[In the year 2000, Kenya Citizens Abroad (KCA) invited me to travel from Johannesburg, South Africa, where I was working with a human rights organization, to St. Paul, Minnesota, USA, to address the Annual Conference of KCA. The theme of the conference that year was 'Kenya in the 21st Century'. I used the occasion to challenge Kenya's young citizens (the Uhuru Generation) to step up to the plate and own the problems facing the country and to define a new vision for Kenya. This is a transcript of that speech.]
Uhuru Generation: Taking a Stand on High Ground!
By Njonjo Mue
Keynote address to the Annual Conference of the Kenya Community Abroad (KCA)
Good evening fellow Kenyans.
The voice of our generation has been silent for far too long. Tonight, I want to speak to you about our role in Kenya's reconstruction and transformation as well as our vision for the country we wish to build and pass on to those who come behind us.
Not very long ago,
was proudly referred to as the 'Shining Star of the East'. A rare African showcase. It was a land where black and white lived together in peace; the economy was growing; the dignity of all was taken for granted, and we all knew a bit of what it was to be human -- to have food for our bodies, education for our minds, houses to live in and roads to travel on. We shared what we had equitably, and where it was not enough to go round, we ensured that there was equal opportunity to compete for access to the riches of the land. We celebrated our strong but we also took care of our weak. For a while, the birthplace of humankind was also becoming the cradle of human hope. Kenya
But that was then.
To go to
today is to descend into the valley of the shadow of death. Our country is in darkness in more ways than one. Death strikes with unnerving frequency and ruthless efficiency - on our roads, in our hospitals, in ethnic clashes, through mob violence, even through bombs targeted at other people. The walls we built to keep out the enemies of poverty, hunger and disease have all been torn down. God's children now huddle pitifully together, exposed to the elements of hopelessness, and vulnerable to the merciless chill of despair. Kenya
Today life in
has become a meaningless search for meaning. Death is the only certainty we know – death of the body and spirit long before the death of the body. Kenya closely resembles Ezekiel's valley of dry bones in Ezekiel Chapter 37. For we are surrounded by dry bones scattered over a patched and thirsty land. They include massive corruption and looting of the resources of the land by their custodians, tribalism, collapsed systems, urban decay, rural underdevelopment, and so on. Kenya
We are all well aware of what ails our land, so I shall not dwell on it. Instead, allow me to focus on the two realities that we must confront.
Defining the Uhuru Generation:
I wish to remind you that throughout this discussion, I am an emissary of the Uhuru Generation. So I better take a moment and define who I am talking about:
The Uhuru Generation is the generation of women and men born after the midnight hour of 12 December 1963. They are the true daughters and sons of
Kenya having been born in Kenya after the country joined the family of sovereign nations in contrast to those naturalized citizens like Daniel Arap Moi who had to give up the citizenship of Empire when was born in 1963. Kenya
Ours is the generation in whose name the struggle for independence was waged. But we now find ourselves impoverished and disinherited, aliens and sojourners in the land of our birth. We are the inheritors of an uneasy peace. But despite forming the overwhelming majority of
's population today, we have largely been excluded from taking our full part in shaping the fortunes of our country. Kenya
Not only are we the majority of
Kenya's masses, we also shoulder a disproportionate burden of 's losses. Young people today bear the brunt of poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, failed social services and collapsed infrastructure. Not only has the political class stolen from us the tangible little luxuries of this life, they have deigned to take from us that which only the Creator can give and take by robbing us of the intangible qualities that define us as humans -–like hope, godly ambition, genuine peace of heart and mind, and the ability to dream of a better tomorrow. We squint as we gaze at the horizon trying to make out the light of our new dawn but all we can see is darkness unending. Kenya
But it has not always been this dark. For across the sky of our long night of lost opportunities, there have been a few scattered stars. They have twinkled briefly to illuminate our collective path before flickering out again. We would not lament their demise had they not etched themselves on the edges of our consciousness. The generation for which I speak is not ungrateful for the contributions of those gone before us. We are beholden to them. In a word, we are not ungrateful to all the women, men and children who have given their lives in the search for peace and the struggle for human dignity in our homeland of
. We celebrate their courage and their sacrifice. Kenya
But great though their accomplishments are, we must hasten to remind ourselves that a growing nation cannot afford to rest on its laurels, for its children will not find solace in its glorious past. We must confront present realities in order to march confidently into our common future.
