Every once in a while over the course of my life lived in Kenya, Kenyans have united for certain causes which they deemed important for the stability and peace of our society or for our well-being. In truth, it’s quite the sight to behold. Causes which have spurred Kenyans into action and unity have taken many different forms. No president in Kenya’s multi-party era has won an election with a landslide like Mwai Kibaki did in 2002, ending the Kanu era and 24-year presidency of President Moi before him. Kenyans were united in the clamour for peace once violence broke out after the controversial 2007 election. Our deepest empathy for starving and dying Kenyans in Northern Kenya spawned the memorable ‘Kenyans for Kenya’ campaign, and the hashtag #WeAreOne provides us with a lasting memory of the Westgate massacre in 2013.
Memorable moments these have been, if not at all fleeting ones. It has never taken us long to let new-found unity give way to squabbling and bickering; to return to the normal, more familiar insults and #SomeoneTellHashtags on social media once togetherness becomes yesterday’s trending topic. Our unity, like tents built by the Red Cross during disaster efforts, seems to be only for temporary use. We appear only to enjoy oneness in small doses: not too much to oblige us to forget our hunt for individual wealth, but not too little to make us feel no different from the beasts of the wild.
I began to wonder the other day, “How many Kenyans in the past 10 years have been defined as ‘patriots’?” How many patriots do we actually have in this country? In the leadership? Even at the top of the civil service? Or on the streets? Does ‘being Kenyan’ really mean anything to us beyond ‘being born in Kenya’? Do we really have an identity as the 40-plus million people born here? Something which unites us every day. Something shared across the classes. Something shared by President Kenyatta and Wanjiku?
This really starts to sound like a serious issue when one considers that united societies and nations are often those which bear a strong common identity within its people. Even more sobering is the knowledge that this identity cannot be forged by one but many ideas and experiences shared across the citizenry. I wonder how many we manage, if any. On the flip-side, our disunity is eked out along many lines of separation – of tribe, of race, religion, social status, beliefs and ideas.
Do we really have any semblance of an identity? And if so, what kind of identity does Kenya have? Better yet, what kind of identity should Kenya have and how and where do we start cultivating it? Who are we and what does it mean to be Kenyan?
Note: This is a guest post submitted by Anthony Munyi as part of a series that seeks to explore identity and its role in governance, leadership and development.