[As Kenyans struggle to find meaning in the shenanigans surrounding their body politic, Njonjo Mue challenges the youth to join an army of ordinary people to fight the good fight; to defend our freedom, dignity, heritage and our children’s future, by engaging in brutal self-appraisal and refusing to aid decay. It is a call to arms - for men to leave the bars long enough to know what their children will eat for supper; for women to cease their escapism and confront the problems facing our communities; and for all of us to individually take responsibility for the future of our country.]
An army of ordinary people
A kingdom where love is the key
A city, a light to the nations
Heirs to the promise are we
A people whose life is in Kenya
A nation together we stand
Truly by birth are we worthy
Inheritors of the land
A new dawn is coming
A new age has come
When the children of promise
Shall stand together as one
A truth long neglected
But the time has now come
When the children of promise
Must fight together as one.
(adopted from a hymn by Dave Bilbrough, © 1983, Kingsways Thankyou Music)
Of being, belonging and identity…
What is Kenya and what makes you a Kenyan? Is it your ID card? Your blue passport? The fact that you were born here? Do you feel connected? Do you belong? Are you more or less Luo, Kamba, Kipsigis, Mijikenda, Asian, Caucasian or Arab than Kenyan? Are you more or less male or female that Kenyan? Are you more or less Christian, Muslim or Hindu that Kenyan? How do these multiple identities play themselves out in your psyche? Do you feel the need to run away from any one of them in order to embrace your Kenyanness?
In other words, what is your identity and what real connection do you have with Kenya? What makes you proud to be a Kenyan? If you had a choice among all the multiple identities that you have, would you choose to retain or drop your Kenyan identity? Why or why not?
The ties that bind…
Our parents’ generation was born into 42 different nationalities. However, they became Kenyans as they united to fight the common enemy of colonial domination. Once that enemy was defeated, they then went about determining the terms of their social contract, in Lancaster House and at home, in commendable attempts to build a nation. Have they succeeded? How and where have they failed?
What about us? 45 years later, what common enemy do we face? On what basis shall we negotiate our new social contract? Will the glue that held our parents’ generation together remain strong enough to bind us?
The answer is clearly in the negative. For we can see all around us depressing and alarming evidence that the social compact that once defined Kenya is quickly coming apart. The demon of political tribalism rears its ugly head with reckless abandon, as politicians declare that it is their turn to eat and then form all sorts of diabolical alliances to prepare how they might divide the spoils, and as they look determined to fight it out to the end, grabbing for power without caring if the nation falls apart in the process.
The need for renegotiating the social contract has been acknowledged by all, but there is seemingly no committed leadership with the courage and vision to lead us in navigating through these uncharted waters. We wander aimlessly in the wilderness of our despair, longing for our Land of Promise, but not even the mirage of social cohesion appears on the horizon.
Yet we have no choice in this matter. We must hold a genuine national dialogue on how to define our new dispensation – and by this I don’t mean merely discussing how to share power, for a society is more that the power structure to which it subscribes. The more we prevaricate on the need for national dialogue, the more certain quarters of our society continue to hold destructive monologues that push us ever closer to the brink.
We cannot leave things to run their own course. The train of liberty does not roll forward on the wheels of inevitability; it must be pushed, sometimes pulled; but always kept on track and moving towards the goal of social justice and the true wholesome development of the human person.
The generation gone before us appears to have run out of ideas on how to do this. This is hardly surprising considering that those who call the shots have been on the scene forever – they are exhausted, old and without a real stake in the future of our country. It is now up to us to take a stand and impose an environment of order to eliminate the daily chaos in our midst. In so doing, we will start to define a new vision for this country and to march decisively towards our collective sustainable future.
Heart of the Country or Soul of the Nation?
Politicians pretend to care a great deal about the need for a new constitution, but we all know that for them, the process is little more that glorified power play. Although the Constitution is the heart of the country, from which the entire legal system gets its lifeblood, in the end, only a small number of people will dominate the constitution-making process. Further, even if they came up with the best document in the world, it would still only be half the job done.
The other, more fundamentally half, is to reconstruct the soul of our nation. This is the responsibility of every citizen and cannot be left to politicians and their gate-keepers alone. It is an exercise which defines what the essence of being Kenyan is. What is the soul of our nation? What are the ties that bind? What are the criteria for belonging? In other words, what are the core values that make us who we are, above our diverse ethnic nationalities and beneath our common citizenship of the human family? As our favourite native son, Barack Obama reminds us, the Constitution is not just a source of individual rights, but also a means of organizing a democratic conversation around our collective future.
And so it is vital to reach a consensus on the values we espouse as Kenyans, for we cannot move forward as a nation until we know and internalize what that nationhood entails. Until we each individually and voluntarily subscribe to a core set of beliefs. Once consensus on this is attained, then we can ascribe censure to those who choose to transgress our compact through mutually agreed coercion. This is the essence of a society governed by laws and not by men.
Currently, we only belong to Kenya largely by accident of birth. We largely identify with the State only in its coercive sense.; in the sense that we see policemen telling us what to do on pain of punishment in accordance with a legal code we had little input in promulgating. We are also Kenyans by virtue of the fact that every June 30th we have a date with KRA which comes knocking on our doors seeking to know how much income we earned the previous year and whether we have given to Caesar what belongs to Caesar. We also think we belong because we demand rights that are hardly recognized or protected and services that the government is unwilling or unable to provide.
We understand the workings of government better today than we did ten years ago. However this has not made our lives better because, in spite of more transparency, there is no corresponding accountability on the part of the government or ourselves as citizens. We live in an age of lawlessness and impunity. Citizens feel no obligation to obey laws that do not bind those who make them. There is no sense of enlightened self-interest in making our systems work or in contributing to the public good. In addition, there are few role models left to follow, for we have allowed politicians to dominate our public space and to perpetually pollute our air with the stench of their incorrigibly bad manners.
Therefore, we need to find positive things that draw us to our Kenyanness, things that will make us assert confidently, ‘We are Kenyans by choice!’ We need to find a new focal point for our allegiance as citizens of Kenya.
What is Kenya and who are Kenyans?
At its most basic, Kenya is a juridical fact in international law. It is also a piece of real estate comprising 583,000 hectares occupied by some 37 million people who are as diverse as can be in ethnic belonging, religious affiliation, occupational persuasion, racial origin and social status.
In this dynamic mix, is there value in being called a Kenyan? By all means, I believe there is. But we are yet to fully appreciate it. That is why many of us continue to retreat into our ethnic cocoons whenever it crises arise. But we need to start defining that value and to clarify to ourselves what value we as a country and as a people add to the world around us.
All this cannot be done within a short period of time, for the search for nationhood is a long-term project. It is a conversation with ourselves that shall have no end, for what constitutes Kenya and Kenyans will continue to evolve as the world around us changes. But as globalization makes the world ever more homogenous, we need to identify and nurture our core values, those that make us uniquely Kenyan.
