Attachment is more palpable here.
In the past week, I have been “uncle,” “daddy?” “daddy!” “my small brother,” “kehinganda,” “my friend from high school,” “my former chapel prefect,” and someone trying to keep a diary, unable to distinguish between the wheat and the chaff.
I have become a lint brush, each encounter with the social yet another occasion to be marked. Each shift in language marks me, each change in accent, and more people seem relaxed when I am with my niece, familiar because familial.
I am bearded.
It is queer here.
I’m not sure how one negotiates attachment and allegiance.
* * *
I pledge my loyalty to the President and the Nation of Kenya;
My readiness and duty to defend the flag of our Republic
My devotion to the words of our National Anthem;
My life, strength and service to the task of nation building
In the living spirit embodied in our national motto ‘HARAMBEE’ and;
Perpetuated in the NYAYO Philosophy of PEACE, LOVE and UNITY”
I copy this from my niece’s school diary. As I write it down, it comes back—my leaky memory struggling against nine years of indoctrination. I last said this pledge in primary school, in 1989, when multi-party politics seemed a dream attached to dissidents, and our president was firmly ensconced as patriarch.
From this distance, it seems remarkably strange that we stopped affirming this collective vision at the moment when we had the chance to become national.
Why at the moment I entered a “national school” was the pledge abandoned? What kinds of solidarities was the pledge unable to foster? Or, what had it already accomplished that could now be deployed?
Listening to those around me, I realize how thoroughly such indoctrination took hold. It seems telling that the figure of the president deserves our first allegiance. It is this, I suspect, that led us to believe that Kibaki and Raila held the keys to our unsettled peace.
Or, we were tired.
There is a longer, more intricate narrative about childhood development, Kenya’s political history, and figurative language.
Briefly, the abstraction figured in “the president” blossomed in a million conversations, pitting the sitting president against the first president against those we believed should have been president. It is no coincidence that this deliberately figurative language of allegiance was abandoned in high school, when we began to learn about figurative language.
Metaphor becomes dangerous when one learns about metaphoricity.
Metaphoricity pits allegiance against attachment.
My President against The President.
My Nation against The Nation.
In retrospect, part of Moi’s genius was to weld the two, to appear so constantly and consistently in the media—we almost knew when he went to the bathroom—that the slide between “my” and “the” was arrested: we schoolchildren waved his flags and drank his milk.
To arrest metaphoricity and hold it captive in Nyayo House.
* * *
I continue to struggle with the Pokomo lullaby whose tune we adapted and transformed into a national anthem.
That it was a lullaby feeds into my ongoing narrative, adapted from Lauren Berlant, about infantile citizenship. That it takes the form of a prayer feeds into another narrative about the ambivalent function of religion and religious discourse in Kenyan history and politics.
I tremble when I remember what we permitted, or could not protest, because Moi went to church and was a professed Christian.
Would it make sense to say we had been lulled to sleep?
Since the PEV, the anthem has gained new significance, I am told, become an oft-repeated prayer
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.
I’m struck by how passive it seems—to be fair, the following two stanzas seem less passive. But we sing the full anthem rarely. Instead, we repeat this prayer, this mantra, this lullaby.
What is our role under this theistic contract? Is this why we panic when self-anointed prophets tell us “God has turned his face away from Kenya”? Is this why believing in some form of religion or other is a national pastime, why there is so much pressure in high schools to be for or against religion?
* * *
Dressed in her church garb, my mother tells me the words are “so beautiful.”
I remind myself that she was there the first time they were sung. We have a different historical relationship to these words, different affective reactions. After the turmoil of colonialism, how refreshing this lullaby must have seemed.
And part of me understands its appeal after the PEV. Still I continue to resist what it seems to demand.
That old word with which I have so many problems, “agency,” dogs me.