Today Kenya celebrates Mashujaa Day. We celebrate our heroes and heroines, the great men and women whose unstinting sacrifices in the service of this country made it what it is today, and guaranteed the rights we now take for granted. Looked at from a broader perspective, this includes all of us. But for the sake of propriety and in recognition of the fact that that some contributed way more than many of us combined, we pay homage to the more universal heroes in particular.
Which brings me to the five men who bestowed on us the hymn which accompanies the raising of our flag in government institutions here and around the world, the national anthem. These men, Graham Hyslop, G. W. Senoga-Zake, Thomas Kalume, Peter Kibukosya and Washington Omondi, were commissioned just before independence to craft a national anthem that would “express the deepest convictions and the highest aspirations” of the Kenyan people. They took a traditional Pokomo tune and endowed it with the rich words of the “Ee Mungu Nguvu Yetu.”
For three generations, the enchanting song has been an enduring symbol of national pride, unity and aspirations. It has united students, consoled the oppressed, spurred the brave, and rallied ardent soldiers behind the flag. It has been a salve for the very heroes we celebrate today, especially at times when their heroism was still anathema to those they saved us from. It has been the soundtrack for our proud moments, and the dirge for when we were not as lucky.
Yet I am sure you did not know their names before you started reading this article. But that is not all. The worst part is that, out of a misled desire to eliminate the name of God from Kenya’s public life, an impudent group of attention-seeking imbeciles now want to mutilate the work these great men put so much effort into crafting.
Harrison Mumia’s AIK (Atheists in Kenya) lobby group initiated a public online petition to remove the word God from the National Anthem. Their claim is that the word God in the national anthem does not capture the convictions of those who do not believe in God, threatens secularism and is ultimately unconstitutional. Needless to say, they are wrong on all counts. Not only is the timing of this petition supremely inappropriate, its contents are most contemptible. It says, in part, that:
“Atheists want to feel proud when we sing the national anthem. This pride must arise from a sense of unity as one country with shared values and ideals”
This is a study in self-contradiction. As a friend of mine let me know, one cannot talk of values from an atheistic background. This is because values transcend man, thereby providing direct evidence of the belief in a higher being, whatever this being may be, as the reference point from which universal values and ideals are derived. Now this is the being to whom the name God is attributed.
Once that is settled, everybody can particularise the name to suit himself or his community. The God in the national anthem is Yahweh for Christians and Jews, Allah for Muslims, Ngai for traditional Kikuyus, Ondeto for Legio Maria, Jehova Wanyonyi for that man’s followers and whatever atheists want to believe in, even if it is the contradictory non-being they claim God to be.
That word “God” in the national anthem transcends mere religion and, if anything, guarantees that it is inclusive of everyone, atheists included. If the anthem had started “Ee Yahweh,” everyone, atheists included, would have a right to protest, since this would be an overt preference for one concept of God, which is actually probably as diverse as we all are. But this is not the case, thanks to the unparalleled genius of the musicians and artists who crafted the crisp lyrics. As for being unconstitutional, the constitution itself starts with a preamble which itself starts with the name of God.
What the petition in the end boils down to is an infantile attempt at grabbing the attention of Kenyans, drawing their wrath, and then attributing this to their religiosity. Luckily, it is doomed to fail. And, as we celebrate our heroes today, we can rest assured that the name of Harrison Mumia and his band of clueless adventurers will not feature anywhere among the great men and women of this country.
They would only be celebrated if we set out a day to celebrate mediocrities. But, luckily again, we are above that.
Happy Mashujaa Day folks.
Feature image: Source unknown.
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