Not Yet Kenyan

I have been trying to write this piece for the last two weeks, and it has been agonising. I wrung my brain, trying to come up with zingy openings that compel you to keep reading, descriptions that cut to the core of how I feel, and yet don’t come across as overly sentimental. I worried about over-generalising, over-simplifying, over-dramatizing. I worried about being politically correct. Most of all, I worried about laying it bare…. or starting to.

You see this one is really important to me.

In reality, I have been trying to write this piece for the last decade.

So I am just going to write it. Ungarnished.

I popped my storytelling cherry a few months ago, and was preparing to tell Trupti’s story from John Sibi Okumu’s Role Play. I usually force my family to listen to me practice. They have perfected the art of zoning out, making grocery lists in their heads, as they watch my face for signs of when to make the appropriate oohs and aahs.

This time was different. By the end, my mum’s face was streaming with silent tears. Trupti tells the story of how her sister was raped by the military, in front of the whole family during the 1982 coup.

It was like that and worse Aleya. So much worse. They went from house to house, forcing their way in. The stealing was one thing, but they raped every woman they found. Every single one. In front of their brothers, fathers, grandfathers. So many of our Asian women.

It is the first time she has ever spoken to me about these things.

‘A respected leader in the community stood outside his house, in only his underwear, wailing, crying, pretending they had stolen everything, just so the military would think his house had already been ransacked, and would leave them alone. Those were not fake tears Aleya. He was protecting his three daughters hiding in the house.’

What does it take for a man to do that? Stripped of his dignity. Forever.

We don’t talk about that sort of stuff. Is that why I sometimes see fear in my grandmother’s eyes when a black man she doesn’t know enters the house?

My friend asked me this once.

‘Why is it if I am alone in a lift with an older Muhindi woman, she shrinks back in fear, as if I am going to attack her?’

He asked me this only after we had become friends. After he had become comfortable enough with me to ask the uncomfortable questions. We both burst out laughing. The idea that he could attack anybody is simply absurd. He has the gentlest soul. The laughter was hollow. The idea was absurd to him. Indeed it is absurd. But imagine. A whole community living like that.

But we inherit our fears, just as we inherit our prejudice.

I have always wondered what happened to make my grandmother so frightened. But we don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about the inherent fear so many women in my grandmother’s generation feel towards black men. This prejudice they then pass on to their daughters, and the daughters after that. It is ok to be friends with black women, but not ok to be friends with black men. Because you never know. The demonization of all black men. The fear of which, the basis we ourselves don’t understand, but we so often blindly adopt.

I am not interested in being politically correct anymore.

I have lived a truly sheltered life. My parents are working class, and have worked tooth and nail for that privilege of shelter. My father does not hide his opinion that I should have settled abroad. That was Plan A. Work hard. Save. Send kids abroad to university. They settle abroad. They live life in a country where they aren’t scared they are going to get kicked out any day.

I messed with the plan. I came back. I gave my heart to Kenya.

There are stories abound of Muhindi families with Idi Amin’s picture on their living room wall, a garland of flowers around the frame, in celebration, because that was the best thing that happened to them, getting kicked out of Uganda.

Memories of the 90’s when a certain politician went mad, and there were anti-Muhindi pamphlets making the rounds. Families advising each other to have a small bag packed. Ready to flee. Just in case.

Uganda was still fresh.

But flee where?

I was born here. My parents were born here. My grandparents were born here and have never even been to India.

I have heated arguments with my father

The problem with us Muhindis, is that we just live in our own bubble and refuse to participate in the country’s governance, and then we cry foul when we are treated differently, when we are told we are not Kenyan.’ I say.

We tried Aleya. We tried. When the country first gained independence, and started being cut up and doled out to relatives and friends, we raised our voices and on the front page of the National Newspapers it said ‘Asians if you don’t like it, get out!’ He says.

So the response of so many from my parents generation? Shut up. Burrow deeper into the bubble. Keep their heads down. Work hard. Make enough money so that their children have a choice.

They set down tentative roots. They made friends. They were buried here, and yes many of them gave Kenya their hearts, but always too afraid to love too much, because they never knew when their love would be stamped on by a steel boot. So they protect us from heartbreak, because they know our belonging here is tenuous. Because they know to give of your whole heart is foolish.

What does it do to a community….to feel that they don’t belong?

I have given my whole heart. It lies nestled in Kenya’s mouth. I have nowhere else. I am alive nowhere else. But it is like having an abusive lover. One that beats you up, humiliates you, taunts you about whether you are worthy of belonging to them. But I love. And for that reason, I can never leave.

What does it mean to be Kenyan. For me right now, to be Kenyan is to feel helpless.

I watch this inane swoop of alleged illegal immigrants and victimization of Somalis in the name of squashing terrorism, and it chills me to the core. It is illegal. Unconstitutional. Yet I don’t know what to do. I talk about it at the dinner table. It could be us. It has been us before. My father looks me at and says, that is why I told you to stay abroad. That was the plan A. I tell him, Dad, there is no plan A. This is my only plan.

Not yet Kenyan.

I weep with Mohammed Adow.

These are my own personal views. I do not speak for the Kenyan Indian community. I don’t even speak for my family. I speak only for myself.