This exercise is not the preserve of any one person or group of people however defined. The endeavour to define these values has to be a national exercise involving all who bear the name of Kenya and reaching across all the strata of our nation. It will not be easy to arrive at consensus. Yet we must keep faithfully on this course until we are able to define ourselves and know and fully internalize who we really are.
For as long as we keep allowing others to define us – politicians and tribal chiefs, Western hegemonic geopolitical interests, the World Bank, the IMF, and a myriad other amorphous interests and agendas – we shall remain buffeted by winds of change, ones that make one demand of us one day and another the next. Instead of being the masters of our destiny, we shall forever react to the actions of others. Always waiting for them to tell us who we are and what we must do next to water out the fire of self-destruction in our own homes.
In other words, we shall be enslaved to the whims of others. Tossed hither by torrents of oppression and thither by waves of despair, all the while becoming the laughing stock of neighbours near and far; the subject of after-dinner conversations from South Korea to South Africa – whispers about a people who once seemed to be going somewhere but who got shipwrecked in the high seas of greed, economic collapse, socio-political confusion and moral decline.
If things appear desperate for us today, it is because they are. The road to our Land of Promise has been long and treacherous and there is no end in sight. One’s heart has to bleed as one looks around our country. Low intensity warfare and conflict violently and routinely disrupt the lives of innocents in urban and rural areas while Mungiki and other criminal gangs terrorize the populace with impunity and with the tacit support of the political class; all this while trigger-happy policemen gun down perceived criminals and answer to no one but themselves.
Poverty, inequality and underdevelopment are the defining feature of our age. Famine is the order of the day in many communities, hunger a constant companion to children across the land. AIDS continues to wipe us out indiscriminately, ravaging our fragile economy, leaving orphans to fend for themselves and frail grandmothers to look after helpless grandchildren. Crime and corruption are eating away at the soul of our nation, and responsible political leadership is a concept that has altogether eluded us. We have touched the nadir of despair, and darkness has fallen across the land.
We have become exiles from and refugees in our own country. IDPs continue to endure life in desolate ‘transit’ camps; our children find solace in the streets where drugs or regular sniffs of glue help them to accept the morbidity of their daily existence; our men have taken refuge in bars to consume large quantities of liquor to dull the gnawing pain of helplessness and the silent pangs of despair; and our women have found shelter in religious crusades to be fed generous doses of the sweet by-and-by to enable them to endure the nasty now-and-now!
The rest of us have become so impoverished and bereft of ideas and morality that we have lost our way altogether and become ourselves predators. We have no qualms about robbing the poor and exploiting the weak in our midst. We have sadly fulfilled Mwalimu Nyerere’s prophesy about Kenya being a man-eat-man society.
Amidst all this confusion, we have pushed politics to the centre of our existence. We continually engage in a strange conversation where all do the talking while no one is really listening. We conspire against the poor when they cry out for real solutions to real problems by forming endless commissions that only end up creating jobs for ourselves for which the poor are forced to pay us astronomical salaries and benefits.
Our politics is a politics of the stomach – of greed and exploitation. Having presided over the wholesale dismantling of our collective hope, the political class can now set the rules, rules that revolve around money – stolen money! And so this cycle of poverty goes round and round. I steal money today which I use to bribe you to send me to Parliament or the Local Council tomorrow with the single aim of stealing more money to purchase my seat the next round and make a handsome profit in the process.
When shall we stop this cycle of madness?
I say NOW!! Now is the time to draw a line in the sand! Now is the time to say to anyone who subscribes to this madness, ‘ENOUGH!’Now is the time to take a stand against these predators! Now is the time to reclaim our human dignity! Now is the time to start our long march to our true Land of Promise!
What we do now will determine what kind of country our children will inherit. Let no one fool you that it does not matter what we do. The choices we make today shall have irreversible consequences for generations to come. We are the people who shall save or lose Kenya. We are not perfect and we will make our mistakes, but the greatest mistake we can make now is to do nothing.
So, do something!
But first we must first do away with the futile search for a messiah who will come and fix everything for us. For the messiah we look for is to be found inside each one of us. We must each take personal responsibility in defining and enforcing our new social contract. We must say ‘No’ to any person who would seek to exploit us and use us as stepping stones to the corridors of the abuse of power. We must find the courage to believe in ourselves again and say ‘No’ to their destructive ‘favours’ and demeaning patronage for which we have hitherto sold our birth right. It is time to impose a new set of rules: a paradigm that puts country above personal comfort, our children’s inheritance and collective security above individual gain.
Fighting the good fight
Kenya is at war. And this is a fact whether it is acknowledged or not. We may not see tanks and troops on the streets and we may not go to bed with the sound of gunfire ringing in our ears. But we are at war.
The enemies we face are more dangerous than a conventional army. They may not destroy our infrastructure or kill our mortal bodies, but they have stealthily found their way through our defenses and are slowly eating away at the soul of our nation. We boast a form of civilization, but it is an empty shell and it is a matter of time before the whole edifice comes tumbling down. The cost of that eventuality is too ghastly to contemplate.
But unlike the politicians, I do not dangle the threat of cataclysmic implosion before your eyes in order to paralyze us into doing nothing, but in order to galvanize us into action. We must urgently retake control of our destiny and our country and start rebuilding the walls around our nationhood. It is not too late to reconstruct the soul of our nation, but the work must start now. Every moment of delay pushes us ever closer to the brink!
This is therefore a call-up notice:
All Kenyan men and women are requested to enroll into the Army of Ordinary People. Our sole objective is to defend our heritage from enemies within and without, to reconstruct the soul of our nation, and to lay a firm foundation for our new Republic.
And these are our rules of engagement:
The primary theatre of action shall be within ourselves, for ‘there is only one small corner of the world that we can truly change and that is ourselves’. We cannot impose rules on others that we are ourselves unwilling to live by. And so we must start by changing our own behavior, attitudes and mindset. We must become the change that we seek.
The next theatre of action is the world around us – our homes, our schools and colleges, our workplace, our communities and on the road as we drive and commute. We must politely but firmly point out whenever someone transgresses the human dignity of others or of ourselves – all the time being careful not to demand of others higher standards than we ourselves faithfully subscribe to. We must seek to faithfully influence our colleagues to act in the best interests of Kenya. In everything we do, we must constantly ask, ‘will it contribute to the reconstruction of the soul of our nation?’
What weapons shall our army wield?
Our conviction, our minds and our bodies. We shall scale the citadels of oppression to proclaim our humanity to those who have forgotten what it is to be human. We shall shun violence in all its forms – violence of thought, language and action. We shall engage in non-violent direct action when necessary to draw attention to our concerns and to bring about positive change. In everything we do, we shall conduct our struggle on the high plane of integrity and honour. Not seeking to conquer our opponents, but to convert them, for our fight is not against persons, but against injustice, against indignity and against oppression.
Counting the cost: What risks do we face?
