Freed too early or simply refused to grow up???
Well, this was my facebook update at 4:00 am GMT Wednesday 1st June 2011 – ‘i still love you my mama land, Happy Madaraka Day Kenya’. As I posted that update, I was in deep thought, reflecting on the trajectories of a country that was in celebration counting down forty eight years since liberation from the paws of colonial tyranny and exploitation. I was thinking about Kenya because it was Madaraka Day, 2011. I remembered my primary school history teacher explaining to us the importance of this day so diligently with unmeasured enthusiasm. The day of our heroes, this day that we were meant to commemorate the courage and determination with which our fore fathers resolved and fought to liberate our country, to set us free of the yokes of imperialism and to chat the path for our self determination as a sovereign people, a people apt to lead, govern, protect, feed and prosper themselves.
And I could not help but imagine threads of similar stories being narrated in a vast majority of African countries; about 50 years ago a wave hit the African continent, a surge in the courage and determination akin to that of my Kenyan fathers. From Abdel Nassser in Egypt to Philibert Tsirana in Madagascar; from Thomas Sankara in Burkina Faso to Mwalimu Julius Nyere in Tanzania; Patrice Lumumba in the DRC to Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, the common denominator was the confidence in the maturity of the African Continent to rule herself; the thirst for ‘madaraka’- autonomy and sovereignty. Well, those wishes were granted, nations were born, governments were formed, and leaders installed but how much have our fortunes changed? Have we reaped the fruits of the struggle? Can we look back and say we have lived the dreams of our fathers? How far are we from Canaan – the Promised Land? What’s ailing us?
In my attempt to make sense of these questions, I pondered on what half a century of self rule has yielded, what dividends the African common citizen has accrued from the struggle and i wondered whether there was anything worth the fanfare and celebration. So I likened the phenomenon of nationalism in Kenya to a ‘young African man’ who comes of age, convinced of his aptitude to take care of himself – to live independent of his parents (or fosters). According to the Luo traditional culture, once a young man left his father’s compound, it signified maturity, and he went out to build himself a new home, together with his wife(ves) and children. He assumed the responsibility of providing shelter, food, protection, income and most importantly leadership to his new family. I used this analogy to understand what value the quest for soverinity and self rule has added to the lives of ordinary citizens.
I began with the ‘young man’s’ duty to guarantee the safety of his family, protect them from danger, and safeguard family property. Well this forty eight year old nation is still fumbling with border security issues; issues that have seen many Kenyans lose their lives in the North-eastern counties, many lose their property to cross border rustlers and many harassed by Ugandan authorities in Lake Victoria. This nation watches as her citizens are slaughtered by Ethiopian insurgents and watches as her young men are recruited into extremist, terrorist groups like the Alshabab in Somalia. This nation’s grip on internal security is still wanting allowing crime levels to escalate and threaten the very lives, property and sovereignty that it sought to safeguard. This nation that has allowed governments to turn against its own people with brutality and extrajudicial force - the Wagalla Massacre, the aftermath of the election 2007, the execution of young men in the name of Mungiki, the list is extensive. Stanza one of this nation’s anthem states – ‘may we dwell in unity, peace and liberty’. I wonder how much sense this makes to the generation of young men and women with little knowledge and appreciation of the nationalism movement 50 years ago, when today they live in constant fear of violence, surrounded by mayhem and protracted ethnocentric political squabbles.
Still using that analogy of the African young man, this young man – ‘the Kenya nation’ has failed to guarantee the most basic right; that of life and good health. Life expectancy today is at 54 years (sometimes even less other factors considered). Forty eight years and this nation is still struggling with food security, people still die of hunger and starvation, government after government continue to declare droughts as national disasters. Forty eight years yet this nation still hasn’t figured out how to make the best use of our Arid and Semi Arid Lands when lots of countries like Israel and other squarely located on deserts export fruits. This nation still depends on rain fed agriculture to feed her people. This nation has let her people battle high inflation rates surviving on per capita incomes of low as $718.
