I was glued to the TV on October 12 watching Eliud Kipchoge become the first human to run a marathon in less than two hours. The pride in me could not be explained in words. It is the same pride I feel every time the National Anthem is played during the Olympics.
I felt the same when the Constitution was promulgated in 2010 and was overwhelmed by the feeling during the launch of the Building Bridges Initiative report at Bomas of Kenya on November 27.
The messages from our leaders gave me the impetus to reflect on the power of national symbols such as the National Anthem. It offers a beginning point for defining a new Kenya in the spirit of the BBI recommendations.
The anthem is a three-stanza prayer-poem with six lines in every stanza.
Line 1: “O God of all creation”, underlines the fact that this is a prayer. The line depicts Kenya as a nation that believes in God who is the source of all things.
Line 2: “Bless this our land and nation” is an invocation of God to enrich the environment and the people. The idea that God can bless the land means two things: One, a blessed land will be rich and produce enough food for all. Two, such a land will not be the source of conflicts or injustice. The second part of the line petitions God to bless the people of Kenya.
Line 3, “Justice be our shield and defender”, is a metaphor. A shield is simply an object. Without a user, it is useless. This line expresses the wish that existing systems and people who work in the structures should be motivated by the desire for justice.
What is notable in Line 4 is the idea of plurality. Through out the anthem, there is a collective voice, identified by the words “our” and “we”. According to lines 4 and 5, unity, peace and liberty are products of concerted efforts. It is the responsibility of every Kenyan to foster unity, peace and liberty.
The last line of the stanza, “Plenty be found within our borders,” prays for Kenya to prosper materially. The lines in the stanza lead to one conclusion: Economic prosperity must be based on justice, unity, peace and liberty.
The second stanza is a rallying call to Kenyans to build the nation.
Line 7: “Let one and all arise” emphasises a personal motivation in the unified endeavour to work. One should not simply follow the masses.
Line 8: “With hearts both strong and true”, underscores the attitudes to define our engagements in nation-building.
Line 9: “Service be our earnest endeavour” spells out the qualities that should inform Kenyans’ engagement with nation-building. The desire to serve others should be the key driver of individuals’ engagement in public offices.
Lines 10-12 underscore the pride that comes from what is earned legitimately. The concepts of heritage and splendour invoke the tone of pride. They show that what is earned honestly is worth boasting about.
The last stanza reinforces the messages of the first two. Line 13 is an invitation to a common goal or mind. The next underscores the fact that Kenyans are bound together by what they share – history, painful moments and the moments of pride.
Line 15 emphasises the fact that nation-building requires concerted efforts while 16-18 mention the outcome of all considerations: A truly great nation is a result of modest industry or hard work. Such a nation is always grateful.
The thanksgiving concept in line 18 seems to spring more from a sense of being grateful to be Kenyan. It is a cumulative feeling in the heart of every citizen that emanates from things having been done right in the political, economic, social and spiritual segments of the society.
This article was premised on the argument that the National Anthem is a collective prayer. This alone makes the anthem relevant to the deeply religious efforts towards a more cohesive nation.
The National Anthem is a tool that portrays Kenya as a nation that recognises the place of God in the formation and sustenance of states and societies.
Social institutions should help reinforce justice, peace and reconciliation.
In education, repetition is the key to learning and integrating knowledge and skills acquired. The anthem needs to be performed and discussed in homes, schools, religious institutions and other social contexts.
It should be studied as poetry in schools. Worship centres should perform it in their services as part of prayers for the nation.
Parents should encourage their children to memorise and contemplate on the words of the national anthem.
Our TV and radio stations should lead public discourse on issues raised in the Kenyan National Anthem.
Mr Langat is the assistant editor, AMECEA Gaba Publications-CUEA Press. [email protected]