Kenya28Feb: Carry On

At 1pm EAT Kenyans across the country, across the continent and across the globe stood and sang all three stanzas of the Kenyan National Anthem together as part of Kenya28Feb. We sang for a variety of reasons. Some sang to demonstrate patriotism, others to celebrate Kenya and Kenyans, others as a prayer for our country, others as a show of unity, to demonstrate there is more that unites us than divides us. Many of us sang for a mixture of all these reasons and others not listed here. What is important is that we stood and sang. This is the 2nd year Kenya28Feb has rallied Kenyans to sing our National Anthem collectively. I have written before on the power of the symbolic collective singing of our anthem and on some of the reasons different groups of people sang today. Today I’d like to share my thoughts on the, “What Next?” question.

Many people, supporters and those not supportive of Kenya28Feb, seem baffled by our advice to congregate, sing and disperse. No speeches, no rallies, no food drives, no estate clean ups, no tree planting, no IDP relocating, not even blood donation! “NO NOTHING? WHY? HOW? WHAT? USELESS!” Is it not important to donate blood, don’t we feel that trees are worth planting, and do we not cry out at the injustice of IDPs still in camps 4 years after they were first displaced, and who does not want to live in a clean estate? Doesn’t Kenya28Feb? Valid questions.

This blog post is written for the Kenya28Feb family, that is, all those who sang the National Anthem on Kenya28Feb. If you did not see the point of singing or if you were against the singing you probably won’t get much out of this post. If you didn’t see the point of singing this post won’t change your mind about that. If you did sing and are wondering what next, let’s talk.

So we sang our beautiful anthem for the 2nd year in a row. What do we do now? Why just disperse? Why go back to doing what we were doing?

My response to these questions starts with this observation, most Kenyans I meet are doing remarkable things! At Mavuno we call it ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Most Kenyans I know constantly give sacrificially whether it’s time/money/expertise to wonderful causes/initiatives that would die without their support. Most Kenyans I know are engaged in their communities, building clinics, paying school fees, protecting the vulnerable etc. When we suggest that you sing and then disperse to continue with your day, what we are actually saying is that you are already part of the solution! You are lifting up our families, our communities, and our society. You are engaged and YOU have figured out the solutions! Solutions that no one else may have seen. Carry on!

I live In Nairobi, Kenyans from different corners of the country, Lamu, Busia, Kakamgea, Eldoret etc all sang today. They know their communities better than I ever will, they know the solutions their community needs better than I do. Why then would I prescribe a solution for Kenyans who sang in those areas? I live in the Kilimani area of Nairobi; many who sang live in other parts of Nairobi. They know their communities better than I do, they know the solutions those communities need better than I do. Why wait for me to tell you what to do next? You are already doing it! Carry on!

There are three assumptions I am making here. The first assumption is that you spend your most productive time each day on positive actions that build up your community and in turn your society, that you are a provider of solutions to the problems in your community. Whether in tech, in media, in film, in music, in banking, in medicine, in law, in the police, in government, in emergency response, in the NGO world, in school, on campus etc wherever you are in this season of you life, I assume that you are a solutions provider. The second assumption is that you are passionate about the solutions you are working on. You believe in them. The third assumption is that you work on those solutions because they make an impact. Your solutions transform your community positively.

Why don’t we tell you to go out and plant trees? Some of you are already planting trees and those of you who aren’t have skills that are utilised elsewhere! Why don’t we organise a food drive, some of you are already Feeding Kenya. How about IDPs? Do we not feel for them? Of course we do, and many of us who sang today are already working on providing long-term solutions for our brothers and sisters in IDP camps. Carry on!

Why doesn’t Kenya28Feb leverage on its network? Well we are! Our network is you and the solutions you are working on. Our symbolic act of unity connected us! We celebrate you, and now all of us can help you to work on your solution! We won’t give you a solution, we’ll help you work on yours.

The point I am trying to make is this, a solution prescribed by someone who does not understand the context will never work as well as the solution advocated by you who does. Carry on!

Do not sit around “waiting patiently” for a magic solution, it does not exist. Do not sit around waiting for the mantle to be passed to you, YOU already have it. Do not pontificate about how Kenya28Feb has no ideas, share YOUR idea. Most of you who sang already get this. Carry on!

You also understand, unlike some of our brothers and sisters, that singing the anthem does not stop you from working on those solutions. You know the equation is not “working on solutions v singing the anthem”, the correct equation is “working on solutions + singing the anthem”. Some belch that all we do is sing three stanzas once a year then disappear, well we know what we do the rest of the year, working on those solutions! Doing what we were already doing before we took a pause to sing together.

Some suggestions: let us share what we are doing amongst our networks (which if you are reading this includes me) what you are doing? If you have gaps in your capacity the person who can fill that gap is probably closer than you imagine. Let us highlight those providing positive solutions with impact in our communities, let us encourage each other, let us work together, let us grow together, let us support each other and next year let us sing on Thursday 28th Feb 2013 to celebrate each other!

I’ll stop there because I know you have a lot of work to do. Carry on!

