Freedom and independence are not synonymous

NAIROBI: Semantic arguments can be tiresome, since the bone of contention is often obscure, and of interest only to pedants. However, it seems to this pedant that the conflation of freedom and independence has meant that few of us fully appreciate the meaning of either word.

Yet a moment’s reflection should cause us to recognise that full political independence, granted on December 12, 1963, brought freedom only to ambitious and rapacious politicians who, from that day to this, have felt ‘free’ to do as they like to the detriment of the rest of us, led to believe that the more power they take into their own hands, the freer we become. Whereas, of course, the reverse is true.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, the age of imperialism (which gave birth to Kenya) brought stability to large parts of the globe because — certainly in the case of the British Empire — it coincided with an unabashed Christian world view.

Top down government, tempered with as much freedom as could be accommodated without causing instability, was designed to ensure steady progress towards political maturity, when all adults would be able to take part in “the decision making process”.

Christian common sense, before it was undermined by the parrot cry “one man, one vote,” enabled many to recognise the paradoxical nature of freedom. This found expression in George Matheson’s hymn, the first verse of which will no doubt make little sense to shallow minds: “Make me a captive, Lord, And then I shall be free; Force me to render up my sword, And I shall conqueror be”.

The writer clearly had in mind the friendship between David and Jonathan, as recorded in the Old Testament. The latter had every reason to expect to succeed his father Saul as King of Israel, but instead gave David his robe, sword, bow and belt (the accoutrements of power) thus acknowledging David, rather than himself, as the next King of Israel.

In like manner, there were not a few, when the franchise was extended to all adult males in the UK, who asked not to be included on the electoral roll, as they felt unqualified to be involved in affairs of state.

I feel sure most readers will be conversant with the New Testament story of the Prodigal Son, who went off in search of independence, only to make shipwreck of his life. After coming to his senses, he returned to his father “an older and a wiser man” to find freedom under his father’s authority.

In pursuit of political power, many of our politicians have indulged in scare-mongering.

As a result, most people vote for negative reasons-to keep out those who have been labelled “bogey men”- rather than examine the reliability of the candidate for whom they actually vote.

Despite the fact that most readers’ minds have been warped by unending anti-colonial propaganda, I should like to draw attention to an extract from David Lovatt Smith’s excellent book (now sadly out of print) Kenya, the Kikuyu and Mau Mau.

This book covers the history of our country until the hand over of power in 1963.  In the book, Lovatt Smith quotes from an entry in the journal of Alan Liddle, a young District Officer in Kenya at the time leading up to independence. Lovatt Smith reckoned, “it sums up the reason why those of us who spent the greatest part of our lives in the service of that country, are proud of the work we did and the legacies we left behind”.

“In March and April 1960, barazas (meetings) were held in every location in Kitui District explaining what the approach of Uhuru would mean. I was on safari for a number of days running eight barazas in my division, while the DC, and other DOs did the same in the three other divisions.

Senior Chief Kasina at Migwani made plain his views, and probably those of most of the older generation of Akamba, at the end of my baraza at Migwani as he delivered a wringing endorsement of Britain’s 60 odd years of running Kenya.

Several younger men had put points to me after I had spoken, fair enough points in their way, but considered impertinent by Kasina.

Finally he lost his patience and leapt up beside me, and, in his curiously high pitched voice, said: “Do you know what Uhuru is?  I’ll tell you what Uhuru is. When I was young there were those of the Akamba who still remembered Arab slave raiders.

The British came and stopped that. I remember as a boy the Maasai raiding our land to try to take our cattle. Then the British came and stopped the tribes from fighting each other.

The Kikuyu, Embu, and Meru combined and caused the barbarous Mau Mau rebellion. The British stopped that. The British brought us education, showed us how to improve the use of our land, brought us water supplies, and much else. What did we do for the British? We gave them Askaris for the KAR and the Kenya police.

We fought for them as our friends in their wars. We can be proud of that. Today we have peace and improving conditions. Do you see that? (pointing at the Union Jack flying above his office). That is Uhuru!”

The young smirked, the old looked embarrassed, Kasina looked defiant. I could have hugged the old boy, but it would probably have been against Queen’s Regulations!”

So, dear reader, in order to enter fully into jamhuri day celebrations, you will need to endorse Kwame Nkurumah’s contention that “self government is better than good government.”  Not all of us, however, have managed to reach that level of political (im) maturity.