Tuesday, 29 November 2011

The messiah within: Redeeming the soul of the Kenyan nation


Photo credit - http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-522249/Kenyans-celebrate-rivals-sign-power-sharing-deal.html


This article was published in Pambazuka News, Issue 432 on 14 May 2009 

http://www.pambazuka.org/en/category/features/56268


As Kenyans struggle to find meaning in the protracted troubles surrounding their body politic, Njonjo Mue challenges the nation’s youth to join an army of ordinary people to fight the good fight and to defend Kenyans’ freedom, dignity, heritage and their children’s future by engaging in brutal self-appraisal and refusing to permit decay. Mue’s article 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 Kenya’s communities, and for all Kenyans to individually take responsibility for the future of their country.

Identity crisis?

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 than Kenyan? Are you more or less Christian, Muslim or Hindu than Kenyan? How do these multiple identities materialise in your psyche? Do you feel the need to run away from any one of your identities in order to embrace your Kenyan-ness?

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 comprises 42 different nationalities. However, our parents became Kenyans as they united to fight the common enemy, colonial domination. Once that enemy was defeated they proceeded to determine the terms of their social contract – in Lancaster House and at home – representing a commendable attempt 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; we are surrounded by depressing and alarming evidence which indicates that the social compact that once defined Kenya is quickly deteriorating. The demon of political tribalism rears its ugly head with reckless abandon. Politicians declare that it is their turn to eat and then form all sorts of diabolical alliances to prepare the potential division of the spoils. The politicians appear 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 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 initiate a genuine national dialogue on how to define our new dispensation. I do not mean merely discussing how to share power, for a society is more than 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 than glorified power play. Although the constitution is the heart of the country and from which the entire legal system gets its lifeblood, ultimately 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 fundamental aspect is to reconstruct the soul of our nation. This is the responsibility of every citizen, and cannot be left to politicians and their gatekeepers 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, President Barack Obama reminds us, the constitution is not just a source of individual rights, but also a means of organising 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 internalise 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, not by men.

Currently, we only belong to Kenya largely by the accident of birth. We largely identify with the state only in its coercive sense; 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 30 June we have a date with the Kenya Revenue Authority (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 recognised or protected, and services that the government is unwilling or unable to provide.

We understand the workings of government better today than we did 10 years ago. This has not made our lives better however, 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 Kenyan-ness, 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. The country 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 crises arise. We must begin to define that value; to clarify what value we, as a country and as a people, add to the world around us.

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 – what constitutes Kenya and Kenyans will continue to evolve as the world around us changes. Nonetheless, as globalisation 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, reaching across the strata of our nation. It will not be easy to arrive at a consensus. Yet we must remain faithfully on this course until we are able to define ourselves, to know and fully internalise 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 International Monetary Fund, and myriad other amorphous interests and agendas – we shall remain buffeted by winds of change 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 and 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 became 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 will certainly bleed as one examines our country. Low intensity warfare and conflict violently and routinely disrupt the lives of innocent Kenyans in urban and rural areas. Meanwhile, Mungiki and other criminal gangs terrorise the populace with impunity and the tacit support of the political class. Trigger-happy policemen gun down perceived criminals and answer to no one but themselves.

Poverty, inequality and underdevelopment are the defining features of our age. Famine is a persistent reality in many communities, and hunger a constant companion to children across the land. HIV/Aids continues to devastate indiscriminately, ravaging our fragile economy, and leaving orphans to fend for themselves while frail grandmothers strive 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 and refugees within our own country. Internally displaced people 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 predators ourselves. We have no qualms about robbing the poor and exploiting the weak in our midst. We have sadly fulfilled Mwalimu Nyerere’s prophecy 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 everyone is talking, albeit 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, 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 in fact! Thus, 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. I do this with the single aim of stealing more money to purchase my seat the next time round, and subsequently 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. Do not be fooled by the perception 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 mistakes, but the greatest mistake we can make now is to do nothing.

So, do something!

