Proudly Kenyan

Yona F. Maro

Nov 2, 2006
Proudly Kenyan! - Monday, December 31, 2007

A talk by Eric Kimani to the Final 2007 Nairobi Marketers Night on 7th December 2007

Distinguished guests, ladies & gentlemen,

Thank you for inviting me to come and speak at the Marketers Night Out dinner. Your publication “Marketing Africa” is known for its high standards and it is an honor for me to be here tonight.

I am told that all good speeches begin with a light moment and I will keep to this tradition and tell you a true story…about Mr. Smith, Kamau and Mr. Patel!

The choice of a topic for you was complicated by the diverse nature of your audience- some are pure marketers, some are sales people some are in advertising while some are in pure branding. I believe everyone though is a marketer of some sort. The one thing you have in common that made me choose a topic is your influence on society. I don’t think there is any other professional group that influences the social economic and political fabric of our society more than you marketers. You even shape public opinion.

I am known for my talking about the soft issues in life rather than technical one and I have today chosen to talk to you on being Proudly Kenyan.

The first time I moved out of the confines of my constituency to experience the greater Kenya was when I joined form 5 in Meru School in 1977. There I met people from all over Kenya. My best friend was Omondi Oloo. We talked and shared our common aspirations as young Kenyans. As we approached the end of 1978 amid calls of “The cock is too old” our then president Mzee Jomo Kenyatta passed away. There was unease, fear and anxiety. Many said Kenya would disintegrate into civil war! This quickly passed away. The immediate past president Moi took Power and ruled for 24 years. An attempted but failed coup in 1982 almost interrupted Moi’s rule spreading further fear among all and sundry. At every election time during Moi’s 24-year rule, there was unease, anxiety and fear. It reached its height in 1992 with the politically instigated tribal clashes appearing in the Rift Valley and the Coast. Again many predicted this was the beginning of the end and Kenya stood at the brink of civil war! In 2002 as we approached another change of guard, there was fear and unease again and amid calls “Moi must go and Kibaki Tosha” president Moi gave way to HE Mwai Kibaki. In my humble view, this is the first time during elections in the history of independent Kenya that I sense that the unease, anxiety and fear level is lower than it has ever been which in a sense is political maturity. But before I digress too much into politics let me come back to the point I wanted to make.

After school I began work. I worked under the late Mohamed Akram Bhatti, an Asian of Pakistan origin who was the then chairman of the Young Muslim Association. When I decided to get married in 1983, he among others wearing the customary uniform suits and standing nearly seven foot tall, was one of the groomsmen in my wedding- himself a Muslim leader. My parents are deeply religious and anchored on Christianity. Akram’s family, which was deeply Islamic severally visited the village and enjoyed our company. Indeed we started a partnership to rear chicken with him and my father but the venture failed!

What am I driving at? I am driving at the point that Omondi Oloo, Akram Bhatti and Eric Kimani were, besides being Luo, Pakistani and Kikuyu proudly Kenyan! Our diversity was our strength. It gave us color! Why has it become so pronounced that we are of this and that tribe and not Kenyan? How deep is your love for Kenya? Are you proud to be Kenyan?

What do I want to tell you tonight? I want to tell you to be proudly Kenyan; I want to remind you that you have no choice; I want to remind you that Kenya is all there is for us all; I want to remind us that being Proudly Kenyan must begin by marketing this agenda in our minds!

I would like to begin by describing why in my view we have failed the test of being Proudly Kenyan.

1. Tribalism- We wrongfully accept that our tribal differences is our greatest weakness. In my view this should be a strength and not a weakness as I will allude to later. Some of our politicians and outsiders have made this worse by using it for their own selfish ends. As I speak there is heightened tribal animosity in some places where it was planted in 1992! Ethnic and tribal discrimination and identification is based on perceived insecurity. Indeed, I accept an argument by Pastor Oginde who recently argued that were it not for our strong religious grounding, tribalism would by now have torn Kenya apart! Kenyans have exercised restraint in the face of great provocation as history has shown. My prayer tonight is that we will continue to exercise this restraint while at the same time building a national identity that is truly Kenyan!
When is the last time you got out of your way to help one who is not from your own tribe? This weekend we had the mentoring session for about 100 Palmhouse Secondary school kids- It was so fulfilling for me to see the Muslim girls and boys spread out their mats on the open grass to pray! It was exciting to see Terry Davidson and his wife among others spend time mentoring Kenyan kids; it was exciting to see Michael Owuor from Nyanza mentoring Josephine Kamene from Kitui; while Jane was mentoring Fatuma! Serving your own does not bring the Kenyan message home- even thieves watch over their own. You must begin where you are- invite the diversity on your board of directors on your management team. How you behave speaks louder than what you say

