“I See Myself As The One Who Came Home”: Where in the world is Shaka Zulu?
“I, Shaka Zulu Assegai, am an African created by God. If you are an African born in Africa, you must repent or suffer until you die. Warning—we the Africans who are the descendants of slaves, are coming home to Africa—in peace if you let us, but if you refuse, we will come by force. Africa is our home and God will give us the mental, physical and military power to succeed.”
* Written defense and submission for the defendant, Republic of Kenya vs. Shaka Zulu Assegai, 1990
Seemingly well educated and well informed, the former Peace Corps volunteer and U.S. soldier arrived in Kenya armed to the teeth with law school experience, a graduate degree in Ethnic Studies from the University of Houston and a dream. Shaka Zulu Assegai VII arrived a liberation warrior with an unshaken confidence in the cultural superiority and enlightenment that his diasporic upbringing in the United States of America had rendered him prepared-- the militant ideologue and zealous advocate prepared, rhetorically or otherwise, to die as the forerunner of the Africans Coming Home Foundation, which certainly existed as an existential certainty if not a registered entity, at home or abroad. To interpret his most provocative declarations—of which there were many—as mere bravado would be unfair, as his various run-ins, incarcerations, attempted deportations, and extreme attempts at litigation would attest.
The last glimpse I caught of Shaka is still vivid. Things had changed—it was the first time I saw him on the streets of Nairobi without his mojo working. Dress shirt untucked and wrinkled, sans customary cowboy hat, suit jacket, briefcase and boots, he was nevertheless walking in the direction of the city’s administrative and government center on a sunny morning. I was close enough in my car to notice his face was unshaven. It wouldn’t be until three or four year later that a friend would email with the news that Shaka had been…. (to be continued)
Interview with Shaka Zulu Assegai VII
Nairobi, Kenya, 1991
Disillusioned by the racism he experienced growing up in segregated, small-town Texas, then radicalized in college and the military, Shaka Zulu Assegai took the name of a legendary South African warrior, and in 1978 joined the Peace Corps. Thus began his battle to be accepted in the Motherland. At the time of this interview, he was embroiled in a series of legal disputes with the Kenyan government, which had unsuccessfully tried to deport him.
Q: Before you came here, what preconceptions about Africa did you have?
A: Now this is one of the most shocking things. How naive I was! You know I was in America believing that when I came to Africa I would be accepted as a brother? I really thought so. I was just naive enough to think that I would be accepted as a full brother. But you see I didn’t know the extent of tribalism. I had read about it, but you can’t know the extent of tribalism until you’ve actually lived within, and you can’t live in the higher echelons. Because it (is) sugarcoated with what we call intellectual words, diplomatic status, and it would all be overshadowed, you could actually be lead to believe that it doesn’t exist. But if you get into society the way I’m into society today then you know that not only does it exist, it determines everything that you do.
Q: Did you come to Kenya because you had studied Mau Mau or Kenyatta, and felt that this was the kind of country that the Black man had stood up for? Or was it just more of a coincidental thing?
A: It was more a coincidental thing actually. Because the country in Africa I was looking for was a militant country. I didn’t want nothing to do with the mainstream type country. So that would have automatically ruled out Kenya. I’m going to be honest. I had prepared all of my documents for Uganda, because I knew that Idi Amin and I would be able to communicate, mentally and physically. Because Idi Amin had said that Africa is for Africans and to me, no matter what else he did, if he understood that he couldn’t be a fool.
Q: What happened? Why didn’t you go to Uganda?
A: Idi Amin was in the process of military confrontation with Tanzania; I didn’t have the opportunity to go because of that.
Q: So you came to Kenya and you have gotten yourself into all kinds of controversy. The latest involves your lawsuit against Peter Okondo (a prominent politician) for using the term “negro” to describe you. Is this the kind of thing you feel that you want to put the African right in understanding, that Africans should understand how a black man from America deserves to be treated?
Q: But surely there are worse names that a Black person can be called. Out of ignorance some people here (that I’ve met) sincerely think that negro, and even nigger are common words used to describe Black Americans and they don’t know any better.