In my analogy, the initial assignment of the young man was to establish a home (shelter for his new family) that he would regularly repair and maintain to ensure the family had dignity and privacy, was protected from environmental hazards and had somewhere they called home. Now it’s appalling to even imagine that forty eight years down, Kenyans, citizens of this ‘nation’ still live in limbo, landless, squatters engulfed in squalor and despair yet the issue of land was the epicentre of the nationalism movement. Isn’t it shameful that a small bunch of greedy feudalistic individuals who hijacked the process of building this nation continue to hold on with hardened hearts to lands they don’t make optimal economic use of while many deserving Kenyans crave for just a square they can call home? Isn’t it shameful that over 45% of this nations urban population continues to squat in horrendous informal settlements under deplorable conditions? Isn’t it shameful that thousands of citizens of this nation still live in tents and make shift camps as (internally displaced persons) refugees in their own country? I look at this and wonder what splendour could possibly reside in such a heritage (as proclaimed in the national anthem), I wonder then how the label ‘Kenyan’ profits such masses of deprived people.
The last duty that the young man was socialised to discharge was that of providing leadership, making crucial family decisions, presiding over important occasions like the opening of the planting season or harvesting, presiding over marriage negotiations for siblings and conflict resolution. This is what a likened to leadership and governance in the context of this ‘nation’. I presumed that the fathers of this nation must have dreamt of a just society, freed of colonial oppression, a society of equal opportunity, liberty and self determination in their quest for ‘madaraka’. Well, the white man left (may be still lingering around or exerting influence by proxy) and for forty eight years successive governments have displayed their ‘art’ of self rule. This nation has showcased her knack at kleptocracy, impunity, disregard for the rule of law; lopsided justice systems, rogue legislature, inept bureaucracy and bungled elections have been the hall mark of ‘this nation.
In Wars, Guns and Votes, Paul Collier posits that nation building is not a mere exercise of establishing institutions. It must involve an ordered and careful nurturing of a sense of ‘identity’ that the political regimes must work together to purposefully inculcate. I wonder how well this nation has prospered in moulding this sense of ‘identity’. It may pass as unpopular discourse, but when citizens of a nation repeatedly express their feeling of alienation, someone should be worried. I have heard on several occasions, Kenyans residing in the North Eastern counties casually ask people travelling from Wajir, Garrissa, Mandera etc to Nairobi to say hi to Kenyans. The impression is that they exist in a region, county or locality distinct and disparate from the Kenyan nation. It’s obvious that such sentiments emerge from a gradually building bankruptcy of identity with the Kenyan nation. This is dangerous breeding ground for regional, ethnic or religious revolt; rebel factions (with civil war-like implications) in many parts of the African continent have mushroomed from such loosely expressed sentiments that unfortunately fall on deaf ears. The Mombasa Republican Council is expressing congruent sentiments, albeit more explicitly and aggressively. The government can opt to use state force and military might to arm twist them, but would that address the continuing exfoliation of national identity - this crucial ingredient of nationhood? The truth is, the ‘Kenyan Nation’ is slowly loosing currency and is in dire need of rejuvenation or re-engineering.
When all is said and done, the three enemies of the Kenyan nation - hunger ignorance and disease so well articulated by the fathers of our nation back in 1963 are still with us. In fact even more have sprung up, those which Dambisa Moyo in Dead Aid refers to as the ‘four horsemen of the African apocalypse’, that continue to threaten the existence of this nation. Where did we err? Were the fathers of this nation a little too hasty and haphazard in the process of nation building? Or is it that the citizens have abdicated their duty to themselves and to this nation? Is it that the ‘young man’ was let free a little too early (prematurely) or did he just refuse to grow up once he crossed over to the new home (madaraka)? How could we possibly hasten the rebirth of this nation? Does the new constitutional dispensation posses the muscle, does it ignite the will power and does it provide the much needed platform upon which a just, prosperous, unified and peaceful nation could be reengineered?