Category Archives: International Media

For the love of God, STOP: On stereotypes, the church and Africa

It is too early in the year for the type of ignorance being peddled about Africa by some church affiliated folk in the name of missionary work. In this era of Google and social media, why do people insist on clinging to that false image of Africa? You know, the country ravaged by disease, poverty and war where people live in anything but buildings? In a time when information is literally at people’s fingertips, is it that difficult for one to educate themselves about African countries? Sure, you don’t have to know everything about all 54 of them but knowing that Africa is NOT a country is a solid first step. It’s not a hard concept to grasp guys.

I came across an article titled “First Presbyterian Church recreates rural African town.” The church, which is in Gainsville, Georgia, was scheduled to have a “Life in an African Village,” event this past weekend. According to the article, the event was geared towards teaching children in the area about daily life in a foreign country and missionary work. Because life is the same in each and every village across the continent…ha! The children would “build makeshift huts, listen to African drumming and sing African tunes…” How would they build the huts, you ask? Well, when I initially read the article, there were pictures of cardboard boxes open on the side with hay on top. I think that is how they were planning on doing it. The pictures have since been taken down. I wonder if it’s because they finally did some research and realized that that is not how huts look. Or maybe not. A girl can hope.

If that’s how they think huts look, you can only imagine what they told the children about living in a village. Only heaven knows what they said about the African culture that people love to define in ways that align with their personal interests. The guest speaker and performer at the event was a Zambian man who was also in attendance at the same event last year. Ala! Didn’t this depiction of Africa bother him!? Or did he say something about it last year and the organizers just didn’t listen? But then again, there is always that one African patting these we-will-misrepresent-Africa-because-we-have-decided-that-our-version-of-Africa-is-more-accurate-than-reality types on the back.

Then there is an American woman who went to Kenya on a mission trip and didn’t fall in love with the country. Why? Because she didn’t see poverty nor encounter people who don’t speak English, as she had expected. Yes, this happened, as written on her blog. Her entire post is condescending and made me question the motives of her mission trip. I guess we now know what happens when savior complex and superiority complex thrive in an individual.

The woman’s post will make you believe that people go on mission trips to delight in seeing poverty and feel good about waving their invisible alleviate-the-suffering-of-the-locals magic wand.  Seriously, how else can you explain this excerpt from her blog post?
My heart was prepared for dirt floors.
For dirty laundry hanging everywhere.
For kids that were half naked and covered in bug bites.
People who couldn’t speak English.

not this.

Eh!? You would think that when someone plans to go on a trip to a country they have never been to before they would do research on said country. Isn’t that just the common sense thing to do? Clearly she couldn’t be bothered with all that. She had created this image of Kenya in her mind and that is much more important than the reality on the ground.

Who gets discouraged by not seeing poverty!? Shouldn’t that, I don’t know, ENCOURAGE  you!? Shouldn’t it make you realize that the images you see in movies and commercials are completely distorted to push a certain agenda? Shouldn’t it make you want to change that and present accurate images of the country? That could become your mission, no?

It seems that this lady was so set on jetting in, tiling the dirt floors, washing the dirty laundry, clothing the half naked kids, putting balm on their bug bites and of course teaching Kenyans English.  While we are at it, why would dirty laundry be hanging anywhere? Because cleanliness is only reserved for wealthy folk and those from the West or? Oh, where would we be without her blessed heart and those of others like her?

Why spend all the time, money and effort to go to a country if you are hell-bent on forcing it to fulfill your stereotypes? How much good can you do for people if you are struggling to accept the fact that their circumstances are not as you expected? Is it not possible to spread His message where dirt floors and half naked children are not involved?

That blog post is both ridiculous and disturbing. This had been said before and evidently, we need to keep saying it. Kenya, and Africa as a whole, doesn’t need to be saved. What we need is non predatory partnerships, among others, to fuel our socio-economic growth and political development.

So, if you are going to teach children about mission work and Africa, please present the continent accurately. It’s the least you can do given all the resources available at your fingertips. Perpetrating stereotypes is lazy and a disservice to all involved. Avoid the reenactments too. There are plenty of pictures of huts online…no need for hay and cardboard box tricks. If you are going on a mission trip, research on the country you are going to. Leave your ignorance, prejudice and pre-determined uninformed solutions at your house. Interact with people, find out what their community needs and how you can be of help.

True African Woman a.k.a Being Expected To Exist Solely For (African) Men

Who is considered a true African woman? What qualities must one possess in order to be considered one? If you lack said qualities, then are you considered a “fake African woman” or perhaps “a man”? Well, your guess is as good as mine, dear reader.

