Naivasha: Killed for Not Being Circumcised

John OduriSo the BBC has gone the way of The New York Times in avoiding references to tribalism. Auntie’s euphemism of choice is “inter-communal violence”. The tribalism deniers should talk to John Oduri, a Luo.

I met him in Naivasha yesterday. He had been with his brother when a mob of Kikuyus arrived at the door on Sunday. They tried to pretend they weren’t Luos but there was one way the gang could check. They stripped his brother naked. When they found he hadn’t been circumcised – marking him out as a Luo living in the lands of the foreskin-less – they hacked him to death with pangas.

Whatever the cause – whether colonial rule, land, or the inability to distinguish Ls from Rs – and whatever sparked off this latest round of violence, things are spiralling out of control. This past week has seen a series of revenge attacks as Kikuyus are bussed in to launch attacks on Luos, Kalenjins and anyone else who has killed their kin.

It may have started as political violence with ethnic undertones but now the Rift Valley has moved into a new phase of killing.

I’d like to agree with the likes of Madeleine Bunting or those who believe western reporters are dealing in dated stereotypes. And my usual position is that people all over the world are the same, driven by the same rational motives as you and me. But now I’ve met too many people like John Oduri.

13 thoughts on “Naivasha: Killed for Not Being Circumcised

  1. One can tell “private eyes” is a member of “you-know-which-community.” How can the post be “hearsay” while it has a photo to back up the story? This is very sad, especially as so-called “intellectuals” are fanning tribal hatred and violence. You be careful there, brother? I saw a CNN report on two Germans hacked to death by the like of our “private eye” (Knock on wood!)…A Congolese, I used to live in Nairobi with “The Gypsy’s Bar” in Westland as my watering hole. I have Congolese friends in Nairobi, and I don’t know what has happened to them in this turmoil! Never in my wildest dream had I ever imagined that this kind of barbarity would one day be visited upon Kenyatta’s Kenya… In fact, my Kenyan friends used to tease me on the long-drawn conflict in the DRC… As for the political correctness of the media on the issue of tribalism, CNN has on the ground one of its reporters who happens to be a Kenyan of Indian origin. She no longer mentions “Kikuyus” or “Luos”; she has replaced the words “Kikuyu” or “Luo” with “community”! This is PC run amok, brother… btw, I got the link to your blog from “Kenyan Pundit.”

  2. Let’s call a spade a spade and mention the tribes, these are not groups of people without identities, in fact it is these identities that are leading to half of these slayings. Hiding things wont make them go away!

  3. You linked to my site, so let me respond. I do think that Western reporters are trafficking in dated stereotypes; not all of them, of course, but enough (and enough of the most high profile ones) that it’s worth thinking about why that’s so. The word “tribe” doesn’t explain anything, or rather it seems to explain more than it does, so the post you linked to was wondering if maybe part of the tendency to use it as a kind of short hand stems from the constraints of the news cycle, editorial limitations, limited space for Africa, and so forth. That’s all. Some reporters have definitely behaved very badly in this whole affair, but I never said that all of them had, and if I implied it, I wish I hadn’t.
    Anyway, the reason I think it’s necessary to be critical of the word tribe is not that we should simply replace it with “ethnic group” (which is stupid and solves nothing) but think about how the condescending language of tribalism prevents us from thinking about other causes for the violence. If John Oduri’s brother was murdered simply because he was a Luo, then why was it that only recently being Luo has become a capital offense? The language of tribalism encourages people who don’t know better (i.e. most people who read a “savages run amok” article in the NY Times) to think that this is just par for the course, and its not; tribalism becomes deadly when politicians use it for rational, however heinous, purposes. The last thing one wants to do is ignore the existence of tribes, but the thing to do instead is think seriously about why tribalism is what it is in one place and something totally different in another, which is what all the fuzziness of language makes difficult to address. An axiom of historians is to beware of single-caused outcomes, because reality is so much more complicated than that. To the extent that I was criticizing Western reporters, it’s that they very often don’t have the luxury of avoiding that error.

