Celebrating East African Writing!

THE KENYA WE MAKE by Alphan Njogu

I learned from a tender age to brace myself for combat and to fight my way through, even when the road ahead seemed blurred with clouds of uncertainty. I have chosen to focus on hope, though despair appears to be a closer option. But I have hated sympathy and detested to be pitied because sympathy can give a meal for a day and pity a momentary freedom but true liberation results from unyielding hard work and unwavering willpower. 

The last three weeks have gone into record as one of the saddest times in our history. The dust and smoke at Nakumatt downtown is yet to settle. Our memories are still engulfed with the wails of agony as our friends and relatives at Sachang’wan howled in distress. Hell’s furnace has furiously descended not only in Kenya, for a synonymous incident has claimed almost the same number of lives in Victoria, Australia. There is no doubt that this is one moment we’d all want to forget. As we mourn for the untimely demise of our true patriots, we must salute all those who came in to offer the desperately needed help. We laud the fire brigadiers for their brave action despite the drawback of their equipment. We distinguish the spirit displayed by the Kenya Red Cross staff and more importantly our medical staff for all their efforts to save the lives of our loved ones during that dark moment. Those who spared a moment to donate blood or kind are our real heroes. 

It is apparent that the foundations of our nation are shaken, the cores of our fundamentals are disrupted and goals of many have suffered setbacks. The road map of our lives may not be clear especially to those who lost several members in one family, needless to say that most of those who perished were the young generation. We may be down though we are not out. We may be crashed but we are not consumed. In our outstanding resilience we will again rise together as one nation. One thing that notably came out in the aftermath of the two disasters was how Kenyans spoke in one language unlike what happened during the after poll violence a year ago, when tribes went against tribes and the poor sought to destroy the property of the affluent. Despite the pain left behind by this fire I choose to see the positive side. It has dawned on us that we are all the same. The mass burial signified the unity that we need to foster with our neighbors. The rich and the poor were rested together. Persuasions of faith were not an issue for both the Muslims and the Christians shared the burial chamber. It’s significant that we are all equal in the eyes of our maker though we habitually build walls to fortify ourselves from the ones we don’t want to mingle with. 

As the cloud of this dark moment slowly shifts away and the flags return to full masts we can now think of the catchphrase dubbed the “Kenya we want”. The Kenya we want has been described in different versions. The version of our retired president is very interesting. He equates Kenya with a mega bus and dreams from the time he was in – charge. According to him all his passengers are a bunch of swindlers and pick – pockets, who he tells his successor to ignore for he may not know when they conspire to loot. I understand there have been three such forums since independence. One was held shortly after our founding father took the reigns of power. The other one came shortly after the retired president Moi took over. The current one has been conducted in the second term of the third president. If we go by this trend then we can almost predict that we will have another “Kenya we want” congress shortly after 2012.

That is why I don’t think the ‘Kenya we want’ congress had any meaning. The worst thing one can do in this age is to wait for our leaders to meet his or her expectations as popularized in the “Kenya we want” forum. In fact I have preferred to think of a ‘Kenya we make’ to the one we want. Nobody is going to deliver to us what we want on a silver platter. It’s apparent that those asking us to discuss the Kenya we want are already content with the one they have. The one they have is able to pay them fat salaries and allowances. They ride in hybrid autos, and have nowhere in the country where their children can find quality schooling, so they send them abroad to study. Their wives frequent the shopping malls abroad where there is variety of goods and where they don’t mingle with those who complain that food commodities are unaffordable. They belong to a class that doesn’t understand when we cry ‘Unga, Unga!’ That’s why I’m opposed to the thought that they can deliver to us the Kenya we want. The one who wears the shoe as the old adage goes is the one who knows where it pinches. I remember with shivers,the cruelty I underwent in the hands of one rich employer. If wealth is measured by the number of cars one has, then the man was spoiling himself in wealth. He and his wife each rode in the latest limos. Their four children who acted as directors of his company were shuttled in elegant models, not to mention a fleet of several others used for running his businesses, yet he always suspected anyone of us who came to work by matatu must have been stealing from him. He knew that the peanuts he paid his workers would not both cater for their transport and other needs. To be precise the man had even tried on several occasions to run for a parliamentary seat. Such are the fellows purporting to care about the Kenya we want. They are insecure that if we have what we want we will not need to be ‘bought’ during elections. This generation must arise and make what they want to be a reality instead of being taken for a ride. 