I have pondered about the concept of a true African woman for a while. Perhaps it is because I have been accused on more than one occasion of not being a true African woman. I say accused because people make it sound like you are committing a crime for refusing to be shoved into their myopic boxes, where you are expected to compete for air with their misguided opinions.

It seems that for one to be considered a true African woman then every single move they make and every breath they take should be solely to appease a man. No, African ladies, no, you cannot simply do things for yourself. Your every step should be designed to make (African) men happy. In case you forget this, even for a millisecond, society is more than happy to remind you.

Over the past few weeks, there has been a lot of chatter on social media about the introduction of Camay, a luxury beauty product targeted to African women, into the Kenyan market. As an African woman, a Kenyan, and a person with more than a passing interest in beauty products, I was curious about Camay. I read a handful of blogs about its launch, the products in the collection, as well as the fragrances they have. The bloggers all had nothing but high praise for the products. Given that Camay is targeted to the African woman, I was interested to see how the company marketed it in their adverts. Hmmm…that is where the disappointment began. Below are the three Camay Kenya commercials that I found on YouTube.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bjDBWpnb0sE

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n3Pz-7S3iEo

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bYEq8tseDi4

In the first one, the lady sprays her deodorant and then twirls into the arms of her significant other. Because obviously it is impossible for her to want all day protection and the good smell just for herself. Why would a true African woman want that, hey?

In the second and third one, the lady has discovered the way to her significant other’s heart – Camay soap and lotion. The man is always in a hurry but a quick shower using Camay’s scented soap and a stop over at his job will stop him in his tracks, and enable him to realize that she is the queen of his heart. The soap is targeted to African women. African women work too! Why couldn’t it be that she took a shower and went to her workplace, and had very productive day? And still smelled good at the end of the long work day?

When the man is not in a hurry he is apparently busy. What’s the remedy to his busyness? Why, Camay lotion of course! Again, why couldn’t it have been that she had a busy day but the lotion kept her skin glowing and soft throughout? Can’t African women want soft and glowing skin for ourselves/just for the sake of/because it makes us feel good? Is that not a possibility?

Additionally, if your significant other is always in a hurry/busy such that you have to resort to such antics just to get a fraction of their time, then maybe you shouldn’t be with them. What’s going to happen when they get bored of the scents or are no longer amazed by your glowing skin? What’s going to happen when YOU get tired of the scents and want to change to scent-free products?

It’s just an advert, you say. Well, it really isn’t just that. It reinforces some of the negative and constraining attitudes with which women are viewed in society. Camay isn’t the only one either. The media is chock-full of such.

It’s about time we, as a society, let go of these notions that we cling to about a true African woman. All my African women, how many times have you heard the following: You should learn how to cook so you can find a husband, Our men like conservative women, You won’t get a man while dressed like that, Our African men will be intimidated by all your education, Wear some lipstick but not too much – you don’t want to scare the men away, and of course, You are too much of a feminist for our African men, among others. Obviously if you fail to tow the line then you are rapidly told just how much of a true African woman you are NOT!

It’s ridiculous I say!

Fiction Tuesday – Accounts of A Street Urchin

Apologies for the late posting of Tuesday’s fiction piece.

            Accounts of A Street Urchin.

by Jude Mutuma 

You remember thinking as you stood there beside the road that you looked so much like your mother. Your mother, who disappeared into the night’s shadows a long time ago, leaving you in the hands of fate: the cruel act of a pitiless God. You remember hearing your dead mother’s voice uttering whispers into your ear. “Look right. Look left. Look right again,” then you crossed the road.

You remember shedding a tear from your left eye as you thought of the family you never had. Thoughts of the father who abandoned his pregnant wife and ran away into the night. Thoughts of the mother who had enough of this world and so sought refuge in the next. Traitors, both of them, bloody half-wit traitors. But then you quickly took a hold of yourself. It was no use wallowing in self pity.

You remember thinking as you walked through the alley, how desperately you needed to take a nap. Not because your eyes were heavy, but because the painful pangs inside your empty stomach could not allow you to stay on your feet much longer. But you knew it was impossible to sleep at that time of day. You would have to wait till late in the night, when the souls of the city were no longer strutting through the alleys. Then you would sleep peacefully with the dogs.

You remember hearing someone call your name from a distance.

“Jonte, fom ya Leo?”

It was Yusuf, jolly as ever. There was something about him; beyond that ugly flat face with the huge hairy nostrils and a missing set of front teeth. He was always smiling, that ugly bastard. You could swear you’d never seen the guy sad or angry in your life. You then remembered something you’d heard your mother say once. The widest smiles hide the most grief.

“Jonte cheki hii maneno.”

He said as he let you take a peek into the black paper bag he was carrying. It was food. Food. It was probably leftovers from some rich people’s party last night. You laughed inwardly as you remembered that parable in the Bible: the rich man and Lazarus.

