Let's review national psyche to reclaim true spirit of Harambee

A man in a mask with the colours of the Kenyan flag during a demonstration against lawmakers' salary demands outside the parliament buildings in May 2013. [Reuters]

Many countries have a uniting motto. The motto of the United Kingdom is “God and my right,” the United States is “In God we Trust,” while the French motto is “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité,” Uganda’s is “For God and My Country,” while Tanzania’s and South Africa’s are “freedom and unity” and “diverse people unite” respectively.

Interestingly, the citizens somehow gravitate toward their national motto. Our motto “Harambee” meaning pulling together or signifying a spirit of cooperation, is found in our Coat of Arms.

Interestingly, our national motto was also the symbol of the Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) party. But then, KANU being the independent political party, was not completely delinked from State symbols.

This motto was critical at the time of independence because it inspired citizens to pull together to ensure development and no one is left behind. It inspired generosity, nationalism and patriotism.

Since independence in 1963, Kenyans have greatly benefited from the ingrained concept of our motto. We have embraced our motto to the extent that it has become second nature to many Kenyans, even those who know nothing much of it.

For example, many educational institutions were constructed using funds raised through Harambees, and even teachers paid with the same funds thereby enabling children from poor homesteads to attend school. In the 1970s, Harambee agricultural institutes were established, with communities donating land and resources for them for the benefit of the communities. Villagers had Harambee groups, which took turns to help each other till/cultivate their farms in exchange for tea and lunch; all in the spirit of pulling together.

Harambee means uniting to contribute funds, labour, material, or in-kind support to assist those in need without expecting anything in return. Although the motto is as relevant today as it was in 1963, it is harder to get anyone today help you without pay or them expecting something in return. Scratch my back, I scratch yours.

People want to be paid money to work without enthusiasm and passion; money is the motivating factor. Perhaps, the majority of us have forgotten or don’t even know the meaning of our motto. People give unwillingly or while expecting payback. We are no longer each other’s keeper and protector.

Generosity, care, patriotism, and love for fellow humans are at the core of Harambee. Yet, people are no longer motivated by these values to give or support, and today, even those that receive proceeds of Harambee are rarely genuinely grateful and accountable; having themselves given to others at one time.

This is why it is not surprising that philanthropy is rewarded. Those people who give back to community are few and far apart. Appreciating generosity is good and inspiring as generous people are our role models.

This is why we need to mainstream Harambee and our national values and principles in all areas. Our national values and principles in article 10 of our Constitution and our motto should be taught in schools and anchored in all our national and county blueprints, and strategic plans to ensure that when we monitor and evaluate these plans we can evaluate how much we have mainstreamed them.

This will also lead us to where they come naturally to us. There are so many worrying things in our society. The number of killings and cruelty meted out against fellow Kenyans by their loved ones or people known to them, are truly cruel, evil, and scary.

Watching news today is like watching a horror movie, toddlers disappearing without a trace, eyes of a child being gouged out by guardians or adults who should know better, routine murders, gender-based violence, hate crimes, and incredible heartlessness and cruelty.

I can’t help wondering where we went wrong. Is it possible to recalibrate our national psyche and reboot so that we can reclaim the true spirit of Harambee?

-Join the conversation @Koki_Muli @StandardKenya.

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