A: I have been in Kenya for at least five years, and I’ve never heard the word being used in a newspaper or anywhere else. So you can’t make a “mistake” by using a word that’s never used. A cabinet minister like Okondo using the word “negro” has thought about it. That means it he used it maliciously.
Q: So you think he did it maliciously?
A: I don’t have to think. It is obvious. You’d have to have sat down and considered the terminology before you used it. If you’re not so educated you’d use the term “Black American,” and if you are more enlightened you’d know that in America, Jesse Jackson has made it his life ambition to make sure that the term “African-American” is common knowledge throughout the world.
Q: So you feel let down by the lack of understanding you’ve received here?
A: More than anything else. I’ve been so surprised since I first landed in Africa in 1978. I can’t believe that intellectuals who actually studied at the university level can see me coming from America and not recognize that I am their brother. It makes me so angry. I am telling you sometimes I am so angry I’ve got to turn my head to keep from going into physical confrontation. I can’t believe this man can tell me, “You know I studied at Oxford and I schooled in America.” You went to school in America and you are sitting here telling me you don’t understand who I am and you don’t understand my problems? Man I want to take you from behind that desk, and discipline you in the proper manner. So it is very saddening. Very frustrating . . .
Q: You mentioned that you were in Niger with the Peace Corps, and that’s where you first experienced the shock of realization that you weren’t exactly welcomed back to the Motherland with the enthusiasm you expected . . .
A: That’s when reality began to set in. I realized I wasn’t actually being treated like an African, and more shocking than anything else even the white Peace Corps volunteer was being given more priorities than myself! And that’s when hell broke loose! We studied a local language, and I found that the instructors seemed to give more of their time to teaching White Americans than the Black volunteers.
Q: The teachers were American?
A: The teachers were from Niger.
Q: And they were giving preferential treatment to the Whites?
A: To the White Americans! And that was very shocking. My Black friends and me used to discuss it (laughs). I said, “Did you believe this guy, men?” When we were in the airplane, flying out of Philadelphia talking about how we were on our way home, you know, we were so naive, you what I mean? Because we didn’t wanna believe the stereotypical things that we had heard from the White professors. They told us, “These guys in Africa don’t want you, you’d better stay here.” But you see we wanted to believe that wasn’t true. Because you always wanna see the good side especially when you know they are related to you.
So anyway that was the biggest shock of my life. Later when I went into Zaire, I learned that the majority of Africans don’t even have any real conception that there are Africans in America. They actually think America is filled with Whites! When I went to a small town I had Africans come to my house to see if my skin was really like theirs! They had never in their lives laid their eyes on what was considered a Black American! People used to come and put their hands next to mine, and they would be talking in their local languages telling my colleague who was working with me-- I was supervising a vaccination program in the villages you know-- they would be telling him, “but this guy looks just like me!”
Q: You must have personally come across racial prejudice that disillusioned you about the American way of life, so that when you were exposed to the ideas of people like Marcus Garvey and Elijah Mohammed, it touched you in such a way that you thought ‘yeah this is me.’
A: That is exactly what happened. I remember one time when I must have been about nine years old in a real small town called Dennyson. I stopped a white man who looked like he must have been in his fifties. I remember asking this guy for a quarter. Well this guy went down the street and informed the police that I was begging. I’m only a little boy you know; yet the police came and got me. They took me to my mother because my father was already dead and they told her that I had been begging for money on the streets. And that made me very angry, and I have never from that day forward asked anyone for anything. I felt if wanted anything I would either earn it or take it. But I was never going to ask again. I felt that I was punished because I’m Black.
I went to an all segregated high school in Texas, so my relationship with white Americans was simply like the relationship between African Kenyans and Kenyan Asians. I know we both shared the same nationalities but after that I had no communication so I really did not know anything about them personally. Even into my last years of school on the football team and basketball, I never even played sports against white Americans. I hear from friends of mine that they had the opportunity. But to my knowledge I was already a soldier by the time Blacks began to participate in sports against other whites in Texas.
