21 September 2013. A dark day in Kenya's history but one that also brought a lot of unity. Everyone came together to help. "Even the Indians," it was said. "Najivunia kuwa mkenya" was shared by Kenyans near and far.
Today, you see everyone with that beaded bracelet on their wrist. You know the one I'm talking about. Kenya on one side, the Kenyan flag on the other.
Or that feeling of happiness when you hear someone speak Kiswahili on the other side of the globe. "I'm Kenyan too!"
Don't get us started on our beaches and our national parks. They're amazing, and you should definitely check them out.
What does it mean to be Kenyan?
Recently—unfortunately—for most people, being Kenyan has been a passive, positive thing. We celebrate the good but turn our faces away when confronted with the bad. Somebody else's problem, right? It's easy to see differences emerge once we have to deal with the hard stuff. Especially so when our privilege means that the hard stuff actually serves us—even if this is at the expense of others.
We do not have a shared Kenyan identity. We do not have shared pride in being Kenyan.
Sure, there are some things about Kenya we are willing to celebrate loud and proud. But if we truly had a shared identity and were proud of being Kenyan, it would mean that we'd be willing to put in the work to deal with the stuff that's not so great.
Misaligned incentives are at the core of many of the issues we have here. Think about corruption—it serves many to engage in this. In fact, thinking about getting rid of corruption is likely to have some people squirming, because the current systems serve them. We feed into a system that serves us, without regard for those who're punished because they can't engage with it, for many reasons including affordability (strange how we think of corruption as being affordable or not, isn't it?). Let's take another issue, traffic. A similar dynamic is at play here, where people are willing to watch out for themselves, without care for how this impacts others.
I don't think that there are groups that are more or less guilty of this than others—at least, the idealist in me hopes so. However, it does seem that over time, those with the determination to make changes lose steam and give way to a commonly-held cynicism. It won't change in our lifetimes, so why bother at all?
Why bother at all?
Because Kenyans are resilient and warm and innovative. Because our entrepreneurship culture is to be celebrated. Because of a myriad of other reasons I couldn't begin to name. Because why shouldn't people speak about us they way they do Nigeria and South Africa?
What is it going to take? How do we build a shared identity, and start to strengthen that which is good in our country as we work to change that which is not?
Honestly, I don't know. I'm hoping that there will be some wiser than myself who'll read this and reach out with an answer.
What I do know is that individuals can make commitments in the right direction. Commitments to question the status quo. To believe that we can be better. For those who can, to use our privilege to elevate other Kenyans. To stop only watching out for ourselves. To be kind.