First, we must disregard the futile search for a messiah who will come and fix everything for us. 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 seeks to exploit us and use us as a stepping stone to 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, and 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, 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 defences, and are slowly eating away at the soul of our nation. We boast a form of civilisation, but it is an empty shell and it is only a matter of time before the whole edifice comes tumbling down. The cost of that eventuality is too ghastly to contemplate.

Unlike politicians, I do not dangle the threat of cataclysmic implosion before your eyes in order to paralyse Kenyans into doing nothing, rather I do so in order to galvanise the population 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 enrol 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 unwilling to adhere to ourselves. We must start by changing our own behaviour, 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. However, we must also be 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. This is not in 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. 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. Some of us may have to go before others, for the entrenched 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.

If we wage our struggle with honour and discipline, and raise our cause above ourselves, even if we die in the struggle, death becomes redemptive. Hundreds and thousands will rise up to take our place; 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 spectre of urban insecurity or rural poverty, there is a sense in which our country is one large prison today. 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 warden shall be free.

We could endure physical injury, but this is not an unfamiliar occurrence. We are already bleeding from a thousand wounds. We suffer the daily indignities of hunger, oppression and disease. We must regard every blow that lands upon our unarmed bodies as the blow of a hammer and chisel that will shape the stones that wound us into the forms of people. In doing so, we may liberate both the oppressed and the oppressor, forever throwing 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 it finds itself today overnight, nor will it escape from this reality 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. 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 in which the colonial master was not just asked to leave, but was pushed out of the country, pushed out by young men and women who risked everything they had 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! 

Njonjo Mue

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Responses to 'The Messiah Within' 
(The names of those responding have been deleted to protect their privacy)



I really thank God that you have such a precious gift. He has indeed taught your fingers to war and I praise Him for that. I pray that you will always remember to love, jealously guard and continue to equip the ‘Messiah within you’. I can only wait to see what the Lord will accomplish in you as you faithfully do this and continually walk together in this journey!

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Thank you for your thought provoking articles. They have made me weep.  

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Njonjo,

Keep up the good fight.  

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Hi Njonjo, 

Greetings from Geneva.

Last weekend I met one of your old teachers at Alliance, and she wanted to read all your articles. Below is her reply. Feel free to copy her directly on future articles. Very impressive lady.
Listen, the next time you are in Europe let me know and we can organize a meeting for Kenyans here which you can address. You have no idea how much people appreciate these views that you propagate.

Cheers

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Wow!!I have not read anything so fine, so noble and so beautifully written in such a long time. I am just about to send it to certain friends who will enjoy reading Njonjo's articles, as well as agree to the sentiments expressed. I would love to get hold of all these in book form, and I'm sure he's thinking of compiling them as such. I feel humbled to have known this brilliant young man at one time as his teacher.
Many many thanks for these.

Regards  

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Njonjo,

We are reading from the same script,standby will join hands soon!.
Shukran

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Hii Njonjo mue

"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!"

Great!!  
By Guatemala peseant.

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Wow!  Wow! My brother I feel you totally! Well done for not just lamenting but deciding to do something!

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It sure was long but it is an excellent piece and I cannot agree with it more.

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Njonjo,

I agree that the real challenge is in getting many Kenyans, especially the alleged middle-class, from their comfort zones, since the price of achieving a truly free Kenya is very high -- death et al!

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Hi Njonjo,
Thanks this is inspiring and calls for serious reflection and action.

blessings

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Thanks Njonjo. Am with you. And share this with my groups.

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Njonjo,

I have received 2 of your fantastic articles and I love your line of thought.

KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK.

Remember November 6th 2004 article in Nation Newspaper calling for young Kenyans to arise? I had bought space to highlight the need for a real change.

I do hope we can meet in the coming week to exchange notes.

Best Regards,

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Dear Sir,

I must say I am proud of you. This piece has touched my heart. You are a true Kenyan. A true Kenyan...

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I  ___ do hereby join and commit my all to the army of ordinary citizens that will change the story of this country. God help me.

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Njonjo,
How does one join this army of ordinary people?..how can we make a difference in our own environs...?

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Njonjo

CHRISTIANS MUST SEEK JUSTICE

Our society is hurtling towards destruction because as CHRISTIANS we have not understood our call and our responsibility to seek for social justice!

