12 May 2019

Kenya: How White Lies That Kenyans Peddle in the West Finally Catch Up With Them

Photo: allafrica.com
From left: Ann Ngirita, who is being tried for alleged loss of money from the National Youth Service, filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu and Achieng Agutu.
opinion

Lights, camera, wild claims. That appears to be the spirit adopted by some Kenyans when discussing their lives in front of Western audiences.

The latest statistic came last week with Achieng Agutu, a Kenyan woman who appeared on the popular American daytime TV show hosted by comedian Ellen DeGeneres.

STRUGGLING

Ms Achieng gave information about the level of need in her family that some viewers think is not true.

She claimed to be a struggling student who did multiple jobs to fund her schooling in the US and also support her parents in Kenya, which contradicts the lifestyle she has been leading, at least from the photos she has posted on her social media platforms.

It evoked memories of Ann Ngirita, who is being tried for alleged loss of money from the National Youth Service.

Ms Ngirita got to stay in Germany after convincing authorities that she was seeking asylum for fear of forcibly undergoing female genital mutilation. In 2014, she told a German publication that she was "scared" about undergoing the rite.

CRITICISM

Also last week, there was the case of filmmaker Wanuri Kahiu, who received criticism after telling an audience in the United Kingdom that Kenyans did not support her film Rafiki.

In a video shared on social media, she said lack of advocacy by Kenyans is the reason her film, which is about a gay couple, was not being watched in the country.

Last Monday, she had to delete several tweets she had posted defending herself from making the claims.

She would later state that the Kenyan audience supported the film and made it one of the highest-grossing Kenyan films in the opening week.

HOMOSEXUALITY

Still on matters homosexuality, there is the case of Kenneth Macharia, a rugby player in the UK who said he fears facing violence if he returns to Kenya because he is gay.

The BBC reported last December that Mr Macharia had been denied a chance to work as a mechanical engineer because his asylum status did not allow him to.

"I'm not allowed to work as an asylum seeker and my mother (a 69-year-old British nurse) has had to take on extra hours to support me," he told the BBC amid deportation threats from the British government.

While the previous cases might have drawn little response, Ms Achieng's became a trending topic on Twitter largely because of the cash she had won due to her story.

REWARDED

She has been picked out and rewarded by Ms DeGeneres under the host's collaboration with retail chain Walmart dubbed "Million Dollar May".

This month, Ms DeGeneres will be giving out cash to selected people and Achieng is one of the lucky recipients of a $50,000 (Sh5 million) award.

Her story of working multiple jobs to make ends meet, her parents selling land and taking loans to take her to school, greatly resonated with not only Ellen but also her audience. Those commenting about the show on Twitter as it ran on TV were also moved.

But there are details that Kenyans on Twitter flagged, among them her claim that she learnt English as a child by watching Ms DeGeneres' show and later googling the lyrics of the songs played there.

She also claimed that she has a full-time job and, at the same time, has several other tasks: babysitting for two families, washing people's cars and cleaning their shoes, being an Uber driver and teaching English.

WINNING CASH

While her family and friends have congratulated her for winning the cash and praised her for the courage to participate in the show, others have been throwing criticism her way.

"She perpetuated the common belief here in the US that Africa is a poor place that needs rescue by the West. And she clearly exaggerated her struggles here in the US, probably to gain sympathy, which is wrong," said Dennis Okello, a Kenyan resident of Elkton, Maryland.

During the show, Ms Achieng also claimed that she had not seen her brother for a while; also that she had not seen her parents in more than two years.

FALSE

However, multiple sources told the Sunday Nation that the information was false.

"Her parents live in the US and have been living here at least for the past two years," said a source who claimed to know the family well.

The Sunday Nation's efforts to get a comment from Ms Achieng's father, a former deputy principal of Maseno School, were futile as he did not pick our calls.

Additional reporting by Victor Otieno

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