145 thoughts on “Not Yet Kenyan

  1. You need to get a column in the weeklies. Would do us good to read you every week, because that is what a column does- forces inspiration out of you. And pieces like these need to be churned often enough until people begin to listen. Nice read, scratch that, brilliant read. Good on you, Chanyado

    1. Thank you. I hope it starts in some way to start breaking the silence that our community has imposed upon ourselves. Unless we start talking, we are in danger of perpetuating the same situation over and over again

  2. Great read. I agree with your father, you need to live in a country where you aren’t afraid of the government and the people in equal measure. What you describe having happened to Asians happened for close to 5 years in the former NFD but on a grander scale during the Shifta war. Not only were women systematically raped over years and animals stolen/killed enmasse but the whole nomadic lifestyle was brought to its knees. The trauma of having institutionalized massacres, rapes and violent abuse over generations. Security operations to date involve cases of rape, having to relive the horrific acts our mothers and grandmothers were subjected to. It gets worse when dehumanization of a people with such a difficult history gets the support of most of society, being collectively seen as suspicious people not worthy of having around. Personally, its just a matter of time before I pack up and go to a country where my family won’t be scared of being kicked out any day.

    1. ‘It gets worse when dehumanization of a people with such a difficult history gets the support of most of society, being collectively seen as suspicious people not worthy of having around.’ – you are absolutely right…could not have put it better myself.

      I understand my father’s point of view. Why would any parent want their child to live in a place where they were never sure what is going to happen the next day. But I feel a deep responsibility to my country. That is a choice I make. There is no wrong or right. It is simply a choice.

      1. I loved this piece, and I really loved this response. A choice.

        A lot of what you wrote resonated with me and explained many of the undercurrents creating tension in many encounters and conversations I’ve had. Thank you for articulating what many people have felt but failed to say. Thank you.

        Also, you seem cool.


  3. Your courage is amazing sister, Somalis were subjected to a lot of inhumane acts since Kenya gained independence, from Wagalla Massacre where over 3000 of our men were killed in 2 days only to the burning of houses in Garissa while people slept (M. Adow talks about both incidences) yet we still go strong. I must admit we are also told the same things, that the rest of Kenyans are not really our friends. And it is all due to the scars of past injustices that burrow deep. I pray your article is read far and wide.

    1. I had no idea about the extent of the unforgivable massacre until I watched Adow’s documentary. It made me weep. That is what prompted me to finally publish this piece. I just realise how little so many of us know. How we can sometimes base our whole belief systems on unnecessary ignorance. We must keep talking. Thank you.

  4. These things are not so simple.

    I come from Nanyuki and there is an Asian presence there and in all my interactions with them (Primarily specialist shop owners) I rarely leave with a good feeling. The contempt is evident and this is mirrored in many Asian establishments even in Nairobi. Again this is only in the experiences I have had. I have read about what happened in 1982 and this should not happen to any family anywhere regardless of ethnicity, economic or cultural situation.

    My bigger problem is what happened to the Kisumu monument that the Sikhs put up. That kind of intolerance is disturbing for all parties involved.

    In my opinion however, the isolation by the Indian community is their undoing. Hanging out in Malls and living in exclusive estates may bring comfort but forces alienation from the rest of the public.

    Can’t say I have a solution for any of this so I will stop there.

    1. I absolutely agree that there are members of the Asian community who walk around with an arrogance and contempt that is despicable. But wouldn’t you say the same for any community? I guess what I really hope, is that this behavior is not passed down to the next generation…that those growing up will question the way they behave, why they feel this way…not inherit the same prejudices without understanding the root cause, and realizing it doesn’t have to be that way. My parents history does not have to be my reality. Perhaps the beginning to the solution is to voice these uncomfortable statements and try to understand where they come from? Thank you for being honest.

    2. I can relate with what you are saying. I have seen a number of Indian and Pakistani shop owners treat their African staff like crap. Unfortunately, I have seen an even larger number of black business people do the same thing to their employees, particularly if they are from a different ethnic group. I believe that part of the problem are the stereotypes we hold about each other. I worked in an Indian-owned factory a few years back. An Indian coworker once revealed to me that many Indians out there believe Africans are lazy, envious of Indian success, and prefer stealing to working for wealth.
      In the same way, a large number of Kikuyus are taught that people from other ethnic groups are lazy and envious of Kikuyu wealth, notwithstanding the fact that most Kikuyus are poor. They are also told that they are ‘blessed’ and ‘chosen’, while those from other ethnic groups are ‘cursed’. Egged on by such beliefs, I have seen many Kikuyus openly put down people from other tribes. For that reason, in the last elections, Uhuru, a Kikuyu, was seen as ‘chosen by God’, while Raila, a Luo, was said to be working for the devil, something which is still preached in some churches. I wonder how many of those who believe that have seen the irony in a Christian God, introduced into Kenya by Western missionaries, ‘choosing’ a man whose campaign mantra was ‘the West is bad’, or preaching hate while claiming that God is love. Isn’t that using God’s name to lay the foundation for a genocide? in In turn, people of other ethnic groups are taught that Kikuyus are thieves.
      I am an evangelical Christian, and we are taught that our flavor of religion is superior to any other form of Christianity, nay, every other belief system on the planet, thus the incident at Kisumu. Didn’t any of the believers ask themselves why an Almighty God would feel so threatened by a monument crafted by human hands? Is the God we worship so insecure?
      Let us not forget the bad apples in the Muslim community that are blowing up people to bits. Like many evangelical Christians, they are raised to believe that its their way or the highway.
      As long as we do not question what we believe, the stereotypes that we hold about others, these problems will not abate. As long as we hold on to the belief that everyone should be like us, and anyone who is not is an enemy, hate crimes will not stop.
      I would love to say ‘God bless us as we meditate on this’, but considering that religion is part of the problem, I appeal to our consciences instead.

      1. You know, that is exactly it. We have to start questioning what we believe…and be prepared to unearth ugliness, because unless we do, we will keep perpetuating the same nonsense through the generations…and what a tragedy that would be. Thank you for reading and commenting.

  5. I thought this was a well-expressed piece that touches on many important issues in an honest way. It’s really difficult to talk about these issues without broad generalizations that are, strictly-speaking, false but to talk about these things you almost need broad generalizations. I thought you did a great job.

