Kenya’s Unity, Patriotism and National Integration

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A submission to the Building Bridges Initiative by Blamuel Njururi, Kenya Confidential Editor-in-Chief, July 17, 2019

 What does national unity, patriotism and integration mean?

That question is best answered by our everlasting inspiration – the National Anthem.

  1. O God of all creation

Bless this our land and nation

Justice be our shield and defender

May we dwell in unity

Peace and liberty

Plenty be found within our borders.

  • Let one and all arise

With hearts both strong and true

Service be our earnest endeavour

And our homeland of Kenya

Heritage of splendour

Firm may we stand to defend.

  • Let all with one accord

In common bond united

Build this our nation together

And the glory of Kenya

The fruit of our labour

Fill every heart with thanksgiving.

To answer the same question backwards, national integration is combining or bringing together all the people in the country as whole. It also implies doing away with all the trifling, petty and frivolous woes that keep people divided into various groups or sections.

Integration is a practice of uniting groups with different backgrounds into one entity bound by common norms, values and interests. National Unity is the process of uniting of various groups that have different social and cultural backgrounds, into one physical entity. The unity that exists in the country is founded upon power sharing, a democratic government, sound economy distribution and cultural tolerance.

Our national integration is based on the sentiment that we all belong to Kenya as whole. It is this sentiment that makes us proud of our citizenry as Kenyans and binds all people in one common bond no matter what tribe, religion or language and social custom they may belong to. It is a strong natural force that creates unbreakable ties among the people and makes them identify themselves as a part of a single whole nation. On that score, they are patriotic citizens. Reckless politics of greed for power riding on the back of ethnic hate and self-aggrandisement CORRUPTION are worst enemies of National Unity in Kenya.

The combined sense of patriotism and unity yields positive feeling that helps people in developing national integration, which is free from selfish considerations and which makes a person subordinate his interest in favour of the larger interest of the community and country as a patriot. It includes a desire to defend the interest of the country. It encourages people to contribute to the welfare, peace, cohesion and prosperity of the country as a whole. 

The acknowledgement to the fact that we belong to Kenya is the very basis of this sentiment. National integration is a psychological process involving the development of a feeling of unity, solidarity and cohesion in the hearts of the people, a sense of common citizenship and a feeling of loyalty to the nation one belongs to.

In another way one can refer it as the animated sympathy or feeling of one for the other and the warm-hearted love and sympathy of one Kenyan for others, who live in this large country. It is a sub­jective factor and there is no barometer to measure or indicate its intensity. It has, therefore, been a matter of controversy whether Kenya enjoys national integration.

There are some people, particularly a segment of the quarter century Nyayo era breed, who think that Kenya has never existed as a unified, undivided and indivisible unit in the past. There are those who say that Kenya is not a political name but only a geogra­phical expression created by colonial settlers in the name of the highest landmark of Mount Kenya. To them, they are first a certain tribe then Kenyan for the purpose of identification and citizenship.

Colonial masters’ most essential thing to teach about Kenya was that there was not and never was a Kenyan or even any country of Kenya possessing, according to European ideas, any sort of unity, physical, political, social or religious identity. No Kenyan nation, no people of Kenya of which we hear so much, but 42 tribes encased on a map drawn across and between communities, after the notorious scramble for Africa as a British East Africa property. 

As late as 1920, when Kenya became a British colony they referred to Kenya as a conglomeration of primitive natives with no religion or cultural traditions. It is not only foreigners but many Kenyan thinkers also believe that Kenya never existed as a nation and there was no national integration in Kenya in any period of history. Some, even in independent Kenya, believed that some communities would be diminished by the span of time.

So far as foreigners are concerned, they appear to be biased against Kenya and her peoples’ capacity for unity. This may be true that Kenya did not exist as a recognisable single well-knit unit in the past because a general survey of Kenyan religion, philosophy, mythology, legends, and architecture does not represent a picture of a single homogeneous, well-united nation before the colonialists arrived. No country ever existed as such before the history of imperial conquests even in Europe and Asia.

But after close to 100 years of Kenya as a country has evolved as a nation of rich distinct ethnic diversities that should not be mistaken for national disunity. This macrocosm of diversity is a special feature of Kenya’s unity; it provides color to Kenyan life. All the discordant ‘isms’, that have no doubt succeeded in creating certain spells of unfortunate trends towards disintegration, have their origins outside Kenya and have been imported into Kenya by vested interests.

