Colin’s interview with Rutendo

Colin’s question to Rutendo

Rutendo, what are your insights regarding the contrast between the actions of colonizer Cecil John Rhodes, as part of the Scramble for Africa, and the actions of yourself in Kibera, as part of Pencils for Africa’s Unscramble for Africa?

Rutendo’s response to Colin


Colonization, like any other evil, works on the premise of superiority.

During the colonial era, the colonizer believed that he was doing the colonized a favor, by his presence. It should be noted that colonization happened at the very peak Рif not at the plateauing Рof Europe’s industrial revolution. At this time, Europe needed more resources to infuse into its many growing economies. Other factors, including naval discovery, land exploration and adventure, coupled with a sense of religious obligation, drove many to be a part of the colonizing system.

Looking at this system more intently, one cannot help but realize the same idea exists today, but happens in a different way. During my trip to Kibera, I had spent some time sitting in an Uber, to reflect on the different ways the forms resembling colonization continue, in places such a Kibera.

Cecil John Rhodes was born a century before me in 1888 in England, and as a result of poor health he was sent to live in South Africa, because the weather was better. Interestingly, I was born in 1988 in Zimbabwe, a country formerly named after Rhodes. It was called Rhodesia up until 1980.

I also attended a university named after him in South Africa, called Rhodes University, and, of course, the Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University was endowed by him.

Cecil John Rhodes became a business entrepreneur who owned the DeBeers Mining company that was the biggest and most prosperous mining company in the entire world during his time.

Rhodes, although born into a Christian family, as am I, believed his race, the Anglo-Saxon race, was superior to other races, and especially to the Bantu race living in Southern Africa, who are my indigenous people. Rhodes sought to subdue my ancestors, the Bantu, and make them subservient to his race, using them for slave labour in his Southern African gold mines and diamond mines.

Rhodes died at the young age of 48 during a raid.

In my humble opinion, Rhodes grew up with a superiority complex that made him enslave people who lived differently from him, because they were different. He used them to make his wealth and to establish himself socially and politically.

Although Rhodes and I are linked through the chords of the Scramble for Africa that lead him into my world, the way we understand, aspire, and lead forward in life, is by contrast, very different.

Rhodes, although born into a Christian family, as am I, believed his race, the Anglo-Saxon race, was superior to the Bantu in Southern Africa, who are my indigenous people.

Rhodes sought to subdue my Bantu ancestors, to make them subservient to his race, using them for slave labour.

— Rutendo

My journey to Kibera made me think about the effects of colonization and the after effects of an economy built upon the premise that there is only one way to live.

Many slums in Africa are caused by the migration of many village people who move to the city for the promise of a better life. Somewhere in Africa, someone has told people that living in the city is better than living in the village, or working the land. In chasing the dream of living in a city, or in chasing resources that are scarce, families end up living in squalid conditions that are deplorable.

Families live in conditions that they would not otherwise ever experience, if they lived in the village, growing their own food and working their own land.

Up until now, the Bantu boy has been subjected to a school system which has misled it, by showing it the greener pastures of the superior and refined European way of life.

Unplanned Bantu education has created these problems for us and has endangered the way of life of the European.

The Bantu people should be firmly shown their station in life, which is to be hewers of wood, and drawers of water.

— Hendrik Verwoerd


What is remarkable about Kibera however, is how people are able to work with the little that they have to make a semblance of life.

Kibera is indeed a small town in a big city. My purpose, far different from Rhodes, was to explore ways in which we could build and share knowledge in Kibera. Some of the Kibera residents may never be able to experience knowledge about their African history, as no one makes this knowledge available anymore, knowledge about how to think differently, see differently. To think as Africans.

I realized during my trip to Kibera that the idea that we can get books only from America, or anywhere else in the world, and bring them to Kibera, to teach the residents something, may be fundamentally flawed, because of the context of exclusivity, and thus very similar to what the colonizer thought. We must shift out of outdated ideas of exclusivity, and implied superiority.

It is part of an old paradigm, the paradigm of the Scramble for Africa.

We need a new paradigm, the paradigm of the Unscramble for Africa.

What will make Pencils for Africa’s Smart Libraries project different, is that we will encourage indigenous knowledge to be shared in the community, and we will amplify what already works.

We will build upon what feeds the local hunger for knowledge, and the local thirst for a better way of life, by opening up the community’s own minds to what Africa, and what Kenya, can offer.

Finally, from my own personal perspective Colin, I believe that I left Kibera this summer with a stronger sense of having learnt what survival looks like right upfront.