    I last lived in Kenya in the 90s and even then it was for just a 5 year spell in Nairobi. So my observations below might be outdated but I would like to add another angle to this discussion. I was born in Mombasa and lived the first few of my formative years there. I have visited Kenya at irregular intervals my last visit being about 3 years back so I am, admittedly, out of touch with the Kenyan zeitgeist. I don’t think my daily visits to Nation online cut it either.

    I am what is occasionally referred to as Kenyan Arab when we have to identify our “tribe”. I think it is instructive to compare the experience of Kenyan Arabs and Kenyan Asians because during colonial days the two groups were lumped together and given the same opportunities as second class citizens. The way Kenyan Arabs identify themselves today is very different from the Kenyan Asian identity so something culturally significant happened in between. This is not to say that we are not haunted by history. You Asians have Uganda, we have Zanzibar that looms in the background as a reminder not to let our guard down. But we do let our guard down anyway, we go all the way with our hearts and tongues. Many times we get bruised by politics, tribalism and religious discrimination but we firmly believe that we belong in Kenya and this animates our sense of identity as Kenyans rather than put us in a state of perpetual identity crisis.

    The key difference between the way Arabs and Asians have engaged with Kenya is cultural and more specifically linguistic. V.S. Naipaul was unsettled by the Kenyan Asian experience in one of his visits to Kenya because he felt that Asians in Kenya were living in a bubble and had crystallized cultural practices that were long forgotten in the ancestral homeland. Kenyan Arabs also do this, but to a lesser extent and in different unfortunate ways.

    When I was a young teenager in Nairobi, where we Arabs are fewer in number and thus less visible, I often had this experience: I would interact with an “African” in Nairobi in English, initially the communication would have a sense of mistrust all over it. Like he assumed I was looking down at him already. Basically, in these situations I learned how to diagnose the problem quickly: the guy had mistaken me for a Muhindi. The solution was simple: I would switch to speaking good kiswahili and that would instantly transform the interaction to the positive because he would know that I am not a Muhindi. By good kiswahili I mean using sentence structures and verbiage that suggest a true engagement with the language, I say “ninataka…” as opposed to ” mimi iko taka…” (which would literally translate, approximately, to “I am on garbage” but the intended meaning would be understood as just the way Muhindis say things in the language).

    You see, when I was in Nairobi, one of the schools I went to was predominantly Asian. In this school I had to hide the fact that I knew kiswahili as much as possible. The situation was such that it would have been a scandal if it was discovered that I spoke kiswahili at home. This was considered shameful knowledge– a sign of being crass and lower class, something to be teased about anyway. In this school the term “African” was not simply an indicator of geographic origin but a vilifying statement about moral worth. I was basically part of the Muhindi bubble and I do not like what I recall. Again, this was in the 90s and I am sure things have progressed significantly since then but this attitude that I experienced might explain some of the fault lines that exist today.

    Somalis too have the same problem with Kenya. Many of them do not speak good kiswahili and don’t seem to try despite being in Kenya for generations. They live in their own tight communities and speak and deal with each other as much as possible. When this happens, mistrust with other communities ensues that creates tensions. All this is by no means to suggest that all these groups had it coming. Not at all. I think a lot of the nonsense that is said about minorities in Kenya is deplorable. Even worse, when ethnic tension is acted upon it’s just plain evil and must stop. People should never base their actions on stereotypes but people are also not known to to be imminently reasonable.

    I don’t want to pretend to have a solution to all this. I have no idea how Kenyan Arabs came to speak kiswahili so well so I can’t recommend how Kenyan Asians ought to proceed. All I want to do here is to point a finger at one important source of the problem.

    1. You are so right in so many ways. I myself don’t know the root cause. I can hypothesize?
      – It could be this pre-occupation with leaving Kenya meant a greater emphasis on taking on a ‘Western demeanor’
      – That bloody colonial hiccup that west is best?
      – Seeking comfort in tightening the community circles?
      – A hangover from the complicated Caste system?
      Interestingly…one of the questions I get asked a lot is ‘Why don’t you Muhindis let your women marry our men?’

      1. “Interestingly…one of the questions I get asked a lot is ‘Why don’t you Muhindis let your women marry our men?”
        Interesting….so what do you answer?

  6. As always, gripping narrative. My only complaint is that the piece was too short.
    To respond to @Mwangy’s comment, I happen to worship in a place with an almost exclusive Khoja majority. I am ‘African’ as opposed to ‘Muhindi’. Most Africans of the exact same belief stay away from the worship centre because of supposed stories of segregation from the Khojas but in all my years I have only been segregated by the ‘African’ watchmen at the gate barring me entrance for not looking like the type of person that worships there. My opinion is that, this ‘African’ low self esteem comes from the same place that the violence/hatred of ‘Muhindis’ comes from, but as with all psychology, that can be changed.

    1. Perhaps it is just a starting point to talk about? Us Muhindis also have our own low self esteem….really we are so much more alike than we realise.

  7. A naked article i must say…this things go deeper, i mean isn’t this the same fear a Kikuyu living in Molo or Eldoret or Burnt forest felt prior to, during and even after the 2007 PEV…can a kikuyu living in Molo ever trust a Kalenjin under the surface, what about a Luo working in a flower farm in Naivasha…can they learn to trust their Kikuyu Kenyan brother?… it happens even in the London Subways, the streets of Nothern Germany…even in great US of A… A Kenyan who has seen Somali gunmen slaughter women and children at Westgate, seen Islamic preachers calling for more slaughters, can never look at a Somali the same way, unless they really know them…deep down there is always that fear…unless like your friend, they know them well. I grew up in a military barracks, where friends were from all ethnic backgrounds, to date i cant speak my vernacular despite being 37 since i never spoke it as a child or as a teenager…i even had two Somali girlfriends, yet when i meet a Somali i don’t know on the street, there is always that question…isn’t it human nature? … we learn fear and mistrust from our experiences….