“Unadai?

He asked you as he extended his arm to offer you a piece of half-eaten chicken wing. He was always so generous, Yusuf. You quickly received the chicken wing and bid him goodbye. He just smiled at you, with that toothless grin.

You remember the silent shouts inside your head when you saw the bicycle parked at the street corner. This had to be your chance. A bicycle like that would sell for nearly as much as three thousand shillings, maybe more, which would be enough to keep you for three months. So you quickly made up your mind, sauntered in pretentious glee toward the lone bicycle, and applied the basic principle embodied in your mother’s words. “Look right. Look left. Look right again,” then you slowly picked up the bicycle and tried to walk away casually, whistling away the tension inside you.

You remember the severe bouts of panic that hit you when you realized that someone had seen you. Still you moved on, pulling the bicycle along, hoping beyond hope that he would not make it a big deal. Too late, the chap was screaming his lungs out.          “Mwizi!Mwizi! He is stealing my bicycle.”

He had gotten people’s attention, and you knew you were in trouble. So you dropped the bicycle, and for one last time took heed of your mother’s very dear words. “Look right. Look left. Look right again,” then you ran. And ran. And ran.

You ran like a rabid dog. But the crowd was catching up, and it was getting bigger and bigger. So in one last desperate attempt to save your breath, you muttered something, a hopeless cry to an unseen existence.

“God… help me,”

And at that very moment the coarse firm grasp of a police officer clutched your arm. A stroke of good luck had saved the day.

End

Kenya’s Red Line Train Ride

Hmmm…after the events of this week, I am now convinced the Kenyan government is taking us on a tumultuous train ride to Nowhere Land. They are playing us like the ukulele while at it too. We currently have a digital government whose key security (and everything else really) strategies are speculation and the blame game. I am not sure how they figure they can propel a country forward based on such. How are we expected to continue entrusting them with our lives when they have repeatedly shown they cannot be asked to ensure the safety of Kenyans?

This past Sunday, al Shabaab linked militants attacked Mpeketoni, a Kenyan coastal town, killing at least 49  people and injuring several others. They also set buildings and other property on fire. That attack lasted for hours. On Monday, al Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. According to Mail & Guardian, in a statement sent to Reuters, al Shabaab said, “Commandos last night carried out a successful raid on the town of Mpeketoni.” They added, “Kenya is now officially a war zone and as such any tourists visiting the country do so at their own peril.” The reasons they gave for the attack are the presence of Kenyan troops in Somalia and the extrajudicial killings of Muslim leaders.

Joseph Ole Lenku, the cabinet secretary in charge of interior security, came out with the full force of a circus act, describing the attack as “heinous”, calling the attackers “bandits” and stating that they had crossed a “red line.” Which red line, you ask? Well, guess we might never know since Ole Lenku didn’t display any of Netanyahu’s illustration skills, but I digress. He then claimed that security had been beefed up across the country after the attack, and the attackers had been chased northwards by security forces. Basically, rest easy Kenyans, the government has your back NOT.

The militants called bullshit on this security facade by returning a day later. They must have known what we now know…the government stayed asleep. This time they attacked Poromoko, a village close to Mpeketoni. They killed at least 15 people and set houses on fire. Residents told the BBC that at least 12 women were abducted in the latest attack. They also said that the government did not send in enough forces to protect them after the first attack. Evidence that Ole Lenku was putting on a show. Only he knows who it was for.  Al Shabaab also claimed responsibility for this attack.

This is where the circus plot gets lost.

In an address to the nation, President Uhuru decided that this was an opportunity to gain political mileage. He went in on “reckless” and “divisive” leaders hell-bent on creating hate and intolerance. He also said that such leaders make it easy for terrorists to operate in our country. He then stated, “The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated, and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons. This therefore, was not an Al Shabaab terrorist attack.”  Eh…say what!? Wait just one minute Mr. President. Didn’t al Shabaab claim responsibility for both attacks!? Or are they lying to us? If so, to what end? We have had several unclaimed attacks, why would they pick this one out of all of them to claim!? Something does not add up here. Who is fooling who, sir? And while we are on the subject of profiling and evicting people for political reasons…isn’t that the same thing your government is doing to ethnic Somalis?

President Uhuru further added, “Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks.” Ok…you have evidence but yet no arrests have been made? What is being done to ensure that those involved in the planning and execution will face justice? What about the abducted women? Do the local political networks have them? Are security forces looking for them?

Perhaps one of the most disturbing statements that President Uhuru made is. “It is now clear that intelligence on this attack was availed to the security officers in Mpeketoni.” What!? In short, the attacks could have been prevented but they weren’t. Why, Mr. President, why? Why was there no action taken? What were security officers doing? Sitting on the intelligence and hoping nothing would happen? Or do they lack the resources required to act on such intelligence? Just what exactly is going on Mr. President? Or intelligence isn’t acted upon until the “red line” has been crossed? I would assume that the possibility of Kenyans losing their lives would result in action but apparently the government would rather cling to inaction.