Isa 1:17

Seek JUSTICE,
encourage the oppressed.
Defend the cause of the fatherless,
plead the case of the widow.

NIV

Prov 28:5
Evil men do not understand JUSTICE,
but those who seek the LORD understand it fully.

NIV

It is up to the Church of Jesus Christ to seek justice. We cannot claim that it is not our responsibility because it is already written;

Prov 24:11-12
Rescue those being led away to death;
hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
If you say, "But we knew nothing about this,"
does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it?
Will he not repay each person according to what he has done?

If the church fails to rise to the occasion, it is certainly in a position where it deserves judgment. As individuals we must see our salvation as a call for social justice. While we are here on earth, the religion that God considers worthwhile is;

James 1:27

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

NIV

Why have we as individual Christian thought that we should remain aloof to the injustice that we see in our society? Each one of us has been put in a specific situation where we see a certain form of injustice. Why have we not seen this as a call to live out our salvation?

It is safe to say that we are salt by being seen by others- we don’t go to bars, we don’t run after other people’s wives or daughters, we avoid situations that call for bribes- but isn’t the call more than a passive agreement? Are we not called for active SEEKING for justice? Shouldn’t we be the first to match peacefully to protest corruption in government?

If we say we did not know about it, shall not He who sees in secret judge us?

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Pray over the prayer initiative.  This is united prayer and it will bear fruit.
Blessings

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Njonjo,

These are powerful and challenging thoughts... my experience within and outside government makes me think that the problems we face are three...

(1) We know what is right but we do not do it. We are afraid of doing the right thing. We are not willing to sacrifice ourselves for the good thing. In short we need good men and women who do good things..remembering always that in the design of things, the good shall overcome the evil. what is needed is a few good acts everywhere and we shall change this generation.

For example, everyone knows that we need to increase irrigation in order to be self sufficient. All we need is to identify potential areas and invite kenyans to participate in the process. For example, we could go to the Tana River Delta.. dig a cannal and zone the government land so that we designate what is to be irrigated where. we then ask kenyans who are interested to apply and we move on. We form marketing cooperatives and off we go. Its that simple. Lets get doing something.

(2) The sophistication syndrome. The challenges we face are many but to the surprise of many, the solutions we require are simple and obvious. Our problem is we complicate things and make ourselves believe that we need super humans to deal with them. I am just from a PSS meeting where many issues were discussed. One of the most interesting things I heard was on youth employment. somebody suggested that if we ban the importation of finished textile products, we would employ close to one million tailors in order to meet the clothing needs of Kenyans. Have you thought about that..its simple really. we are now buying finished textiles from China, Turkey and Indonesia bacisally creating employment for their tailors and well as their cotton farmers. When we make small things complex, we disempower people. We make them believe that a consultant is needed and that foreign aid is required and that somebody else must do something to help them. If we do small things with discipline , we will get out of our mess.

(3) Leadership.... when countries such as ours face the kind of challenges we face, there will be need for someone to take the lead. The duty to lead does not belong to the political class only as some suggest. It requires everyone of us to lead.. wherever they are.. And to lead means that one must see the future clearly and make the decision to take positive steps to realise that future. Our experience as a nation is there for every one to see. we cannot rely on the politicians. In fact I think what is needed is not just political leadership... but the leadership of men and women who sincerely desire to deliver this country to the next level.

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Dear Njonjo,

Greetings from __________; I hope this finds you well.

______ has a bi-annual community newsletter  which has a circulation of 2,000 copies to community based Human Rights Networks (HURINETs) in different parts of Kenya. We have noticed that while there are very useful and thought provoking articles on national issues available at national level through newspapers, websites, blogs etc, these articles do not get to the human rights activists at community level

This is thus a request for your permission to publish in _________ community newsletter, your article below ‘The Messiah within” (which I first read on Pambazuka).

_________ is distributed for free to these human rights networks (HURINETs) and thus I can assure you that the ________ will not get any monetary gains from this. Further,_______ will not be able to pay for the use of the article.

Kindly let us know if we have your permission to publish the same
  
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Hallo!!

