Jamhuri Day?

I attended the Jamhuri Day celebrations at Nyayo National Stadium on 12th December and as the helicopters flew by towing banners with messages congratulating Kenya on forty five years of freedom, I was overwhelmed with feelings of pride and love for my country. But just then, D got a message from Mwalimu Mati telling him that he’d just been arrested for wearing a black T shirt demanding that MPs pay their taxes.

It is extremely disappointing that the people sworn to protect us as Kenyans now work to deny us our rights and freedoms; that on the day that we celebrate our freedom, the government blatantly works to strip us of these rights that make us Kenyan. It is disappointing that the government only recognises these rights and freedoms in so far as they do not interfere with the will of the government. That in fact the only freedom truly recognised by the government is their self-proclaimed freedom to contravene the rule of law.

The police force can regularly be counted on to obstruct peaceful attempts by Kenyans to express their desire to enjoy their rights and freedoms; the rights and freedoms that Kenyan heroes secured for every Kenyan forty five years ago. What is scary is that these officers do not seem to understand that they are abusing everyone’s rights including their own. They don’t seem to understand that they are pawns of an unjust government that will use them and then spit them out, back into the society; back with the people who they now abjure. If they do realise this, then they just do not care. They live for the moment. A brief moment when their uniforms and arms give them false power to disregard their country’s constitution, to assault and kill protected by politicians who have no consideration for the rule of law. A brief moment during which they contravene values of integrity and courtesy set out by them themselves.

Where have all the politicians gone, who called us out to match in the streets to demonstrate against unjust governments? Where are all the politicians who went up in arms following the media ban during the 2007 post election violence? What Would Raila Do… about MPs and taxes were he not our Prime Minister today? What infectious rot is it in government, that erases the memories of those leaders chosen by the people;that makes them dead to the anguish of the people who created their path into government?

And what exactly do our leaders intend to do to get themselves re-elected come 2012? What lies will blind us as we re-elect the very people who make the rights and freedoms we were promised, so elusive? Come elections, who among us will remember 12th December, 2008 and call these leaders to account and who among us will once again be a stepping stone for these arrogant, devious, power-hungry liars to get back into government?

So what now? We celebrate our freedom but we are not yet free. Like Oginga Odinga wrote, “Not Yet Uhuru”. Kenyans must continue to fight for the opportunity to truly enjoy their rights and freedoms. We must continue to fight for true leadership. We must continue to fight for equality and justice. And when the day comes that we can truly enjoy our rights and freedoms as Kenyans, then let that day be called Jamhuri Day.

The Power of Sports

Sport is a lot more than dirty kit, sweaty bodies and broken bones. Sport has within it, the power to entertain and teach, and in the process create avenues for sustainable progression in communities.

In Kenya the Rugby Super Series, brings together top players from the premier rugby clubs in the country and places them in different franchises. For the duration of the five-week long tournament, players from different clubs must learn to put differences aside and play as a team. For five weeks, players must submit to the leadership of someone else other than their own club captain and coach. They learn to respect each other and appreciate each other’s unique contributions to the team because at the end of the day, they need each other to emerge as winners of the tournament. These positive attitudes are then transferred by players to their individual clubs for the remainder of the rugby season, which I venture to suggest, has a lot to do with the genteel nature of your average rugby player.

This is not to say that the Rugby Super Series has been the redeeming feature of Kenyan rugby and its players. Rugby and sports generally does however have the incredible power to transcend borders, ethnicity, and generations. Sport makes it necessary to structure teams and bonding and interaction become inevitable. Sports inspire communication, friendship, healthy living, and good sportsmanship and with it, respect for each other. Sports provide an opportunity for everyone to experience inclusion in a society often marginalised by social, cultural or religious barriers.

Consider football and it enormous following in Kenya. Masses from every corner of Nairobi congregated at the stadium to watch Harambee Stars, the national football team, play a World Cup qualifier against Zimbabwe’s “Warriors”. When it was over, chants of “Oliech! Odinga! Obama!” filled the air celebrating a Kenyan win. People of all ages, and tribes joined in. People from all ranks in society leaped in the air celebrating and for that moment, oblivious of the diversity that ordinarily beleaguered our society.

When Jason Dunford came back home, a seven-minute Olympic 100 metres butterfly record holder, no one, despite the racial inferiority complex that many possess , cared about the colour of his skin. What mattered for that moment was that he was an athlete representing his country; Kenya.

Sports create a euphoria that can be channelled towards meeting several goals. Most of the people who attend the Safari Sevens do not understand the game but will diligently attend all three days of the tournament, spending countless hours on their feet for lack of sitting space, to cheer the “Virgin Boys” to victory. Astute executives use such opportunities’ to promote their brands.

What better opportunity to sensitize, mobilise, activate a cause than in a gathering engulfed by cohesiveness? What better setting to drive messages of peace, social justice and community development?

Sports is a means of social growth, which greatly benefits individuals. Self-esteem is raised by the inspiration of being an integral part of a group; being a cog necessary for the successful realisation of an objective. No one wants to exist in isolation. We all get a sense of pride and fulfillment from being part of a team representative of a bigger group. The thought that a community or a country has charged us with representing them instils us with a sense of pride in ourselves and in our community and gives us encouragement to work harder for ourselves and for our communities, and in so doing making us better individuals.

Whether it is a village or a slum with one television powered by a car battery or a family watching sports on cable in the comfort of their home, we are watching the same game, cheering the same team and celebrating the same win, sharing the same experience together albeit apart. What simpler way could there possibly be to effortlessly unite?

We must capitalise on the potential of sports in Kenya. It is the heartbeat of our society so it must be our priority to keep society alive.