• Being in a position of authority or influence is an uncommon privilege that obligates one to feel an advanced sense of responsibility
• The inapt and negative tides of "othering" persons with either or both identities is poisonous.
Although Education CS George Magoha has "privately" apologized for his reckless and prejudiced remarks to an NTV female Muslim journalist, what he said directs attention to two ingrained problems in Kenya that needs to be effectively and candidly addressed.
First, is the issue of abuse of privilege. Being in a position of authority or influence is an uncommon privilege that obligates one to feel an advanced sense of responsibility and thoughtfulness to ensure what they do or say, including their own assumptions and biases, do not have a wrong influence on those who look up to them.
Sadly, however, it is deplorable that we are beholding a recurring situation in which some of these big names variously abuse their high seats of power and influence to spread mischief, bigotry, falsehoods, mistaken beliefs and negative stereotypes about other people and communities in ways that convincingly makes one to believe the mere fact that someone is titled, famous or senior does not necessarily mean they are appropriately smart or honourable.
Where is intelligence or respect in a snap judgment that associates criminal acts like terrorism to a whole ethnic and faith community? We have also seen other public figures for example, repeating a warped connection between circumcision and the qualification to be president in an effort to demean a candidate and their community from the constitutional liberty to take a shot at the highest office in the land. I also wonder if they would tolerate the same low treatment if it were against them given that respect is a two-way street.
The second issue touches on the Muslim and Somali question in our country. The inapt and negative tides of "othering" persons with either or both identities, despite their equal claim and vast progressive impact and contributions to this country, is poisonous.
This malady partway stems from misinformation resulting from the present era of Islamophobia, where Islam is fallaciously associated with backwardness and violence. But the roots of this problem are much longer and deeper when you look at Kenya’s history, from the divisive colonial legacy to the governance mistakes of post-independence Kenya that prioritized security over development in Muslim and Somali- populous areas like Northeastern.
This created a sense of segregation and related unnecessary perceptions and suspicions about our social identity and loyalty.
A Kenyan blogger once wrote: "There is no “great” Shifta war novel, no “unforgettable” Wagalla massacre film, no public memorial to the many Somalis murdered and erased by the Kenyan state. One might speculate that Somalis have been unmade as subjects and communities who have suffered harm, and who can suffer harm. Framed variously as “anti-Kenyan, “illegal”, “alien”, “terrorists”, Somalis are framed as unassailable to a “project Kenya”, that is, at base, devoted to keeping Somalis killable. In a very important way, Kenyan-ness is defined against Somaliness, even as Kenyan-ness requires disposable Somali communities, lives and bodies."
This country is definitely big enough to accommodate us all.
Mohamed is a social commentator in Garissa