So other than some summertime work experiences that I had, I really didn’t know anything. My information was coming from television, or magazines if I decided to read one. In high school I was mostly interested in my subjects and not so much magazines, and I was a lover of sports more than anything else. I felt that being an athlete was the most precious things in the world.
Then after school it was sort of a fortunate thing that I was drafted, because I was more or less trying to figure out what to do. At the time I didn’t really understand whether it was a blessing or a curse because everybody told me about the possibility of being killed, but I was also thinking of the possibility of being stuck in Houston without any real future. I’d been seeing movies on TV-- movies of cowboys and soldiers, and I really did like the life of a soldier. Seemed like a very interesting and adventurous life, rigorous and full of action. So I was visualizing my life as a soldier. I said to myself this might not be so bad after all! (laughs loudly)
Q: What year did you go into the military?
A: I actually went into the military in 1966. I stayed there for 4 years. Yeah and if you want to know the truth, I probably experienced more prejudice in the military than I did anywhere. I found myself competing for a rank with white Americans. They could just brush their shoes with a brush but mine had to be spit shined in order to get the same credibility. So I found myself sitting up, shining my shoes, in order to be impressive in the morning at revelry because that’s where you are first noticed. I remember when I was selected to be sergeant there was a white man from Texas named Hickman. This guy was angry at the fact that I had been promoted sergeant over him. So it actually ended up in a very physical fight.
Q: Getting back to your life here, how did your wife take to you being an African-American?
A: Well I find that there are two perceptions in Africa. One is a male perception and another is a female perception. I see the male African as seeing me more as a threat to his status and to his privileges and domain, while I don’t think the African woman sees me in that light as much. She sees me more or less as a possibility maybe, of her and I getting together, maybe even going to America to enjoy some of those things that she has read about or seen in the movies.
Q: Is that the case with your wife? Did she know . . .?
A: Well I don’t wanna say anything that my wife might not agree with, but I can say that she had read some books and magazines about African-Americans. So I know she had known.
Q: She is a Baluhya?
A: I don’t wanna talk about no tribe. Because when this thing comes out and I said something about a tribe, that tribe will feel that somehow that’s who I belong to, and anybody else would say now get over there with those people! Go there with those Luhyas, go there with those Luos. I am not a fool. I’ve lived here too long to be caught in this trap.
Q: Going back a little to your original misconceptions about Africa and what we have seen as their misconception of you. Are you content to live here in Kenya as an African-American or are you working to clear those misconceptions away, to make people around you understand that you are a brother?
A: My intentions are to make sure that the people understand, not only in Kenya but anywhere I have the chance within Africa, that Africans are just Africans and the mistake of slavery is something that we all have to regret, but we don’t have to perpetrate and continue. We have to show that we have developed not only economically, we have developed politically and also intellectually, and we understand that we are brothers. The reason we have some cultural differences is because we have been separated for so many years.
Q: Have you made progress in this area? Do you have some close African friends?
A: Sure I have close friends here. If not I would be totally isolated from society and I don’t think I could have stayed here for five years in total isolation. I have some real close friends but I find that these friends seem to be in the younger group rather than the older group. The older group seems to be more dogmatic in the idea of tribalism. If you are not a Luhya you are just not a Luhya. If you are not a Luo, you are just not a Luo. But the younger generation, they understand that the world is changing and it is not just changing for Eastern Europe or America, it is changing for everybody and Africa must adapt. Because if you say you want to become developed, you want to move into the 21st century, and then at the same time you say you want to hold on to some of your ideas that have stagnated you for the past 200 years, how can you maintain that?
Q: You have a lot of strong, obviously important beliefs. But you are also taking action. You have filed this suit in which you feel you should be given forty acres of land. Is this something you consider a groundbreaking thing for all African-Americans or is this more of a personal crusade for yourself? Do you feel that as an African-American, yes, you are entitled to this, and if any other African-Americans feel they are entitled, then they have the same right to make the same kind of noise? Or are you representing a militant group that wants to bring a flood of African-Americans to settle in Africa? There are people who are probably thinking, grant this guy what he wants and there will be ten thousand more people here next week, and then what are we going to do?
