Photo Credit: World Nomads

Nairobi and the story of Kenya

There is that distinct feeling living in Nairobi, that of a passer-by. Yes, you have your apartment, your job, and your life all in one place, but you still feel alienated. Like someday, you’ll leave this place and live out the remainder of your life at some other more permanent, more stable place. You are a resident, but not a citizen of the city.

Yes, you are not a citizen, and you’re not to blame. The city is noisy, confused, disorganized, filthy, and in a constant, uncoordinated hurry. Walking down the streets, one always expects some sort of violence or aggression. If you are not resisting the forceful tout physically urging you to jump onto a matatu in motion, you are resisting an animated hawker with his wares right in your face such that you have to cross the street or stop and change direction. Street vendors are constantly bumping into you as they run from invisible city council officials, motorbikes dangerously shuffling through traffic violating any number of rules, and police officers harassing drivers at a street corner. At the end of the day, you are always happy to let go of the tight hold on your laptop bag, lock yourself in your quiet corner of the city, and want nothing to do with the place you live.

You’re right. Nairobi is not your home. Just like the idea of Kenya, it’s an invention and you’re not the inventor.

To fight for the idea of Kenya is to fight for a foreign idea. One has to accept the fact that this is a foreign idea for which one doesn’t have a great alternative. The function of the Kenyan state has its instigators— to enable the extraction of resources for the benefit of a few, often those who don’t live in Kenya. When the tribal groups of the Kenyan colony arrived at political consciousness, they united with the common purpose of self-determination. They didn’t like the idea of paying taxes to the white man and following unfair, racist laws set by the colonial government.

The question is, did they have a solution to what Kenya would look like after the white man leaves? Indeed, there were ideas one of which was majimbo or federalism— tribes would rule themselves but interact with the outside world under one flag. This was the same idea that excited the prospects of building an East African community after independence. That African tribes within British East Africa would exist externally under one flag whereas internally, the tribes will return to their independence and livelihoods as they did before colonialism.

This geographical place in Eastern Africa, between the great lakes and the Indian ocean, had many proud tribes. Nations who were roaming around freely practised nomadism, cattle rustling, shifting cultivation, long-distance trading, and others, fishing. The land was available for the taking through intertribal treaties, voluntary and involuntary assimilation, or through tribal clashes that displaced a weaker tribe. With population growth, a major conflict was brewing — a conflict that would define the nations that occupy this land. Or not. Who knows? European colonialism permanently changed the course of history and yanked it out of the African narrative.

The problem we have today is a lack of freedom. Our freedom is bottlenecked by the states we chose to keep. We chose peace over freedom. We wanted to join the white man’s world. We set up our economy around the roads and railways that he built. We put value on the land where they lived. We admired their schools and how they dressed. We desecrated our sacred shrines and flocked into their stone churches, worshipped his white God, and despised our own prophets. We were conquered, bamboozled, physically, and, sadly, mentally too.



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