Get AfricaFocus Bulletin by e-mail!
Print this page
Note: This document is from the archive of the Africa Policy E-Journal, published
by the Africa Policy Information Center (APIC) from 1995 to 2001 and by Africa Action
from 2001 to 2003. APIC was merged into Africa Action in 2001. Please note that many outdated links in this archived
document may not work.
Kenya: Uhuru Generation
Kenya: Uhuru Generation
Date distributed (ymd): 000809
Document reposted by APIC
Region: East Africa
Issue Areas: +economy/development+ +political/rights+
This posting contains a speech by human rights lawyer Njonjo Mue to
the annual conference of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA).
Additional documents from the conference and information about the
KCA can be found on the KCA web site
(http://www.kenyansabroad.org). The KCA also has a very active
discussion group (kca-l) at http://www.egroups.com
Another posting today includes a press release on the new agreement
signed between the International Monetary Fund and the government
of Kenya which went into effect this month.
Uhuru Generation: Taking a Stand on High Ground!
An address by Njonjo Mue to the Kenya Community Abroad (KCA).
Conference on Kenya in the 21st Century
St Paul, MN, USA
30 June - 3 July 2000
The voice of our generation has been silent for far too long.
Tonight, I want to speak to you about our role in Kenya's
reconstruction and transformation as well as our vision for the
country we wish to build and pass on to those who come behind us.
Not very long ago, Kenya was proudly referred to as the 'Shining
Star of the East'. A rare African showcase. It was a land where
black and white lived together in peace; the economy was growing;
the dignity of all was taken for granted, and we all knew a bit of
what it was to be human -- to have food for our bodies, education
for our minds, houses to live in and roads to travel on. We shared
what we had equitably, and where it was not enough to go round, we
ensured that there was equal opportunity to compete
for access to the riches of the land. We celebrated our strong but
we also took care of our weak. For a while, the birthplace of
humankind was also becoming the cradle of human hope.
But that was then.
To go to Kenya today is to descend into the valley of the shadow of
Our country is in darkness in more ways than one. Death strikes
with unnerving frequency and ruthless efficiency - on our roads,
in our hospitals, in ethnic clashes, through mob violence, even
through bombs targeted at other people.
The walls we built to keep out the enemies of poverty, hunger and
disease have all been torn down. God's children now huddle
pitifully together, exposed to the elements of hopelessness, and
vulnerable to the merciless chill of despair.
Today life in Kenya has become a meaningless search for meaning.
Death is the only certainty we know – death of the body and spirit
long before the death of the body. Kenya closely resembles
Ezekiel's valley of dry bones. For we are surrounded by dry bones
scattered over a patched and thirsty land. They include massive
corruption and looting of the resources of the land by their
custodians, tribalism, collapsed systems, urban decay, rural
underdevelopment, and so on.
We are all well aware of what ails our land, so I shall not dwell
on it. Instead, allow me to focus on the two realities that we
Defining the Uhuru Generation:
I wish to remind you that throughout this discussion, I am an
emissary of the Uhuru Generation. So I better take a moment and
define who I am talking about.
The Uhuru Generation is the generation of women and men born after
the midnight hour of 12 December 1963. They are the true daughters
and sons of Kenya having been born in Kenya after the country
joined the family of sovereign nations in contrast to those
naturalized citizens like Daniel Arap Moi who had to give up the
citizenship of Empire when Kenya was born in 1963.
Ours is the generation in whose name the struggle for independence
was waged. But we now find ourselves impoverished and
disinherited, aliens and sojourners in the land of our birth. We
are the inheritors of an uneasy peace. But despite forming the
overwhelming majority of Kenya's population today, we have largely
been excluded from taking our full part in shaping the fortunes of
Not only are we the majority of Kenya's masses, we also shoulder a
disproportionate burden of Kenya's losses. Young people today bear
the brunt of poverty, unemployment, HIV/AIDS, failed social
services and collapsed infrastructure. Not only has the political
class stolen from us the tangible little luxuries of this life,
they have deigned to take from us that which only the Creator can
give and take by robbing us of the intangible qualities that
define us as humans -–like hope, godly ambition, genuine peace of
heart and mind, and the ability to dream of a better tomorrow. We
squint as we gaze at the horizon trying to make out the light of
our new dawn but all we can see is darkness unending.
But it has not always been this dark. For across the sky of our
long night of lost opportunities, there have been a few scattered
stars. They have twinkled briefly to illuminate our collective
path before flickering out again. We would not lament their demise
had they not etched themselves on the edges of our consciousness.
The generation for which I speak is not ungrateful for the
contributions of those gone before us. We are beholden to them:
In a word, we are not ungrateful to all the women, men and children
who have given their lives in the search for peace and the
struggle for human dignity in our homeland of Kenya. We celebrate
their courage and their sacrifice.
But great though their accomplishments are, we must hasten to
remind ourselves that a growing nation cannot afford to rest on
its laurels, for its children will not find solace in its glorious
past. We must confront present realities in order to march
confidently into our common future.