A: Yeah, that must be the first thought especially for anyone who has been educated in the political arena, but I do not see it like that. I see this as a continuation of those Africans like Marcus Garvey who was on the outside talking about coming home. I see myself as the one who came home. But you can’t just come here in a selfish manner and accept a citizenship and not remember that there are other blacks that are truly Africans who may want to come home also. However it is impossible for Kenya to absorb every African in America or the Caribbean, you know, and other parts of the world. So let’s do something reasonable, OK? Kenya can break the ground as being the first African country to understand the African-Americans by saying, “OK you have been here five years, you are married and you haven’t committed any crimes against the state.” So they could give me the citizenship and then at the same time we look at some kind of a liberal way of accommodating a reasonable amount of African-Americans. It could be done within the laws of immigration and also according to the aspirations within the country.
Q: Do you have contact with the thousands of other African-Americans you say are waiting for you to break the ground? Or once they hear about it, will it be up to their own initiative to come?
A: Well let’s just say it like this. When I left America I was involved in all kinds of organizations right? So I know a lot of people in America who have aspirations of finding out about Africa. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be Kenya, because all the people that I know don’t exactly think Kenya may be the best place to come back to, you know what I mean? But I do have people who want to come.
Q: What about the forty acres of land? You realize that Kenya has a big squatter problem, and that there are a lot of landless people in this country. What right do you feel you have to request something like that?
A: I said to myself now who is the one to really give me forty acres? Remember Abraham Lincoln said forty acres of land and a mule? So we don’t want no mules, they move too slowly, give me a truck (laughs). But seriously speaking, does White America really owe us forty acres or do the people in the land we were taken from, that was occupied by our ancestors, is that really where the land should be given? In my opinion, if God walked in here right now it seem like to me he would say, “Well you know where your home is, go home. Why are you staying here? Don’t you know the way home? You have fought through the struggle, you have overcome, you are now free to go. So when you stay (in America), whatever you suffer is actually your own fault.”
Q: OK. But realistically let’s talk about Kenya. What do you think your chances are that the government is going to see your point of view? First they will want to know why they are being held responsible for something that happened 300 years ago. Have you checked your root lineage? Do you really come from this side? Are your ancestors Kikuyu, Masai etc?
A: I don’t really feel that the Kenyan government would agree to forty acres of land even though I feel I should be given land, and I would never change that. Well then forty acres might be an exorbitant amount but the only way to get the attention of an individual is to say something very shocking or extreme. Once you get his attention, you can now talk to him.
Q: So what would you do with your land?
A: I have two things I would do with it. I would put up a foundation there, an outreach center for my headquarters. This will be the Africans Coming Home Foundation. It will be based in Kenya because of my family. I would like to give African-Americans a warmer welcome into Kenya, because as they come into Kenya now they come through tourist organizations that don’t really cater to their needs. That’s why they are more anxious to return to America and forget the idea of Africa. I’d like to create sort of a little resort so when they come they can really feel African. I myself will make contact with Africans who would be in a position to actually work there, sort of like tourist guides, and give them a more in-depth Africa from a black perspective . . .
Q: Sounds like a good idea. But first, how will it be funded? And secondly how will you overcome this problem that exists with the lack of understanding the African seems to have of the African-American?
A: I’m sure once it has been accepted by the government, funding wouldn’t be a problem. I think the problem is getting the government to agree to some liberal type movement and setting a common figure. And the only way I can see that that can be done, from my experiences over the last twelve years is that I take the drastic steps that I have taken. I have prepared myself to suffer whatever consequences I have to suffer because as you know I have already been charged with being unlawfully present in Kenya, to preempt the suit that I had filed in February. Right after the suit I was charged with unlawful presence, so it doesn’t take a very intelligent man to know it is simply to preempt that. So I’m sure the government is going to fight me. I don’t fear deportation because I don’t fear anything.
Q: Do you think it is a possibility though?
A: I think it is a possibility that they will try to deport me.
Q: And if they do you will go to another African country?
