Thursday, October 25, 2012

Whats in a Name?

Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet

Uttered by Juliet to display his unflinching love for the legendary Romeo in the Shakespearean classical Romeo and Juliet, this phrase seems to hold no waters in matters outside romance where names sometimes pack more weight than their face value.

The list of leading lights in Kenyan politics reads like a script from the sixties, thanks to scions of former power men holding powerful positions with largely their surnames to thank.

However, this is not only in Kenya alone but has also been replicated in countries like the United States where two George Bushes ascended to the presidency. It has been done by the Sukarnoputris in Indonesia, the Gandhis in India, the Bhuttos in Pakistan and the Aquinos and the Macapagals in Philippines.

But even in the traditional African setting the question “whose son are you” was common since people were, more often than not, judged according to their father’s reputation. Solomonic wisdom dictates that “a good name is worth more than gold and silver”, or in modern terms millions of dollars in the bank.

“Names are very important in the African society because they are believed to appease ancestral spirits and further the family tree,” explains George Mathu, a lecturer at the University of Nairobi’s department of Athropology. “Their significance is so integral that parents will avoid naming their children after people with bad perception in society like thieves or murderers”.
To emphasize the importance of names, naming a child was done in elaborate rituals with deep religious significance. Newborns are named after ancestors, past heroes, time and place of birth, animals, physical features and major events. Others are a reflection of the prevailing emotions or conditions at the time of birth. Taabu, Raha, Blessing, Zawadi, Talent, Innocent, Fortunate, Rehema and Baraka are good examples.

Mr. Mathu says that a name is so critical in the belief systems that it is thought it can determine the way people behave and feel about themselves. This, Mr. Mathu says, explains why there are so many Castrols, Mandelas, Kennedys, Julius and so few, if any, Judas, Cains, Hitlers and Lucifers.

A funny name for instance, the university don says, can make an individual a centre of attraction or ridicule in which case it might affect their self esteem and personality.

Orie Rogo-Manduli, the firebrand female politician and activist, says she was baptized Mary Snessor by her parents in honour of a Scottish nun working in Calabar, Nigeria, rescuing twins babies from ritual killings.

“My mother gave birth to me while on a visit to check on my ailing father at Maseno Hospital in the company of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga,” Orie explains. “I popped out unexpectedly and after being washed Jaramogi took me to my father’s bedside where, although he very ill, he whispered ‘Orie’”.

Later on the Trans Nzoia County Senator aspirant found Mary Snessor such a mouthful and requested his parents that she drops the two names.

“Although I admired the Scottish lady and even visited her birthplace later on I believed my identity was with maternal grandmother Orie whose genes I carry,” she says. “Besides, people used to stop at Mary Snessor and Orie was somehow overshadowed, hence we held a big family meeting where I officially became Orie Rogo and later added Manduli which is late husband’s name”.

Known for hers strong feminine ideals, Orie insists that ladies should not drop their maiden surnames even after getting married since that is a sign of respect to their fathers. She also adds that all the Ories in Luo land are related to her since that name is unique to her family tree.

However occupation, religion and personal philosophies are some of the most common reasons for changing names.

Success in some careers like performing arts and politics are sometimes hinged on a unique and larger than life personality, of which a name plays a big role in creating. There are many people who transformed their careers and fortunes in these fields by simply changing their names.

Many people who watched movies like The Firm, Jerry Maguire, Magnolia, The Last Samurai and War of the Worlds might never know that the main star Tom Cruise once answered to the name Thomas Mapother III. Others are Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jean Baker, Demi Moore, born Demetria Gene Guynes, Chuck Norris, born Carlos Ray and Bruce Willis, born Walter Willison.

Adolf Hitler’s father was born Alois Schicklgruber and later adopted the name Hiedler after her single mother remarried. When the future Fuhrer was entering Germany as a young job seeker a migration officer found Hiedler a mouthful and simply wrote it as “Hitler”.

The name changes would prove a turning point in his political career in future because it would have been hard to imagine the millions of NAZIs in rallies across Berlin and Frankfurt shouting “Heil Schicklgruber” instead of “Heil Hitler”.

Growing up in Kilembe Copper Mines in Uganda Richard Nguluku Ndile couldn’t tire telling people about that “wonderful’ place in Uganda upon his return to his native Kibwezi, hence everybvody reffered to him as Kalembe.

Years later after he lost a civic election just because his supporters could not recognize his name on the ballot paper, the maverick politician swore an affidavit, dropping the first two names and officially becoming Kalembe Ndile.    

Besides politics and showbiz, there are those who abandon their original names as a sign of protest against political, racial, religious or cultural prejudices in the societies they live in.

“The African independence generation was very conscious of their African roost and they were determined cultural subjugation and imperialism,” explains former Subukia Member of Parliament Koigi wa Wamwere. “Therefore most of them went out of their way to demonstrate this quest by dropping, legally or otherwise, all their European names”.

