I’m Proud to be Kenyan, and I’ll Say it Out Loud, Thank You.

When Rodgers Rop turned to Christopher Cheboich, Francis Kiprop and Mbarak Hussein, to hurry up and catch up and take the memorable photo finish at the 2002 Boston marathon, winning more than 20 seconds ahead of the rest, every Kenyan, who watched it, including myself, felt like a winner.

In the pub where I was watching the marathon, a whole pack of people smiled wistfully as Rop turned and beckoned to his compadres to catch up and when they finished, ever so spectacularly, the room exploded in hugs and high fives, the likes of which it warms my heart to remember. Many of those high fives were between strangers.

At that point, as we jubilantly patted each other in the back for our boys’ win, the fact that we were broke faded into the background, that fees needed to be paid and mothers taken to hospital tomorrow and jobs to be found urgently and rent to be paid and the government screwing up left and right… all of it faded into the background and to the fore came the oneness that joined us together.

When Dr. Alfred Ng’ang’a Mutua launched the “Najivunia kuwa Mkenya” campaign, I read a lot of derogatory stuff about it. I read that it was plastic and lacked in merit. I read an explanation from him of the rationale behind the campaign and that made sense too. Just as did Barrack Muluka, Macharia Gaitho’s and Kwendo Opanga’s arguments – which were mainly linked to the fact that the government leaves quite a bit to be desired and that Kenya is no Utopia.

But the day that Rop and his friends won that marathon got me thinking. Being brave is not not being afraid, it is being afraid and facing your fears regardless. Being patriotic is not failing to see what is wrong with Kenya and speaking up about it, it is doing so and also giving credit where it is due and counting our blessing regardless.

Reading the articles by Muluka and Gaitho and others, I get the sense that the problem is more the messenger than the message. I hear the voice of David Makali, one of my mentors, who would hold that there is nothing to celebrate and so this whole campaign is premature at best.

Muluka says, “But more significantly, this kind of publicity stunt occasions resentment, even among generally apolitical people.” Apolitical people? Kenyans are very political and this is why one his chief reasons for dismissing the najivunia campaign is political.

But more importantly, he quotes Achebe who says, “A patriot is a person who loves his country. He is not a person who says he loves his country. He is not even a person who shouts or swears or recites or sings that he loves his country. He is one who cares deeply about his country and all its people.”

Now this is true, only, if I really do love my country and care about it and its people, may I not also shout it from the rooftops?

Macharia explains how it is that the problem with the campign is the messenger and not the message. Good ol’ Alfred is the official public communicator serving the government of the day and therefore the tone of the campaign equates the love of Kenya with support for Narc/ Narc Kenya.

I’ll tell you why I will have a sticker on my bumper that says “najivunia kuwa Mkenya”, regardless of who makes it.

Because despite the fact that I am not happy with many aspects of Kenya and I know that there is a lot to that needs to get done, I see the glass as half full, where Kenya is concerned. The message, “I am proud to be Kenyan” has nothing to do with the government, it has everything to do with my relationship with the country I was born in and whose citizenship I choose to keep.

No, Mr. Muluka, you are right. “Mutua (and I) should know that patriotism is not about putting useless stickers on bumpers” but the fact that I am patriotic and bursting with pride of the simple fact that I am and feel Kenyan, is reason enough for me to want someone else to know and hopefully, we will learn to be more positive.

Say it. I am proud to be Kenyan. Say it again. How do you feel?

By the way, in advertising, that’s called assertive marketing. Say I am a winner enough time and you will act, speak and play as one. Say I am proud to be Kenyan enough, and the glass will look positive despite the politics and economic divides etc.
There’s tangible advantages to that too. We stand up more straight, because we know we are a proud people. We walk taller as a result. and everyone else wants to be part of our pride… and so investment flows in, and tourism flows in and we get incomes and we stand taller…

Barrack Muluka is dismissive of Mutua as a Nyayo kid who “in the 1980s, Mutua was a boy, drinking Nyayo school milk and ingratiatingly singing ‘Tawala Kenya, tawala’ in mass choirs. Hindsight cannot help him appreciate the extent of resentment borne out of sycophancy at public expense.”

I am a Nyayo kid too. I drank Nyayo milk too. But I did feel the effects of the sycophancy and fear of the eighties. I’m the one who couldn’t find a job in the nineties, after all. And that resentment? Its a bitter pill that is beyond its time. Spit it out and move on.