  4. …all we can do is pray for peace, i do not believe whatever outcome Raila and Kibaki will agree to at this moment really matters, the damage is already done, who cares who is the president anymore, all we care now for is our families, our relatives, our friends and all those dear classmates we went to school with and live in those affected areas. In the last couple years, we have adored our Kenyan Flag, made t-shirts with kenyan slogans, enjoyed genge, danced mugithi and tony nyandundo all at the same time…..where did we go wrong?

  5. Zunguzungu, nice to hear from you. I linked to you because you have a valid position and one that I have spent some time thinking about. I didn’t link to you because I was offended that you criticised Western reporters. I think some of the reporting has been very lazy and has fallen into the trap that you discuss. It’s just that the more I report on this story the more depressed I become.

  6. When the election first started going bad, I felt like I had something to say, despite living in California. But now events have spiralled so far out of control or comprehension that there’s nothing I have to say about Kenya itself that seems worth the breath to say it. I wonder if this fuels a certain zeal in bashing the Western media, my own included. It’s hard to know what to do other than pray, and I’m not a praying man.

    Anyway, keep up the good work.

  7. Sorry for bargin in again… I just watched the same CNN reporter refer to the “mungikis” as “a gang of one of the tribes”… This PC has gotten out of control…

  8. Zunguzungu, you say that”tribalism becomes deadly when politicians use it for rational, however heinous, purposes.” I beg to disagree, brother—or sister for that matter, as I can’t tell your gender by the mere name. I think that if African politicians can “go tribal” as it were, it’s because they are speaking from within tribal mindsets that render such atrocities possible. I haven’t seen anyone in Africa who’s been able to break free from those tribal mental straightjackets. In the DRC, tribalism has morphed into what I’d call “languagism”: Lingala-speakers in the western Congo (who voted massively for Jean-Pierre Bemba) Vs. Swahili-speakers (who voted for Joseph Kabila). In the 2006 presidential campaign, I saw people lynched and burnt in the streets of Kinshasa as the mob was yelling in Lingala: “He is a Muswahili!”—as if speaking Swahili amounted to belonging to a tribe and thus warranted bodily harm and elimination! Tribalism and ID- politics are serious African pitfalls!

  9. I am male Nzibi monga Nzibi, (my name’s Aaron). I just don’t see how “tribalism” is any different than “nationalism” or any other kind of “ism.” Sometimes it can be a positive thing, a source of pride and identity and grounding in the world. And sometimes its a way of convincing oneself that it’s okay to do horrific things. But as your own example illustrates, it doesn’t always cut across “tribes,” sometimes its languages. And no one calls the breakup of the former Yugoslavia a “tribal” affair, but it seems very similar to me: politicians using people’s differing ways of identifying themselves as a tool to further their own gain. One of the refrains you hear over and over again at is that people who used to think of themselves as Kenyan are now forced to think of themselves as Kikuyo, or Kalenjin, or Luo, and so forth. That tells me that tribalism isn’t the cause of violence as much as violence is the cause of tribalism.

  10. The more i think about this whole Kenyan situation, the more ridiculous it seems to me. Doesn’t Raila live in the same neighbourhood as Kalonzo?(leafy Karen). Why havent they turned against each other? Don’t Raila and Kibaki have sons who are of age? Why don’t we see Jimmy leading the Mungiki or Fidel Catrol leading the Luo youths trying to break into Uhuru Park?
    When the late Jaramogi had problems with Mzee Kenyatta, Luos and Kikuyu’s never saw each other in the eye. In the eighties and nineties when they had a common enemy( Moi) they were political allies. Martha Karua was Raila’s lawyer at some point!
    I think it is time Kenyans refused to be led by our noses by our tribal chiefs coz that is what Kibaki and Raila are at the end of the day. Lets look at each other as the neighbours,classmates, e.t.c.

  11. Why are the Kikuyus angry at/interested in attacking other groups? Have they been the victims of long-term discrimination, or something? I visited Kenya in 1990 and was unaware of any tribal problems.

    Then I visited Burundi, and was told there that that if a Tutsi stepped across the border in Rwanda, they would be killed “just for their face.” I didn’t believe it at the time. It’s only in years since, I’ve come to understand that it was true, just a genocide waiting for a spark to ignite it all.

    Madame Monet (in Morocco)
    Writing, Painting, Music, and Wine

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