No matter what, we can’t wish away history
This week marked 45 years since the nation’s founding president, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, passed. Previously, a ceremony had marked the occasion, even if only of laying flowers at the grave. But this time, the day passed with absolutely nothing to show. People raced nonchalantly in front of the mausoleum on their way to and from the House of Parliament.
Times have changed, and priorities are different. But the nation remains constant. In Shakespeare’s Macbeth, Macduff asks: “Stands Scotland where it stood?” with the answer coming, “…alas, poor country, almost afraid to know itself”. Is Kenya in danger of being afraid to know herself?
Western Kenya mourns the passing of a legend, James Osogo. A man of no mean achievements, Osogo made his contribution, building Kenya into what it is today. A former teacher, he represented his people in Parliament. He served as minister in many portfolios: Agriculture, Information and Broadcasting, Commerce and Industry, Local Government, Health, and Foreign Affairs. What would this nation be but for the broad shoulders of its giants now gone by?
With the benefit of hindsight, correctly or not, today’s generation may not like what contribution these predecessors may have made. But there is no denying that they lived, and what we are today is a product of their collective acts. They were mortals with their follies and prudence. The aggregate of their actions has turned this nation, 60 years on, into what it is today.
This is the beauty of history correctly documented. It records our journey over the years. At critical moments, we step back, take stock and establish which contributions have served us well and which have failed. Then, we may correct the mistakes if we are wise, learn from them, and move forward stronger. Or keep repeating them if we are foolish.
But we cannot wish away history. The nation will never know its foundation, and the people will never know their roots. We are a product of the past. For this reason, countries invest in their museums, libraries, and archives. It is why we should prioritise the management of knowledge so that we do not have to recreate our past constantly but draw from the existing knowledge to forge forth.
We must continue to commemorate Madaraka Day, Heroes Day and all. We can’t pick and choose those we seek to immortalise. We can never wish away Mzee Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Tom Mboya, Ronald Ngala, Daniel Arap Moi, Wangari Mathai, Raila Odinga; the list is long.
The first president towered over this country for a decade and a half. The market economy that the nation espoused, and which helped position Kenya as the leading entry point into this Great Lakes region, is part of his legacy. The foundation he and his contemporaries laid has served the nation well as a leading light in regional and continental affairs.
Our neighbours chose different paths due to the vision of their founding presidents. Uganda reeled on the brink of collapse for a decade as Tanzania pursued her economic and cultural path. Over in Ethiopia and Somalia, things developed differently.
But since the days of President Moi, subsequent governments have paid scant attention to their predecessors. For Moi, fuata nyayo was a constant refrain, and reverence for Kenyatta was a given.
Our acts of today will soon come under scrutiny. Nothing is constant. As Shakespeare put it in As You Like It “All the world’s a stage, And all the men and women merely players; They have their exits and their entrances, And one man in his time plays many parts…” Today, we play our part, tomorrow’s generation will weigh it on a scale.
It may pay to be kind to the past but appreciate their contribution even if the current generation tries to improve. History tends to be stubborn. The academy may be laying less emphasis on the study of history these days, but in the footprints of time, the deeds of today will remain as a reminder. It has been four and half decades since Mzee Kenyatta rested, lest we forget.
— The writer is Dean, School of Communication, Daystar University