Kenyans are welcoming, alright, but we’ll never condone racism

Wednesday March 18 2020
By MUTUMA MATHIU

I’m a creature of law and order. My livelihood depends on it; media must always obey the law. That’s what gives them the moral standing to criticise those who break the law.

But today I’m making an exception.

I think there are people who, by their disrespect of our country, its people and way of life, have no right to claim protection under our laws. In those cases, I think it’s in the best interest of Kenyans that they be removed entirely and requested to go back to their countries.

When I play back the conversations I heard growing up in a war-battered community, those who took up arms against the British Empire acted more out of outrage for the daily slights and indignities they suffered at the hands of the imperialists than the loss of their land to the invaders.

Being at the beck and call of another man, being forced to kneel before another man, being subjected to beatings like a child, being disrespected in front of your wives and children, being forced to take off your headdress and kowtow to a child, being expected to behave as if you were your bwana’s wife, and so on.

Before the British arrived, we had no sense of racial inferiority. We never thought that our culture was primitive, our religion(s) pagan or our way of life, brutish.

As a matter of fact, we used to preen around in war paint, confident that we were the gods’ gift to the universe. Racial inferiority was bred into us during colonialism and sustained in the racist post-colonial world in which we live. But our revulsion at the desecration of our humanity is part of the reason Africans fought to be free.

There is plenty of petty racism in Kenya; it’s a bizarre variant, which is irritating and puzzling.

In general, Africans are looked down upon by all the other races, including our friends from developing countries. It’s not a prosperity or education thing; it is a natively race thing.

In some establishments, the most modest, illiterate white- or brown-skinned patron will get better service than the wealthiest most accomplished African. You will find it in supermarkets and restaurants — and in the traffic.

Petty racism is more of an irritant than cause for war.

Last weekend, I went to a restaurant in Westlands, which I deeply loathe because the minute I set foot in there, it becomes apparent that they wish I hadn’t come.

I hold my nose and go there because my children force me — they love the dessert and there is a steakhouse there which is OK.

But last week I couldn’t eat because the food was horrible, truly horrible, pretentious horrible and I was furious at the waiting staff who were going out of their way to give offence. I ordered cocktail juice and the waiter brought me five glasses of juice to mix for myself.

One day I shall give them the benefit of my views, quite likely at the top of my voice.

Racism is restaurants is easy to deal with. It takes a few good managers to bang the staff into shape.

The Sarova Stanley used to be notorious for that, perhaps because of its colonial pedigree. They had problems allowing young African women into the premises unaccompanied and all that nonsense. I was once stopped by a guard and asked whether he could assist me.

But over the years, The Stanley has become my favourite hotel in the whole world. Theirs is a perfect example of what good service is: Attentive, fast, no fuss and everybody gets the same treatment.

I must confess that there is also reverse racism, where racial minorities are singled out for extortion and blackmail, particularly by low-level government and county staff.

All racism is, of course, abhorrent and we shouldn’t tolerate it. However, certain conduct by the Chinese is in a class all of its own.

In 2015, a Chinese restaurant was closed after the Daily Nation reported its policy of not allowing Kenyans into the premises after 5pm.

“We don’t admit Africans that we don’t know because you never know who is Al-Shabaab and who isn’t,” Esther Zhao, a manager at the restaurant, told the Daily Nation at the time.

And four Chinese managers of another restaurant are currently in court, charged with mistreating a worker, allegedly whipping him for reporting to work late.

If true, this is the kind of behaviour not seen in this country since the 1950s.

While I respect the High Court and I’m sure it has good arguments for overturning Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i’s deportation order against the Chinese nationals, a point comes when a line needs to be drawn in the sand.

Kenya is open for business, all are welcome to come and live amongst us, including those who don’t like us, all will be equal before the law and the rights of everyone are guaranteed. But there are some levels of primitive behaviour which are intolerable.

Folks who sink to those levels have no right to expect the protection of our courts; neither should we feel obliged to offer it. They should just leave us alone.

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