So you can imagine that I return from leave)1 month of bliss)  to find your deep email which makes me wonder, when are you running for elected office?????? We need people like you. The newspapers and news continue to distress me with politicians doing things that disgusting and offensive to Kenyans at large. When and if you decide to ever run, holla so that I can join the campaign team.

Have a nice day and keep 'em coming!

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I am speechless. Your words are a pure and powerful expression of human faith, hope and love - to be prayed, not merely read.
Bro. Njonjo you drove some points into my heart and mind, i'm rising up to the occassion and on my way to do what is permitted in the realm of law to stop these thieving, overbearing and old despots. keep on inspiring us with this kind of mind provoking writings--its apowerful tool!
I always say, living in harmony as a nation does not have to be through love for one another, but out of respect for the contract we have signed to define ourselves as Kenyans. The law and the enforcers ought to ensure that this state is kept for the individual as well as community's preservation and advancement. If we still believe, that the country Kenya must still be seen in Africa's map, and that every 'ethnic region' identified as part of it, then we have no choice but sign the contract once again. We must also learn to get rid of violators of of this contract before they destroy the nation. We must learn to identify potential leaders who understand the reason for being a nation.
Perhaps a Kenya that has thus far refused to draw lessons from the brutal civil wars its neighbors have gone through might just heed Njonjo Mue's prophetic warnings. Those of us who have made Kenya our home, but are not citizens marvel at the absence of rabid nationalism amongst our Kenyan brothers and sisters. Under certain conditions that may be a virtue. But if the country is to avoid descending towards Civil war one hopes that more Kenyans would assume a nationalistic rather than a tribalistic posture. Njonjo's essay will surely nurture that process. This is an essay that should be required reading.


Monday, 28 November 2011

His grace is sufficient...



Sometime ago I read one of the many interesting articles by Pastor Francis Frangipane. Speaking about Moses, he wrote, "The Lord took a self-assured world leader and reduced his opinion of himself until he possessed no confidence in himself. And it was in this state of mind that God decided to use him. Having been thoroughly  convinced of his unfitness for leadership, Moses was now qualified to lead."

I am currently in a season of 'having been thoroughly convinced of my unfitness to lead.' Having had some great opportunities in the past akin to Moses' time spent in Pharaoh's palace, I am nevertheless constantly aware of my weaknesses and my failures to the extent that I have come to doubt my ability to lead. But I feel the Lord calling me again - not to leadership, but to service.

I may not have all the gifts of oratory and eloquence, nor all the right connections that seem to be a necessary ingredient for seeking office in Kenya, but I am encouraged by Pastor Francis when he writes, "For Moses, the very mention of the word Egypt floods his mind with weakness; Moses fears returning to the place of his humiliation, especially to lead. Yet God has not called him to be a leader, but a servant. And to be a servant, one need not be eloquent, but obedient."

He goes on to say, "Moses is sure his particular weakness, stammering, will disqualify him. How can a man who cannot speak for himself speak for God? Yet, not only is the Lord unhindered by human weakness, He takes credit for it. God stripped Moses of his worldly place and training, burdened him with a heavy and slow tongue, and then commanded him to serve Him in this specific area of weakness."

Perhaps I have spent too much time blaming the devil for certain weaknesses and limitations that actually have their origins in God. What truly matters with God is not the eloquence of my words, but His power to fulfill them. The Lord knows that the weaker His servant, the more genuinely he will give glory to God.

But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me (2 Corinthians 12:9)

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Ministries of Francis Frangipane - http://www.frangipane.org/

God moves in mysterious way...

God moves in mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea
and rides upon the storm.
O fearful saint, fresh courage take;
The clouds you so much dread
are big with mercy,
and shall break with blessing
on your head.

                -- William Cowper - (1731 - 1800) 

Sunday, 27 November 2011

Children of a lesser god?



Photo credit -http://e-iwm.wikispaces.com/MWM+707+Socio+economic+aspects+in+watershed+management




(The article was first written in 1999. It was published in Eve Magazine in March 2002 and this version was published to mark Women's Day in 2009.)

