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Ethinic and Religious Tension in KTN Ben Kitili Wedding Explained



By Onyinkwa O

I have seen some guys here ranting about the reaction of Somalis to Ben Kitili’s marriage to a Somali girl, with the underlying argument being that Muslims ought to accept and respect Christians as their fellow Kenyans and humans with whom it is okay to intermarry, and decided to point out a few things.

First, every Somali is a Muslim yes, but not every Muslim is a Somali. That distinction ought to be clear from the onset. The Kenyan Muslim Community is comprised of four main ethnicities. There are Muslims of Arab/Swahili extraction at the Coast. There are also the Somali Muslims in North Eastern. As there are pockets of indigenous African Muslims of Bantu and Nilotic extraction mostly at the Coast, but also spread out across the country as far off as in Mumias. And finally, there are Kenyan Muslims of South Eastern Asian extraction originally from India and Pakistan.

Even a casual observation of these different ethnicities reveals that even within their faith, there is little to no intermarriage across ethnic lines. And there is some sort of hierarchical structure to it. Though not encouraged, a Kenyan Muslim of Asian origin marrying one of Arab extraction is acceptable, albeit in a ‘shingo upande’ sort of manner, but they would never entertain any suggestion of marriage to a ‘Nywele Ngumu’, or a Somali. And so on. In this ethnic stratification system, the ‘Negro Muslim’ is at the bottom of the pile, while the Asian is at the top.

Let us therefore get the context right first, before we attempt to decipher what some of you are describing as a ‘shocking reaction’ of Muslims. It has more to do with ethnicity than religion. Had that Somali lady been marrying a white man who is as Christian as Kitili, believe me, she wouldn’t have had to endure the insults and mud that she did. The Somali men and women you saw ranting, consider their ethnic community as being on a pedestal somewhere between the Negro and the Asian.

And these attitudes did not develop last night. Back in the day we was kids, before the Somali spread out to the rest of the country, we used to call the handful of them at Kisii Primary ‘Wahindi fake’ because, thanks to their hair texture, some of them would openly exhibit attitudes that suggested a superiority complex of sorts. In the case of Kitili’s marriage therefore, religion is simply a convenient disguise for ethnic bigotry.

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