The New Kenya: “Children of The Fifth Monkey”

Sometimes enlightenment beams through the oddest crevices.

I was reading a book by David Thorne, a renowned internet troll, where he sarcastically called one of his coworkers something to the effect of “Harlow’s fifth monkey” for blatantly following rules without questioning them.

For those not familiar with Harlow’s monkey experiment, it goes something like this (and I’m paraphrasing).

He took 5 monkeys and put them at the bottom of the stairs and then put a bananaat the top. When one monkey approached the stairs, all 5 got sprayed with ice water. This was repeated until none of the monkeys tried to get the banana and resolved to remaining warm and dry. At this point, one of the monkeys was replaced with a new monkey. When this monkey went for the banana, the other 4 beat the sh** out of it. It was never sprayed. After this monkey was thrashed once or twice, yet another of the original 5 was substituted for a new one and it was yet again thrashed. The other monkey joined in to this monkey ass whooping with even more enthusiasm and vigor than the original four. No spraying. They replaced the third monkey to the same outcome; no monkey dared approach that damn banana. Eventually the fourth and fifth monkeys were also phased out slowly and initiated with the violent orientation whenever they approached the banana.

A new 6th monkey was introduced. And although none of the 5 monkeys that had been sprayed were there, the 5 in their place still handily dished out a thrashing to the new monkey when it tried to go for the banana. They had no reason to. They didn’t know about the water sprays and the cold that came with them. They didn’t know that they actually could have the banana now. Instead they made sure all other monkeys stayed in line. What line though, is questionable.

I read that and think of this.


That very specific instance, not just the entire post election violence saga. I think of that moment where that child emerged from that door and held up his tiny palm to the man with the club.

If he survived, he must be a teenager now. I can’t imagine how damaged he is. Best case, he has kept it bottled in all this time. That tightly shut bottle is what grows into that guard you see there with that club.

We are that generation. We are the ones who can end up in a cycle of beating each other senseless for crossing the line. Our parents suffered dearly whenever they did. They felt that cold water. They know the Nyayo House basements. Their parents before them also felt the steel heel of the colonizers trampling all over them.

What’s our generation’s excuse? Other than suffering the wrath of each other, is their really logic to the tightly bottled in angsts we bear?

A few weeks ago, I watched a few people pop open their bottles. It was at a demonstration organized by Boniface Mwangi.


A large group of us carried 49 coffins, each representing the 49 years of oppression and corruption since independence, from Freedom Corner to the doorstep of Parliament. It was an epic march and the levels of patriotism surging through the participants’ veins would’ve made our founding fathers nurse hard-ons for decades.

But you know what stuck with me the most? It wasn’t the fact that the media basically ignored the whole thing. It wasn’t the looks on the security guards faces at the Parliament when we laid the coffins there and engaged in patriotic chants. No.

It was the judging eyes of the Kenyans around us.

Angry, ridiculing, scoffing, dismissing, judging eyes. Some were mad because they were in a hurry and we had blocked traffic. Some were probably having a bad day and really didn’t need to deal with 300 angry young Kenyans heaving coffins overhead. But most of them were looking at us as if we’d just taken a dump in their porridge, offended them in the most personal way, infringed on their soul’s private property. One guy barked: “Don’t you have anything better to do?”

Well, goddammit, I don’t.

I mean, I have a job. I also have a life. And a family. And friends. And errands, and problems… And you know what those things have in common? They large majority of them are in this country. Yes, this country that is being so shoddily run to the ground by the greed of the few that have so much. The real question is “You sir, standing over there doing nothing about anything, don’t YOU have anything better to do? ”

Because at the end of the day, that’s all we really need to do; something. We don’t have to demonstrate, set the parliament on fire, build a human wall around State House, or clamp all MPs cars outside Parliament until they fully implement the constitution. We don’t have to picket, or march. We don’t even have to speak out or blog about it.

But we can.

You see, that is the banana. We are the monkeys. That is how we get up the stairs

And, unlike those before us, there is no jet of cold water that can keep us from it.

So even when we don’t rage against the machine, we can teach a kid their rights by standing up for your own, share our knowledge on the elections with our people at home….

All you new non-tribalist people, spread that message. End discrimination.

We all know what the country needs although we can’t agree on who should deliver it. So let’s unite around that. Let’s take a step up that stair every chance we get.

Because if you don’t…well…we’ll be a nation of people standing on the sidelines, criticizing those that try just long enough for disaster to erupt. And then you find yourself with a club in your hands facing a child with his palm held up with no answers because you never asked any questions; no results because you made no demands.

Dear children of the fifth monkey, do something.

24 thoughts on “The New Kenya: “Children of The Fifth Monkey”

  1. I get the message, but being mad a random guy going about his business because he didn’t join your protest, is what I didn’t get.

    • Because he figured his 10 minutes were better spent following us around and criticizing us than joining us.

      I had to minimize on his section of the story cause I don’t want blogposts to exceed 1000 words. Also, it wasn’t the core of the point. Far from it.

  2. I believe it’s fear, anxiety, complacency; not too many are at ease with change. Change means getting out of our comfort zone and change means confronting some hard to face truths, about ourselves, our society and out Nation. …and it needs balls of steel to effectualise that kind of change because it’s not just about actions, it’s about emotions and it’s about mindset.

