Category Archives: Rant

The Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theory

Conspiracy theories. The real alternative truth. What the media doesn’t want you to know  about what actually happened on 9/11, how the Illuminati control the world, how the West uses political/ gay rights/ human rights activist/ International Criminal Court infiltrate and destroy perfect and morally upright African societies. Look beyond the headlines and see the shadowy forces that really control the world behind closed doors and drawn curtains.

It’s cloak and dagger stuff that can draw out a surprising amount of outrage, anger, and very personal insults during circular arguments that lead nowhere.

Do they hold any merit or  are they simply grown up fairy tales that we tell ourselves to explain away the unbearable anxiety that comes with living in a world with so much injustice, uncertainty, chaos and disaster?

I don’t know. But what I do know is that they offer a fascinating glimpse into the irrational part of our brains, and that none of us are truly immune from them, or other bias.

My thoughts on conspiracy theories:

A good conspiracy theory cannot be disproved: You know why? The person dismissing the link between vaccines and autism as nonsense  is either so deeply brainwashed that they cannot see the ‘truth’ in-front of them,  or they are part of the conspiracy. These people are usually called ‘sheeple’ and need to ‘wake up’ by reading Natural (and how cancer can be cured with peaches) and other dubious websites that come off as ‘scientific’ but in actual fact are elaborate fronts to sell dubious supplements and ‘cures’.

Consider the Catholic Church Tetanus vaccine campaign against the World Health Organization, UNICEF and the nebulous ‘West’. According to the Catholic church, these vaccines are a secret sterilizing campaign to control the population of Africa. Well and good, except that the WHO denies this, and has plenty of science to back this up. However, the church trumps this over and over again by calling on independent labs to carry out tests that are never conclusive enough to settle the matter once and for all, but just convincing enough to keep casting doubt.

The question remains, however, why WHO would want to sterilize people in secret, and yet at the same time provide crucial life saving drugs worldwide in places where the government couldn’t be bothered to. Why save lives and then engage in a convoluted plot to prevent conception?  And although these sterilization scares have been popping up since the 70s,  birth rates in developing countries are still double digit.

Because their goal all along, aside from eradicating preventable diseases and supporting fragile health care systems, is also to sterilize poor people in the most tedious, round about and inefficient way possible.

I would say WHO’s plan sounds a lot like something made up by a cartoon villain,which means it is pretty lousy and ineffective.

A good conspiracy is based on a grain of truth: Back to the WHO / Catholic church saga. This is not the first time these accusations have sprung up, and it will not be the last time. First off, WHO has very well documented experiments on said contraceptive vaccine, except that it failed and is yet to yield any viable result. But the facts are there, regardless, that they did attempt to make such a vaccine.

Another more unpleasant example is the fact that, throughout history, medical experiments have been carried out on populations perceived to be inferior. American doctors withheld treatment for  black people with syphilis without their knowledge to study the effects of the disease. Nazis performed gruesome experiments on Jewish captives in camps. Pharmaceutical companies have been known to dump sub-standard drugs into poorly regulated (read, third world) markets.

This is one reason  why conspiracy theories, no matter how crazy, are so convincing. Because they really could happen. Because there are people out there without scruples and with agendas that could be harmful and the power to execute them. It’s just that their agendas are rarely as sweeping as we would like to believe,  and more often than not, if there are enough people involved in the scheme, someone somewhere with their own motives will blow the whole thing out of the water. (Which is how most nefarious plots have been uncovered.)

A good conspiracy resolves the deep anxiety we have about the world: All conspiracy theories seek to explain seemingly random but unfortunate situations/ events that do not have a clear cut cause. That do not have clearly demarcated good and bad sides.

A very scary example is the current outbreak of the Zika virus in Brazil that coincides with a spike in the number of children born with microcephaly. The much vilified WHO, in typical scientist speak, says that there is a strong connection between the two, but stops short of confirming a definite link.

Meanwhile, Monsanto, the evil food corporation that will kill us all with their GMO monstrosities has been blamed for introducing GM modified mosquitoes, and introducing a pesticide to kill mosquito larvae, that could also be blamed for the birth defects. For a while there, there wasn’t much information, and that was enough time for people to conclude that the Zika virus is part of Monsanto’s evil plan for world domination.

Unfortunately, we know very little about how our world works. Well meaning interventions often have unintended consequences.  And especially now, when, more than ever, humanity is interfering with our environment so much that, not only is climate change a given, but also that some scientists argue that we should name this age the ‘Anthropocene’, or the age of the humans. (Who drowned the oceans in plastic, killed off most other animals and suffocated themselves with carbon dioxide.)

This will probably get worse in the coming years, so we can certainly expect more theories about how the Americans introduced Ebola to West Africa (then inexplicably offered help to curb it and played a part in ending the epidemic) and have now moved on to phase 2 of their sinister experiment in Latin America.

A good conspiracy is a quasi- religious endeavor: Defending a conspiracy theory is very similar to defending your religion to a non-believer, and vice versa. It is something that becomes part of your identity, something that you choose to believe in. Once that happens, we move from objectivity to ‘beliefs’.

There is nothing wrong with beliefs, except that you cannot argue with someone about their beliefs productively or successfully. As humans, we are so invested in defending our beliefs that our minds play a trick on us –  we seek only evidence that reaffirms our beliefs and dismiss anything that doesn’t. (The next time you are arguing with someone, track how much you time you spend actually listening and trying to understand what they are saying as opposed to waiting for a space to repeat your counter argument in a louder voice.) It’s okay, we all do it.

So once we move from facts to beliefs, it’s game over. It simply cannot happen because in doing so, you challenge a person’s very essence, leaving the other person with no choice but to double down and scream louder about the lizard people.

A conspiracy theory is like a virus: Good conspiracy theories have so much staying power that they never entirely go away. No amount of scientific evidence, rational discourse or facts can challenge the theory. Why? Because they are not falsifiable. This means that any counter-evidence can be dismissed as ‘you are part of the conspiracy’ or worse still ‘you are a ‘Sheeple’ that blindly follows the West.

