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On Michela Wrong’s It’s Our Time to Eat: the Story of a Whistle Blower, a Mini-

review by George Ngugi King’ara, CCMS, University of KwaZulu Natal

Wrong’s intensive-almost-scientific-research-approached story illuminates how


culture and tradition create tentacles that constrain attempts by individuals to make
clean breakaways from tolerating impunity. Due to the embeddedness of personal
autonomy in culture and tradition, individuals are unable to position themselves where
they can be able to subvert for instance corruption-- or the daily, routine acts that
allow it to occur. In this respect, I think Wrong has been able in this book, more than
many people I have read, to explicate the essential relevance of TRIBE in Kenya.
Because of tribe, many Kenyans will have no concept of ‘Country’. Because of tribe,
identities of US and THEM are as solid as the distinction in which people belong to
one's familial bloodline and which ones don’t. So that when the need for a blood
transfusion arises, the first call is to family as there is higher hope to find the ‘right’
blood type than outside it. Because of tribe, the element of suspicion about the
intentions of those from outside one’s tribe is highest with regards to ‘how will they
(other tribes) make decisions that have direct implications to my livelihood, and
aspirations?’ Sadly, in the absence of the concept of ‘country’ in many individual
Kenyans’ psyche, in terms of how ‘country’ is capable of coddling the very existence
of the individual, ‘tribe’ remains the most formidable institution as it has dictates that
affect the individual at a very personal level. Tribe is touchable. Tribe is not elusive.
Tribe has a face. Tribe is nurturing. Tribe has tradition and culture. Tribe is the clear
answer for many people to the question: ‘who I’m I?’ In Kenya, ‘country’ is not these
things-- yet.

It’s Our Time to Eat should be a must read for young Kenyans (a set book at
undergraduate University perhaps?), because it should offer them an understanding of
the complexity of the corruption problem. It could show them that by having a
complete mapping, therefore understanding of the roots, reaches and profile of the
corruption cancer in Kenyan society, they will be more the wiser when selecting
strategies of fighting this disease. Should they amputate, surgically remove, chemo-
poison this disease into slow death, or what? The imminent consequences resulting
from the decision they made should guide their technique. What the Githongo story
reveals, and Wrong is right to claim this, Kenya needs a resourceful tradition that can
culturally act as the antithesis to the tradition of corruption. One to which young
people whispering to sympathetic ears about wanting to directly fight corruption can
refer to and say to skeptics and wary citizens: “Why not? Githongo did it”. Or,
“people have done it here in Kenya”. It is always the significant, eventful precedent
that is required and then floodgates that create a positive tradition open. Githongo’s
act was one such, and now IT IS OUR TURN to carry on with it.