A case of poor journalism

In the crazy Monday section of the Monday standard, Duya Owuor has a full page splash entitled Black Magic: Even urbane Kenyans now believe in witchcraft, a piece one would expect would be accompanied with a history of belief in witchcraft and at the bare minimum an indication as to the time period where Kenyans in specific and Africans in general abandoned their beliefs in witchcraft.

The article starts thus

There is perception that only the poor, the less educated, non believers and villagers consult witch doctors, or at least, believe in witchcraft. But as it turns out, educated, spiritual and urbane Kenyans now embrace too.

which if you ask me is such an outlandish claim. It is ridiculous to claim that a non believer embraces witchcraft unless of course ones non belief is not understood.  The other most outlandish claim with this opening salvo is the one claim about educated Kenyans now embracing witchcraft. And one must ask when did they not? I do understand newspapers must make sales but such an article should be in the gutter press.

Owuor writes in the same piece that there are vegetable sellers who use water from the morgue to wash their wares. This is something that would border on the criminal. Why would any morgue attendant sell water they have used to wash corpses to anyone? Is this not a public health issue that would warrant investigation? Our journalist presents it as a matter of course.

He doesn’t stop there. He tells us people use juju to protect their jobs and gives this as the reason why women will never allow you to peak into their handbags. All along I thought it was about privacy. Those handbags carry their private belongings which they don’t want every Tom, Dick and Harry peeping into. I make it a point to leave women’s bags alone same way I don’t want peeping Toms in my wallet. But to Owuor, it is about witchcraft.

And what, if I may ask, are witchcraft paraphernalia? At what point do they differ from totems? Or even a rosary bead? Isn’t the expectation the same? That by wearing the rosary or having holy water (sic), one is protected from evil intentions. Is this not any different from keeping a totem in the hope that someone with intentions that are otherwise not good would not succeed?

In a country where politicians are among some of the highest paid workers, it is expected, if they visit witch doctors, they are likely to pay more. This, I think, should go without saying. Owuor however doesn’t give us any reasons to support his claim that witch doctors reap big from politicians. He tells us an MP who drowned was found with Ksh. 270,000 ($2,700) and witchcraft related paraphernalia. How does one conclude that this money was meant for a witch doctor? If this is not sloppy or sensationalist journalism, I don’t know what is.

Owuor referring to a case pitting former MP Musikari Kombo against IEBC and others where he had been accused and found guilty of administering traditional oaths to bind and instill fear in voters to elect him which while being a very interesting case lacks context. First on oathing (especially in this country both during and post colonial eras) and state formation.

It’s been said (too lazy to get the references) that the African christian has their feet on two sides; one side in Christianity and the other in tradition. In the event the Kenyan African is faced with a dilemma that the christian beliefs are not equipped to address, they turn immediately to tradition and this involves consulting traditional doctors/ witch doctors or diviners- whatever one wants to call them. It is therefore not strange that some urbane individual will consult a witch doctor.

Or maybe, crazy Monday is not meant to have any material of journalist rigor in which case I apologize to Owuor for being very critical of his piece.

For further reading, please look at the following links

Believe it or not: Witchcraft in Kenya

The Impact of Magic and Witchcraft in the Social, Economic, Political and Spiritual Life of African Communities (pdf)

‘GOING BUSH’: BLACK MAGIC, WHITE AMBIVALENCEAND BOUNDARIES OF BELIEF IN POSTCOLONIALKENYA (pdf)

CONFLICTING CODES AND CONTESTED JUSTICE: WITCHCRAFT AND THE STATE IN KENYA (pdf)

The Witches of Baltimore


In the same Monday Standard, professor Munene in an article entitled Mbiti defended African religion, but was not feted wrote

religion and philosophy were Mbiti’s intellectual war fronts. He distinguished himself by asserting that Africans knew God(he must mean the Christian god) and were Christian before the Europeans. Being notoriously religious, Mbiti declared that Africans did everything religiously, whether in the past, present or future.

