By Dorcas S
Was it Scotsman Samuel Johnson who argued that “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel” in his piece “The Patriot”?
Mr. Johnson was referring to those citizens who wax eloquently about patriotism and nationalism, not out of genuine concern for country, but to advance their agenda – personal and/or economical.
It is a thought that struck me as I read about/the varied reactions to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trip to the G-7 in Italy and subsequent invitation to the G-20 later this year.
The optics – on the world stage – were indeed good for the former crimes-against-humanity pariah and his supporters have every right to revel in them. Likewise, Kenya’s image on the global stage, like that of its globe-trotting president, has been a mixed bag – oscillating between respect and high regard to the shoulder-shrugging “there they go again with the corruption and violence!”
It is this ambivalence between respect and lack thereof – of Kenya and Kenyans – that has been at the core of reactions to Mr. Kenyatta’s address before the G-7. Predictably, those who see the event as “proof” that Mr. Kenyatta is “the man” have wrapped that perspective in the flag of “patriotism” and “nationalism”. The support would be in line with the adage that “politics ends at the water’s edge” i.e. you don’t criticize the president when s/he is abroad; beyond the shores of the country. However and ironically, said support would be for the same man who chided the opposition for “inviting a visitor (Barack Obama) to the house (Kenya) and starting to quarrel with the spouse” back in 2015 BUT had little compunction flipping that script on its head and accusing Kenyans of being “experts at abusing one another and stealing” – while he was visiting Israel!
So at the heart of my reluctance to embrace the patriotism and reverence typically accorded (the accomplishments of) the president who is THE symbol meant to unify a country besides the national flag, is the flippant and blatant disregard and abandonment of that very patriotism and reverence when it comes to (the president’s) use of the country’s national resources including its wildlife, forests, minerals and treasury! Gabriel Oguda absolutely nailed it when he excoriated those hyper-ventilating over vandalism on sections of the SGR and are pin-drop silent when billions line the pockets and bank accounts of Nyokabi Muthama, Kathleen Kihanya and the First Lady’s “Beyond Zero Initiative”.
The foregoing hypocrisy is the behavior that Samuel Johnson was calling out.
There is nothing unpatriotic speaking out against the amount of money spent on Mr. Kenyatta’s foreign jaunts since he took office especially when people are starving and dying BECAUSE of corruption- and incompetence-induced “lack of money”.
It IS patriotic to question the return-on-investment (ROI), cost-benefit not to mention probity of the mega-projects and “deals” supposedly “inked” during President Kenyatta’s foreign junkets; this is particularly true when members of the presidential entourage include the likes of Chris Kirubi and other industrialists and “moguls” of ill-repute and deals shrouded in secrecy.
To paraphrase the words of German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “Silence in the face of possible evil is itself evil: Not to speak is to speak. One can disagree with and refuse to support (the policy proposals of) a leader and still be patriotic.
The construct of voicing opposing views or criticism, indeed demanding explanations or justifications on major socio-political and economic decisions AND loving country are not mutually exclusive as Mr. Kenyatta and his supporters would like Kenyans to believe.