Once you are infected with a virus, it cannot be cured. So the answer is to prevent infection. Yet conspiracy theories spread because, unlike boring, hesitant scientists with their ‘it is highly probable’, ‘there is great consensus’, blah blah blah…the theory smacks you in the face ‘WHAT THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW ABOUT VACCINES AND AUTISM’ or, ‘PEACHES AND CANNABIS OIL CAN CURE CANCER, BUT  BIG PHARMA WONT HAVE ANY OF IT’

Sometimes the most ignorant speak in the most confident tones. How do you prevent infection? Take some time out to do some research. Find out both sides of the argument and you will soon notice a pattern. Avoid websites that use CAPS LOCK to highlight their most important point. If you spot the word sheeple, run away.

A good conspiracy must absolve individuals from responsibility: When you are up against the Lizard people, when all the money and fame in the world is controlled by the Illuminati, when the political and economical situation at home is secretly being controlled by sinister Western forces with even more sinister agendas, what can the mere individual do?

For example, every so often (especially during times of economic hardship) great African leaders (and all dictators in all of history) decry Western (or other) meddling and interference with the goal of imposing western/ foreign values onto our virginal societies, corrupting our morals and turn us into stooges. (Bonus points, they want us all to start practicing homosexuality.) Think Boniface Mwangi, who is clearly being paid by the West to destroy Kenya. Or the ICC, which has long been UNFAIRLY targeting African leaders, including our very own Ruto and Kenyatta. Conveniently forgetting the fact that we dragged the ICC into our own mess in the aftermath of the 2007 post-election violence.

No matter, because these are shadowy Western forces .

This narrative is seductive because, if everything is a conspiracy, if the individual has no agency, then all one’s personal failures can be excused.

So you see, the REAL reason we are poor, or unsuccessful is because THEY won’t let us. Those Lizard People. Or the West. Oh and if you try to fight them, THEY will take you down, because they can’t be having any of that.

Conspiracy theories distract us from very real and very serious problems: Conspiracies are much more exciting than admitting that the vast majority of problems that we have in the world are exceedingly complex, involve an unbelievable number of causes and are very difficult to solve. Questions like why so many parts of the world are so poor. Questions like why some countries are more equal than others. Questions like how much of local policy is controlled by special interest groups (republicans funding abstinence only programmes in Africa to prevent HIV; the role of evangelical churches in the rise of violent homophobia for example.) Questions like why corruption is so rampant and why companies are allowed to siphon resources from developing countries while paying ridiculous baby taxes in said countries. Questions like why the IMF has been offering terrible advice since forever and why no-one has taken them to court yet. Questions like whether our current economic model can reasonably allow all countries in the world to enjoy living standards that the global North currently does. And wondering if there is anything we can really do about it.

It’s much easier and neater to lay the blame at the feet of the Illuminati.

Conspiracy theories can be dangerous: Despite our reliance on science and modern medicine every day, we still insist that our beliefs trump expert research and opinion. People have died as they tried to prove that they can cure cancer with homeopathy, that they can prevent autism by not vaccinating their children and of course by trying to pray away all manner of treatable but dangerous illnesses. It hasn’t worked so far, but beliefs trump evidence and reason far too often.

In a way, this kind of thinking demonstrates just how far the world has come in terms of technology and knowledge.  We have become so far removed from devastating epidemics that we can’t understand why  these mysterious injections are still necessary. We can go to the dentist and so will not die from an infected molar. We don’t consider childbirth as a life threatening event. Surviving childhood illnesses is considered normal.  We are educated enough to ask questions and challenge the book learnin’ people but not invested enough to read past catchy headlines.

Conspiracy theories exist because they fulfill a need to explain disturbing events such as disease outbreaks, disruptive technology and major scandals. They fill in the blanks of our limited knowledge and reaffirm the belief that there is order in the world, and that there is good and bad and that the two are distinctly separate. They reduce the complexity of events that we can scarcely explain, and in so doing, translate our unspecified anxieties into focused fear and anger at specific (although largely non-existent) groups. They help us form a narrative that explains the world we live in, that analyses the random events that happen into neat categories with clearly marked heros and villians.

They give us a sense that we are privy to secret knowledge in a world we find ourselves ill equipped to deal with.

But they also tell us that the world is a messed up place that is brutal and unfair. They tell us that none of us really know what exactly is going on, and that is very scary.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems.







Kenya is an Immoral Country and We are All Going to Hell

Yesterday the internet went crazy after the release of one steamy video called ‘Same Love’. The video portrays the struggles of gay people in Kenya and Africa and likens it to that of slaves and Jews in years gone by. This is intercepted with some serious guy on guy action and some girl on girl action to sweeten the deal,  footage from epic human rights’ movements and then a suicide.

It’s very emotive, and predictably, brought out the ugliness in Kenyans, re the usual ‘THE BIBLE SAYS HOMOSEXUALITY IS A SIN!’, ‘GAYISM CANNOT BE ALLOWED IN OUR MIGHTY COUNTRY’, and ‘HOMOSEXUALITY IS UNAFRICAN’ , ad nauseum.

The next morning, the topic for conversation on one radio station was the story of a young man who was assaulted by his employer for not meeting his sales target. He was a matatu condutor, and failing to meet his daily quota, was hit on the side of the head by his boss. He fell unconscious, slipped into a coma and was in ICU for three weeks and now is partially paralyzed. Meanwhile, his boss was almost lynched by a mob, before being arrested by the police and thereafter released for a cash bond of 20 000 shillings. A few highlights of his story include:

  • The injured man was taken to KNH and had to wait until a bed was available for him
  • The injured man’s brother ‘was taking care of him and taking him to the toilet’
  • The police initially refused to give his brother a P3 form to report the assault. They insisted that his unconscious, hospitalized brother collect the form himself.
  • The police also said that they could not take the case further because they needed a statement from the injured man (who was unconscious and could not speak)
  • The people trying to report the case complained of harassment from police officers
  • Eventually, after three days of waiting around at the police station, the victim’s brother got the police to agree to visit his brother in hospital and assess the situation. They never showed up.

