How Kalenjins embody Julius Nyerere’s ‘ujamaa’ ideology

Kalenjin traditional huts [Source/tripadvisor.com]

Kalenjin traditional huts [Source/tripadvisor.com]

As a kid, nothing irked me more than seeing my mother share whatever we had with our neighbors. Worse still on Christmas. We’d slaughter a sheep, and she would give a neighbor who happened to pass by at that moment.

The culture of sharing is one of the things that keep the Kalenjins close-knit. Families that are not well off often receive help from others. It starts with the extended family, and then the neighbors. 

This kind of lifestyle is reminiscent of Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa ideology, or African socialism. He emphasizes the need for everyone to reap, justly, from their labor.

Nyerere talks about poverty in Africa. He says that it is caused by uneven distribution of wealth, tracing this unevenness to capitalism.

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The African set up did not allow one to acquire wealth so that he or she can dominate others in society. Wealth belonged to the community. The land belonged to the community. People shared this land.

In the event of famine or drought, everyone was affected in the community. In the event of death or any calamity that made one unable to feed their family, one was always assured that his or her children would be taken care of by the community.

The coming of the colonialists introduced capitalism. The land that initially belonged to the community was demarcated and individualized. The idea of wealth at the expense of the community took root. It led to the inevitable – poverty and introduction of social classes.

Even though the hallmarks of capitalism are present nowadays, I find my mother, and indeed every other Kalenjin, sharing the epitome of African socialism.

The wealth one gathers still belongs to the community. A Kalenjin is obliged to share. Your brother’s children are your children. You are their father; therefore you are supposed to take care of them in the event their biological father is unable.

I find this gesture humbling. It eliminates the need of one going to streets when a family is unable to meet its needs. Orphaned children are brought by the extended family because they belong to the family.

Kalenjin socialism, if I may call it, is one of the things that make one forge an identity. Sharing the proceeds of this capitalistic world keeps us together.

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