I have been fortunate enough to do a little traveling here and there in my time, but for me the most beautiful place in the world still remains high up in the Iveti hills where my dad was born. Without being biased it is absolutely breathtaking up there (approximately 6,000 feet above sea level).
A little difficult to describe in mere words but I can see it all when I close my eyes, even now seated in front of this computer in a dark room bang in the middle of some concrete jungle. I see the rolling red soiled hills with vegetation and jutting rocks. The grass thatched roofs and the mabati ones (some rusty and some still shiny) spread over the hills as far as the eye can see. I can even smell the fresh air undiluted by modern civilization and the constant stench that comes with it. Little wonder that I always do my best thinking up there.
I miss the place terribly more so because I haven’t been there for quite a while.
But there is another side to this beautiful picture perfect terrain that should be a tourist attraction one day. There is the extreme poverty and hopelessness. There is a lot of idleness in Ukambani but then the truth is that there are few communities that love to farm more than the Kamba people. Before the advent of the mobile phone many a true Mkamba would anxiously wait for somebody arriving in the city from home and the first question would be if it rained, not even the progress of an ailing relative would take the place of that standard first question. And everybody in Ukambani grows maize.
You see there are plenty of contradictions in this Eastern Kenya community, I guess that confirms how terribly complex these people really are. Still with their blood flowing through my veins, I guess I am pretty qualified to write about them and I will try very hard to make some sense out of the paradox.
But for now in this background-building post I will focus on something about the Akamba that has always made me very uncomfortable and at the same time puzzled. Few communities have been used, misused and dumped as much as the Kamba. Slave traders in the 18th century loved them because they easily betrayed their own to the ruthless Arabs and didn’t seem to mind seeing close relatives carried off towards the Coast never to be seen again. Sometimes the cunning Arab slave traders would return and turn round and betray their informants, capturing them as they worked towards meeting the every increasingly high targets for slave shipments. The colonialists found the Kamba very loyal and filled the army and police forces with them. The community received no special rewards for helping the white man in his wars or in keeping law and order.
The Kenyatta dictatorship took over where the White man left off and it is no accident that the first and second head of the military under Kenyatta were both Kambas. First there was Major General JM Ndolo who was followed by General Jackson Kimeu Mulinge. And even then Ukambani did not receive any really special treatment when it came to famine relief and other emergencies that arose in the area. President Moi continued where Kenyatta left off. And even as the community failed to reap any rewards for their many years of loyalty and support they steadfastly continued to support the dictatorial regimes of both Kenyatta and Moi. Things came to a head after the 1997 General elections that saw Moi win yet again. Angry Kenyans from other communities are reported to have harassed Kambas and even burned some of their commercial vehicles at the famous Machakos bus stop in Nairobi.
Even randy Asian housewives in Nairobi whose husbands are too busy thinking about money making schemes to satisfy them in bed seem to have found good use for Kamba houseboys satisfying their personal needs. And without any salary increments or special rewards.
The list of how Kambas have been used and misused by others is way too long and so I will have to stop there and move onto the simple question that arises from all this. And that is WHY? Why has this community ended up suffering so much?
Some spiritual experts from the church say it is because they killed a man of God namely Dr Ludwig Kraph a missionary who was found dead kneeling by his bedside, but it is claimed he was actually murdered by the Akamba. They add that since it is impossible to mock God the creator, the curse of mockery has fallen back on the community as a result of this.
Whatever the reason, it is important to take careful note of the great suffering that has been going on in Ukambani for many decades despite the special advantages the community has which given to another would have produced very different results. In many ways this will help any observer understand the complex and yet simple nature of Kamba politics.
More on the Kamba people, history culture etc.
Kamba Secrets Part 1
Kamba Secrets Part 2
Kamba Secrets Part 3
Kamba Secrets Part 4