Proud to be Kenyan

If you walk through Nairobi in the evening, you will notice quite a number of things happening. Many of them are small and apparently insignificant but which can, nonetheless, set one thinking if properly contemplated.

A dangerously driven matatu will pass you, playing loud music and trying to cut in front of a small private car; when you get to the traffic lights you will find a large crowd of people attempting to cross the road even after the lights have turned green. A motorist who was ready to drive off will hoot loudly at the oblivious host and when he finally manages to worm his way through the mass of humanity, the lights will turn red.

This is what I usually observe as I walk downtown from the university, my head still reeling from the day’s last lecture; a lecture in which only a handful of us appear to struggle to stay awake – the rest having conceded defeat five minutes into the class.

While walking, I observe the people around me, a myriad of different ages, nationalities, sexes and creeds. All of them seem intent on something: A group of young, noisy primary school children pass by talking animatedly about a topic that seems to be of great national importance; a smartly dressed young lady walks past me with a sense of urgency, a newspaper in one hand and a handbag slung over the shoulder; in a nearby shop I see an elderly Mhindi man closing down the business for the day as a big, black Range Rover zooms past; and on the roadside a beggar is huddled, clutching his knees, hoping that a considerate passerby will throw some coins his way. All these people represent a beautiful compendium of the Kenyan population.

Watching all this I cannot help but think about our unique nation, about how lucky I am to be able to call myself a Kenyan.

Kenya. A beautiful country which is the envy of many other countries; countries which know only too well of the ravages of wars; of children’s education forever cut short by coups and counter-coups… Yes. I can proudly stand up anywhere in the universe and shout to all who care to listen that I AM A KENYAN!

The skirmishes that followed the 2007 General Elections nearly marred the peaceful co-existence the Kenyan people have enjoyed since independence. They, however, had a positive effect: They served as a reminder of the sad and painful effects of tribal politics and, in my opinion, helped in the rebirth of a more united nation. Where the hand felt the prick of thorns, the eyes discovered a bush of roses.

This is the Kenya we are living in. A beautiful country with smiling faces always ready to greet you wherever you turn. People ready to give you a helping hand as soon as you ask for one.

Expansive countryside lush with grass and all kinds of exotic shrubs and game: from the Hartlaub’s Turaco of Western Kenya to the African Fish Eagle of Watamu, and from the 17,000 foot Mount Kenya to the little known 7,000 foot high Lemileblu Hills, 95 Kilometers from Nairobion the Namanga road. The scenery has the ability, to quote Peter Robson’s Mountains of Kenya, to take away any breath that one might have to spare.

You only need to take a bus ride from Lamu in the Coast to the misty white highlands. The stark beauty of the northern scrubland and the vast expanse of the rolling savannah are wont to dazzle even the most casual observer.

If you are lucky, you will even catch a glimpse of the solitary regal leopard or the breathtaking 8th Wonder of the World: the wildebeest migration across the Masai Mara.

It is impossible to enumerate the countless times my heart has throbbed with pride whenever Kenya has been applauded on the international
arena: our exquisite tourist destinations and landmarks; our trademark tea and horticulture; our rugby Sevens team which is ranked seventh globally; our world-thumping athletes; the prolific authors and academicians the country has produced: from Ngugi wa Thiong’o to Margaret Ogola, Professor Ali Mazrui to the late Katama Mkangi, the 2004 Nobel laureate, Professor Wangari Maathai… to name but a few. The qualitative list is endless.

 I could sing out their praises extempore even if awakened from deep slumber at an ungodly hour of the night. The beautiful blend of people from different backgrounds and cultures forms the rich tapestry of the Kenyan people’s history.

A foreigner who has never been toKenyaand whose only knowledge of the country is gleaned from scanty descriptions in tourist guide books will no doubt think that mine is mere adulation.

What he will probably have read about are the alarming rates of poverty and illiteracy in the country, the high crime rates in its cities, the undeveloped infrastructure… In general, all that comes with being branded a third world economy.

True, we have our own fair share of problems, just like any other nation, developed or not. The majority of our people may be poor, quite a number uneducated, a considerable fraction of those educated, unemployed and only a handful of those with meaningful employment earn a decent living. But one thing is evident: We are a happy people. Happy and full of hope. Not the happiness of oblivion to our situation, nor the optimism of one who is ignorant of his incapacities. No. Ours is a joy that comes from deep within, one that cannot be taken away from us. A hope that things are slowly getting better and will continue to do so even in the future. If I may borrow Duncan Ndegwa’s words from his book, Walking in Kenyatta Struggles – My Story, “Life has taught [us] that every sunrise – whatever the circumstances – ushers in a beautiful day. This is the spirit in which I would like my story appreciated.” For what is a man deprived of joy and hope but a walking cadaver?

All these thoughts usually run through my mind as I traverse the busy Nairobi streets. By the time I snap out of my reverie, I am already at the bus stop on Tom Mboya Street. The place is a beehive of activity. I soak in the ambience through all the five senses: A hawker shouting trying to advertise his merchandise; a tout doing what he does best – touting for passengers; a wave of humanity flowing by me on both sides, moving in different directions, men and women rushing to get home after a day’s work; revelers heading to their favourite ‘joints’ for ‘one or two for the road’. On the other side of the street, a group of tired but happy-faced young men trudge homewards after a hard day’s labour at one of the Kazi Kwa Vijana initiatives. At one corner of the street, a tramp slowly folds his mat having safely tucked away the day’s collection in the innermost pocket of his jacket.

This is theKenyaI am living in. A Kenya that I, like so many other patriotic Kenyans, am willing to sacrifice my life to see reach the heights of prosperity. A Kenya we have the chance of bettering and bequeathing to posterity as a fitting gift. A Kenya we are proud of.

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