12 March 2013

Kenya's amazing display of patriotism

Since 2007, every time you hear the words ‘Kenyans’ and ‘politics’ uttered in the same breath, you might imagine the worst. But then again, every time you see Kenyans acting on politics, you witness the best.

During election day and the ensuing days while waiting for the results, Kenyans proved they have something else - the spirit of hope, resilience, patience, love for their country, and respect for their fellow Kenyans. The only other time the older generation said they witnessed what we went through over the past few days, was during the dawn of independence.

Hail the people of Kenya! by Peter Oduor, DN2 magazine, March 11

The world paused to watch Kenyans troop out to vote on Monday last week, and blogged in awe as the elderly, the youthful, the sickly, and the healthy joined kilometer-long lines to polling stations in a show of regal patriotism never witnessed this side of independence.

If you woke up at 5am on Monday morning to vote, you woke up late. Because, by this time, some of the 33,000-plus polling stations in all the 47 counties had significant queues. Some 14.3 million people registered to vote for this election, and a good number were on their way out. In the villages, cocks crowed to empty homes since, as early as 3am, Kenyans were out plodding their way in the darkness towards their voting centers.

They stayed at the stations, most of which were opened between 6am and 8am, till well past 9pm in some centers, with others going on into the night. In some places, the wind blew cold and misty. In others, it blew hot and dusty. In the end, the day proved long for all.

Civic duty
It may have been a democratic right. It may have been a civic duty. It may have been the courage to view themselves as employers giving a select few the authority, space, and power to represent them and articulate their interests at a higher level. It may have been the knowledge that change starts with them - the individuals - before it goes to the leaders.

It may have been all of the above this time round. Because it was personal; a colorful, heart-warming show of determination and hope.

No single event tells the awe-inspiring story of this election more than the death of 72-year-old Wanjiku Maina, who died while in a queue at a polling station in Murang’a. No single event paints the determination of the electorate better than that of the woman at Muthurwa polling station who gave birth while waiting for her turn at the booth. By the birth of that lovely boy she named Amani, Kenya seems to have been reborn as well.

Erick (23) was at his polling station in Kajiado North by 5am. And while on his way to the station, he sent texts and made phone calls to friends, urging them out of the house to go vote. But Erick is not the only one who called people that morning. He was one in an army of devoted Kenyans who, from Sunday, when the clock struck midnight, pulled out their mobile phones and started sending group texts.

But, why care so much?
The answer lies in our social psychology and how in-group solidarity drives people to join hands in a cause. The need to be part of a social phenomenon, especially where members of one’s society are taking part in, points to why people could have taken their time to call each other up, send texts, and pick each other up to go to polling stations. The comfort lies in knowing that you form part of a larger thing.

What, then, is patriotism? Let us start by what it is not. Patriotism is not about self-righteous flag-waving. It is also not about pompous expression aimed at appealing to people in peripheral reasoning spheres.

Dr Tom Namwamba, a philosophy lecturer at Kenyatta University, says patriotism is intent love for one’s country that negates ethnicity and cuts across all cultures, age, gender, religion, and class boundaries. “Patriotism is about cultivating a sense of collective responsibility and using the self-will of this understanding in an individual to uplift one another as a group,” he says.

Lawyer James Okeyo knows who the real hero of the whole exercise is. “The average Kenyan loves his country too much to put it at risk,” he says. “Left to their own devices, Kenyans can undertake any political exercise in peace.”

The false start by the IEBC in relaying information from the polling centers to the national centers for reception and announcement at Bomas, and the failure of the transmission system, were the ultimate tests on the level of restraint of Kenyans, especially in the wake of simmering rumors and fears of inaccurate results being relayed. But, being the graceful patriots that they are, Kenyans held their own, peacefully managing their expectations, anxieties, and frustrations.

Dr Namwamba, whose ringtone is Kenya's National Anthem, concludes that love for one another as members of the human race and as creatures of God drove the hearts of Kenyans in these past few days. But the greatest of all was the love for their country, and that is what patriotism is all about.

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