With just over 24 hours to go before we celebrate Kenya28Feb we’ve been busy spreading the word, encouraging as many people as possible to take part. Kenya28Feb is an initiative that encourages Kenyans to celebrate Kenya by standing together to sing all 3 stanzas of the Kenyan National Anthem at 1pm EAT on the 28th of February.
The reaction we have received when we share our idea has been overwhelmingly positive. Here are some of the trends I notice.
Kenyans born before independence are overwhelmingly supportive of the idea. They not only buy into Kenya28Feb they also become champions of Kenya28Feb spreading the word and mobilising their networks to sing and unite. There are several reasons for this. For example, my parents were born in the 1930s. In primary and secondary school in the 1940s/1950s they were taught to sing “God Save The King” before Kenya was liberated from colonialism. For them, standing up to sing “Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu” is powerful. It is not just a cool song played whenever one of our glorious athletes wins one of our many gold medals at each Olympic games; it is the song that signifies our liberation. In addition our National Anthem together with our National Flag were the first symbols of our country, of our collective identity, symbols that brought Kenyans together, they belong to no tribe they belong to all tribes, they belong to no religion yet they belong to all religions, they belong to no class yet they belong to all classes, they belong to no region yet they belong to all regions. Singing the national anthem for members of our liberation generation is a statement of intent. It stirs up visible emotions in men and women who do not normally share their feelings. One thing Kenyans of GenerationKenya (those born after independence) seem to forget is that independence was fought for and won largely by the youth. Yes those youths are now in their 70s and 80s but back then they were in their 20s and 30s. For this generation the National Anthem holds a special significance that perhaps no other generation will ever be able to match.
Kenyans living outside Nairobi that I have been in touch with are also very supportive of the idea. The enthusiasm we get when we talk to people in areas far from Nairobi for example Lamu or Busia is very positive. They embrace wholeheartedly the opportunity to demonstrate their Kenyan identity; they embrace the opportunity to share in a collective positive Kenyan experience. It is not hard to see why. In January 2012 I had the opportunity to spend a week in Lamu. It is beautiful beyond words, historically inclined, and soon to be home of the most significant port on the East African coast line. However, it is also very isolated. In Lamu you feel disconnected from the rest of the Kenya. Lack of basic services, the lack of infrastructure development, the daily political battles that dominate the Nairobi scene barely make a ripple there, the entertainment industry of Nairobi is as far away as Hollywood. They feel almost forgotten by Kenya. To them singing the National Anthem with other Kenyans is not just a good way to start Tuesday lunch hour, it is an opportunity to participate in a positive, non partisan, collective action that demonstrates they are part of Kenya. It helps them remind Kenya that they are there, that they are a part of us. It also helps remind those of us not from or in Lamu that they are there and that they are a part of us. These reasons also apply in some extent to Kenyans in the Diaspora where there is a lot of enthusiasm for Kenya28Feb.
On the flip side of the coin most of the people who speak out against Kenya28Feb seem to be Nairobi based, in the middle to high socio-economic bracket (the much talked about middle class and upper class). I should say the vast majority of people we speak to in this group are supportive of the idea. The opposition of some of the members of this group is not unexpected. There are several reasons for this as well, let me share some of what I have noticed. If you are based in Nairobi and have some money then you can enjoy the best that Kenya has to offer with very little effort due to your location and status. The best entertainment, the best services, room for professional and personal growth, a level of respect for your human rights. With all this as your standard every day Kenyan experience, a call to participate in singing and uniting with other Kenyans can seem like a distraction. Why do you have to sing to show unity with other Kenyans when you can share restaurants/golf courses/church pews/tweets with senior business leaders, senior government officials and senior politicians? Another argument may be that, the Kenyan upper/middle class is naturally conservative in a pussyfooting way. That it is afraid of risk, afraid of even thinking of rocking the boat. A collective singing of the National Anthem is too political, too radical, too unknown, what does it mean, what will it mean, what do the police think, what does my employer think, what does the media think?
I believe that as Kenyans it is powerful when we participate in positive collective actions such as singing the National Anthem together. On the 28th February at 1pm EAT, whatever you are doing, we invite you to stop, congregate wherever you are, and sing all three stanzas of our National Anthem. If you can take pictures and videos and send them to firstname.lastname@example.org
Kenya Istahili Heshima!
28 February 2012. 1 pm, 1 nation, 1 people, 1 anthem, united in 1 prayer for 1 Kenya. Sing and Unite!