In Kenya founding father Jomo Kenyatta, among those leaders who changed their names to reflect on their pan-African convictions. Others across the continent who did the same were Mobutu Sese Seko wa Zabanga, Kamuzu Banda and Thabo Mbeki.

Born Kamau wa Ngengi, baptized John Peter which he later changed to Johnstone, the late president took Jomo which means “burning spear” in Kikuyu and Kenyatta which referred to the beaded belt which he often wore.

Although born Koigi wa Wamwere, the Chama Cha Mwananchi leader says he was baptized with a Christian name that he is not comfortable mentioning because he never considered it his name in the first place.

“I dropped that name because I considered it a constant reminder of the colonial subjugation and past,” he told DN2. “For those reasons and the fact I would like it to remain buried in the vaults of forgotten history I don’t like mentioning or saying what it was”.

While Africans don’t need to have foreign names in order to be Christians, Koigi says, the fact that we adore European names is an indicator that although we got political independence we are still culturally colonized.

The veteran politician’s sentiments are echoed by Mukurueini Constituency legislature and Assistant Minister of Sports and Youth Affairs Kabando wa Kabando.

Due to what he calls “vexation by the blatant segregation against my cultural heritage by the colonial education system” the parliamentarian dropped his birth names Godfrey Kariuki Mwangi for the double barreled Kabando wa Kabando.

“When I was schooling many high schools were sponsored by the major churches like the Catholic and the Presbyterian,” he explains. “There was a rule that you have to be baptized with an English name for you to be admitted in one of these schools hence I adopted the name Godfrey from the worry that I might pass and miss a chance”.

Kabando chose Godfrey not because it was the name of his father’s best friend.

But even after taking up Godfrey, he referred to himself as GKM Kabando when he joined form one at Ololoserian High School in Kajiado County since he never believed the first three names were his names. For these reasons many of his classmates referred to him as Kabando.

“That was a rebellion against unfair conventions at an early age because these colonial prejudices are compelling Africans to do what our former colonial masters don’t do,” Kabando explains. “The Wazungus don’t change their names when they come to Africa but they want us to change ours”.

While saying that he is passionately opposed to camouflaging identities through foreign names Kabando believes that using local names is an honour to the African philosophy and anthropology which was the guiding principle in naming children for hundreds of years.

“The adoration of foreign names especially among the youth is a perpetration of inferiority complex because it reflects their worship of western values,” he explains. “Martin Luther King Junior talked about people being proud of who they are regardless of their race and religion but here we are punishing our children with strange names or expecting them to speak English with a native accent”.

But getting his names changed completely was never an easy task for he had to contend with legal bottlenecks at the registrar of persons. But after launching more than 32 unsuccessful applications he finally got his way in 2003 after the NARC government came to power.

“After the 2002 elections I literary camped at the registrar of persons for many days until he finally heard my case, albeit halfheartedly,” the politician says. “The only other political figure who was able to completely change their names completely in Kenyan history was Johnston Kamau Ngengi, popularly known as Jomo Kenyatta”.

When he vied for the Chairmanship of Student Organization of Nairobi University (SONU) the Kabando wa Kabando stood him in good stead since many could not easily place his ethnic identity in the heavily polarized student community.

“My name helped me defray tribal card when I campaigned and won SONU chairmanship in 1992 since I couldn’t be associated with any ethnic or political party grouping,” Kabando recalls. “But it also became a setback for me when I vied in 1997 because some Mukurweini voters thought I was an alien”.

In A Grain of Wheat Ngugi wa Thiong’o, formerly known as James Ngugi Thiong’o, explains his surprise upon encountering an African economics lecturer at Makerere University without an English name called Mwai Kibaki.

Although he was baptized as Emilio Stanley by Italian missionaries, President Mwai Kibaki has always been known for all intents and purposes with his two African names.

Born of pan-Africanist fathers who had a penchant for African names the two leading presidential contenders Raila Amollo Odinga and Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta don’t have any English names. Others like Kalonzo Musyoka and Musalia Mudavadi lays a lot of emphasis on their African names while Peter Kenneth is the only referred by two European names.

Known to the world as Malcolm X, the African American civil rights activist dropped his surname and adopted the “X” after joining Nation of Islam (NOI) to signify the unknown tribe name of his ancestor who was transported from Africa in a slave ship. It was a tradition of slave masters to give slaves their surnames as a sign of ownership

X later changed his entire identity to El Hajj Malik El Shabaaz although he still remained Malcolm X to his followers. Muhammad Ali, a Malcom X’s protégé, also dropped his birth name Cassius Clay after joining NOI to protest racial prejudice by white America against black people.