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’
                                                                                           Galatians 3:28
Shattered dreams
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.

Conclusion
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?

END/NM

NJONJO MUE
NAIROBI
8TH MARCH 2009

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Don't heal lightly the wound of my people...




Lately, as I have engaged in the transitional justice agenda in Kenya, I have been reminded of an article that I wrote in Johannesburg in October 2007 pleading with Kenya to seriously address the history of abuse and human rights violations before it came back to haunt us. We did not and we all know what happened. Below, I reproduce that article for those who find time to read it because I think it is still relevant to the struggles of our time... 

Don’t Heal Lightly The Wound of My People 

It is always such a delight for me visit Johannesburg. This is because I lived here for almost five years between 1997 and 2001, when I worked as Head of the Africa Office of the freedom of expression watchdog, ARTICLE 19. It was during the same time that many Kenyans relocated to Johannesburg in search of opportunities, many fleeing from an increasingly troubled motherland. 

The period of my sojourn in South Africa was a time of great transition. I arrived here during the third year of the Mandela presidency and left two years after Thabo Mbeki stepped into his big shoes. As we were busy setting up our modest office on 87 Juta Street in Braamfontein and as I was settling into my little flat in Montgomery Park, the ANC was just getting its feet wet on the driving seat of government, after decades of being an outlawed movement trying to overthrow a racist regime in a blatantly unequal contest. Desmond Tutu and his truth commissioners were helping the country to come to terms with its horrid past, and black people were beginning to enjoy their place under the sun after four hundred years of colonial domination and apartheid rule. 

Back home in Kenya, 1997 was also a year of transition. The Kanu government was still standing menacingly in the way of a new people’s constitution and intimidating anyone who thought they might have a new idea on how their motherland should be governed. I remember participating in public rallies, declared illegal, in Kamukunji in early March and at Uhuru Park on the eve of Madaraka Day, alongside thousands of other young Kenyans demanding change under the slogan, “No Reforms, No Elections!” We were beaten and tear-gassed, vilified and jailed, but we would not relent in our chorus of disapproval against the cabal of kleptocratic lootocrats who went by the name of the government of the day. 

It was the year of saba saba, nane nane, tisa tisa, kumi kumi. These were all demonstrations held with ever increasing public support in Nairobi and elsewhere in the country, demanding fundamental changes in the governance of our country. They were all violently broken up by Moi’s security forces. Then, just when change appeared imminent, the politicians, who were our erstwhile comrades in arms, snatched defeat from the jaws of victory by abandoning us when Moi dangled the carrot of IPPG before them. They did not even bother to entrench in law the few concessions they claimed to have won before running off to look for votes when the election was called. Ten years later, we are still staring at the fog of the promise of a new constitution, no nearer to our goal than when we first began. 

Many of us in the civil society felt betrayed by the IPPG deal cobbled up by politicians to enable them to share our chicken before it was cooked, but this is not the place to recount the long tale of lost opportunities on the road to a new constitutional dispensation in Kenya. The reason I bring up these momentous events of 1997 in both Kenya and South Africa is that they mirror our present struggles in two important respects. 

First, as we all know, it is election season once again in Kenya and politicians are out on the beat promising us all a piece of the moon. It is time for the country to make important decisions that will determine the direction Kenya takes for the next five years and beyond. 

Second, the South African transition from apartheid, especially the truth-telling process aimed at helping uncover and heal the wounds inflicted on the majority by the minority, still offers an object lesson for Kenya at this time. For no matter who wins the election, there is much unfinished business on our psycho-social landscape that will not go away until we have the courage to face up to our sometimes painful history. It is this aspect of our own transition that I would like us to take the next few moments to reflect on tonight. 

Over the last 44 years of our independence, successive governments have studiously refused to undertake and lead a process of dealing with painful periods of our past and to bring perpetrators of gross injustices to account. Year after year, we have continued to celebrate our achievements while failing to acknowledge the very real pain and suffering unjustly visited upon our sisters and brothers by people who hitherto lived side by side with them as neighbours. 