The discussion also involved a brief on how the matatu industry works, including the system of ‘taxes’ paid to the police while on the road, and how some vehicles are ‘untouchable’ because they are owned by police officers. (Including the vehicle that the the now paralyzed conductor operated.)

The talk show hosts got hold of the DPP, Tobiko, who advised the unfortunate family to follow the ‘right’ channels, and if they had a complaint, lodge it with the Police Oversight Authority.

This is how we ended what has been a very intense week, what with the millionaire hairdresser coming out and damning Anne Waiguru and bringing the NYS scandal back into the spotlight.

But honestly, who can imagine what 790 million, or 900 million or what the guesstimated eurobond millions actually look like? How about the millions that went to buying Tanui and his fellow judges? Who can imagine their impacts, or what they could have been used for? We struggle to grasp such huge numbers. Can you visualize what it means when they say that up to 20% of our budget simply cannot be accounted for?

We became numb to such fantastical figures a long time ago.

In any case, we know we have to save our outrage – a new scandal will erupt soon enough.

Stories like the one I heard on radio, however, make things much more visceral. It’s not an abstract figure , it’s something  that I  can imagine something similar happening to me.

I could be walking home one day and a car hits me from the back, leaving me at the mercy of well wishers and opportunistic bystanders. I could be dumped at Kenyatta Hospital, and before someone identifies me and whisks me away or insists I get treatment,  waste away in the waiting bay. I could be manhandled and a relatively minor injury could turn into a life changing disability.

We can hide behind our high walls and cram ourselves into the right corners of town, but at the end of the day, our lives are just as worthless and as unprotected and as vulnerable as that young man’s.

Which brings me back to my main point. That our society lacks morals and values and for that, we are going to hell.

Not because a couple of artists released a raunchy video on a taboo subject.  Not because our youth have ’embraced’ western values and forgotten their ‘true’ culture.

But because we have allowed ourselves  to completely debase the value of human life. We get angry about corruption, but we don’t call it what it is. Wrong, immoral and a sin before the eyes of the God in who’s name we insult other people.

Stealing is a sin. Corruption is a triple sin because it involves lying, stealing and robbing people of their lives. So then why do we allow suspects with pending  court cases into our churches? Where do we get the audacity to call on the power of God to save suspects from the due process of law? Why do we allow them to speak at the alter of our precious God?

It’s not just the NYS millions, or the yet to be fully disclosed euro-bond saga, or the wheelbarrows or the thousands of little procurement scams no doubt going on as we speak.

NYS scandal

It’s the contempt with which we are treated, everywhere we go. The way we have to supplicate ourselves every time we speak to a police officer. How our precious theses disappear  in the halls of esteemed universities and we are forced to wait for years before we graduate. How we have to haul our own sick up and down halls to the toilet. How we have to beg for services that we pay for. How we know that the police cannot protect us from violent home invasions, and if anything, we are better off avoiding them and their rusty guns and bad breath.How everything is shabby, broken down and neglected.

The rot in our country began a long time ago. It probably took root at independence, festered  during Kenyatta’s golden years, grew ever more potent during the Moi days, quietly simmered beneath the surface during Kibaki’s age and now, seemingly injected with steroids,exploding in our faces as we come full circle with our prince,  Kenyatta  junior. Who knows what the next election cycle will bring? (Hint, probably  not sanity)

We have been sold a lie.

We know that corruption is killing us, but our only response is

this is what you get for voting along tribal lines.

Is it though? Is the answer to corruption voting more intelligently?

I understand that ethnicity can be used to divide Kenyans, and to cause violence and unrest and for political gain, but blaming corruption on voting habits?

I don’t think so.

Our system is rotten. It is so deeply rotten that it has become immoral. It stinks with the corpses of millions of Kenyans who died for the stupidest of reasons. As they were waiting for treatment at a hospital. As they were brutalized in police cells for breaking imaginary laws. As they were run down by drunk drivers  on a busy road. As they were treated with  sub-standard medicine in far away government clinics. As they waited for radiation therapy with a machine that broke down every week.

We are drowning. Not in videos that teach our children to become ‘gays’ but in actual sewage overwhelming a system that was built to service a tenth of what it does now. We are drowning in illiteracy and poor quality education that leaves the vast majority of us semi-literate and, unable to think critically, vulnerable to superstition, magic and propaganda from other half educated fools.

We shout meaningless phrases like ‘culture of impunity’ and ‘tribal cocoons’ that we no longer see what robbery does to our lives. We have become so accustomed to a non-existent police service that we no longer bother to report crimes (unless for insurance purposes) and instead pray to God for our protection.

We have been browbeaten so mercilessly that we have become the perfect victims, defending our abusers. We blame ourselves for this sorry state of affairs, saying ‘how many times have you paid a bribe? Corruption starts with you and me.’ Insisting that, if only we stopped paying bribes, our country would fix itself, and the cartels would disappear. (If only I made sure the food was the right temperature and the kids were quiet, he would not have broken my nose…)

Angered at our powerlessness, we shoot the messengers, turning political activism into an insult, mocking people who try and rally support as attention seekers, wannabes and failed artists needing support from ‘the west’.

And all of this, all of this can be changed just by standing in line for one day and making a few ticks on a piece of paper?


Maybe the biggest con of them all.

The truth is, democracy is hard work. Democracy means constantly engaging with your government at every turn. Primary elections in the US. Over the top demonstrations in France. Townhall meetings and public rallies. Lodging complaints with the right channels (if only, at the moment, for show). It means organizing. Joining civil society groups, consumer groups, even political parties. It means getting out there and asking questions.

I hope to live to see the day that Kenya will be blessed with its mythical ‘benevolent’ dictator. The day when we can all sit at home because we have the second son of God leading our country, righting every wrong, and immune to every temptation.

