Understanding social dysfunction, stunted development in Gusii region

A section of Kisii Town. The town's population has been rising over the years, and it's growth is evident, yet the Abagusii are still grappling with diverse societal issues bedeviling them. PHOTO/Courtesy.

By Cliffin Nyerere

  • Qualitatively, external perceptions and misconceptions about an ethnic group provide insight on their positioning in diverse societies. 
  • This study evaluates agents of social stagnation and dysfunction, such as microaggressions and generational trauma, and how they contribute to widening the achievement gap. 
  • Positive parenting should entail acts and ideologies dedicated toward transforming future generations for the better. 

Sociology is a tool designed to evaluate and highlight societal issues to create a better understanding, thus introducing possible solutions to various social issues. 

Fundamentally, the socioeconomic paradigm of any society is driven by its people. 

Therefore, improving the socioeconomic environment around people as building blocks improves the general progression of a community. 

One vivid indicator of the state of a community is its economy, a quantitative element. 

The economic state of a community is determined by revenue accrued by the county in relation to other counties. 

Also, the average net worth of community members and the achievement gap portrays how a community is fairing as a unit.

Qualitatively, external perceptions and misconceptions about an ethnic group provide insight on their positioning in diverse societies. 

Internally, personal anecdotes from members of an ethnic group reveal general self-perception as influenced by the diverse factors stated previously. 


Self-perception is an individual’s connection to their community. 

Do they take pride in their heritage as Kisii people, and are they actively involved in community development? 

Furthermore, do the people have healthy/positive relationships or is social dysfunction prevalent? 

The focus groups include Kisii families in urban areas and the diaspora, with as much emphasis on the families within Kisii and Nyamira. 

The youth and children of Kisii heritage provide a more accommodating group with regard to change. 

Regardless, all complexities are considered, as well as the plausible remedies to social dysfunction. 

According to Childress of the Wall Street Journal,Sharp economic growth benefitted one tribe at the expense of others, helping reignite long-simmering animosity.”

The Kisii community is a minority community. 

It has a lower population and less development compared to other communities, with more advantages due to a higher population and more exposure to advanced academic and economic information and resources. 

The disparity in development and the existing social hierarchy can be traced back to post-colonial Kenya. 

Centralized communities benefited more from capitalism and academic advancements than the tribes along the periphery of Kenya, attributable to strategic placement during one of the most significant transitions in Kenyan history. 

Thus, it is important to address Abagusii issues as issues bedeviling a minority group.

The plight of African American people as minorities in a nation where whites are the majority provides a model for placing the Kisii community in Kenya’s social hierarchy. 

The psychological state of the Kisii people directly affects their affinity to initiative and industry. 

In other words, people who regard themselves as lowly tend to be negative in the face of development and academic progression. 

This study evaluates agents of social stagnation and dysfunction, such as microaggressions and generational trauma, and how they contribute to widening the achievement gap. 


Microaggressions are statements, actions, or incidents regarded as an instance of indirect, subtle, or unintentional discrimination against members of a marginalized group, such as a racial or ethnic minority.

In this case, the Kisii community.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the term was first used by Harvard psychiatrist Dr. Chester Pierce in 1970, as he noticed the gradual psychological and physical effects of microaggressions on marginalized African Americans.

Extensive research was conducted by Dr. Derald Wing Due, professor of counseling psychology at Columbia University, alongside other social scientists.

Microaggressions are based on stereotypes and are rooted in implicit biases. They are attitudes and beliefs outside our conscious awareness and control.

The three forms of microaggressions are: Micro assaults, micro invalidation and micro insults. 

Based on research by Kirigia et al., (Laikipia University), members of the Kisii tribe are mostly stereotyped as witches by other communities.

Below are a few examples of each form of micro-aggression

  • Micro assaults 

Turning down food cooked by a Kisii person due to paranoia of witchcraft. 

Refusing to share resources with Kisii individuals.

Breaking into local dialect to exclude a Kisii person.

Avoiding airing laundry at night because Kisii people live nearby.

  • Micro invalidation 

Claiming that insults or derogatory comments against members of the Kisii community are jokes. 

Ignoring the state of Kisii people as a marginalized group. 

  • Micro insults 

Calling members of the Kisii tribe witches.

Implying that members of the tribe are illiterate or socially awkward. 

Laughing or reacting negatively to someone identifying as a member of the Abagusii community. 

Generalizing members of the tribe as ill-tempered individuals, ignoring their marginalized experiences. 

