By Silas Nyanchwani
Last Word on Auma Obama’s “Gonya Gonya Remark”
The problem with Auma Obama is what psychologists call “Empathy Gap”.
Not many people are able to step into the shoes of others to know what it feels like to walk in them.
Begging, borrowing, even a debt from a friend is often a dehumanizing thing. Often, I am in a difficult place and want to borrow money from even my closest friend, and but the indignity of borrowing makes me opt to sleep hungry, skip a meal, or forego whatever I wanted to do.
After college, I was with my best friend. He was buying me a beer, but I suggested, “rather than buy me beer, the two beers, why can’t you give me the Sh 300 for my bus fare to work tomorrow.” Without thinking he told me, “mimi si bibi yako”.
I was benumbed. It never made sense. I know among men, sometimes someone can buy you whiskey worth Sh 10,000 but try to borrow money from him and he will tell you with a straight face, “SINA”.
Given a choice, most people will not beg or borrow. Given a chance, people will do a job to earn a living. In developed countries where unemployment rates are below 10 percent, you don’t have a gonya gonya culture.
Dr Auma Obama is a child of one of the beneficiaries of the late 1950s and 1960s America airlifts that took Kenyans to America at the height of the Cold War to go and study and come back to be technocrats. Among the Kenyans was Barack Obama Snr. Another one is Wangari Maathai. You will remember Maathai as the first African woman to win a deserved Nobel Prize for Peace. Barack Obama Snr, for all his erring ways was an excellent technocrat who is credited for building among many things the Bomas of Kenya (with some good imaginations to tap visitors to the Nairobi National Park into a cultural centre moulded on the way Kenyans build their homes in villages. The Northern Corridor high way was also his brainchild. By the time he dies, he was likely to be the Central Bank Governor, a job as prestigious in 1982, as it is now.
No coincidence thus that one of the Obama children would go on to be American president (the father went to Havard, no surprise the son too went to Havard.). Dr Auma Obama is one of the few Kenyan women with a PhD. Obtained by merit, but made more possible by her privileged background.
If you grew up in the village, you remember how the kids of the rich teachers or civil servants used to behave.
To the rich, the poor people are an inconvenience. The same way beggars bother you in town. And that is why sometimes the utterances of those privileged are likely to rub people the wrong way.
Do you know why Mukhisa Kituyi lost his parliamentary seat? Ask anyone from Kimilili and they will tell the bright scholar is a picture of arrogance. And ordinary folk hate every for of arrogance, especially if you wear it in that “I’m better than you” air.
It is simple guys. You don’t choose to which family you are born to. But the circumstances you grow up in determine your fate a lot.
Often when in a rooftop bar, sipping ice cold Tusker, preferably in good female company, you know those brainy, and witty girls, and having a good time, more so when it is windy, a bit cold, but there are heaters on, and there is good music playing, and you feel like you are on top of the world, I sit and wonder, what if I had been born as a Kikuyu in 1924.
I will not have the privilege to sit in the bar and will be living in some forest fighting some British land grabbers. Or if a Jew, living in Germany, I will be living in a concentration camp, waiting to be gassed by Hitler’s men.
There is nothing special in you, whether you live in Kileleshwa, or Lavington and someone lives in Mukuru kwa Reuben. Whether you have a Ph.D. or someone is a school dropout.
I will tell you why.
In 2007, when Kenya erupted in war, I had just joined campus. When Kibaki shamelessly declared himself a president and we went to war predictably, a number of my clansmen were murdered in Kericho and where we sat in the room, with my cousins, or schooled, with a degree or two, the information awakened a very visceral feeling in us that we wanted t go and rescue our clansmen. But there is a procedure. The men near the border have to go first. Then those of us, a layer or two inside, will have to offer back up. If it comes to that, it won’t matter if you are a pastor, a PhD holder or a dropout, you will fight, to protect your women and children and the dignity of your community.
There is a way education alienates average Kenyans, who suddenly start to think they are better than other human beings, and it gives them the right to talk down to others.
I hate it especially if it is someone who grew up in the village, is very aware of how people live who starts to talk nonsense because of his class or please his or her masters.
Know this, whether you have a Ph.D. or not, whether you live in Karen, or Kibera, you have no right, to demean people.
Your education should help you to understand what is inequality, appreciate the cards life served you and do something on your part to correct the same.
Gabriel Oguda penned a better way of understanding Auma Obama’s remark.
She may not have been aware, but if you read this, know your education should humble you, not elevate you to some hollow ivory tower.