Strengthening Our Swahili Communities: When Words Are No Longer Enough

I have noticed lately that there seems to be a rise in religious overzealousness without much practical applications to fundamental religious teachings of being a responsible citizen of the community.  While I have derived my observations specifically from my interactions with fellow Muslims from my East African community via social media sites, this trend seems to be more pronounced among social circles that identify themselves as fairly conservative and traditional.  Before I go any further, I would like to state that I am pro-democracy and free speech, and I believe that each person is entitled to living her/his personal philosophy as long as it doesn’t harm others.  The problem I have is that there are plenty of ‘proud to be Muslim/Islam is the best’ declarations without much practice to them.  The old adage “Talk is cheap” has not survived this long for no reason-people tend to say a lot without necessarily doing a lot.

One of the key characteristics that separates humans from other organisms is self-determination.  Non-human lives are largely determined by environmental factors and their actions are basically driven by individual primal survival needs. Their day is generally summarized as ‘today I will either be the hunter or the hunted’.   Humans on the other hand have higher and more complex social brains; the evolution of our intelligence has allowed us to constantly push physical boundaries so much so that the saying ‘the sky is the limit’ today sounds rather old-fashioned.  Our social intelligence however sometimes leaves a lot to be desired. While we are at a point where we are exploring life on Mars, we tend to be Neanderthals when dealing with each other. It’s no wonder we are constantly bashing each other back into the proverbial Stone Age.

ImageAlbert Einstein is quoted as saying “We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them”.  Our community today is ridden with poverty, corruption, and poor education standards; factors that contribute to the underdevelopment of our society.  Every Mpwani is talking about our Swahili towns being taken over by non-indigenous folk.  There is real fear of our once proud and indestructible culture dwindling to extinction.  Things need to change in order to stop our towns from going in a downward spiral.  To talk of positive change is good, but in order to ensure long lasting and sustainable improvements, the very nucleus of our social DNA has to be altered.  We need to think on a micro scale rather than a macro scale.

There is a verse in the Quran that states:

“And indeed Allah does not change a peoples’ condition unless they change what is in themselves” (13:11).

I honestly feel that changing the world doesn’t start with complicated legislations, high-tech machinery, or performing social welfare stunts that would rival Superman’s physical feats. Often times, the greatest impact for global change starts with our own personal conviction to be that change. And before you can start telling me that ‘mateso yetu ni majaliwa’ (our problems are pre-destined), I challenge you to think of problems as opportunities for growth rather than decline. Think of human beings as balls in a pool table; our individual movements have a direct impact on other balls as well.  The way we come into contact with other balls will determine how those other balls roll, eventually determining if that winning ball will fall into the hole or not.  If you were a ball, would you give a winning ‘hit’ to other balls? In your daily life, will you grumble about how life is unfair or will you be the one that makes someone else’s day better? Will you give a smile rather than waiting for one? Will you build yourself up economically rather than wait for government handouts (that are dwindling every day anyhow).  Will you be the one that inspires others to serve the common good?

Mombasa, Lamu, and the rest of the Coast have what it takes be a key player in Kenya’s development.   Consequently, our increased participation in activities that promote self-reliance will also ensure that our standard of living will improve as a whole.  In the popular song ‘Azimio la Arusha’, taarab legend Juma Bhalo extols the virtues of self-reliance:

“Ni jambo lenye fakhari-mtu kujitegemeya,

Humwepuka kila shari,-na balaa za duniya,

Kwa uwezo wa Qahari- mambo yote hutengeya” 


(Self reliance is a virtuous attribute, one to take pride in,

Through self reliance, (social and economic) calamities of life are detracted away from you,

By God’s will, a lot of success goes in your favor)

In the end, perhaps it is common human decency that will end up being our saving grace.  The concept of do unto others what you would wish to be done to you has to be the social norm in order for us to be successful as a group.  Declarations of religious pride don’t elevate a community. Actions do.


7 thoughts on “Strengthening Our Swahili Communities: When Words Are No Longer Enough

  1. I am originally from coast, though currently in Nairobi 🙂 and I totally agree with what you’ve said above.

    I try thinking what can we do to positively progress our livelihood yet maintain our culture?
    (I shall always think of Coast as a province in as much as we are devolving into counties currently)
    We have a common culture and we understand each other. Our roots and foundation are the same. We’re community people, and that’s our greatest strength and I pray that factor never gets eroded as we move forward with development.


    1. I was reading a brilliant article in this past weekend. It basically tested the theory of unity vs competition, among test takers. Guess who scored the highest? The ones who were united..It goes to show you that greater heights can be achieved when we do things together than doing them individually!


      1. That’s great. Now to inspire other people and have them believe in that.
        Individualism never lasts for long, in the end one is just left selfish and lonely 🙂
        I’m re-blogging this


  2. Reblogged this on crayzeeoptimist and commented:
    I definitely share similar views with this great blogger.
    unity and power in numbers. As we progress forward in development, I believe we shouldn’t forget our roots and where we come from.
    It’s what defines us as individuals.
    We ought to take control of our lives wherever we are and minimize the impact of outsiders taking over our community/lives, in a collective manner.


  3. True united we (wapwani) would achieve much more good for the community. The constant bashing, belittling, finger pointing and the “holier than thou” attitudes have to change. There’s so much that can be achieved yet,……I pray that the new generations do think outside the box for the survival and advancement of their communities.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s