Art of imagination and acts of nation-building

Uhuru rallied Kenyans to imagine a future beyond Vision 2030

In Summary

• Reflections on the inspiration behind the President's Jamhuri Day speech

President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honour during the 57th Jamhuri Day on December 12, 2021 at Uhuru Gardens
President Uhuru Kenyatta inspects a guard of honour during the 57th Jamhuri Day on December 12, 2021 at Uhuru Gardens

“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” thundered the eloquent President Uhuru Kenyatta as he delivered his final presidential Jamhuri Day speech from Uhuru Gardens at the beginning of this week. He is expected to exit the presidency after the August polls next year.

Written in persuasive and descriptive oratory styles, his 58th Jamhuri Day address was a patriotic lecture on the art of imagination and the weight of history on the scales of nation-building. He deployed the quote above to rally Kenyans to imagine a future beyond Vision 2030, our current national blueprint.

For him, the republic is larger than any citizen. The role of nation-building must take a generational approach. Each generation should play a unique role in imagining the best pathways to stronger nationhood first before claiming knowledge of the panacea to our pitfalls of nation-building.

Kenyatta’s powerful quote is not original. It is Albert Einstein who first put those words forth. He said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.”

The world acknowledges Einstein as a brain worth listening to. The genius understood that all forms of knowledge ought to begin with the capacity to imagine and imagine novelties. His peer the English theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, who knew more about the outer space than other mortals, concurred.

To Hawking the unfathomable of the world, including the outer space, can best be understood by way of imagination first and then scientific inquiry later. To imagine of life outside the solar system, for example, calls upon mankind to imagine the existence of faraway habitable planets also called exoplanets.  

“Imagination is the germ of knowledge and progress,” is another way of stating what Einstein, Hawking and Kenyatta all believe in. To know is to be able to learn from the past, understand the present and prospect the future.

To imagine is to set the perimeter of possibilities so the mind conjures up actual approaches to both challenges and opportunities of whatever kind, level or dimension.

Besides scientists, artistes always depend deeply upon the power of imagination. It is through creativity and imagination that art comes into existence. It can be said that both sciences and the arts find a sublime unity at the point of imagination – creative imagination.

Isn’t creative imagination necessary in the realm of technology, too? Last week, the Kenya Innovation Week happened between the 6th and the 10th. KIW is a hotspot of national imagination. It congregates new ideas seeking to propel our country to achieving the Big 4 Agenda and Vision 2030. The role of imagination in innovation and visions of development is real, as this event displayed yet again.

From science to the arts, and from innovation to nation-building, the words of Einstein, as echoed by Kenyatta, ring true. This is why we should all celebrate rather than undermine acts or arts borne out of creative imagination.

Leaders need to understand that creative imagination often leads to uplifting visions and programmes of progress. Imagination can spur progress at all domains of life, including the socioeconomic, political and even cultural through experimentation and innovation.

Seen in this light, imagination requires courage and boldness to chart the uncharted waters and map terrains hitherto unknown by present or past generations. To imagine becomes a kind of dreaming in the night of how the next daybreak and day will appear even before the night itself ends. It is a leap of faith.

For the political leaders who lack this understanding, their opponents who use narrative imagination to mint or broadcast their visions are either inefficient or insufficient. Such leaders call for pragmatism as opposed to imagination.

Instead of riddles and allegories or analogies, practical ways ought to form the panacea for visions of progress for all, they argue. Ironically, a major national leader made remarks to this effect while addressing a cultural extravaganza and congregation of creatives last week held in northern Kenya. Aren’t cultural artists and creative arts offspring of imagination?

Indeed, both Kenyatta and Einstein remind us that imagination encircles the world. It is the germ of mankind from the genesis moment when our species was conjured as a supernatural idea.

Remember the statement: Let us make them in our image. The idea of another that is made based on an original starts in this genesis vision of the Bible as an imagination of holy nature.

As we approach the end of the year, it is becoming increasingly clear that Kenya is at a crossroads. One direction calls her to think of progress based on the knowledge of practical solutions. Another direction calls her to embrace progress based on new imagination of the best ways forward for Kenya.

In a land where even after half a century, nationhood and nation-building remains a work in progress, it remains your onus as a clear-headed citizen to find harmony as you weigh both directions at the ballot in 2022.