2. We are not patriotic enough to be proudly Kenyan. We have agreed to be influenced by some outsiders and selfish leaders to hate our own country. Who can hate his/her own mother? Have you observed the patriotism of Americans, Japanese, British, Indians, Chinese, and French etc? It always amazes me when I visit America- Many Americans will tell you what a great country America is: how lucky they are; how blessed they are and then proceed to give you their political opinion which may be as harsh as any. Ask a Kenyan his view of our country and he/she will start mourning the troubles of Kenya and the government. Recently a well educated Kenyan lady came seeking my assistance to go to America. She began telling me how life in Kenya is hell! How there is no hope in this country. How she must get herself and her family to America. I go America relatively quite often in the last few years. I have two sisters and other relatives. While admittedly life in the short run is better in the US, nothing in my view beats Kenya. If those in America were to tell you frankly, many would love to come back home if there were opportunities! Why do we speak so ill of our country? President George W. Bush this year issued an official proclamation of May 1st 2007 as Loyalty Day- This is a now a legal holiday (not federal) in the US whose purpose is quote “a day for the affirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American Freedom” end of quote. We are not short of examples to follow.

3. We have failed the proudly Kenyan test because we are unable to separate Kenya from the political leadership. Kenya is not made up of politicians. The president is not Kenya. Parliament is not Kenya. Kenya is bigger than the sum total of all! I like the way for example Americans and Canadians are proud of being such- in many American homes they fly their flag; the Canadians wear lapel pins of their flag. If you did it in Kenya people might mistake you for a member of KANU. We must change this. We must treat our flag with pride and no political party should be allowed our national colors!

4. We have failed the Proudly Kenyan test because of a deeply colonized mind- I once observed the behavior of a particular African head of state at a dinner function. When a person of any other shade except black went to whisper/exchange niceties he would straighten up and put on a wide smile. When an African approached him his demeanor would completely change to one of “what do you want”? We are our worst enemies! We still do not believe enough in ourselves; we still largely think we do not measure up!

5. We have failed the proudly Kenyan test because of a poor work ethic-I am finally persuaded to agree with a theory that perhaps due to long and undue colonization, we Africans came to believe that work is to be avoided. I once received a call from London in the early nineties from an investor in a tea plantation who left Kenya in the late sixties. He could not understand that workers had gone on strike and his question was why we could not get the DC to whip the natives back to work! In Africa unlike in the west and the east work is not treated as godly or duty or something that must be done. Indeed if you can get paid to do the least, you consider yourself as doing well! This must change if we are to get anywhere! Work is no longer punishment! We must treat work as a duty and a godly thing to do to be proudly Kenyan.

6. We have often failed the Proudly Kenyan test because we believe and think small of ourselves- As a family we own and run a micro-dairy processing plant where we have packaged milk for over a decade. It never ceases to amaze me that often when we tell people we sell milk to Serena hotel or Nairobi Hospital among others, their first reaction is “do you supply raw milk in big containers”! We think small!

7. We have failed the Proudly Kenyan test because of what I refer to as a PHD mentality- A “Pull Him Down”! We seem to pursue a line of thinking in a scarcity paradigm that if we are all doing badly it is okay but it is not okay that some do so well and better than us! I once had an employee walk into my office and argue that we should not give a pay rise to another employee on promotion because he would get better paid than him and he considered himself senior but grossly underpaid. I agreed that he is underpaid but pulling his colleague down was scarcity approach. He should have supported his pay rise and use it to argue for an even bigger pay rise himself instead of wearing a PHD hat!

What must we do to get better at being Proudly Kenyan?

1. We must lead the way and begin by marketing Kenya in our own minds. We must begin to walk the talk and talk positively of Kenya.
I have resolved never to take part in a conversation to demean my country. We must stop confusing Kenya with some of our poor leaders. Very often some foreigners will start a conversation on how corrupt Kenya is! I refuse to accept this line of argument. Kenya is not corrupt but a very small number in leadership often working in cohort with foreigners are corrupt! Being Proudly Kenyan calls for us to live it and show it! I once sent an exchange student back to America before his time for among other things his stand on Kenya- he persistently talked ill of the country and our leaders!

2. Being Proudly Kenyan calls on us to begin to take responsibility. You must begin to be the one who gives way in traffic; the one who refuses to cut others in traffic: the one who refuses to drive on the pavement and break the kerb. Do you know that in the USA and other western cities for example, there are no lights or policemen to control inter-sections and motorists just control themselves? Common courtesy is lacking for us to be proudly Kenyan. Stop talking and shifting blame on government- you are the government. Do something! Half of the traffic jams in Nairobi are caused by lack of common courtesy- let us resolve to lead the way.

