This narrow obsession with the future is not new. During colonial times, we Africans were promised "civilization" if we adopted European cultures, and "heaven" if we worshipped the European god. After independence, we were promised "development" if we did what IMF and World Bank said. Today, we are still promised development by the current president on condition that Kenyans refrain from all political discussions.
This ideology of progress has become so normalized in Kenya, that many Kenyans use it instinctively. But this should not come as a surprise, because, as Lutes quips, "ideology is often most effective when it is silent, but because public intellectual inquiry has been shaped to take its presumptions for granted." And in fact, the most prominent victims of this hegemonic logic are in education. The Commission for University Education and university leaders keep talking about "benchmarking" and preparing graduates for a market which they and the professors barely comprehend. And in the case of CBC, Kenyans have been promised that accepting the curriculum will give them access to a fictitious 4th industrial revolution. Education leaders and regulators completely avoid any attempt to widen the discussion to what the market is and whether we should be shaping our education to it.
The Kenyan language of fear
Ordinary Kenyans have so internalized the Anglo-Saxon ideology of progress, that we have developed a vocabulary to reinforce the hegemonic view of linear progress. The vocabulary functions by attacking any attempt to widen conversations to include the past and the present. A number of conversational tactics are listed below.
a. Preventing conversations about the past
- "We can't always blame the colonialists"
- "We should not cling to the past"
- "We should not judge or condemn anyone"
- "Let us forgive and forget"
- "Accept and move on"
- "The train has left the station"
b. Preventing conversations about the present
- "What is your solution?"
- "Not all ______ are what you describe" (fill in the blank with any identity: Africans, Kenyans, men, women, members of an ethnic group, etc)
- "We must first let it work before we criticize" (a popular justification for CBC)
- "Do you ever say anything positive"?
- "We cannot talk forever, we must act [or focus on development]"
c. Change is inevitable, upende usipende
Another tactic of the progress narrative is to claim that a proposed change is inevitable, and will sweep away anyone who dares question it. Kenyan statements to this effect include:
- This is where the world is going
- Either we change or change will change us
- Technology is going to take over everything
- "You belong to history" (this was said to me on live TV by a retired member of Kenya Defence Forces)
The Anglo-Saxon roots of Kenyans' fear
Ultimately, this passive aggression of Kenyans is rooted in the Anglo-Saxon psyche itself. Examining European cultural history, Cheikh Anta Diop concluded that European consciousness, especially in the British Isles, is driven by a fear of tomorrow, and therefore one needs to be first past the post, and then grab, hoard and to be safe from the elements. His observations merit a lengthy quote:
"Hoarding, usury and all forms of excessive concentration of individual wealth are only the reflection of social anxiety, uncertainty about tomorrow, a sort of shield for oneself and one's kin against a cruel fate. It is in an individualistic society that we see the great growth of such a phenomenon: this is true of the West throughout its history...individualism, dating from earliest antiquity, and the feeling of social insecurity inherent in it, developed the spirit of struggle for life more than anywhere else....No politico-social education has so far radically changed the Western mind in this respect. The technical and intellectual progress due to constant and necessary busyness, the energy with which one must imperturbably amass ever more wealth, the peculiar forms that these activities assume and their repercussion upon the social order...all these seem to flow from one same principle."
Short of saying Kenya should be disbanded, rather than continue to destroy our souls and our sense of humanity, we human beings in this Kenya must resist the distractions of the Kenyan hegemony. We must do the painful work of resisting the instinct of fellow Kenyans to shut us down and prevent us from thinking or imagining. Fear of the unknown is normal, but we African societies dealt with that uncertainty through rituals, not through turning life into one big rat race and making everyone miserable running it.
So we must study our past and understand our present, so that we can give up this colonial fear and face the future with confidence. We must revive our arts and rituals through which our ancestors confronted the unknown. This would empower us to reject the frivolous predictions and half-baked solutions that civil servants and politicians bring from their benchmarking tours in Euro-America. Just as our ancestors like Syokimau did, we too are capable of envisioning the future without our hands being held by the Kenyan state or its Anglo-Saxon godfathers.