The forces pitted against us are many, varied and vicious, and before we engage, we must count the cost. It will cost us – all of us – our very lives. The cause for which we fight will be here long after we have all passed the baton to a new generation. But some of us may have to go before others, for the entrnched forces we oppose are not benign. Therefore, like any other army, the army of ordinary people requires you to prepare to pay the supreme price for your convictions. You and I could die. This is a reality we must be prepared to come to terms with before signing up.
But if we wage our struggle with honour and discipline, and if we raise our cause above ourselves, then, even if we die in the struggle, death becomes redemptive. For hundreds and thousands will rise up to take our place; and our blood shall water the tree of freedom and invigorate our nation. Soon, our nation shall be truly free!
We could go to prison. But this should not perturb us unduly because for countless people who endure life in the slums or live under the specter of urban insecurity or rural poverty, there is a sense in which our country is one large prison today. And should we end up behind bars, we should take solace in the fact that in those very prisons are men and women, both jailers and jailed, who need to hear our message of hope. We will go to prison willingly and shall ‘transform our jailhouses from dungeons of despair into havens of freedom’. Soon, both prisoner and prison warder shall be free!
We could get physically injured. But what else is new? We are already bleeding from a thousand wounds. We suffer the daily indignities of hunger, oppression and disease. The thing to do is to regard every blow that lands upon my unarmed body as the blow of a hammer and chisel that will shape the stones that wound us into the forms of people. So that we might liberate both the oppressed and the oppressor and forever throw off the shackles of fear and brutishness from around the neck of our nation. Soon both the oppressor and the oppressed shall be free!
And what is in it for us?
I can promise you only hardship and persecution. These are the only guarantees. Our country did not get to the dark place where we find ourselves today overnight, nor will we get our overnight. It will get worse before it gets better. But I also promise you destiny. We were born for such a time as this. Future generations shall be beholden to the army of ordinary people – young men and women who had the courage of their convictions.
I call upon you to give up the material comforts of today to build a nation for tomorrow. I dare you to cross the line of the familiar and into the unknown in pursuit of a vision for another country, a better homeland. I challenge you to sow the seeds of a tree you may never personally sit under, that another generation may reap the fruit of dignity, security and prosperity for all. And I call upon you to invest in a future we may both never see that your children and mine might never again be called the children of a lesser god.
And may I remind you, my brothers and sisters, that Kenya was the first country in black Africa where the colonial master was not just asked to leave, but was pushed out of our country by our young men and women who risked their all to wrest our country back from those who had stolen our land.
A generation has since passed. Our parents can at least claim to have attained that formal independence. What about us? Do we want to leave behind a legacy of having let our country disintegrate during our watch?
Amkeni ndugu zetu!
11th May 2009
The race to nationhood is not a one-person race
But a relay in which all citizens must run a leg.
As Kenyans take stock of their race so far,
A new generation urgently seeks to know…
WHO DROPPED THE BATON?
BY NJONJO MUE
Kenya is a country of runners. Even in the darkest times of our history, our light has shone bright on the tracks of the world as our boys and girls raise high the proud banner of Kenya in various stadia around the globe. Kenya’s true ambassadors have not been the dull men in gray suits presiding over the bureaucracies of our missions abroad, but countrymen such as Kip Keino, Paul Tergat, Samuel Wanjiru, and Martin Lel, and women like Pamela Jelimo, Catherine Ndereba, Elizabeth Onyambu and Justina Chepchirchir. They represent us more than our appointed career diplomats especially because, like us, they are ordinary people – soldiers and policemen, prison warders and workers, teachers and students – many of whom rose from poverty to conquer the world, most lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps. They epitomize all our hopes and dreams.
But Kenya knows more about middle-distance, cross-country and marathon running than sprinting; and not just on the track. For we as a nation have been running another race, which we don’t seem quite to have mastered yet despite our prowess elsewhere. It is significant that Kenya has rarely won a medal in the relays. Equally disappointing has been our lackluster performance in the relay race to building true nationhood.
Our race began with the advent of colonial rule with such luminaries as Me-Katilili wa Menza and Koitalel arap Samoei. Waiyaki wa Hinga was also among those courageous daughters and sons who grabbed the baton and led a generation of Africans in refusing to be deluded by the novelty of the white-skinned strangers who spoke in guttural noises and they started to construct the iron snake that had been prophesied about by the seer, Mugo wa Kibiru; these early runners were unimpressed by the fancy material that covered the strangers’ pale bodies which claimed superiority over the warm and simple animal skins that had covered our nakedness since time immemorial. They were non-committal about the new religion that was part of this strange package from a land they had never heard of; and as they began our race to nationhood, they were unwilling to accommodate the strangers except on equal terms.
But Waiyaki did not run very far. The baton was cruelly snatched from him and he was eliminated from the race for daring to oppose the strange new order that was quickly entrenching itself in the name of Queen and Mother England.
But it was not long before the yearning for liberty manifested itself in the heart of another young man. Harry Thuku quickly grabbed the baton and ran elegantly if impatiently. He engaged the colonial oppressor with the suave sophistication of African pride. In 1922 he marshaled the nascent forces of freedom into a procession in Nairobi. But those who thought that they could stop the train of freedom did their worst, opening fire on unarmed demonstrators and shedding innocent African blood. Many who ran with Thuku fell that day while Thuku himself was banned from the race and incarcerated in a far-away detention camp. The baton fell and for a while, we wondered whether, with all the foreign forces marshaled against us, we would ever complete this race.
But a young metre reader with the Nairobi Municipal Council got off his bicycle and quickly picked up the baton. And a great crowd of witnesses cheered Johnston Kamau Ngengi, running under the Nom de Guerre of Jomo Kenyatta, as he ran his leg with rare determination. Years of exile in the very country whose rulers he was opposing at home did not deter him. He took the baton to Speakers Corner in Hyde Park and cut a lonely figure in the wintry chill as he made an impassioned plea for the freedom of the black race. In between the laps, he wrote about how African peoples had organized their races before the disruption of those who thought it was their God-given right to show other peoples a more civilized way of running. After enduring several winters and a world war, he returned home with pomp and ceremony to continue running his leg and he was enthusiastically joined by other daughters and sons of the soil.
By this time, the field was becoming a bit crowded. The colonial master tried to ignore the fact that our race to nationhood was on, but the sheer din from the crowd could not easily be brushed aside. On October 20th 1952, our first team of top runners were rounded up and along with Kenyatta, Kung’u Karumba, Alfred Kubai, Achieng’ Oneko, Bildad Kaggia and Paul Ngei were sent to prison.
For a while, the baton lay still at Gatundu where it had been abandoned in the silence of midnight.
But the momentum towards Uhuru was unstoppable. Oginga Odinga refused to pick up the baton, insisting that the star athlete would have to come out of prison and complete his leg before Jaramogi could contemplate running his own. The crowd of witnesses defiantly continued to occupy the stands and agitate for their runners to be set free. They formed KANU but refused to be drawn into negotiations on alternative ways of completing their race until their team was made complete by the release of their jailed runners.
