Honour Is Earned, Not An Entitlement
“We, the people of Kenya - HONOURING those who heroically struggled to bring freedom and justice to our land” promulgated our new Constitution. This is what the Preamble says. But are we? Are we honouring adequately or at all those who heroically struggled for that purpose? These are Kenyans who are still with us and those who passed away, some never to have seen the fruits of their struggle, some to have savoured it only briefly. Some who died during their struggle; some who lived into a bitter future to see the betrayal of their struggle. Some who had to struggle afresh to regain the freedom that was their rightful inheritance from their fathers. All these have given us the Kenya that we live in.
Do we honour them, as the Preamble says? Or is there evidence to question our compliance. Many feel we are not only not doing enough, but that much of what goes on in parts of this Government is doing the opposite. This is not an abstract question. By not honouring them, we make nugatory the purposes of the Constitution, and thus its very existence. We must honour them because their legacy is the spirit of the Constitution. By honouring them we keep alive and functioning the purposes of this document and give meaning and purpose to the words of the many articles of the Constitution.
At the same time we must not confuse honour with reward. Nor must we confuse reward with office in a corrupt system. Or with the ‘generosity’ of a corrupt system. One of the ways in which the Kenyatta regime and the KANU regime ‘rewarded’ and ‘honoured’ past freedom fighters was to put them into government or parliamentary or parastatal positions and tacitly invite them to use their offices to become rich corruptly. This was at the heart of Kenyatta’s scorn of Bildad Kaggia when, in 1966, he said to Kaggia, “What have you done for yourself [read, you have not made yourself rich], that makes you think you can do something for others as an MP?”
This is neither reward nor honour. It is an invitation to join in corruption. But in Kenyatta’s regime it passed as reward for having fought for freedom. Kaggia, Makhan Singh and other men and women of integrity and honour turned down such ‘offers’. We must not repeat such mistakes, which are really insults and the denigration of our rich history.
At the same time there is no entitlement. Because a person has fought for freedom does not entitle him or her to reward, title, honours or acknowledgement. In 1996 a delegation of Kenyan Opposition figures travelled to South Africa as guests of the ANC. In Johannesburg we were received at the ANC HQ by Walter Sisulu, one of the greats of the South African freedom movement. As he was meeting the Kenyans, one of them stepped forward and introduced himself as the longest serving detainee in Kenya, saying he had served 17 years in prison. Sisulu, normally unconditionally appreciative of such a sacrifice, detected the claim to acknowledgement and entitlement, withdrew his sympathy; patted the man on the arm and said, “That’s just a weekend.” Two decades earlier, Alexander Solzenytsin, having himself come out of the Gulag and despite the Nobel Prize, had written a poem stating that there was no entitlement.
The benchmark is the response of that great freedom fighter, Chief Gatabaki. Soon after Independence a delegation was sent to him from the President bringing title deeds for a large piece of land as a gift for his part in the freedom struggle. Chief Gatabaki declined to accept the land, and told them to tell the President that “the achievement of Uhuru was sufficient reward in itself.” Have we honoured this example and sacrifice? We should.
Much of Pio Gama Pinto’s effort and achievement during the freedom struggle was not even known, for it was never claimed by him. His friend Angelo Ferrao remembers Gama Pinto telling him, “It is astonishing how much you can get done, if you let others take the credit.” Have we honoured his example and sacrifice? We should. Honour is thus a gift that others give voluntarily. It is not a debt. But what we do owe is a true and full recording of history. And acknowledgement. And remembrance. Honour follows. So that when we record our history and ensure the passing on of our heritage we will begin to give verity to the words in the Preamble.