President Obama and Operation eliminate Kukomola. Why do they hate us? This burning question and its many variations have been asked numerous times since 9/11. The nation has been wringing its collective hands in serious and honest soul-searching. The chorus of response among Americans is that we are generous and donate billions of dollars in food and other aid to foreign countries and others in need all over the world. Why should anyone have reason to hate us? Experts in history of major religions, international relations and conflict, causes of inequality in international economic development have all had their say. But I have had the troubling intuition that these answers are inadequate. The correct answer may be in an unlikely place; an African village that is as far as you can get from the sophisticated learned experts in New York, Washington, D.C., London, Tokyo, and Paris.

The answer suddenly hit me one night lying down in my candle-lit African childhood village hut when I lived there recently for six weeks. Among the Tumbuka tribe there is a concept that both explains and provides answers as to why the Europeans and especially Americans are hated to day; kukomola. Every adult, child, and especially young brides and bridegrooms are taught not to commit kukomola because it is considered a vicious, cruel, and particularly heartless practice.

Typically, a woman of the house is cooking a meal in full view of everyone in the household. A tired, hot, thirsty, and hungry stranger suddenly arrives as the meal is being served. Such a man among the Tumbuka is said to be in a state of kuzama which is a severe condition of starvation. The woman never invites the stranger to partake in the meal the family was enjoying. The starving stranger walks away distraught never to forget and forever to narrate his horrible experience of kukomola by “that woman” at “that household”. A man, woman, or child commits kukomola whenever he or she deliberately denies another human being something that is a need or essential or crucial for human survival; that may be water, food, clothing, or shelter. Kukomola is a special concept because it only vividly depicts situations in which the denial or withholding of something essential or a need is deliberate, open, and unmistakably obvious and cruel on the part of the owner of the goods or a service. Flaunting wealth, material possessions, and feasting amidst individuals who are in abject poverty, deprivation, or starvation is regarded as a particularly callous and senseless form of kukomola. The concept can apply to individuals as well as to affairs between nations.

Kukomola is a Tumbuka verb which is derived from a specific physical pain a person endures when they are accidentally scalded with boiling water. The resulting extremely painful peeling of the skin is known as kukomoka. The concept is also used to depict the process peeling bark off of a tree truck. The concept is not used lightly as its use is only reserved for those specific extremely painful experiences that humans may deliberately inflict on each other.

Do Europeans and the US deliberately deny food to starving billions in the world when they have too much food and even have problems of obesity? Do the Europeans and the US enjoy affluence, abundant freedom and democracy but deliberately deny or with hold it from other nations? Does the majority in many nations of the world enjoy prosperity and freedom but deliberately deny it to minorities? Do the Israelis enjoy a good standard of living, freedom, and democracy when Palestinians live in poverty, degradation, and squalid refugee camps in clear view of well-off Israeli citizens? Do whites in Zimbabwe own large pieces of land when large populations of blacks have no land at all? On an individual level, do you eat a meal in front of a starving perhaps homeless person? Do you as a man enjoy better material conditions and privileges than a woman? Do you as a member of the middle class enjoy an affluent life style compared to the poor lower class people? Do you wear luxurious clothes before someone who is poor and cannot afford clothes? Does a sexual partner, wife or husband, deliberately flaunt his or her sexuality before a faithful but long-sexually starved partner? All of these are instances where kukomola may unfortunately be committed perhaps deliberately, callousness, selfishness or out of ignorance.

The solution to kukomola is to always share with someone who has less, has nothing, or is in need. In the food example, if the woman can absolutely not share the food for good reasons, she is then expected to find ingenious ways of having the family children eat the meal without the starving stranger knowing anything. Inspite the difficult situation, the woman would later be praised as very humane and kind for averting the poor stranger from experiencing kukomola.

How rampant is kukomola? It is very common because the 1.6 billion people live in poverty and disease everyday in the Third World. But Americans and the West, who constitute only 15% of the world’s six billion people, not only enjoy a rich and affluent lifestyle, but globalization ensures that this affluence is flaunted to the poor majority of the world through television, tourism, electronic super highways and other mass communication. This is why Americans are hated because we commit kukomola or are the symbol of it to the rest of the world every day. The solution to ending terrorism is to eliminate kukomola and genuinely share what we have with the rest of the world. If we cannot share for good reasons, do not flaunt the luxuries to the rest of the world to avoid kukomola among the poor in Africa, the Phillipines, Afghanistan, India, and Indonasia.

The best strategy for achieving universal peace and tranquility is the spreading of love all over the world. And what better ways of expressing love to others than averting kukomola everyday? Skeptics will laugh or dismiss kukomola as a Third World, irrational or primitive ideology. But what choices do we have?

We have always perceived the world as separate countries. Such that when we see people on TV elsewhere who are starving, being victimized through genocide and ethnic cleansing, sick, dying, experiencing crushing poverty, human rights abuses, war, we simply shrug our shoulders and send donations or aid. But these conditions always expose other humans to kukomola. In some cases compassion fatigue simply makes us say “too bad’ and we go on with our lives of privilege telling our kids to finish their meal because kids are starving in Afghanistan, Haiti, Somalia, or India.

Besides waging war, new strategies for truly eliminating terrorism will have to be designed involving a genuine humanitarian approach unprecedented in human history. Just as the late John F. Kennedy created the Peace Corp., President Bush and now Obama should create “Operation Eliminate Kukomola”. This should be a massive world-wide exchange program spear-headed by America and the West and other well-off countries like oil rich Middle Eastern Countries, Botswana, South Africa, Japan, Australia, and Pacific Rim countries. Millions of ordinary adults and young people from different religions, ethnic groups, and economic backgrounds should live in each other’s countries for at least one year in the massive exchange programs. Let’s eliminate the deep racial, ethnic, economic and religious divisions that plague the world to day that inflict deep and painful experiences of kukomola.

Churches, farmers, peasants, scientists, the rich, the poor, the uneducated, the very educated, Asians, Africans, Europeans, Middle Easterners, everyone from all walks of life should be involved. Only when your neighbor, in reality and in thought, is everyone from any part of the world, are we going to have a genuine chance of eliminating the kind of mind boggling terror and tragedy that September 11, suicide bombings in Israel, bombings in Bali, and recently in Mumbai, and other acts of terrorism that have tragically been brought to America and the World.

Mwizenge S. Tembo Ph. D.
Bridgewater College, Box 74
Bridgewater, VA 22812
Office # (540) – 828- 5351
Fax # (540) – 828 – 5716

This article was published in the following newspapers:

First written October 23, 2002. Since published in the Daily-News Record and Daily Newsleader. “Why Do They Hate Us?”

About the Author

[1] AUTHOR: Mwizenge S. Tembo was born and grew up among the Tumbuka people of Eastern Zambia. He obtained his B. A. at University of Zambia, M. A. and Ph. D. at Michigan State University in 1987. He worked for ten years at University of Zambia before he came to Bridgewater College in Virginia where he teaches Sociology. He regularly writes magazine and academic articles, poems, and editorials. He is the author of the romance and adventure novel The Bridge: a Transoceanic Love Story; that he now effectively uses for teaching the Sociology of African contemporary culture. He is spearheading the building of a community Village Library Project.