“You don’t look Kisii.”

“You speak too fluently to be Kisii”

Microaggressions influence how members of the Kisii community socialize and have detrimental effects on their academic and work-related performance, consequently affecting their mental health.

The micro insults make up the negative stereotypical notions, and are reinforced by micro invalidation.

Compared to their peers in urban areas and schools, around diverse groups, Kisii youth tend to be more reserved or withdrawn due to prejudice.

This reduces the weight of their opinions in socio-economic and political matters.

Furthermore, being reserved and withdrawn makes them susceptible to more discrimination as they employ an accommodating attitude in the face of injustice against their tribe.

Performance is negatively affected due to constant discouragement to apply oneself and evolve in competitive situations.

Microaggressions also coerce someone into denying their heritage, which has a butterfly effect in terms of spreading and preserving Kisii heritage. Finally, depression and anxiety are common effects of discrimination and marginalization, leading to drug and substance abuse. 

Generational Trauma

Duke University’s Office for Institutional Equity states that generational trauma is the transmission of the oppressive or traumatic effects of a historical event down to younger generations.

Generational trauma also manifests through denying children access to resources for their betterment.

As mentioned earlier, the Kisii community took longer to catch up to the majority tribes’ pace of development due to their positioning.


Furthermore, underrepresentation in the central government formed after independence meant fewer resources could reach the people of Kisii.

Therefore, abject poverty and low education were common in many parts of the community, which are still underdeveloped.

For perpetual development, a community requires progressive scholars and assertive leaders in government.

Poverty and low education contributed to the oppression and trauma of the older generations of Kisii people, who were forced to adjust to a capitalistic society, despite marginalization and underrepresentation.


Since they were forced to adjust to their new world for survival, they chose denial and minimization as coping mechanisms, thus the stereotypes about Kisii people having ill tempers.

The problem with the stereotype is that it ignores years of oppression and marginalization, making it a micro invalidation. 

Poverty and poor education contribute to mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, more so due to migration into urban areas with diverse communities consisting of majority/more privileged communities.

Most Kisii parents experienced significant trauma regardless of socioeconomic status.

Due to a lack of knowledge and miseducation about mental health, most parents transmitted the trauma to their children through abuse and neglect.

Struggling to catch up with members of the majority tribes amidst disdain and inferiority negates one’s sense of value, consequently, leading to disdain and the infliction of inferiority within Kisii families. 

Majority communities such as the Kikuyu and Kalenjin tribes have significant members that believe in the concept of generational wealth.

Generational wealth is transmitted through exposure to progressive education, income sources, and capital providence.

However, the concept is not widely known or embraced in the Kisii community, whereby parents and relatives choose to deny or restrict their children from such access as they were denied growing up.

While significant members of the majority communities work for family avarice, Kisii parents keep up the culture of marginalization within their families due to generational trauma.

Positive parenting should entail acts and ideologies dedicated toward transforming future generations for the better. 

The Achievement gap

The achievement gap can be defined as educational attainment disparity among different communities. For instance, Inequality in education, thus, disparity in development. 

Bay Atlantic University indicates that the achievement gap is caused by school factors, classroom factors, and student factors. 

School factors include inequitable distribution of high-quality teachers and academic resources such as books.

Classroom factors include teachers’ low regard for students’ ability to learn.

Students also contribute to their own issues in education when they internalize prejudices and beliefs against their abilities to learn, understand and achieve. 


The county government of Kisii has to fund extensive research on the dynamic nature of marginalization and discrimination, allowing the innovation of effective and feasible solutions for sustainable growth and development of the community. 

Social education is also important to understand the dynamics behind the situation, enhance social acceptance and boost confidence among the Abagusii.

Increased instructional time from teachers, which would enable young minds to understand what’s around them.

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Transforming education methods with regard to the learning styles of students and with consideration to their experiences as members of a minority community.

Cliffin Nyerere is a sociology student and active researcher in the social sciences, including in Anthropology, Psychology and Philosophy. He studied Sociology at Miami University, which equipped him with advanced sociological tools and a dynamic lens for analyzing societal issues. His objective is to resolve social dysfunction and create awareness through his education and passion for writing.

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  1. The stereotype part really affects most people, especially students, to a point of hiding their identity. It very much hapened to me.

  2. I have not physically visited Kisii Land but from my personal interactions with Kisii people in the university. They presented themselves as industrious, strong tribal ties and determined individuals to earn the higher life admist challenges that plague them back home and at country level.


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