As others saw us- being an analysis of grassroots imperialism in 19th and early 20th century Africa.

Bethwell A. Ogot in his book History as destiny and history as knowledge, from which the above title is a chapter, writes in the introduction of the book, that

To tell the story of a past so as to portray an inevitable destiny is for humankind a need as universal as tool-making

He defines historicity as the need to picture to oneself what is destined, the belief that the past determines the future while historiography submits its report to the probable and its assumptions to the verifiable.

This blog is not concerned with a review of the whole book but will limit ourselves to one chapter of the book that retells of how the white people saw us, where, us here refers to Africans and specifically to Kenyans. If I should mention other groups, it will only be tangentially.

To start with, he notes that during the C19, a vast amount of negative propaganda and stereotypes about Africans and Africa was generated in order to justify imperialism. Referring to works by Mudimbe and Miller, he notes, from the earliest contact, Africa has been imprinted with European constructs, such that at some moments, Africans were represented as noble while at others monstrous.

People like Lewis Krapf, Rebmann, he writes, came to Kenya to introduce civilization which they mistakenly equated with Christianity. It has been said, and I think correctly, that Christianity was the precursor of colonialization, that the missionaries prepared the grounds for the colonial administration wherever they went.

He notes, one of the areas of contention was what civilization meant. To one group of whites, following the Enlightenment philosophers held the view that it was essentially concerned with the way society was organized. In this view, civilization was equated to capitalism where private property, the state and commerce are fully developed. The other group of whites, like Krapf and Rebmann mentioned earlier, saw the negro as primarily fallen man. Krapf argued that temporal and spiritual benefits could only reach E. Africa through European intervention making him one of the precursors of imperialism.

The representation of Africa as a tribal continent, he writes, is a white people construct. Since ethnic groups exist in societies such as Ireland, Belgium, Spain and so on, one fails to understand why the whites referred to ethnic groups in Africa derogatorily as tribes. For our purposes, it is sufficient to note that ethnic groups and identities are historical creations- they are created by human beings. Ethnicity, in this view, is the consciousness of cultural difference.

To the whites named above and others, regions and people without states are therefore supposed to have no history worth the name. Another Christian missionary working in the Kenyan coast argued slavery was not, after all, the unqualified evil abolitionists thought it was, but that it was better to eradicate it gradually. Another missionary, D Lugard, argued Africans do not appreciate personal freedom.

The idea of Africa as a dark continent, as has been written elsewhere, finds it origins in the philosophies of Hume who wrote there was scarcely a civilized nation of negro complexion while JJ Rousseau proclaimed that blacks were mentally inferior by nature. I want to point in passing that when the Enlightenment philosophers wrote man was a rational being, they limited man to mean white privileged males. Rooted in pseudo-objectivity, male scientists claimed that men were the bearer of reason and rationality while women’s temperament was adversely affected by their dominant reproductive organs which were linked to the central nervous system. Women did not count, they were temperamental and of course, as we have seen already, the negro had no place in their view of nature, in fact, to them, the African was living close to nature. He writes, and I quote

In investigating the savage, the west set up a mirror in which it might find a tangible, if inverted self-image. Non-Europeans filled out the nether reaches of the scale of being, provided the contrast against which a cultivated might distinguish himself. On this scale, the African was assigned a particular base position.

A young Scot, Thompson, travelling through Kenya went even further to rank the different African ethnic groups he interacted with in different evolutionary scales. He, for example, had the Maasai on a loftier position than Wa Kwafi from the coast, who, to him, seemed to have acquired a strain of Negro blood. He didn’t stop there, he ranked the Njemps lower on the scale below Maasais though praised them for their honesty and reliability. The question the author asks at this point is, why should honest, peaceful, hard working agriculturists be ranked lower in human evolution than some thieving, war-like nomads?

The question of nudity, with respect to morality puzzled many Europeans travelers, missionaries and scholars. Dr. Oswald doing some work for the British Museum, was most troubled that despite their nudity, the Luo were a happy cheerful race, living in a state of nature, and at the same time with a high standard of morality. This was only a puzzle because in the European conception of the African, he was immoral. Despite this, he still had space to argue that they were primitive contemporary ancestors of the Scots who should be civilized.

Our author concludes thus

Among the whites in Africa, there was virtual unanimity that in the community of nations Africans were children.


This strain of thought can be seen in many interactions between whites and Africans where they refer to Africans as boy, regardless of age.

To these white people,

The African was emotional, excitable, impulsive, had a happy go lucky nature and lacked forethought.

Krapf, mentioned already, believed

Africans will never achieve anything in philosophy or in theoretical branches of science.

The appropriate end to this post is a quote of Mark Twain

There are many humorous things in the world; among them, the white man’s notion that he is less savage than other savages.

Or better yet

The only difference between the average civilized man and the average savage is that the one is gilded and the other is painted.

from Mogadishu with love

First, a disclaimer. I am not a story teller. That position is held by the likes of Tish and Ark. I don’t think it is even possible to train me to be a story teller. The saying you cannot teach an old dog new tricks must have been said with me in mind. And so, I own that saying. Having made the above declaration, we can now go ahead with my retelling of my trip to Mogadishu.

The airline we flew to Mogadishu, must, as was observed by my colleague, have a contract with a funeral home. We flew an EMB 120, which felt and looked liked it was the first to be made for commercial flights and when the many owners got tired of operating it, African Express discovered in a plane junkyard and put it back together. However, to their credit, the crew managed to take us smoothly to Somalia. I slept most of the trip and when I was not sleeping, I was reading or eating or drinking something.

There was no incident at immigration, thank goodness.

Now, I don’t know about you, but for $150 in Kenya, a taxi could take you for a journey across counties, say Nairobi to Nakuru and back and if you were to hire a car, that would be sufficient for two day hire and fuel to and fro Kisumu. And if it is one of these Toyota cars that flood our market that seem to only smell fuel, you could save some money for simple accommodation on the way. If you are in Mogadishu, that’t the fare from the airport to a hotel 300m away, no kidding.

That’s the boring part. The interesting part is we were picked up in an armored car, with an outrider and chase car. At the hotel, we had the option of wearing bullet proof vests, an opportunity I let pass. They looked too heavy, the heat quite a lot and I don’t think there was anyone who would want to kidnap a broke ass Kenyan who the government may not even miss. So we drove through backstreets and main roads like we owned the place, a feeling I am yet to place. Sometimes they even drove on the wrong side of the road if traffic was slow, it felt like being VIP, or maybe they were trying to justify the $1200 fee we were going to pay at the end.

For $150 a night hotel, we got cold showers. There was the option for no water in the room, though my friend refused that and had to be moved to a smaller room. While I had water, the amount paid meant the shower does no drain. I didn’t ask if there were additional charges for working sanitary fittings, maybe for the next trip.

I think electrical engineers and electricians in Mogadishu need a few lessons on how hotel guests use rooms. For $150, I want a bedside lamp, a ceiling rose not a fluorescent light bulb.

To their credit, they serve very good tea. Their breakfast is hopeless, I mean, really hopeless.

For this trip, I will not mention the two times my bag was searched by a dog, first as you enter the terminal and second in the departure lounge just before boarding. It’s called not taking chances with your security.

A travel report is not complete without pictures, or as they say in our cycling group, if it is not on strava, it didn’t happen.

and you can see the communication tower at the airport from the hotel

beautiful blue sky from the hotel rooftop

for $150 we spell the way we want

how else do you know you are safe? the key and all spares to the main door are seen here hanging

my $150 room

in other places, the hotel gives you one key and a tag with your room number, in other places, they give you all the keys!

it was time to return to Nbi