    • Hmmm, don’t think it was intended as comedy… nice that u enjoyed it tho! But did you get the POINT? U and I are children of the 5th monkey. Why are we not interested in that banana??

  3. We all know we want something to change, something must give. However, we are too busy paying off our mkopo wa salo loans to rock the boat. Some of us are too busy collecting the crumbs left by the fat cat thieves, to want to upset our new gravy train. Some of us really live and let live, we are happy with our lives as they are. I have come to learn, as you correctly put it, sometimes, status quo is easier, safer, less strenuous. The thing that I concur with MMK above is those of us who have the fire in our bones to do something about it, must never see those of our number who are happy toeing the line as lesser citizens. There will always be leaders, and followers. Greater and lesser. Wise and foolish. Different people, Different responses to issues. Equal value.

    This is a great read though.

  4. Agreed with most of the post. Yes, we need to get out of our comfort zones and stand up against such ills that plague our society. However, not all of us can, or for that matter, would actually walk the change talk.

    Society has different kinds of people, with different opinions- products of different thought processes informed by different experiences. I therefore don’t expect all to join the wagon, but for those who can, and are, this is the road. The fight must never end.

    Sorry for the long comment, couldn’t help myself.

  5. From iCon, another thought provoking piece about the conditioned monkeys we are. It has been proven with lots of empirical data that many of the sons who witness their fathers/men beating their mothers end up becoming wife-beaters. We, as a society, have become complacent when faced with wrongs perpetrated by those in power. We believe their lies because it is easier than to fight the corruption & venality. As voters, nothing but automatons & tribalists who vote in the same bunch. Different faces but no different from their predecessors.

  6. Mad props on the article. Well in, forcefully delivered. As should be.

    I was gonna prefix the following argument with ‘not to rain on anyone’s parade…’

    But rather, to rain on YOUR parade to Parliament, which – incidentally – I partly attended, conside this:

    * Not all Kenyans figured out what the coffins meant. You should, instead, take the time to explain your symbolism to the people. Walking around in what many perceived as a riot, with coffins hoisted, was distasteful to many an onlooker.

    Just one of my two cents

  7. Speaking for Harlow’s fifth monkey…a healthy instinct for self-preservation is at the heart of every darwinian telenovela. That said, great post. Doing ‘something’ is great but the problem with most people is when they say they want to change the world, they’re never specific. Let me know how it goes. I’ll be the one sulking and criticizing because I don’t believe causing a jam to an economy that losses 50 billion in said jams is the way to my banana. Don’t fall for something just cause its ‘something’ I always say. Especially when you know the difference.

  8. Amazing analogy, you took the words right out of my mouth. I was there carrying a coffin and fighting for the right of my child to have a better country where she will have all kinds of opportunities which will not be the case if we keep letting these ‘mheshimiwa’s suck this country dry off resources, opportunities and take away what we fought hard for and were so excited about- the new constitution. I”m amazed at how Kenyans just stand by and watch the rest of us like we have gone mad. In social forums I have had Kenyans say they will not “stick their necks out” by getting involved. Funny thing is, as some wise person said
    , when this country burns, we all burn. So much for not ‘sticking your neck out’. Very hard not to judge, but I agree,for those that are willing to fight, let’s not be distracted by engaging in conversations about those that are unwilling to get involved, Someone has to do it, and it’s okay that all the Kenyans will benefit from it. After all that is what the likes of Wangari Maathai did.

  9. Great post that covers what we as Kenyans are suffering from and are yet to realize in full that it is what is holding us back. The broader African community should also take heed to your message. While i laud your protest efforts, i believe there are more ways than 1 to skin a cat. While protests have been an effective weapon in the past and presently, i feel their effect and impact has diminished. The masses have been led to believe there are those for and those in opposition. This has eroded the seemingly influence that protests had. Nowadays, a protest is just that and some 2 day media attention and the flame fizzles, we all move on. What I am driving at is different approaches to educating the masses on this here message that you point out. Our countries suffer from illiteracy and held back by traditional mindsets. The message has to tailor suited for individuals on tapered ends of the spectrum. This presentation of your post may not get the message through to all.
    Lets shed off our monkey and evolve.

  10. Great post. Sad that we don’t realize that if we do not save ourselves no one else will. As long as we keep identifying with those at the top (who most people haven’t realized are nothing like us and we’ll never have what they have) nothing will change in this country.

  11. This anger is not a spontaneous phenomenon. It is no gut reaction, or some recently discovered passion for justice and equity. Rather, it is an anger borne out of grinding experience, painfully long self analysis, and even longer thought and reflection. As such, it is a guarded anger, directed at a specific, long term desire. The desire itself is grounded in self-consciousness (from Fanon and the Epidemiology of Oppression) see

  12. great to see some people doing something not just talking about many Kenyans say how we’re sick of the greed and corruption in the country and not as many of us do anything, myself included. inspirational read and hopefully it gets more people moving to do more than just complain

  13. Pingback: Lest We Forget and Keep Forgetting | Diasporadical

  14. Pingback: #KenyaAtWar: Terror, Fear, and the Beginning of the End | Diasporadical

  15. Pingback: Terror, Fear, and the Beginning of the End | Journal Scoop

Leave a Reply to mista Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s