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We must free our minds

SUNDAY MAGAZINE
By Lucas Wafula | July 12th 2015
United States president Barack Obama

Political leaders here have made it clear. United States president Barack Obama should not talk about homosexuality!

I wonder what they will do if Obama talks about it — thrash him or eject him from Kenya?

Though I do not believe in scripting a speech for a visitor, I believe Obama should see this more as a clash of cultures than anything else.

Cultures are like religion — they are as diverse as they are complex.

Different cultures teach different world views. They socialise people differently, as my father once found out while visiting my brother in the United States. One evening, my brother invited his friends over for dinner and among them was a couple who were just about to get married.

My father congratulated them heartily, offering his best wishes. This couple was quite excited they started telling him how they met. My father was not interested in knowing all that.

Apparently, the former husband to the bride was also in the house, and he was happy that his ex had found happiness with his friend! As a matter of fact, he was to be the best man at the couple’s wedding.

My father was dumbfounded at this state of affairs, but he just smiled politely and did not tell the couple that such a situation would probably start an inter-clan war somewhere in Kenya. The Award winning Nigerian writer Jekwu Anyaegbuna (Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Regional Winner, Africa, 2012) interrogates and captures this clash of cultures very well in his story, Morrison Okoli —1955 to 2010.

Even though, this story is about drug trafficking and addiction — the drugs eventually kill Morrison —the narrator, who is delivering the eulogy during his brother’s funeral, delves into what he thinks the African holds dear, as opposed to what the West has to offer.

For instance, he does not understand why Morrison was so interested in accumulating degrees instead of returning home to earn traditional titles.

He goes on to stress the importance of the traditional titles in life.

The narrator says a life without titles is a wasted one.

He boasts that he used his titles to secure a place in the military cemetery to bury Morrison.

“My titles made it possible for me the day I came here to make an inquiry. I wore my akwanze chieftaincy dress, a befitting traditional red hat (embellished with two spotless eagle feathers) on my head. I held a walking stick emblazoned with a lion’s head, my neck surrounded with pricey beads and cowries.”

Even the military personnel seemed to respect that. The narrator is very happy about it and boasts. “I swaggered like a crowned peacock, as if I had never visited a toilet.”

The narrator detests Western ideas and considers the acquisition of Western manners a disease.

He says “Americanism is attractive, addictive, and infectious. Once you’re infected, there is no cure... Morrison, it is unfortunate you...kept your belt halfway on your buttocks to reveal your white underwear. You called it sagging... this is a fashion destroyer, a disaster.” Even then, Anyaegbuna opines that Africans are not insular in their ways. In fact, they have the weakness of copying anything that is Western, as if it is the benchmark of quality.

Through the narrator, Anyaegbuna goes on to expose the villagers’ ignorance and copycat tendencies. They copy everything Morrison, the American does. The youth sag their pairs of trousers because Morrison sags his and there is a man who stops his wedding because Morrison came back from America without a wife.

Other villagers buy and keep coffins in their houses because Morrison had done the same. What they did not know was that Morrison was using the coffins to hide drugs. These coffins cause fear to descend on the village with one woman complaining that her husband had brought home a coffin which would cause all of them to be wiped out.

However, the husband says, “It’s a device to protect our yams.”

When the wife insists that their son is frightened of the coffin, the husband suggests a remedy, that the son should “Pronounce it backwards so it doesn’t scare him. Call it a niffoc instead of a coffin.”

Anyaegbuna seems to be saying that inasmuch as there are those people who would like to see Africans sticking to their cultures, there is a strong pull towards embracing Western ideas, which Africans find “attractive.”

At the same time, ignorance is not doing the African any favours. We ape things without thinking, some destructive — provided we think it is fashionable. We even find ways to justify our actions.

I must submit that we should reconsider the way we approach issues that we do not like.

As the politician warns Obama against talking about homosexuality, there are Kenyans who are gay and have formed a lobby group for the Lesbians, Gay, Bisexuals and Transgenders.

Young people should be taught about sexuality so that they can make informed choices.

When the president spoke against illegal brews, we immediately witnessed the destruction of the “breweries” with some brewers stating they were in business legally.

Whether this destruction will rehabilitate the addicts is a story for another day. However, just like foreign ideologies, certain issues require education for the populace.

When the people are part of a reasonable decision making process, they tend to identify with the solution and will protect and educate others about it.

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