Remembering to forget and forgetting to Remember: Kenya, A Lion that never wakes up

By Jethron Anyumba,

September 20th 2017

Who is it that is most dangerous? Is it the one who forgets to remember or the one who remembers to forget? Though sometimes some of us as historians tend to believe that the eventual British occupation and pacification of the Kenya colony was by default rather than design, it came to pass that Kenya emerged to be amongst one of the most important colonies to be held by the British crown. And in this respect, the colonial and postcolonial history of Kenya is equally laced with tragic and magical moments. Ours is a journey of pain and gain, loss and sweat, collapse and triumph, but all in all, a story that produces what we know today as brand Kenya. If in deed Kenya is a brand or ought to be a brand, how is the branding done? What is it that goes into the making of the brand and does it hold as a brand at all? Being a brand would mean either a wholesomeness of a kind or a conglomeration of many fused into one in material and form.
To understand the brand and be able to achieve it, Kenya needs to re-engineer itself away from its tacit existence. It needs to divorce from its seamless art of making massive movements on the same spot only to enter into inertia of some kind that thrives on a deliberate choice to remember to forget certain critical aspects that would cement the branding process and also forgetting to remember the key issues that necessitate a rebranding activity. I do not intend to lose anyone into abstractness and lack of clarity but sometimes nothingness helps in locating the missing thing and understanding what it means to have and be something—I will use three historical moments both triumphant and tragic to illustrate how Kenya has in a systemic manner choked on its own efforts to become; not accidentally but through well choreographed self-serving and nationhood defeating endeavors.
First and foremost is the moment 1963 when Kenya officially brought down the union jack and welcomed the splendor of the green, white, black and red laced flag, a symbol of a nation self determined and independent to remake herself. After close to six decades of colonial imperial control, Kenya received her independence with optimism that self-governance meant prosperity. The promise of uhuru (freedom) resonated with the heartbeat of the nation. It was a proud moment in the nation’s history and yet out of the mistakes of either omission or commission by the independence leaders, the country did not take more than two years to start witnessing the betrayal of the aspirations of the masses. Apart from the ideological split, political suspicion, self-aggrandizement and selfish machinations, the country plunged into establishing patron-client systems of power that reigned supreme to institute kleptocracy in the state. It was no surprise that the so called socialists would find themselves on the receiving end and Kenya would witness what is believed to be government elimination of the perceived populist opponents through the bullet. This culminated into the assassination of people like Pio Gama Pinto and the articulate politician per excellence, the man Goldsworthy captures well in his biography, “ The man Kenya wanted to forget”, one Thomas Joseph Mboya, a young vibrant leader elected through popular vote against the scheming of the powers that were; and later the bold peoples’ leader, J. M Kariuki amongst many
Others, subdued into submission for not dancing with the witches of tribalism, corruption, disregard for the law and the true lords of poverty, disease and ignorance.
For me, by Kenya walking this path of betrayal of the true spirit of independence, it became a miss-step; deliberate choices to push down the history of oppression that had informed the struggle for self-rule. It was the brutal sacrifice of nationhood at the alter of negative ethnicity and wealth accumulation; it was the nasty abuse of all the aspirations of those who genuinely sought for a prosperous united Kenya under the auspices of respect for human rights and servant leadership. As they chose to forget or forget to remember, Kenya missed a chance to redefine herself and follow the path taken by her peers in the 1960s, peers like Singapore, Malaysia, and some Scandinavian countries amongst many others. There was no attempt to redefine and reconstitute the national fabric towards realizing Kenyanness. Hence the brand if at all it exists, smacks of emptiness or it is tattered in shades of self-destruction, lost in the illusions of selfishness and caught in the mud of maladministration.
The second moment where Kenya seems to have deliberately forgotten about where she was coming from or remembered to forget where she had promised herself to go is in 1992. Emerging from the maladministration and the pillage, abuse and rape of everything that made sense to wanting to build a nation called Kenya, the opposition chose to pursue selfish agenda and by so doing led to the hubris that was the Moi regime. Yet again the promise to attain and work towards brand Kenya were flushed down the drain like shit that one wants to forget about as fast as possible. At the alter of self-seeking leadership, Kenya painfully cried for redemption.
The redemption would seem probable in 2002 as the country emerged from the close to four decades of KANU rule. The momentous landslides win by the opposition in the December 2002 elections was reminiscent of the independence moment on the 12th of December 1963. Kenyans were ranked as the most optimistic citizens in the world, by whichever standards or methodology so used by the pollsters who came up with such ranking. President Kibaki had been handed a golden opportunity to midwife brand Kenya. Yet once again, the power that was chose to remember to forget or forget to remember the abyss the country had listed itself from and instead, they would take a deep plunge into the sea of corruption and regrettably, negative ethnicity. Yet again, brand Kenya reaffirmed itself, as a mere pipedream not intended to be actualized. This became yet another moment where selfish interest triumphed in the face of attaining national oneness. The recipe for the chaotic 2007/2008 had been unintentionally decided and it would be bewildering to act surprised by the mayhem that was witnessed. Because of remembering to forget or forgetting to remember, lives were lost and property destroyed. Because of failure to understand and own the aspirations of the brand, Kenya sunk into its darkest historical moment and one would expect that that would be a perfect reminder that never again should we choose to forget or forget to remember, lest we find ourselves in the same abyss again.
We may have triumphed to come out of 2007 PEV with one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, yet today we trash and publicly rape the same constitution. We continue to defile our own institutions, institutions that we orchestrated to protect ourselves from the evils of remembering to forget and forgetting to remember. It is no secret that the violence meted out after the 2007 elections had a lot to do with the many issues we had deliberately remembered to forget otherwise known as historical injustices. The TJRC report was and is the only panacea to rebranding Kenya into one fabric but as we have always played it out, we continue to let it gather shameful dust on the shelves of parliament and other state offices. After all, what do you expect from a government caught captive by the same perpetrators of those injustices. As if that is not enough, today we have chosen to remember to forget about the importance of institutionalizing justice.
Today we assault our judiciary forgetting that it is what stands between anarchy and ourselves; a strong judiciary is our only sure bet to lasting peace, which is only attainable where society adheres to rule of law. Because of the Supreme Court’s ruling going against our cosmetic wishes, we have pointed all our ammunition at it thinking that by bringing it down and soiling the character of the judges, we will cement the status quo. It even becomes more devastating when you see young people who ought to exercise free thought and defend these institutions of justice for posterity being the foot soldiers derailing any effort at securing brand Kenya. How stupid can one be to burn their whole house for their hatred of mice living in a hole at its base! The moment we remember to forget the fragility of brand Kenya for the last five decades and more; the moment we forget to remember what nationhood means and decide to kill the only institution that exists for us (judiciary), it is the moment we find ourselves at the mercy of the bandits to whom we have surrendered as citizens. Wake up my sleeping lion! Wake up Kenyan people and reclaim the brand that is Kenya.
Jethron Anyumba PhD—Technische Universitat, Darmstadt, Germany.

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