There is a sense of chaos in Kenya right now, one that has sparked a desire for a king of sorts, a brave man who stamps his authority in this unruly land and sets himself, in a sense, above the laws of gods and men. We had a man like that once, in fact, we had two, and we tore that tyranny down.
The sense of nostalgia that Kenya’s first two governments had a greater grasp of order is born of the very nature of nostalgia. Nostalgia is a romantic view of the past from the present, as one aspires for the future. In that, it is as much about hope that times past were perhaps not as bad as the history books say, and that a return to such a time would be ideal to solve modern problems. It is as much as hope as it is about the distorted, incomplete way our brain remembers.
As a modern society, most parts of inland Kenya were catapulted from the Iron Age into the 20th Century through subjugation. That subjugation often featured racial discrimination and exploitation, and in many cases, the use of extreme violence. Our nation was thus crafted on piles of bodies and rivers of blood, and we carried that stench to our independence. It was nostalgia to our senses and rather than find a way to build a proper modern society with these new cards we had been dealt, we found new and innovative ways to kill and maim each other. We had a king, and the man who came after him made it his mantra, rather chillingly, to follow in his footsteps. He became a king too in all but name, and built a system of oppression so bad there was only one way out.
Our social history has erased from all mediums of knowledge the trauma that the population the two kings ruled suffered from. They had come from a time of blood, and naturally feared that abusive relationship more than anything else in the world. In fearing the past though, they ignored the abusive relationship they had gotten themselves into, and the fact that they had simply switched masters. The new masters, enlightened men if education and experience could be seen as that, disdained the people the ruled as children in need of a firm hand and an occasional spank. It was the lens of the kings, that some are born to rule and others to be ruled.
What we now call Human Rights Day (10th December) was first celebrated in 1950, two years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It was in the aftermath of the bloodiest war the world, in all its millennia of wars and conflicts, had seen up to that point. It was a promise to build fair and equal societies that respect the rights of individuals and that work to serve the people who elect them in place. It wasn’t the whim of a group of people seated down doodling with pens and loads of time, it was writ in the drying ink of a genocide and more massacres than history bothered to record.
Of course, one of the greatest parties to that declaration, our colonial master Britain, would engage in those very violations barely four years after ratifying the Declaration. It actually cleverly hid its atrocities, for a time at least, and used loopholes and miscommunication to prevent its own citizens at home from knowing what it was doing to Kenyans and other colonial subjects. The blood that flowed in the decades, and the trauma it left, still haunt us today. Yet we have declared that we have forgotten and moved on. Moved on to oppressing others and building our own future on sweat, bodies and blood. On paper we agreed to build a just a society but we might as well have used that paper in the toilet.
Human rights, like all other concepts of society, need a solid bedrock on which to stand. That foundation exists partially on a nation understanding its past well enough to avoid mistakes and find raw material for charting a better future. In all of Kenya’s 52 years, successive governments have worked to find ways of making the role of the governor greater than that of the governed. In the triad of governance, this push and pull is eternal, as more government means less power to the governed, and vice versa. The design of democracy, whether we declare it ‘unAfrican,’ is that the governed must always hold power of the government. It needs to remain that way. A desire for the kings of yore is a desire for oppression, because the kind of social and political environments that existed them were stifling and life was at the whims of a man (or sometimes woman) whose main qualification was being born to the previous king. Even if it was better, by some long shot, that past is now merely lines in history, paragraphs of tales of societies building and tearing down tyrannies. Our story is yet to be told. Our past will be today, tomorrow.?
When Kenya eventually had a chance to hit the refresh button, in 2003, it did with flair and unmatched optimism. It was the start of the three golden years of human rights in Kenya, years when we did more for the rights of individuals than we had in the previous 40. An Act of Parliament formed a permanent commission for human rights, the Mau Mau was finally decriminalized, and political prisoners stormed the Nyayo House chambers that had been their torment. It was a chance and a time of national healing, one matched by a need to do more and to do better. We eventually, partially at least, reverted back to the pre-2003 and life and started clobbering activists and committing other sins against humanity. What was missing, and what Kenya had had for 3 short years, is the ground upon which a fair and equal society can be built.
It needs enlightenment. It needs a sense and a need for peace, and for fairness. It needs determination, and bravery. That social foundation needs unity of purpose, but also the acknowledgement of diversity. It needs a proper understanding of its own history, and a reset button to slap it back to its senses when it becomes nostalgic about the past. It needs to flog itself into loving and caring for the smallest and the weakest, and for being ready to fight for them. It needs to see itself as a grain in the sands of time, one small and brief generation in the spectrum of time and life. That the single responsibility of any generation should be to either build upon or tear down what the previous generation has done, not for itself but for the generations that follow.
As it is at the moment, the foundation that once existed is being stripped of its layers, one at a time. The sons of the kings, one biologically, the other politically, now work to found their own kingdoms where their word can be law. The problem with it is not that they want to, because governments will always try to, but that the social base necessary to halt that desire is, in fact, encouraging it. We are turning a blind eye to small incursions into the rights women and men died fighting for, and others were maimed for life trying to achieve. The raids on the public coffers have become the national soap opera, each new twist being fed as tantalizing fodder to a tabloid generation.
Instead of seeking to build this new “African democracy” that has become the subject of political sermons, we are asking for a king to hold our hand into the dark and uncertain future. In doing so we are ignoring the sacrifices the previous generations made to get here, and their motivations for seeking something different. We are also betraying subsequent generations by setting back the clock and thinking that new roads, railways, and laws will blind them to our cowardice, our fear that we were more powerful than we admitted to ourselves.
The Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) will be holding an event to commemorate this years Human Rights Day. Find Details Here [Link].
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One Story is good,
till Another is told.