Meanwhile, elsewhere, another part of the race continued to gain momentum, but this one was not so neatly structured. Field Marshall Dedan Kimathi and General Mathenge led other sons of the soil in Mount Kenya and Aberdare forests, showing the colonial master what the alternative to letting Africans complete their race would be. The MauMau were not running their race with batons, but with home-made guns, their makeshift stadiums drenched in blood. They were answering fire with fire and, though they knew they were no match for the might of the British army, they were equally aware that their own race would suffice to make the enemy know that she could not possibly hope to govern an ungovernable people.
The message struck home and, at the dawn of a new hopeful decade, Kenyatta and other detainees were finally freed. James Gichuru gladly handed the baton he had held in safe custody back to the star athlete and our race was on again.
Our grand medal ceremony was held at Uhuru Gardens in the midnight hour of 12th December 1963. The people deliriously cheered in unison as the Union Jack was lowered for the last time, and the black, red, green and white banner of a new proud nation danced contentedly in the crisp new air of freedom keeping careful watch over a newly freed people against the triumphant sounds of the new national anthem which invited the God of all creation to bless this our land and nation. This magical night marked the triumphant completion of the first leg of our race.
Thereafter, for a few years, our race progressed remarkably well. The team grew with the spirit of the young nation. Nor was it mandatory to merely cheer Kenyatta on as he ran his leg. For others came in to play their part. Jaramogi stepped in as Kenyatta’s able deputy while Tom Mboya organized the famous airlifts to America to help prepare a new generation of runners to continue running the race once the current one was ready to pass on the baton. In due course, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, who was not entirely happy with how the star runner was running this race, decided to switch and contribute from the other side of the track; Bildad Kaggia, too, fell out with his erstwhile compatriot-in-arms and eventually retired to a quiet life in the countryside. So did a disillusioned Joseph Murumbi who did not let the trappings of power as Kenyatta’s new Number 2 blind him to the fact that things were not going according to the original plan. In time, Daniel Moi was anointed to sprint alongside Jomo and prepare to take the baton once the latter called it a day.
But there were signs that the race was not going well at all. Pio Gama Pinto and Tomas Joseph Mboya were gunned down in Nairobi for daring to get too close to the baton. Ronald Ngala too died under mysterious circumstances for looking like he was planning to run a leg. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Jean-Marie Seroney, Martin Joseph Shikuku were all hauled into detention for having the temerity to suggest that this race could be run differently. Ngugi wa Thiong’o, too, was locked up when he suggested that the crowd of witnesses should actually have a say in the way that the race was being run and should be allowed to cheer in their own mother tongues. James Orengo, George Anyona, Chalagat Mutai, Chibule wa Tsuma, Koigi wa Wamwere, Abuya Abuya and Mashengu wa Mwachofi, were contemptuously dismissed and labeled as the seven bearded sisters for their spirited attempts to call the runners to run in the direction the people who chose them had collectively agreed.
The nation began to wonder, wasn’t this precious baton the property of the people? Did not many give their lives to get it where it was? Did the people not have a say as to whom their relay team should be? Why then were Kenyatta and company behaving as if they, and only they, knew how best to run this race?
Josiah Mwangi Kariuki asked these questions a bit too loudly and too often. He was found dead and mutilated beyond recognition in a lonely forest in the outskirts of Nairobi. The people, looking through teary eyes, started to lose interest in a race they no longer felt a part of. Still, Jomo and a cabal of political mafia continued to run and to cheer themselves on. Our Star Runner refused to hand over the baton even when he should have finished running his leg, preferring instead to bump off all the able runners we had lined up to take over from him. He kept running the race in our name even when we had walked out of the stadium in disillusionment and disgust and found something else to do to occupy our time.
On August 22nd 1978, exhausted and old, our erstwhile Star Athlete dropped dead, and the baton lay lifeless in the resort town of Mombasa. There was temptation from among the ranks of the favoured bystanders to pick it up and run for themselves. But one Charles Mugane Njonjo pushed his chosen successor forward to pick up the baton and run a leg. The people, thinking that they had taken back their race, stormed into the stadium and enthusiastically picked up cheering where they had left off. But the few who understood this game saw the signs of trouble, as one Sharrif Nassir declared on our behalf that we had already chosen our next Star Runner without so much as giving us a chance to have our say.
It was not long before the nation realized that this race had developed a life all of its own and no longer depended on the people for legitimacy. Moi started off well, releasing political detainees “that their children might not suffer.” But he completely went astray after five years. In his efforts to get away from Njonjo, who was now chasing him and demanding to run a leg himself, Moi ran right out of the stadium and mapped his own route, following his footsteps to nowhere far from the madding crowd.
The people, left staring at an empty track, were rather bemused when they were assured by VOK (later KBC) radio and TV that the race was indeed going quite well. Yet they could not see their runners for they had bolted right out of sight and were making their own rules as they went along – no opposition parties; introduce Section 2A; disband the entire air force; shut down universities at will; jail and torture dissidents at whim; introduce 8-4-4 by force; vote by queuing. “It’s our turn to eat, wapende wasipende; put up or shut up!”
And yet the so-called people’s representatives continued to go in and out of the people’s august House, studiously ignoring the immortal words etched at its entrance. These words sought, in a still silent voice, to remind them that the only reason they were sent there by the people was to find strategies on how our race to nationhood might be ran ‘FOR THE WELFARE OF SOCIETY AND THE JUST GOVERNMENT OF MEN.’
Meanwhile, after successfully evading Njonjo’s challenge, the runners re-entered the stadium as if to complete a marathon, and alas, the whole nation was surprised to realize that it was Biwott, and not Moi, who was holding the baton, though the latter continued to wield his ivory scepter and to faithfully mouth the words he was fed by his Total Advisor.
At the end of the 1980s the nation was again rising and asking for their baton back that they may continue running their race to nationhood. But the new boys on the track would hear none of it. They invented all manner of ‘enemies’ as a pretext to banish and jail, torture and kill, all who looked like they might want to run a leg.
Robert Ouko’s only crime was being too eloquent in defending the very runners who were later to brutally murder him. He was found dead and burned beyond recognition on a lonely hill near his rural home. The runners told us that he had committed suicide by burning himself alive and then shooting himself dead.
Alexander Kipsang’ Muge dared to be too vocal in suggesting that there were other sons and daughters of Kenya who might like to run a leg. But he at least had the benefit of being forewarned in public by one of the runners that if he visited Busia that day he would “see fire and will not leave alive,” words that sadly proved all too prophetic for the young Anglican prelate. He was abruptly cut off in his prime by an on-coming truck.
But fortunately, not all voices of reason met the same sad fate. At the dawn of the 1990s, Henry Okullu dared to call for an end to the one team monopoly in the running of this race. He was joined by another courageous prelate, Timothy Njoya. Oginga Odinga’s voice had never really been silenced. Others came to join the chorus of disapproval at the way this race was being run.
