initiatives, in Boon Docks Kenya; The kid fresh out of Yankee College with his copy of "Swahili for dummies" and a dream to change the world or the Local boy who went to University of Nairobi and now has no job? Who has a better understanding of the underlying problems and needs of that community? Who is a more committed 'stake holder' to any ensuing development initiatives?”] Canute echoed
Phil's argument: ["Why wouldn't the two work together? Both with education, the local boy with knowledge of the ins and outs of the politics, culture and obviously some smarts, and the "Yankee" with the Harvard degree who may be eager to apply some skills learned from an excellent school?"]

And I agree with that thinking My sole problem, though, is not with the Yankee kid with his back-packful of desire to heal the world, but with the Neo- colonialist intent of the system that funds him.

That and the subtle perpetuation of American social- cultural hegemonies. The university kid from Kenya might be able, as I told Canute, to swim against the "This is how it is done in America..." tide. He might be able to sift through the American's rhetoric borrow only that knowledge that is relevant to teh peculiar needs of his community and armed with that and his insider perspective on the target group, tailor a solution that is in tandem with with teh aspirations of his people. A uniquely local solution to a local problem. A solution that is not informed by a condescending treatise on 'why the pastrolist starves to death while he has ten cows', written after interviews with a bunch of yuppies at the Hilton.

But what about teh semi literate kid from Kibera who worries most about his next meal and where to have his toilet- if he has any? I worry about the influence the humanitarian throng has on him. He grows grows up knowing that Mazungu feeds him, takes him to school and builds him a toilet. He believes what they tell him: that the African is unable to run a government, that the African thinks Urban Planning is about grabbing Public Land. The African kid is taught, ever so covertly, that he is nothing on his own. That his ideas aren't worth listening to unless CNN says so. (This must all be what
Keguro aptly refers to as 'Colonial Infibulation').

Think about it, why are Kenyan kids spending sleepless nights over an elusive American Visa? Why do they want to be Americans when they grow up? Wanting to get to America by any means even when they have no clue about what they plan to do when they get there? It is because they have been taught that only a Mazungu system works- creates opportunities. That you are better off flipping Burgers at Burger King than as a doctor in Kitui. They have no hope for a better Kenya attainable through their individual and collective worth/ effort.

These kids feel that the reason why their government has failed them is because it is an African government and thus incompetent and corrupt...."si unajua tu Mwafrika!"
Even their grandparents yearn for the colonial days.

Through the Aid Industry and such donor driven initiatives, the Native has remained dependent on the North for condoms, food, Basic Education, ARVs et cetera, and can therefore not attempt to break the slave- master relationship. (Fanon refers to it as the Nagoya bond or something.) The native can never be free. Doesn't even desire to be so, because he is clueless about what to do with Madaraka. Surely, as my grandmother (R.I.P) used to say "The white man is like God"

All that Canute, is why I, with all due respect to your suggestion, will not change my paradigm.


Kaunda said...

I'm not even together enough to get my backback and join up with the Peace Corps. Still, the problem you describe is something that applies to me and I think about.

Your hacktivism provides a work-around. At the same time a person in Kenya and the UK, USA or anywhere around the world can read your post. Not only that, they can comment. So dialog, at least to some degree changes it to a two-way, or even multi-directional conversation.

It's really tough for Africans here in the US. One of the frustrating things many face here is the open sore of racism and the legacy of racism. Unexpected is how strained relationships can be with black Americans.

Pan-Africanism still has some currency here. I don't see any conflict between that and Pan-Humanisn. Yes, of course what deserves most of our attentions are local issues. But whatever happens anywhere affects eveyone everywhere else. So it's also important that we as human beings face up to the challenges that we all face.

Going back to the challenges of Africans living here in the USA. I think there's real potential for them to bring other Americans into constructive engagement with Africans. But I think it's also important to understand, or at least try to, how hard they are squeezed here. Trying their best and often ridiculed by people at home, or characterized as being interested only in themselves.

Thanks Potash for engaging with others via the Internet, some real good will come of this ;-) at least I hope so.

Keguro said...

You have a wonderful texture with language. Add me to your list of fans.

Nyonda said...

"why are Kenyan kids spending sleepless nights over an elusive American Visa? Why do they want to be Americans when they grow up? Wanting to get to America by any means even when they have no clue about what they plan to do when they get there?"

Sounds like me. In '06 I spent millions of hours getting the Visa then got here with little idea what I wanted in America. Immediately you land you are hit with so many bills there is little time to sit and ponder the I'm in the USA now what question. Once you realize what you did you also realize that it is too late to go back. After spending a million Shs to get to America ni haibu kurudi on a whim. You decide to hustle. 4 years later I'm still waiting for a break so that I think of what next. Meanwhile I'm embarrassed to call my friends who failed the visa interview coz I cannot bear their stories of 'niligraduate' 'mkidi wangu' or 'nafungua branch Kisumu'