By Jackson Omondi
In one of the shortest and the most quoted speeches in presidential history, Abraham Lincoln, delivered what historians fondly refer to as the Gettysburg address. The paragraph that strikes me as poignant, with respect to what’s happening in Kenya goes a little something like this:
“It is for us, the living, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they have, thus far, so nobly carried on. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they here gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation shall have a new birth of freedom; and that this government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
President Lincoln, of course, delivered the address during the American civil war, but the speech in itself was a distilled call for a national purpose. Americans were sharply divided and the President’s words were meant to highlight a sense of unity of purpose. A call to further a cause that was midwifed by those who came before them and to not let their efforts become a cropper! Whether that came to full fruition is a subject for a robust debate. But there is no question that it culminated in bringing an end to slavery among other things.
The Kenya of today is nowhere near what our founding fathers envisioned. Those who fought, bled and some even paid the ultimate price did not fathom that one day, the freedom that they sacrificed for would become a distant memory and a historical artifact! Sadly, it didn’t take more than fifty years to revert back to the old days. Our national fabric is decisively torn on tribal lines and if you don’t belong to the ‘right’ tribe, you are on your own!
The neocolonialists masquerading as government leaders have gladly pressed the reset button and rewound the tape back to pre-independence days. Its now a man-eat-man society and survival is surely for the fittest in an environment where fitness is defined as belonging to the ‘right’ tribe.
Our institutions of higher learning were injected with tribal bigotry and academic bona fides relegated to the shelves. Subjective admissions to juicy faculties were introduced to stifle and cripple the unwanted communities in a calculated bid to curtail intellectual relevance of those communities. The upshot was an influx to mundane roles in the national conversation. Tenured lecturers were systematically overlooked while educationists with prosaic qualifications meteorically rose to leadership portfolios.
On the other key engines of the nation, the economy has consistently taken hits largely due to incompetence and sheer greed.
The stewards of the nation have always chosen the tribe over qualification and the country has always ended up getting the short end of the stick as the fat cats fatten their pockets while the common mwananchi is left to figure out how he or she will balance his household’s financials in a southbound economy! Despite the high octane political rhetoric, the economy is headed to the ICU, bank after bank is going under due to severe liquidity issues, private sector is laying off workers and the government is on the verge of getting rid of some employees.
The sad part is that even when presented with indisputable economic data, the tribe always finds a way to cushion the government with political narratives that end up heaping the blame on the opposition. In other words, the tribe comes before Kenya! Our political affiliation should not come before our nationality. We should have the freedom to call out wrong when we see it and nod our heads in the affirmative when we see progress.
The fact that bloggers are now being arrested under the guise of “spreading false alarms on social media”, when their only ‘crime’ is analyzing economic trends is a retrogressive move that must be condemned by all sundry. Furthermore, calling for the arrest of opinion writers is another sign that the basic freedoms that those who fought and died in the struggle and paid the ultimate price did it for naught.
We as the living, must stand up and be counted. Let it be known that when it mattered, we stood up and said NO to oppression, let it be known that when our basic freedoms were under siege, we fought back! Let it be known that when our leaders sliced us into tribal denominations, we revolted and said hallo to Kenyanhood!
I will conclude with a solemn plea: Let us live up to these timeless words in our national anthem: “…Haki iwe ngao na mlinzi, Natukae na undugu, Amani na uhuru, Raha tupate na ustawi…”
May the real Kenyan please stand up!