A: No, I’m not going anywhere. I am not leaving this one. I’ve had the prior experience to know that you can’t do anything to a man that he is unwilling to let happen to him except kill him, and if you kill me then I will accomplish my mission. I am not going to cooperate by walking onto an airplane and giving them the opportunity to say bye-bye. That one is not going to work.
Q: OK . . . but the laws of this country state that you can become Kenyan only if you give up your American citizenship.
A: But they are not ready to accept me even if I have given up my citizenship. And because as we say in the military “you don’t give up this very thing that’s protecting you.” So I know they are not going to accept me as a brother now, not now. And to give up my American citizenship would be next to suicide. At that point . . . I’d be a man without a country, and the sympathy that I would get from Africa would not even be worth discussion. I would probably get more sympathy from America and Europe than I would get from my own brothers and sisters in Africa. Therefore the last thing I would let someone do is to fool me into signing away my citizenship.
I must add that my American citizenship would also be beneficial in my coming back to Africa. Because let us look at it realistically. It is the citizenship of the Japanese-American that really played the biggest role in developing Japan. And we all know the Jews have the right to run in and out of Israel just like I have the right to go from Texas to New York. So how did they lobby to make Israel what it is today? Because they are running in and out of Israel. And not only Japanese-Americans and Jews, but also any other American from any other country! In other words why should we be the only fools in America? Why should we deny ourselves the right after so many years of suffering, building up the most powerful nation in the world, why should we now take our citizenship, throw it away, come back to Africa and become beggars? Does that really make sense? I don’t say I should be a citizen of every country in Africa. How did the Asians get rich in Kenya? Be honest with yourself. They had two citizenships. Kenyans can’t do international business because they don’t know how to get outside. They don’t know anyone outside.
Q: So you think it is beneficial to Kenya as well as to yourself.
A: It is beneficial to Africa. It is only natural for my government to know the relationship between us. If things became cordial and we worked together like the Japanese-Americans and Japanese worked together, think of what could happen over a period of 10, 20, or 30 years. Anybody with wisdom would understand this.
Q: What do you say to the historical evidence that more of the North American slave trade took place in the west of Africa?
A: According to the books I’ve read slavery was in West Africa and East Africa, and I do not see the difference between slavery in East Africa and West Africa. Now I’m gonna be honest. The reason I didn’t choose West Africa in particular, I never choose anywhere that I feel that I am instructed to go because that is like taking me back to slavery again. And because you instructed me to go to West Africa I made sure that I didn’t go there. That’s a promise to myself.
Q: Who instructed you?
A: The false notion that we came from West Africa seems to be floating around in America. I know that’s a lie. We came from Africa. Now there may be some elite group that thinks it is in their interest to confine us to West Africa but I will not be confined.
Q: Do you know anything about your lineage? Have you ever tried to trace your family roots?
A: My father always told me about our ties to Africa. Actually the reason I took the name Shaka Zulu Assegai is because of what my father told me. If my father hadn’t told me that I don’t what name I would have taken.
Q: When did you take that name?
A: Five years before I came to Africa I had sworn that if it was the last thing I did I was going to Africa and I was going with an African name because I wanted my brothers to know that I was not a fake.
Q: And were you aware at the time that it was a name from South Africa?
A: I was 100% aware. I wouldn’t do anything I wasn’t aware of, but I do at times act gullible and pretend I don’t know.
Q: I am asking because there are people who will say, what is he doing here? Why isn’t he in South Africa?
A: Well Africa is one big place. So that’s their problem not mine, I mean don’t give me the problem of a man who don’t know himself.
Q: Do you, since you have even named your daughter after Mandela’s daughter, do you find you now identify with the South African cause? Did you go to see Mandela speak when he came to Kenya after being released?
A: Oh yeah I went to the rally. I went to hear him. I respect Mandela because in my opinion what he and all those before him have done, I see now from my own experiences that we African-Americans are gonna have to do the same thing! Because our brothers are not gonna let us do it by peaceful means. So we gonna have to set in, drop in and run in and maybe even go to prison, which I’m prepared to do, it is no problem.
Q: You mean coming to Africa?