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Chinification of Africa

Throughout history the Chinese merchants are famed for being street smart, calculating, cunning and possessing a good nose for business that have seen them traverse the world through the centuries, making the phrase “Made in China” a global brand.

And although they had to wait for Chinese multinationals to trail blaze the way to Kenya, the legendary Chinese merchant, called Shang in oriental folklore, has finally landed in Nairobi. And Kenyan traders are not amused because these diminutive men from the Far East have “disrupted” the order of doing business around here by playing through their own rules.

To display their displeasure with these unwanted guests local traders staged a street protest last week where they presented a petition to the Prime Minister’s office and Parliament.

“These Chinese traders are very cunning people,” says a Luthuli Avenue based generator and public address system dealer who identified himself as Karis. “They usually come to our shops disguised as customers and ask for the prices, only to go back to their country and bring the same product at a much lower price”.

Karis adds that sometimes the Chinese employ Kenyans as salesmen and then sack them after building a client base and learning the local business dynamics.
“Most of these Chinese don’t have shops which means they don’t pay rent or tax hence they can afford to sell their products cheaply,” the trader lamented to DN2. “The government should step in and either tax them or expel them because I suspect most don’t even have work permits”.

Karis’ sentiment were echoed by many other traders along the busy Luthuli Avenue and other areas in Nairobi who complained of their businesses being undercut by the unfair dealings of the Chinese. 

“Since they are in contact with some manufacturers from their homeland sometimes they bring in low quality goods that they sell cheaply,” complains Yunis Abubakar, a mobile phone trader based at the Luthuli Complex business center. “For this reason and the fact that most don’t pay rent or City Council levies they are also eating on their client base”.

Abubakar claims that the Chinese stalks customers in shops and entice them through prices that would be economically unviable to Kenyan traders.
“When I started this business in 2007 we used to have major clients from Ethiopia and Uganda who would buy goods in bulk,” He recalls. “Now the Chinese are not only dealing directly with these foreign clients but they have also have agents in places like Addis Ababa and Kampala to retail their products there”.
Like Karis, Abubakar pleads with the government to step in and ensure the principles of fare competition are put in place. 

“The government should ensure the Chinese pays tax as we do and that they have business premises for which they will have to pay rent and City Council levies,” he says. “Otherwise at the moment some of them hawk their goods on a backpacks moving from place to place”.

Riding on the good will cultivated by Chinese corporations and their billions the aggressive these foreign traders have taken the war to their Kenyan counterparts. With a “junk of all trade” the Chinese are doing everything from hawking cheap phones to selling garments, second hand car dealerships and real estate.

But Nairobi is not the only city in Africa swarming with the enterprising merchants from the Far East. Small-scale traders in cities like Dakar, Lusaka, Luanda, Maputo and many are all contending with the threat of the robust Chinese traders.
In a bid to protect local vendors the government Malawi passed a law last month that restricts all foreign traders to the countries four major cities of Lilongwe, Blantyre, Mzuzu and Zomba besides having to deposit $250,000 (Sh20 million) in the country’s central bank as start-up capital.

“The new law clearly outlines what kind of businesses foreign investors will be allowed to get involved in,” Malawi’s Minister of Trade John Bande said. “We will not accept foreigners to come all the way from China and open small businesses and shops in the rural areas of this country and compete with local traders”.

With China establishing a multibillion-dollar development partnership with African nations Chinese citizens have been coming to the continent as experts, supervisors and other types of workers contracted in the various projects.

But besides the genuine staff brought in by the Chinese companies there are others who are here for unclear reasons. These are the ones who eventually end up being hawkers and small scale traders,” explains William Karang’ae, a player in the textile industry. “While we appreciate the Chinese positives in the country like the Thika Superhighway we are totally opposed to them destroying our businesses through unfair competition”.

After the Kenyan traders demonstrated the Chinese Embassy issued a statement to the effect that all the Chinese people and businesses in Kenya operates within the law.

“The Chinese companies and citizens in Kenya strictly comply with the local laws and regulations in their production and management process,” the statement form the embassy read. “The Chinese Embassy in Kenya has always been committed to educating the Chinese companies and citizens in Kenya to operate businesses within the law, make contributions to the local society and live together in harmony with the local people”.

The embassy also stated that it was concerned about some leaflets that have been purportedly dropped in some areas of downtown Nairobi threatening Chinese businesses and citizens. 

“We have noted that a few people were circulating leaflets in Nairobi recently, making a threat to both the Chinese business people in Kenya and the Kenyan people,” the statement from the “Spokesman of the Chinese Embassy in Kenya” read. “Everyone with conscience should condemn such an irresponsible behavior by a few people to bring shame on a specific community and stir up contradictions and hatred in the Kenyan society”.

Early this month protesting mineworkers in Zambia killed a Chinese manager during a protest. Two Chinese managers were charged with attempted murder two years ago in the same mine after they shot and injured miners during a pay dispute. The charges were later dropped.