(If you have not found a way in which you can become a solution provider in your community, if you are struggling to find a way to impact your community positively then this conversation is for you too. Let’s start talking about your passions and we’ll find a way to get you working on a solution you are passionate about!)

Kenya28Feb: Meaning behind singing

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

Kenya Istahili Heshima!

28 February 2012. 1 pm, 1 nation, 1 people, 1 anthem, united in 1 prayer for 1 Kenya. Sing and Unite!

Kenya28Feb: Power of the Symbolic

On the morning of 12 December 1963, Kisoi Munyao, like many of his fellow countrymen and women, had things to do. Getting ready for independence was hard work and Munyao along with many other Kenyans had been busy preparing for this day, which had finally come.

For Munyao, however, while the day was about celebration, it was also a day for very hard work. While the rest of the country prepared for its Jamhuri party he prepared to complete the final ascent up Mount Kenya so that he could plant the new flag of his newly independent country on the highest peak of its land.

Kisoi Munyao, it seems, understood the importance of symbolic gestures. Did raising the Kenyan flag on Mount Kenya make Kenya any more independent than if he hadn’t bothered? Probably not! If he had not raised the flag on Mount Kenya would Kenya have been any less independent? Probably not! Does this mean that his actions have no value? In my book, his actions are extremely valuable for a variety of reasons.

By raising the flag of the new republic of Kenya on Mount Kenya on the day of independence Munyao was proclaiming ownership of Kenya for Kenyans. He was laying down a marker, he was claiming the land, as it seems. A symbolic gesture, yes, but one with power.

In February last year together with some friends we launched Kenya28Feb. The idea was simple, at 1pm EAT on the 28th of February we would urge as many Kenyans as we could to congregate and sing all three stanzas of our National Anthem. It did not matter where you were, who you were, what you were doing, for those 3 minutes, stop, sing the national anthem and then continue with your day.

Why did we do this and why do we think it is a good idea? We felt that as Kenyans we spend too much time discussing what divides us rather than what unites us. We spend a lot of time highlighting our differences rather than sharing what brings us together. We wanted a participatory positive action, one that any Kenyan could take part in equally, regardless of socio economic status, tribe, location, race, gender, and age. Beyond participation we wanted an action that demonstrated as a country there is more that unites us than divides us. We wanted a positive action that demonstrated ownership. For far to long the symbols of our country have been inaccessible to ordinary Kenyans. I remember being shocked as a teenager to find out that I am not allowed to fly the national flag on a flagpole outside our house. I was equally shocked to learn then that only senior government officials are allowed to fly the national flag on their cars. Our 2nd president in his intellectual insecurities took our national pledge and turned it into a joke. As Kenyans it is very important that we reclaim these symbols as a step in helping us create and establish our identity as a country.

So did Kenya28Feb in 2011 work? More than we imagined! Supermarkets countrywide turned off their tills, played the National Anthem over their PA systems as shoppers and staff stood together and sang, TV and radio stations interrupted their normal programming and played the National Anthem, Kenyans gathered at places of worship, at bus stops, in parks, in schools, in offices, in shopping malls, at roadsides, in technology labs, in government offices and sang. Kenyans in the Diaspora woke up early, went to bed late so they could sing at 1PM EAT. And perhaps even more important all these actions started a debate on what our identity as Kenyans really is and what counts as effective action.

This year we ask you again to partner with us to Sing and Unite! On the 28th of February 2012 at 1pm EAT get together with at least one other Kenyan and sing all three stanzas of our national anthem, in Kiswahili or in English as a demonstration of unity. 1pm, 1 nation, 1 people, 1 anthem, united in 1 prayer for 1 Kenya.

Inevitably some will find the whole idea of a symbolic gesture distasteful. They will say that instead of singing the anthem you should write a strategic plan on how to repair our crumbling roads, that perhaps you should go out and plant trees instead, or maybe they’ll tell you to stop wasting time singing and instead draw a plan to feed and house IDPs. These are all worthy causes, without a doubt. Yet it is ridiculous to say that celebrating Kenya for 3 minutes stops us from working on those causes. As Kenyans we should be constantly engaged in our communities, constantly working to provide solutions to the problems we see around us in our society. My friends who initiated Kenya28Feb are good examples of this, in media, in film, in design, in the arts, in music, in civic society, in technology, in sports, in our companies, in our NGOs, in our foundations, we are constantly engaged with our community and I know most of you are too. So when someone tells you that you should use your time to build the country instead of singing the National Anthem tell them that you are already building the country and singing in an extension of that and then invite them to join you on the 28th!

For those who tell you that symbolic gestures are never important, remind them of Kisoi Munyao, walking up that mountain while the rest of the country partied. Remind them how he demonstrated his love and ownership for his newly independent country in a symbolic gesture. Then invite them to take ownership of our anthem and our nation together with you.

For more information check out

28 February 2012. 1 pm, 1 nation, 1 people, 1 anthem, united in 1 prayer for 1 Kenya. Sing and Unite!

Edit 1: I misspelt Munyao – Thanks Shiko for catching that.