I am so honored to be a Kenyan woman who is invited to speak to Kenyan men. I am a daughter to Kenyan men and a sister to Kenyan men. Men and women have always shared common ties, and that’s why we greet each other as “dadangu,” or “ndugu yangu,” or in my community, all men my father’s or my son’s age greet me “wakia maitu” (my mother) and I reply “wakia awa” (my son).
If we refer to one another as sisters, brothers and parents, even if we are not blood relatives, how do we explain the violence, hatred and selfishness that have divided Kenyan women and men? We hear news reports about men killing their wives and children before committing suicide. In the current campaigns, few women are running for seats other than for those of women representatives. Women are still own less than 2% of the property in Kenya, even though they produce more than half the country’s wealth. Even though we see many unfortunate women struggle to raise children alone, we also hear women like Margaret Wanjiru publicly insulting the fathers of their own children, and hear women despair on men and deliberately choose to have children without getting married, and improve themselves economically, rather than be heartbroken and exploited.
When Kenyans discuss these problems, the most common response is that the men have become useless because women are now getting educated and earning money, unlike long ago when African women stayed at home while men brought home the food. But did that era really exist?
Colonialism therefore defined what it meant to be a Kenyan man and a Kenyan woman. You were a man if you had a salary, went to school and ended up taking over the position of the mzungu at independence. You became a “total” man if you were corrupt, driven around in a Mercedes and lived in a big house. And you were a woman if you did not have those opportunities. But in the 1970’s feminist movement came, and instead of redefining manhood by love and justice, instead of property and corruption, it told us that women should have access to the same property and corruption. And so now we are in a messy situation where we define our manhood and womanhood in terms of money, property, degrees and celebrity. Initially, it was the men who made girls pregnant and abandoned them with their children. Instead of calling for men’s values to change, some women deliberately reduce men to walking sperm banks, saying that they just want to get pregnant and then the man can leave them alone. Colonialism divided and ruled us not only according to tribe but also according to gender.
I was asked to speak to my brothers and fathers about “integrity,” especially as we approach the forthcoming elections. The English word integrity refers to “wholeness,” of things, or the morality or honesty of a person. It is a pity that the English divided wholeness from morality, because in reality, being moral and honest means being whole. Wholeness means belonging to humanity, to the people made in the image of God. It means that who you are – not what you do – as a father, a brother, a teacher, a husband, a lover, a friend, a citizen or anything else is always the same. In the same way, God is the same, yesterday, today and forever. But you cannot be the same if you are not truthful and if you don’t do the right thing. For example, if you bump into someone and lie that you are going home when in fact you are going to the bar, you have to behave like someone else when you go to the bar. A politician who steals CDF money has to pretend to be upright when campaigning for the next elections.
But not being whole is not just due to individual sin. It also comes from an oppressive system. Oppression has forced Africans to be divided – for example as tribes, or genders, or as individuals who speak a language that is not ours. So the very sin that divides Kenyans along tribal lines is the same sin that divides us on gender lines. That division makes us play very conflicting roles. Instead of being a father to all children, we feed children from our own tribe but we kill the children of another tribe. Instead of treating all women with respect, we speak well to our mothers but insult our wives and rape our daughters.
In the films “Lumumba” and “Once upon a time when we were colored,” we see men who are forced by racism to teach children what they don’t believe, but who resist by fighting against that division. In Ossie Davis's eulogy of Malcolm X, the letter of Lumumba and the speech by Martin Luther King, manhood is defined by standing up for truth, caring for others and leaving a legacy for our children. And in Nikki Giovanni’s poem, manhood is defined not just by what a man does, or by his mistakes, but also by his dreams and his intentions. We remember Malcolm, Lumumba and King not just for what they did, but also for their dreams of justice for all.
So what is it that will make us whole? Paul says in 1 Corinthians that what binds us is love. Remember that he was writing to Corinthian Christians who were also divided over different beliefs about Christ, immorality, food offered to idols or the gifts of the Holy Spirit. After talking about these problems, he explains in Chapter 12 that the Church is one body, even though we play different parts. Then in Chapter 13 he tells the Corinthians that LOVE is the key to remain united.
So in this politicized era, tribalist division and gender conflict, love is what defines us as whole, as human beings and as children of God. We may speak in many languages, have gift of preaching, have all the degrees and property, but if we don’t have love, we are nothing (v 1-3). And Paul defines love by its qualities –patience, humility, hatred of evil, faith and hope (v. 4-7). He then reminds us that love is recognizing our imperfection while striving for perfection (v. 8-10). And finally, he talks about the importance of growing and of learning. The person you will be tomorrow must have grown from the person you are today. The enemy is always looking for new ways to steal, kill and destroy, but love requires us to always be one step ahead through reading, thinking, learning and praying. Love is not only what you do for an individual, but also what you do to make that society a better place for that individual to live in. Love is the common value that makes us whole individuals, and that makes us a united society. May God bless us as we become better men and women and better Kenyans made in God’s image.