Saturday, 3 December 2011

Bless this our land and nation

By Njonjo Mue and Wangui Kaniaru
This article was first written in April 2002 and revised in January 2009 soon after Barrack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States.                       
                             O Lord, do not your eyes look for truth?
                             You struck them, but they felt no pain;
                             You crushed them, but they refused correction.
                             They made their faces harder than stone
                             and refused to repent.
                                                              Jeremiah 5:3
This week, the world celebrated as Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States, and Kenya basked in the reflected glory of ‘one of our own’ taking the charge of the ‘most powerful nation on earth.’ But our celebration, like so many other things in this beloved country, is a lie.

For in Kenya, we have loved lies more than truth. We have embraced the lie of individual prosperity and the lie of our tribal identities. And we have invented and believed in the lie of our greatness as a nation, while denying our state of terminal decay, or merely moaning endlessly about it without lifting a finger to address it.
Those of us in our late thirties and forties can recall when as children, we started seeing for ourselves the creeping signs of decay – occasional press stories of corruption, reports of the odd violent robbery. The attitude among adults at the time always seemed to be, “Oh well, we have our problems, but we are not as bad as Uganda, or Nigeria,” or “It’s all Moi’s fault, it’s all the Kalenjins’ fault…” The last refuge of a fading elite was to hack back to a golden era that had been golden only for themselves. “The old days were better,” they sighed with indignation. “When our people were the only ones in the civil service.”
It is like every blow that has been struck against this nation as a chance for us to recognize how far we have fallen and to prompt us to repent and return to God just hardened our resolve to ‘cope’ to ‘adjust’ to ‘make do’. Doesn’t it sound uncannily similar to Jeremiah’s lament above? Resilience is an admirable quality, but rebellion is an abomination. And the line between the two can be very thin indeed.
So you move to another suburb, or you send your children abroad when the system crumbles, or you pay up the bribe and continue doing whatever it takes. You refuse to see the kids on the street and roll up your window each time you approach the traffic lights. And they grow up and become menacing glue-sniffing teenagers. Still you ignore them and soon they are hungry and angry adults with no options left in life than to get together and organise the next car-jacking, the next bank robbery… then what do you do?
You see, if none of us takes care of Little Mutua, as he looks through the glass of your firmly shut car window, all of us will be forced to take care of Big Mutua, a few years down the line, by putting more bars on our every window, driving with our car doors firmly locked and imposing a curfew on ourselves in our city. But back to the present, and to you. You refuse to see the decay; you refuse to ask yourself what YOU can do to change the situation.

We were sent off to school full of hope and excited at the possibilities that lay ahead, but our expectations were soon crushed. Now we spend the rest of our lives making excuses why things cannot be done differently or change effected quickly. We love the lie that things are not so bad, or that things are bad and ‘someone’ is going to change them. We watch from a safe distance as people take risks and fail, and we shrug internally and think, ‘at least that wasn’t me’. We acknowledge the mess, but our reaction is to call up the university and join the Parallel Programme to enrol for another degree, and hope that by the time we are through someone will have fixed this mess so that we can get on with our lives.
We have exported our collective hopes to one Barack Hussein Obama, he of the K’Ogelo extraction, whom we have claimed as one of our own. Our leaders have fallen all over themselves to send congratulations to him as he assumes the reigns of the most powerful office on earth. They even gave us a public holiday when his people elected him their 44th President, to enable us to drink ourselves silly and numb the pain of the meaningless search for meaning that has become our daily existence, as we watch our fellow countrymen, women and children starve in the country and freeze in makeshift camps. All this while the watchers of the people’s purse refuse to pay taxes; and steal the people’s food and precious oil.
All this has got me thinking of our national anthem, that soulful prayer that we sing so frequently and mechanically exhorting God to visit our land. But do we really mean what we sing, or do we merely mock God with a prayer we have no expectation of seeing answered in our midst or any intention of working for its fulfillment in our time?
Justice be our shield and defender:
We have asked for justice to be our shield and our defender and done nothing to lift up this shield. The shield is supposed to prop itself up, somehow. We do not lift up the shield for ourselves in our prayer for the nation; we do not lift this shield up for the widow, the orphan, the IDP, the refugee, the religious minority, the kiosk owner whose livelihood is destroyed before our very eyes, the thousands of people being abused in prison, or the people who are exploited by our labour system.
So long as we can do what we want to or need to do, then these other people just have to suck up their misfortunes. We hear about different attacks on different people for different reasons, and we shrug our shoulders because that is just the way these people are.

