Blaming The Victims Of Historical Injustices

"Unfortunately, and as America continues to be painfully reminded, admonishing others to "get over it" or to "accept and move on" does not address or resolve the underlying causes of racism and discrimination. It only sweeps them under the rug, increases mistrust among her citizenry and ups the tensions between them until the next flashpoint: Ferguson, Cleveland, and Baltimore, etc.

In an article titled Dear Luos, The Kikuyus Owe You Nothing, Capital FM Digital Media Strategist Calvin Odongo offers an interesting and somewhat provocative take on the relationship between two of Kenya's most storied tribes -- Luos and Kikuyus -- in a piece whose title appeared to have been drafted to garner maximum attention -- negative and/or positive. The piece is a brave, if somewhat misleading and gap-toothed effort at discussing the oftentimes incendiary topic of tribal relations (think race relations) between Kenya's 42+ tribes.

In the interest of full disclosure, like Calvin, I am a Luo who was also born in Kano and raised in Nairobi and Kisumu respectively. I moved to America when I was 19. I have lived my entire adult life in the US and while it's been a while since I last visited Kenya, I am as plugged into the country's socio-political happenings as anyone I know thanks to my family (most who still live in Kenya), friends and colleagues from Kenya, the internet and a pretty impressive personal library of books about Kenya written by Kenyans and non-Kenyans.

Unfortunately, the writer makes the same mistakes some (American pundits) make when discussing race relations.

Calvin Odongo, an employee of a media outfit owned by one of Kenya's largest beneficiary of corporate welfare and ultimate insider Chris Kirubi, monolithicizes the Luo community. In so doing, he opens himself to the valid criticism that he is either a sellout (Uncle Tom) or that he is sucking up to Mr. Kirubi: Imagine an opinion piece by an African-American employee of FOX News titled "Dear African-Americans, White America Owes You Nothing" that purports to reflect a "fair and balanced" opinion of the African-American "community" on the subject (of historical injustices).

Additionally, Calvin Odongo's article does not provide any historical context for the rather presumptuous title and perspective therein. Think the on-going back-and-forth re: BlackLivesMatter and the larger discussion re: state of African-Americans without including or even acknowledging the well-documented and extensive history of police brutality towards African-Americans not to mention America's history of racism, redlining, Jim Crowism and the many other forms of institutional discrimination that African-Americans have suffered over the years.

The perspective offered by Mr. Odongo mirrors the perspectives offered by the likes of Mutahi Ngunyi, Moses Kuria and Miguna Miguna; public personalities in Kenya with penchants for spouting inflammatory comments that are simultaneously true, quasi-true and blatantly untrue: Think the presentations of Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and the cavalcade of right wing conservative "news" personalities and opinion leaders.

That the opinions offered by these provocateurs on issues of the day have some element of truth in them sets the stage for the ensuing attempts to minimize or dilute their impact in the lives of the afflicted -- African-Americans and Luos. The end result is that socio-political leaders in either country are absolved from the responsibility of addressing said issues by implementing policies that take into account their historical genesis or are completely indifferent to the plight -- of the afflicted.

Odongo's claim of a "common lie....peddled in Luo Nyanza for so long that.....(it is) now.....accepted as the truth.....(is) that every problem that afflicts the community stems from the Kikuyu" is at best, circumstantial. It is anecdotal and rooted on Odongo's "reality." Think the incessant right wing claims about welfare recipients or the one about the "Obama Phone".

Kenyans, like Americans need to engage in an honest and long-overdue discussion about the impact of historical injustices on all levels of their respective societies -- personal, family, local and national. The hope is that these discussions, especially at the national level, will result in remediation that take into account the historical context against which some of the (social) problems evolved even as people are held fully accountable for their actions.

While Mr. Odongo's article presents Kenyans with an opportunity to reflect on what they can do to impact their respective communities, it does so by demonizing the Luo community. In offering a piece that shamelessly ingratiates him with his boss, Mr. Odongo does the same thing his self-serving and hyperbolic condemnation of people who ".....dance with the hopes of (others) at the altar of personal ambition" does! Think Rush Limbaugh advocating policies such as the "war on drugs" or "three strikes" -- both which disproportionately affect minorities -- even as he equivocates his own history of drug use.

Rather than cast aspersions at those who have arguably borne the brunt of the misguided policies of yesteryears, folks such Calvin Odongo, Mutahi Ngunyi, Rush Limbaugh, Glen Beck etc. who have public platforms should use them to inform and educate the public using history written by both the victors AND the vanquished. Kenya in particular with her demonstrably weak and malleable institutions should do so before the differences explode into violence, as they did in 2007/2008.

That Mr. Odongo's article offers his perspective on what the relationship between Luos and Kikuyus even as he omits any mention or acknowledgment of the history that created said relationship offers the cautionary tale: Those who refuse to learn from history are bound to repeat the same mistakes.