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Of Ireland, its resemblance to Central Kenya and ‘Mûngû’

By XN Iraki | Dec 5th 2021 | 5 min read
By XN Iraki | December 5th 2021

Are poverty and adversity some of the catalysts of great Irish writing? [Courtesy]

Why does Ireland produce such great writers, from James Joyce to William Butler Yeats? Remember the poem that introduces Chinua Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart?”

Other great Irish writers include Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift and CS Lewis. To confirm their prowess in writing, WB Yeats, George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett and Seamus Heaney, all Irish are Nobel laureates.

Are poverty and adversity some of the catalysts of great Irish writing? Great writers and other artists like musicians and actors seem to thrive in adversity.

How many Kenyan artists or athletes were born in leafy suburbs? Ireland has had its share of adversity - from colonisation by the English to the potato famine.

The other reason for the flowering of Irish writing is the influence of traditional literature and myths.

This makes writing easy, flowing from the heart. Great Greek writers such as Homer, Sophocles or Herodotus benefited from the same.

Some cranks have even suggested Irish great writing stems from booze. Can we imitate Irish and base our writing on traditional myths and folklore?

Have you noted how local musicians singing in their mother tongues fade when trying other languages? Do you recall the late Lucy Kibaki dancing to Emmy Kosgey’s Kalenjin song the day we promulgated the 2010 constitution?

Can we be like the Irish or Greeks, write about Central Kenya using its traditions and proverbs? With some research, we found one proverb from the mountain that can explain its current political and economic reality.

“Îgîtunywo mwana nî îikagîrio mûngû,” loosely translated, if a monkey takes a human baby, it is given “mûngû” and easily returns the baby. Mûngû is a green gourd before ripening.

It hardens readily to be converted into calabashes. It is not clear why monkeys love mûngû.

Could it be just a myth?

Karuga Wandai, a Thika-based lawyer says he witnessed such a baby theft in the 1950s but sweet bananas did the trick.

I have tried unsuccessfully to seek anyone who has used mûngû to get back a baby from a monkey.

This proverb is more apt now when leading political contenders are flocking to Central Kenya (the mountain). The region has held power (the baby) for 34 years since independence.

The power wielders of Central Kenya must be given a mûngû to let power go. What’s that mûngû?

Listening to speeches from presidential contenders flocking to Central Kenya, mûngû includes economic goodies - from better roads to better farm prices, more business opportunities, and peace with other communities.

The latter is to exorcise the ghosts of 2007-08 election violence. The contenders also know money is the language of Central Kenya.

The other language is religion. And the contenders are willing to talk about it. Quoting the bible and prayers are common during political visits to the mountains by key presidential contenders.

The other likely mûngû is deputy presidency. With the current constitutional order, that is a real mûngû.

The way the current deputy president has played his politics ahead of 2022 polls leaves no doubt the position is a real mûngû.

Its “mûngûness” increased with the death of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which attempted to dilute the deputy president’s power with new positions such as a prime minister and two deputies.

From the president’s most recent State of the Nation address, it seems BBI embers are still smouldering and we could one day warm ourselves with its political fire.

The plural of mûngû is mîungû. Other mîungû on the table for this region but away from public eyes could include a few cabinet slots and other big jobs.

Anyone who has interacted with Central Kenya natives knows they are capitalists and are proud of that.

They love self-dependence and rugged capitalism. That is often construed as selfishness in other regions of the country. They love hustling, seen as a mark of pride.

If you allow them to make money, they are careless about who is in power. Who would hate to ride on Central Kenya’s entrepreneurship and the taxes that go with that?

Economic revival is sold as the best mûngû for this region whose early encounter with mzungu left it overpopulated leading to a spillover into the Rift Valley and Nairobi at the turn of the 19th century.

The death of coffee and crops like pyrethrum left the region in a state of despair. That is best espoused by alcoholism and family feuds.

The presidential contenders have another mûngû; evoking the pride of fighting for uhuru through Mau Mau.

Did you hear Mau Mau songs played as Raila visited Nyeri? Have noted the constant mention of Mau Mau heroes? Any mûngû I have left out?

In the aftermath of 2007-08 post-election violence, fear gripped this region and its natives turned inwards.

Their confidence was hurt. That explains suicides, alcoholism, single parenthood and the prevalence of religion. The inwardness is further demonstrated by the revival of “kiama” and its revival of traditions.

Paradoxically as the central region looks inwards, it also looks outwards with a sizable diaspora.

They had to turn inwards because no one sympathises with them, seen as having monopolised power for 34 years of Uhuru. As power slips away in 2022, the Central natives fear they will become political orphans, which will soon turn into economic orphans.

That happened once for 24 years. Remember? It is a lack of assurance that will not happen that leaves this region restless. Assurance that their entrepreneurship will be allowed to blossom and no settling of historical grudges either directly or indirectly could be another mûngû.

It’s envisaged that due to their voting and economic clout, this region will need a mûngû every five years or be reminded of “mîungû” they hold.

Some argue after 2022, the region could be neutered by getting countervailing voting blocks. Some fear the region could be kept busy with alcoholism, religions and family feuds.

There are templates from elsewhere. Find out. The region should look at the long-term “mîungû” if it expects to remain an epicentre of both economic and political power after 2022.

Others suggest that with devolution, there is mûngû for every region and no one should lose sleep. One question asked in whispers is when power will return to this region if it slips away.

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