A: Yeah coming to Africa, coming to Africa! We should be allowed to come to Africa like Nelson Mandela, Steve Biko should be allowed to walk around in South Africa! I don’t see why we should not be allowed to come to Africa. I see now there is a mentality of my African brothers here that is going to force us to have to actually use some of those techniques in order to get home.
Q: You’ve stated that you’d do anything to get your point across?
A: Yeah it doesn’t matter. You know I was in prison for two months in March and April for being unlawfully present. I spent two months in remand industrial prison right here in Nairobi. The food is terrible! While I was there I lost 20 pounds, but I gained it back because since I have been out I told my wife every time I eat I’m going to eat a double meal (laughs). Because I gotta look like an American you know. Americans are not small (laughs). So I have been in prison and I know the prison life is hard.
Q: Let me ask you this. Are you now in the country illegally? Do you have a work permit or a resident’s permit?
A: Like I told you before, I am involved with the Africans Coming Home Foundation. When I first came in the country it was not to my advantage to talk about it. I would be very foolish to mention this at the beginning because I’d had prior experiences and I know that what I had first thought about Africa was not true. My coming home and being a brother was just my imagination. In their minds I was simply an American and more surprising I was mzungu (white) American! (laughs)
Q: You have been called mzungu?
A: Oooooh! Haki ya Mungu! Yeah this mzungu! Haki . . . the minute I open my mouth, especially if I’m on a matatu, I can easily be referred to as a mzungu American. Even in prison! That’s when I realized, maybe I shouldn’t use this word but I can’t find a better one, the ignorance of Africa. These people were actually telling me “this mzungu American in block number 26!” Then they’d say “hey mzungu kuja.” (laughs)
Q: Tell me more about your experiences at the prison. How did you deal with being called mzungu? Did you try to convince them that you were not a mzungu?
A: I found myself becoming a lecturer, because I didn’t find many people who could actually talk on my level in English. What you find in Kenya, especially here in Nairobi, is the majority of people want to speak English, especially to a black man even more than to a white man. They feel like if they speak Swahili to us it is a sign that they are not educated.
Q: And that they are admitting that you are an African?
A: Yeah and also they admit that you are African. Yeah. And they want to never give you the idea that you’re African. You see once you admit that I am an African, you automatically admit that I have a right to come here.
Q: You really feel that?
A: No, I know that. Because they know in their hearts and their minds that I’m really an African and that my being here can never really be unlawful. They try to convince me that it is unlawful but unfortunately they have chosen the wrong person. That’s their mistake, which they will soon find out. I think they are trying to hide their guilt of the past by attempting to convince me that I am a foreigner. But God has given me the wisdom and the knowledge to know that it is not true. So whenever they came to me with maneno, I simply gave them a lecture for as long as possible. And the officers in prison are very uneducated so they are liable to do anything. They were hardened under the colonial system and they don’t see anything black as being human. Actually they don’t even see themselves as being human. So to hit you upside the head with a stick to them is like hitting a bad dog. They just don’t understand you as being a human being, you’re just a dog! And just boom! Get inside, ingia! So my remand experience opened my eyes to a lot of things.
What I used to do is find people who could speak a little English. There were young guys in there, they would call me Mzee (a term of respect for elder men), you know. Then I would tell them. A lot of them would give me respect on those issues even though they referred to me in a joking manner as mzungu American. When I would pass by the cell they’d be hollering out, “mzungu!” Yeah, they were just letting off steam you know, but I worked in a juvenile home back in America, and I knew how to handle these guys even from a physical point of view. Sometimes you have to exert a little physical ability or you find you can really be abused.
Anyway I can’t speak Swahili fluently but I would say “angalia mimi sana”(“look hard at me”) and I’d say “mimi nyeusi au mimi nyeupe?” (“Am I black or white?”) I would say “Halafu unafikiri mimi toka wapi? Mimi Afrika kama wewe, kama kila mtu hapa.”(“So where do you think I’m from originally? I’m African, just like you and everyone here”). I’d be trying to say this in Swahili just in case there would be someone standing around who didn’t know how to speak English.