We cannot continue to play second fiddle in the country that we
own, while people who have clearly demonstrated that they have no
stake in our future run it to the ground. Young people cannot sit
by and let others define them or their mission on their own terms.
A country divided - Kenya's apartheid:
A country divided cannot stand. South Africa is a very good case
study. I have heard a lot of people mistakenly saying that South
Africa gained her independence in 1994. This is not true. South
Africa gained independence in 1910. That was the year that the
Union of South Africa was formed after the Anglo-Boer war resulted
in the departure of the British colonialist. But after the exit of
the colonial rulers, a tiny minority of South Africa's population
took the reigns of power and systematically oppressed the
majority. This culminated in the introduction of formal apartheid
rule in 1948 when the National Party government came to power. And
as we all know majority rule was finally achieved in 1994 after a
long and bloody struggle.
Kenya still yearns for her 1994.
British colonists left in 1963, but we have not as yet achieved
majority rule. Like South Africa, a minority group took the reigns
of power after independence. The same group continues to oppress
the majority to this day, with a few comings and goings. The only
difference is that unlike South Africa, the protagonists in Kenya
are not defined by race. They are not even defined by tribe or
class. They are defined by age and gender. A tiny minority of old
men led by Daniel Moi continues to ride roughshod over the
majority of the people - mainly women and the Uhuru Generation.
But we should not merely point to the government, for it is by no
means the only culprit. I am referring to the establishment as a
whole. For just like apartheid in South Africa extended its
tentacles to every facet of society, so too Kenya's minority of
old males with one foot in the grave extends its rule everywhere,
including the political Opposition, the institutions of learning,
business, the church and the media. And to merely ask Moi to leave
office is equivalent to asking F. W. De Klerk to quit government
while leaving the whole apartheid machine intact. Like Apartheid
in South Africa, Kenya's Geriatric Oligarchy cannot be reformed.
It must be dismantled.
That is why the message that must go out of St. Paul tonight, and
reverberate in the ears of Mr. Moi and Mr. Kibaki; Mr. Nyachae and
Mr. Saitoti; Mr. Muite and Mr. Raila, is as simple as it is
profound. GENTLEMEN, END THIS APARTHEID NOW!
But for those who might find the apartheid paradigm uncomfortable,
let me approach the same conclusion from another direction. When a
monarch dies leaving an heir who is too young to rule, a Regent is
appointed to oversee the affairs of state until the heir becomes
of age. Well, I submit to you that the time has come for the
regents appointed on our behalf in 1963 to get out of the way, for
the rightful heirs to Kenya's throne have finally come of age.
Throwing old men into the sea?
But, one might ask, what about our tradition and the place it
accords to elders? Are we throwing all that away? The answer is
no. We are not advocating that we throw all old men into the sea
(though their performance lately has caused the thought to cross
our minds). We will continue to value their wisdom and their
We are not departing from tradition, but enforcing it.
For Africans never did send their old and their frail into the
battlefield. We listened keenly to their whispers of wisdom. But
it is the young that must go to the front line and face the enemy.
What enemies do we face today?
We face the challenges of the information revolution - what sense
does it make to send someone who has never used a computer to the
frontline? We face the challenge of globalization - What sense
does it make to promote somebody to the rank of General by virtue
only of the fact that he studied economics at the LSE in the early
sixties? We face extinction through HIV and AIDS - what sense does
it make to let a conservative old man who cannot mention the word
'sex' without biting his tongue command our troops? We face
humiliation as a people and indignity as a race - What sense does
it make to prop up Lieutenants by virtue only of the fact that
their colour is acceptable to those to whom we extend our begging
Not only does it not make sense to recruit from among the ranks of
the old and infirm, we should also be careful to recruit soldiers
with demonstrated loyalty to our cause. For we have been jilted
for far too long and cheated far too often. We have had our hearts
broken when we found suitors who had vowed to remain forever
faithful to our cause in bed with those ravishing us.
But even though we are a hurting people today, I must state
emphatically that we are not a desperate people; what's more, we
much wiser for our experiences. Consequently, we shall no longer
take our latter day saints at their word. You cannot sup with the
devil one day and then anoint yourself our savior the next.
And so even as we nurse our wounds, we need to marshal supreme
confidence and demonstrate to the world that Kenyans and Africans
are not the children of a lesser god. We cannot do so without the
wisdom and experience of the elders, but they must not purport to
fight the battles of our time for us.
That, we must do for ourselves.
Without a vision
I suppose by now you are all thinking that I am being a bit tough
on the old folk and blaming them for everything. Well, not quite.
The last dry bone in Kenya's wasteland of lost opportunities is
one for which we all share a responsibility. It is the bone of a
lack of a vision.
To what does our government aspire beyond perpetuating its own stay
in power? What does the opposition work for beyond trying to
capture that power? What are we as a people working for beyond
In short what is the vision for our country?