    1. ‘We learn fear and mistrust from our experiences’ – that is true…but we also learn it from it being passed down to us. Shouldn’t we dig deeper, inquire more…? There just has to be a better way….how can we go about life with a deep fear and mistrust of each other? You are right that things go deeper…but we owe it ourselves to at least try and dig..and to speak out

    2. Mixing your ethnic fears and intolerance under the guise of one religion is not adding any spice or hue to your narrative but a sheer demonstration of your inner bigotry lumped falsely as fear.
      These genuine fears you mentioned can be traced to the ethnic centric attitudes so rife in Kenya. Follow the time proven Tanzanian model: One Nation, One Family, One Language.

  8. When I was in high school, my classmates always joked about how the Indians in Kenya feared cops. I didn’t know the history behind the fear. When I was in the university, during Kamlesh Pattni’s trial, I wondered why Indians should fear cops when they are never common criminals. I meant that I never read or hear about an Indian arrested for a common crime in this country, such as those that make everyday headlines. It is only today that I have learnt the truth.

    Humanity is fucked up. The minority is usually cast into hell without provocation. And if the minority happens to be immigrants, then the abomination, the hate, the torture, increases a thousandfold. I have also been wondering at the treatment of the Somalis. It is a lack of intelligence. This country is run with severe lack of intelligence. Even the president himself could not order it to stop. If they want to catch terrorists, they must investigate methodically. Aren’t they cops? Aren’t they trained? Unlawfully incarcerating multitudes of the Somalis simply because they are Somalis is absurd, foolish, and helplessly stupid. Our cops usually seem to just sleep on the job, idling about chronically and taking bribes, and then they wake up abruptly and effect torment upon everybody. It is gross and evil. They work like thoroughly bone-lazy and thoughtless people, lacking in imagination, yet wanting fast solutions without applying themselves assiduously. Or else, you wonder: if they are ever so vigilant, how do terrorists get into the country with bombs?

    Sometimes I question whether this country has had four presidents or just the same one. What Kenyatta did, Moi did, Kibaki did, and Uhuru is doing. It’s the same guy, if you ask me. An idea is impossible to root out. In a mind not given to question, a simple idea, no matter how ridiculous, foolish, or evil–ESPECIALLY if it is ridiculous, foolish AND evil–quickly becomes deep-seated and ineradicable. As you say, we pass down our hatred, fears, and prejudices to subsequent generations. If there were a good start, we should all be happy. But Kenyatta himself took over from thoroughgoing colonialist devils! No salvation here!

    I have increasingly wondered as well respecting the isolation of the Indians in Kenya. I think now if they wanted political representation they would get it.

    1. ‘An idea is impossible to root out. In a mind not given to question, a simple idea, no matter how ridiculous, foolish, or evil–ESPECIALLY if it is ridiculous, foolish AND evil–quickly becomes deep-seated and ineradicable.’ – Isn’t that terrifying? You hit the nail on the head. We as a peoples have to start questioning.

    2. Peter Nena, I read your response and I couldn’t help but wonder, why do his observations sound so true, yet I’m left with a feeling that all he sees in Kenya are problems: ‘same’ presidents, stupid government, idle bribe-taking cops and a generally prejudiced Kenya. Just so you know, I’m not Kenyan, I’m South African.
      I have come across so many white South Africans(in the minority here) who truly believe that when the majority black South Africans took power, stupidity was ushered into office. Conditions in South Africa and Kenya are different but from reading this very honest post, I’m led to believe that our minority groupings face similar problems. They don’t feel at home in their own country.
      Perhaps if you looked at things differently, from an indigenous Kenyan’s point of view you would see the ‘stupidity’ differently. If prejudices are inherited as the author supposes, which ones do you think you have inherited? Which ones do you think African Kenyans have inherited?

  9. Yes I like and respect the author view but what about the Indians who are so racist that one of them recently knocked down girls on #Thikaroad but could not transport the “dirty blacks” in his range rover. Dear author it is double sided. Some folk from your descent treat us with so much contempt. Are we supposed to stomach it? I have few Indian friends who are very kind but the majority not so much. Am sorry but that’s the truth. Forget the coup in 82.. kenyan women of African descent were raped too! Yes! Not Yet Kenyan with good reason

    1. I have edited the comment, because I am fiercely protective over this space, and don’t think that name calling is in any way constructive. You are absolutely right that there are Asians whose attitude absolutely stinks. But like I have said before, wouldn’t you say that of every community? I can’t apologize for my community. You are also right that it wasn’t just the Asians that were raped during the coup. I can’t speak for the whole community. I speak only for myself, of my own experiences. All I am hoping is that whatever stinky behavior all of us have is not passed down to our children….and that maybe we also look into why the stinky behavior is even exists…on both sides.

  10. there is a stereotype in black africans towards ‘muhindi’s’, yes, but also one in muhindi’s towards black africans.. i wish someone could tell the other side as well.

    1. I agree completely…and the crazy thing is we never talk to each other about it…we never try and find out why. Tell the other side my friend…it is time we stopped being so hush hush.