So then after a while somebody who realized that I am really telling the truth would become my ally. It seems like God always places an ally beside me no matter where I am. Now this guy has influence over four or five more guys in prison, right? The next thing you know the guys who were being so rude are dominated by these other guys who are saying, “this guy is an African and I don’t care what the government says. I wish I was in charge and I would tell immigration this.” Yeah I had guys telling me this. I’ve even had prison warders saying, “look man I know you are right, but this is our government what can we do? If I lose my job what do I eat? Where do I sleep? So I wish you all the luck in the world and I know you are right.” They always shook my hand and everything, and then after we became friends someone would say, “Bring this man some extra food!” But they couldn’t really speak out because they’d be surely confined to detention. So I find that mostly, if I talk to people from a logical point of view, there is always someone to understand who comes forward and assists and that relationship begins from there.
Q: Let us move on to something else. What are your feelings on the conflicts between traditional African culture and modern influences?
A: Well since I’ve traveled extensively in Africa I must say that I am under the impression that the true cultural Africa has been eroded and almost completely destroyed. I find it very difficult to understand our ministers when they come on television here in Kenya, talking about “their culture.” Because when you speak about a culture you are supposed to see it practiced when you walk down the streets the following morning. But you don’t see it here. So you find it very theoretical, selective. For example when the Kikuyu girls of Alliance High School put on a little program then you see traditionally what is considered the culture. But when you see the people just walking down the street all you really see are Black Americans, to be honest with you. At least that’s all I see. Maybe not with the exposure and maybe not with the sophistication but if you remove that they look just like Black Americans walking down the street. They are talking English; they are dressed just like any Black American. Some may not be quite so affluent to wear flashy clothes but they are still American clothes, or at least they are traditionally European. The elite seem to be very hypocritical, because they are the ones who’ve fostered this European status and yet on the other hand they talk about the culture.
Q: Why do you see this as being “hypocritical?”
A: They seem to be perpetrating this hypocrisy by saying “we must keep our culture,” then you try to figure out where they practice their culture, because they don’t want to unite and speak Kiswahili the way Julius Nyerere tried to do in Tanzania, which would be at least some semblance of a culture. The religion here is Christianity, if it is not Christianity it is Islam and if you try to relate that to your traditional culture you are just mistaken.
Q: And if you start an African religion it is proscribed?
A: Yeah, you are militant and the government will ban you because you’re tribal.
Q: So how have you chosen to bring your children up? Are they speaking in African languages?
A: No, we don’t wanna speak in African languages. We only want to speak in Kiswahili, English and hopefully any other language that they may learn in school. But a local language is the last thing I want my child to speak. Because local language is the sole reason why we have tribalism. We can’t have tribalism without the local languages. It is impossible. That’s my opinion and I’m not gonna change it. If you don’t teach your child Kikuyu there is no way he can feel different from a Luo. He can only feel different from a Luo when he finds that he can talk in a language that a Luo can’t talk in.
Q: But there is the question of identity. It is not just a tribal thing. You stand to lose your identity, your roots and yourself altogether if you cannot speak your mother tongue. The languages are also perpetrating what you say is being eradicated. You keep languages alive and you keep indigenous cultures alive.
A: Well I beg to disagree. I see that as a big obstacle to Africa’s freedom actually. I’ll tell you why. When I look at America, when I look at Europe and other parts of the world, I find America is only developed its because of the common language and no one can feel any different from anyone else. If Black Americans were speaking local languages they wouldn’t even be Black Americans, they would be dead. If we had remained in tribes we would be like the Indians (Native Americans) or the South Africans. Why were the Indians overtaken? Because one said “I am an Apache” and another said “well I am a Mohawk so I don’t need to protect you. I don’t care what happens to you so long it doesn’t infringe on my tribe.”
So what happened? They just went through America killing them tribe-by-tribe. And let us just face the truth; they are doing the same thing in Africa. They are just killing them tribe-by-tribe. So my question to Africa is: for how long are you going to stand by and let this happen? When are you ever going to see yourselves as brothers and sisters so that you can have a common force and stop the enemy?
Q: Did you find that maybe you were accepted a bit quicker and more openly in the rural villages than in a city like Nairobi?
