My Kenyan Obsessions

Part I

Hand making the V sign, Kenya flag painted

Matters of a Contemporary Kenya

All is well, usually before weaving into the Kenyan contemporary narrative; until my peers and I are nudged to commit to an identity tag. The working tag on such occasions is the ever tempting subjugation of my very own self. A self that I have wanted to belong and in doing so, submit to the meaning of life. The dilemma in this case, and which forms the better part of this essay, is somewhat an ideal to conform. To fit in, and easily-comfortably retreat into the Kenyan rhetoric as a whole and without pretending. In any case, fitting in might entail initiation into certain non-conducive aspects of society – that should apparently appear as insensitive and with the most possible light ever.

Yet, to sink in back to who I really am and out of the self-creation that I have identified as for years. It is a tempting pressure to shed off the observe of my society, everything that society has cultivated in me and I deem wrong. Wrong not in my eyes but in the eyes of Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo’s seminal text ‘Decolonizing the Mind: the Politics of Language in African Literature.’ In which Ngũgĩ claims ‘I shall look at the African realities as they are affected by the great struggle between the two mutually opposed forces in Africa today: an imperialist tradition on one hand, and a resistance tradition on the other.’


What remains today of the Kenyan Identity are an insipid redemption from imperialism, the crux of foreign assimilation and the cleansing of our African soul. The concept of slavery and colonialism might be an entirely odd topic to convey in these times; but inwardly to state that despite 1964, despite independence – we are still battling a persistent disease to remain afloat. The standard expectation, even as malignant as it would be, imposes upon you to be shameful of your roots, your language and in conforming to this choking alienation of what rightfully belongs to us – language ; we somewhat have drunk away our intellectual thoughts and dug away the soul of our African spirit; to the extent of raising a bushy tailed strain of African so –called – intellects who cannot speak a word from their ethnic language.

Ngũgĩ decries this cultural isolation of our own language, as ‘linguicide’, a form of atrocity that destroys memories and kills culture. In writing, I usually fall into a dilemma. One that I have to contend with in order to create an image of art that represents my true identity. Whilst in this contention, I try to envision a subject matter with which I think from my roots (My mother tongue) and outline it in English. Even as I have done this for years, I haven’t recognized the sensitivity of this lone activity, as it often undermines my Kenyan individuality. If I can think in my mother tongue, then what actually holds me back from writing in my mother tongue? Today’s western ideologies challenge my African particularity; whether, at the least expectations, can we even exist outside the box of western integrities?  Whether we Kenyans can exist in the skins of our own personality? It is in the context of this subject that I grant myself the artistic license to challenge whatever that is not African, which is not Kenyan, and which is not conservatist. Education, fashion, religion, entertainment and the political idiocy included that we are forced into every single day in our lives.


In the opening paragraph of Decolonizing the Mind, Ngũgĩ draws the image of an African in a continued ceaseless struggle to free him/herself, from the pitiless imperialism of Euro-American based politics, economics and culture. It is in fact a struggle, a rebellious war of liberation from the shackles of neo-colonialism but one that Africans, Kenyans have given up on. And like post trauma stressed victims of a lost walk, they resort to foreign culture, as if it’s the drug that heals their pain of loss.

The exclusive use of foreign language in schools and the extent of lashing a few scholars in elementary that do not comfort to this linguifuckery; has projected what Ngũgĩ describes as a language famine in the continent. In today’s Kenya, would parents only hope of having an enlightened kid is a suppression to only speak in English and not their mother tongue? And if you haven’t noticed the voluble clarity of your peers refer to another as mzungu (White Man) when they spoke with a foreign twang in their voices.

Award Winning Literature Guru: Ngũgĩ wa Thiongo

As if this blatant idiocy is not enough, we have seen such mzungus become the object of attention and praise because they appear more civilized and learned than their counterparts. I see you counteract to this, free yourself from the guilt and besides smack the hell bitter aggravation to my face. Now you want to argue and claim that it’s a matter of society and society prides in what is good. So what is good, and If any, and in what context and in comparison to what? The conservatist meru in me that hasn’t left out the ‘M’ in M-bush for you to know am talking about a bush?

I wouldn’t write that way, no way and I’m not encouraging affection towards highly accented articulation; and even if I would, there is no way I would acknowledge, a social transformation of wordings and spellings in the   Oxford dictionary to fit my Kenyannesse. Nevertheless, this would give writers like me more head ache when getting published in the New Yorker. What I’m trying to say, is could we at least appreciate our roots and love our languages. For what’s the need for your son dear parent to learn English, French, German and Mandarin when your Luo ascent has a more dramatic cadence at the Kenya National Theater?


Photo Credits:

Roxanne Shewchuk

Jimmy Jimmy

Daniel A Anderson


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