Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Dark August

So much rain, so much life like the swollen sky of this black August
My sister, the sun, broods in her yellow room and won’t come out. -Derek Walcott in Dark August.

The month of August 2010 have been excessively generous to Kenyans, which is a sharp deviation from the past when many ushered this eighth month of the Gregorian calendar with mild sense of apprehension.
Apart from the biting cold that spilled and chilled its way from July, the month was engulfed by a huge sense of expectation and hope as the country ushered in the birth of the Second Republic.

If an optimism survey was conducted August 2010 would have recorded one of the highest percentages in the country’s history. For the first time in many years the citizenry is facing the future with a renewed sense of patriotism, hope and a self belief.

Those with political aspirations has welcomed the fact that there are now more elective offices to vie for and they need not necessarily seek the patronage of party bigwigs since they can run as independents. The Kenyan Diaspora breathed a sigh of relief in the knowledge that being granted citizenship in their country of residence is not tantamount to losing their birthright as Kenyans.
And last but not least, the popular Wanjiku is perhaps the biggest beneficiary, since if everything runs as proposed she will no longer have to wait for his Nairobi-based Member of Parliament to approve funds for setting up of a market stall in her village. Structures of governance have been brought to her doorsteps through devolution.

Apart from holders of public office-from the President, Prime Minister, the Vice-President to MPs-taking the oath of allegiance for the second term within a single term entire process of constitution making have also added new vocabulary in the speech of many Kenyans. Before August “promulgation” was a word reserved only for the PLOs of this world but today it’s the new tongue twister in town.

To sprinkle icing on the historic celebrations Zain Kenya pulled the carpet off the feet of its rivals by unleashing one of the most subscriber friendly calling rates ever witnessed in the country. This has turned out to be the first salvo in the bitter battle for supremacy, with all the other networks announcing new rates a few days later.

Just like in the referendum vote, ordinary Kenyan have emerged the biggest winner in these mobile wars. Folks can call their kin and kith to celebrate the birth of the Second Republic without the worry of being cut short.

And all these bliss came raining down on Kenyans in August, a month that have always ushered in calamitous incidences in years past. From the death of a sitting president and vice-president to a coup attempt and a terrorist attack August is remembered by Kenyans more for its ominous events than good tidings.

In the morning of August 22, 1978 the founding father of the First Republic Mzee Jomo Kenyatta passed away in his sleep at his holiday home in Mombasa, ushering into power a 54 year-old man called Daniel Arap Moi. His seemingly harmless and reserved demeanor led many to dismiss him as a “passing cloud”, albeit to their own peril.
Mr. Moi’s 24-year reign influenced and impacted a whole generation of Kenyans. Apart from feeding their mouths and minds with Nyayo milk and philosophy, the intrusive leader also elevated those born in 1978 into a celebrity status.

However it’s the events of the first day of August 1982 that would prove to be one of the biggest turning points for the country’s political destiny.

After a clique of Air Force soldiers led by a Senior Private called Hezekiah Ochuka staged an unsuccessful but bloody putsch the Moi regime got an excuse to purge its enemies, both real and perceived. Tens of political activists and other prominent personalities ended up in detention or the infamous Nyayo house torture chambers.
From this time forward fighting or serving Moi became the only ticket to national prominence. Raila Odinga, Kenneth Matiba, Mwai kibaki, James Orengo among others made a name either as friends or foes of the self declared professor of politics.

After taking a 20 year hiatus the dogged days of August came calling again with a catastrophic intent in 1998 when 252 people, among them 12 Americans, lost their lives and more than 5,000 were injured after a huge bomb exploded in the American Embassy in down town Nairobi. Today, an August Memorial Park stands in this ground zero.

Besides startling the nation to the threat of terrorists, the incidence brought to the limelight the infamous Osama bin Laden and his Al-Qaeda and also marked the first phases of the now popular global war against terrorism. Five years later the ghosts of August reared their dreadful heads again, this time round robbing the country of the ever smiling and eloquent Vice-President Michael Kijana Wamalwa.The demise of Wamalwa triggered a political chain reaction whose aftershocks were greatly felt in the 2007 general elections.

Named in honour of Julius Ceasar’s great grand nephew Augustus for defeating Marc Anthony and Cleopatra to restore order and prosperity of the Roman Empire, the month of August is intertwined in as much folklore as the number eight from which its derived.

Previously called Octavia, the Emperor changed his name to Augustus-which literary means ‘of the gods’- in order to create an aura of a deity around him. According to biblical teachings, number eight signifies new beginnings since this is when it’s said God started working again after resting in the seventh day.

But the fatality of August is not exclusive to Kenya alone. There are numerous world changing events that took place in the month of Augustus. The famous Martin Luther King Junior’s I Have A Dream speech, devastation of New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina, Christopher Columbus setting sail for the Americas, invention of photography and potato chips and the resignation of President Richard Nixon all happened in this “month of the gods”.

The list of high profile personalities celebrating their birthdays this month is also long, and somewhat intriguing. Besides a record five US presidents other notables who popped into the world in August include Michael Jackson, Napoleon Bonaparte, Malcolm Forbes, Fidel Castrol, Mother Theresa, Roger Federer, Leo Tolstoy, Kobe Bryant and Robert Di Nero.

However, one of the most extraordinary births happened in the 4th of August five decades ago in the far away Hawaii. At exactly 7:24 a boy whose father hailed from a remote Kenyan village called Kogelo was born to an American mother in these popular holiday lands. Christened Barrack Hussein Obama II, a name that would grace the lips of millions across the globe many years to come, he was destined to change history by becoming the first of his kind to lead the most powerful nation on earth.

The same date and month 49 years later, Kenyans overwhelmingly said Yes to the birth of another special baby, the new constitution. But whether this new Kenyan baby will live to scale the heights of its American birthday-mate only time will tell.