I used to wake up in the middle of the night with black faces laughing at me. I still wake up with black faces laughing at me. But now they have gold medals around their necks, medals I have never won.
—Ron Clarke, the Australian distance runner, after having been beaten by the Kenyan runners Kipchoge Keino and Naftali Temu in separate races at the Commonwealth Games in Jamaica, August 1966.
The peril you encounter when attempting to assay the progress of a five-year-old "emerged" nation is that you become so wrapped up in the way it is, baby, that you overlook the way it was short years ago; you become so frustrated by minor irritations ("Sorry, but that is impossible" is the common denominator for any problem out of the ordinary in most of Africa) that you forget the veneer of civilization is still thin there, and this distorts the longer, more promising view. And then there is the other extreme, where you are so taken by the ideals of nation building that you abandon objectivity entirely and rally round the flag.
That the epidermis of Kenya is blotchy with change is hardly news. The lover of Africa the way it was in romantic text can still sit by a campfire in the Amboseli Game Reserve and watch the zebra and wildebeest play and the afternoon clouds come to lay hold on the lovely white neck of Kilimanjaro. He can still sit at tea under the thorn tree on the veranda of the New Stanley Hotel in Nairobi and watch, with idle envy, the pink, self-conscious Americans in their starchy new safari outfits loading up for a woof in the bush with Ker, Downey & Selby's white hunters. Or, if he has a mind to, he can amuse himself with the knowledge that the El Molo tribe still claims to be descendants of fish, and the Masai still raid the Kikuyu for wives.
But the chances are when he passes through the tiny village of Namanga on the Tanzanian border on his way to Kilimanjaro he will have himself an ice-cold Pepsi-Cola at the Shell service station there and pay a couple shillings' tribute for an ocher-smeared Masai to pose with a spear. And when he is out poking the nose of his rented car into a pride of lions lazing in the grass at the Nairobi National Park, he will see on that particular horizon the superstructure of the Belle Vue Drive-In theater just over the fence. (There will probably be four or five more rented cars there, too, nosing in on the lions like a circle of sniffing dogs, the lions royally ignoring them, except, perhaps, to think, "Damn tourists.")
Then, gradually, he will become aware of the more pertinent changes. Recently I lay in bed through the supper hour at the New Stanley to listen as the Voice of Kenya radio presented a lively up-to-date debate on the value of having one wife over many. The debaters were a European woman and a proud-talking African man. His opening remark was a pearl of practicality: "Bigamy is having one wife too many," he said. "So is monogamy."
Kenyans—34 tribes, 34 tongues—have license to be proud because, under that remarkable old revolutionary, Jomo Kenyatta, they are getting it done on a continent that generally is not. It is a lovely country, Kenya. A nice place to visit. For reference, I would as soon walk the alleys of Nairobi after dark as the main streets of Chicago at high noon. It is only when practicality—in the form of expedience—takes hold completely that the growing pains become evident. Too often, then, with no experience to fall back on, action springs from false pride and uncertainty. "There is no racialism in East Africa," Tom Mboya informed an American television audience last July, but Asians are fleeing Kenya by the planeload, and the mood of the Africans who are pressuring them out is (as expressed by Minister Mboya himself): "Good riddance." The East African magazine Flamingo explains the prejudice this way: Asians resist Africanization, hoard their money, flinch from teaching African understudies their jobs and are reckless drivers.
The day I arrived in Nairobi they were about to have general elections: President Kenyatta's ruling KANU (Kenya African National Union) party against the opposition KPU ( Kenya People's Union), headed by Oginga Odinga, Kenyatta's most persistent rival. The KPU put up almost 1,900 candidates. The government immediately put down all but 70, disqualifying them for failing to register properly (names misspelled, t's uncrossed, i's undotted). The KANUs danced in the streets over their sweeping election victory. The implication was clear: old Jomo was 10 years fermenting in British prisons and exile before getting his country off the ground, and he is not having any opposition just now, thank you very much.
That same week the Daily Nation ( Nairobi) carried an account of a nightclub manager's arrest in the seacoast town of Malindi after a local official looked in and found no picture of President Kenyatta on the wall behind the bar. This particular picture of Jomo looking hard-eyed and impressive can be seen in almost every hotel and place of business in Kenya. I remember seeing it on the wall of Kipchoge Keino's cottage at the police academy in Kiganjo. When I remarked to a Nation reporter on how the Malindi case, vainglorious as it was, made less sense than the big election coup, the reporter pointed out that the nightclub manager had, after all, been quickly released, that the official's hasty action was a typical case of overzeal. Certainly Kenyatta himself would not have sanctioned such trifling.
So it goes with nation building, but how does it all relate and what does it have to do with the bad dreams that Ron Clarke dreamed two years ago in Jamaica?