which I find rather disappointing. Mbiti, an Anglican priest, bastardized African religion. He made unfounded claims about Africans relationship with time among others things. In his magna opus, African Religion and Philosophy, there is little that is philosophical or tied to African religion. One however understands the context in which he was writing. Works by people like Levi Bruhl(?) had even questioned the humanity of the African. While the claim the Africans were Christians before the coming of the Europeans is true with respect to the Orthodox Church in Ethiopia and Coptics in Egypt, their influence was too narrow to be considered in any debate about the spread of Christianity in Africa.

individual African’s religious commitments

There has been a huge debate by others more lettered than yours truly on what constitutes African philosophy and going far as to ask whether such a description is even necessary, arguing for example, that there is no African math or chemistry or physics. You get the drift. I am not going to concern myself with that question here. Anyone interested in the discussions around it can look for works by Wiredi, Masolo, Odera Oruka, Oriare Nyarwath, Alexis Kagame, Lucius Outlaw and many others.

In his book, Sage Philosophy, Odera Oruka interviewed people he considered sages and transcribed their views on many subjects. In this post, I concern myself only with their views on death and god(s).

One saw death as a good because through natural attrition, space is created for others and thus avoiding overpopulation (I wish he read population data- there are more births than deaths p.a, at least in Kenya). He also believed that we are all part of one universal soul that is called god. Further, he says god is one except each people have their own name for god. This sage also said we all speak different languages because if we had one tongue, we would see ourselves superior to god- tower of Babel anyone?

There is, I think, Christian influence in the ideas of this next sage. For example he says about death being good because it is the work of god and further he believes in an afterlife arguing that to die is to be called by god.

Death is the end of man, says our next sage. And it is an evil. He goes so far as to say had we the power to evade death, we would. We try to put off our death through use of medicine and all. God exists as thought and does not have forms (Christians, Judaists and Muslims you have your work set out for you to explain how we are made in the image of god). There is a contradiction however because the same sage argues that god created the sun.

God belongs to the whole world and should not be worshiped everyday or every Friday/Saturday or Sunday as Muslims, Jews and Christians do but should be worshiped occasionally and for special reasons.

God exists because people talk about it. God is one and belongs to all people otherwise we would see discrimination in the distribution of such natural gifts as rain and sunshine (and earthquakes and tsunamis). This mzee’s idea of death is what I loved the most. I will quote

Many people argue that life is good and the better of the two. It is in living that mankind multiplies itself. And as we said earlier on, it is in life that man realizes himself as man. But I think that death is of greater gain. Death is eternal and everlasting in its nature. While life is a short-term process with an inevitable deadline and doomsday, death is a permanent state. In death, there is a completeness of being.

God is one for all people but should be worshiped occasionally when there is need. Peris adds that we each experience and interpret god in our own ways.

Simiyu Chaungo argued that death is neither good not bad. You have no choice on the matter, whether you want it or not, you die. He believed in the existence of a god and further that god could be the sun given that the sun shines its light everywhere. On religions, he said there is just some little truth in them but not much.

Mzee Oruka Rang’inya argued it is quite wrong to personalize god. It is an idea, a useful idea. To him, god represents the idea of goodness itself and to this end, it is useful as a concept. He believed that secularists were not right thinking people for religion had practical utility. Death is like how a farmer thins his maize farm. It gives the younger generation more scope and opportunity to develop themselves. The idea of heaven is fictitious. Upon death, life of man ceases.

To Mzee Kithanje believed there is one god for everyone and that the idea of many religions doesn’t make sense. God is like warmth and cold that brings life. He believed that the sperm of a man was hot and the ovum cold and the fusion of the two brings forth life, so is god.

Ker Mbuya Akoko said the Luo regarded Nyasaye as omnipresent and it is the white people who brought fragmentation into religion by bringing different denominations. He further says the Luo were wrong in thinking their Nyasaye was different from the god of the white people. He argues that their is one god because if there were many gods, there would be chaos resulting from each god pulling in different directions (I think he was not acquainted with Greek mythology).