      1. I’m not as good a story-teller as you are.. But i could start with the numerous asian companies here, and how they treat their black employees. Maybe also throw in the pay-scale differences between the asians and the blacks in those companies.. I beleive asians show open bias against blacks. And that’s not a stereotype, I’ve seen it over and over. I have nothing against asians, but i’ve always sworn i’d never work for one.. I’ve also interacted with many asians over the years, and most times feel the contempt from lot’s of them.. It’s like you’re outright rated a 2nd class citizen. Then the divisions, about how asians and blacks are so divided in our society. From my experience asians tend to group themselves with their ‘own’.. I work in the banking industry and this is evident here with the guys in indian banks having a clique which is out of bounds to other guys.
        I will say again, i have nothing against asians but i think the healing should start from your side. Tell me how many black friends you have, do you interact with them same as your other friends? the fact that you’re afraid to speak swahili in an asian school speaks volumes.
        And i don’t understand where your mistrust and fear come from, 82coup was an isolated case, i’ve never felt kenya going anywhere near the ugandan way. We live in a democracy, you should learn to love and appreciate your country and EVERYONE in it.. #mytake

      2. Thank you for your honest comments. It is clear that there are a lot of issues between the two communities to resolve, and I think really it has to be both sides if it is going to be meaningful in any way. This article was me taking the first step from my side to figure out where the contempt you talk about comes from. I hate that our two communities are so polarised…that either side feels contempt from the other…and trust me it does go both ways..I have felt hatred towards me that felt undeserved….that is never acceptable. So how do we start changing things? But I will say, I have more black friends than I do brown. My bridesmaid when I got married is Kikuyu. My Swahili may be kitchen Muhindi terrible, and for that I am ashamed…but does it make me any less Kenyan? Thank you for giving your take, and for talking openly.

  11. Beautiful, courageous post. We need to learn that how you treat the least of our citizens is how you will be treated yourself at some time. Be just to all kenyans, in all circumstances.

    1. Thank you. You said exactly what I wanted to say in my long winded post, and so eloquently too! 🙂 Imagine if we were…all the time…to all Kenyans…imagine.

  12. From Juliet Maruru

    It seems just a little silly to me that in the last few weeks, my waking thought has been a line from Star Wars:
    “There will always be those who mean to do us harm. To stop them, we risk awakening the same evil within ourselves.”

    And haven’t we? Oh, haven’t we? Kenyan history is riddled with reactions borne of fear, we call it ‘experience’ that cross over into gross injustice, violent cruelty, simply inhumane actions.

    I talked to a couple of ladies in the office who basically felt that Somalis had it coming. Any attempt to reason about misdirected vengeance, the constitution, citizenship were shut down with, “Let them die! They are all terrorists!”

    1. What scares me the most, is that these ladies you talk about are educated and have interacted with Somalis…and this is the way they think?

      They will keep passing these prejudices on to their own kids…perhaps that is what is most terrifying of all.

  13. The responses to this post have been overwhelming. Clearly something struck a nerve. I had always rebelled against what I saw as an insular Asian community, and an arrogance and disinterest in the country that disgusted me. But I never once stopped to question why….why was it like that? When I finally did, I was astounded. It struck me that we just pass on our judgement and behaviour to our kids, and unless they question, a certain way of being keeps getting perpetuated. I think we can all agree, this way of being is not working for us…any of us. Anyhow, I want to break the silence. It breaks my heart when I hear so many black Kenyans tell me they have no brown Kenyan friends. How can that be, when we share this beautiful country? Why is it we never confront these issues? Talk about them openly…outside of our living rooms and our safe places of judgement? Let us break the silence. Ask me the uncomfortable questions and I promise to answer you honestly. I shall answer for myself only…for I can not speak for a whole community.

    As Wambui Mwangi so eloquently tweets :
    ‘Your ‘security and protection’ are destroyed at the same instant that the state destroys the security and protection of anyone amongst you’
    ‘Everyone should be able to hope that their neighbours and also complete strangers would object if they were subjected to injustice’
    ‘Because the protection we extend to each other in reciprocity is also what makes a life livable, a society sharable, dreams possible.’

    1. Wow! Aleya, this part of history, our story, i didn’t know. Im so sorry not to have known. We, my influences + my Kikuyu’s have our own inherited issues.. Kales, Luos, Jungus, Indians, Ugandans, South Africans, Americans (lol) and this used to confuse me alot because we openly say, ‘This is my best friend’ and we walk into each others houses like they’re our own, hang out, trade, work with, depend on.. but behind closed doors.. in our own rooms, these fears, doubts prejudices are voiced..’Kumbe’
      I feel bad i just didn’t know.. and Kenya becomes an even uglier place now that i know more. Sad but thanks.

      1. I am ashamed at how little of our history I know. How can we know who we are if we don’t know the stories of our past. So keep digging and sharing those stories. And all that whispering we all do behind closed doors, those assumptions we make. Imagine if we had the strength to just have those uncomfortable conversations and find a way as the younger Kenyan generation to come to terms with the demons from our past.

  14. A beautiful courageous post, I’m lost for words…I will leave some quotes from Martin Luther King: Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.
    And one more; Never, never be afraid to do what’s right, especially if the well-being of a person or animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.

  15. In Africa, we have a couple of bad habits, one of them being not questioning, I think it’s fear mostly, of annoying the folks to the point of the belt. History is also distorted to protect those who are still in power, which means the lessons we should have learnt from the terrible experiences we’ve had so far haven’t been learnt, but I digress.

    I think after independence, most Asians were more educated than Africans were, which means they were better equiped to start enjoying the fruits immediately. By the time 82′, got here, the racial lines had been drawn and the wealthy minority, deemed to have gotten their wealth at the expense of the poor majority were mostly Asians. Living in a close knit society (regardless of religious and cultural differences) didn’t help either and except for a few charities, their involvement in communal functions outside their demographic was (still is) limited, they have their schools, malls, gated estates, et al. It is difficult to integrate communities that rarely interact.

