What you need to know:
- Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya differentiated African socialism from classical socialism and communism.
- President Daniel arap Moi coined the Nyayo philosophy of “peace, love and unity”.
Kenya is essentially a patchwork of ethnic groups that are yet to form one nation. Because Kenya’s political parties are aligned tribally or regionally, the political elite rides on this fact to strategically obstruct growth of national consciousness.
Since 1963, the country’s power elite has entrenched the colonially established political and economic systems to perpetuate its own interest, not that of the majority population. The leaders adroitly manipulate tribal sentiment to attain state capture, leaving their ethnic folk “fooled” time and again.
Capturing this sorry phenomenon, Chinua Achebe in his The Trouble with Nigeria observes “while the electorate is thus emasculated by such instigated (tribal) divisions, the successful politician will link up with his tribal enemy once they get to the legislature in order to promote measures of common interest to their new elite class.”
When the state disallows the majority of her citizens from creating prosperity, they usually withdraw into tribal cocoons under the wings of a non-elected regional kingpin ostensibly for cultural legitimation and protection.
Logically, if the privileged few have conspired to keep their communities captive, then they cannot aggregate them into a nation capable of self-actualisation. If there is no organic nation, there cannot be a genuine national philosophy, ideology, ethos or vision to act as an organising principle for founding and flourishing a country.
How many of us can answer the related questions, “What does it mean to be called a Kenyan (Remember: Najivunia kuwa Mkenya)? Why am I a Kenyan? What is my relationship to Kenya? Am I my tribe (or even clan) first and then Kenyan afterwards?”
Kenya’s Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 developed by Parliament attempted to define a national philosophy; African socialism. Its salient features were described as “political democracy of free and equal people; mutual social responsibility for all; co-existence of different forms of ownership including nationalisation and private ownership; guarantee by the state of equal opportunities for all citizens; progressive taxation, where the wealthier pay more, etc.”
Jomo Kenyatta and Tom Mboya differentiated African socialism from classical socialism and communism. However, this national thinking metamorphosed into Western liberal democratic and market economy philosophy, sparingly laced with African cultural ethos of mutual social responsibility.
Kenya’s other organising clarion call and philosophy was Harambee – “pulling together” to spur communal – and state-level development, thus promoting the common good. Before long, it became evident the masses would do the harambee, while the benefits would be appropriated by the ruling class.
President Daniel arap Moi coined the Nyayo philosophy of “peace, love and unity”. He counselled if people embraced these, then nation building would be realised. With time, many Kenyans disregarded the above slogan as they witnessed their country slide into a one-party dictatorship.
President Mwai Kibaki’s rallying call was Yote Yawezekana (All is Possible) and Kazi Iendelee (Let work continue). His Vision 2030 provided a blueprint on how to rescue the country from its political and socio-economic decay. President Uhuru Kenyatta came up with a sequel programmatic mantra – Big Four Agenda on enhancing manufacturing, food security and nutrition, universal healthcare and affordable housing.
Article 10(2) of the 2010 Constitution specifies national values and principles that can form the basis of creating a national philosophy.
In a piece, ‘National Ethos: Can we believe again?’ Tito Njuki wrote: “The words of our (national) anthem contain a prayer for blessing and are a call to national unity, justice, liberty, peace, prosperity and nation-building.” The anthem can provide elements of a national philosophy.
The above exploration demonstrates that no serious attempt has been made to collaboratively develop a national philosophy. The political class through political parties, Cabinet or Parliament has articulated national clarion calls, national agenda and programmes, but these have not crystallised as a widely shared philosophy.
Collection of tribes
After a turbulent period in 1969 caused by race riots, a National Consultative Council was appointed to assist Malaysia develop a national philosophy through Rukunegara (national principles). The bedrock of the Rukunegara was five principles of “Belief in God, Loyalty to the King and Country, Supremacy of the Constitution, The Rule of Law, and Courtesy and Morality”.
Fidelity to this national philosophy was necessary to guarantee that diverse races, religions and beliefs could co-exist and prosper, ensuring the country’s stability and peace. The present-day success of Malaysia is partly attributed to the fidelity of her peoples to the Rukunegara.
Perhaps one of the most successful African renditions of a national philosophy was Julius Nyerere’s Ujamaa-brotherhood/sisterhood, communitarianism pronounced in his Arusha Declaration. Nyerere’s philosophy was based on adopting African pre-colonial concepts of community life to promote “villaginisation” and modernisation for self-reliance. For him, capitalism and foreign assistance could not catalyse national development. He advocated the use of Kiswahili as a national language to substantially eradicate debilitating ethnicity in Tanganyika/ Tanzania.
Today, Tanzania of more than 120 ethnic groups boasts of being a nation. However, Nyerere’s vision lacked a dedicated core group to spearhead it. His revolution failed in part because within his leadership ranks there were non-believers who masqueraded as followers.
The continental Ubuntu philosophy has its roots in African political, socio-cultural and economic values. It is based on the premise “I am, because we are.” This emphasises togetherness, interdependence, mutuality and shared prosperity.
The Ubuntu philosophy can become a foundation for any African country desiring to create their national philosophy through a popular-based participatory process. The history and cultures of the people within the nation should be canvassed in the creation of the national ethos. A national philosophy should be continually reviewed to accommodate changing circumstances.
All people, including (even especially) children, must be educated about their philosophy so that they internalise it. The national philosophy can be broken down into national principles for easy digestion and practice. Further, the philosophy informs the entirety of a peoples’ life; it is the bloodstream for national, communal, and individual character and action.
As Kenyans, we should earnestly begin the journey of developing our national philosophy processed, owned and lived by all, regardless of their class or status. If we don’t develop it, we are likely to remain a collection of tribes, as Achebe said, “(deprived) of the power to hold the politician accountable through common action with other voters across the land”.