Saturday, November 9, 2013



P. Anyang' Nyong'o

An average American child knows who Abraham Lincoln is. She or he also knows who George Washington is. There is the Lincoln Memorial in Washington DC. And the capital city, Washington DC, also reminds Americans all the time that this guy Washington was their founding father. But what is more important is that the school system has basic books which children read early in their lives on American civilization.

An average African child today is likely not to know who Kwame Nkrumah is. Nelson Mandela is today well known because he is frequently in the news. Very soon this news coverage will begin to disappear and children born after that will be in jeopardy of forgetting Mandela altogether.

When I lived in Mexico I was impressed by the folk tales about Emiliano Zapata, the peasant revolutionary. A museum had been erected in his home village where his story was told, with tourists coming from all over Mexico to see where Zapata was born, what his house looked like and to read the whole pictorial history of his accomplishments on the wall.

If indeed, like Nyarere said, "binadamu wote ni sawa na Afrika ni moja" then we must bring all African nationalists home to be known by the African people. Nkrumah, Nassar, Sekou Toure, Lumumba, Kaunda, Ben Bella, Obote, Nyerere, Seretse Khama, Banda, Kenyatta Samora Machel, Amilcar Cabral, Mandela: these are names which every child should grow singing like songs so as to know where we have come from. They must be part of our nursery rhymes.

Apart from the mausoleum where he is buried in front of the Intercontinental Hotel, and where only a few in the family and government  go to pay respect for him every year, where else does an ordinary Kenyan go to remember Jomo? Last year I went to Gatundu Hospital as Minister for Medical Services to see some work the Ministry was doing there and I was shown a house Kenyatta lived in which should be preserved as a national monument. Why that has not been done beats me.

But let me go back to my concern: giving our nationalists the place they deserve in our history and our appreciation of the foundations of our nations. Yes, Hillary Ng'weno has done a very good job documenting the history and contributions of various Kenyan personalities for posterity. I now plead for a similar project for African nationalists in general because I believe in the "oneness" of Africa and our shared destiny.

This time I do not want the histories and records only to be available in CDs in malls, supermarkets and book shops: I want them taught in kindergartens, schools and to be sang in songs. And I want these songs to be signature tunes in African radio stations across the continent like "Harambee Harambee" used to be in the Voice of Kenya. This is really what is called patriotism: making people know and be proud of our heroes.

Come to think of it, despite the political assassinations, the detentions without trials and the canonizing of the one party state and its attendant authoritarian consequences, the sixties were great years for Africa. The advances we made in economic development we are not making today: our rates of growth are much lower today than what we achieved in the sixties. The data that we have show that the nations that were  great achievers in health care in the sixties are now the low achievers in the twenty first century. Our ability to venture into the unknown was remarkable then: today we squabble for years on end before we agree on anything in national interest. And when we propose certain things in the so called national interest personal agenda creep in to completely spoil the broth.

Think about it. When Kenneth Kaunda left office in 1991 what did he actually own? Virtually nothing. I was there during the elections and a year later we visited Kaunda in a small house the government had given him in Lusaka. All that the old man could do was to play for us his guitar singing love songs he remembered from his youth. Kaunda had sacrificed himself for Zambia.

What about Julius Nyerere: what did he really have? A small house built for him by the government in his home town Butiama. And Obote? Virtually nothing. When be died a few years ago Oburu Oginga and I went to his funeral in Akokoro not too far from Lira and found the old man had lived humbly like a common peasant. But his contribution to the founding of the Ugandan nation, the liberation struggles in Southern Africa and the founding of the East African Community cannot be forgotten.

A people who do not appreciate their past will hardly know where they are going. Appreciating our past does not mean we agree lock, stock and barrel with everything our founding fathers did. That would be sheer lunacy. But we must critically appreciate this history and understand it as our foundation. Selective memory of the past can also be very destructive to our history.

For example, why don't we have a major street or building named after Joe Murumbi and Oginga Odinga in Nairobi? This issue has always bothered me. These were our very memorable Vice Presidents at a very critical time in our history. They did a lot for Kenya. But we have over named some people and completely swept aside others. This is what I call a selective reading of our history: very juvenile if you ask me.

The name of Masinde Muliro should not only appear in institutions in Western Kenya: Muliro was a Kenyan hero not simply a politician from Kitale. And why are we silent about J.M. Kariuki? I do not think it is enough to remember J.M. only by the hospital Raila Odinga opened in his memory in Nyandarua last year. J.M. deserves more than that. A memorial library in the name of J.M. in one of our universities would be befitting. J.M. had a lot of time for the youth. As the President of the Makerere Students Guild I got to know J.M. very well. Nothing would make him more proud to know that a library, where students get enlightened, is named after him.


invenitmundo said...
September 22, 2016 at 10:30 PM  

The King of Africa Mansa Musa: the richest man who ever lived (much richer than Bill Gates or Carlos Slim ) lived over 600 years ago, and how is the situation in Africa now?