A LETTER TO KENYANS

We march on with renewed fervour in nation building

We have to learn to compete politically; win or lose, and agree to close ranks and embark on the task of making this a great nation

In Summary

• Just one year from an election year, we must exercise the civic muscles of common bonds of citizenship.

• We must defend the right to debate robustly and to disagree with fierce resolve, but without malice or slander or ill motive or bad spirit.

The Kenya flag
The Kenya flag

The year 2020 has been described as soul-crushing. While expectations are low, 2021 is certainly a breath of fresh air. Our spirits are up and our hearts are eager.

While 2020 was a hellscape for many across the world, life must move on. We have an economy to repair, businesses to rebuild, relationships to mend and hearts yet to heal from the pain of death.

The pain, loss and loneliness from the pandemic have been clarifying in profound ways and one would imagine there somewhere, is a silver lining; that each of us, regardless of our station in life, learned something about ourselves.

Hopefully what we each learned about ourselves might make us slightly better human beings. That somehow the deep churning and upheaval from the pandemic might launch communities and individuals on a path toward character.

One would hope that we could each curve out of the despair wrought by the pandemic a chip of character, a defining clarity of the moral and mental tapestry from which to weave the soul of a people, from which a nation might emerge.

We are and always will be a colonial construct. This country is defined by the blood, wounds and the death of our forbearers, who bled and died so we could be free. As a scion of the savagery of colonialism, that an eclectic collection of ethnic nations would congeal into a nation-state is neither easy nor inevitable. The path to nationhood is marked by the ugly orgies of 2007-08. It is also defined by the pain and grievance of many who feel the privileged few have gorged resources at the expense of the majority.

To build a nation, we must march past the mounds of petty ethnic bigotry and the blistering, self-aggrandisement and shameful greed of the political and business elite. The nation is greater than the sum of our singular ethnic pixels. Nation building is the forging or melding of our singular and collective capacities; out on many, one.

The unfinished business of building the Kenyan nation must march on with renewed fervour. To paraphrase Rev Martin Luther King, we are trapped in an inescapable network of reciprocity, woven in a single fabric of destiny. We have to make this country work for all its citizens. You will not be who you ought to be until I am what I ought to be.

Just one year from an election year, we must exercise the civic muscles of common bonds of citizenship. We must defend the right to debate robustly and to disagree with fierce resolve, but without malice or slander or ill motive or bad spirit.

Most of all, we have to learn to compete politically; win or lose, and agree to close ranks and embark on the task of making this a great nation. As Nietzsche reminds us, he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.

I wish you good health and lots of luck in the new year. 

Alex O. Awiti is Vice Provost at Aga Khan University. The views expressed are the writer’s