Consummate love for Kenya and dedicated service to his nation, were the most common tributes to the late Joseph Nkaissery.
From family members to personal friends, and political leaders to military colleagues, all were unanimous that the retired general had a passion for the nation and served with singularity of heart.
Whereas these may be dismissed as the usual niceties common at funeral services, there seems to be a ring of truth, especially considering the passion with which the Interior Cabinet Secretary pursued his duties – sometimes almost going overboard. It is therefore safe to assume that the fallen hero had a special love for his nation.
But, sitting in the sombre and yet light-hearted memorial service, I could not help but wonder how many of us in the VIP-packed auditorium could be described thus. We all sing in the National Anthem, “Nchi yetu ya Kenya, tunayoipenda, tuwe tayari kuilinda (And our homeland of Kenya, Heritage of splendour, Firm may we stand to defend).” But we readily betray the same by our total lack of patriotic love for this nation.
One of the reasons the Spartan patriotism became legendary was because of their austere way of life. The Spartans lived only to defend their nation. They underwent extreme hardship and deprivation in order to be accepted as full citizens. Infants were frequently ignored when they cried and commanded never to fear darkness or solitude. At age 12, initiates were deprived of all clothing save for a red cloak, and forced to sleep outside and make their own beds from reeds.
When it came to marriage, the Spartans saw marriage primarily as a means for conceiving new soldiers. Even Spartan mothers played their part, sending their sons off to war with a stern reminder: “Return with your shield or on your shield.” Spartan patriotism was therefore from the womb to the tomb. No wonder they conquered many of their enemies.
In case the Spartans seem too far removed, I spent last week in Kigali. The rapid growth of Rwanda and the cleanliness of Kigali is becoming legendary. Travelling around the city, my eyes could not pick a single piece of litter – not a sweet wrapper or cigarette butt – even in the slum areas. Even more amazing is that though they, too, are headed for elections – four days before ours – there was no drama, no noise. Instead, what was obvious was their sense of unity and almost tangible patriotism – obviously driven by lessons learnt from 1994. That nation is rising.
Ours seems to be the exact opposite. In spite of our strategic positioning, almost every Kenyan seems to live and fight only for self.
From the illicit brewers who serve people poison, to the big thieves that loot billions of shillings from state coffers, and the workless millions raked in from betting, our singular mission is to acquire wealth at whatever cost, with no concern for the economy.
In elections, the quest for power far outweighs any sense of national duty. Thus, senior leaders have consistently and persistently attacked the key pillars of our national structure – the Judiciary, Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, and the Auditor General – totally oblivious of the prospect of presiding over ruins.
Yet, the seeds of discord planted over the last few months are already germinating into violence in politically hostile zones. Likewise, elite Kenyans are mauling one another on social media with ethnic vitriol, having learnt little or nothing from 2007/8. And my heart cries out: Where are our Spartans – men and women who will sacrifice self for the sake of the nation? Remember, everything you do – the bribe you give or take, every ethnic hatred you send or post on social media, every careless political statement, only serves to reveal your patriotic deficiency. Can we be Spartans for a change?