Welcome aboard H G Wells Time Machine. It is March 2218, two hundred years since 2018. What do the people remember of Kenya of our times? Such is legacy, for people focused on being remembered. What memories have travelled through time and space to this new date? With few exceptions, we really don’t matter. We are just a part of a bad dim past that should be forgotten. Nobody is keenly interested in us, except that we plunged our country into a mess. Kenya has now gone through eight generations since 2018, a generation being about 25 years. And history is not so kind to us. We have no legacy although, in our day, we superficially spoke of legacy.
The country has steadily become a better place to live in, courtesy of the generations that took over from around 2058. That is to say, beginning with children who will be born five years from 2018, onwards. They began taking over the affairs of state in the year 2058, after the country came from a useless tribal war that lasted 30 years, beginning in the year 2022. The leaders who took over in 2058 were hardened war veterans. Most of them were enjoined in the mess as child soldiers, mostly fighting for their tribes. They raped, looted and killed at will, even as boys.
The older people had virtually finished off each other in the first 20 years of the conflict. Others had fled into exile. Self-styled generals ended up marshaling children into tribal militias. In any event, what else was there for the kids to do? Education had collapsed. The formal work sector was history. Banking, manufacturing, health, housing – everything – had succumbed to the frightful superiority of violent conflict. But, thanks to international peace and reconciliation efforts, the country began to painfully pick up again in 2058.
Now, this is not fiction. This is what happens to countries that behave like Kenya is doing in 2018. The 2218 populations remember their 2018 country as a noisy crowd of mutually hostile nations. History books speak of leadership that placed a heavy premium on politics and economics of looting and exclusion. Those exercising state power were brazenly avaricious and isolationist. They were eager to get the right homeboy and home girl on the job, purely for extractive purposes. Focus was simply and squarely on looting and guzzling.
Institutions collapsed because of greedy tribal focus. There was no objective right or wrong. Everything depended on your tribe. The men and women in power in 2018 brought down the Judiciary. And people clapped. Parliament became their rubber stamp. And people clapped again. Media houses were shut down. Again people clapped. The country degenerated into a jungle of eating chiefs misadvised by self-seeking junk professors. Nobody knew their accrediting universities. But it did not matter. You woke up and became a professor of anything your mind told you, provided you had the right ethnic credentials. Nobody said, “Professor of what?”
Yet, not everybody from the tribe qualified. If you did not toe the line, they dealt with you even more ruthlessly than they did outsiders. For, you were a traitor. In the fullness of time – as the poet said – the falcon could not bear the falconer. Things fell apart. The centre could not hold. Mere anarchy was loosed upon the country. Everywhere, the ceremony of innocence was drowned. The worst were full of raw passionate intensities. The best lacked all convictions. The blood-dimmed tide was loosed.
Now, this is the legacy this generation risks passing on to future generations. President Uhuru Kenyatta looms large. He begins cutting the image of George Orwell’s Big Brother as he talks about ‘The Big Four’ as his desired legacy. By this he means food, health, housing and manufacturing. Even at the best of times, this is a narrow vision, perhaps even too narrow. It is antediluvian. In 2218, nobody will remember a President whose visionary focus in 2018 was on the very bottom of Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.
There have certainly been such leaders in world history. They cast their sights on the lowest rungs of the human ladder. Accordingly, history does not remember them. Legacy is about building great nations. And nations are people. History, therefore, remembers nation builders like Europe’s Catherine the Great, Peter the Great and Otto Von Bismarck. It remembers China’s Genghis Khan and Asia Minor’s Alexander the Great. In Africa, it celebrates Sundiata Keita and Mansa Musa the Great. It reveres Askia Mohamed and Hannibal. It respects Hammurabi the Law Giver of Babylon.
History salutes great men like Monomotapa Mutota and Chief Lobengula of Zimbabwe. It bows before Julius Caesar of Rome. As another poet said, these men made their lives sublime. They left their footprints in the sands of time. The African legacy of our generation is focused on ugali and sukuma wiki, even at the very topmost. It is unlikely to secure more than a few insignificant footnotes in the great annals to come. What is likely to make the 2018 generation get more than a footnote here and there is the possibility of triggering a decades-long mayhem. A lot of the fellows you see fawning, like favourite puppies, in the wings of Big Brother will not even make a miserable footnote in the story of our country.
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Yet all is not lost. We could still pause in our tracks. We could ask ourselves a few honest questions that could just redeem us. Even Big Bro and Deputy Big Bro could ask a few questions. They could still elect to make their lives sublime so that, departing from the throne, they might just leave some faint positive footprints in the Kenyan sands of time. Short of focus on the nation, legacy is a long pipe dream.
- The writer is a Strategic Public Communications Adviser. [email protected]