Monday, 29 October 2012 09:48

Hate Thy Neighbor?

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A few months ago, I was looking at my facebook page, as one does. A facebook friend drew my attention to an article by Sunny Bindra in his Sunday column, Sunny Day. For some reason, I hadn’t bought the relevant newspaper, so, I was glad of the opportunity to get up to date. I like reading Sunny on a Sunday, if only because we formed a mutual admiration society from the years when both of us served on the inaugural, editorial committee of Awaaz.

On that particular Sunday, Sunny, always a bit of a preacher man in Sunny Day, as I am in Alternative Angle, had chosen to hold forth about what he called the ‘money madness’ of Kenyans, to the exclusion of a caring, sharing society and to the exclusion of giving any respect to those deemed not to have enough money to register on the richests’ scale. I tended to agree with him, as fawning sycophancy is, indeed, the preserve of those with lots of choomz, the  Sheng (local, Kiswahili slang) for money. So, nodding to my computer screen in agreement, I moved on to the comments below the uploaded article. One view in particular, caught my attention. Without reprinting the actual words used, the gist of them was that Bindra had no right to comment on Kenyans’ behaviour as he himself wasn’t one. Didn’t he know, better than most, that for every major scandal in Kenya’s history involving money, the middleman was a muhindi, like Bindra. The thing for him to do would be to go back to ‘the Punjab,’ whence he came and to leave Kenyans alone. Significantly, this kind of abuse had been directed almost a year earlier at Rasna Warah, yet another member of the inaugural committee of Awaaz, (and , incidentally, also someone whom I greatly admire), for sentiments which she had expressed about our fractious relations with neighbouring Somalia. She too was told that she had no right to say what she was saying because she wasn’t a Kenyan. As it turns out, both Rasna and Sunny are Kenyans, damu.

These two incidents were yet more reminders of the social media’s capacity, for all their benefits, to propagate hatred. I must confess that, a year before, my reaction had been that what I was reading were simply the fulminations of a crazed fanatic, to be dismissed out of hand. But, the more I think about it, the more I ask myself  just how many such fanatics are there and how many of them are to be found right here in our midst? And the other question is whether the correct response is, indeed, to dismiss them out of hand? After all wasn’t it just the other day that a Norwegian man’s defence for killing close to seventy people in cold blood was that he had chosen to commit a small barbarism in order to forestall the greater one of multiculturalism. Although, touch wood, no such murderer is yet to emerge in Kenya, the flames of xenophobia are undeniably in evidence in this country, particularly with an increasing number of immigrants, notably from India and China, representing a new, 21st century wave from South and East Asia.

What I find ironic in all this is that what is, ostensibly, good for the goose is not necessarily good for the gander. Allow me to explain:

My fellow, ‘black’ Kenyans have always considered it a badge of success to end up living and working in the UK, or in the USA, or in Switzerland, or in France, anywhere, really, as long as it is Out of Africa. They welcome being anything from plumbers to petrol pump attendants, to corporate executives, to diplomats as long as they are ‘out there.’ They are prepared to put up with challenging social and climatic conditions, in return for what they feel is an improved quality of life. Their children are entitled to good state or private education.  Their relations back home are delighted to declare that they have kith and kin who are ‘huko, abroad,’ and announce them as such, with great pride, in obituary notices.  And in all these foreign countries, these ‘black’ Kenyans encounter other ‘black’ people who are, in fact, citizens of those countries, with all the rights and privileges that pertain thereto. In their heart of hearts, they too would love to become British or American or Swiss or French citizens, with varying degrees of difficulty in achieving that desire. They discover, to their horror that their fellow, ‘citizen blacks,’ do not immediately embrace them and identify with them on the grounds of race alone. Quite the contrary! Once in a while, these Kenyans abroad grab negative headlines, at home and abroad, for things like murder, cannibalism, extortion and drug abuse. Majority populations in the foreign countries make little distinction between their ‘black’ citizens and their ‘black’ foreigners. The equation is: ‘All of them are black and all of them are tainted!’ Just a few thoughts away from: ‘And we hate them all!’

Almost all these scenarios could be or will be replicated here, with Kenya as the magnetic country, but attracting Asians in the place of Africans. This is the first thing that fanatical anti-multiculturalists, to coin a long word, ought to appreciate. In much the same way that climate change, real or imagined, is having and will have a profound effect on the way we interact with Mother Earth, so, the world as a Global Village is having and will  have a profound effect on the way we interact with each other. The idea of one country, one race is no longer a tenable construct, if ever it was. And Kenyans would do well to register further that, on a smaller scale, the idea of one region, one tribe is no longer tenable, either. What is tenable is that all human beings seek to survive as and where best they can. So, there must be lots of Kenyans delighted at the prospect of being American citizens after so many years of irregular residency, as decreed recently by President Barack Obama. We should imagine others in Kenya in similar shoes and with similar expectations.

Let me draw to a close by offering some words of comfort and reassurance from none other than Nelson Mandela, the Great Reconciler and Fountain of Edifying Quotations, from his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom:

No one is born hating another because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People must learn to hate and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.

Let’s all hope that the great man is right.

In this regular column a teacher, writer and media personality starts from personal anecdote to present an outsider’s reflections on the experience of a different community. The views expressed are entirely his own. His website



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