But until that day, let us remember that we are choosing between wolves and hyenas. We are voting in people and political parties with shifting loyalties and non-existent ideologies. People who, no matter how impressive, will likely fail when they try  to fight against the status quo.

I would argue that, with the quality of leaders that we have today, the work does not end after we cast our votes. It only marks the beginning.




Spirituality, Religion and Lies

Jommo Kenyatta, in his book, ‘Facing Mount Kenya’, has a lot to say about Gikuyu traditional religious beliefs:

 No individual may directly supplicate the Almighty…In the ordinary way of everyday life there are no organised prayers or religious ceremonies such as ‘morning and evening prayers’. So far as people and things go well and propser, it is taken for granted that God is pleased with the general behavior of the people and the welfare of the country. In this happy state there is no need for prayers. Indeed they are inadvisable, for Ngai must not needlessly be bothered. It is only when humans are in real need that they must approach him, without fear of disturbing him and incurring his wrath…Further, in our linguistic illustrations, we have: ‘Ngai ndegiagiagwo’, literally, ‘Ngai must never be pestered.’ This is a saying much used in Gikuyu. It has wide implications. In the first place it implies that even if a terrible calamity, such as the death of a child, should befall a man, his attitude must be one of resignation, for people know that Ngai gives ad has the power to take away. The man is not left hopeless- for Ngai may restore his losses- another child may be born to him.’

I bring this up because traditional beliefs are often discussed in the most simplistic terms. We all learnt in school that the Gikuyu pray facing Mount Kenya, where Ngai resides, and that the Mugumo tree is sacred and that sacrifices are made when there is a drought. It  fits well into the general narrative about Africans as backward people with quaint and/or bizarre customs and traditions, but not world views, philosophies and other aspects that make a proper culture. It is also, I suspect, the reason that cultural studies never really dig into ‘African culture’. Africans are relegated to Anthropological studies instead.

This all started because I found myself signing up for the Mavuno Church ‘Mizizi’ programme. I had heard great things about it and I was willing to take a go. The promise of wiping away your old self and transforming into the super you is deeply appealing. (Look at the number of self help books available, the cults around vegeterianism, paleo, veganism and all the rest are testament to this deep need we all have too).

So I signed up and I was willing to listen and learn.

Except that my stubborn brain could not unlearn everything it has decided about how the world works. It could not unsee all the diverse spiritual practices imprinted in India and France and Sicily.

So of course I started picking away at the logic that was being fed to us. Unfortunately it was easier than shooting fish in a barrel.

What struck me the most was the seeming shallowness of the message. For example, our instructor told us that it is important to pray always. To pray if we have had a stressful day and we need to rest. That God will work a miracle and we will get a break.

Really? The Alpha and Omega, the creator of the universe (in seven days, mind you), the dispenser of justice and mercy, he who parted the Red Sea and brought down the 7 deadly plagues to free his chosen people, will work a miracle so that you can rest after a tiring day? This is what should drive my faith?

I couldn’t.

Then I read a book (SELF HELP shoot me please) that strongly suggested that no matter one’s intellectual inclinations, something still drives us to believe in something outside of ourselves. That man needs faith, and man needs religion. Prayer is meditation and meditation helps calm the nerves. Brain waves literally change and you enter a state of hypnosis that some would call the holy spirit, others would call being in touch with the universe and others would call opening the soul to demons.

It’s not just this version of Christianity that promises you a hotline to God with every little crisis that you face that sells this message. The Secret and many other self help books work on the same principle. That if you will something, the universe will realign to meet your needs.

So you are in a full parking lot and you visualize an empty parking space near the entrance (because walking that extra 500 meters would absolutely destroy you) the universe realigns so that you can get a parking space right at the entrance.

They ignore (or downplay) the second part of visualization, which is actually you getting up and doing something. And the fact that the most accessible miracles sound very similar to random chance.

Is this really what we are becoming? Is this how we want to use the power of God/ the Universe? To get parking spaces and to rest at the end of the day? How is this different from basing your life choices on Buzzfeed personality quizzes developed by bored interns? Or from getting life advice from Cosmo?

Are we looking for God or for meaning or are we simply looking for magic? Is this why charlatans like Kanyari can get away with their madness? Is this the reason that we allow overly tanned pastors with suspiciously white teeth to flood our social media with meaningless platitudes?

I am not condemning religion. I am upset that the same cheap psychological tricks are being used to take advantage of people in need of hope and reassurance and a kind word by both the ‘religious’ and the ‘self help’ gurus out there. I am upset that instead of Mark Twain’s reminder that,

Habit is habit, and not to be flung out of the window by any man, but coaxed down-stairs one step at a time

All we get is  BELIEVE IT AND IT WILL BE TRUE. And if it isn’t then it’s because you don’t believe enough.

Because that is what we are looking for, really- to be better people, to lead better lives, to be inspired and to be inspired. To actually mean something. And of course, to be immortal.

They all cheapen our struggles. They make it seem like , instead of dealing with the very human fallacies we have each been gifted by our parents, we just don’t believe enough in the snake-oil that’s currently in vogue and that the answer is in believing harder. Harder and harder until it finally works.  And if it doesn’t work, guess what, believe harder.

I don’t know. But it seems to me like the Gikuyu, apart from being deeply fatalistic and very pragmatic, were onto something with their concept of God.

Let’s Talk About the Dirty F Word

I get really uncomfortable when people ask me if I am a feminist. I find it a very difficult question to answer, and it seems like a very heavy burden to carry. ARE YOU A FEMINIST??? it’s almost like an accusation. For me though, it’s kind of like asking if a fish likes water. Or if humans enjoy oxygen. As opposed to what? Growing up, my life was dominated by larger than life women who had clawed their way to the top. Women with absolutely zero chills and a sometimes terrifying streak of hardness and ‘take no prisoners’ mentality that is not associated with the so called fairer sex. The kind of confident, brash, angry and often confusing women who can brutally bring someone down, and in the next moment, weep in anguish over their wayward children or disappointing husbands. When we talk about feminism, a lot comes up. I cringe when I hear women distancing themselves from the F word and saying stuff like they believe in equality and fairness and a happy, peaceful society. I don’t blame them though, because I also find that it is much easier to engage people in meaningful discussions if you are not brandishing your feminism like a mega saber that will slay any idiot that dares cross your path.

