Saturday, April 5, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
Atlanta, Georgia

April 4 will always be an important day in American history. It is the day the most famous Civil Rights activist, Martin Luther King, was gunned down by an assassin on the balcony of his hotel in Memphis, Tennessee. The fact that 40 years later, Americans and indeed the world, have not forgotten King means that he truly was the first among equals in the Civil Rights Movement of the ‘60s.

As the world remembers the tragic demise of King four decades back, new parallels that invoke the memories of his teachings have emerged across America with ripple effects in Africa. The reason Africa comes into focus is simple. Many Africans at the time got inspiration from King’s movement as freedom fighters in Africa also grappled with identical injustices from the continent’s colonial regimes at the time.

Tragic as his death was, today the reason America and the world remember King is the legacy he left behind for the human race. He dreamed of America where individuality would be judged on character rather than on the colour of one’s skin. He fought racial prejudices and injustices to his last day. He stood for equality and justice for the whole of mankind everywhere. This was the reason he looked up to Mahatma Gandhi as his role model in forcing change through non-violent resistance to oppressive regimes

Barack Obama, America’s latest sensation was a young boy at the time King was assassinated. Most likely he was hardly seven years old, an indication that he is of a different generation

The latest possible black president of the United States of America was not in Memphis to remember King even though two other presidential hopefuls; John McCain and Hilary Clinton were there. Instead, Obama decided to commemorate King’s death in Indianapolis where Robert Kennedy was on that day King was felled down. Incidentally, Robert Kennedy, the Democratic Presidential nominee was soon assassinated thereafter!

Press reports quoting Rev Jesse Jackson and a few of King’s associates at the time seemed to be vexed with Obama skipping Memphis on this historic occasion, however, listening to Obama later, it would appear that his choice of Indianapolis was a political coup against his opponents. He delivered a strong message that King spoke for all America and not just the garbage collector he had gone to Memphis to support in their strike. And as one comrade with Jesse Jackson would put it; of the three presidential candidates seeking the White House this year, Obama stands closer to King’s ideals than any of the other two.

Listening to the McCain and Clinton making speeches about King in Memphis, one could not help but ask where in the name of God had they been all these forty years that King had been dead! McCain is not running for President for the first time let alone being one of those Americans who thought declaring Martin Luther King Day a National Holiday in America was a mistake. Like McCain, Hilary Clinton and her husband were in the White House for eight years sixteen years ago. In those eight years, Memphis was standing there with the memory of Luther’s murder.

How come these beautiful never found it appropriate to pay respect to King in Memphis? Well, I guess when individuals look for public offices; they must succumb to political correctness and swallow their pride.

Back home, the memory of Martin Luther King must resonate well with the memory of our fallen founding fathers like Tom Mboya, Julius Kiano, Munyua Waiyaki and Joseph Murumbi who shared in King’s ideals.

As we grapple with ethnicity, inequality, injustice and hunger on our land, we must cry loud for our current political leaders to strive to make Kenya a better place t be. We must strive to remind our current leaders who preached change in the last elections to take us to the mountain top. We know Mboya and others did not get to see the Promised Land but at least they pointed to us to the mountain top. It is up to us to strive to get there.

However, as we come to terms with the bitter truth that the current political system is out to burden us with a bloated cabinet, wastage and opulence, let us hope that there will be one among them who will be able to see the light and refuse to succumb to the glitter of false gods that Moses condemned on his return from the Mountain.