We cannot continue to play second fiddle in the country that we own, while people who have clearly demonstrated that they have no stake in our future run it to the ground. Young people cannot sit by and let others define them or their mission on their own terms.
A country divided -
's apartheid: Kenya
A country divided cannot stand. I am currently working in
and it is a very good case study. I have heard a lot of people mistakenly saying that South Africa gained her independence in 1994. This is not true. South Africa gained independence in 1910. That was the year that the Union of South Africa was formed after the Anglo-Boer war resulted in the departure of the British colonialist. But after the exit of the colonial rulers, a tiny minority of South Africa 's population took the reigns of power and systematically oppressed the majority. This culminated in the introduction of formal apartheid rule in 1948 when the National Party government came to power. And as we all know majority rule was finally achieved in 1994 after a long and bloody struggle. South Africa
British colonists left in 1963, but we have not as yet achieved majority rule. Like
, a minority group took the reigns of power after independence. The same group continues to oppress the majority to this day, with a few comings and goings. The only difference is that unlike South Africa South Africa, the protagonists in are not defined by race. They are defined by class, age and gender. A tiny minority of rich, old men led by Daniel Moi continues to ride roughshod over the majority of the people - mainly women and the Uhuru Generation. Kenya
But we should not merely point to the government, for it is by no means the only culprit. I am referring to the establishment as a whole. For just like apartheid in South Africa extended its tentacles to every facet of society, so too Kenya's minority of rich old males extends its rule everywhere, including the political Opposition, the institutions of learning, business, the church and the media. And to merely ask Moi to leave office is equivalent to asking F. W. De Klerk to quit government while leaving the whole apartheid machine intact. Like Apartheid in
South Africa, 's Geriatric Oligarchy cannot be reformed. It must be dismantled. Kenya
That is why the message that must go out of St. Paul tonight, and reverberate in the ears of Mr. Moi and Mr. Kibaki; Mr. Nyachae and Mr. Saitoti; Mr. Muite and Mr. Raila, is as simple as it is profound. GENTLEMEN, END THIS APARTHEID NOW!
But for those who might find the apartheid paradigm uncomfortable, let me approach the same conclusion from another direction. When a monarch dies leaving an heir who is too young to rule, a Regent is appointed to oversee the affairs of state until the heir becomes of age. Well, I submit to you that the time has come for the regents appointed on our behalf in 1963 to get out of the way, for the rightful heirs to
's throne have finally come of age. Kenya
But will we throw all old men into the sea?
But, one might ask, what about our tradition and the place of honour it accords to elders? Are we throwing all that away? The answer is no. We are not advocating that we throw all old men into the sea (though their performance lately has caused the thought to cross our minds). We will continue to value their wisdom and their experience. We are not departing from tradition, but enforcing it. For Africans never did send their old and their frail into the battlefield. We listened keenly to their whispers of wisdom. But it is the young that must go to the front line and face the enemy.
What enemies do we face today?
We face the challenges of the information revolution - what sense does it make to send someone who has never used a computer to the frontline? We face the challenge of globalization - What sense does it make to promote somebody to the rank of General by virtue only of the fact that he studied economics at the LSE in the late fifties? We face extinction through HIV and AIDS - what sense does it make to let a conservative old man who cannot mention the word 'sex' without biting his tongue command our troops? We face humiliation as a people and indignity as a race - What sense does it make to prop up Lieutenants by virtue only of the fact that their colour is acceptable to those to whom we extend our begging bowls?
Not only does it not make sense to recruit from among the ranks of the old and infirm, we should also be careful to recruit soldiers with demonstrated loyalty to our cause. For we have been jilted for far too long and cheated far too often. We have had our hearts broken when we found suitors who had vowed to remain forever faithful to our cause in bed with those ravishing us.
But even though we are a hurting people today, I must state emphatically that we are not a desperate people; what's more, we much wiser for our experiences. Consequently, we shall no longer take our latter day saints at their word. You cannot sup with the devil one day and then anoint yourself our savior the next.
And so even as we nurse our wounds, we need to marshal supreme confidence and demonstrate to the world that Kenyans and Africans are not the children of a lesser god. We cannot do so without the wisdom and experience of the elders, but they must not purport to fight the battles of our time for us.That, we must do for ourselves.
Without a vision...
I suppose by now you are all thinking that I am being a bit tough on the old folk and blaming them for everything. Well, not quite. The last dry bone in
's wasteland of lost opportunities is one for which we all share a responsibility. It is the bone of a lack of a vision. To what does our government aspire beyond perpetuating its own stay in power? What does the opposition work for beyond trying to capture that power? What are we as a people working for beyond mere survival? Kenya
In short what is the vision for our country?