1990 proved to be a watershed for our race. Two gentlemen who had shown their prowess in the world of business and politics, Kenneth Stanley Njindo Matiba and Charles Wanyoike Rubia, threw down the gauntlet and dared Moi to declare who this baton and this race really belonged to. The chorus had reached a crescendo as the nation defiantly organized trial runs at Kamukunji and elsewhere in the country in what has been immortalized as Sabasaba Day.
But those who had hijacked the baton were not about to give up so easily. They brought the full might of the State into the makeshift stadium and stopped the people’s race in its tracks. Many innocent people fell that day. Harry Thuku must have winced in his grave, distraught at the sight of a black government shedding innocent African blood in scenes reminiscent of what his adversaries had done to his team in 1922.
A year la later, special running advisers by the name of the Paris Club pointed out the absurdity of running a race without opponents. The runners, posing for breath at the Kasarani Gymnasium, decided to introduce a form of competition by repealing section 2A of the running rules. But they then set about erecting all kinds of obstacles on the lanes they would assign to their opponents. Not only did they control all the resources of the State, they also insisted that even to go for trial runs around the country, the opposing teams had to apply for permission from the very people they were seeking to take the baton from.
The much expected 1992 tournament proved to be a sham. The divided Johny-come-latelys clearly stood no chance against the self proclaimed professor-of-politics with all the might of the State behind him. The racetrack had been designed in such a way that only one team could win. Alas, we had entered a treacherous leg of this race. We would be forced to cheer the illusion of a competition; coerced to participate in a race in which we really had no part. Over the next fiver years, the monies we had painstakingly saved in our shared chest for the welfare of society and the just government of men and women was squandered on buying runners from the opposing teams and organizing wasteful mini-races to fill the places they left vacant in a wasteful power game.
Nor was the crowd of witnesses guiltless of wrongdoing. With their leaders fighting and haggling over who would wield the baton, the people became like sheep without a shepherd. Poor and confused, they turned to looting their own land at every chance they could get. Others were used by the wealthy runners who turned brother against brother in a desperate attempt to stop the baton from passing on to a new generation.
This race had began with a bang; would it end with a whimper?
As 1997 approached, some thought salvation might be found in Kitui Central. “Run, Charity, run!” they cheered the charismatic daughter of the land who had taken the country by storm. But the field was once again too crowded and the various chants drowned each other out in a cacophony of confusion allowing the star runner to romp home yet again. That round left the whole nation exhausted and wondering whether running this race was worth all this trouble.
In 2002, our reserve runners seem to have finally caught up with the spectators who had all along been urging them to unite to snatch the baton from the old runners and their neophyte protégé, infamously dubbed ‘Project Uhuru’. They came together in a strategy that seemed to offer a glimmer of hope and the stadium erupted with the thunderous sounds of “Yote yawezekana bila Moi!”
This time, cheered on by the crowd of witnesses led by Jaramogi’s son who declared with finality, Kibaki Tosha!, Mwai Kibaki snatched the baton from those who had killed and maimed to keep it in certain hands and, for a while, we thought that our race to nationhood was back on track. We ran with new confidence believing that indeed, after the 24 year reign, we could finally behold the rainbow.
But our celebration was short-lived. For soon we started hearing murmurs from some of our new dream team about a dishonoured MOU. Before we could understand how the new runners planned to run their leg, there was a great falling out from the ranks of our chosen team and they were running helter skelter in different directions.
A discussion on the new Rule Book in 2005 was turned into a battle of the titans with some runners urging us to approve it and others to reject it without really explaining why. The orange team won on the field but were rewarded by being expelled from the track altogether.
As the country approached the 2007 stretch, the race had turned ugly with the runners using unorthodox means to retain or get the baton by all means necessary. One side told us that their opponents were thieves and had stolen enough, while the other side tried to convince us that the state of a particular part of a runner’s anatomy was an important determinant for choosing the next team captain. The stage had been set for the spectators to turn on each other at the slightest provocation.
That provocation came from the team of referees who could not say with certainty which team had won the right to lead the race for the next five years but did not hesitate in announcing that Kibaki would continue to wield the baton. Chaos broke out all over the land as angry and disappointed citizens turned on each other in the battle for supremacy and the words Post-Election Violence, IDPs, Power Sharing and Grand Coalition Government were added to our political lexicon. God Himself had to mercifully intervene by sending us an Eminent African by the name of Kofi Annan to calm our extremely frayed nerves and save us from ourselves. Now we have entered confusing times of our race to nationhood with the baton being wielded by two runners at the same time even though an eminent South African judge told us that neither could with certainty be shown to have won the right to lead this latest round.
But even as we try and extricate ourselves from this latest hole that we have dug ourselves into, another truth has begun to strike on the edges of our consciousness. Could it be that while we slept, the baton – the REAL baton that was passed on from Me-Katilili and Waiyaki to Thuku, kept in safe custody by Gichuru, touched by Jaramogi, eyed by Mboya, glimpsed by Kariuki, wielded by Moi, defended by Ouko and shared by Kibaki and Raila – could it be that that baton may have been dropped somewhere along the way and surreptitiously substituted with a fake one? Might we have been cheering the wrong team all along and fighting for the wrong prize? For the goal initially was to run our race with distinction, each runner gracefully passing on the baton at the end of their leg, until we finally reached the finishing line of true nationhood. But anyone with eyes can see that our stadium has long since been turned into a battlefield of gladiators where there are no rules and where our national motto has become not just survival of the fittest, but of the most greedy and corrupt.
Where will our salvation come from? Will it be in the re-writing of our constitution? Will it be in organizing a whole new race? Will it be in continuing to kill, steal and destroy and just declaring that the last man left standing is the winner?
Or will it be in stopping this mad race to nowhere and acknowledging that we have been chasing the wrong baton; in painstakingly walking together back to the place where not one person really knows, but to the place where nonetheless our collective future lies; to the place where the true baton has been left abandoned.
We may not easily agree where that place is, or who really dropped the baton, or even whom to hand it over to once we find it to lead in running the next leg. But these are challenges that we can face together.
The choice for Kenya at this hour is clear: we can either run together as brothers and sisters, we can or continue running along the destructive path we have taken, and perish apart as fools.
Amkeni Ndugu Zetu…
4th May 2009.
It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat. – Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship in the Republic, speech at the Sobornne, Paris, April 23rd, 1910.
(An earlier version of this article was published in Eve Magazine in March 2002.)
Should men and women be treated equally, or should they be treated as equals? What is the difference, and does it matter? To commemorate International Women’s Day on 8th March 2009, one man shares his perspective.
This memoir of personal reflection is dedicated to my dear wife, Katindi, my sisters and to all of Africa’s women who refuse to be restricted to the space society has assigned to them, and thereby reject the invitation to become children of a lesser god.
‘There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female’
It was such a novelty. There she was hanging out by the open door of the No. 46 matatu minibus as it approached the bus stop. It was last December and I was making my way from Yaya Centre to the Kenya Human Rights Commission at Valley Arcade. The matatu stopped, I embarked, she blew the whistle and hit the side of the Ma3 and we were on our way.