And lastly Chaungo Barasa on the other hand argued that without man, there would be no god. He sees god as a filler for our ignorance. He says, and I quote

We do not have a particular entity, an external being called god. God then is a substitute for what is beyond mind (ignorance if you like. My emphasis). That is, if man were to pursue and realize the state of intellectual perfection, the mystery of god would be revealed.

I don’t know about you, but I did find the ideas of these men and women quite interesting to say the least. That some of them seem to question the existence of god as a physical being or entirely makes the argument put forth by the Late Canon Mbiti in African Religions and Philosophy that the African is deeply religious and where he is there is religion not entirely true. It would be of great intellectual interest if such interviews were conducted in the rest of Africa though I think we are time barred.

Happy Saturday everyone, free of the gods and fear of death,

a short story or thoughts out of season

Kenya is a multi ethnic society. In the over 57 years of independence, the presidents have come from Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups. From the way things look, a Kalenjin ( and a thief) seem poised to be the next president of the republic. There is talk in some quarters that this monopoly of the top seat by these two communities doesn’t bode well for the commonwealth and if it continues in this vein, then their might even be secession or civil war whichever is the worst.

This brings me to the discussion I was having with my host in Garowe, Puntland. For those of you who know anything about Somalia, a lot of things- including governance happen at clan level. SO how have they addressed the issue of who becomes president? Easy. There are three main regions- Garowe, Galkayo and I think Nugal ( I wasn’t paying attention at this point). The president serves a 5 year term ( I think). To solve the problem of clan infighting, the position of president rotates within these three groups.

You maybe thinking this process is not democratic. That’s where there is ingenuity. Anyone can vie during the presidential election. I think the good people of Puntland have come to the conclusion anyone can be president so they obey the gentleman’s agreement and elect the president based on a rotational basis to keep the peace and the nation together.

I don’t know how this would work for Kenya or even if it is desired. But I think a fair and transparent election, equitable distribution of resources and a sense of respect to the rule of law would go along way in easing tensions in the country.


In a different story but still in Puntland. They don’t have car insurance. The community is responsible for you. In the event that you were to be involved in an accident, the community elders would be called and decide on the payment. This payment will be collected from all the families with boys. Same thing for bride price.


There is a lock down in Mogadishu and all non essential movement is restricted. So anyone who was expecting me to buy them anything from this beautiful coastal city will have to wait till my next visit.


I got to cycle in Somalia. That was the best experience. Maybe i will do it again the next time I visit.


 

Capital punishment in Kenya

This author has on more than one occasion argued against the death penalty, arguing as others more eloquent and read than I have, that the death of one innocent person outweighs all the benefits to society achieved through the death penalty. There are many places in the world where the death penalty is still in the statute books. There are occasions I have been almost persuaded that having the death penalty is good so there is a way to deal with politicians and the corporate types who collapse banks with people’s savings and the like. I believe, however, that an active volcano would do just fine for this group of miscreants.

But I digress. Capital punishment was introduced in Kenya by the Brits (remember they came to civilize the Africans: sarc) in 1893. While it’s use was not so prevalent in the early days of the colonial state, it got to a crescendo during the emergency years and from what I have read, many Africans were hanged on very flimsy grounds, rules of evidence were swept aside and the conduct of the cases were such that the accused in many cases were not represented. In short, there was miscarriage of justice in the interests of the crown.

It appears also that its application was racially motivated or biased, if the comments of the District Commissioner for Nyeri is to be believed. In 1921, the DC is reported as having said

sometimes i wonder whether in this country, capital punishment is not inflicted on natives more often than is necessary to attain the ends of justice. (Hynd, 2012).

In my conclusion, my other argument for abolishing capital punishment in Kenya is because it is a colonial relic instituted not so much for the interests of justice but law and order.


Hynd S (2012) Toward a History of Violence in Colonial Kenya. The International Journal of African Historical Studies, 45 1 pp 88-101

Mau Mau and Nationhood

In political debates in Kenya, the refrain from a section of the polity are fond of remarking that only the Kikuyu fought for independence and remind the rest of us that without Mau Mau, there would be no independence or it would have happened much later than it did.  While I don’t want to cast aspersions on how knowledgeable about the history of our independence these people are, I will say they are mostly common folk who repeat what they have heard without ever bothering to do any digging.

