The “Veiled Apartheid”

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After a year’s hard work and tight schedule, I decided to take a weekend and retreat in one of the Coastal beach resorts. After packing my belongings, I boarded the ferry and crossed over to South Coast, deep into the farthest points of the Coastal region in Msabweni, Kwale and Ukunda. Contrary to Mombasa Island where it’s more of white sandy beaches, this part of Coast is awash with lush green vegetation, thanks to the climatic difference.

You could be forgiven for thinking this was not part of Coast province, but yes it is; what with all the palm trees and large mangoes being sold by the roadside. It is still hot but unlike Mombasa where majority of the Muslim women are garbed in black bui buis, here the women loosely tie matching lesos/shukas around their upper and lower bodies.

After arriving at one of the resorts in Ukunda (name withheld), its hawk eyed “soldier” at the gate looked at me menacingly in a manner to suggest that I was at a wrong place.

Kijana unaenda wapi?” he blurted in a heavy Luhya accent.

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Nimekuja kutalii” I fired back while maintaining eye contact.

Hapa si kwa maskini kama wewe. Hapa ni kwa wazungu.” He obnoxiously answered me while walking away refusing to open the gate for me. What ensued will be a story for another day but the experience I had was just a tip of an ice berg of the Kenyan “veiled apartheid”.

apartheidFor those ones who are strangers to the term, apartheid was a system of racial segregation in South Africa enforced through legislation from 1948 to 1994. In this system, blacks and whites were not supposed to mingle. They had different social amenities, different residential areas, different schools and many more segregated environments. The difference between the South African Apartheid and the Kenyan one is that; in South Africa, it was enforced by law, but in Kenya, it is enforced socially. The Kenyan one also goes beyond the race and encompasses social classes.

Apart from the Coastal hotels, our institutions of higher learning are among the leading institutions that enforce this “veiled apartheid”. A student who scored a B+ in high school and comes from a poor background will be denied a chance to do a course in Medicine but a student who scored a C+ and comes from a wealthy background will be given that chance. As if that’s not enough insult, Module II students will be given preferential treatment by the lecturers.

Our religious institutions are not any better when it comes to social segregation. The original shape and form of Christianity has been flipped on its head. Although at the heart of Christian faith is a transformative message of repentance, salvation, reconciliation and kindness; modern-Christianity has metamorphosed into a sophisticated institution that preaches outdated tradition, flamboyance, money and social status. Welcome to Christianity brewed in a Kenyan pot.

One day while I was still a student, I decided to attend a lunch hour fellowship in one of the famous churches in Nairobi CBD. After a good motivational preaching, came the offertory time. The pastor brazenly said that the congregants should form two queues; the ones with offering exceeding one thousand shillings to form one queue and the rest to form the other queue. Since the ones in the first queue had an opportunity to greet the pastor after giving, gullible congregants rushed to the queue and gave even what they had not planned to give. I had planned to give my fifty shillings that was for my lunch but I ended up not giving any cent. That was the last time I stepped in that church.

This experience begs the question; isn’t Christianity supposed to be an all-inclusive institution that embraces the poor and rich, the whole and the disabled, the young and the old, women and men, whites and blacks? Isn’t Christianity supposed to be a welcome place for all people to gather, sing, dance and listen to the word?

Even though apartheid was abolished in South Africa, it’s still practiced all over Africa. Kenya is not any exception. We encounter it daily without realizing it because it is veiled. Many people and institutions apply it inadvertently since we are wired that way. Look at the way Kenyans responded when terrorists attacked Westgate Mall and when they attacked Mpeketoni residents. Did you note any difference? Welcome to Kenyan apartheid system.

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