Apart from trade and business disputes with locals several reports have claimed that the inclusion of China as one of the “approved” ivory importing countries in the world by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), Word Wild Fund (WWF) and other conservation bodies and a huge presence of country’s nationals in Africa have fuelled the rise of illegal poaching in recent years.

A documentary entitled Chinese Fuel Resurgence in Ivory Poaching shot by A24 Media, a Kenyan company, in 2011claimed that fifty percent of poaching incidences in Kenya today happens within a 20-mile radius from Chinese road building projects. The documentary also alleges that major poaching activity is reported in areas where the Chinese are grading or constructing roads like Tsavo and Amboseli.

“I think there is a link between the number of Chinese who have come into Africa recently and elephant ivory purchasing,” explained Dr. Esmond Bradley-Martin, a conservationist interviewed in the documentary. “For instance in about 2000/2001 there was something like 75,000 Chinese working in Africa, now the figure is well over 500,000 and the Chinese are being caught all over Africa…in Kenya they have been caught with ivory coming in from Congo, Cameroon”.

While 134 Chinese nationals are said to have been arrested in Africa trying to smuggle illegal ivory to China in the last decade, there have been 426 cases of ivory seized on its way to China during the same period.
But just like the silver lining in every dark cloud the benefits of China-Kenya relationship cannot be gainsaid. 

“The Indian workers who remained behind after the construction of the railway by the British in the 1900s formed the first crop of entrepreneurs in Kenya,” Mr. Tiberius Barasa, a policy analyst from Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), “Africans learnt a lot of business skills from these Indians and the same attitude should be adopted towards the Chinese. Kenyan traders should view them not as enemies but competitors whose presence will cultivate a healthy business environment”.

He explains that with every one out of six human beings being Chinese most ordinary citizens from that hugely populated country are forced to seek greener pastures in developing countries like Kenya. This is same situation in the country today where three million Kenyans live and work in the Diaspora.
“I was in Lesotho and saw a huge Chinese population doing business there which means these traders are not in Kenya alone,” Mr. Barasa points out. “Kenyan traders should be glad that the Chinese are here because they stand to learn a lot of business tactics and the art of outdoing competition”. 

However, he says the government should ensure the Chinese traders operating in Kenya have the necessary papers and pay taxes and other levies to create a level playing field.

“Another issue is pricing where the government should ensure studies are done to find out why the Chinese are able to sell same goods at a lower price than Kenyan traders,” he advises. “This should also involve discussions between the governments of Kenya and China to ensure the issue of taxation on imports and exports on both sides is ironed out so that nobody is disadvantaged”.
Barasa warns that if the current hostilities between traders from the two countries persists it might precipitate diplomatic friction, with Kenya being the biggest loser.

Besides business and infrastructural development there have been a lot of cultural exchanges in recent years between China, Kenya and Africa in general.
“Each year over 5000 African students receive Chinese government scholarships, over 700,000 Chinese tourists travel to Africa, while over 400,000 African tourists travel to China,” says Chinese Ambassador to Kenya Liu Guangyuan. “Every week there are more than 20 regular flights between China and Africa”.

Trade volumes between Kenya and China hit an all time high of $1.8 billion (Sh144 billion) in 2011. 

“Till August 16th this year, the Embassy has issued 6628 visas to Kenyan citizens, of which 85 percent were commercial visas,” a statement from the embassy said. “In addition, the Embassy provides “one-day express service” for Kenyan citizens who plan to visit China urgently”. 

Statistics from the Ministry of Finance indicates that in 2008, Kenya imported sh73.3 billion worth of goods from China against Sh2.3 billion of exports to the Asian country.

The huge trade imbalance seems to have rattled the United States government as reflected by a cable allegedly sent by Washington’s envoy to Nairobi at that time Michael Ranneberger.

“China’s engagement in Kenya continues to grow exponentially,” one of the cables leaked by WikiLeaks quoted the ambassador saying. “China enjoys a large trade surplus with Kenya, exporting more than 30 times its imports”.
After being pressured by parliament the government through the Ministry of Immigration issued a directive that stipulates that foreigners earning less the Sh2 million a year and those below the age of 35 will not be issued with expatriate work permits. The law intends to safeguard jobs for Kenyans and respond to criticism that thousands of semiskilled workers from India and China are working in Kenya today.

“The regulations are needed to prevent foreigners from taking jobs that can be done by Kenyans,” explained Sammy Onyango, the Chief Executive Officer of Deloitte East Africa. “Expatriates are also important but we should engage them largely as investors or professionals coming in to offer rare skills and build local capacity”.

According to the department of immigration between 2007 and April 2011, Indian citizens held the highest number of work permits at 10,581, followed by China at 3,494, Britons 2,700 and Americans at 1,593. However, there are thousands of others who operate in the country without work permits.