If we look back over the last 100 years and analyze our history, culture and heritage, the first thing that strikes us very forcibly is the underlying spirit of our fundamental unity in blending diversity in all times and ages. The concept of Kenya as a well-knit, composite and homogeneous entity, transcending all her external diversities is an eloquent theme that runs throughout our social fabric, especially in moments of national tragedy. 

During the post-independence era the newly won freedom played a pre-eminent role in fostering national and emotional integration. Nationhood occupied an enviable position as an agent of unity. The common devotion of the people to a new nation evoked affinity and sympathy for each other. Similarly, the concept of national motto Harambee served as a perennial, flame of inspiration to all Kenyans alike in accomplishing the task of uniting all people.

At the time of the early independence era Kenyancommunities became conscious of their common interest they felt the need to compromise for the sake of looking after their common interest. What should have been nurtured without fail is national consciousness and not ethnic bigotry, prejudices and intolerance; because if ethnic consciousness is still strong then national consciousness will remain weak, subdued and indeed, subjugated. The struggle for independence bonded Kenyans together against the British colonialists.

In the early years of independence barriers of tribes, race, language or region did not exist for any material purpose. Our National Anthem established unshakable pillars of Kenya’s emotional unity and patriotism. It is clear that the evils of tribalism did not exist in the naked form those days as they do today. During the kleptocratic period of Moi’s quarter century rule, a new society appeared in Kenya with its distinct religion, customs and traditions – insatiable greed for money and material properties – the overnight millionaires-turned-billionaires. 

And yet it is also a fact of history that tribal forces flourished and they raised their ugly heads again and again to disrupt our country’s unity during electoral cycle. These forces sapped the strength of our country and made Kenya weak and disunited. With the use of the English colonial laws the unity and understanding that had blossomed after independence were drastically weakened by certain forces that pursued kleptocracy. We all know full well how the British played the game of ‘divide and rule’ which the Moi era thrived upon. 

The British separated the Muslims in the coastal part of Kenya from the mainstream of national life and made them believe that they were distinct from the hinterland Africans. In northern frontier district (NFD) Somali community they created a wedge between other Kenyans described as madhu madhu (coarse hair). They pitched the English educated urban class against the rural masses. During his seat in power Moi enacted the British rule by banning so-called tribal associations but not those of the European and Asian populations

But like the rebellion against the British rule, a number of factors were of great help in national integration against dictatorship triggering the political uprising against Moi government. The common cause of freedom of the country helped the growth of the nationalist multiparty movement in Kenya, which engendered an emotional fervor tending to strengthen the forces of national unity across tribes. It was a feat of extraordinary national unity that Kenyans won their multiparty political war.

Kenya is a land of very tolerant people, who believe in secular ideas. Tolerance, secularism and accommodation have been the most admirable characteristics of Kenyan culture. This explains the flowering and flourishing of all religions in our country side by side, without any interference or encroachment by one upon the other. In this true perspective of Kenya’s cultural heritage, the Constitution of Independent Kenya provided for a strong Central Government to keep the divisive and disintegrating forces under firm check. 

The New Constitution further assures equality and security to all classes of persons regardless of their tribe, creed, religion, language, place of birth and domicile. It made Kenya a secular state, guaranteeing equal freedom to all its citizens to profess, practise and propagate their religions without any interference. Our Constitution recognised a number of other steps to be taken to promote national integration and also to check the ten­dencies that endangered the fundamental unity of the country. 

Today Kenya is a free country and a great deal of progress has been achieved in many directions. But it is a pity that the spirit of unity and accommodation, which had made our people think and believe that they were one family and nation against the colonialists and dictatorship appears to have evaporated. Divisive forces, though kind of held in check, repeatedly raise their ugly head in one form or the other in the exercise of newly found constitutional freedoms. 

New forces of fanaticism threaten to destroy the cherished ideals of one country and one people. Passions are inflamed in the name of ethnic divide, abuse of devolution into regionalism and separatism are threatening to balkanize the country. Ethnic passions are whipped up. Loyalty to political parties and community is given priority over devotion to the mother­land. There are a large number of factors that militate against the efforts of national integration. The most formidable obstacles are ethnic hate, regionalism and corruption.

Kenya is a multi-ethnic country. We must not forget how passions were aroused culminating in the 2007-2008 blood bath. Political emotions must be tamed with love, understanding and accommodation, not adopting rigid attitudes and postures. Ethnicity is a poison that has roots in our polity. Kenya cannot make any headway in achieving the goal of national integration if tribalism is allowed to raise its ugly head again and again without any check. It will need long and sustained effort to eradicate the evil of negative ethnicity.