She must have noticed me staring at her as she busied herself controlling an all-male crew during our short ride to the Arcade. She was young, she was fit, she was agile, she was competent, and she was obviously enjoying her job stopping the matatu to pick up and drop passengers. All too soon, it was my turn to disembark and I remember feeling a mixture of sadness and fascination as I stepped out onto the curb and prepared to cross the road.
“Keep shattering the stereotypes, sister,” I managed to tell her just as she blew the whistle and the matatu got on its way again. “Thank you,” she shouted back with a smile, and soon they were both out of sight, hurtling cheerily towards Kawangware.
Such scenes are unfortunately all too rare in our country. Being a matatu conductor, alongside countless other jobs, is categorized as ‘unfit for the girls’, regardless of whether or not our sisters might have liked to try their hand at it, like this young woman was so ably doing now.
It makes one wonder how many dreams over the centuries have been broken to smithereens, shattered against the wall of stereotype. Worse, how many could not be born and natured in the first place because they were aborted in the maternity ward even as some hapless young woman was taking her first breath of life, merely because she happened to be born a girl.
Relations between the sexes have attracted many a controversy all over the world; and minds better than my own have penned volumes of opinions regarding men, women, society and equality. I do not know much about feminism or the pros and cons of so-called women’s liberation, but one thing troubles me a great deal. Today, Africa is facing some of the worst crises since slavery. We are grappling for solutions to problems too big for any one gender to contemplate let alone begin to unravel.
In this state of emergency, we must ask ourselves this uncomfortable question: with all the enemies lined up against us, with all the devious plots and schemes hatched to ensure that we remain ‘the wretched of the earth, with all the challenges and scourges that threaten to annihilate us as a people and wipe us out as a nation, can we afford to go to war half-fettered and half-free?
Standing tall on borrowed shoulders
I was raised in the small dusty industrial town of Thika, among eight remarkable women – my mother and seven sisters. I was the second-last born (my twin sister, coming hot on my heels to complete the set of 11 children in all). By the time I went to school I had learned a great deal just from listening to or overhearing my sisters doing their homework. When I went to school, it was my sisters who took the time to help me with my homework. They laid a firm foundation for the person that I am today. Sadly, although they played such a vital role in showing me the way, none of them attained to half their own true potential. And that is not because they lacked the talent or intelligence. It is because they were women.
It starts subtly at home – girls being discouraged from doing certain chores or playing certain games; girls being confined to the kitchen while boys are encouraged to go to the great outdoors and explore and pursue and conquer; girls being dissuaded from dreaming certain dreams or aspiring to certain goals. This way, slowly but surely, by default or by design, a glass ceiling is firmly put in place. In most cases it turns out to be shatterproof, confining the better half of us to the lower echelons of society.
Because I have a twin sister, I have had the rare opportunity to see this discrimination first hand, almost like looking into the mirror and seeing something other than the reflection that you’d expected to find there. My sister recently confessed to me that when we were children, she had always felt like my shadow, and did not see the need to work hard and achieve for herself because it was not really expected of her. Today, she has done quite well for herself; but I am willing to bet that had she been born a boy she would have gone so much further. And every time I see women walking on the street, I can’t help wondering how many of them have really achieved all that they were truly capable of. There must be less than ten percent. And one cannot help asking oneself, surely can any society afford to waste so much potential and expect to come out on top in an increasingly competitive world? I think not.
I often meet people who have read my writings or heard about me but have never met me in person before. A surprising number of them make the same comment: I thought you were much taller! And I want to put the record straight here by stating, “Actually I am really quite short. But if I look tall, it is because I stand on the shoulders of the women in my life. Women, who have inspired and taught, nurtured and poured their lives into me; many of them having no choice but to cheer me on because they could not finish their own leg, as the lane assigned to them in this treacherous race was filled with obstacles right from the starting block to the finishing line.”
There was an unspoken rule in our community when I was growing up in Thika in the ‘70s, that the only attention that should be paid to the girls was what was necessary just so that they did not stray and get pregnant out of wedlock. In fact in retrospect, one almost felt like they were kept busy in school just to keep them on the straight and narrow until time was ripe for them to get married. Today, the same reality still confronts so many. Is it any wonder then that, for many women getting married is still regarded as the ultimate achievement in life?
Boys on the other hand were constantly reminded that the home and the community belonged to them and that they must work very hard to perpetuate the family name. The boy was expected to be tops, the girl was expected to be average. Why? Because she would get married and leave; He on the other hand would carry forward the family name and you must be fully prepared for the task.
Give me a place to stand, to speak.
One can forgive our parents for this monumental ignorance and its devastating consequences. I hear voices among some of my male colleagues now saying ‘I could never do that!’ But guys, let’s just pause and consider how we treat our sisters today. I will not even speak of those men who are physically and psychologically abusive to their spouses or partners. Rather let me address myself to those like me who consider themselves to be urbane, educated, and sophisticated.
No, you don’t physically beat up anyone, but think of how effectively we use words to keep women ‘in their place’, how often we dominate public space thereby ensuring women can’t get a word in edgewise and largely end up existing to be seen and not heard, or how many silly sexist jokes we crack or entertain that are calculated to put women down.
Can you recall a recent social gathering of men and women of which you were a part? Did you observe the dynamics of debate on any subject? My experience is that our sisters have virtually no space to express their views. Many times, by virtue only of the fact that we men have louder voices, we end up hogging up all the space. We recklessly elbow out the women purely by out-shouting them; and when this fails, we resort to insult, innuendo and intimidation. The final weapon of assault is to completely ignore a woman’s contribution – when a man speaks, everybody listens; when a woman starts to say something, it is time to refill your coffee cup while some take the few moments to rush to the restroom, or just to withdraw into themselves to evaluate what the man who spoke before her just said, or to plan what to say after this ‘commercial break’.
In fact women are so used to being elbowed out that many don’t even bother to air their opinion in public any more (and I am speaking about educated women here). A good number have stayed so long without the chance to express themselves that they see no point in having an opinion in the first place, especially on many of the issues that get us men quite animated. And so after a period of time almost half of our people have lost their voice.
Again I ask the uncomfortable question, how can we confront the great questions of the day if half of us are voiceless and only half are heard? How can we solve the problems of our time if the perspective of half of us is missing from the table? How can we move forward together if half of us are fettered and half of us are free?
A holy separation: stumbling at the last post?
As a Christian, it grieves me a great deal to hear and see how the Bible has been used (or rather misused) to keep half our people perpetually under subjugation. In this regard, the Church (and I count myself among the number) stands indicted of gross discrimination and we should urgently search our souls and repent.
