It’s Our Turn to Eat by Michela Wrong

I am a giant nerd of a classic book-type and I have learned long ago that generally the non-fiction books that interest me are rarely prime conversational material for most other humans.  Lucky for me this is my blog and I decide what to write about and if I am the only one who cares about the topic then, as my pops would say, no skin off my nose.  My latest favourite on the book circuit is journalist Michela Wrong’s “It’s Our Turn to Eat:  The Story of a Kenyan Whistle Blower”.  Of course, I am already a bit biased having just been to Kenya but I think we can all benefit from knowing more about other things that happen in the world (besides the newest Lonely Island video – not that that isn’t noteworthy).

This book felt like a very poignant discussion of the history behind the tribalism so evident to anyone who has been to Kenyan and spoken to its citizens. The one thing I regret is not reading the book BEFORE visiting the country since it would have made me a much more in-tune with the tensions around me and the reasons for it.  It drove home that the corruption I experienced while in Kenya, dirty as it felt, was just the ear of the hippo* compared to the scandals that characterize every government this barely middle-aged nation.  The few men (inevitably men) in the top often siphon off as much from the public purse as enters it from foreign aid.  Our government leaders know this.  They have known this.  Yet they still keep shoving money at the problem.  

When asked what surprised me about Kenya after I returned one thing I often said was how racist I found the country.  Speaking with Kenyans it rarely took more than one meeting to start hearing stereotypes about another tribe “Us ____ are the smart ones, we have sharp brains”; “The ____ tribe are slow, they are better at labour”;  Oh ____ people are always good businessmen”.  What I did not know before reading the book is how much government corruption has led to this inter-tribal hatred.  “It’s Our Turn to Eat” refers to the tendency for each new government to look out for its own and “eat” its fill when given a turn – giving the best positions to fellow tribesmen, the most money to their home provinces, the better schools and newer clinics to their home towns.  

It drives some hard questions for the western world about what impact we are actually having on Africa with our aid money and what message we send the Kenyan people when we fail to act against and condemn blatant corruption. 

*A hippo, like an iceberg, sits primarily below the surface with often only its nose, ears and top butt sticking out.  In the western world we call stuttering an iceberg – Hi-C and I started calling it a more culturally-appropriate hippo while abroad.

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