Monday, February 18, 2008



By Jerry Okungu

Of late I have been having Alfred Mutua on my mind since he launched his Kenya
Patriotic project some times back. In thinking about daktari, I couldn’t help thinking about other things like the meaning of patriotism, who can be considered a patriot and who cannot.

As I continued with my dreams in wonderland, grappling with these meanings,
Hon. Koigi wa Wamwere came to my aid last Sunday with what I considered a better interpretation of patriotism, save for his militant style of arguing his case.

Koigi’s expose found me reading a second hand collection of Political Quotes by an American called Michael Jackman that was published by Crown Publishers in New York twenty four years ago. I was equally pleased that Koigi’s article actually quoted one of the forty-two internationally most memorable quotes on the subject from diverse global statesmen, intellectuals and philosophers at various stages of mankind’s history.

As I read this book of quotes on patriotism, Alfred Mutua kept on coming to my mind.
One question that nagged me was what might have motivated Mutua to begin a campaign on patriotism as his communication strategy to win Kenyans for some scheme that was not very spelt out to the public. The other unclear intention on daktari’s part was his inability to clarify on whose behalf his campaign was all about. Was Kenya at war with another country to necessitate a call to arms for the defence of our motherland? If Kenya was not at war then what was the patriotic call for?

Then I remembered that daktari was not an employee of Kenya but of the government of the day. Then the campaign began to make sense to me.

Yes, the government needed this campaign very badly considering that it was under attack from the ODM, Narc Kenya, National Party of Kenya, Musikari Kombo’s Ford Kenya and Paul Muite’s Justice Committee in Parliament.

Other interest groups sniping at the government(whichever one it was since Narc as a party died long time ago), were the Law Society of Kenya, Katiba Watch Group and a myriad other civil society organizations attacking the government from time to time for its failure to fight graft and provide the country with a new constitution.

Now that I understood Mutua’s mission, I decided to look up various interpretations of patriotism throughout history and share it with Mutua and fellow patriotic and not so patriotic Kenyans for the benefit of the unity of our beloved country. Following are some of the quotes that intrigued me:
Patriotism is the passion of fools and the most foolish of passions.
At the bottom of all patriotism is war: that is why I am no patriot
Patriotism is a kind of religion: it is the egg from which wars are hatched.
Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.
Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel
Patriotism has become a mere national assertion, a sentimentality of flag cheering with no constructive duties.
Patriotism is as fierce as a fever, pitiless as the grave, blind as a stone and irrational as a headless man
Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious
True patriotism doesn’t exclude an understanding of the patriotism of others.
Patriotism may be defined as a sense of partisan solidarity in respect of prestige
No other factor in history, not even religion, has produced so many wars as has the clash of national egotisms sanctified by the name of patriotism
The Athenian democracy suffered much from that narrowness of patriotism which is the ruin of all nations
When a dog barks at the moon, then it is religion; but when he barks at strangers, it is patriotism
Many studies have discovered a close link between prejudices and patriotism…extreme bigots are almost always super-patriots

Now that I have given you at least fourteen alternative interpretations of what it means to be a patriot, you have a chance to make informed judgement as to whether you should go ahead and wave Mutua’s flags along Koinange Street every Patriotic Day that is yet to be declared a national holiday in Kenya!

Taking this argument to another level; would we want this country to go the Athenian way with our patriotism and ruin our society? How do we preach patriotism in a country that is so ethnically polarized and politically at war with itself? Couldn’t we have saved our energy preaching reconciliation and forgiveness among tribes rather than preach patriotism for a divided nation?

As it is, Mutua’s message has been branded a government message. Therefore anybody else out of the government which has employed Mutua and given him millions of shillings to waste on senseless messages, will view his efforts, no matter how patriotic he may want them to sound, as government propaganda being spewed by a government mouthpiece.

Under the circumstances, Mutua’s messages may not be rejected by a section of Kenyans not because they are wrong but in most cases messages are rejected merely because the messenger is the wrong one; cannot be trusted with sincerity and truth.

And this is perhaps one of Alfred Mutua’s biggest handicaps. On more than one occasion, Mutua has had the temerity of testing Kenyans intelligence and lied to them or distorted stories in front of cameras to suit government interests. The most glaring one and probably the most memorable untruth to ever come from Mutua’s mouth was the story of a military plane that carried loads of Narc Kenya campaign posters for the just concluded Northern Province by- elections. The whole world saw posters being off-loaded from the aircraft with Minister Michuki and other Narc Kenya officials standing by. For Mutua to have tried to hoodwink Kenyans that the military aircraft, Michuki and other ministers were on normal duties, was the height of public relations gone sour.

If you take patriotism the American style, it is a case of a country gripped with fear of the unknown. Since 9/11 five years ago next month, the American law makers passed into law what they call the Patriotic Act. The act is supposed to keep America safe from terrorist attacks

It compels Americans to pledge allegiance to their country and treat every foreigner with suspicion. It compels them to inform on any American or foreigner on American soil that may display some signs of anti- Americanism.

Soon after the 9/11, any foreigner that displayed the flag of his nationality either on his car or on the roof top as Americans love to do, was considered unpatriotic and therefore subjected not only to suspicion by American neighbours but such foolhardy display of one’s national patriotism could very easily earn the individual the privilege of being visited by the dreaded FBI

In other words, patriotism taken to its extremes can be a source of national paranoia and madness. It can breed insecurity and uncertainty among the very people it is supposed to give a sense of belonging.

Because of patriotism, Americans were ruled by the fear of Communism for half a century from McCarthyism mania of the 1950s up to the end of the 1980s.
Because of patriotism, the Klu Klux Clan terrorised Black people in America for centuries. They wanted to keep America White.
The same mentality informed the apartheid reign of terror in South Africa for close to a century.

Need we forget Adolf Hilter’s pure race mentality that made him send all manner of other races to the gallows and slaughter six million Jews in the Second World War? All in the name of keeping the German Aryan race pure!
Need we forget the Zionist zeal versus the Arab Islamic fundamentalism that has kept the Middle East war raging unabated since 1948?

Finally, back home our tribal clashes in the Rift Valley and Kilifi areas of the Coast were acts of a people called to arms to protect their national interests if we consider every Kenyan tribe a nation.

The Rwanda Genocide the pitted Tutsis against Hutus was a national patriotic conflict. Each side was bent on exterminating the other by violent means.
The Biafran War that slaughtered millions of people, mainly the Ibos in Nigeria was a war of a nation bent on self- determination

This is how far blind patriotism can take a nation.