SHOULD LUOS CELEBRATE THE QUEEN?
Updated: Sep 22
A RESOUNDING 'YES'
A QUALIFIED 'MAYBE'
AN ADAMANT 'NO'
The passing on of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has raised a furore of debate as to whether the queen should be mourned and celebrated in the former colonies. The above argument could even be asked of the four nations of United Kingdom of Great Britain of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland where isolated individual protests has been noted. Indeed it is not quite the same for all the colonies. Definitely it is debatable whether the imperial reign was the same in all African colonies.
The intensity of the reign in Eastern Africa was not the same as in West Africa and this is easily visible from the vestiges of colonialism and the resultant presence of the monarchy in Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya.
For the purposes of this blog the intensity of the imperial majesty varied between different ethnicity. The Somalis for example have a different story to tell compared to the Kikuyu nation or the Kalenjin nation. It is this difference in intensity that produced different influences and adversity say between the Baganda and the Luos or the Waskuma and the Haya or Chagga of Mount Kilimanjaro. It is only fair for this wall to examine the impact of the Queens reign on standalone basis, tribe by tribe.
Most Luos I asked insist grief is grief and any death should be mourned and that is very much a Luo thing that it is in order to mourn the queen and to give space to those who want to mourn if at all one does not feel inclined to mourn. However, on the issue of celebrating the reign from 1952 to 2022 there is a variation and difference.
There are those who think that Luos must celebrate the reign because there are cultural influences that are positive and have put the Luos in a position of strength. I have classified this group of thought under “A resounding Yes” group. Then there are those Luos who say too little was impacted, or not much was given despite enormous friendship and a little bit of visible loyalty to the empire. I have grouped this lot under “A qualified Maybe” group. Finally, there are the other Luo lot who are adamant that the reign pulled wool over our eyes and the cultural influences impacted on our lives negatively and introduced a mongrel of culture that we could as well do without. In some cases, they feel that the monarchy held us down while the pillage of the Luo nation was encouraged. I have grouped this Luo lot under “An adamant No” group.
A RESOUNDING "YES"
Nyanza was the most prosperous part of East Africa at the turn of the 19th Century. The British had found a very undisturbed tribal governance in the cordillera of the lake. These were Kingdoms of organised governments around the northern part of the lake by the roaming Vikings of the River Nile who in order to perpetuate their dominance set a series of dynasties like the Banyankole kingdom, the Baganda kingdom, Busoga kingdom as they marched to settle into the North eastern head of Lake Victoria. The colonials found such groups civil, easy to rule or negotiate with in the same way as the South East Asia.
I remember at my pre-adolescence years WWI veteran Mzee Patrobas Ranyuongi Opiyo of Gem clan of Kojuodhi recounting the arrival of the white man. Word had reached Gem clan ruler Rading’ Omolo that a strange group of invaders were coming. So ruler Rading’ Omolo sought the expert knowledge of the wise man Gor Ogalo aka Gor Mahia. Gor the wise man advised that the best way to meet the locust-like invaders was to receive them with leaves as a symbol of peace and with eggs as food. And so it came to pass. It can be argued that this contact ensured a general peaceful co-existence with new settlers.
This contact even sped up the establishment of schools, missions and exchange visits with other Kingdoms like the Baganda Kingdom that later day ruler Odera Kang’o of Gem clan tried to emulate.
As the Imperial British set to exploit East Africa to stay permanently as a second home there was a rush to set the lake basin nearer. The hinterland Railway was quickly rushed to reach Kisumu then later Uganda even if everybody knew it was a white elephant going to nowhere. The Whitehall termed it a white elephant even before the lions started devouring people at Voi near Tsavo.
All these conspired to produce a middle and upper class of Africans in the Luo community. The labour force and skills left behind enabled the Luo to move ahead of other communities and occupy most employments in East Africa. At the time of Independence East Africa Luos were influential in every town in East Africa. That is why it is easy to understand that Field Marshall John Okello could easily overthrow the Zanzibaris Omani government in Zanzibar leading to a TZ government. This influence was in every part of East Africa and was further evident in the set up of East African Community where Luos filled every top positions of the community all over East Africa. From Halwenge brothers in E A Railways and Harbours to Nicodemus Ogango of EA Flying school, to John cods of EA Airways. In Kenya alone Luos took leadership position in things that did not even concern them like the mau mau and civil organisations. It is not surprising that even the first local organised football club in East Africa (Luo Union), the first local recording artist or musical band was of Luo origin. At Kenyan Independence Luos were present at all of the major political movements and prompted most of the seats.
In summary the community was punching above its weight. A photograph of Jomo Kenyatta in Landover at Kenyan Independence celebrations in 1963 is so graphic in illustrating where the close association with the white had had left the Luo community.
The Luo community had benefitted so much that it is not a surprise that that the colonials publicly offered the presidency to Luo Kingpin Jaramogi Oginga Odinga in 1962 to lead Kenya into Independence. And this happened 10 years within the Queen Elizabeth’s reign.
With this pedestal stage, a good civic education, well trained personnel, zero unemployment at the time of independence, an overarching welfare state it is in order for the Luos to celebrate Queens government.
The traditional Luo governance did not provide for someone to visit their herbalist, bury a relative etc. Yet the government as the Queen left it provided for maternity care and pedestrian fees.
On this account among others the Queens reign must be celebrated.
A QUALIFIED "MAYBE"
There are those who argue that the Monarchy just pampered Luos to be able to use Luos to govern East Africa. That is if the above pampering had been free then yes it was free. There are others who maintain that Luos were just a house nigger and what was seen as pampering was not fully remunerated.