    1. Regarding integration – absolutely. But that can change. It does not have to be that way. Your first statement…not questioning, that is exactly it. As long as we just accept and move on, we resign ourselves to a continuation of status quo. Is that what we want for our children? Thank you Sergent.

  16. good piece of writing but guess ur wrong. somalis who are being depoted don have prove to show they are kenyan.

  17. sometime ago i used to work in nyeri town. i was supprised to meet asians who have intermarried with kikuyus and they even speak kikuyu fluently

  18. It sad and tragic! and it makes me feel ashamed for my country. I remember reading Rasna Warah’s autobiography and wondering what kind of society we are in. She raises the same issues you talked about- being groomed early on to move from Kenya to UK, where she never felt at home, but she goes farther on and dicloses that she married a ‘black man’ the ultimate crime in her society. She blames the asian community for their lack of any effort to intergrate, as well as the the first 2 governments. It’s true that fear and mistrust clouds the constructive engagement between the differrent communities that make up our beautiful Kenya! As kenyans we need to find a way of creating that space for engagement, without waiting for anyone else to start the dialogue, and i am happy to read what you have written, i may not have gone through the experiences you have gone through but i worry about ‘our collective guilt” coz i believe every time we have a section of our larger kenyan community being subjected to massacre, torture, and rape, there is always the other ‘community’ perceived to have ‘endorsed’ albeit unknowingly! and because of that perceived endorsement, mistrust and fear trickles down to those generations of children who weren’t even there! Our security forces are doing something illegal, this reminds me of reading about personal accounts of. Japanese Americans experience during the second world war, innocent families were shipped to the desert because it was perceived that all japanese Americans were a threat to the American society! it is truly tragic how human beings turn on each other! But i encourage you to continue searching- they say identity is fluid, constantly changing- may be you will one day arrive at a place where you will feel comfortable in ‘your skin’

    1. Thank you for your touching comments. We do need to create space for engagement. The first place to start is recognising something is not right. You are right about identity being fluid…perhaps it is the fact that I finally feel comfortable in my own skin, that I can start poking and asking questions without feeling like it will all fall apart. Being comfortable in our skin. That is a hard one!

  19. Hello,
    That was a well written piece.

    As a diaspora, we were here at least two generations before these events happened.

    I think the situation is not as black and white as you put it. A large majority of the Asian migrants started to amass wealth and a comfortable life from the 1950s onwards.

    This meant, unlike countries in the West Indies or Fiji they didn’t have the need to integrate or dilute their cultural heritage at all.

    Keep posting.

    1. Hi A.K. You are absolutely right. It is not black and white at all. The situation is so much more complex than I insinuated. Perhaps this post was the start of my own enquiry, and hopefully a starting point for those of us (especially from the younger generations) to really start looking at our past, and looking at why things are the way they are, and whether we are ok blindly following attitudes that we have adopted.
      Also, I wonder whether the basis of how the Asian community came to East Africa has anything to do with it?

  20. Moving piece. For many, its only after someone has been discriminated against that they truly appreciate the horror of discrimination and atrocities committed on account of bigotry.

    Many others, feeling to be part of the so called majority – silently rejoice at the “good fortune” while pretending to empathize with those oppressed.

    Unfortunately due to human nature, this negative cycle is predetermined to be self sustaining and self perpetuating

    For instance, those that have experienced atrocities or discrimination, are for most part able to cope and move on. Their offspring however harbor grudges, meting it out on offspring of the other lot, and the cycle reverses and repeats exponentially, ad infinitum.

    We need more people getting the courage to speak out as you have done.


  21. Thank you for sharing Aleya. Your sentiments are felt by many other minority communities around the world who have been and are persecuted in countries which are their home, which they love but feel in exile or ready to be exiled. Thanks again and keep writing. You are much more than a Kenyan!

  22. All you are saying is true, but it feels a little like you are apologizing for or trying to rationalize the blatant racism black Kenyans encounter at the hands of Indian Kenyans (of which I have personally suffered when I was looking for a house in Parklands). And whilst I find what the goverment is doing to the Somali community today and what it did to the Indian Community during the coup absolutely despicable, somehow I don’t believe that is the only reason the Indian community has segregated itself. I must say, I don’t know what it is that makes a considerable number of people of Indian descent treat black people like they are somehow sub-human. I have never interacted with an Kenyan Indian long enough to find out (a result of the segregation) but it sucks and hopefully these kind of articles will help us work our issues out.

    1. Hi Sharon. I can’t apologise or speak for a whole community. All I know is I am not satisfied with the way things are and so I am trying to understand where it stems from…and writing is my way of sharing my stories of this discovery in the hope that we can start working these issues out. Because you are right. It sucks. But I believe unless we start talking honestly and enquiring deeper it won’t change.

  23. A beautiful and brave article. It has put a lot of things in context for and really made me think. I hope you’ll continue to speak up.

  24. excellent report, but to correct you Mohamed Addow is not a Somali Kenyan, he is a Somali from Ethiopia and people know that

  25. Most everything we do seems to have as much to do with intuition as with reason. . . . The kind of thinking that makes a distinction between thought and feeling is just one of those forms of demagogy that causes lots of trouble for people by making them suspicious of things that they shouldn’t be suspicious or complacent of. We all have this problem and how ever we talk about it, just think about what you will go and tell your children this evening.

  26. This piece is really quite moving. On the one hand it takes an incredible amount of courage to be able to put this out there, on the other, this is an issue (the violence, and paranoia about one another because of physical and nonphysical violence) has been swept under the rug for too long.