Of course the President had to throw in this usual statement, “I am satisfied that for the most part, our security agencies have performed well and thwarted innumerable terrorist and other criminal conspiracies and attempts.” Every time there is an attack, the President makes a similar statement. He makes it seem like the security agencies are on top of their game. So how come they missed all the attacks that have happened!? Why weren’t they able to thwart those particular attacks? If security agencies are performing well, why aren’t some of them acting on the intelligence they are provided with!?

At the end of the day, President Uhuru and the rest of the government, all we want is to be safe. We want to be able to move around the country without fear. Security in our country has gone to the dogs…that is undeniable. Whether the attacks are orchestrated by local political networks or terrorist groups, the bottom line is insecurity is on the rise. It is your responsibility to protect the inhabitants of the country that you lead. We can be each other’s keepers, as you suggested in your address Mr. President, all day every day. But if we have security forces that fail to act on intelligence and a government that couldn’t care less about its citizenry, then how is that useful to us?

When a handful of countries in the West issued travel advisories, our government was up in arms. “We will find tourists elsewhere,” they said. When it became obvious that more countries were unwilling to remain silent as their citizens travelled to our attack-prone nation, the rhetoric changed to “Tembea Kenya.” Domestic tourism is great and should in fact always be encouraged and promoted.  However, it does to not deter attacks.

Now that you have realized that Kenyans are after all not bulletproof, what are you going to do about these attacks, dear government? How many lives have to be lost before you cut the BS and actually come up with an effective plan to put an end to these attacks!?

 

Fiction Tuesday – The Beautiful Soul That Heaven Has To Return

The third story in our fiction Tuesday series is on illness, grief and coping with it all.

THE BEAUTIFUL SOUL THAT HEAVEN HAS TO RETURN

                                                     by Dudumalingani

 

I remember the day my wife left me. She grew tired of me in the way that aging spouses grow tired of each other. A spouse suddenly realizes after fifty years of marriage that their wife or husband sleeps with their mouth open. She packed her bags and eloped with a young man whose sweet words and tender touches made her feel young again. This is what I like to tell myself because the truth is unbearable.

One day she felt a lump in her breasts and without wasting time went to see her doctor.

“Well, I have breast cancer. I have about four months to live at best,” she said. “All the same, let us make the most of it.” As soon as she had finished talking, tears gushed down her cheeks as if she had held them back for a long time and couldn’t hold them any longer.

There was no trace of courage in her voice. In some way, I was happy that she had forgotten the absurdity of pretense. Adults pretend about their feelings far too much. We are fine, when we are in fact falling apart inside. We are glad that you are here, when in fact your presence disgusts us.

Though the cancer was discovered at an advanced stage, and surgery would do little to counteract the damage it had caused, she chose to have surgery done. In the days that followed the surgery she became expressionless; not once did she smile or laugh. Now that I think about it, in those days, she didn’t cry either, not even once. Our kisses became infrequent and passionless. She didn’t undress in front of me again. Before going to bed, she put on more and more clothes, burying her skin underneath them.

It was a Saturday morning when she died. After threatening to rain for many weeks, it had finally rained. The fresh scent of wet soil hung in the air. In the valley behind our house, the frogs were croaking creating a peculiar melody, and though I could not see the river I could tell from its roaring sound that it was bursting at the seams. Our rondavel was some distance away from the village and it rested on the land sloping into the valley. Five weeks ago, she and I had planted the garden in silence and contempt. The crops never grew. With that Saturday rain, I was thinking of planting them again. It was three months after her visit to the doctor. She had a month left. She had given me a hug that morning. I felt her entire weight on me. It was one of the few times we had touched after the surgery and also the last time. I would think of it later as her way of saying goodbye.

That Saturday morning, I was tending the garden when I heard the sound of glass breaking. I found her lying on the kitchen floor. I realized then that her body had shrunk to the size of a little girl. It was as if the full figured woman she once was had long left earth.

By the kitchen door, hangs the only photo of her. It was taken on our 50th anniversary. In it she maintains her gracious smile. The photo is old and is beginning to tear on the edges, but her smile still appears to summarize all her happy memories.

Looking at the photo and the twigs that are growing on her grave, I comfort myself with the thought that the young man she left me for will find a woman his own age and she will return to me. Even though I am heartbroken, I will take her back.

I am aware that there is no logic in my thinking but logic sinks me into an abyss I can only emerge from dead. I do not want to grieve for her because she left me and someday she is coming back.

-End-