Survivors of ethnic cleansing, like children of a lesser god, continue to roam landless in our towns and countryside scavenging for food; women who have no platform to speak of the sexual violence they endured during the clashes in Molo, Burnt Forest and elsewhere, bear their pain silently, with only bitter tears shed quietly to avoid spoiling the party, as they are casually invited by the government spokesperson to juvunia kuwa waKenya; families of assassinated politicians still wait for official acknowledgment that government agents actively took part in the demise of their loved ones and the subsequent elaborate cover-up. 

We have also decided that bringing to justice the perpetrators of gross economic sabotage through the massive looting of the public purse and the misappropriation of public land by a well connected few is a luxury that Kenya cannot afford. 

It is natural to feel anxious about the effect that addressing the past might have on our national fabric, especially since lawlessness, looting and pillaging of public resources for private gain was at some point regarded as unofficial government policy. It is also the case that it is virtually impossible to find anyone among our political elite who is untainted by the corruption of the past. And so we continue to pretend that the past did not happen. 

But the poet Maya Angelou has some comforting words for societies such as ours that hesitate to come to terms with their past. In her moving poem during the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993, she reminded us that “history, despite its wrenching pain cannot be unlived, but if faced with courage, need not be lived again.” 

And this is precisely what we need to do in Kenya as we contemplate the next five years. We must face our history with courage. The current government attempted to go down that road early in its life when it appointed a task force on the establishment of a truth, justice and reconciliation commission. But it seems to have developed cold feet despite the findings of the task force that the Kenyan people were overwhelmingly in favour of some form of accounting for the past. 

And yet, whether the next government – whoever heads it – offers the needed leadership on this issue or continues to bid us bury our heads in the sand, this is an issue that just won’t go away. A casual look around the world, from South Africa to Liberia to Chile to Argentina, shows that people are refusing to allow history to be silenced. Succeeding generations refuse impunity and demand moral accountability for past criminal acts and a modicum of justice to ensure it. Kenya will be no different, and the longer we leave our issues unresolved, the more complicated they are likely to become. We should not forget that the perennial troubles in the Balkans can be directly traced to the battle of Kosovo fought in 1389! 

Perhaps the reluctance by the establishment to ask people to account for the past, results from ignorance of why the process is necessary and what it would entail. This ignorance breeds fear and paralysis. I remember a story that appeared in the Daily Nation of 27 June 2003, reporting on submissions to the task force on the Truth Commission. It screamed, “DON’T OPEN UP OLD WOUNDS, TRUTH TEAM TOLD.” There were also mixed interpretations of what accounting for the past really meant. While one body of opinion wanted to legislate a national amnesia of forgive and forget, another wanted criminals identified, prosecuted and duly punished. 

But it is still important even in the midst of this confusion to find a way forward. We must open up old wounds if they did not heal properly in the first place, in order to air them and let the puss out. For as philosopher George Santayana cautions us, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Our country is badly in need of reconciliation. But there can be no reconciliation without forgiveness and there can be no forgiveness without truth. 

But many have asked, what is truth in this context? Simply put, truth entails giving a right and a forum for those who have endured suffering in silence to tell their stories and an opportunity to know and understand what exactly transpired in the old dispensation – what led to their suffering, in what context it occurred, and who was involved. As one survivor told the Truth Commission here in South Africa, “We do want to forgive, but we don’t know whom to forgive.” 

Truth in the context of reconciliation expresses itself in acknowledgment of injustice committed during violent conflict or oppression. It includes full disclosure of misdeeds; publication of accounts of formerly hidden injustices and violence; and storytelling by victims in the context of therapy. 

Truth telling is also important in order to establish an accurate record of a country’s past, and lift the lid of silence on particular periods or incidents that we are ashamed to face up to. In seeking the truth, victims and survivors are not driven by mere curiosity. The massacre of helpless villagers on the runway of a remote airstrip in the North-East; the torture endured at Nyayo House; the flight by night to makeshift refugee camps in the Rift Valley; the loss of a loving father to hired assassins outside a pharmacy, in Ngong or on a lonely hill in Koru. These are all now an indelible part of the identity of the survivors, and denying that these atrocities happened is denying an integral part of who these people are. 

