At least that is what some people in Kisumu think he looks like. The Sikh community in the area put up the monument, depicting a praying person (I fail to understand art many times, but this time the meaning of this piece failed to escape me), to commemorate 100 years since they built their temple in Kisumu.
Instead of the warmth and harmony the Sikhs may have imagined the monument would bring in the area, it brought about a three-day protest in which it was vandalized. Residents called it satanic, and said it portrayed Kisumu as a haven of idol worshipers. They were spurred on by preachers who said it portrayed a society worshipping an idol, which is odd, because I only see one monument of a praying man, with no idol anywhere near him.
They attributed recent stormy rains to the presence of the monument. Cyclist vendors insisted that they had to avoid that street, because whenever they passed there, business was poor. They further said that they only wanted monuments of Tom Mboya and Jaramogi Odinga. The Sikh community acquiesced and decided to tear down the monument, instead offering to put up a water fountain in its place. The county government corroborated this line of action, saying that they had approved a water fountain, not a statue; therefore the monument had to be torn down.
In the coverage of the fiasco, it is interesting to note that some in the media have referred to the Sikhs as “the Hindu community” or said that “the Hindus had said/agreed to…” yet Hinduism and Sikhism are two different religions. Sikhism rejects idolatry and believes in one creator, referred to as Waheguru. Hinduism on the other hand believes in a hierarchy of gods and goddesses worshipped mainly through idols. Anyone accusing Sikhs of idolatry suffers from a serious case of ignorance.
In my discussion of this subject with those around me, and in my following of the conversation surrounding the issue online, two sentiments that have come through frequently are “How dare they?” and “Kenya is a Christian nation”.
They. The issue of “Us” vs. “Them” in Kenya has arisen, once again. We love strata. We look for any way possible to divide ourselves. Black people against the white man. Black people against the Indians. Christians against Muslims. Men against women. Straight people against LGBTQI people. All forty two tribes against each other. Once we are done stratifying our society, it becomes you against me, and once we eliminate each other, all that’s left is the stench of intolerance.
“I don’t know why I felt so closed and bitter and threatened by the things I did not like.”
The Sikh community may have lived in Kenya for over 100 years now, but they are still outsiders – they. There is latent jealousy, or even malice that can be sensed as one participates in this conversation. Let us face it, many resent Kenyans of Indian origin for the perceived wealth and insularity – they have, by our high standards, failed to assimilate with “the locals”. Leave alone that they have lived in Kisumu, and other regions in Kenya, for over 100 years.
Intolerance is one hell of a drug. It is disagreeing to disagree – a complete lack of respect for others and their different nature or opinions. You see, one cannot tolerate something or someone unless there is disagreement. We do not tolerate those who are on our side; we tolerate those who are perceived to be against us and what we stand for. Tolerance implies disagreement and is reserved for those we perceive to be wrong. It involves agreeing that the person one disagrees with has a point (even though you may not like it) all while respecting him/her. Intolerance, therefore, is a lack of respect.
This disrespect is brought about by a sense of superiority – the intolerant parties feel that their behaviour, ideas, and they themselves, are better than those they cannot tolerate. Christians are better than Muslims/Sikhs. Straight people are better than LGBTQI people. Men are better than women. Kikuyus are better than Kalenjins, ad infinitum.
This leads to acts of rabid madness such as those described above. This is what led to post election violence in Kenya in 2007/8, and until we learn, this is what will continue to plague our country until the end of time, unless we accept that maybe, just maybe, others are people just as much as we are, and that just like we think they are wrong, that we can be equally as wrong, if not more. We must also fight fiercely against intolerance, as it is the biggest cause of social tension in Kenya.
“Ignorance and prejudice are the handmaidens of propaganda. Our mission, therefore, is to confront ignorance with knowledge, bigotry with tolerance, and isolation with the outstretched hand of generosity.”
On Kenya being a Christian nation, we need look no further than our Constitution, the sovereign law of this land. Just because Christians form 80% of the religious population in Kenya does not mean that Christianity is superior to any other religion:
Chapter 2, Article 8: There shall be no State religion.
Chapter 4, Article 27, (1): Every person is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection and equal benefit of the law.
Chapter 4, Article 27, (2): Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and fundamental freedoms.
Chapter 4, Article 32, (1): Every person has the right to freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion.
Chapter 4, Article 32, (2): Every person has the right, either individually or in community with others, in public or in private, to manifest any religion or belief through worship, practice, teaching or observance, including observance of a day of worship.
The acts in Kisumu were clearly unconstitutional, and the fact that they have not evoked much outrage shows how intolerant we are – it is almost our second nature – and why each of us must take it upon ourselves to end this plague by learning more about those different from us – and by respecting them, their ideas and their nature.
I am hopeful. Hopeful that we will tear down all the monuments in Nairobi (and the rest of Kenya) and put an end to this bad weather we have been experiencing lately, especially the hailstones. They must be because of Gor Mahia fans bowing to the Tom Mboya statue on Moi Avenue when they win a game, or that indecent fountain outside the High Court. This must also be the reason for our national and county budget squabbles. Once we demolish all the monuments, all will be well in Kenya. You will see.
If you really want to know what bedevils this country, all you have to do is look in the mirror.