Keep it simple. You are proud to be Kenyan. Just say it. On your web site, on the signature of your email, on your car’s bumper, on your window pane, on your wall. Say it. Feel it. Act with it.

The Pilgrim Who Inspired Me to Pen Goes Home to Rest

I owe my writing to the late Prof Ali A Mazrui who inspired me to write and to Mundia Muchiri, who availed the opportunity.

I was a youthful publishing editor in the early ‘90s when Mazrui published an essay in the Sunday Nation, revisiting his pet theme of the trinity of the African condition.

The thrust of the thought was that Africa was culturally the product of three backgrounds — the Indo European, Arabic Islamic and Afro Asiatic heritages.

He saw the Afro Asiatic heritage as dying. It was succumbing to natural attrition at the hands of the Arabic Islamic and the Indo European heritages.

The latter two heritages were meanwhile locked up in their own war of supremacy.

Eventually one was set to prevail. Mazrui pitched for the Arabic Islamic heritage. If the traditional African heritage was dying, the European heritage was cancerous.

The Arabic Islamic heritage was, therefore, the natural choice for Africa. I disagreed.

FASCINATED WITH IDEAS

I argued that Africa needed her own idiom, identity and destiny, equidistant from the Judeo-European and Arabic Islamic worlds.

We debated over an eight-week period in the Sunday Nation. In the end we agreed to disagree. But, with that, my weekly perorations were born.

Despite our disagreement, Mazrui found the dialogue edifying. He purposed to publish the essays in a future collection of his intellectual battles. It did not come to pass, however, for reasons beyond us.

Our relations nonetheless remained warm, peppered with occasional email exchanges on varied issues.

We purposed to revise Nations and New States in Africa but this fell through when I left EAEP. This seminal work was previously authored jointly with the late Prof Michael Tidy. It remains a tour de force on Africa’s postcolonial states.

It is an indictment against our failure to build new nations in our new states.

I first picked up the expression “the Hereafter” from The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. The converse was “the Herebefore,” or land of the living, as “seen” by the dead. The Okigbo story is the tale of a great artist — a poet — who is on trial in Heaven — the Hereafter.

He is charged with the crime of throwing art to the dogs and allowing himself to die on the battlefield in a tribal war.

Chris Okigbo, easily Africa’s finest poet, died in action in the Nigerian Civil War (1967-70).

In the eyes of Kwame Apolo-Gyamfi, himself an extraordinarily brilliant Ghanaian student who was killed in a motorbike crash in the UK after a rare drinking binge, Okigbo did a bad thing to die in war. “When the ordinary man or the great soldier dies for his nation, that is indeed heroism,” Apolo-Gyamfi, the, “prosecutor,” said.

He concluded, “When the great thinker dies for his nation, that is escapism.”

Mazrui was fascinated with ideas. As if talking about himself, he famously wrote in the Sunday Nation in 1979, “A philosopher is someone who wonders.” He packaged his “wonderings” in rhetorical and titillating intellectual cadence.

POLITICS OF TRIBE

He was the ultimate master of Aristotelian rhetoric. Of Kwame Nkrumah he would quip, for example, “Was Nkrumah a Leninist Czar?” Leninist Czar? What a beautiful oxymoron! So Kwame was at once a revolutionary liberator and a profligate reactionary!

But Mazrui was in his element when discussing the trinity of phenomena. In the Okigbo story, he used trinity to examine the curse of the African tribal intelligentsia.

Here, Apolo-Gyamfi describes what he calls “The fall of Okigbo.” Mazrui writes, “Counsel made a distinction between individualism, universalism and social collectivism.

A great artist was first of all an individualist, secondly a universalist, and only thirdly a social collectivist.”

The individualist is, we may infer, the person who respects his thoughts, conscience and will. He bends only to these three. He will not do things to conform to social collectivism, such as kith and kin.

The scholar who refuses to “join in”— for example in inter ethnic conflict — is an individualist, the black sheep of the tribe.

The collectivist is driven by tribal passions and sympathies.  He belongs to the tribe first and to everything else afterwards. The universalist is committed to eternal values and principles.

And so Apolo-Gyamfi concludes, “If the great artist has to sacrifice himself for anything, he should only sacrifice himself for the universal. To die for the truth is martyrdom. To die for knowledge is martyrdom. To die for art is martyrdom.

But when the great thinker dies for his nation (read tribe), this is an indulgence.

He has put the politics of the tribe before the power of the eternal. He may not have broken his contract with the dead. But he has broken his contract with the living and with those who are to be born.”