Mfangano (and missionaries in Kenya)
Unfortunately, the Twa are long gone from the island, which is now occupied by Suba and Luo people, though the Suba are quickly being assimilated into the Luo through marriage.
It’s an odd place. They’ve got a small tourism industry, are currently installing new power lines and have recently gotten true ferry service from the mainland, but the roads are still terrible.
We ran into a group of missionaries on the way back. I always feel somewhat violated after talking with missionaries in Africa. What are they doing here? This looked like some polygamous group of Mormons but it turned out they were from Alberta and Kansas.
One of them asked us what we were “lonesome for.” I didn’t know how to respond so we asked them what they were lonesome for, to which they said “Wal Mart.”
While I hate to judge, it was telling that they all introduced themselves to us, but not Victor, an employee of the Kenyan Medical Research Institute who was standing right next to us. I’m convinced that they don’t see the locals as people.
What developmental role do missionaries play? They make no demands on politicians to solve pressing problems of political dysfunction, infrastructural weakness, employment, a lack of access to capital, crippling bureaucracy, corruption, graft, nepotism and terrorism. None of these problems can be solved through missionary activities which emphasize odd moral codes more fitting to white, rural Kansas than complicated and chaotic Kenya.
About Pete LarsonAssistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine
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