In the history of our nationhood, we have often substituted platitudes for vision. In the 1970's and 80's the government promised that there would be electricity for all by the year 2000; water for all by the year 2000; education for all by the year 2000; health for all by the year 2000.
Well, 2000 is halfway gone and on all scores we are worse off than we were when these empty promises were made. Like all the empty promises of yesteryear, the latest round, including that of industrialization by 2020, are just hollow platitudes.
But it behooves our generation to define a new vision for our country and to draw a roadmap to a new dispensation. We cannot wait for the government to do this for us. We must somehow find the courage to forge a new consensus for the country that we wish to build and bequeath to those who come behind us. We might be able to draw some inspiration from our past achievements, few though they are, but we cannot hope to find the answer for our tomorrows in our yesterdays.
But why is vision important?
There are two main reasons. First, the Bible tells us that 'without a vision the people perish'. Theologians tell us that the word for 'perish' in the original Hebrew does not actually mean physical death. It means that people go naked and are impoverished. But one does not need to understand Hebrew to see that this is exactly the state we are in today. We can blame our woes on any number of people - Parliament blames Biwott for the power rationing; Biwott blames Kibaki and Nyachae; Nyachae says Moi should take responsibility; Moi says he is not a rainmaker!
Every time a catastrophe strikes us. We can round up all the usual suspects - Moi, Kenyatta, constitutional reform, colonial rule, world economic order, the weather, my neighbour's tribe, your sister's gender, and so on.
But I came all the way from
Johannesburg to today, to let you know that we are doomed to go round in circles - to repeat the same mistakes, to play the blame game, to wallow in the valley of despair - until we apprehend the real culprit: Our own loss of a dream; our own lack of vision. St. Paul
The second reason why vision is vital is this: Without a future, human beings are programmed to go back to their past. Every time the children of
Israel lost sight of the Promised Land they demanded of Moses that he take them back to . A man who sees no future in his marriage will return to his multiple partners. And ask any police investigator where they go to look for a convict who has escaped from jail - they go to all the places where he used to hang out. Egypt
Tragically, we see many examples of that in
today. Children are doing homework by candlelight tonight, families eat in darkness in scenes reminiscent of the 1960s. We have also taken to appointing white Kenyans to important positions, not necessarily because they are competent, but in a cynical attempt to win favour from our former colonizers who instinctively trust their own kind more than they trust us. Even more tragically, I have heard intelligent people ask, "If only the British would come back and colonize us!" Kenya
Without a future, we have gone back to our past. Without a vision, the people are perishing.
But we must never give up hope. It is not too late to define a new vision for our country. And this is the vision of the Uhuru Generation:
We shall build a strong, united and prosperous African country comprising a diverse multicultural society, with a vibrant economy providing equal opportunity for individual and communal growth; and where freedom, human dignity and respect for the rights of all will be the basis of social behaviour by the citizen and the State alike.
But what will separate our vision from the 'by the year 2000' platitudes I spoke about earlier?
By constantly remembering that vision without action is fiction; by developing programmes that are carefully design to make our vision a reality, and by moving beyond merely talking about our problems to actually individually owning them and mobilizing our own physical and intellectual resources to reclaim our land of promise.
And of vital importance, we must remember that we will never attain our vision in the sense that we can sit down and rest. We must forever keep it ahead of us so that it can define our purpose, set our boundaries and parameters and test our character, individually and collectively. And when the Uhuru Generation itself becomes older, and if we have been faithful in staying on the path, we shall not fear to hand over to the next generation to continue to build upon the promise.
I wish to end where I began, with the Prophet Ezekiel at the valley of the dry bones:
"Young woman, young man, can these bones live again?"
The answer lies in the eye of the Beholder
For if we focus only on the legacy bequeathed us
By those gone before us
A legacy of wasted years and lost days
Of greed and corruption, vice and violence
Of shattered lives and broken dreams
Then we can only but see dry bones
At the bottom of the desolate valley
Of our painful yesterdays.
But if we lift up our eyes unto the hills
And focus our gaze
On the distant horizons
Of our new tomorrows
If we defy the odds and rebuild together
If we make God our closest ally
And vision our guiding principle
Then we shall see our homeland of
Once again becoming
A heritage of splendor.
God bless you
God bless the Uhuru Generation
And God bless the Republic of Kenya
I thank you.