The Church comes down through history with impressive credentials as a crusader for justice and equality. It was the Church that brought about the great reformation in the middle ages (Martin Luther and John Calvin) it was the Church that helped end slave trade (William Wilberforce and the Abolitionists); it was a Christian President that signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and went to war to end slavery (Abraham Lincoln); it was the Church that helped end racial segregation in the American South (Rev. Martin Luther King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy); it was the Church that helped end one-party dictatorship in Kenya (Bishop. Henry Okullu, Bishop Alexander Muge, Rev. Timothy Njoya); and it was the church that helped bring down apartheid in South Africa (Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Rev. Allan Boesak).
During all these dark chapters in human history, some tried to use the Word of God to keep the people of God in bondage. It did not work. The final frontier now appears to be the battle for gender parity. Sadly the Church seems to be stumbling at the last post. It has once again allowed the dominant group (in this case men) to set the agenda and misuse the Word of God to retain the status quo.
I have heard it argued that the Bible inherently sexist, and that Christianity as a religion is inherently discriminatory against women. Time and space do not allow me to do a critique of the Bible here. But I can speak as a Christian man from my understanding of the Bible and I would like to make a few points that are usually conveniently forgotten.
Whenever one thinks of gender discrimination and the Bible, the Apostle Paul easily comes to mind especially his admonition in, Ephesians 5:22 that wives should should submit to their husbands. Now Paul makes many controversial statements about the role of women that even I find hard to understand. In some cases he rightly refers to them as mysteries. Like any Christian, I cannot dismiss them merely because I do not understand them, but rather I look to see how they fit into the whole plan of God for humanity. But while affirming that God has created us male and female for a purpose and that we each have a specific place to fill in the kingdom of God, I do not think that God meant that any one group should dominate another. The book of Genesis makes it abundantly clear that both male and female are created in the image of God and mandated to rule over creation.
But back to Paul, a couple of points need to be made here:
First, we should note that the same Paul who is accused of bigotry wrote in his letter to the Galatians 3:27 – 28,
…for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
But how could he then go on and tell wives to submit to their husbands if, as he asserted, there was neither male nor female?
If we go back to Ephesians 5, we note that just before the controversial verse 22 which asks wives to submit to their husbands, the verse immediately before sets the stage for the specific admonitions to husbands and wives that follow. Verse 21, which is another verse that is usually conveniently ignored by those seeking to perpetuate gender disparity, says, ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.’
Secondly, Paul’s statement to wives to submit to husbands (or even slaves to obey their masters) is usually taken out of context. Women in 1st Century Ephesus were largely there to be seen, not heard. The society in which Paul was working was one that was already oppressive to women. But the statement he was making on submission was not a political statement. It was not addressed to everybody.
Rather, Paul was specifically saying to the new converts to Christianity, that the hallmark of the Christian faith is individual liberty in Christ and equality before God (as we have seen in Galatians). We are all free and none of us should lord it over the other. In that context, in the marriage covenant between Christians, there was no one who was more equal than the other.
In this light, Paul’s admonition on submission was more strategic than principled; it was a question of process, not substance. He was saying, in effect, “You live in a society where you are required to submit. You have now become Christians where all are equal in the sight of God. But so that people will not say that this new religion encourages rebellion and undermines social institutions, submit to your husband just as society expects you to. However, the crucial difference is that you will now be submitting out of choice, not out of what the law requires of you.”
That is the only logical way to see it, otherwise, it makes little sense that Paul should be telling women to submit where the law, society and tradition already required them to do so. Paul was not a policeman; he was an apostle of the gospel! Unfortunately, men have taken this scripture as a license to require and demand submission from their wives.
But it is crucial to point out that in making these statements, Paul’s number one priority was to spread the gospel. He also regarded that all other Christians should make this their priority, which means that we as individuals should be willing to do what it takes to advance the message of Christ – including enduring prison and hardship and persecution and submission. Paul himself endured so much and sacrificed so much for the gospel, that for him to ask Christian women to continue submitting to their husbands so that the message of the cross is not distracted by political debate is neither surprising nor self-serving. It should also be remembered that Paul had nothing to gain personally from such an admonition since he did not have a wife.
It is usually conveniently forgotten that Paul also told husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church. Anyone vaguely acquainted with Jesus’ love for us, His body, will tell you what a tall order that is; and one cannot aspire to that level of love and yet require submission from their wife by coercion or as a matter of course. Submission will be voluntarily given in response to pure love or not at all.
And when it comes to serving in the church today, I believe that when God calls us to His service, He calls us according to the gifts He has bestowed upon us, and it matters not whether one is black or white, male or female.
Unfortunately many have chosen to twist the Bible and use it selectively to suit their own ends, just as they did with slavery and apartheid. But again I ask the uncomfortable question, can we hope to attain to God’s perfect plan for our generation and for humankind half-fettered and half-free?
Equality or equal value, and who picks up the tab?
The work place is one contested space where we need to completely level the playing field; and in order to level the playing field in the long run, we may have to slant it in women’s favor in the short.
I read a story in the papers in 1999 shortly after the then President Thabo Mbeki had appointed Ms Nkosazan Dlamini Zuma the Minister for Foreign Affairs. What caught my attention was the fact that the South African government had had to make alterations worth R70, 000 (Kshs. 700,000) to a wing of the Union Buildings in Pretoria, which houses the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to install a new ladies toilet. There had been no female toilet in her wing before.
I recount this story because of all the excuses, including cost, that one often hears for shutting women out of the workplace. (Should we, for instance, use smaller bricks in our building industry to ensure that women workers are able to lift them?)
This brings me to the question of what we mean when we seek equality for women in our society. In 98 percent of the cases, it means treating all people equally regardless of their gender. It means equal opportunity in education and equal access to public resources and amenities. It means removing structural obstacles that lie in the way of women realizing their full potential and the repealing all the laws that treat women as second-class citizens, as well as enacting laws necessary to give life to a policy of equality.
But there are other cases, which in my view constitute the remaining 2 percent, where it is not possible to achieve formal equality for women. But this does not mean that in those cases, they should be treated as lesser beings. Women have special needs, which require special attention. Pregnancy the first one that comes to mind. We do not ask society to provide for pregnant women on the basis of equality with men – since men don’t get pregnant. We ask for special treatment of women in this case not because they are equal to men, but because they are of equal value as men, and because the fact of pregnancy is itself valuable to society – indeed critical to its survival.
Thus where it is not possible to treat women and men equally because of some objective fact of their anatomy, we should endeavor nonetheless to treat them as equals. This would also include providing specialized and affordable health care, or such basic things as the provision of sanitary facilities in restrooms and other needs that are specific to women.
What about the cost? Surely it costs a company money to pay for maternity leave for women employees (sadly, many in Kenya just opt to fire them, or not hire them at all), money that would be saved if companies just hired men.
We must as a society be willing to bear the cost of treating equals equally in the short run in order to reap the benefits of a more just society, where all can realize their potential regardless of their gender, in the long run. When someone is learning how to drive and they find out they are too short to see the road ahead, they don’t give up on driving entirely; they buy a cushion. Society must learn to do the same.
