Massachusetts reminds you of the non-conformist American ace playwright, Arthur Miller (1915 – 2005) and his tragic hero, John Proctor in The Crucible. But it also reminds you of Bill Loman, the toiling low man in Death of A Salesman. “Massachusetts in springtime is a beauty,” Miller’s John Proctor says,” admiring candescent American lilacs in the season.
“Lilacs have a purple smell,” says Proctor, “Purple is the colour of love.” It probably is – purple, the colour of love. And lilacs possibly have a purple smell, and purple itself the smell of love. I have been here in this Massachusetts for the past couple of days. As usual, you cannot help, but love the breathtaking natural environment in its magnificence. I come from a country that has not come to terms with conservation of its natural environment. My leaders do not know whether we should save our waters or destroy them. And so in foreign lands, I must admire even such basic things as trees! Surely?
When I left home, the perennial wrangles about the Mau had reared their head once again. They were giving some people political mileage and taking miles from others. Where some people’s natural waters chock them with the beauty of their azure, ours chock us with pollution and human abuse.
Sometime back, people came from Europe and the Americas “to breathe the fresh air of Africa.” Cecil Rhodes who stole Chief Lobengula’s land and gold in Matabeleland arrived in the late 19th Century. His doctors had reputedly advised him that he needed a lot of fresh air if he was to live for a few more months. Africa was the place to go. Today, he would beat a quick retreat.
Rhodes, of course, fell in love with the land and its wealth, and not so much with the people. Already in Europe, he thought that the English were a super race of human beings. Even when he dreamt of building a railway line from Cape Town to Cairo, it was to be for English glory only. Regardless, you cannot blame those who dream big dreams for their nations. Such is patriotism. Rhodes was an English patriot, even in this perverted context. Here in America, we heard Donald Trump in 2016 thundering, “America First.”
It is ironic that the man now faces possible impeachment for “conspiring with the leader of a foreign country against a potential competitor.” Trump would appear to be spying on former Vice President Joe Biden with the help of foreigners. He reminds you of President Richard Nixon (1913 – 1994) and the bugging of the Democratic Party offices in the Watergate Scandal of the 1970s. Nixon was forced to resign in 1975. Will Trump go the same way? Time will tell.
Back to us, you cannot help asking what African leaders see, or learn, whenever they visit other continents. As I file this column from Springfield, Massachusetts, there are throngs of African notables in New York. They have come to attend the annual United Nations General Assembly. Yet, has the continent become any better, for all their crowded presence and patriotic speeches?
You must ask again and again, “What do these people see whenever they visit these Western countries? Are they satisfied with being dazzled and mesmerised by the neatness, the order and efficiency of things out here? Are they happy to excitedly talk about what they see here, the same way the boy who visits Nairobi from Emanyulia for the first time is dazzled by what is left of the glory that was Nairobi, once long ago? Or maybe they simply suffer a permanent memory loss as soon as they board to go back home? For how would they live comfortably with what they saw here?
Have these leaders not heard the Swahili people say, “Ukiona vyaelea vyaundwa?” When you see good things out there, someone has made them good. Do these noble ladies and gentlemen know that it is in their place to make a difference in their countries? Mr Trump may very well get impeached. Perhaps he has mixed things up far too much and diffused the line between “Trump first” and “America first.” Yet he remains American, placing his country ahead of the rest in everything he considers. To this extent, he has rubbed up friend and foe the wrong way. Every so often you hear us complaining about his American haughtiness. Yet, whom is he supposed to bargain for, if not for his country? Why should he be good to us?
The task of making our places good resides with us, and especially with those we have placed in charge of our sovereignty. You would expect that they would leave New York having seen something beautiful that they plan to bring home. In his times, if he did not see anything else, President Moi at least saw the natural world, wherever he went. He saw the forests and woodlands that festooned the broad roads everywhere. He did not build broad roads. Yet, whenever he returned home, the first thing he told us was, “Pandeni miti – plant trees.”
If the present leaders cannot do anything else, can they at least just plant trees? Can they give our forests and rivers a chance? Massachusetts glows in the beauty of its springtime. African dreams perish in the winter of our discord, even about such basic things like whether we should protect our rivers and forests, or not. If we cannot do anything else can we not just plant trees and keep our waters clean and safe?
- The writer is a strategic public communication adviser. www.barrackmuluka.co.ke
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