In the history of our nationhood, we have often substituted
platitudes for vision. In the 1970's and 80's the government
promised that there would be electricity for all by the year 2000;
water for all by the year 2000; education for all by the year
2000; health for all by the year 2000.
Well, 2000 is halfway gone and on all scores we are worse off than
we were when these empty promises were made. Like all the empty
promises of yesteryear, the latest round, including that of
industrialization by 2020, are just hollow platitudes.
One is tempted to think that at the time of these extravagant
promises, the Kenyan government seems to have hoped that the world
would end by the year 2000 - in which case all their promises would
be fulfilled in heaven. Now that the end is not nigh, one wonders
what next, mass suicide? Well, not quite. But perhaps the
equivalent seeing as the government is doing all it can to
encourage Kenyans to immigrate abroad where at least there is
electricity, water and education for all in the year 2000.
But it behooves our generation to define a new vision for our
country and to draw a roadmap to a new dispensation. We cannot wait
for the government to do this for us. We must somehow find the
courage to forge a new consensus for the country that we wish to
build and bequeath to those who come behind us. We might be able to
draw some inspiration from our past achievements, few though they
are, but we cannot hope to find the answer for our tomorrows in
But why is vision important?
There are two main reasons.
First, 'without a vision the people perish'. The word for 'perish'
in the original Hebrew does not actually mean physical death. It
means that people go naked and are impoverished. But one does not
need to understand Hebrew to see that this is exactly the state we
are in today. We can blame our woes on any number of people -
Parliament blames Biwott, for the power rationing; Biwott blames
Kibaki and Nyachae; Nyachae says Moi should take responsibility;
Moi says he was not a rainmaker!
Every time a catastrophe strikes us. We can round up all the usual
suspects - Moi, Kenyatta, constitutional reform, colonial rule,
world economic order, the weather, my neighbour's tribe, your
sister's gender, and so on.
But I came all the way from Johannesburg to St. Paul today, to let
you know that we are doomed to go round in circles - to repeat the
same mistakes, to play the blame game, to wallow in the valley of
despair - until we apprehend the real culprit: Our own loss of a
dream; our own lack of vision.
The second reason why vision is vital is this:
Without a future, human beings are programmed to go back to their
Every time the children of Israel lost sight of the Promised Land
they demanded of Moses that he take them back to Egypt. A man who
sees no future in his marriage will return to his multiple
partners. And ask any police investigator where they go to look
for a convict who has escaped from jail - they go to all the places
where he used to hang out.
Tragically, we see many examples of that in Kenya today. Children
are doing homework by candlelight tonight, families eat in
darkness in scenes reminiscent of the 1960s. We have also taken to
appointing white Kenyans to important positions, not necessarily
because they are competent, but in a cynical attempt to win favour
from our former colonizers who instinctively trust their own kind
more than they trust us. Even more tragically, I have heard
intelligent people ask, "If only the British would come back and
Without a future, we have gone back to our past. Without a vision,
the people are perishing.
But we must never give up hope. It is not too late to define a new
vision for our country. This is the vision of the Uhuru Generation:
We shall build a strong, united and prosperous African country
comprising a diverse multicultural society, with a vibrant economy
providing equal opportunity for individual and communal growth;
and where freedom, human dignity and respect for the rights of all
will be the basis of social behaviour by the citizen and the State
But what will separate our vision from the 'by the year 2000'
platitudes I spoke about earlier?
By constantly remembering that vision without action is fiction; by
developing programmes that are carefully design to make our vision
a reality, and by moving beyond merely talking about our problems
to actually individually owning them and mobilizing our own
physical and intellectual resources to reclaim out land of promise.
And of vital importance, we must remember that we will never attain
our vision in the sense that we can sit down and rest. We must
forever keep it ahead of us so that it can define our purpose, set
our boundaries and parameters and test our character, individually
and collectively. And when the Uhuru Generation itself becomes
older, and if we have been faithful in staying on the path, we
shall not fear to hand over to the next generation to continue to
build upon the promise.
I wish to end where I began, with the Prophet Ezekiel at the valley
of the dry bones:
"Young woman, young man, can these bones live again?"
The answer lies in the eye of the Beholder
For if we focus only
On the legacy bequeathed us
By those gone before us
A legacy of wasted years and lost days
Of greed and corruption, vice and violence
Of shattered lives and broken dreams
Then we can only but see dry bones
At the bottom of the desolate valley
Of our painful yesterdays.
But if we lift up our eyes unto the hills
And focus our gaze
On the distant horizons
Of our new tomorrows
If we defy the odds and rebuild together
If we make God our closest ally
And vision our guiding principle
Then we shall see our homeland of Kenya
Once again becoming A heritage of splendor.
An address by Njonjo Mue to the Kenya Community Abroad (KCA)
This material is being reposted for wider distribution by the
Africa Policy Information Center (APIC). APIC provides
accessible information and analysis in order to promote U.S.
and international policies toward Africa that advance economic,
political and social justice and the full spectrum of human rights.