1. We don’t really know what feminism is: A quick google search comes up with the following definitions: ‘Feminism is a multi-disciplinary approach to sex and gender equality understood through social theories and political activism. Historically, feminism has evolved from the critical examination of inequality between the sexes to a more nuanced focus on the social and performative constructions of gender and sexuality.’ And more succinctly, ‘the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of political, social, and economic equality to men’ Or, according to that great philosopher Pat Robinson, ‘Feminism is a socialist, anti-family, political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians’  I think that the first definition was sanitized to be more inclusive: a product of changing times, if you may, given that inequality and mistreatment of women is no longer as blatant as it was before, and now takes on more subtle forms that are harder to point out. Let’s get comfortable with that: the idea that we have the right to ask for more, that we have the right to voice our discomfort and the idea that we deserve better. And that is okay. We don’t have to apologize for this, and neither do we need to water it down to make others feel comfortable.

2. We think that feminism is a zero sum game: Every time gender relations are brought up, you will undoubtedly hear what I consider the most tired argument ever. ‘WHAT ABOUT THE BOY CHILD????’ Indeed, what about him? You would think that feminism is about running around in villages and castrating little boys so that their sisters can go to school. It is true that boys in society, not only in Kenya but in the world, seem to be struggling to fit into the new world order. I don’t think its because more women are literate, or are working shitty jobs for lesser pay. Maybe it’s because boys lack proper role models, and all they see around them is men shrinking from their responsibilities and caving when things get hard. I don’t know, but based on the growing number of church programs that try and get men together to talk things out, clearly there is a problem and it needs a solution. But blaming feminists smells of scapegoating: feminism, since it’s very beginning, has always had a very clear message: enough with treating women as second class citizens. That’s it, not, bring down men to our level, but rather we insist that you see us as equals.

3. We don’t fully appreciate just how much women’s rights movements have improved our lives: It is difficult to imagine that up until the 70s, many western countries did not allow women to vote. Why? Because women, periods, lolz! The only reason women are allowed to work today is because of World War 1: since all the men were away fighting, it suddenly dawned on society that women could, and this was quite the novel idea, actually do mens’ work and do it well. Today, in 2015, we still have this massive undercurrent that guides society: basically that women should know their place, be happy that they can get jobs (even though they are still paid less and struggle to rise beyond a certain level), be careful not to provoke men into raping them, maintain their purity but also transform into vixens for their husbands overnight: a world where any great woman’s achievements can instantly be wiped out because someone said she is a slut, or that she got divorced, or that she had an affair and therefore is not a moral, upstanding woman is therefore clearly a failure. The menz get a free pass though. We live in a world where it is still okay to ignore women who say they were sexually assaulted, and go further by blaming them for what happened to them. It is still a dangerous world for women, and none of us are safe.

4. We are not always aware of just how hard it can be for women:  Those ball breaking amazons I was talking about, they were not born that way. Quite often, they simply had no other choice than fight. Years after my father died, I asked my mother how she kept it all together, and in fact launched an even more awesome phase of our lives. She told me, ‘I did not have the luxury of falling apart. You people looked at me like I was your whole world and I could not disappoint you.’ I find it absolutely hilarious that people expect female politicians to be better than men just because periodz, looolz. But if you think about it, how the hell did they get into power in the first place? Was it by hugging children and being good wives? Hell no. You can be sure it was just as dirty and conniving as their male counterparts. All the while, of course, waiting for the accusations about their whorishness to start flying. My insides twist when I hear statements like ‘great queens…women in Africa were respected…strong woman’. Oh God, please no. Please. This is just as patronizing as insisting that women know their place. It creates this romantic image of women that is absolutely not true. Women don’t want to be idolized. They just want a fair chance.

5. We don’t want to admit that feminism, by its very nature, has to upset people: Did any country ever gain independence by declaring that they just want to be happy and live in an equal society? No, they fought, and they were lucky that current affairs, i.e. financial ruin from World War II came together to allow for independence. Did black Americans get the right to go to proper schools by writing polite letters? No. They had the ever loving shit beaten out of them until finally, at least on paper, got the right to be equal citizens. Then the racism just morphed into another beast. The thing is, fighting against anything changes you. It makes you harder, sometimes paranoid, and sometimes it makes you closer into the very thing that you are fighting against. That is why these strange labels start floating around. Like femi-nazi, man hater, militant feminist. Please. Let’s not kid ourselves. No-one in power will voluntarily surrender something that seems to hurt their interests. And we know that. That is why we will keep shouting ourselves hoarse until we get what we want. It’s a long, long struggle, and each victory, no matter how small, takes a lot of noise. But the trenches were dug long ago. We are not going anywhere, mostly because there is nowhere else to go.

So, am I a feminist? Labels are a waste of time. They distract us from the real issues that we need to deal with. I will say this again: more time having healthy discussions, less time throwing mud at people based on half baked ideas and misinformation.

A few thoughts on the state of our Nation

I really liked the old judge on Boston Legal who would get into a huff at the antics of Denny Crane and that other guy. This guy:

outrageousTurns out that Denny and his bro crush Alan Shore play up on his insecurities because he is 70 years old, a virgin and still living with his mother. Okay.

Quite often, when I read the papers or listen to the radio, I feel exactly like that. Sometimes I even say it out aloud. There is a lot of outrage in the world right now and I want to throw in my very subjective views on all this anger:

1. On this thing called tribalism: Every time something wrong happens in Kenya, you have all these outraged people on the social media shouting at Kenyans about how we deserve this because we voted on tribal lines. As opposed to what, though? Political ideology? A spotless performance record? Clear vision and the determination to go there? Do we actually, realistically, have a choice? Would we really have been better off under the Opposition, which has been very publicly and very embarrassingly tearing itself into pieces?

