Jomo was a great thinker; his son has no known philosophy

A friend has written to me, to complain about this column last week. “I really like this article,” she wrote, “except for the part that you included Jomo Kenyatta as a great thinker.”

I wrote about people who think. I suggested that they should also be the people who act, especially in politics. Regrettably, I observed, those who act in Africa are rarely the thinkers. I placed Kenya’s founding President, in the class of thinking politicians Africa has produced.

My friend disagrees. She says, “Kenyatta started us off on the wrong path. Demagoguery, bad land practices, and cultural chauvinism. I don’t know what to think of him at all, except that he was not a great thinker.”

I still consider Kenyatta an organised thinker. We could say that he was a great man who missed the opportunity to be even greater. He made some greatculpable mistakes that robbed him of that chance. Here was one of the first modern African intellectuals to break through the solid walls of packaging and disseminating ideas and knowledge in the West. He published the seminal work, Facing Mt Kenya in 1938. To the very best of my knowledge, Kenyatta was the first East African to be published. He was East Africa’s foremost pioneer intellectual.

Of course Swahili oral traditions speak of Fumu Liyongo, a prince of the Pate peoples of Tanzania, probably wrote romantic poems between the 9th and 13th centuries. However, 400 years is such a long period to validate in an oral society.

Kenya had Muyaka in the 18th century. Muyaka Bin Haji’s work can be found in the volume titled Diwani ya Muyaka, published in 1940. Given that both Fumu Liyongo’s work and Muyaka’s had to be “excavated”, Kenyatta remains a pioneer in East African writing and scholarship.

Kenyatta belonged together with such other modern pioneer African intellectuals as Kwame Nkurumah of Ghana, Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia. They believed in organising their thoughts in published works. Tom Mboya, despite hislimited formal education, also fits in this category, as does Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

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Besides Facing Mount Kenya, Kenyatta published My People the Kikuyu. He also published some of his key thoughts and speeches in the volume titled Suffering Without Bitterness. This collection was his first effort to step outside the perimeters of his Kikuyu community. This is where Nyerere, Kaunda and Nkurumah beat him.

In The Trial of Christopher Okigbo, Ali Mazrui talks of two kinds of intellectuals and artists. On the one hand there are “universalists.” While remaining loyal to their community, they place the bigger national concerns first. As opposed to the “universalists” are “particularists.”

These ones think all the time about their tribe. If Nyerere and Nkurumah taught their people to think about their countries, did Kenyatta teach Kenyans to think about their tribes? Is this where my aggrieved friend thinks Kenyatta started us off on the wrong footing?

Nkurumah was 18 years younger than Kenyatta. He was also a latecomer into the world of books. He published Neocolonialism: The Last Stage of Imperialism in 1965. His focus was decidedly on Africa, rather than Ghana – or his Akan tribe. Instructively, both Kenyatta and Nkurumah had been leading Pan-Africanists in the UK in the 1940s, alongside such other luminaries as Kamuzu Banda of Malawi, George Padmore of Trinidad, Obafemi Awolowo of Nigeria and the Black American W.E.B. Dubois. Their central focus was on a united and independent single African nation.

Yet when Nkurumah wrote on neocolonialism and the African revolution, Kenyatta wrote on My People the Kikuyu. Mwalimu Nyerere concentrated on the meaning of Africa’s independence. Freedom and unity, freedom and socialism, freedom and Ujamaa; and freedom and development became the central pillars of his thought.

Nyerere and Nkurumah could not agree on the pace that African unity should assume. Nkurumah wanted a United States of Africa now. Nyerere thought it should be gradual. Kenyatta’s stand is not clear – in any event, Kenya was a later entrant into Organisation of African Unity, where these debates took place.

Nyerere and Nkurumah were by no means saints. They made mistakes of their own. Yet, they tower above Kenyatta as nation builders.

Today, Africa performs hugely worse than Mzee Kenyatta did. The leadership space is devoid of anything you could call a clear leadership philosophy. I don’t know what President Uhuru Kenyatta’s political philosophy is, for example. His father, our founding President, talked of things like “Harambee” and “African Socialism and Development.” He got people like Tom Mboya and Mwai Kibaki to expound on them.

Today, in a philosophical and intellectual vacuum, Uhuru talks of a disjointed Big Four Agenda. It has no roots, no pillars, no foundation – nothing. Six years from now, nobody will remember what it was about.

For it is a meaningless something that those around him don’t tell him – or are afraid to do so. If he wants a legacy, he could consider undoing what the founding President did. Focus on true national unity. He has three years.

- The writer is a strategic public communication advisor. www.barrackmuluka.co.ke

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