Why I Did Not Sing the National Anthem

While I applaud the good intention of those who pushed for Kenyans to sing the national anthem at 1pm on February 28, 2011; I declined to sing along with everyone else. I seek an answer to the question: “National anthem for whose country?” The answer to this question (which was discussed in Matatus and bars when Saturday Nation (February 26) carried front page names of persons holding key positions in government) can be found in rural villages, “mama mbogas,” hotel waiters, cooks and watchmen, residents in northern Kenya and I am informed the coastal strip of Kenya too.

On January 15, 2008; I wrote in a piece that circulated widely; “We need democracy not Band Peace.” I critiqued the quest to sugarcoat national problems. While Kenyans were getting evicted, property destroyed and others killed during Post Election Violence; middle class were out prescribing all sorts of prayers and peace rallies. Earlier, I had been in a forum where the chair could not get us to sing the country’s national anthem. “National anthem for whose country?” we asked. When Hon. Mwai Kibaki and Hon. Raila Odinga signed Kenya’s National Accord, we [the middle class] retreated to our old lifestyle of being cheer leaders and assumed that the problem had been solved. Then came the time to hold the constitutional referendum; we woke up from our slumber to argue for this and that. When the president held aloft the new Constitution for Kenya and Kenya’s armed forces gave a 21 gun salute, (as operatives hoisted a flag on a short pillar – touted as the tallest); all we could notice was that the balloons did not fly! Upon the promulgation of the new constitutional dispensation, we retreated to what we know best, slumber and hope for the best.

A good imagery is captured every Sunday on a number of TV stations in Kenya that beam high school students dancing vigorously in the name of God. Not wishing to be drawn into a theological debate; I restrict myself to the outcome of dancing and yelling amongst the youth. One may celebrate it as an indication that the captive African dancing spirit is finally conquering the “mzungu religion” that made our parents meek and humble. On the other hand, one will decry the fact that the dancing students might never grasp what Christianity is all about. Interestingly, what we watch students do on TV mirrors the middle class style of approaching political issues; pray, hold peace rallies and simply sing the national anthem! The country is now faced with a situation akin to a farmer who spent time sharpening his hoe, went under a tree and slept in the hope that he would get the whole field cultivated. He woke up and found the grass taller. Much as we blame political leaders for messing the country; we the middle class, who are keen on taking short cuts, carry the responsibility of what befalls the nation. We voted for a new constitutional dispensation and surrendered the discourse to our brothers and sisters in the political world. The politicians will do what they are good at – cut deals.

You and I must take steps to increase individual productivity as part of a strategy to elevate citizens’ value in Kenya. People need government services; fairness; ethnic balance at public workplace as required by the constitution; rule of law and an end to the culture of impunity. The middle class should get to work and help to dismantle the infrastructure holding people back from being citizens of this country.

By James Shikwati
The author james@irenkenya.org is Director of Inter Region Economic Network


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