There are those who also argue that independence came too soon before the benefits of the association had been realised. This argument is countered by those who claim that there are hardly any airlifts scholarships into Britain for the Luos. The education seems to have been just to keep the subjects in their place.
Admirers of the French assimilation policy also argue that at no time did the British attempt to assimilate or recognise the Luo way of life in the manner the French did for the French colonies. Our names had to go. Our faith had to go. That is not the act of a friend at all. On the other side of the cultural influences, the critics point out that Luos are not called “wazungu waliobaki for nothing. The Luo have rejected any attempts to speak a language other than English long after the British had left. Not even the flirting with Lingala the Congolese langua franca has convinced the Luo to abandon English. The embracing of the English attire is all part of the self-inflicted cultural adoptions from the colonial masters. These doubters are also pragmatic to point out that we have done much worse than when the Queen handed us the reigns. As one taxi driver was caught complaining, “Our roads are very bad”.
So the tourist asked, “If your roads are bad why can’t your government fix them?”
The driver retorted, “No it is not our fault. Blame the British. They made the roads and refused to come back and repair them!”
And now the Queen has passed on without coming back to repair the roads that were built in 1952.
And true ever since the British left in 1963, they should not be blamed even for our problems. So it’s a qualified yes that we should celebrate the Queens reign that for all their faults they did better than us in many areas.
Should the Queen apologise for slave trade in Luo land that persisted up to 1938. Why would they do that if they were the ones that worked hard to stop it. They were outwitted by Arabs and corrupt chiefs in North Nyanza but they finally stopped it. “A Qualified Maybe” is the answer to whether we should celebrate.
AN ADAMANT "NO!"
Politically what was the impact of the WW1 and 2 on the community. In WW1 alone 5000 abled bodied men from milambo never returned from WW1. This means the production line was stopped. The population algebra interfered with. And even those who came back had only military kits to show for it. The war reparations never reached the Luo community. We had nothing but a dependency to show for it. Do we blame the Queen for that? Not really. Both wars were before her time. Her Majesty could have done something for the Luos who incurred the greatest loss for a war they should not have been involved in. It was so removed from Luos that even after the war had ended in Europe nobody bothered to inform them in East Africa that the war had ended. Then followed the WW2. Again no reparations. The effects of these is that a prosperous community was surely being dragged down in to the poverty line. While British war veterans received houses and extensive nanny state allowances, Luos received nothing. Most of the red brick houses were built after the second world war. Yes, the ones diasporas are busy paying mortgages on and bragging they have houses in the UK. Those houses should be theirs without paying a single cent. So a man who had been away if they did not learn any skill like motor mechanics came back to nothing. His age mates had moved on because most of the war vets were abandoned in faraway places and had to make their way back after years.
If it is one person of ten people, then there is not much impact. However, for a community to be put back this way then we bring about poverty line that eventually impacts the vices in the community that was not our way of life for 1000 years.
There are also cultural practices that have been copied believing it to be a modern way of life. The British who chose Kenya were mostly aristocrats who wanted a Las Vegas to hide from prying eyes. Some of their habits were not normal British habits and that is why the tales of Happy Valley, Lord Errol and orgies of the white settlers are kept in secret.
The binge drinking where people drink on a daily basis is not European. Binge drinking was not also Luo thing. Pot (yath) was smoked with comrade in arms (ja-yadha) as martial preparedness before a raid but only in times of military operations. Leisure drinking was a festive occasion reserved to ritual times or for the very elderly who had no further communal responsibility. The perversion to drinking is something the Luos picked from our masters. Of course the Queen did not force us to drink. But the presence of the monarchy in Kenya for a long time meant that we drink more than west Africans for example. We cannot celebrate such perversion that have weakened the community.
Our foods have also been altered. I once listened to a woman illustrate how Maize has introduced the poverty level in Luo Nyanza. At the top list was the increase in cash crops like Maize. Maize is liquid and compared to millet, maize plantation takes more space. Millet grains fills more space and reduces wastages. It means a sack of millet will feed more people than a sack of Maize. So a Luo farmer must act twice as much to produce enough Maize compared to the millet they would have produced. Not mentioning that they need more space. The same goes for all other foodstuffs that we consume now. The reduction of indigenous food plants in a Luo diet has exacerbated more health challenges than in West Africa. The absence of fermented foodstuffs their replacement with bland maize produce has comparatively rooted down additives like sugar and salt intake. Is the Queen to blame? No. Should we celebrate the monarchy, of course not.
A mongrel of Luo culture destroying the soul of Luo lives by interfering with private matters like marriage, burial, family and replacing this with English common law which in turn handed us over to freelance armchair organisations whose only indicator of success is how many marriages they break apart and men who take pride in how many single mothers they produce out of a proper Luo customary (traditional) marriage is certainly not a culture we can celebrate.
Direct wars by ill-informed administrations like Bwana Cobley cannot be swept under the carpet. The massacre of the Ugenya people by ill-advised Bwana Cobley will one day require an apology. That the queen saw it fit not to take advantage of the "Black Lives Matter anti colonialism spring" not to apologise for such mistakes like the slaying of Quakers martyr Alphayo Odongo Mango of the Quakers and be on the right side of history cannot be excused. Is the Queen to be blamed? Of course not. Is the monarchy to be celebrated where legends of such a massacre of the Ugenya people, Uyoma people still runs without an apology? Never. An adamant NO!