Again on tribalism. How exactly are we meant to deal with it? Should we all erase our ethnic names and surnames, ask our grandparents to put their names in a lotto so that they can move from their homes? It would also have to be undertaken on a massive scale: we would have to rename our counties and villages too, and give them bland names like…like what actually?

If we look at how other countries have dealt with tribalism, there are no easy solutions. Rwanda, no-one needs a reminder. India, strong regional government, but still there are fights between the Muslims and the Hindus, not to mention the war on women. Europe? Well, extermination, integration by sheer numbers and force, and of course splitting up countries into smaller and smaller geographical units sort of took care of it over a really, really, really long time. United by language, culture and a shared history. (Also a strong conviction that your people are superior to everyone else.)

Yes…what we are really saying is that we want equality and peace. Shouting down tribalism is a convenient boogey-man. We can’t ‘solve’ it but we can blame all our failures on it.

Will we ever really truly love each other and hold hands under our beautiful flag? I’m not sure. Maybe we don’t need to. We embraced devolution, which is a clear statement that different regions have different needs and they have the right to protect their own interests and do what works for them. (Once all the governors’ mansions have been built and there are a few more billionaires in the country of course.) Again, even if we magically wipe away any trace of diversity/ difference, growing extreme nationalism (also known as stop taking all the jobs we refuse to do and go back to your countries you brown people) tells us that finding differences to unite against is something societies are very good at.

Which brings me to,

2. This thing called Kenya: Some people are of the opinion that calling Kenya a country requires a massive stretch of the imagination. If you live in Nairobi and some of the other towns in the 15% of Kenya that is not a desert or semi- desert, you may not believe this. Even then, there are pockets in the city that are not technically under the rule of government. Instead, this is a world where NGO’s, gangsters and local barons decide what happens. Places where people do not want electricity from KPLC because they have their own connections (that frequently cause devastating fires). And even then…this is a place where you would rather call the Red Cross when a building collapses, despite the fact that a whole department exists to deal with disasters. And the next day, shout about how NGO’s need to leave the country.

3. On fighting corruption: This is another great distraction. Which is often linked back to ‘YOU VOTED ALONG TRIBAL LINES!!!’

many headed hydra

The EACC has to fight this monster with hard hitting reports and PLO’s linguistic flare

I should say one thing though: I am not really sure what Parliament does. They debate a ton of laws, ranging from legally allowed substitutes for breast milk, to enabling Counties to officially have something called the ‘County Printer’ to more serious issues such as security and potato farming.

One of the greatest things that the NARC/ PNU government did was revitalize the public service. While we were following the Nyayo philosophy, the civil service virtually ground to a halt. Literally everything collapsed. Part of the reason was that we had to ‘structurally adjust’ our economies, another way of asking government to just slash the civil service, stop building schools, hospitals and roads and outsource everything to private companies who would obviously do a better job and would absolutely not shred these companies to pieces to make massive profits before making a quick exit. Also Nyayo had to focus on consolidating his power, which meant that a lot of incompetent people suddenly found themselves running the economy.

So now, at least we have a semblance of a functioning public service. We have PHDs and MPhils sitting in little cubicles drafting policies and getting angry at consultants all day. And they do make progress. Slow, boring progress that cannot compete against sensational headlines, and are always under the threat of complete erasure after a roadside declaration from an MP on the campaign trail.

Which brings me back to corruption. We focus on grand corruption because it is something we can talk about in a few paragraphs, exorcise our anger, and feel like we are tackling a problem. Chicken scandal! Counties will cause the financial collapse of the country! (they could be well on their way by the way). More outrage. Again, I am not sure if we can actually solve this. Our whole system, under whatever name, still gives politicians too much temptation. Even Hercules would falter.

On the other hand, systemic corruption  is corruption which is primarily due to the weaknesses of an organization or process. It invades the system, and becomes the system.  It becomes the rule, rather than the exception. It is caused by conflicting incentives, discretionary powers, monopolistic powers, lack of transparency and low pay (i.e all those public servants who are never at work because they are moonlighting for NGOs or busy growing potatoes to send their kids to school).

This is why I think that people who go around saying that ‘corruption starts with you and me!’ are asking a bit much from us. That if we stop paying cops to get off on traffic offences, the system will magically realign itself. Okay…

It would be nice if we focused a little more on what the public service is actually doing. Or not doing. They are the ones who actually move the country forward; stronger institutions means better service, which is what we really want.

4. On understand who we are: we are in the unfortunate position of not being in control of our own story. We get outraged every time our problems are framed in way that implies the reason we are such failures is because we are primitive. What is even worse is that we have internalized this  narrative are have become unable to have honest, critical debates about who we are.

I see this when MPs can ask for exceptions on domestic violence because ‘in our culture, that is how men show they love their wives’. I see this when you have people sighing and saying ‘Only in Kenya!’ and, ‘You voted on tribal lines!’ (as if land, production, wealth and trying to protect legitimate interests has nothing to do with it). I see this when we lash out at development organisations one day, insisting that activists are on their payroll and the next day, we accept loans from our best friends the IMF (architects of the infamous SAPs) I see this when we say bizarre things like ‘What the West needs to do is to help developing governments be empowered to fight corruption’. How can you ask someone to come and empower you? Isn’t there an oxymoron in there somewhere?

We still have not understood that everyone has an agenda, as they should. We don’t quite have a way to protect our own interests, as we should. So we act like the world owes us a favor. This is how we can get away to claiming that there is a secret campaign to sterelise African women. To what end? To bring us down and destroy us? There are perfectly legal ways in which this is happening…and continues to happen.

The world owes us a big apology. They owe us a massive debt. But they won’t pay it. Or even acknowledge that it exists.

