Romance is Un-African and Valentine’s Day stories

Show me proof that you love me?

This is the question many unfortunate men will be grappling with on Valentine’s day, to prove to the chosen lass that, she and only she was worthy of his affection.  The poor boy child will be forced to engage in an elaborate love dance, all in the hope of gaining new status as a romantic. Valentine’s day arrives with the flair of Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. Lord forgive the ignorant, for we poor native children in the tropics once believed that a man with a woolly beard wrapped in a red fur coat riding a sledge pulled by reindeer through the snow, would be squeezing his overweight self down our non existent chimneys to leave gifts under a Christmas tree, decorated with bits of cotton wool to represent snow. There were no reparations for this blatant lie sold to wronged children. The illusion of Father Christmas continues to get passed down, from one generation to the next like electoral fraud in Kenya.

Valentine’s day should be treated as a childish indulgence, a treat for little children whose dreams must remain valid. However the clutches of materialism have morphed Valentine’s day into a commercial circus nipping at the heels of Christmas season.

I cannot remember when Valentine’s day became a big deal. It seemed to have sneaked up on a rather rational society sometime in the 90s, in the manner that the Samantha doll has become a thing. What is going on there? That we have full blooded African men contemplating  acquiring a sex doll as a valid option to tedious rituals of courtship is probably evidence of the consequences of Valentine’s day expectations neutering the confidence of contemporary young men. The rising cost of love is leaving many men struggling to pay for basic affection.

The commercial success of Valentine’s day is marketing genius. It has permeated sleepy villages and spotting young couples all decked in red on the 14th day of February is no longer unusual. There is a worrying population of young women reliving fantasies of the tall and handsome suitor, appearing out of nowhere with little provocation, like a Fred Matiang’i pronouncement, to treat her right and make up for all the duds without a shred of romance in their bones that fate had burdened her with.

Young men at the prime of their lives who are cash strapped and unimaginative, whine loudly in the corner of rejection, finding company in the coalition of un-romantics, as some girls their age are dazzled by older men , the annoying sponsors blessing them with wrapped tokens of romance.

It should not be like this. Young men should be allowed room for blunders as they journey through a series of rejections building their confidence muscles and gaining a true appreciation for courtship as an important step in the quest for coupling. But with the Valentine’s day romantic farce, love is treated with same instantaneous gratification of a mobile app. Sex appeal masquerading as love has been wedded to marriage and everyone wonders where it disappears to after the lavish ceremonies in celebration of love.

Love used to be a state of being that one arrived at. It was a fusion of trials overcome and a sort of triumph that became the gift of genuine commitment. When the grown man, stood up at a church function to introduce his ‘loving wife’, he was celebrating a journey of companionship that had weathered many storms.

I grew up in a time when kissing was bad manners and sex before marriage was sin. My parents, like most parents of that age were conservative. Valentine’s day was alien as red wine on the breakfast table. Their concept of love was expressed through obligations and responsibilities to the kids and to each other.  At 6 years of age, if a classmate had asked whether my parents loved each other, I would have probably have responded, “ I am not certain”. What I was certain about was the respect they had for each other. I was taught its importance long before I had even grasped it as a virtue.

But the new romance order caught up even with the best of us and soon we were associating candle lit dinners, red wine, rose petals and chocolate as the currency of love. It became a kind of performance where it seemed necessary to speak as though one had an arrow sticking out of one’s heart, with a great deal of anguish in expression because love was supposed to hurt.

Then we started to meet real men who did have to do anything to get noticed. At first I thought they had some sort of magic spell, ka dumba fulani. With age, I learned to identify that sense of confidence as the aura of authenticity and self respect. All people are worthy of respect but it is difficult to respect others if we do not respect ourselves. Self respect guides our way of being and moral life while respect for others informs our manner and behavior. The quickest way to only learn respect is after we have been recipients of respect and this is the gift my parents and society I was raised in bestowed upon me.

When men and women embrace the value of respect, they come to see the humanity in each other and develop a genuine sense of empathy. Rid of the expectations of reciprocity, they develop the true love muscle.

Teach a young person the value of respect and love grows naturally. If I were to choose between being loved and being respected, I would choose the latter. It is a metaphor for our country in a time of crisis. How can Kenyans love each other when they never respected each other in the first place. If we respected each other, no one would need to be reassured of love and the faux love Valentine’s day industry would finally outlive its usefulness.



Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.


  1. Maria Helena Bole

    Excellent, telling it as it is, Oyunga. The farce and packaged bullshit that is sold as a day of love in Kenya should be banned as a crime against humanity. It hurts both men and women, implants false expectations and causes the crashing of so many illusions. Thankfully this year it falls on the same day as Ash Wednesday, a most appropriate counterpoint that invites asceticism, moderation and reflection on the true meaning and cost of true love, the recognition of the valour of struggle and sacrifice in guaranteeing the actual offering for an other, of the heart.

  2. Well said Pala.Respect breeds love.Going back to the basics……….


    You’re simply outstanding. I could go ahead and quote the entire of this piece. It sets you apart. You find the right words to say at the right time; big challenge for most writers. You’re pure talent. One of your best write ups, this one. Keep on great great job you’re doing. You’re top deck, by far indeed. Be blessed!

  4. Keep writing.
    I am learning.

  5. This is O. P. In his true element. Nothing has changed since I started reading you in the late nineties. Facing the elephant in the room and telling to look at itself properly and face the truth rather than pretending. It’s a pity the current crop of females in Kenya now can’t deal with such kind of truths. Big up O. P.

  6. That is O. P. in his true element. He has never disappointed. Telling it like it is and signalling to the elephant in the room to hae a closer look of itself in the mirror and face the truth.

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