Man Talk: How to be a real (Kenyan) man (in 2023)

In the endless rebranding of man, this “real man” has become Wikipedia romanticism.

Photo credit: Pool

What you need to know:

  • A real man should have several girlfriends but make sure these girlfriends never meet each other… or the wife. 
  • We have a generation of boys looking for rules who have met a generation of creeps looking for an audience.

A real man does not eat instant noodles. Or plant-based meats. A real man goes home after dusk, because only darkness can clothe a man. He only drives a manual. And parties at a nightclub where the bouncer’s name is Weida and his nickname is Steve.

A real man bathes (only) in the rain. Sweat? That’s just the flavour of his success. Hail, the un-moisturised. A real man is not on TikTok (with his real account). A real man does not walk around with his ID. A real man works at Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA), knows someone at KRA, or dates someone at KRA. You know, just in case.

A real man should have several girlfriends but make sure these girlfriends never meet each other… or the wife. A real man should never ask how to be a man because that implies that a man does not know how to be a man. 

A real man… would not be reading this… and was probably born before 1945. He brings it even when he doesn’t have to. Brings what? I don’t know. Ragged beards? Dripping machismo and oozing malandro charm? It’s not who he is, it’s how he is perceived. This, I’m told by people much cooler than me, is the way to live.

This, however, isn’t going to be that kind of rumination. And not just because I know I lost half the populace with the instant noodles confession. Let’s face it, manhood today is a thesaurus. In the endless rebranding of man, this “real man” has become Wikipedia romanticism, a man-ad that makes you the product of your own masculinity — or lack thereof. 

To tell you the truth, I have had it up to here (points to forehead) with the ever-changing definitions of manhood. Can we stop it, guys? Lads? It’s enough. Simps, quacks, alphas, bros, fake bros, new man, chairman, brathe, beta man, metrosexual, retrosexual… has anyone actually met any of these hombres?

Are they helping you refresh your Excel template of tax evasion… I mean avoidance? Are they making sure you don’t drive home drunk because you successfully avoided taxes and now you have more money than the average Kilimani boys? Are they helping you with your son’s CBC homework? No? See, a real man is a hall of mirrors. Smoke screen. Hologram.

I don’t mean to alarm you, but men, you are not men anymore. A real man speaks facts so trust me, bro. I have a theory that ever since Beijing 1995 (but in truth much earlier), when women started realising their demands for equality, men started questioning their place on earth. Do we want it all — the career, the picket fence, the mortgage — or just the casual sex and tax-free money?

Are men now really the head of homesteads or “equal partners” in a relationship because the elders were wrong and yes fahali wawili wanaweza kukaa zizi moja? Who is talking to men about a man’s inner rage? About shame? About how men are three times more likely to kill themselves than women?

Masculinity is a hot conversation. The only problem is, it feels like it’s only men discussing it, an echo chamber of empty intellectual masturbation. My guy (a real man should always have a guy somewhere) at the Kenya Met Department predicts that the clouds are gathering over manhood. This is no longer the time of “men are not men anymore”, so let’s just do away with patriarchy, but a time of “men are not anymore, smash that subscribe button and turn the notifications on”.

This turns me off.

It reminds me of the games we used to play back then as children—kalongolongo. If you didn’t play kalongolongo as a child ... (a) you are not a real man and (b) you should stop reading this now. Kalongolongo was a role-playing game, and one could be anything.

You could act as a child, a student, a bell ringer, heck even a chalkboard in school. Transfer the same to a homestead and you could play the father, mother, uncle, politician, etc. It was up to you to demonstrate your creativity in play-acting.

Girls from Roysambu know what I am talking about. They have been role-playing all their life. I was good in kalongolongo. I always played the nosy, noisy neighbour because I love gossip and get along with everyone’s wives. 

The ancestors, having seen much in life, boil everything down to simple wisdom: “No matter how good you are, if you stay for too long, you spoil it. A good dancer must know when to leave the stage.” 

We are living in a generation where men have refused to grow up. It’s that simple. Forget all the plonk about what a real man is, or a real man does. The truth is, we have a generation of boys looking for rules who have met a generation of creeps looking for an audience. It’s an intoxicating concoction. Guys whose definition of masculinity is to become someone else’s version of what a man is.

And I get it. It’s easy to fit in the crowd. Very few of us ever break away to define our own manhood, heck, our own individuality. The security of the group is primal, because didn’t those who say things say kidole kimoja hakivunji chawa? But a man must visualise himself as an individual apart from the group.

A lot of men have abdicated their responsibility to others — to tell them what to do, when, and how to do it. It is annoying but there is no law against being annoying. I know this because I see the myriad of YouTube channels and TikTok videos with instructions screaming: “Do these four things twice a day to be a real man, plus a bonus tip to make her scream your name!”

If you ask me, I think more men don’t want to think or make decisions. We have devolved the country and our own independence. I think men are stuck playing kalongolongo, but the women have grown up and left us behind. I think men are play-acting at being adults.

Self-authoring is hard. Not that independent thinking and purpose are virtues for men as opposed to women. They are simply virtues: things that make the world go round. Is it still a man’s world? Gentlemen, we are fighting for a dubious prize.

The real problem is not that men aren’t men anymore. The real threat to manhood is something more sinister: staying children. Men, dare to grow up.