The way forward

  1. It would be wishful thinking to suppose that pious resolutions of the National Integration and Cohesion Commission will restore ethnic amity overnight. It is essential to strike hard against the forces that sustain the poisonous arrows of tribalism amongst our communities. Apart from removing all misgivings among Kenyan communities regarding their ethnic hate language, a law should be enacted banning all propaganda that fosters the spread of tribalism. The legislation banning ethnic propaganda should also provide for severe penalties for publication or dissemination in any manner, of false reports calculated to arouse tribal emotions.
  2. A hard struggle lies ahead, for those who seek to integrate the huge population of impoverished poor and unfortunate Kenyans into the main body of Kenyan society. The ultimate solution to the pernicious and inhuman problem of ethnicity lies in the honest implementation of radical devolution reforms in the interests of wananchi which would eliminate all vestiges of feudalism and rabid poverty of both the urban and rural areas matched with the spread of scientific education – Information Communications Technology (ICT).
  3. Devolution misconstrued as Regionalism or Majimbo is another obstacle in the way of national integration aggressive regionalism can gravely undermine the feeling of patriotic Kenyans who support one nation one people. It creates a parochial outlook and narrow-minded politics. It is primarily a socio-economic problem, related to the removal of the obstacles in the development of the people seen through the agenda of what is described as marginalization. 
  4. The extremely uneven economic development of the different regions of Kenya has created tensions and jealousy between the counties as to which should get priority in the matter of new projects and industries. Some of these tensions have their origin in genuine grievances of the regions and counties that have been denied fair shares of projects and industries in the overall structure of development. Others are politically orchestrated by political opportunists. The only way to do away with this imbalance in the development is to reduce and eliminate disparities gradually. 
  5. Well-meaning leaders must recognize the importance of regional balance in economic development as a positive factor for promoting national integration. The rapid development of economically backward regions in any County should be given priority in national and County plans at least to the extent that a minimum level of development is reached for all Counties within a stated period. While this problem is not only an eco­nomic one, there is no doubt that a rapid and balanced economic development calculated to wipe out regional disparities would go a long way towards promoting national integration.
  6. Post Moi leadership has been fully aware of the need and urgency of national integration as well as the factors hindering the advance towards this goal. There should be no room for parochial, narrow-minded, tribal and ethnic-minded in the county and national governments. These tendencies are petty attachments and great obstacles which stand in the way of national integration. Kenya’s unity in the midst of diversity is not an option but a must. 
  7. In the course of a long history, people of different races, religions and languages made their own contribution to the building up of Kenya. But in spite of this diversity, Kenya had always had a basic unity and a peculiar and distinctive identity. Even though the achievements of political unity and freedom have confirmed this unity, various fissiparous and disruptive tendencies, such as tribalism and regionalism tend to disrupt the solidarity of the people. 
  8. These disruptive tendencies have to be controlled and countered. While certain group loyalties on a reli­gious, regional and ethnic basis may continue, these should be subordinated to the national interest. The challenge before us now and in future is how to consolidate the progress made so far to forge a strong and durable link to cement national unity and integration. The problem is serious and tinkering with it will not do.  Of importance is also to settle the unhealed wounds of historic injustices promised twice in State of the Nation presidential addresses but never implemented.
  9. Though efforts to remove the obstacles have succeeded in a certain measure, a lot more requires to be done. The need of the hour is to take all possible measures in all seriousness to eliminate the obstacles that come in the way. If this is neglected or not done, the consequences may be monstrous for the future generation. A strong sense of patriotism is essential because a patriotic Kenyan will not hurt fellow Kenyan or allow terrorists to kill fellow citizens or destroy the country.
  10. We must treat and view national integration as a form of social nurturing and a process of uniting various groups in the society through a common identity by putting aside major differences but at the same time not ignoring the original identity of each group. Unity should be nurtured and not forced on people. It should be cultivated and instilled in every individual through culture and good values. It’s through the liking, the understanding of each other, through tolerance, that we can build unity rather than thorough law and forcing people into it.

This submission is by veteran Journalist who devoted his career to the fight against Corruption and drugs abuse winning Journalist of the Year Awards in 1975, 1978 and 2004. He now hosts Citizens Against Corruption initiative, IPS Road Safety and Citizen Participation in Security websites.

Footnote:

Unity of purpose unites people, animals and insects in order to accomplish whatever they wish to achieve. Kenyans are no different – we can do it in the dictates of Unity Process and the Trivium. Above all we must all recognise and accept that Unity demands Humility.