Thursday, 27 September 2007

Community in crisis: Is the Kenyan house in America on fire?

From the murder of a widowed single mother in Georgia and her two teenage daughters{pix to your right}, to the crisis in Kansas where Kenyan accountants were involved in fraud against taxpayers, to the young Mwendwa, a Kenyan gangster in Chicago who was arrested and charged with the murder of a young girl when he ordered a member of his gang to fire a gun against a rival gang— smoke from the Kenyan Community has been rising from every hut. Also in Delaware, Paul K. Wayoike was arrested and charged with murder. According to the police report, he alledgedly used a hammer to beat his wife to death for apparently having an affair. Police in Baltimore are also looking for Anastasia Oluoch, a clinical nursing assistant accused of beating an elderly patient. Oluoch was exposed by the elderly man’s daughter who had installed a surveillance camera in her father’s room. The once silent, and what the authorities call a “closed community," has found itself in a situation in which Kenyan men, women, and their children are wondering whether the Kenyan house is on fire.
For many years, the Kenyan community in America has been “undercover.” It is not often that a member of the community has been in the news. The only nationally known Kenyan-American with Kenyan roots whose flag has been flying high across the nation has been Barak Obama. His has been a positive exposure of Kenyans as natural born leaders to be reckoned with in this country. Kenyans have not historically been ones to want to bring too much attention to themselves. Many migrated from Kenya to settle peacefully in America, not to join any political or social demonstration. The community has kept and upheld that tradition firm through the years until recently. This silent trend seems to have shifted and the Kenyan community has been thrown into the limelight at full force.
The murder of Jane Kuria, 47, and her daughters Isabella, 19, and Annabel, 15, and the senseless, brutal beating of Jeremy Kuria, age 8, has not only shocked the community, but has left many community leaders wondering whether there are Kenyans in America who have begun to burn down the house. This question has been asked by many, especially when there seems to be word that the authorities may be focusing on the possibility that the brutal murder was committed by a Kenyan who knew the family. The intense investigation to find the killer or killers has gone far beyond the border and, according to a reliable source, even back to the victim’s village in Kenya. In a community where peace is often the norm— with many Bible studies, church fellowships, and Nyama choma feasts, these events have brought fear, especially to single mothers and single females living alone. Even married women whose husbands often travel or work late have begun to express concern. Speaking to one young couple in Atlanta, the wife of a young businessman told KEN that she has begun to live in fear, something she has never felt before. “We have always left our blinds open,” she remarked. “We have never had any reason to think that someone was watching us or that we would find someone inside our house after work. Now I not only close the blinds, but I walk throughout the house after work to ensure that no one is there hiding.” She said that the events in Atlanta have made even her young son to notice that something has changed in the house. “My son never used to see me pull down the blinds, now he looks at me curiously when I start to pull them down. You can see him wanting to ask ‘Mommy, what is going on? Why are you closing the blinds?’ ” Her husband, though not wanting to show fear, acknowledges in a typical Kenyan manly reaction, “Even though I don’t believe there is any reason to be concerned, people are worried.”
Dr. Samuel Njuguna Nagi, a licensed therapist working in the South Carolina Dept. of Mental Health, and the director of Reach Family Counseling in Columbia, South Carolina noted: “The Kenyan community continues to evolve trying to arrive at a ‘Kenyan-American Identity’.” He told KEN that, “When Kenyans arrive in this country, they are faced with a brand-new social structure and culture. This culture contradicts their traditional Kenyan culture and begins to take a form of an opposition. The success or failure of a Kenyan immigrant socially, economically or in education (which brings many Kenyans to America), depends upon how one fights this social battle.”
Dr. Nagi continued to explain the dilemma by giving an example of a family whose son he was counseling. According to Dr. Nagi, the boy had been involved in drugs and the selling of drugs. He had been doing drugs for more than three years. He explained that during these three years, the father did not even know. “To make matters worse, the boy was selling drugs from his own bedroom.” Dr. Nagi argued that when Kenyans and other Africans come to America, they adopt the decades old Western philosophy of privacy. They give their children more privacy than they need. Their children who are also struggling to adjust to the culture get sucked into the American high school behavior. They begin dating, using drugs, and get themselves in trouble at an early age. Arguing that living in Kenya also had its own problems, he explains that at least in Kenya, parental authority is more easily exercised and the young have no right to room privacy. This means there is no TV in the bedroom, no girls in the room, and no unknown buddies. Also the parents have the right to go into the bedrooms and therefore keep an eye on their children. The influence of grandparents, uncles, and aunties, and the whole overseer philosophy in Kenya including the boarding school environment plays a role in curbing the potential of gangster mentality. “In this country, we have Kenyan teenagers paying child support and graduating from high school with criminal rap sheets.”
