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Kenyans mourn General Ogolla's fall with many thoughts in mind

President William Ruto signs a condolence book of the late Chief of Defence Forces (CDF) Francis Ogolla at his River Side Residence Nairobi. [PCS]

Life often teases you with a profound sense of sadness and despair. The feeling is especially overwhelming in seasons of wastage of life. What begins like a cheeky rumour, in the Age of Digital Fakery and Quackery, steadily morphs into harsh reality.

Suddenly, the ugly disruptiveness of death pervades the entire space. It holds an entire nation in a tight grip of shock and despondency. The whole world is shaken. The general is dead. Gone in the style of the great Dag Hammarskjold in the Congo, in 1961.

You are stunned. Even those who have not known him, are spellbound. For, the general sleeps not alone, but with ten others. Acts of men, or mischief of fate? But why now? Nothing makes sense.

Yet that is the way of life, it means nothing, makes no sense, even when we pretend otherwise. You ask with Soren Kierkegaard, what is this thing called life? 

For the only sensible thing, eventually, is the absence of sense. Our questioning hearts and minds only generate more anxiety, and meaninglessness. Is absurdity the only reasonable thought? The sudden passing of General Francis Ogolla and his colleagues must force these thoughts on us. The passing falls in what can only be described as the season of death.

The prodigiousness of massive sudden loss of life has stalked Kenya these past few months. The recurrences risk stunning us into deadness. The roads, waters, fires, aircraft and even domestic spaces, all have suffused the news-scape with all the wrong reasons. They have become prodigious theatres of hard to explain deaths.

The Existentialist Soren Kierkegaard mirrors the wise King Solomon, who avers that, in the end, nothing makes sense. Anxiety pervades the works of Kierkegaard, even as it pervades our hearts and minds in times such as now. When we examine the meaning of existence, as this 19th century great Danish mind did, we find, if we are sufficiently honest, that anxiety stalks us.

 In ‘A Fragment of Life’, Kierkegaard told the tale of a young man who sought happiness. He pursued a truly hedonistic existence, to live for pleasure. And indeed he found various forms of enjoyment – aesthetic and erotic. Yet, he would fall into depression again and again, whenever the thought struck him, that he would die someday.

And so the young man surrenders hedonic life, for patriotic life. Such is a life of duty. Accountability to friends, family, and community. He makes a career and gets ahead. He runs away from anxiety of the unknown, tries to give meaning to life. But, in the spaces in between, the forgotten anxiety returns with a vengeance. 

Kierkegaard famously writes, therefore, “I stick my finger into existence. It smells of nothing. Where am I? What is this thing called the world? Who is it who has lured me into this thing, and now leaves me here? Who am I? How did I come into the world? Why was I not consulted?”

It is suggested that the way to run away from despair is to embrace despair. “To sink so deep into despair that you give up all satisfactions and comforts of life. You lose all commitment to family, friends and community.” You even surrender reason and science. This philosopher says you surrender philosophy, too, and all moral principles.

When all this is done, the only thing left is absolute faith in God, a return to orthodox Christianity. Other existentialist thinkers, like the German Friedrich Nietzsche, dismissed Kierkegaard as one who bayed for the moon, seeking an orthodoxy that was oppressive in its day; an escapist old hat that couldn’t address modern challenges. 

Nietzsche wrote, in The Joyful Wisdom, of a profane madman who ran to the marketplace with a lit lantern lamp, in broad daylight, looking for God. He shouted, “God is dead! We have killed him – you and I! We are all his murderers! Do we now not wander through an endless nothingness?”

Nietzsche does not mean that God is dead. No, it’s our faith in God which is dead. It has succumbed to multiple battering and injuries that include sundry philosophical beatings. Where should this leave us in this period of intense national grief?

In Emanyulia, we borrow from the frightful one-handed spirit in Things Fall Apart. We tell the dead, “Ezeulu, if you had been poor in your last life, we would ask you to return rich... If you had been cowardly, we ask you to bring courage. But you were fearless… Come again as you came before. If your death was the death of nature, go in peace. But if a man caused it, do not allow him a moment of rest.”         

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