To initiate is to come up with a new idea, a new commodity or a new institution. Initiative is one abstract noun formed from that verb, the implication being that you have struggled on your own not only to create that idea but also to materialise it, namely, to bring it to life. But exactly that is why it is tautological to “start an initiative”.
It is as ridiculous as to “begin a beginning” or — as William Shakespeare chuckles in his comedy As You Like It — to “see a sight”. Such a phrase is often found in Kenya’s newspaper columns. It is what grammarians condemn as tautology. An example occurred in the headline “Market in Bungoma starts film initiative” (page 2 of a recent Nation number).
For to start and to initiate are almost exactly the same thing. Initiation is an abstract noun etymologically related to the adjective initial that most Kenyans misuse exclusively as a noun. To be sure, the word initial also refers to the letter which begins a word, especially a name, and is, in that context, a noun. But, much more properly, the word initial is an adjective.
Initial is thus what we transform into the adverb initially, meaning “from the start”, “to begin with”. For instance, Britain was the country that brought racism to Kenya. It brought, namely, the small-mindedness which so excites especially Caucasian Europeans and North Americans against non-Caucasian human beings.
In Kenya, however, we have to be extremely careful with the abbreviation “UK”. Why? Because these letters are also the initials of Uhuru Kenyatta, our President, an individual who, to my knowledge, has never entertained any example of the tiny-mindedness that England’s own language belittles by the word racism.
For, in this context, UK is also short for the United Kingdom, the insular European country that once racially tyrannised non-Caucasian human communities the whole world over, especially in African countries, including Kenya. Yet the United Kingdom itself remains a unity of many kinds of ethnic human beings.
Nowadays known together as Britons, they include the English, the Irish, the Scots and the Welsh, plus sprinklings of continental Europeans, Asians from, for example, China, Pakistan and India, and Africans from, say, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda. Ireland, however, is a country in which I have never lived.
Nevertheless, I was once profoundly attached to it, namely, when, in Dar es Salaam in the 1970s, I shared my whole life with Sunniva, an exceptionally intelligent, knowledgeable and attractive lady of Irish vintage. But we eventually disagreed fundamentally and — though in a wholly friendly way — went our own separate ways.
Yet, living for years with somebody of the opposite sex, especially from a different race and a different culture, leaves in the mind extraordinarily powerful reminiscences. Thus Sunniva frequently reinvades my mind powerfully. I have not heard from her ever since we separated when powerful fundamental differences began to emerge between us.
Philip Ochieng is a veteran journalist.