According to another Kenyan community leader who has worked with the community for many years, “The problems within the Kenyan community are just beginning and they will get bigger,” Pastor Shadrack Ruto told KEN in an interview. Ruto, who is the senior pastor of Upendo Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas, told KEN that the crisis in the community is being highlighted by the breakdown in community fellowship. The pastor describes how some of the Kenyans analyze the historical development of the Kenyan-American Community. According to analysis by people close to him, there are those Kenyans who came to America in the ‘80s. These were disciplined individuals whose sole purpose was education. They were accountable to the educational institutions and generally stayed in school, joining the American workplace and holding good family values after graduation. Many went back to work in Kenya to help build the nation. Then there is a group which came in the ‘90s. The majority of those in this group came for economic reasons. Kenya was going through economic hardship and the government of Moi was doing nothing about it. Many Kenyans were looking for a way out. When they came to America, their focus was on making money. This meant illegality and with illegality comes a life of underground actions that may sometimes be illegal. Then there is the crowd that arrived after 2000. Many of these immigrants have no values and morals. Among these are those who do not come to school, but submit to an uncontrolled social discipline. They are involved in illegal businesses, alcoholism, and nontraditional Kenyan behavior. Though Pastor Ruto does not share the exact sentiments of the analysts, he does acknowledge that there is a growing change in Kenyan community morality and values. “The social, economic, psychology, and cultural values of individual Kenyan immigrants depends upon where they Land. If one is welcomed by a community of Kenyans who have no value of education, the individual will not go to school. If one arrives in the neighborhood of illegal workers, the individual will become illegal and work undercover.” The community that receives you in America shapes you.
Both Dr. Nagi and Pastor Ruto hold the same belief that there is a greater social health among Kenyans who are a part of a church-based or an education-based fellowship. These two entities provide a discipline that promotes better values than the empty chasing of the American dream. These contentions, though true, do not go far in settling the problems facing the Kenyan community given that Ms. Kuria was a member of a Kenyan community church and fellowship. What is true in this country is that the Kenyan community needs to come out of hiding and face its community needs. Kenyan church leaders have tried to bring the community together but they have found themselves facing the ancestral problems Kenya faces. Tribalism has historically eroded the cohesion of Kenyans in Kenya and unfortunately here in America. And until recently, the Kenyan Embassy in Washington was in social dormancy.
One of the solutions to the growing Kenyan youth violence is a call from many Kenyan leaders for Kenyans to send their Kenyan-American teenagers to Kenya before their children turn 16. According to Dr. Nagi the decision to send his three teenage children to Kenya for a year in Kenyan schools was the best decision he ever made. “My daughter and two sons are better people and understand the historical Kenyan values of life, family, and community responsibility after spending a year in Kenya.” He explains that he sent his children to Kenya when he discovered that his theoretical instructions were not enough. “Parents must aggressively be involved in their children’s lives. They must make a decision to shape their children’s future.”
Pastor Ruto agrees with Dr. Nagi and challenges the Kenyan family to go back to its roots—to not only find that good Kenyan nature, but to remember that there is great value to be found in the fellowship of Christ. “We are religious people historically, and within our development, the body of Christ has been the foundation for our good and gracious society. Our community’s stability lies within the realization that man is fallen and it is this nature that boils into criminal behavior.”
Where there is smoke, there is fire. A people can either ignore the smoke until the fire burns down a house, or they can put it out and save themselves and their children. The undercover and segregated tribal and social behavior guarantees that the Kenyan community will continue to see itself “smoke”. A few years ago many Kenyans were arrested for possessing fake social security cards. Many were deported but never left. They are so deep undercover they cannot even find themselves. We also have Kenyan teenagers who are not able to attend college because of their parents’ illegal status.

Given the pro-community administration at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington, it is time that both the social, religious, and Kenyan government representatives in America merge together to address the issues facing the Kenyan community. The office of the Permanent Secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Kenya has begun to engage Kenyans in the Diaspora. The challenge for the Office is to help the Kenyans who are here illegally due to immigration technicalities become legal.
There is a false modern philosophy propagated by President Kibaki’s administration that the foundation of community health is economics. However, history teaches us constantly that a strong moral and family tradition is essential to social, political, and economic well being of any community, including our own. “Asiye fundishwa na mama yake hufundishwa na Ulimwengu.” Yes, and the ”Ulimwengu” has no mercy or grace.

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