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 


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


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!


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


Keep up the good fight.  


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.



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.




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

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!"

By Guatemala peseant.


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

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


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!


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



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



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


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,


Dear Sir,

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


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.


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




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

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


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


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.


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?


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



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.


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


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!



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.

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