African success and extended family pressure

In today’s Daily Nation, Rashna Wara writes, in Do Kenyans demand too much from their best and brightest?

. . . many bright and successful Kenyans, politicians end up working not to serve the country but to fulfil the dreams and aspirations of their relatives and kinsmen.

Take Barack Obama Senior, for instance. . . In Dreams from My Father, Obama Junior, the current Democratic Party presidential candidate in the US, recalls a conversation he had with his aunt Zeituni in which she explains how the senior Obama continued being generous to extended family members and members of his clan and village, even while his own family starved:

“When he lived, he would just give to everybody who asked him. And they all asked. You know, he was the first in the whole district to study abroad. The people back home, they didn’t know anyone else who’d ridden in an airplane before. So they expected everything from him…Always these pressures from family. And he couldn’t say no, he was so generous…When your father’s luck changed, these same people he had helped, forgot him.”  .  .  .

. . . Every Kenyan (regardless of income) is in one way or another subsidising extended families, if not entire villages. They all dread that phone call which demands money for school fees, clothing, medical supplies and other such necessities from near and distant relatives who insist that because they have more, they should share more.

AND THEY DON’T SAY NO BECAUSE  to do so would be very un-Kenyan and would go against African norms – a kind of enforced socialism where the richest and most hardworking members maintain those who are not so well-off or just plain lazy. However, the relationship is not reciprocal; the givers never become receivers.

Charity is not a bad thing. But when it becomes a way of life, it disempowers the receiver and over-burdens the giver. It also taints relationships because relationships that are based exclusively on monetary exchange, not on love or solidarity, become resentful and parasitic. . .

. . . There are many Obama Seniors in our midst. Many Kenyans abroad do not come back home because the pressure to send money to relatives is so great, they end up leading small meaningless lives in foreign lands. . .

Read the whole commentary

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