Miroslav Volf puts it poignantly in his book, Exclusion and Embrace: 

“By wanting to know “what happened” they are wanting to insure that the insult of occultation is not added to the injury of oppression; they are seeking to restore and guard human dignity, protect the weak from the ruthless. The truth about what happened is here often a matter of life and death.” 

Tutu brings it closer home. In his book, No Future Without Forgiveness, he explains why forgetting the past is wholly unacceptable: 

“Accepting [national amnesia] would have victimized the victims of apartheid a second time round. It would have meant denying their experience, a vital part of their identity…. Our nation sought to rehabilitate and affirm the dignity and humanity of those who were cruelly silenced for so long, turned into anonymous, marginalized victims. Now through the Truth and Reconciliation Commission they would be empowered to tell their stories, allowed to remember and in this public recounting, their individuality and inalienable humanity would be acknowledged.” 

In some cases, victims already substantially know what happened but they still need an official acknowledgment from the perpetrators and the state, where it was involved. As Juan Mendez points out in an article in the New York Law School Journal of Human Rights, “Knowledge that is officially sanctioned, and thereby made ‘part of the public cognitive scene’…acquires a mysterious quality that is not there when it is merely ‘truth’. Official acknowledgment at least begins to heal the wounds.” 

I remember having tea recently with the daughter of a popular politician whose murder has never quite been resolved. She confessed that as a child, she grew up believing that her father must have been a very bad man since, in her innocent imagination, only bad people got killed. To such a person, official acknowledgment would go a long way to providing healing. 

Truth is also important in ensuring the reform of structures that facilitated the abuses. The truth must be placed on the public record to enable society to take a long hard look at itself and ensure that the violations of the past do not recur. This is the only way that the truth will lead to transformation of society. 

As Janet Cherry reminds us in a chapter in Looking Back, Reaching Forward, “Personal and individual histories of suffering or evil-doing are usually intrinsically related to systemic conditions. Provision should therefore be made for a comprehensive socio-ethical approach when dealing with the past.” We in Kenya must ask ourselves, what sort of value system would lead us to construct a building whose name means ‘Peace, Love and Unity’ with a basement designed for the worst forms of torture known to humanity? 

“Forgive and forget,” is the famous mantra of the morally lazy. We must forgive and remember because the process of reconciliation depends a great deal on how we remember the past. We have just come out of celebrating Kenyatta Day and there would be no point in doing so if we bought into the conventional wisdom of sweeping our past under the rug; after all, the events of 20th October 1952 are not in themselves a cause for celebration. As John De Gruchy points out in Reconciliation, “Memories can return with a vengeance unless they are redeemed and become a way of transforming the future.” 

But we should not go excavating the past for the purpose of inflicting revenge upon our fellow citizens. There is a healing way that can bring hope for the future along with our sorrow for the past. We must collectively find this way. 

This more excellent way involves forgiveness. This is at the core of the reconciliation process. Many commentators are agreed that this is the most difficult part of the process. Revenge is the most natural reaction of a human being when unjustly treated. 

The trouble with revenge, however, is that it enslaves both the victim and the perpetrator in a vicious cycle. What to one is a justified act of vengeance is to the other an unwarranted injustice that calls for counter-revenge. This dynamic has led to some societies being caught in a spiral of violence for generations. 

Forgiveness breaks the power of the remembered past and transcends the claims of the affirmed justice and so makes the spiral of revenge grind to a halt. But it must not be cheap forgiveness that does not acknowledge the hurt visited upon the victims. True reconciliation, according to Tutu, “exposes the awfulness, the abuse, the degradation, the truth…. Spurious reconciliation can bring only spurious healing.” 

And so we arrive at this threshold in our history with three choices to make regarding the injustices of the past: impunity; trials and punishment; or reconciliation. 

We have already seen that impunity threatens the social fabric because it undermines justice which is the essence of organized society. Impunity prevents the full rehabilitation of victims, reconciliation and the building of genuine democracy. Impunity is the option normally favoured by members of an outgoing autocratic regime who would rather that their record while in power remained beyond scrutiny. 

