Why are Kenyan men so vague in relationships?

What you need to know:

  • Vagueness is the modus operandi, skirting the issue, and hoping you just ‘figure it out
  • Some cultures communicate explicitly with little left to inference while others communicate implicitly

This might make a lot of people cross, but I think if we are talking about origins, Jesus was definitely Kenyan. That Hebrew bloke has all the characteristics of a man shredded in the life and times of a Kenyan man: he has no qualms about disappearing for a whole weekend, he knows his way around good wine and more importantly, he loves to speak in parables.

Ah. Kenyan men love speaking in parables. I am not sure when was the last time you were in close contact with the Holy Book but do you remember in the scripture of Matthew when Jesus asks his disciples, “Whom do people say I am?” The disciples answer, ‘Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, Jeremiah or one of the prophets—and then, he asks them, but ‘whom do you say that I am?’”

Now, I know Jesus does not have self-identity issues but those are the questions that Kenyan men have built their church on. The stones will sooner sing praises to the Lord than a Kenyan man giving you a straight answer. I know many a girl has asked the dreaded three-word question— ‘What are we? —and been taken in a Möbius twist of confusion for an answer, befitting of any of the cathedrals of modern dating: “What are we? What do you mean what are we? Who do you think we are?”

Unless you are waiting for some divine intervention, understand this: Kenyan men are wedded to ambiguity—they are clear in their lack of clarity. We dislike being boxed. We leave wiggle room for plausible deniability. Show me a Kenyan man who gives you a straight answer and I’ll show you a man playing the long game.

It is for the same reason that we never say I love you back. I mean, I have love for you. I’ll even go out on a limb and say I like you. But barring a World War III whose only treatise of peace is me saying those three words, I am sorry that you chose me as your Messiah because the world is going to burn.

A friend recently confessed that he does not call any woman “baby.” I was not surprised. Actually, I agree with him. I despise the way that tasteless word rolls off the tongue, with that clandestine samizdat feel. The word baby has been (mis)used so much that if you stood next to Tom Mboya’s statute in CBD and said “Babe!” half the town will turn to answer. The other half will be scampering away because they have just been caught cheating.

I remember learning in university about low-context and high-context cultures. Kenyans fall in the high context zone. A free lesson then for those who had been sent home for fees when this unit was getting covered: Hall’s theory states that different cultures have different ways of communicating; some communicate explicitly (low-context culture) with little left to inference while others communicate implicitly (high-context culture).

In high-context communication, a great deal of information is implied rather than explicit. In these cultures, people may rely on body language, tone of voice, and facial expressions to convey meaning, and may not always say exactly what they mean. Thus, to get the full grasp of what someone is saying you listen to not just what is being said, but also what is left between the lines: that nothing is black and white, and there is such ambiguity in life as well as fiction. In other words, we love to leave our options open. It’s exhausting. Frustrating. But ni sisi ndio tuko.

Kenyan men never explicitly tell you what they want. Vagueness is the modus operandi, skirting the issue, and hoping you just ‘figure it out.’ If I really like a girl, and I mean really like, you know what my pickup line would be? “Nizalie.” Yes, I go straight for the jugular. It’s not enough to be just the two of us, she must give me offspring. I like her genes; thus, I must be in her jeans. We don’t even ask if you are single—we would rather eat cement—we simply assume you are by asking, “Naweza piga usiku?”. 

There has been a lot of debate about our national spirit, be it mzinga or the holy spirit. But I wager that our national spirit is lying. Or more accurately, vagueness. Think of three of your closest male friends. Maybe he is a lawyer. Mechanic. Fundi. What thread sews them together? You got it: elusiveness. You can use many words to describe a Kenyan fundi, but perhaps only two will do: ‘Kujia Kesho.’ Need I say that tomorrow never comes?

Let’s also throw in the police just because. I have dreads and that means cops love me—I mean why else would they be stopping me so much in town asking what is in my bag and then saying “Kuja tuongee.” Talk about what? Why? Is there any straight-shooting man left in this country? 

Like orphans running the orphanage, everything has to have that subterfuge. And Nairobi’s lingua franca has become this tedious little code, which prevents anyone from ever saying exactly what they mean. “Naenda hivi nacome.” “Tutafutane.” “Ni God.” These words are so bloated and vague, they almost bob in the air. This is the strange idiom of the city, like a liturgy with no service.

In John Gray's Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus book, he argues that the "original" Martians and Venusians communicated without difficulty because they knew their languages were mutually incomprehensible. Modern men and women, by contrast, are under the illusion that they speak the same language. But though the words they use may be the same, their meanings for each sex are different. The result is that men and women often do not understand one another.

Me, I have a theory—we are very suspicious of each other. How many times have you called someone and asked them: “Where are you?” and they replied, “You, where are you?” We believe that someone always has something on us, and we need to know where they are so we could give an appropriate response. I remember a Ugandan comedian—Pablo—making a joke about how we answer questions with questions. He landed at the airport and told a ground crew: “Is it true that Kenyans answer questions with questions?” The Kenyan replied, “Who told you?”

See, we all know that married couple that never dated ‘officially’. This man invited a girl to a ruracio and a week later they are wearing matching vitenges. Everyone naturally assumes they are an item.

That is Kenyan relationships 101. Or yours truly, which is how I met someone’s daughter: After a couple of sleepovers at my place—and let’s face it, here we have an implied (hehe) understanding that we do not sleep at women’s places—one morning while she is wearing my boxers (that’s a lie, she’s wearing my oversized tee-shirt) after a weekend that evolved into a week, I turned to her and asked: “Sasa why are we paying rent for two houses?” I didn’t ask her to be my person but it was covert in that statement. But really, why should we pay rent for two houses? Have you seen the cost of accommodation in this town?

My evangelism to men this week is simple: be a little more direct with your speech. Say exactly what you mean. No brown-nosing, no elusiveness, just plain, clear speech. Leave the parables to Jesus—the only platitudes she should be nodding to is how blessed she is to call you baby. 


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