Kenya: What’s in a Street Name? Just Ask Atwoli

Kenya: What’s in a Street Name? Just Ask Atwoli

Long has Kenya struggled with its inability, apparently, to name its own things. This includes, unfortunately, rivers, lakes, mountains, and even roads.

We had a tendency, when we were colonised, to name things after and for the white man, as if pandering to imperialist might to curry their favour so that we would not be killed. And I don’t blame us. When you’re facing the mouth of a lion, you start to learn how to look for meat so that the lion doesn’t eat you. I get it. It was self-preservation.

But when the colonisers moved on to bigger and better things after our resistance, why in the world did we keep some of these names? Granted, many have changed, but for some unidentifiable reason, Lake Victoria still remains, for example, Lake Victoria. Why, when we already had a name for it?

Thompson Falls remains Thompson Falls. How many Kenyans do you know called Thompson? Why do we cling to these names as if it is not in our direct power to change them?

Maybe we don’t care enough to change the names. Maybe we finally believe the poison that told us that your English name is better, and speaking vernacular is uncivilised. Maybe we decided that we are too complacent to care about small things like what we call places – they’ve been called that for years, you know, why change it now and bring confusion?

In a democracy, if there are not enough people who can reach a critical enough mass for the people at the top to pay attention, then the idea simply dies, much like the concept of fair elections.

Maybe we don’t care enough, but then again, maybe we don’t want to change the names, because of who our new masters are. As Fanon would say, black skin, white masks. After all, if left to our own devices, we seem to enjoy giving street names and avenues to the most random and undeserving of people – such as, for example, Francis Atwoli, who insists on installing CCTV cameras on a road that now bears his name.

Don’t even get me started on why Atwoli’s name is on a street. Nothing he did that is significant has been done on this street, no one asked for it to be re-named; the old name was fine, and this man has truly been in office for far too long… but I digress.

Okay, well now that I’ve started, I suppose I can continue. Are you telling me, on the list of legendary Kenyans, freedom fighters, thought shapers, those gone before us, Kenyans who clearly served the country, there’s no one on that long list who was more deserving? Has Atwoli somehow reached the level of his predecessors, say, Tom Mboya who actually fought for union workers for a much shorter time than 54 years, and did so much more with his short life, or are we just doling out street names now?