The disparity between patriotism and nationalism

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BY NGUNJIRI WAMBUGU

‘Patriotism is not born from a realistic view of one’s country; Patriotism is born from a well-run State propaganda machine.’ – These words literally leapt out at me earlier this week as I glanced through a Nairobi free newsletter, ‘UP’, while waiting at a restaurant. They were part of a piece by Wanuri Kahiu titled ‘We Need Spin Doctors’ where Wanuri suggests that Kenya desperately needs a good PR machine, especially in ‘these times of nonsense politics and insecurity’.

There are many definitions of the term ‘patriotism’ but my personal understanding of it is that it is purely emotional; like being in love. Patriotism is like that goofy feeling that one gets when they think of their spouse, or their child. Patriotism is like that goofy feeling that makes one go to great lengths to prove that they love those they love, including putting themselves in danger. Patriotism is a ‘devotion’ to my country; it is when I feel ‘in love with’ my country. Patriotism is that goofy feeling we get when we watch that new advert by KEPSA, around the concept of ‘Mkenya Daima’.

Unfortunately Kenya’s politics does not draw us to patriotism mainly because our politicians confuse ‘nationalism’ with ‘patriotism’; a mistake easy to make in a growing nation. The difference between the two was explained by French President Charles De Gaulle who stated that ‘Patriotism is when the love for your own comes first; nationalism is when hate for those other than your own, comes first’. Patriotism is therefore about national unity; Nationalism is about national division.

In Kenya we have elevated the ‘us versus them’ political strategy in to an art form. In preparing for elections, Kenyan politicians focus on how to divide the nation, or the county, or the constituency, or the ward, for their own political benefit. CORD is preparing for the next elections. This is why the build-up to ‘Saba Saba’ was filled with hate. The drive towards a National Referendum will be fuelled by hate. CORD tried to run an inclusive campaign towards the 2013 general elections, and lost an election they should have won. CORD now believes they need to go back to nationalism; divide Kenyans to win. They will therefore do everything to build a ’40 versus 2’; or better still; a ’41 versus 1’, narrative, towards 2017. I understand. They have nothing to lose.

What I cannot understand is why Jubilee allows itself to be dragged down to play CORD’s game. Jubilee campaigned on a message that promised that despite Kenya’s past, it was possible for us to unite; and would unite us. They showcased the unity between the Kikuyu and Kalenjin; Kenyans proverbial ‘enemies’; as an example of what could be achieved. They promised that the same way they had brought these two communities together despite their differences is the same way they would bring all Kenyans together, if they won. Jubilee sold Kenyans Patriotism; and won!

So why is Jubilee falling into the trap of focusing more on ‘hating those other than our own’ rather than in ‘loving our own’? Why are they allowing themselves to be dragged back into the dirt of ‘us versus them’ politics by an Opposition that has nothing to lose, and everything to gain, if everyone is playing in this dirt? Why has the ruling coalition allowed CORD to drag them down to their level? Why do some of Jubilee’s leaders sound like their CORD counterparts?

Why were CORD’s calls for a ‘national dialogue’ popular? Could it be because Kenyans no longer feel the excitement they felt when Jubilee won; that sense that Kenya would get better moving forward, despite and in spite of whatever challenges we and our leaders faced? Could it be that the patriotism and nationhood that the Jubilee campaign machinery was able to tap into so effectively during the campaigns; that sense that we are and can be one united sovereign state, has eroded? Could it be that Kenyans no longer believe Jubilee will unite them ALL?

What I can assure Jubilee, however; is that they cannot beat CORD in propagating an ‘us versus them’ narrative. CORD has absolutely no obligation to Kenyans to unite us. They will do whatever is possible to make Jubilee lose legitimacy, even if it means dividing the country. They lost the election; they are in the Opposition; their work now is to make Jubilee look bad.

If Jubilee can ask themselves the questions above and answer them honestly and candidly, then they will realise that the greatest threat to their government, and to their re-election chances in 2017, is their failure to make Kenyans feel like they are ‘one big happy family’. Kenyans do not expect the Opposition to make them feel patriotic; they expect the government to do it. Kenyans want Jubilee to provide; and continue providing them, with patriotic propaganda. Will Jubilee take up this challenge?

(Wambugu is the Director of Change Associates; a Strategic Political Communications Consultancy)

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