I have no solutions because I am part of the system. Like plenty of others, I benefit from the dysfunction build into the system. I have privilege, and if you are reading this, then you probably do too. I can only beg that we think deeper and harder about who we are and what we want, and what is really ailing us. That eventually, one day, it will be normal to attend public hearings on budget and expenditure, instead of lurching from crisis after crisis.

A few encouraging words to Mr Nderitu Njoka and his legions of marginalised men

First I would like to thank Mr Njoka, who came out in support of the women who had been stripped in Nairobi over the last couple of days. I really appreciate that. He even helpfully pointed out that at least they were not raped, so kudos to the touts for demonstrating such self restraint.

He also gave some valuable advice that we should all take seriously – in the future, women should ask their men for advice on what to wear before leaving the house, solving that problem that most women really cannot make such basic decisions in their daily lives. And for the unmarried girls living without the crucial guidance of their husbands?A new law will be proposed, spelling out exactly what passes as decency today. So sit tight ladies, and in the meantime stay at home.

Now, all this coincides with the 16 Days of Activism campaign, and I feel as though the marginalized men that Njoka represents are going to be feeling left out as all these rabid feminists bay for blood and fight for their right to walk around in mini-skirts. Therefore, I would like to take this opportunity to thank Mr Njoka and the thousands of activists insisting that we pay attention to our men and boys.

I would like to note a few things though, that I feel that once clarified, could really help the Men’s movement gain the respect it so richly deserves:

Gender violence

Njoka and his army are deeply concerned at the growing number of men that suffer untold abuse at the hands of their women, who got these ideas about equality due to their education. (and probably western media) He says this number is probably at around 300 cases a year. We can all agree that this is wrong.

However, could we also mention the number of boys and girls who are physically, mentally, emotionally and sexually abused by their parents? What do they have to say about the fact that men are not encouraged to come forth and speak about their abuse? Will this problem disappear once women stop beating their husbands? I don’t know.

What about the inconvenient fact that more than 80% of Kenyan women report being physically abused at least once in their lives? Or that about 40% of married women are beaten by their husbands? Sure, sometimes women, who are actually made to serve men, need a slap to pipe down and remember their place. But , what do our champions have to say about the impact that this has on the children? Or the fact that a slap can escalate to a full on beating that could result in motherless children?

The law of the land: Our constitution says that everyone should be respected. Mr Njoka was quick to point out that assaulted women (and men) should report to the police station and let our valiant policemen do the rest. What we would like to know from them is, which policemen exactly? Are they the same ones that ask the victims what they did to deserve this treatment? Or the ones that punish gang rapists by asking them to cut some grass? The same police officers who have often been accused of assaulting women in their custody? How do they feel about the fact fact that more than 20 000 cases a year go unreported? Or that, for even those brave (or stupid?) enough to seek justice, have their cases thrown out and their reputations torn to shreds?

African tradition: This argument is nearly bullet proof. I mean, who would not want to return to the happy days before western media brainwashed our women into thinking that they are equal to men? Before they learnt that they could think and process complex tasks and actually do man stuff like medicine and engineering? Gawsh. But answer us, why is it that tradition comes up only when it is about women, their dress, their careers and their general unwillingness to serve as punching bags? Where are the traditions for the other half of the population? Are we claiming that African societies existed for thousands of years by occupying themselves exclusively with the violent and aggressive policing of their women?

Where are these voices when it comes to other traditions, like actually taking care of children: all of them, since traditional men are very strong and generally need more than one woman? Or the fact that men had a role in society, and this role was not getting drunk and blaming others on their problems? Where are the fathers of all these boys who piss away their youths and terrorize society? Are those the precious African values they have been taught? Where is that discussion?

Zero sum game: With this rise of feminists, we understand that hapless men need to defend themselves. Where did this idea that ‘female empowerment’ is zero-sum game come from? Is it that, for every little girl who gets to go to school and make something of herself, several boys are turned into eunuchs? Have schools started actively turning away boys to free up space for girls? Did it ever occur to our beleaguered men that a double income, in these hard times when we are all paying for our bloated government, could actually be a good thing? Are they aware of how much it costs to buy a home?

As so often and so rightly pointed out, men are big and strong and raging with testosterone. Surely, anything a silly girl can do, isn’t it that a man can do it twice as good with his hands behind his back? Why then the self pity? Why not step out of the shadows and show these women how smart and deserving you really are? (of course we would appreciate it if we were left with our clothes on in this display of power, intelligence and strength.)

Stereotypes of men: Mr Njoka and friends, do you really understand men? Are they produced in a factory, with each model identical to the next?  Did you ask men if they agree with your image of them as creatures unable to control their sexual urges, refusing to accept responsibility for their own lives and openly declaring women to be nothing more than vessels for their own pleasure?  Why should they be subjected them to such lazy stereotypes? Why reduce them to silly caricatures? If this is the real image of men in Kenya, then why should anyone take them seriously? Shouldn’t it be the case then, that these pesky feminists could actually free you from your responsibilities and let you roam free?

In the end, the men’s right movement will succeed. Because they have understood that the reasons behind unemployment, violence, corruption, hunger, HIV, climate change and even witchcraft is because women are taking over the world. This is a good thing, because as soon as they can bring us back to our senses by enacting laws about decency,marriage, morality, drinking limits, thought allowances, career choices, literacy levels, acceptable turban lengths and headscarf regulations, we will finally have opened the gates to heaven.

Thank you, keep up the good work

Pastor Victor Kanyari and the questions around the African Soul

I have to confess that I thoroughly enjoyed the whole Kanyari scandal. I laughed at the memes on twitter and made jokes about ‘panda mbegu 310’.

I had never trusted ‘miracle churches’ but  I was not aware of the lengths that people could go to manufacture miracles. I was uncomfortable about the way Kanyari treated his staff- in my pedestrian opinion, it was classic controlling behavior- one minute lavishing praise, the other, humiliating them by making them kneel down before him, do his laundry and literally call him ‘daddy’.

