In defence of Mutahi Ngunyi and all the village idiots

Saturday September 5 2015



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For a man of his academic qualifications, it would appear weird to imagine that the political scientist Mutahi Ngunyi needs any further diversity lessons.

Yet Mr Ngunyi’s recent Twitter ethnic slur on my Luo community that has seen a complaint lodged against him at the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) suggests that he could benefit from some social rehabilitation.

The rehabilitation programme could include walking in to live with a Luo family in the Kibera slum for some days, going out fishing with the MV Omena boat crew and the mosquitoes from Mihuru Bay a few nights and conducting reading lessons for a class of mostly orphans at Nyalunya Elementary School.

Of course the type of poverty Mr Ngunyi will encounter isn’t anything he hasn’t read or heard about. But a first-hand experience could at least help him have a more open mind about or take a broader view of the Luo poverty – a clear upgrade of the popular village idiocy.

Who knows, Mr Ngunyi could gain even more insights to enable him write a better poverty-eradication plan for the government than the current NYS Kazi kwa Vijana scheme! It is also far better than the prosecution and the jail term being pursued by Mr Ngunyi’s accusers and the bullies on social media.

Plus I have a problem with the NCIC entertaining the complaint by Apollo Mboya, the Law Society of Kenya CEO, in the first place.

I don’t believe criminalising everything we sometimes find ourselves doing or saying just because we are village idiots necessarily helps the fight against ethnic hate.

If the authorities were to start going after everyone who stereotypes a community due to his upbringing, lack of exposure, or political beliefs, Kenya would have to more than double the number of its jails.

We won’t admit it, but beneath the veneer of academic or urban sophistry, there is a village idiot in all of us.

Indeed, the Kenyan comedy industry is largely built on ethnic stereotypes, with the middle class often ready to pay a premium to have a good laugh at recordings of the popular ChurchillLive Show, for example.

In my case I have yet to understand why grown Kikuyu men like my colleagues John Kamau, Mugumo Munene and Philip Mwaniki, who have no history of dental problems, continue to eat that baby food they call Mukimo instead of sinking their canines, premolars and molars into the adult stuff. And, I don’t expect them to go crying to the NCIC over my fairly innocent village idiocy!

The NCIC should let Kenyans deal with ethnic stereotypes through the traditional social control measures, including laughing at the funny ones, laughing off the tasteless and ridiculing the bores.

The case of Charles Njonjo, who as the Kenyatta-era power man had a dim view of Luos but has recently been one of the most ardent advocates of a Luo presidency, suggests that with wisdom people can outgrow village idiocy as well.
Otieno is chief sub-editor, Business Daily; [email protected]; Twitter: @otienootieno