We are convinced that it cannot be done; we are devoted to making absolutely no sacrifices that are grounded in the bigger picture of this land created by God whose blessings we are asking for in mock supplication.
We counsel our children not to ‘waste’ their lives as teachers in schools, because there is no money in teaching and the quality of education is so bad anyway. Of course once ‘someone’ fixes these things we’ll be fine, but until then, we’ll just send them to private schools, or try to get them jobs somewhere else, or whatever. We cope the best we can.
Dwelling in unity?
We want to dwell in unity, but do nothing to build that unity. We must honestly ask ourselves how are we building that unity – in big ways and in little ways? As families? As communities? As workers? There is little evidence of unity-building. Instead we tear one another down so that we can be better than the other person. In big things; in small things. We want this cake to be eaten and to be eaten now; and if at all possible, to be shared only among people who look like us and speak like us.
Peace, Liberty?
We desire peace and liberty, but have not made any individual sacrifices necessary to uphold this peace or to guard this liberty.
Just think about it. What are we doing? What do we desire above all else? Excellence or comfort? We have been unfaithful to God and to our country; we have raised up a generation and taught it to crave ‘Western things’ that are synonymous with comfort. We have given them nothing to safeguard, because we have made it clear by our lives that there is nothing we consider ourselves to be guardians of. Our creed has been, ‘live your life, do your best, and let someone else deal with the situation, whatever it is.’
Then the world starts crumbling around us; things that were unimaginable five or ten years ago become commonplace – gangs attacking and mutilating people in the city, car-jackings, murders, rape, mayhem, cheating in exams, no water, no electricity, no roads, thousands of road deaths, rising illiteracy, rising unemployment, post election violence – and we are shocked. SHOCKED?!
So we pick ourselves up, build higher walls around our houses, put glass on top of the concrete separating us from our neighbours or if you can afford it move into a gated compound with electric fencing, try to avoid being in the city after a certain time and adjust to a new way of life. Things are not so bad. Do your best, adjust. You woke up this morning, you went to work, you did your thing. It is bad in some ways, but it is not so bad yet. Pray for God to send someone to do something about this situation.
Plenty be found within our borders…
We want plenty within our borders, but have no regard for those lacking in our midst. We take the little available for the poor and export it to Sudan to sell at exorbitant prices while our people die of starvation and make do with wild berries for supper. We take money meant for reviving our tourism industry after the post election violence and make it disappear. We release billions of shillings worth of precious oil to thieves. All this while we use our judiciary to whitewash the scandals of the past. There is indeed plenty within these boarders; it’s just that you and I don’t get to see or touch any of it; we merely read about it in newspaper headlines.
So we hear about deaths and mayhem, and thank God it wasn’t us, and move on to the next thing. We watch the situation on TV from the comfort of our homes. And we hope someone can come and deal with this. We are being crushed under the weight of culpability in refusing to seek truth. But we harden ourselves a bit more and continue in our ways.
Yet even civilizations and empires do not fall all at once. These things begin one person at a time, in a fundamental and profound way. One person at a time, the spirit of this age is consuming the lives of men and women in this land. One person at a time, we are allowing our inheritance to be taken from us.
What are the dreams we have for this nation? What is our role in fulfilling these dreams? What can we do? In a very real way, recording these dreams, praying about them, preparing for them to come to pass is something we need to do individually and as a nation. These dreams are in every area of our lives – our families, our schools, our jobs, our courts, and our communities. Instead of seeking false comfort in the fact that ‘our own’ has become the President of the World, we should dream our own dreams and work to bring them to pass.
But first we need to seek God’s face, and be changed by Him, recognizing that He is going to change us in order to use us. If we are to be called peacemakers, then we have to be prepared to be making peace in the midst of war. Whatever it costs us, we must gain understanding from Him.
So prepare against all odds, pray against all odds, watch against all odds, and wait against all odds. But we had better not be watching and waiting for the deliverer who will fix everything for us. We are watching and waiting for the fulfillment of the purposes God has for this nation through us.
All begins and ends with me and you. God did not send an angel to build the Ark and then invite Noah into it. Noah acted on this call, and built against all odds, for the day when rain would come. And come it did. We cannot wait for another election, a new leader, a pack of ‘young turks’, a new group of reformers and leaders and politicians to fix us. WE ARE IT. Your children will grow up and their children after them in the country we are making for them today.
And although you are not the one who killed the thousands, confined the hundreds of thousands to refugee camps, stole the maize or the oil or the tourism money, you are living and participating in a society so divided, so hardened, and so filled with injustice that this was allowed to happen. So whether you like it or not, you are implicated in these actions. They are both an indictment and a call to repentance. But above all, they are a call to rise up and take our country back!
Amkeni ndugu zetu!