Mau Mau and Nationhood is my current read. It’s a collection of articles by eminent scholars, and I don’t use that word carelessly.

Some time back I wrote this summary on the same subject and continuing with the same line of thought, I will just pose a few more questions that I find interesting.

  • Has there been a country where all the masses rose as one to fight the colonizing party? Why not? Why does a section of the polity not join in the fight?
  • Since we are told without the Mau Mau, there would be no independence, we can ask how many Europeans did they kill?
  • Kenyatta said we all fought for independence. Who, then, do we celebrate on the 20th?
  • was Kenyatta and Mau Mau concerned with the national project and was Mau Mau the only militant group?
  • Why did Mau Mau activists kill Ofafa?
  • Was Harry Thuku a collaborator or an independence hero?
  • There are those who argue that the national project, if it ever was there, ended with the assassination of Mboya. Is this really the case or did end it much earlier?
  • Why is there little talk of the Oromo people’s resistance?
  • Or why has no one ever mentioned to me the Somali-Galla line (PDF) and the Kittermaster line (separating the Samburu grazing lands of the Leroghi plateau from the larger Laikipia plateau, which had been reserved for white settlers)
  • Or why is there is little talk of Maasai nationalism with its headquarters in Sanya Chini, Tanzania?
  • what were the debates going on in the forest? how were the issues of gender, marriage, religion and violence dealt with?

Nation building makes for interesting history. Earnest Renan argued for forgetting the past and forging a new unified history, what is generally called, imagined histories. Others have argued differently. So here we are, trying to understand the early days of the nation called Kenya. What were the discussions taking place and where were these discussions? What form was the nation to take?

History repeats itself

first as farce, then as tragedy

I don’t want to be accused of impugning the reputation of the president and deputy president of Kenya by claiming they read anything beyond how to steal our money and security briefs on who was killed where by their security organs. Or which sector can they stuff or is it staff with their minions. Talking of which, I have never heard any of them cite any work. Nada. Nor have I heard them say anything that is worth quoting and no, I am not talking of silly things like mnataka nifanye nini or Ruto wept or security starts with you. 

In 1875, Engels, in an essay titled On social relations in Russia, wrote, and I will quote it extensively because it almost applies word for word for our situation in Kenya.

It is clear that the condition of the Russian peasants since the emancipation from serfdom, has  become intolerable and cannot be maintained much longer, and that for this reason alone, if for no other, a revolution is in the offing in Russia … Her financial affairs are in extreme disorder. Taxes cannot be screwed any higher, the interest on old state loans is paid by means of new loans, and every new loan meets with greater difficulties; money can now be raised only on the pretext of building railways! The administration, corrupt from top to bottom … The entire agricultural production … completely dislocated by the redemption settlement of 1861 … The whole held together with great difficulty and only outwardly by an Oriental despotism the arbitrariness of which we in the West simply cannot imagine; a despotism that, from day to day, not only comes into more glaring contradiction with the views of the enlightened classes and, in particular, with those of the rapidly developing bourgeoisie of the capital, but, in the person of its present bearer, has lost its head, one day making concessions to liberalism and the next, frightened, cancelling them again and thus bringing itself more and more into disrepute. With all that, a growing recognition among the enlightened strata of the nation concentrated in the capital that this position is untenable, that a revolution is impending, and the illusion that it will be possible to guide this revolution along a smooth, constitutional channel. Here all the conditions of a revolution are combined, of a revolution that, started by the upper classes of the capital, perhaps even by the government itself, must be rapidly carried further, beyond the first constitutional phase, by the peasants; of a revolution that will be of the greatest importance for the whole of Europe, if only because it will destroy at one blow the last, so far intact, reserve of the entire European reaction. This revolution is surely approaching.

