By Paul Kihiro
Given the Twitter hullabaloo elicited by an advertisement Korean Air placed on its website one might think they were guilty as charged via the tweets.
The ad, which was seemingly aimed at painting a feeling of African to clients of the airline, was taken out of context by overly sensitive Kenyan tweeters. After a long period of being downtrodden under foreign powers most Africans are very sensitive to any demeaning rhetoric used towards them no matter how well-meaning it may be.
This was witnessed a few years ago when Zimbabwe set a world record in inflation that hit millions of percent. According to Wikipedia Zimbabwean inflation reached ``6.5 x 10108 percent or 65 followed by 107 zeros.” The root cause of this economic chaos was the African attitude toward the whites who owned large tracts of land as opposed to their African brothers who were largely peasants and workers on white farms. Most locals felt this was unfair and a decision by their president to kick out “foreigners” was good news. Robert Mugabe made good on his threats and the rest is history.
This inferiority complex is so deeply rooted in us. Five years ago Michelle Obama took note of this when she told MSNBC that black people were skeptical whether her husband could win the United States presidency against popular white candidates.
She said: “There's always that doubt in the back of the minds of people of color, people who have been oppressed … that you believe that somehow someone is better than you, you know deep down inside you doubt that you can really do this cause that's all you've been told is no, wait.” Every word used towards this group of people is highly scrutinized and vetted to see what motive it carries.
Most Kenyans are no better on this issue. When Michael Joseph, former Safaricom CEO, termed Kenyans’ calling habit peculiar it attracted enough reaction from Kenyans who felt they were being looked down upon by the ``foreigner.” He is a fellow African, just his skin is white!
When the Korean Air gaffe was noticed by hawk-eyed Kenyans the airline was quick to respond and the needed apology from the humble Koreans was swiftly offered. The apology was given and the mistake declared regrettable. What they hoped would make their clients and Kenyans cathartic only marked their wrong footing as they enter African airspace for the first time. Never a good way to mark a beginning of such a thing.
But how guilty were the Koreans? Can any serious businessperson insult his partner-to-be in the manner the Koreans did on their official website. Nature would differ. These people were as innocent as they have been in many cases. Their innocence can be collated from dictionaries.
According to Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary the word “primitive” has many positive meanings which we Kenyans overlooked as we bashed the Koreas for insulting us. Among other meanings it carries it also has the following: original or primary; not derived; elemental or natural; self-taught or culturally produced. No doubt the negative connotation of the word is more conspicuous than the positive one at first glance.
We may also need to appreciate there was primitive Christianity and that Judaism in Old Testament is referred to as the “Jewish primitive cult” by some theologians. Strictly speaking Christianity has never been primitive in the negative meaning of the word but it referred to its first/initial stage of existence and largely localized compared to today where it is a global religion.
Granted that the word is negatively used we can assume that they meant that we are still using the rudimental systems of survival to a great extent. As one tweet said we are known to run miles within a few hours to win world championships and become millionaires _ a rudimental method Kenyans are using to earn a living. Nothing wrong with that since Kenyans do not compete amongst themselves but against the rest of the world.
Korean Air needs to be given the benefit of doubt that they have the best interest of Kenyans at heart and the words used were not for the purpose of disdain but for a graphical presentation of the beauty of Kenya. We may argue that only the choice of words was not the best. Having lived with Koreans for a while I know them to be one of the most kind and hospitable societies on the planet.
There is no way they would insult Kenyans while they are looking for business opportunities here. We may need to give them the benefit of the doubt. They meant well but we took it badly. That they quickly apologized and withdrew the offensive ad speaks loudly enough that they were equally appalled at the outcome.
The writer left Korea earlier this year after finishing his postgraduate studies at Kosin University, Busan. He is working with a Christian organization dealing with students in Kenyan universities. His email address is Kihiro05@yahoo.com.