posted 07-20-2000 06:36 AM
An address by NJONJO MUE to the Kenya Community Abroad (KCA) Conference on Kenya in the 21st Century. St Paul, MN, USA
30 June - 3 July 2000
"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, Kenya 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.
But that was then.
To go to Kenya 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.
Today life in Kenya 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. 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.
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.
1. 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 Kenya was born in 1963.
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 Kenya's
population today, we have largely been excluded from
taking our full part in
shaping the fortunes of our country.
Not only are we the majority of Kenya's masses, we
also shoulder a
disproportionate burden of Kenya's losses. Young
people today bear the brunt of
poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, failed social
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.
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
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 Kenya. We celebrate their courage and
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.
2. A country divided - Kenya's apartheid:
A country divided cannot stand. South Africa 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
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
Kenya still yearns for her 1994. British colonists
left in 1963, but we have not
as yet achieved majority rule. Like South Africa, 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, the protagonists in Kenya are not
defined by race. They are
not even defined by tribe or class. They are defined
by age and gender. A
tiny minority of old men led by Daniel Moi continues
to ride roughshod over the
majority of the people - mainly women and the Uhuru
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
society, so too Kenya's minority of old males with one
foot in the grave 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,
Kenya's Geriatric Oligarchy cannot be reformed. It
must be dismantled.
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
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 Kenya's
throne have finally come
Throwing old men into the sea?
But, one might ask, what about our tradition and the
place 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
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
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
somebody to the rank of General by virtue only of the
fact that he studied
economics at the LSE in the early sixties? We face
extinction through HIV and
AIDS - what sense does it make to let a conservative
old man who cannot mention
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
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 saviour 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
of the elders, but they must not purport to fight the
battles of our time for
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
Kenya'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? In
short what is the vision for
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
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
One is tempted to think that at the time of these
extravagant promises, the
Kenyan government seems to have hoped that the world
would end by the year 2000
- in which case all their promises would be fulfilled
in heaven. Now that the
end is not nigh, one wonders what next, mass suicide?
Well, not quite. But
perhaps the equivalent seeing as the government is
doing all it can to encourage
Kenyans to immigrate abroad where at least there is
electricity, water and
education for all in the year 2000.
But it behoves 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, 'without a vision the people perish'. 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, or the
power rationing; Biwott
blames Kibaki and Nyachae; Nyachae says Moi should
take responsibility; Moi say
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 St. Paul
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
The second reason why vision is vital is this: Without
a future, human beings
are programmed to go back to their
Every time the children of Israel lost sight of the
Promised Land they demanded
of Moses that he take them back to Egypt. 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.
Tragically, we see many examples of that in Kenya
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
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!"
Without a future, we have gone back to our past.
Without a vision, the people
But we must never give up hope. It is not too late to
define a new vision for
our country. This is the vision of the Uhuru
We shall build a strong, united and prosperous African
country comprising a
diverse multicultural society, with a vibrant economy
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
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 out land
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
"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 Kenya
Once again becoming
A heritage of splendor