We should not shut out women from the workplace merely because we have always done things in a certain way if it happens to make it inaccessible to them. We should do our utmost to adapt and to incorporate all that have the requisite skills to do the job. In the above example, the South African government could have chosen to relocate the ministry or fire the minister, or not hire her at all, and would have thereby saved quite a bit of money. But it recognized that the value to society of having Dr. Zuma in the Cabinet surpassed the rand amount needed to make the requisite alterations to her office. More importantly, it proved that it was waking up to the fact that after so many years of oppression, South Africa could not hope on a prayer if it continued to exist half-fettered and half-free.
Allies or Antagonists?
I began by saying that I was no expert on the subject I am writing on. This is not a scholarly thesis. It is a memoir of personal experience and an edict forged of individual reflection. I hasten to add that I do not speak from a high moral ground. Like most men, I too have received a lot of baggage and harmful socialization regarding the place of women in society. I am still working to get to the place where I will regard women as no more and no less than human beings who share our talent, our potential, our passion, our hopes, our dreams and the ability to live full, rich and successful lives, and to serve society and to lead.
But while there are many men like me who are willing to learn and to be a part of the solution (and I say this with the greatest respect), some women’s rights organizations in Kenya have tended to be rather exclusive in their approach, categorizing all of us as the enemy. A woman friend once told me that, being a man, I could not fully comprehend women’s issues and that therefore my contribution was necessarily limited.
That may be so, but women working alone will not achieve the goal of equality. They need to make alliances with men who truly desire to be compatriots in the cause of social justice and equality for all. They need to teach us those things that we do not yet fully comprehend even as they enlist us and send us back into our own ranks with this message of hope.
In closing, I invite you to return with me to the little house in Thika where my parents and 11 children struggled to find space when we were growing up in the ‘70s. From my testimony above it might appear that I considered myself to be quite successful. But in truth none of us in the family of 7 women and 4 men has as yet realized our full potential.
My parents meant well and did their best in reduced circumstances to bring us all up and give us some level of education. But still they failed themselves and us by unwittingly treating the girls as children of a lesser god. What they did not know – what they could not have known – was that by compressing the feet of their daughters they were thereby also retarding the steps of their sons.
Africa needs to learn the same lesson today. That it will take an upright manhood and an enlightened womanhood working together to fight and win the critical battles that lie ahead. And as we prepare to enter our Land of Promise to take a stand on high ground and as we clear our throats to loudly proclaim our humanity to a world that has increasingly lost its ability to be human, we must pause and ask ourselves one more time this uncomfortable question:
What conviction shall our voices carry if they tell only half our story, speak of a house divided, and recount tall tales of a people who failed to realize their full potential, because they sought to go to war and fight their battles, half-fettered and half-free?
8TH MARCH 2009
Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.
Last stanza of the National Anthem
There hasn’t been much glory in Kenya lately. The body politic continues to spin out of control. The press regales us daily with detailed tales of who in government is doing what to whom. The country recoils with hunger; the nation limps on in despair.
The air is filled with the sounds of complaining and griping, moaning and blaming. Starting at the very top and trickling down to the very bottom. The Minister of Justice complains of corruption and the slow delivery of justice. The Minister for Energy moans about the disappearance of oil. The Minister of the Metropolis gripes about the inefficiencies at the City Council. The Minister of Gender bemoans the absence of women in high level appointments. The Minister for Agriculture shouts for the umpteenth time ‘It wasn’t me’. The Prime Minister says his life is in danger. The President’s wife complains of inefficient male ministers. The President complains about his wife’s complaint. And the entire population complains about everything else.
In Kenya today, it is all too easy to point fingers and there are more candidates for blame than fingers to point. But I should be slow to cast the first stone since I am the single biggest culprit in the woes that have befallen the land; I together with my fellow countrymen and women. For we freely chose the men and women whom we have made a hobby of disdaining in private and dismissing in public– the 222 who run this country on our behalf and make the laws by which we live but which do not bind them. And it is I together with my brethren who shrink daily from our sovereign responsibility to call these honourable individuals to order when they step out of line, and resort instead to endless complaining.
And so today, although the temptation to complain is overwhelming, I must choose a higher road, a more excellent path. I must pause and contemplate the Kenya I will set out to build for my children and their children after them. I do so with faith that there are many patriotic citizens who, like me, are concerned that we have chosen to murmur where we should be working; and to weep where we should be fighting for the survival of ourselves and our country.
Rather than watching the morals of the nation go down the drain we should vigorously promote virtue in our own private lives, in our homes, in our communities, on our roads, in our workplaces. We must take personal responsibility to make our personal spaces a little part of the Kenya we want. We must create little islands of excellence every day and have faith that at some point in the not too distant future, these islands will meet and squeeze out those in our midst who labour to destroy rather to build.
In private therefore, I choose to consider every moment of every day as an opportunity to build Kenya. I will make myself aware that every time I choose to act unjustly in private, I am destroying my own island of hope and so postponing that day that we all work towards when the glory of Kenya shall be realized and fill every heart with thanksgiving. It is a project of great honesty. For it allows no space to drink water in public while imbibing wine in private. It leaves no room for pointing fingers because all the hands available will be too busy building the new foundations of our nationhood.
This personal responsibility will inevitably lead to our public greatness as a people. It will contribute to creating a Kenyan society that is – to paraphrase 18th Century English writer, Samuel Johnson – opulent without luxury, and powerful without faction; its counsels will be steady, because they will be just; and its efforts vigorous, because they will be united. The governors will have nothing to fear from the turbulence of the people, nor the people anything to apprehend from the ambition of the governors.
The encroachments of calamities we cannot always avoid, but we will certainly be prepared to defend ourselves, for scarce any civilized nation has ever been enslaved till it was first corrupted… Difference of opinions will never disturb our community, because every person will dispute for truth alone, look upon the ignorance of others with compassion, and reclaim them from their errors with tenderness and modesty. Persecution will not be heard of among us, because there will be no pride on one side, nor obstinacy on the other. Disputes about property will seldom happen, because no man or woman will grow rich by injuring another.
As I call on my fellow countrymen and women to unite with one accord in order to build this our nation together so that the glory of Kenya, the fruit of our labour might fill every heart with thanksgiving, the prayer of Rabindranath Tagore rings in my ears with increasing urgency:
Where the mind is without fear and the head held high;
Where knowledge is free;
Where the world has not been broken up
Into fragments by narrow domestic walls;
Where words come out from the depths of truth;
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not
Lost its way into the dreary desert sand of dead habit;
Where the mind is led forward by Thee
Into ever-widening thought and action –
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father,
Let my country awake.
In the big scheme of things, Kibaki and Raila, Karua and Ruto, Uhuru and Saitoti mean nothing. They will be confined to the footnotes of history before you can say “Kenya Tuitakayo.” You are free to choose to join them on their long journey to nowhere, or you can hide behind the fig leaf of endless complaining.
As for me and my house, we choose to work towards a new Kenya where the dark days of despair shall soon begin to give way to our season of hope.
19th February 2009.