Nairobisms – David Paul Mavia

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Citizenry, Patriotism, Prejudice, Mannerisms and things that make a City more powerful than a Nation

An Excerpt from Tensions by Paul Mavia

There are many isms in the world. They tend to stand on the platform of ideologies. Ideologies frame the perceptions of people and create peculiar mannerisms. These composite mannerisms produce seminal specs of identity and when examined from a negative perspective, these identities inspire stereotyping and prejudices.

The city of Nairobi is no exception it reverberates with such innuendoes. Apart from the fact(s) of the politics of categorization and branding a people is concerned, categorizations help a bit in putting meaning to contexts and people. Nairobi is such a context and it has a people. Nairobisms are conscious or unconscious mannerisms that have tagged along the people of this city. These isms have come to define who we are and have thus positioned us to almost respond the same way to certain social stimulus. They also almost make us identical and more so predictable.

It is almost becoming deducible to say that the City is more commanding than the Nation. There are people who would identify more with the City of Nairobi than they would as Kenyan. Do not get me wrong but have you lately checked on your patriometer? There are many Nairobians who are more nairobian than they are Kenyan. The city dweller and the country dweller have emerged. Though both live in one country there are miles apart. They only unite when an Olympic medal is won, that is to say we are more Kenyan when we are recognized for achievements outside of the country that identify us by the category of the nation. But wait until the same recognition has no laurel we become Nairobians and the rest remain Kenyans.

Nairobiness is not accidental. The city has grown over the years without anybody’s consultation. Cities are like that; they can get their own lives and can have hotter politics than those of nations. I interviewed a renowned playwright and a filmmaker; I asked them what they thought of Nairobi. The filmmaker said that the city has become confusing. The playwright said the city has become complicated.  The playwright had earlier indicated that he belongs to the Kenyan lost generation, guys born around six to four years to independence. He is the one who claimed the city had become complicated. I asked him if he remembers the Nairobi of the sixties, and he did, the seventies, he did, the eighties, he did and the nineties too. I explained to him that the complication he assigned to the city is simply informed by the Mavian first principle of City layering which sates that:

Every five to ten years a city’s social psychology shifts its behavioral base. These shifts adjust the primary philosophical underbelly of the City, thus making the city assume anthropological tendencies because its inhabitants transfer slavishly their humanity to the city.

So when one looks at the city as complicated, he is actually revealing that he has unknown to him   grown with the city and of the city. Non – complexity of a city would demand that you be in the city but not of the city, a rare thing to do especially in Nairobi.

Coming back to the playwright I further revealed to him that since the mid fifties he could easily assume that until now Nairobi has assumed and has gone through at least five philosophical shifts. He had the advantage of having experienced the five shifts. Unknown to him though, these shifts had invisibly turned him to a subject of the city. The city having found a brain through socio-anthropological transference from Nairobians, is thinking for us. Therefore this corporate transference has brainlessly turned us into Nairotics. That is why we think the city is complicated or confusing. The city no longer works for us, we work for the city. Not even the City Council is in charge. Throw in the policemen and Minister for Nairobi Metropolis, they have all lost charge, the clergy too and laity have equally funded the City’s insanity.

Just to reiterate, when people ask whether we are still patriotic they imply that we are talking about the nation. The inquirers should understand that if they are relating patriotism to the nation, then Nairobians are not patriotic. Patriotism is qualified historically by one becoming a citizen and not a natiozen of a country. Citizenry is a term that seems to be derived from the word city, if it is related to the word city, then all Nairobians would be and are patriotic. But since patriotism is assigned to a nation or country, it is easy to see why many people do not think Nairobians (and not Kenyans) are not patriotic.

The City has become the country. Most people without pausing to think through their statements say “Kenyans this, Kenyans that” “I don’t know what is wrong with Kenyans” what I think they mean to say is Nairobians and not Kenyans as they seem to imply. We will begin to examine Nairobisms and we will see how we contribute to the memory of the city, how Nairobi can easily isolate you from the rest of Kenya. And largely so how we the inhabitants of Nairobi City unknown to us in our ‘near’ 24 hour economy have become the human battery of this city creating a matrix fed with most diverse mannerisms and thinking from the rest of the nation. No wonder it is easy for one to be Nairobian than it is to be Kenyan. 

Last modified: November 16, 2019

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