A: Yeah, I remember when I was upcountry in Machakos, there was an old lady whom I will never forget as long as I live. She was so emotional and so happy, and she said, “you could be my son, you could be my brother.” She said some people of hers were taken away many years before, and she didn’t know where they went. She invited me in the house to have tea, and then she told my friend-- she couldn’t speak English-- she told my friend to take these ten shillings, and told me to buy something with it. She was so happy to know that one of us had found our way back. God had blessed her before she died, letting her see me come back. She told me I was welcome to her house at any time.
Q: Did you have a traditional marriage?
A: We had a marriage at the courthouse. It wasn’t traditional because we didn’t know how many people were going to approve of this thing. So we got just what we considered our closest friends and her brothers of course and we did it at Sheria House. You see after my experiences in other parts of Africa I was no longer under the illusion that I used to be under, so I knew that it is not going to be the way I dreamed about it in 1978.
Q: You never told me why you changed your mind about becoming a lawyer.
A: Well there was nothing that I could discuss in law pertaining to my beliefs in Africa and the advancement of the Black man. I found that as a lawyer the only thing I was going to be able to do was to gain a lot of monetary wealth that I wasn’t going to be able to benefit from ten years from now. I didn’t see any other benefit, or how I could really fulfill my aspirations.
Q: So this is a real crusade for you . . .
A: Oh you don’t change a name foolishly unless you have something to hide.
Q: What was your name before?
A: Well I won’t say, for the sake of not being referred to by that name. Because if I’m referred to by that name it can cause the person who gave me that name a lot of difficulties.
Q: These court cases you have been involved with over the last five years . . . you are surviving on your own money?
A: No, I have been surviving on my own money but I am also getting money from the African-Americans.
Q: Can’t you say more about the Africa Coming Home Foundation, because that will have to be seen as the crucible that you’re using. You are not just a sole voice in the wilderness. You are backed by an organization, you are a representative.
A: This is the organization that is going to surface in the ‘90’s . . . because in the ‘90’s we are coming home.
Q: But how many people would you say are in this organization now?
A: I would say the African Coming Home Foundation has easily at least 5,000 people.
Q: Now this foundation, is it a registered society?
A: Well you see this society is not registered in Kenya. When I first came to Kenya I was going to register and I was given all types of runaround. There was a lot of opposition to it. They thought it might be causing a breach of the peace, something like that.
Q: The foundation’s base is in America? Is it based in Texas?
A: Yeah, the foundation is there but it cannot come into the open as we plan to in the future.
Q: Cannot come into the open in Kenya?
A: Especially in Kenya. At least not at this particular time. Let’s hope things change in future.
Q: Are you in other African countries?
A: No, we are not operating in any African country. Once the Africans Coming Home Foundation has established itself in one country then we will put branches in every country throughout the continent. We decided that I was willing to be the guy, with the experience of the Peace Corps and so forth, to go and break the ground because I am willing to suffer whatever consequences may befall me. I have a lot of faith that whenever something is blessed by God, no matter how much difficulty you may meet, in the end it will become a reality because it is right.
Q: Are you religious?
A: I am only religious when it comes down to the Bible, especially from the Old Testament point of view. The Old Testament and the Hebrew Bible are mostly where I draw my strength. The New Testament and I are not able to communicate the way I can with the Old Testament. So for that reason I stopped going to church in 1975. When I changed my name I felt that I could no longer follow the religion of the church.
Q: In the utopian society you envision: are the African-Americans settling in Africa going to be here to build a capitalist economy or are they going to be here to have a socialized system where they share everything?
A: African-Americans see Africans as their brothers and sisters so therefore they are not going to push their brothers off the platform. They are going to tell them “let’s work together. Let’s use your ideas and our ideas and technology. Let’s put them in an African traditional economy and be seen as truly African people.”
Q: Worst case scenario: you are refused citizenship, the foundation is never registered as a legal society, and you are sent packing. What would you say to that?
A: All I’d have to say to that, is if you’re not willing to take us back, well then we’ll just see you at the Olympics!” (laughs)