  27. Amazing post Aleya, i didnt even know that bit of history about the 82 Coup…. the miseducation of our education system is astounding…

    We are separated by ignorance, and assume that our struggles are solitary… your struggle could be mirrored literally anywhere on this continent…some are not kenyan enough, others are never kikuyu enough or luo enough, or black enough…

    Great dialogue for us to think about…
    (here in ZImbabwe …the former rhodesians are no longer indigenous enough to be considered zimbabwean…what of their children?)

    I worry for our generation, when we take on the stereotypes of our fore fathers, from the comments in this post, such ignorance coming from a place of hatred or inherited bitterness at the supposed “others”…

    Im so sorry for your experience of isolation, you are among some of the most amazing kenyan’s i know…how sad that you would feel anything but at home, yet we could share so much with each other…

    I agree with your dad though as a parent, i want my children to feel at home and safe and welcome……..

    Keep up the good work, we need to have this conversations

    1. We are alike so much more than we are different. Yet for some reason we find our differences frightening….Thank you Angela for your heartfelt comment.

  28. Well…the asians in kenya have and always will contribute greatly to kenya..yet when the corrupt came to power and sucked all the money from the economy was the asians that kept the economy ticking over…im speaking as a kenyan asian who left in 97..and stuck to the plan A…but at what price??..there is not a day that goes by that i donot yurn for kenya..and emotional nostalga overcomes me everytime i think of HOME.

    1. N that yearning….but I do have to say, we have also contributed to the corruption, we have been part of the problem too. Hope you get to come home 🙂

  29. There isn’t much more I can say that hasn’t already been said in the previous comments.. You have taken the thoughts, feelings.. The soul of what so many of have grown up with.. What we live.. And have bared it all.. Thank you.. You say you do not speak for the indian community or your family ( of which I have the pleasure.. And pride of being) but you must know that you speak for an entire generation to who love Kenya.. And whose souls you have touched today.. It’s difficult to be ONE voice for a minority community.. But today this voice.. Your voice has resounded deeply in many of our hearts.. Your courage inspires me.. Much love

    1. Shaz. Thank you. I am really touched by your comment. Let’s have the courage to do what we can in whatever way we can. Love to you.

  30. amazing piece, I have been meaning to write one myself but havent been quite able to get things in perspective. Thank you for sharing.
    What is amazing is how not talking about these issues is taking us further apart while we he hold this silence as keeping the peace. Opinions concerning others I believe should be formed and refined in consultation with that other in question. Otherwise, one can assume all dogs are Pitbulls (pardon my lack of a better example) and hold all the same, if not corrected by a more knowledgable person.
    I am Somali and a Nairobian, raised and educated in the city. Trust me the prejudice is very alive here, my little sister was disappointed the other day because her friends were bashing Somalis and that scared her, she felt like she didnt know them anymore, this results in the bubble lifestyle. I believe we all have our stories and it is time we opened up before we are overwhelmed and go on the metaphorical shooting spree as a society.

    1. We have adopted that old Accept and Move On attitude…but you are right, there is too much bubbling under for it not to explode unless we address it soon. And really it isn’t just Asians and Somalis, it is the whole country. We are so fragmented. Thank you Hussein

  31. I love the way you laid it out. Food for thought all around.
    So I am what would be described as a Black Kenyan,grew up solidly middle class and my high school years were spent in a predominately ‘Asian’ school.
    My views of ‘Asians’ were/are more nuanced by the fact that I read a lot of history and got to really understand the contribution of Asians to the success and failures of the Kenyan Colony and the Republic that followed. Including the independence struggle. Most Kenyans don’t even know that the first Political Assassination was of an Kenyan-Asian..Pio Gama Pinto because he stood up to what he saw going wrong in his adopted home land.
    I also read about the expulsions in Uganda and the less talked about expulsion of some Kenyan Asians, which in my opinion was a wealth grab by the elite under the guise of nationalism.
    I have also walked into Asian shops at Diamond Plaza and I could feel/see the disdain thrown my way by a shop owner sitting at a corner behind the counter, carefully watching over the goings on.However knowing this history, I felt more pity than anger for this seeming disdain. This reaction appeared as fear, which in my opinion was driven by fear of events past. Sort of like a case of Post Trauma. Which was understandable, so I did not take it personally. However, I voted with my pocket and went only to shops that I was well received.
    So my prescriptions for fear is education. A willingness to learn about the other.I found that by educating myself and understanding where others are coming from.You will take things a lot less personally.and Sometimes people don’t like you.No,its not because you are black or Asian, they just don’t like you and that is okay.
    I hope the media at large would pick up on this issues you have raised.This would be a great town hall discussion. Maybe this generation can do a better job than the last in creating a new truly Kenyan Tribe where one part of it does not suffer because of the actions of a few.
    Interesting tit bit if you care. The reason Sikhs are called Kalasinghas, is because the first Sikh Black Africans interacted with in,what is now Kenya was a trader by the name Kala Singh who traded across East Africa in the late 1800s. The name later transmuted to Khalasingha and the name stuck for all Sikhs!

  32. So heartbreaking. Powerful, powerful words. Thank you for sharing your story – our history.

  33. An absolutely brilliant piece. You look at a very sensitive subject in a very sensitive way, leaving one to introspect. I live in a country that is only beginning to deal with its own historical prejudices that affect everyone’s life today: South Africa.
    I wish there was a model country in Africa or the world that has dealt with deeply entrenched prejudices and succeeded and written a manual on it, there is none. The only way to confront uncomfortable truths is to air them in the open and allow society to talk about them, like you are doing.

    1. Thank you. Silence is such a dangerous space to be in. You are right….we need to start talking, and telling our stories…all of us.

