By Henry Munene
Sometime last year, I travelled to a remote part in Runyenjes, Embu County, to pay my last respects to an old Mau Mau hero.
The old man, who had sported dreadlocks for more than 50 years, after Mzee Jomo Kenyatta had reportedly told him – among other heroes – not to cut the long hair, which cascaded to his feet, died a poor man.
It is said Kenyatta had asked the old man never to shave his hair so that when the time to celebrate and reward heroes would come, the evidence would be there for all to see. But as the traditional casket was lowered into the wet earth, guilt and anger was boiling in my heart.
One sweeping glance at the crowd revealed, sadly, that no Government official, save for a local civic leader and a sub-chief, were present. So, even after sporting the dreadlocks for more than 50 years – his brother is yet to shave his – and fighting to liberate his country, the old man had nothing to show for it. As we drove away through the winding rough road from the old man’s resting place, we were all lost in our thoughts, the unspoken common denominator being that we have been one thankless and unjust society. So when, last Sunday I learnt that we are planning to spend a whopping Sh2.5 billion to celebrate 50 years of independence, I was horrified.
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As l perused through the details of how the cash would be spent, I remembered that old man and the 50-year-old dreadlocks and could not help wondering whether we could not have spent our independence in a better way. To be fair, we have achieved a lot in terms of development – to use that amorphous term beloved of economists.
It must also be said that these many years hence, we are still yet to fix some basic things like literacy, disease and hunger. What makes me violently opposed to any extravagant celebrations to mark 50 years has to do with the fact that we live at a time when even the said celebrations would in no way be a national affair. In case someone is surprised why many people have been calling radio stations to oppose the Sh2.5 billion jamboree, let me break it down for you.
Now, in this country, such celebrations will obviously be seen as an opportunity for a few to ‘eat’. Of course, that might not be the plan, but we can be sure the politics will even take an ethnic hue.
And why would we want to spend all that cash on an event that could leave us even more divided? We are living at a time when even intellectuals do not want to face any truth. Truth be said, many professionals also seem to have put aside their education and capacity for independent thinking, preferring instead to listen and support whatever spurious nonsense politicians in their political party are saying. The evidence is all over social media. While I would not be opposed to a modest function to honour heroes and take stock of how far we have gone these many years after independence, I do not think as a nation we should order the caviar and yell: “Let’s go party!”
Coming in after fifty years, the Jubilee Government should spend this time in a more reflective mode. We should look at the ugly reality in the face, pat ourselves on the back on achievements and own up to our past mistakes and chart the way forward.
This should also be the time to plan on how to permanently bury the ghosts of poverty, past injustices and forge ahead as one nation.
This does not only apply for the Government; we have an equally divisive left that instead of putting back the State on track, they have been deepening our divisions through parochial politics and divisive junkets abroad. Folks, we must now sit back and forge a united country.
The writer is Revise Editor for The Counties