“Whose goat have I eaten?”, thundered the gigantic Chris Murungaru when corruption allegations against him first surfaced barely two years after the National Rainbow Alliance swept hapless Independence party KANU out of power. It was clear that those trying to finger him in relation to Anglo Leasing and other scandals had finally got his goat.
A bit later, rumours flew around that Gitobu Imanyara, then a Member of the National Assembly, had been viciously assaulted by then First Lady, Madame Lucy Kibaki. So bad was Imanyara’s condition according to the rumours that he was wheelchair bound and receiving specialized treatment in a South African facility. The awe-inducing Njuri Ncheke, which is the Supreme customary deliberative body of the Ameru, considered the matter and declared it a taboo only curable if the First Lady tendered a number of goats to Mr. Imanyara. Eventually, volunteers tendered the goats on the good Lady’s behalf.
More recently, Maendeleo ya Wanaume chair Nderitu Njoka, a vehement opponent of homosexuality, was fairly chuffed by the President’s interventions on the gay debate in the famous ‘non-issue” encounter with Barack Obama. He therefore procured two billy goats, christened them and called a Press conference to announce that they were Uhuru’s for the taking. As Njoka manfully ploughed through his prepared statement, the goats leisurely chewed at sweet potato vines nearby. The conference was suddenly interrupted when the goats decides to gambol about, causing the vigilant Njoka to chase after them. In the process, his statement dropped and and was flown away by the wind, putting Njoka in a messy dilemma: text or goat?
Parameters of Apology: it can backfire
This week, Mutahi Ngunyi underlined a controversial week of Luo-baiting by calling on Apollo Mboya, the beleaguered LSK personality whose official tenure is controversial, to apologize. Mboya had taken of the cudgels on behalf of the outraged community, threatening to have Ngunyi prosecuted for hate speech. Ngunyi, a sensational social media character, had made a series of generalized, spurious, provocative,derogatory,unwarranted, even offensive tweets aimed at the Luo community and their leader, Raila Odinga. There is no need to go into the details of the tweets here. It is unclear whether Mboya took umbrage personally as a Luo, or on behalf of the community. Most certainly, it did not seem to be an LSK Council affair, or even an official intervention. But Ngunyi, in making amends, called on him at LSK Secretariat’s Gitanga Road premises.
It was said that he made apology, and Mboya accepted it, and this seems to be the end of the matter. In the practice of restorative justice, an apology is not a simple “pole”. It has certain mandatory parameters: the admission of a wrongful deed, acknowledgement of the offended party’s injury, expression of contrition, and an undertaking never to repeat the offending action.
I recall as a child being punished quite severely for mischief and apology gone awry. An older student, on whom Nature inflicted puberty in early primary, had “gone forward” when we taunted her about her burgeoning hips and swelling breasts. I was called to assembly and ordered to apologise to her. My effort went this way, ”I am sorry, So-and-So, for laughing at your big buttocks, which were quivering as you cleaned the chalk board….” The entire school burst into hilarity. Insult to injury. It didn’t go well for me at all.
I digress. But guess what, Ngunyi did not turn up on Gitanga road on his own. Along with him was a pair of white goats, which he offered Mboya to symbolize his apology. Mboya, of course, accepted. It is being said that he accepted them on behalf of the Luo Council of Elders. I am sure there was ample opportunity in their bi-laterals to hammer out all the elements of an acceptable apology, and goats were the clincher.
There are graphic antecedents to Ngunyi’s goat saga. Ngunyi has been accused of being a virulent, unapologetic Kikuyu nationalist.As the father of the ‘Tyranny of Numbers’, many also charge him with practicing the offensive discourse of entitlement and ethnic hegemony. This is why Odinga’s supporters ‘caught feelings’ at his latest foray.
The Goat in Perspective: Effective Metaphor, Fluent Vernacular
As narrated above, the goat is a metaphor of Kikuyu and GEMA sociopolitical and economic praxis. Goats were prestigious symbols of wealth. They were units of exchange – even today, value is expressed in terms of goats. Ceremonies were incomplete without the slaughter of goats and consumption of victuals derived from goat flesh. Marriage negotiations and rites are goat-centred: bride price, the feasting, the marking of various milestones all the way from bethrothal to the birth and initiation of a couple’s children. At the tribal shrines, tribes atoned, supplicated, celebrated and communed with the aid of goat meat and blood. Oathing also employed goats. This is why the Murungaru, Imanyara and Njoka sagas inevitably turned to the goat motif to further their various messages. In short, the goat is a powerful meme of Kikuyu vernacular.
This gives you a context of Ngunyi’s audacity. In opting to appease irate Luos with two white goats, Mutahi Ngunyi stared down his (former) adversaries and engaged them on his terms. He apologized in his native language. There are those who would approve this by recognizing the sincerity of a man apologizing in the language closest to his heart. On the other hand, others will observe that Ngunyi managed to swat away Mboya’s and general Luo outrage without compromising his hegemonic message. Tweet it or bleat it, Ngunyi will always capture your imagination.