The Prison That Is Patriotism
Oh, you probably clicked on this thinking it was going to be a deeply introspective look into the fallacies of patriotism and statehood. I'm actually here to talk about Muhoho Kenyatta and Swahili. It might get deep and touch on patriotism, but you're still at the top of the page. Let's see where this takes us.
By now we have all seen the video of Muhoho Kenyatta reading a few words of Swahili from his phone. I mean, I don't live in the country but I still saw it. Like most people, I found some aspects of the speech hilarious. Nothing he said was particularly powerful, funny or stirring. The funny part was the #Muhohochallenge. So far I have only watched the Propesa one and it is hilarious! While there was some humour to be found in the situation, I was triggered. As a former private school child who would be told by her classmates that her Swahili was not up to par or the fact that it was accented. I was in my feels.
Before you start telling me first world problems in a third world country, hear me out.
I. Me, myself and I. Me who does not speak for all the private school kids in Kenya. Just me, by myself, feel that there is a certain idea that those who go to private school like Peponi or who live in a certain area of town (shoutout to my peeps in Karen and Runda) are not as Kenyan as those who don't have access to similar amenities and opportunities.
I'm going to reiterate that this is just the way I think. Just me, I did not consult with the rest of the private school brigade nor did I meet with the boujee folks of Kitisuru to bring you this message. It's just me, myself and I. Please feel free to disagree. I welcome it.
When I saw him speak the first thing I felt was bad because that was not the best Swahili out there and neither was it the worst. You could definitely tell he was not Swaleh Mdoe but a dude whose dad happens to be a president (with a penchant for making autocratic like statements.) A nervous dude, who had to speak in front of a bunch of people. It was a little rough to watch. But that's not what triggered me.
I was triggered when I saw the comments on how rich kids (he got buy a country and get change kind of money, I'm just regular broke) don't know Kiswahili. The "this is your president's son who cannot speak the national language" comments. Bruh, is he the president?
My fave was how this is the problem of taking your children to private school and not teaching them the national language.
Excuse me Swahili police, who asked you?
But for real though, who asked you?
What is the correlation between private school and Swahili? Because from where I sit all schools in Kenya teach in English. If we're so proud of our national language, why don't we teach subjects in Swahili? If it is so important that we all speak our national language, why are we not speaking Swahili sanifu? Why are the aisles in the store only in English?
One more hole in your paper thin argument, would you tell someone who could speak their "mother tongue" but not Swahili the same thing? I doubt it. So why is it different when it is a kid who grew up in Nairobi, went to private school and probably uni abroad?
What's even crazier is if Muhoho were to speak English instead of Kiswahili he would have gotten more flack for it. J.Cole put it best in his song 'She Knows,' "damned if I do, damned if I don't.... what these b*tches want from a n*."
I feel that the argument of speaking the national language is one that measures the "Kenyanness" of an individual. When I'm asked if I can speak Kiswahili by a Kenyan or to speak Swahili, it makes me feel as though there is something I am lacking. Granted, my Swahili is not Muhoho style but neither is it sanifu. My Swahili is you not gon snatch me from these Nairobi streets. It is, you not gon rob me with your exorbitant prices. My Swahili is many things but it is not a measure of how Kenyan I am.
The most interesting thing about this is that it almost seems like Swahili is one of the ways you can show that you are Kenyan and not aspiring to be like our former colonisers. Which would be difficult because we have already become what our former colonisers intended. Before the colonisers, there was no Kenya. There is nothing that unites us other than borders, whack-ass politicians, colonial experience and Swahili.
Someone shared this really cool blog post on my Facebook timeline titled "How Kenyan Are You?- The Trial of Muhoho Kenyatta." I love the way it is structured and the argument that the author is making. I think she makes some valid points. We are all guilty of rushing towards something if it’s Western but shunning it, if it’s African. Our education system is quick to tell us the stories of Western wars and conquests but not the wealth of Mansa Musa or the bad ass queens Nzinga and Yaa Asantewaa. We are all guilty and complicit in erasing certain aspects of our cultural heritage, whether it be our parents refusal to speak to us in our traditional languages lest we have mother tongue interference, or simply laughing and making fun of people's behaviours as village like.
However, I disagree with her statement "Today, we, the true patriots and Pan-Africanists of this nation are charging Muhoho Kenyatta, the so-called modern civilised society and every other negative Westernised African with the crime of violation of what is truly Kenyan and what is truly African."
What exactly is truly Kenyan and truly African?
Is it the ability to speak the language? The ability to recite the folklores of our ancestors? The ability to speak Swahili with a "Kenyan accent"?
What is it?
The idea of the African and the Kenyan are all looked at through a colonial lens. Before the Berlin conference, there was no Africa and there was no Kenya. Wouldn't the people in that time be considered the original and authentic "Africans" and "Kenyans"?
One of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's characters put it best in the book 'Half of a Yellow Sun.' "... the only authentic identity for the African is the tribe... I am Nigerian because a white man created Nigeria and gave me that identity. I am black because the white man constructed black to be as different as possible from his white. But I was Igbo before the white man came." If you really sit down and think about it, there is no true African or Kenyan. Our national identities are remnants of colonialism.
The question shouldn't be are you Kenyan enough?
The question should be, this is what was left to us, this is who we now are, how do we build from all these different experiences and perspectives?
There is more than one way to be Kenyan. You can be rich and Kenyan. You can be poor and Kenyan. You can be middle- class and Kenyan. You can listen to rock and pop and EDM and still be Kenyan. There is no one size fits all in the Kenyan experience. Muhoho Kenyatta not being able to speak Kiswahili is not a measure of how unAfrican or unKenyan he is, it is a tangible way to measure the effects of colonialism on our lives today.