  34. A very nice read, certainly a topic not often seen on these interweb streets. I feel, however, that your piece may actually paint a misinformed picture of the Kenyan Asian situation (as some of the readers’ comments above suggest). An uninitiated reader may conclude from this piece that the entire social bubbling of the Asian community stems from the 1982 coup, whereas the reality is these attitudes prevailed long before that, and most of the Kenyan Asian youth of today don’t even know about 1982. I would suggest that the 1982 atrocities only served to cement some pre-existing prejudices that many Asians held. 19 out of 20 Asian grandmothers who clutch at their handbags in elevators are not thinking about 1982 when they do. They are thinking the same thing that a white American driver is when they lock their car door when a black man walks by.
    There are so many parallels that can be drawn between the Kenyan Asian and Kenyan Somali social situation. But how often do you witness an Asian look at his Somali brother with a sense of mutual understanding based on being a fellow minority? It just doesn’t happen that often.
    The Kenyan Somali man in the Adow video you have posted above defined himself as a Kenyan because he speaks the language/s of Kenya. Most of the Kenyan Asians I know speak Kiswahili limited to what is needed for them to give commands to employees at home/work. It is really a sad state.
    I am in no way laying sole responsibility for the current situation on just the Kenyan Asians. The social, political, economic and security history of the country before and since independence has moulded the situation for each of the distinct races and tribes. One thing I do hold the Kenyan Asian population responsible for is not taking the first step. Very few solutions have been offered, but in my humble opinion, this would be the first of them – stop making excuses and start integrating for real. For now. set aside trying to embrace the government and the security forces, they mistreat everybody! The Kenyan Asian needs to come out of his/her bubble and offer their hand to somebody from a different house.
    I intend no hostility toward the author whatsoever. It is clear from your words that you are not one of the people I’ve ranted on about above. But before making excuses for other Muhindis, use your own experience as the standard of comparison. You have opened your heart and hands to all of Kenya and all of its people, and it has not disappointed you. Yes there are bad people everywhere that leave a sour taste in your mouth, but when you start associating that sour taste with the colour of their skin, then there is only one word that applies in that situation… racism.
    Your fellow muhindi.

    1. You are so right on so many levels. I wrote this piece really for myself as part of an going exploration of the stories from the history of my community. And actually this is what it stemmed from – I have always rebelled and been very angry about the way the Asian community isolates themselves. Until one day I stopped to ask why they are this way. What are the causes. Of course it is very complex and multi layered. But in writing this piece I hoped also that other Muhindis of my generation would start interrogating their own behaviour. ..where these attitudes come from. ..and with that the possibility of changing them. Thank you for being open and honest.

      1. In so many ways i disagreed with some of your comments. I am a Kenyan but not living in Kenya. I have been discriminated against in many instances by the “Muhindis” in Kenya, also my country and are therefore in my own way not soo fond. I disagree with you.

  35. I like the level of introspection is great, which i think has been lacking among both the Indian and Somali communities in Kenya. Integration is difficult where cultures differ but eventually it’s the only hope for protection during times of hardship. I see it here in the UK as well, it’s a lot easier for the majority white community to defend the black community because of the level of integration that’s happened recently. Many of them know someone who’s black and who’s good. I see that missing in Kenya and it’s quite unfortunate.

    I also think that to compare what’s happened in Eastleigh, a situation that i abhor as a muslim, to Idi Amin’s craziness is incredibly unfair to the Kenyan people. These are difficult times that we are in and i can only wonder, if the Somali community had been more integrated and less disdainful of other Kenyans, would that have happened? Would there have been more of an outcry and more solidarity?

    People need to stop living in little enclaves and get to mingle with the rest of society, it’s the only hope. Otherwise, all of them will immigrate and then what? They will still be minorities in the countries they immigrate to. Asians in the UK suffer worse discrimination than in Kenya and are not as predominantly affluent. Some more introspection and thought needs to be put into this.

  36. The article brought out the sad truth..the comments were a joy to read as well…soo many divergent views. Well done

  37. Fantastic post. I do sympathize with the experiences of the Kenyan Asians and Somalis following their horrific experiences. I happened to attend primary and secondary schools in Nairobi that had a sizeable Asian population. From my experiences then, the Asians were normal, fun kids.
    I understand that both you and @Moadow are narrating the experience from the perspective of your respective communities (even though you have gone to great lengths to separate your opinion from that of the greater Asian community).
    ‘The other side’ has its grievances and I will add a little to the spot on comment by @battuta.
    For instance, on @Moadow’s #NotYetKenyan, there is a short section of the documentary that inadvertently shows why Somalis have difficulty with other Kenyans. The interviewee mentions in passing that the reason for the Shifta War was the inherent impossibility of integration of Somalis with the rest of the Kenyan population. Right off the bat. And given the interviewees demeanor, it was clear he still felt that way to this day.
    Why is this so?
    Among Somalis, pejorative terms are regularly used to refer to ‘blacks’ i.e. jareer and adoon. Within many Somali circles, it is anathema to be caught in serious legitimate friendship with ‘bantus’ (another collective term for all blacks). Belief that jareer were their slaves and thus will be eternally subservient to them is widespread never mind the tragic reversal of roles in present day circumstances.
    Overall, as has been repeated here, there are no easy answers. Open conversations is a good first step in the right direction.

    1. Strangely enough, one theory posits that Bantus came from Shungwaya, believed to be part of what is now Somalia. That means the average Wambua, Mwangi, Wabwire and Moraa may have Somali ancestors!

  38. Aleya this article was perfect and you spoke for most of us. Most of us are stereotypical. I think from your article we need to learn that: we should treat others the same way we’d like to be treated. Lovely article and your pieces continue to inspire us. Keep writing. Your articles are pleasure to read as most of us can relate to them.

  39. Hard truths beautifully and plainly told.
    Write more. A wise man once told me that the liberation is in the writing.

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