Why are Kenyans so mean and angry at one another?

A section of residents of Kisumu County holds demonstrations.

A section of residents of Kisumu County holds demonstrations at the gates of the Kisumu Governors' office on July 7, 2022. The residents protested over the high cost of living.

Photo credit: Tonny Omondi | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, Kenyans are so stressed that we are on the verge of madness.
  • It is very likely that this is a nation that since independence has been led by severely mentally ill people: compulsive murderers, alcoholics, thieves, and liars.


During a brief traffic stop on Kenyatta Avenue mid-last week, a distraught man with a walking disability — probably polio — decided to unload on me all about the ineptitude of what he called my government.

For the record, I don’t run a government and I’m not part of any.

I initially thought he was just panhandling and had come to my rolled-down window to ask for change.

Maybe that’s how he makes a living, I surmised, in a nation that has cynically disregarded the welfare of the most vulnerable.

Hobbling in rusting crutches, he had made a deliberate effort to weave his way to the small Uber car that was driving me home to Kawangware. 

Bitter tirade

To my surprise, the gentleman was less interested in asking for money than in speaking his mind to the evil senior government official he thought I was.

He bitterly unleashed a tirade against me and my government and said he wished I’d die very soon — “a very painful death.” Ouch!

Stung but trying not to escalate the ugly situation, I took three deep breaths and continued to sit calmly at the back left — the VIP side of the Uber car, the assassination corner — where the driver had motioned me to sit because his front passenger door had jammed. 

Rather than help me open the door to my preferred seat, Noah Kamau, for that was the driver’s name on the cab-hailing app, had ordered me to fold and squeeze the herniated discs of my spinal cord into the backseat of his car as fast as I could, before the uniformed city inspectorate girls and boys standing nearby, some shamelessly scratching their privates with their swagger canes, pounced on him to extract a bribe for picking up an ugly passenger at the wrong part of the streets. I had obliged.

I was still settling in when the man in the street struck me with insults.

Life in Kenya is hard, and I do understand why one would explode in anger at a stranger so easily.

At the supermarket where I had gone to collect some basic household items, prices had skyrocketed.

I managed to buy only a third of what I needed. Then at the exit, the cashier was charging me for the paper bag.

I almost blew a fuse, and nearly slapped the young man.

But I remembered on time the advice of my shrink: deep breaths, sir, deep breaths...long deep breaths.

I am still puzzled at why a random man would pick on me like that for insults.

In my nocturnal rounds in the city, I have been mistaken for several very important persons: some pastor who seemingly holds a doctorate in prosperity gospel; a comedian-cum-politician friend of mine; a veteran TV sports personality; a former deputy governor (also a friend of mine); a deceased CEO of a lucrative telecom outfit, etc. 

From the way he rushed to my car, it is possible the man on Kenyatta Avenue had mistaken me for a mheshimiwa running for office in the August polls, before whom he’d have fawned for a hand-out.

When he realised I was not about to offer to clean his underwear for him this election season, he decided to insult me, comparing me to a national leader I can’t mention here for my safety, as I’m not keen on facilitating the fulfilment of that man’s prophecy— “a very painful death.”

To mistake me for a VIP during the day, you’d need to have a nut or two loose in your head.

Stressed Kenyans

But I must admit that after eating my cheap managu at the downtown Magomano Restaurant, I strike the figure of a contented VIP who has stolen enough from our national coffers, has several concubines in upscale condos, several offshore bank accounts, a few illegal mines in the Congo, five banks of his own, a couple of streets named after founders of his dynasty, a chain of other family-owned businesses, etc.

As the gap between the rich and the poor widens, Kenyans are so stressed that we are on the verge of madness.

Our leaders aren’t spared this collective nervous condition, in spite of all their ill-gotten wealth. 

Just as IEBC requires contestants to be cleared by various institutions to ensure the candidates are morally and intellectually qualified to run for office, it’s time it started to demand of them a certificate of sanity from Mathari Mental Hospital or an equivalent institution.

I suspect that, apart from Martha Karua, most of the top-tier candidates this election year would be declared mentally incapable of leading a nation.

Unfortunately, for the sake of electability, even Ms Karua is emphasising on the campaign trail how she will fit into the structures of power as a deputy, in this school called Kenya, where we cannot have two headmasters.

Given that kleptomania, a serious psychological disorder that causes an irresistible urge to steal is so obvious among our so-called leaders, it is very likely that this is a nation that since independence has been led by severely mentally ill people: compulsive murderers, alcoholics, thieves, and liars.

Media failure

But most intellectuals and the media choose to keep quiet about the problem for the sake of our safety.

With due respect to my editors and my close friends in the media, I must state that only the Taifa Leo team is doing its job.

The rest of the media have failed us, only publishing predictable and partisan nonsense by people who call themselves “professors” — intellectuals we should expect balanced analysis from.

These “opinion leaders” have been promised powerful government positions when their respective political side wins in the presidential polls.

They don’t care about the guy who wished me “a very painful death” on Kenyatta Avenue.

I don’t want to advise the man who insulted me to direct his verbal tirade at the right people when he sees them at the traffic stop.

If he brandished his crutches at them, his action would be suicide by Recce Squad that guards the top honchos in this country.

For them, he would be just another cripple who doesn’t deserve to live. 

Neither do I want to offer him the trite advice to vote wisely in August. It is too late, and it doesn’t matter now who wins the forthcoming elections.

Things will remain the same for you and me. 

But if I find my mean friend on Kenyatta Avenue in a better mood next time, I’ll invite him for uji and listen to what — besides my “very painful death” — would help improve his circumstances.

I also hope he’ll take it easy when he sees me again squeezed in a small car in the traffic. 

Evan Mwangi is a professor of English and the Melville J. Herskovits Professor of African Studies at Northwestern University, USA; Professor Extraordinaire of English at Stellenbosch University, South Africa; and a Carnegie Fellow (designate) at Machakos University. He divides his time among Evanston, New York, Frankfurt, Cape Town, Paris, and Kawangware. He doesn’t need a political appointment.

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