If I were to rewrite the above quote to reflect what is going on in Kenya, it would read something like this

It is clear that the condition of the Kenyan worker (citizen) since the emancipation from colonial rule, has  become intolerable and cannot be maintained much longer, and that for this reason alone, if for no other, a revolution is in the offing in Kenya … Her financial affairs are in extreme disorder. Taxes cannot be screwed any higher, the interest on old state loans is paid by means of new loans, and every new loan meets with greater difficulties; money can now be raised only on the pretext of building railways! The administration, corrupt from top to bottom … The entire agricultural production … completely dislocated by the redemption settlement of 1963… The whole held together with great difficulty and only outwardly by an Oriental despotism the arbitrariness of which we in the West simply cannot imagine; a despotism that, from day to day, not only comes into more glaring contradiction with the views of the enlightened classes and, in particular, with those of the rapidly developing bourgeoisie of the capital, but, in the person of its present bearer, has lost its head, one day making concessions to liberalism and the next, frightened, cancelling them again and thus bringing itself more and more into disrepute. With all that, a growing recognition among the enlightened strata of the nation concentrated in the capital that this position is untenable, that a revolution is impending, and the illusion that it will be possible to guide this revolution along a smooth, constitutional channel. Here all the conditions of a revolution are combined, of a revolution that, started by the upper classes of the capital, perhaps even by the government itself, must be rapidly carried further, beyond the first constitutional phase, by the peasants; of a revolution that will be of the greatest importance for the whole of Africa, if only because it will destroy at one blow the last, so far intact, reserve of the entire African reaction. This revolution is surely approaching.

That, my friends is the state of the republic as it currently stands and as I have said, our leaders don’t read. It is likely they will progress with their heads buried in the sand while giving us the one finger salute.

 

Politicians and the church in Kenya

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

There is a storm brewing in my backyard, but it is all smokes and mirrors.

For some time now, churches have always invited politicians, including the dee pee,  and the well to do in the community to their fundraising activities. You all know god wants money. So one would ask, why is there trouble? One, the dee pee question (if you know, you know). Reports show he has been too generous leading many people to question the source of his wealth. Well, we generally have an idea but we would want to hear him say it.

Why is the storm all smokes and mirrors? A section of the church goers are complaining that politicians have taken over their pulpits. But this is a half truth or just a plain lie. Churches, clergy and the general population in most events treat politicians as demigods. They get deferential treatment at gatherings and are usually offered opportunity to speak wherever. In church, you have a captive audience and any politician would use such an occasion to push his agenda.

After receiving millions of shillings from politicians and other bureaucrats, clergy and their sheeple have now developed a conscience and do not want this money. Well, not happening. The good archbishop of the ACK church has said they want the money, but please be quiet about it. A cross-section of the population have however interpreted this to mean the good bishop is saying no to politicians and any stolen money. One would think only politicians are guilty of sleaze, but this is not true.

My fellow countrymen and women should stop being hypocrites. We all know god wants money. And wants a lot of it. For what I don’t know. Out of 175 countries ranked, Kenya is ranked 144. And it is not the case that only the political class is driving this corruption. We all are. And last I checked, the world factbook gives this break down of religious affiliation Christian 83% (Protestant 47.7%, Catholic 23.4%, other Christian 11.9%), Muslim 11.2%, Traditionalists 1.7%, other 1.6%, none 2.4%, and unspecified at 0.2% of the population, as estimated in 2009, which can only be translated that it is driven by religious people. They make the majority. So why pretend that you don’t want dirty money in your churches?

I say. let the religious people stop pretending they have developed some spine. Moi always went to a church, was thought of as one of the most religious people in Ke but presided over plunder, unsolved murders and so on. Kibaki no different. Muigai and Ruto are all Christians but have presided over plunder of a nation not seen before in this country since the beginning of self-rule. Well, maybe not as much as Kamau wa Ngengi grabbed land. Just keep inviting the politicians to your churches, we understand your gods/ parsons want money,  and the politicians want a captive audience, which the church provides. It is win- win. God/ parsons get money. The politician gets a captive audience.

End of Thursday sermon.