In Latin American countries such as Chile and Argentina, outgoing military dictators in the late 1980s passed laws granting themselves and their supporters blanket amnesty from prosecution for human rights abuses as a condition for agreeing to hand over power to democratically elected governments. But as Chilean strongman Augusto Pinochet found out in his last days, and as his family continues to find out today, you cannot silence history. Our leaders and their families would be wise to heed this lesson. 

Trials and punishment of past criminals are also not a practical option. In the first place, in most cases there would not be sufficient evidence to convict those suspected of human rights violations. Some of the violations happened in the 1960s and most witnesses would be dead by now. Even after the Second World War with the evidence of Nazi atrocities still relatively fresh, less than 6,500 of the 90,000 cases brought to court resulted in convictions. 

Secondly, even if sufficient evidence could be found and considering the pervasive culture of corruption that gripped our country during the time in question, bringing to trial all the culprits would overwhelm the judiciary. Many of the key perpetrators have enough money to keep their cases tied up in the courts for years. Also, criminal trials are not the best placed for seeking a comprehensive truth about the past. Many facts are kept out of court by strict rules of evidence. 

It is important to avoid the two extremes of impunity and punishment, and find a ‘third way’ that deals with the past in a manner that will promote a new political culture and a shared vision for the future. That ‘third way’ should balance the requirements of truth, forgiveness, accountability and the restoration of justice leading to national healing and reconciliation. 

Reconciliation can take many different forms. As a Christian, I naturally turn to the Bible for guidance. The biblical concept of Shalom (wholeness) is the image that comes closest to expressing the complex and multifaceted reality of reconciliation. There has to be wholeness resting on a balance between Truth and Mercy, Justice and Peace. In the language of Psalm 85, this is where ‘truth and mercy have met together, justice and peace have kissed.’ 

Wherever the social fabric has been ruptured by conflict, dictatorship or autocratic rule as happened in Kenya over the last four decades, most people agree on the need for reconciliation between victims and perpetrators of human rights violations, but they have different understandings of what reconciliation entails. 

For some, it involves contrition, confession and forgiveness (i.e. mercy); others call for ‘peace in the land’ through the improvement of people’s social and economic conditions (i.e. peace); yet others call for justice through the prosecution of perpetrators and the establishment of a culture of democracy and human rights (i.e. justice); lastly there are those who say that there can be no reconciliation without public acknowledgment of crimes through a truth- telling process (i.e. truth). 

Reconciliation in action, in my view, is inclusive of all aspects of Shalom: justice, peace, truth and mercy. A successful reconciliation process should integrate all these key elements. 

In August 2000 while I was based here in South Africa, some friends and I proposed just such a model with regard to Kenya’s public wealth stolen and siphoned abroad by corrupt leaders and their unscrupulous friends. We launched the BOMB -‘Bring Our Money Back’ - initiative whose key proposals were to set a time frame within which anyone who had money illegally banked or invested abroad was to publicly declare and account for it. If they did so and told the whole truth as to how they acquired it to enable the sealing of loopholes, they would be granted amnesty from prosecution and even allowed to keep 15% of the money, provided they invested it at home and returned the rest to the public purse. 

We drafted a Bill to create a framework for tracing and repatriating such moneys, which unfortunately did not see the light of day, as the new government subsequently chose to engage Messrs Kroll & Co to prepare a glossy report to tell us what we already knew without giving us a clue as to how we would ever get our money back. 

In conclusion and contrary to what our political elite would have us believe, the crimes committed against the people of Kenya in the past cannot be simply forgotten. To carry on with business as usual while ignoring the walking wounded in our midst would be, in the words of the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah, to “heal the wound of My people lightly, saying ‘peace peace’ when there is no peace.” 

We have to build a culture of respect for human rights and democracy in our country. There has to be a genuine commitment to break with the past, to heal the wounds, to forgive but remember in redemptive ways in order to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. This way, we can build a shared vision of the future; a vision of a great nation at peace with itself, for the sake of ourselves, our children and our children’s children. 

God bless you and God bless Kenya. 

I thank you.