If aliens from another planet landed on planet Earth at noon and on a bright day, there would be drama. The first problem will be recognising them as aliens before we fathom the meaning of their visit.
The fear that would follow could make it easier for them to take over the planet, more than possible ownership of advanced weapons, if they believe in war like us. Whatsapp groups would be inundated with truths, half truths and pure lies.
How would aliens look like? We are only used to earthly concept of an intelligent being, with a head and walking. Can we think of any form of life beyond what we have seen in the air, on land or in the water? Suppose they are in gaseous form or even plasma?
Any time I visit the countryside and the sky is clear at night, I am fascinated by the vastness and beauty of the heavens. I get more convinced that we are not alone. If we are alone, we are very important. An entire universe for small beings that can’t even love one another?
For thousands of years, we were the centre of the universe, the only intelligent beings, less concerned about heavenly bodies unless for curiosity or entertainment. Holy Books reinforced that view with contrarians like Galileo paying a heavy price.
By the mid of last century, we got bored of the earthly matters. Some argue after two world wars, the earth was becoming a dangerous place and “safe havens” were needed. We got into space, reaching moon and kept dreaming of nearer bodies like planet Mars.
We have even brought specimen from asteroids, with prospects of mining then in future. Planetary Resources, a private company hopes to mine precious metals from asteroids. Some think as early as 2025. Where we can’t dare go, we have sent probes to explore. So far there is no evidence of extra terrestrial intelligence. We have beamed signals into space looking for extra terrestrial intelligence. So far no reply.
Some argue we should stop rest those “guys” hear us and come for us. Suppose they are more advanced than us? The Mau Mau veterans who spent time in detention during the colonial era would wish we keep our curiosity to ourselves. Others argue we can deal with consequences.
Surprisingly, as we explore the rest of the universe, so have we failed to explore ourselves. We fight each other, hate each other, plot against each other, we even divorce those we called the public to witness as we married them.
We are unhappy despite our wealth, belongings and other achievements. Analyzing the world as it is with chaos, wars, and closer home headlines on corruption, we could be tempted to accept the Earth is a bad place to be, and may be another habitable planet would make our lives better.
My concern is that even if we got another planet and settled there, we would take our problems there. Were British settlers who came to Kenya completely satisfied? Where then did Happy Valley come from?
It seems the tragedy of our lives, we never get satisfied till life comes to an end and we leave the planet to others either to appreciate it or keep destroying it. Once you get something it ceases to be important to you. It could be shoes, cars, a house or even a spouse. Getting satisfied is more like chasing a rainbow.
For today, let us forget about the mirages and fear of aliens. Let us forget the negative publicity about the small planet from global warming to terrorism, corruption, poverty, hatred, meaninglessness and other problems either emotional or physical.
It is a still a great planet, like no other celestial ball. I did not appreciate that fact till we overflew the coast of Greenland and admired the floating glaciers and ice covered peaks. I rarely appreciated this small planet till I climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and saw an ice filled caldera.
Many of us have climbed Mr. Longonot or Menengai; imagine finding the craters full of ice. Unfortunately, technology has made us spend more time indoors, online, on virtual reality. We spend more time indoors with coachroaches than outdoors with nature and its beauty.
Despite all the talk about corruption, Kenya is still a great country. It is us who have no time to admire its greatness and beauty. Try and capture images of the rising sun over the sea. Listen to the music of the sea, ride on the waves. See the palm trees swaying in the wind. Watch crabs burrow under the sun.
Admire the Great Plains that harbour the wildlife we take for granted. A four hour drive in Yosemite National Park in California made me appreciate our world life more, I only saw a coyote and a mouse. How many animals did you last count at Nairobi or Nakuru national parks?
We have not even thought of the semi arid North and arid north with its sand dunes. Our deserts are the least sold of our tourist attractions. For Nairobians when did you admire the sun setting over Ngong hills? The rain forests of Western Kenya and great lakes of Rift Valley make the country more great and beautiful, without involving our opulent hands. There is no reason why Roger Whittaker’s “My land is Kenya” is not our unofficial National Anthem.
Unfortunately, we are more at home shredding our national image. Some argue persuasively that by making Kenyans believe it’s a bad country, it gives the few who believe it is a great country abundance of opportunities to enjoy the best it can offer, not just in physical beauty but in economic opportunities.
Think loudly. The mega scandals we love only take part of 30 per cent of what entrepreneurs give the Government as tax. The rest of the profit or is it wealth is in private hands. I am not romanticizing corruption, but this simple 30-70 rule means corruption is not as threatening as it appears.
It also means we could reduce it by reducing tax rate so that less money is available to waste. Now you know why despite all the scandals, real or imagined, the country still runs.
We are freer
The greatness and beauty of Kenyans goes beyond poking fun or self jokes. We have come from far. Looking back might relief us to enjoy our sleep. We waited for years to get a telephone line in the house. Now we refuse to pick mobile phone calls. We used to compete with other animals in walking. Boda bodas have collapsed distance.
Finishing high school was considered an achievement. Masters degree is becoming the standard. We have better roads and better hygiene. When did you last see kids with rice in their hair?
We are more travelled than any other generation. When did you last see a bus adorned with banana leaves going to the airport? We enjoy more freedom than any other generation. Even criminals enjoy their freedom. We are freer than most developed countries. Ask foreigners who settle here what attracts them beyond the fine weather.
Though formal social support services are still out of reach to many Kenyans, they do not die in self pity, they are innovative with Chamas and merry go rounds.
Without social security, informal security exists from dowry paid in future to local harambee to raise funds for weddings, burials and other overwhelming events.
Despite all the fear and negative news, life expectancy has gone up. We have access to more information than any other generation, but that has not made us less ignorant about everything.
If you do-not believe this is a great country, check the statistical abstract of 1955 and the nationalities coming to Kenya in the middle of Mau Mau. The Britons despite the Mau Mau saw this as a great and beautiful country.
That is why they fought for it for almost a decade. Historians have refused to say if they lost. But like Vietnam War which Americans prefer not to get into specifics, Britons lost the war, aging Mau Mau veterans tell me with pride.
Britons probably made up the loss on the economic front after uhuru. Recall the British brands after uhuru?
If you are still not convinced this is a great and beautiful country, make a visit to the slums and see the number of academies sprouting, a sign of great expectations even for the lowest in the social rungs.
Any time you think the country is not great or beautiful enough visit a local primary school and admire the innocent smiles of the next generation. Anytime you think this is not a great or beautiful country, listen to babies laughing or see their innocent smiles.
A better home
Drought, politics, nepotism might get headlines. But the open hearts of Kenyans, their great expectations and resilience have surprised even Kenyans. Why not build on this resilience, best espoused by prolonged electioneering last year and the surprise handshake? That resilience is reflected in the rising life expectancy since uhuru.
Relax, after a day’s work, we live in a great and beautiful country. The exoplanets in their thousands will not be our homes anytime soon. Let us make this planet, this country a better home. To start, it will cost you nothing, just appreciating what we have as a nation, as individuals.
—The writer teaches at the University of Nairobi.