Is it right for a whole Head of State (read: Zuma) to dance around dressed only in cheetah hide at his 5th wedding ceremony for the world to see? What about Swaziland’s King Mswati III and his annual “umlhanga” (Reed Dance), is it right for him to have a soccer pitch full of bare-breasted girls dancing before him so he can pick his next bride? Is it right for us as Kenyans, to have men and women in beads and full maasai attire, dancing and singing, every single time we’re welcoming a foreign delegation at the airport?
All these practices and others continue up to this day because they are said to be part of our ‘African culture’. But I still find myself questioning the extent to which this ‘culture’ is relevant in modern times. I think all the practices listed above are primitive. I think its primitive for any man to go around acquiring wives like they were pieces of real estate that he was buying, it doesn’t matter who you are or whether your fathers and fore-fathers did the same thing. I think traditional practices should be confined to traditional settings only and should have no place at airport runways, conference rooms and national stadia.
Here are a few other things I find primitive:
1. The Kenyan Flag: Have you ever tried explaining to an outsider what exactly our flag means? I always tend to get a bit fiddly these days especially post- 2008. A country cannot be said to be progressive and modern when the very symbol that is meant to represent it, depicts crude weapons used centuries ago by hunters and gatherers. Indeed, a national flag is a powerful symbol and send a strong message to the rest of the world. Kenya is known because of its flag and the colours on it. The colours are fine by me but the depiction of the weapons is not relevant in today’s day and age. During the post-election violence, I cringed every time I saw our flag’s spears and shield on BBC or Al Jazeera news broadcasts because those were the weapons being used in the violence and slaughter of fellow Kenyans while those same weapons on the flag are meant to symbolize our struggle for independence. This important meaning has been lost in recent times and so we should consider changing our flag to reflect our departure from our bloody past and that we are truly a peaceful and progressive nation. If you look at the harmonized draft constitution, the second schedule article 10 lists the national symbols of the Republic including the National Flag which is drawn with exact measurements and described in detail. In one of my comments to the Committee of Experts last year, I suggested that this Article 10(a) ought to be amended and that our flag should be changed. The shield and spears should be on our Coat of Arms only and must be removed from our flag.
2. Dowry/ bride-price: Inch’allah my dream is to one day find a suitable Kenyan girl to marry but I refuse to be a part of this whole dowry thing. I will not pay dowry to her family because I believe that the idea let alone the practice of paying dowry is antiquated and has no place in modern society. Marriage may be about two families being joined together but I don’t see how that should translate into one family being impoverished to the benefit of another. The only business that should take place between the bride’s family and the groom’s family is planning the wedding ceremony and splitting the costs of that ceremony. Full stop. I don’t understand how a young man such as myself is expected to dig into his little savings to pay her parents just for the sake of fulfilling a cultural ritual.. I’m marrying your daughter because I want us to start a family together and I want to provide for her and care for her the best way I know how. My responsibilities to her began when I started courting her and will continue after I marry her. As long as I have her consent, all I require from her parents is their blessing which has nothing to do with paying dowry. I’m not being naïve about this just because you or someone you know got forced into paying dowry because culture and ethnic customs dictate that it be so. I am fully aware that men even in my generation continue to pay dowry but I plan on not being one of them and I don’t see myself asking my family (read: single mother) or my bank to help me pay for something like that. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an old-fashioned guy. I have no objection to accepting all the societal responsibilities associated with being a “man” but I don’t believe paying dowry should be a part of that, at all.
3. Negative ethnicity/tribalism: This one is pretty obvious. As much as I find it unsettling that ethnic identities have taken such prominence in the Kenyan psyche these days both among the diaspora and the local population, I have learnt to accept it. However, what remains unacceptable and down-right primitive is the political elite who, since independence, continue to divide our country along tribal lines and incite ethnic hostilities. While I’m on the subject, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend since returning home late last year, which is the growing use of mother tongues in public fora and in places of work. I think that this crosses the line as far as ethnic identity and association is concerned, not to mention the damaging effects it could have on an already fragile and divided society.
4. Kenya’s version of ‘capitalism’: It’s primitive capitalism, if you ask me. Although we are living in a capitalistic democracy, we have still not learnt the ropes of capitalism particularly where minimizing losses and revenue maximization is concerned. Two salient instances come to mind. First and foremost, our disaster prepared-ness is nil. Who would want to set up shop in a place where your entire stock and premises can literally burn to the ground without anyone hearing the sound a single siren or water drop from a single hose. This vulnerability in our country has been exposed repeatedly almost in identical fashion both in the cases of man-made and natural disasters. This is not a conducive environment to do business or settle in. Secondly, our recurring power shortage problem which has crippled our economy time and time again. Meanwhile our political leaders are left helpless, simply telling Kenyans last year: “Pray for rain.” So, we prayed for rain and next thing you know river banks overflowed, towns got flooded, farm produce and animals were washed away and transport networks were ruined. Why? Because the same leaders telling us to pray for rain hadn’t even planned to ensure that the rains wouldn’t turn into another disaster which is what happened in the end seeing as our disaster-preparedness is nil. The end result is that Kenya loses billions in revenue while costs of production continue to rise which in turn leads to the high price levels of basic commodities for the consumer. What is even more disheartening is that our LSE-trained economist-president Koala continues to allow impunity and poor governance to continue without realizing that corruption thrives best in capitalism.
To conclude, I concede that this post may appear as an oversimplification of a complex array of cultural, politico-economic and historical elements that have developed over time. But I think my underlying point rings true: primitiveness, in whatever shape or form has no place in today’s modern world.
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