Today's Mashujaa: Those fighting for Kenya's soul

Friday October 21 2016

Yet another year of Mashujaa Day celebrations, yet another moment to celebrate our heroes and heroines whose sacrifices and determination have pushed us along the course of the Kenyan “democracy”.

It is encouraging to see that the stories of women in the independence struggle are finally being told, after decades of being sidelined or downplayed. We salute them all!

Present-day Kenya has another set of struggles, some of them unfinished business from the independence struggle. While the state is sovereign, it is fundamentally flawed. The soul of this country is bleeding.

The gains made to establish core principles such as upholding human rights, ethics and integrity in leadership are threatened every single day. Heroes and heroines of today’s struggle are often silenced, berated and isolated.

We eulogise the present-day fallen heroes and proceed with life. The number of such fighters is diminishing — this fight is not a lucrative venture, it doesn’t necessarily pay the bills, nor does it have sustained support.

I don’t know that we spend enough time asking why things are this way. Politics as perceived and practised today is understandably off-putting. And yet, all aspects of our citizenship are political.



We have been so cornered to the terrain of elective politics, with its murkiness, that many of us would rather bury our heads in the sand or disengage altogether.

One of the most frustrating aspects of our country today is that governance is at the mercy of politicking. Civil service is deeply corrupt, and rent-seeking is alive and well within the institutions that should be building this nation, on our taxpayers’ buck.

It is easier to seek alternatives to services and private or donor-driven provision of public goods than demand them of our government. In perpetuating this survival tactic, we have legitimised the place of the state, and its institutions to plunder our coffers!

We celebrated the promulgation of the new katiba, and celebrated prematurely. The breathing of life into this document was not sufficiently planned for. The few who have been warning about this have often been ostracised and dubbed “enemies of progress”.

Yet even the node of hope in the last decade continues to be punctured and deflated.

We have been conditioned to accept that if we seek first economic development, all other things will be added unto our desired prosperity. Warning after warning that the country’s accumulation of debt is unsustainable continues to be downplayed, and justified as necessary and the only way to develop the country.


Scandal after scandal of mismanagement, and somehow that’s normalised, and is now even expected of any state venture.

Policy-making is becoming, and has been a conduit for suppressing and undermining our rights as citizens. Some might argue that it has never been about anything else.

Somewhere along the way, we learned to ignore or disengage from policy discourses, the waning vigilance creating room for the government’s guiding principles to be hijacked, introducing harms and threats to our present and future.

While many of us have marched on without feeling the impact of bad policy, many more people are now feeling its effects.

See the ongoing battle by creatives across this country. So deeply reminiscent of past dark times, when the very act of creative expression was not only considered a threat, but could bear a sedition charge.

A state body out to police creative processes. Never mind that the state has barely been an enabler of creative and cultural production, even though the prospects for desired economic and human development are clear as day!

It is deeply tragic and ironic that a state, powered and significantly financed by our hard-earned money can and continues to work against any citizen of this country. Even the spaces that have provided escape are not immune to this fact.

There perhaps is a silver lining in all this. It is increasingly impossible to ignore these flaws that form the core of this country. There are very few spaces left to retreat and avoid the mess that we have perpetuated and enabled, willingly or unwillingly.


The distractions of divisive politics are just that: distractions. In effect, what we have predominantly had with election cycles is change on the surface, and continuity within.

The soul of this country is anchored in the structure of the state and its organs. And to reclaim it, it will take more than just introducing a few “good people” into rotting institutions. Without support from a questioning and engaged citizenry, we continue to willingly sacrifice our mashujaa. It will take more than one-off summits to reclaim Kenya’s soul, and make no mistake, its embers are dying.

I do, however, salute the men and women working for the State, who are truly driven by a moral anchoring, who understand the odds stacked against them as they try to reclaim civil service. You are few and far between, but you form part of present-day mashujaa.

We must reclaim the soul of this country; it is the struggle of our time. It is not always overt; its violence may not always have a physical manifestation. The struggle is real, it is urgent, and it needs every citizen to be awakened to its existence.

Kenya, as constituted today, is simply not sustainable; it will never be inclusive. If you won’t actively take part in the struggle, do not endorse it, at the very least.

A luta continua!

Twitter: @NiNanjira