Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The church is not an authority on being ‘African’

Sunday Nation 29 May 2011

This past week, a section of church leaders held a press conference and opined obliquely that some of the nominees for high office in this country were of questionable morals and had traits that are “unAfrican”.

They declined to give details on these assertions, allowing only that Parliament must select a chief justice and deputy who, among other things, are of high moral standing and respect the place of religion and African culture in Kenyan society.

The insinuation here, of course, is that the two judicial nominees were behaving in ways that are, at some level, inimical to what is African.

These scurrilous attacks on the character of the nominees do not deserve discussion in a family paper, and it is regrettable that our clergymen can sink this low.

However, the assertion about what constitutes African culture merits some in-depth examination. Apart from the church leaders, many other individuals and groups have often taken to labelling behaviour as unAfrican when it does not meet with their own approval, or when they have an agenda they are too ashamed to publicly proclaim.

Traits that have been labelled unAfrican include certain modes of dressing, sexual behaviours including homosexuality, reproductive health issues such as the question of abortion, and even certain types of music.

Interestingly, these issues are often left on the back-burner whenever serious professional attempts are made to address them, but are quickly resurrected whenever some controversy is required to muddy the waters of public opinion.

Judicial nominees

Although the church leaders chose to avoid a frontal attack on the characters of the judicial nominees, it is fair to ask a question or two about their own locus standi in deciding on matters African.

We are all agreed that many of the ascendant religions in Kenya today have origins outside of this country and outside of the African continent as well. By definition, then, none of the religious creeds that command millions of followers in this country is Kenyan, let alone African.

The official appellation of the Catholic Church actually makes allusions to its Roman origins, and the hierarchy owes allegiance to the Pope who sits at the Vatican, a sovereign state under international law. The Anglican Church and many others do not fair any better.

Coupled with the ecclesiastical paraphernalia preferred by the church hierarchy, it defeats logic for these purveyors of a “foreign ideology” to accuse another Kenyan of being unAfrican.

If anyone wanted to learn the behaviour of Africans today, all they would need to do is to find the people meeting the definition of “Africans” and study their behaviour under various conditions. If accurately done, the resultant conclusion would describe what being African is all about.

Peculiar traits

As a matter of fact, there is no transcontinental agreement on what being African entails. Today, there are Africans of all colours, shapes and sizes, with their own peculiar traits determined by their environment and interpersonal interactions.

Dismissing certain behaviours as “unAfrican” presupposes that the clergymen have the manual on what constitutes Africanness. We must not tire to remind them that anything Africans are capable of doing is African.

Further, given its place as the cradle of mankind, Africa lays claim to all the peoples of the world. To paraphrase Thabo Mbeki, we are all Africans.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s school of medicine www.lukoyeatwoli.com

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