There is a robust culture that is rapidly eating into our morals. The grandeur of our society is threatened to its cores. Our ability is waning and our industry is frail. If we want to come out of the woods, we must distance ourselves from the venom – the culture of dependency. This is one thing that has consumed the skills of the youth and has made this generation to hang up the gloves of their expertise.

It is true that the sun rises the same way to all of us – both those who have and the one who don’t have. The day has equal opportunity for us to work but many of us have accepted to survive on the mercies of others. Those who subscribe to this notion must be willing to feed on the scum that falls over from the tables of the prosperous or else organize themselves into criminal gangs to demand by force when they think they are unfairly forgotten. Many will agree with me that the surge of criminal gangs causing terror to our society are the worst case scenario of a section of a people that has grown passively expectant to survive on the pockets of others. 

The fashion is even changing with time from the street confrontation to cyber crimes or phone texts thanks to advancing information technology. I know of quite a number of people who have lost money to organized syndicates posing as lotteries or charitable organizations. The most gullible persons are mainly suffering from the culture of dependency. Why would someone believe that he has won in a contest that he never participated? If one didn’t buy a ticket how then does he believe that his name has been sorted out to win a prize? I still don’t understand how one goes ahead to pay money to claim a prize from a corporation that purports to be able to pay millions of dollars. 

We may sing for eternity about the Kenya we want. We all dream of a Kenya where we can enjoy the equal distribution of wealth. But we should not forget that those who claim to be our advocates for equity are the same ones trading our maize from the public coffers for big profits when ‘their’ people are feeding on wild weeds. The ‘peoples representatives’ is another name they cherish. The Kenya we want may turn to be a mere lyric if a common man doesn’t rise to the occasion and think of the Kenya he or she can make. The Kenya we make by our actions to utilize every available opportunity is better than the hollow declarations on the one we want. It doesn’t matter how often we fall as we endeavor to reach our objective. It is only wrong to fall and remain in the dust. 

I recall another day that taught me a big lesson. I was in town late in the evening chatting with a friend on the side of a busy highway. A man seemingly drunk to his fullest fumbled his way towards the busy road intending to cross to the other side. A big truck was approaching at a high speed but the inebriate committed himself to go across anyway. The screeching sound as the driver struggled with the loader’s brakes jammed our ears. We got concerned and screamed for him to move faster. He was not very lucky. The truck shoved him by its side as the driver tried to avoid a smash. Fearing for the worst, we ran to the scene and found him lying prostrate on the ground. Luckily he was not hurt and after a couple of minutes he was on his feet again. We soon forgot him as every one went back to their business. But one thing about him appalled me. After about half an hour later the chap was spotted again on the scene this time for a different reason. When asked what he was doing at a place where he almost died, he said he was looking for a five shillings coin that had got lost upon the impact of the accident. Unfortunately many of us behave like this poor drunkard. They stumble and fall but they fail to rise from the dust of death. The only thing we can attract in our fallen state is the sympathy from well wishers and passers by. We must rise from the dust of despair, rub our bottoms and roll our sleeves to work and aim to thrive. If we want to better Kenya for ourselves and for posterity we must believe in ourselves and not wait in the chambers of pity. Then we must gear towards advancing from field to field. I don’t understand why one works for an employer as a watchman from his youth to the time he retires. We must adapt the culture of growth. If one serves as a shop attendant he or she should aim to operate a merchant shop tomorrow. 

This is the Kenya we can make. A nation which finds new opportunities. A society that does not wait for charity and a people that carry the dignity initially intended for them.  



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