Social Media: Kenya's Poison Or Curse?

Updated: Nov 1, 2019

At face value, Kenyans in rural areas seem like less progressive Africans than their urban counterparts. They seem prouder of their heritage. But they are slower to adapt to imported or “modern” culture. This makes them retrogressive in the eyes of urban folk

Born and raised in middle class Nairobi, a short time living in Kwale has opened my eyes to gaping differences in the way urban and rural folk live and think. Those in rural areas look up to urban dwellers. But I’m becoming more convinced that the opposite should be the case

Africans have been tricked through consumerism. Rural folk have not been exposed to consumerism as much as those in urban areas, who believe that anything from the West is better than everything homegrown. The books we acquire “knowledge” from are written in the West. And we think a Western education makes one intellectually untouchable

Consumerism has given rise to Classism. How much one possesses in monetary terms is what determines their position or level of influence in society. If you’re rich in money, you can slap a chief and hire a lawyer or bribe the government to escape the consequences of slapping a chief

Money is the way to power and a rite of passage for political office. An illiterate footballer with money thinks he’s also fit for public office. A rich but overrated DJ imagines he’d make a sound leader. Even a drug trafficker can be a governor in Kenya. An impeccable public service record should be the only yardstick to measure leadership ability and it should matter how you made your money. But we live by an imported Swiss mantra: money has no odour. Therefore, our legislature and government are full of court jesters and thugs

Africa was originally a bio-communal society and our economy was guilded. We lived symbiotically with nature and one’s level of influence was based on what they brought to the community. Influence did not come from how much you possessed. It resides in unique talents and knowledge. If you knew which roots, leaves or herbs treated and cured what ailments, you were indispensable to the clan. A midwife was irreplaceable because she helped mothers deliver new life. And if you were an expert on the clan’s history, you were revered. You got to take home the choicest cuts when a bull was slaughtered

Today, all this knowledge is getting lost. Doctors are more respected than medicine men. Medicine men are branded “witch doctors”. When they perform a vigorous dance over their patients, urban folk call it “black magic” or “witchcraft”. When in truth, the dance is only a ritual which assures the patient that steps are being taken to make them feel better. When a doctor examines a patient with a stethoscope, isn’t that just a ritual too? A stethoscope cannot tell a doctor accurately what is wrong with a patient and it certainly will not cure the patient. But it helps the patient feel better with the assurance that something is being done to make them healthy again

In fact, there are ailments medicine men knew how to cure which doctors are helpless around today. No plant or animal gives us the pills doctors prescribe. But medicine men knew which specific properties in plants treated or cured what ailments and conditions. Today, we’re cutting down whole trees for these properties to produce pills for mass markets while destroying our habitat. Rivers are drying up and the air is unclean. And doctors are prescribing pills for illnesses resulting from this. These illnesses we’ve created ourselves are making billions of dollars for Big Pharma. And no money remains here because we don’t manufacture pills ourselves. But we’re still convinced that we’re living more civilised lives because pills came from the West

The ingredients in pills can be found very easily at Karura Forest or any other forest. A medicine man will gladly direct you to the right plants. But a doctor will ask you if you’ve washed your hands first and whether you’re sure about what you’re putting in your mouth. His knowledge is limited to what the West has taught him. And if you don’t buy pills, he doesn’t get paid. Some chemicals used to make pills have addictive qualities. Some weaken our immune systems. So, we keep going back to hospitals to spend more money when we used to have free healthcare. The most you had to pay a medicine man was probably a goat

To the West, money is more important than human well-being

Back to our urban and rural folk. In truth, rural folk wish they could experience these Western norms and live like urban folk. They’re blissfully unaware that they’re better off as they are. Their daily struggle for a living does earn them less than what their urban compatriots make, meaning they have less access to technology and other “perks”. But technology is exactly how the West is reaching and indoctrinating urban folk faster and more effectively than rural folk

Nowhere in the world are smartphones used more than in Africa. And not surprisingly, mobile is the fastest growing advertising medium on the continent. Social media is just a tool for companies to find out how we think so they can sell to us more effectively. They ask us explicitly what is on our minds

These things have been created for what the West likes to call a “global community”. But it’s a community in which they get to exclusively export and sell their customs and norms to everybody else. Anything outside of their customs and norms is primitive and is to be viewed with contempt. Therefore, we laugh at our own accents and attempt to mimic Western voices. We have been trained through advertising, music, film and other mediums to do so. Particularly in urban areas

The other day, a young man not older than 23 came to keep us company at the office and we had a long conversation. He’s born and raised here in Kwale. But he’s as ‘with-it’ as any young man in Nairobi or elsewhere because he has access to a good smartphone and bundles. He dreams of owning material things like flashy cars and clothes. But he also makes and sells amazing backpacks with African material, which he proudly uses himself. He likes my Nike sneakers. But he’s got a regal spring in his step when he walks away in his locally made sandals. He is very proud of who he is

Perhaps Africa can enjoy the best of both worlds. The good and positive aspects of Western culture along with the good and positive aspects of ours. Perhaps we can even take advantage of a unique privilege: the fact that we can live both rural and urban lives

What should never be in question is the importance and value of putting African culture first. Or we become “civilised” but confused and disunited

Of all the weapons ever fashioned to destroy us, technology may be the most dangerous one yet. Worse than the small arms that have proliferated Africa for decades. Technology has the potential to wholly assimilate us into Western culture and make forget who we are forever. But it is also the one weapon we can snatch from our oppressors’ hands and use to get free of oppression. And this prerogative lies squarely with urban folk

We must start loving ourselves more. Let’s be proud of who we are and where we come from. Sporting an Afro or dreadlocks is great. And being seen at African themed events is cool. But it’s not about showing it to the world. It has to be genuinely from your heart

Tujipende. We must use technology, especially social media more positively. We expend valuable energy fighting and ridiculing each other online when we can learn from, teach and support each other instead. We can use technology to connect better with rural folk - we’re always complaining that the government doesn’t provide civic education. They never will because it’s not in their interest to. We must take this initiative ourselves if we want a better country. If we do this, not only will we be able to speak in an authentically Kenyan voice to the world, we will be a more unified, more effective and more powerful force locally for the change we want

#KoT have picked up great causes and done good work a lot of times. But imagine if #KoT was really Kenyan. It’s more a representation of middle class Nairobi. We look formidable when we’re fighting CNN. But we’re completely impotent when we’re trying to influence local policy. Politicians are more aware than we are that #KwaGroundVituNiDifferent and that’s where the majority of Kenya lives

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