3. Being proudly Kenya calls for Buy Kenyan Build Kenya- Buy Tusker, Yana etc. attend local theatre; attend local restaurants; retain local talent; get services like medical, etc from Kenyans! Stories are told of people who bought suits made in Kenya from some western cities for three times the price on Biashara Street in Nairobi! The Export Processing Zone at Sameer is one of the largest manufacturing facility for jeans for one of America’s largest clothing company but I wonder how many would buy them in Nairobi and feel proudly Kenyan? I have an America friend who is so proudly American that he persistently asks if I could supply him with Goodyear tyres!

4. To be proudly Kenyan calls for us to support the less endowed in our society. A society with too large a group that is poor is difficult to cohere together. Those of us who have must attempt to bring up those who don’t. It is amazing how poor we are at giving which in my view leads us to fail to appreciate the bigger picture in life. I have travelled to many cities in the West particularly the USA, and it amazed me that the local hospitals, the local theatre, the school, and other utilities in many towns in the USA and much of Europe were largely built by the donations of those who are more endowed in those societies. What legacy do we see of our Kenyan rich and able? How many would build a facility like the Jaffrey club and give it to the public to use like Mr. Merali has done? To be proudly Kenyan we must begin to support our own causes.

5. Being Proudly Kenyan calls for us to have more Kenyan innovators and entrepreneurs. These will be the true and sustainable drivers of a proudly Kenyan economy. We need to empower our people- I give the example of Palmhouse Dairies our decade old micro-dairy processing again. When we set up we began to give farmers feeds and extension services on credit. We then stopped to allow budding small entrepreneurs to do it- We now have 5 suppliers from whom they can pick feeds and other necessities and we deduct from their milk deliveries at the end of the month. When the government extension services collapsed we bought containers for semen, employed inseminators and clinical officers. We have in the 10 years employed and fired 5 clinical cum insemination officers but the interesting phenomena is that none has left the vicinity of our dairy- they are private practitioners serving our farmers and beyond- we no longer need to offer such services ourselves! Being proudly Kenyan calls for creating more Kenyan entrepreneurs!

Where can we begin the journey to being more proudly Kenyan?
I suggest we make little step that will soon lead to giant strides;

1. I suggest we go back to our National Anthem and rekindle what it sought to achieve. I was reading through some material and I learnt that the commission that was set to create the Kenyan National Anthem had as its object, quote “…to express the deepest convictions and the highest aspirations of the people of Kenya as a whole. Words have immense power to unite and divide, and great care had to be taken to choose the right words to ensure that the anthem would become an indisputable unifying factor in the life of the nation”. Unquote. I suggest we start here- for both the young and the old. I suggest the National anthem be re-introduced as a daily routine in all primary and high schools. Employers may also be encouraged to sing/use it. I am told in Japan, companies developed their own anthems to build loyalty. I have attended many informal functions in the US and the loyalty pledge is almost a must do at every occasion.

2. I suggest that we affirm Kenya at every opportunity- I meet many successful business men who are always mourning how bad Kenya is yet they continue doing business and flourishing; they spread fear and anxiety. When people ask me about Kenya I tell them it is a great Country: that I could never trade Kenya for any other country. Those who have taken my word and visited prove that for themselves and often return or recommend to others!

3. We must stop telling discriminatory jokes and myths about each other- that Luos don’t circumcise; that Kikuyu are thieves; that Kambas are sexy… etc! Next time you want to do it- stop yourself and think Kenyan! Slowly it will die. In some western countries it has been outlawed to tell discriminatory jokes because it fuels sectionalism.

4. We must begin to stand up for Kenya. Kenya is bigger than any single tribe or leader. We must begin to teach our children to respect and love our country. We must stop the negative attitude about our beautiful country. Our diversity must become our strength. When it comes to Kenya, let us hang our tribal and religious labels and be Proudly Kenyan. When we are out and inside Kenya let us sell Kenya as a great brand. Great brands posses’ great attributes. Such great attributes must be communicated positively, both verbally and by our actions/behaviour.

Will you join me and many others on this journey of making us proudly Kenyan?

May I ask you to kindly stand up and re-affirm with me that we will be proudly Kenyan by singing the National Anthem that is before us…
O God of all creation,
Bless this our land and nation.
Justice be our shield and defender,
May we dwell in unity,
Peace and liberty.
Plenty be found within our borders.
Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true.
Service be our earnest endeavour,
And our Homeland of Kenya,
Heritage of splendour,
Firm may we stand to defend.
Let all with one accord
In common bond united,
Build this our nation together,
And the glory of Kenya,
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.

Tonight I challenge us all to start the small steps towards being Proudly Kenyan.

Thank you and God bless you.
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