This kind of treatment, to me, is very good for breaking down people and molding them into whatever you want them to be. Ask anyone who has been in an abusive relationship. It’s not about stupidity.

Kanyari himself was worrying- it is rare (at least for me, in my fantasy world,) to see someone who can lie with so much conviction and not show a single ounce of remorse, even after being caught red handed. Nothing in his body language showed any doubt, any hint that he may be lying. It is like he believed his own lies. In short, I don’t think that Kanyari is a clever business man. He is a psychopath.

However, this is not about Bro Kanyari.  I that we have missed the point a little bit when we start blaming Kenyans wholesale for their stupidity and love of quick fix solutions. This is about what Kanyari’s success could tell us about the state of religion and society in Africa today (in a non judgmental way I hope)

Like about:

1. Economic collapse and religious zeal: According to many people, the reason that Kanyari was able to get away with his madness was because Kenyans are stupid, gullible and have a tendency to take short cuts. And combined with Kanyari’s business acumen and flair for marketing, well, they got what they deserved. This is assuming that what is happening here is unique to Kenyans.

it is not. Let us look at Zimbabwe, and what they are currently dealing with:

‘Prophecy has become central to Zimbabwe’s social and economic transformation. There is probably more money circulating in churches than in banks…gospreneurs are milking dry the poor through unorthodox magic disguised as prophecy…’ (full article here)

Okay so that means that Kenyans are not uniquely gullible to magical prophets who wash feet and turn water into blood. So what is going on? Zimbabwe went through a brutal economic collapse because of Comrade Bob and his radical policies. Previously, Zimbabwe was a country where the social systems worked, at least for a large enough number of people- you could go to a public school and expect a reasonable education. Hospitals had medicine. Civil servants did their jobs.

Then, almost overnight, it all went away. And suddenly, Prophets selling holy water appeared on every corner. Crusades promising untold wealth (for a fee) were happening every weekend. Hard work could no longer cut it. Suddenly, Zimbabweans needed divine intervention and demon banishing prayers to put food on their tables.

Smart people like to quote Karl Marx, that, religion is the opium of the masses. But I often feel like it is used in a slightly patronizing manner. (In a ha ha look at those dumb f*cks and how much better I am than them kind of way) Magical miracle church empires are sweeping across Africa- filling a massive void created by weak social systems and insecurity . What I am saying is that religion can be the last hope for people who have nothing else to lose. When all the systems around them are broken beyond repair. And that sucks.

2. The meaning of Christianity in Africa: There is a quiet battle of sorts going on today in the African Christian circles.Conservative churches are fully aware of the enormous popularity of prosperity gospel- of which, Kanyari represents a crude form, with other uptown churches manifesting a more sophisticated version (if half the church service is dedicated to praying about success and/or admiring others for their miracle blessings, followed by buying motivational books and dvds about LIVING THE LIFE YOU WANT NOW by BROTHER PASTOR J at your swanky Church library…then, yeah, maybe dig up that Bible and look up what Jesus said instead…)

Conservatives may be losing this battle.

That their quiet messages of love, humility and compassion is being drowned out by the chorus of prayer for wealth and prosperity TODAY (and if not, VANQUISH THE DEMONS MIGHTY FATHER!!). The conservatives are on to something- does this new breed of religion, often based on cult of personality and focused on success TODAY and NOW through prayer, really have anything in common with the actual principles of Christianity that were set out in the beginning? (Full critique of how prosperity gospel is hurting Africa)

This leads us to ask the question, what are people looking for in religion? If you believe the scholars, then it is about following the teachings of Jesus. About reading the bible. About finding a moral compass that will help you live your life in a way that allows you to go to bed without a heavy conscience. Is that what we are hearing in the most popular churches today?

I have talked about the alienation I felt while attending Catholic mass, and feeling like the rituals and processes were simply not meant for me. I can imagine that many people, despite having a super religious upbringing, turn away from Christianity because it just does not make sense to them.

It turns out that Christian scholars have been debating this for a while- what it means to be Christian, and African. Christianity and ‘African religions’ gelled because both believed in a single supreme power.

However, that is where the similarities ended. And where the miracle workers like Kanyari stepped in, with their demon bashing and pin-removing antics. Christianity is no longer dictated by foreign rituals and European mythology. Christianity is being owned by Africans, Latin Americans and other people of the south. But it is a confusing process. What to add in and what to leave out?

And, what if it changes so much that it becomes unrecognizable? What if it slips down into worship of ‘false gods?’ This debate could be healthy, and it might produce something that will become more tolerable to more people (on the pain of admitting that the Word of God is actually malleable, hence threatening the entire religious institution and being forced to admit that there is more than one path to righteousness.)

3. Religion and human psychology: Our analysts are aghast- how is it possible that, after the exposé, Kanyari’s church might even be growing? How dumb could people possibly be? This can be easily explained by a theory called cognitive dissonance. 

‘ we have a powerful motive to maintain cognitive consistency can give rise to irrational and sometimes maladaptive behavior.According to Festinger, we hold many cognitions about the world and ourselves; when they clash, a discrepancy is evoked, resulting in a state of tension known as cognitive dissonance. As the experience of dissonance is unpleasant, we are motivated to reduce or eliminate it, and achieve consonance (i.e. agreement)’

In short, the human mind cannot tolerate conflicting ideas beliefs or emotions, and responds either by outright denying the information, or in the case of conspiracy and cult religious movements, taking it as evidence that in fact you are right and everyone else is wrong, hence allowing self to double down on original beliefs.

Religion is particularly prone to this because no-one can really prove or disprove anything, and our religious beliefs go to the very cores of our identities. It can produce some pretty bizarre results- not just in Kenya, but around the world (Some crazy cults from all over the world).

Already we have seen fake miracles disguised as the work of the Lord. We see greed disguised as prosperity. We see psychopathy disguised as leadership and brilliance.

I do not think we should dismiss the followers of Kanyari (and other ‘disciples’ of mighty prophets) as stupid and gullible. I think we should remember that,  as a society we are only as strong as our weakest members.