Normally, I don't post full articles/essays. But considering the by-line and the subject, you'll understand why I made an exception in this case.
Live for your country, don’t die for it
Story by PHILIP OCHIENG
Publication Date: 2/3/2008
I am a displaced person. Originally, I refused to move. After dispatching my family to various places, I locked myself up in my house to go on with my work. I had convinced myself that finishing the books I am writing was much more important than my safety.
Moreover, I thought that, at 70, if I died I would have lived a full life. But how illogical I was! If a fanatic killed me, how could I now dedicate my books to society? I recalled the philosopher’s admonition that no cause at all is worth dying for.
If you are so convinced that an ideal is vital for your society, then shouldn’t you make it your duty to live long enough to help your society to realise it? Once you are dead, of what use are you?
Thus only dastards can join battle with such swashbuckling as: “I am ready to die for democracy,” or: “I will die fighting for Kibaki.”
Nobody denies you your right to fight for Kibaki (or Odinga, Musyoka and Ruto).
The point is to do it intelligently. None of these individuals is worth your life.
Isaac Asimov, the American biochemist, once produced what he called “Three Laws of Robotics” to be written into the logico-mathematical pathways of each of his “positronic brains” to ensure that robots served human beings absolutely safely.
The third law is that a robot must keep itself intact every time it is deployed — unless this contradicts the first law (which is never to cause or allow any harm to a human user).
All the laws are actually central to all tool-making in human history. The third one makes the boomerang of the Australian native the most ingenious of all the tools ever made.
But, clearly, a soldier is much more important than a tool. That is why the law on self-preservation is even more significant to humans. Sure, a good soldier fights bravely in battle. But his bravery must include every stratagem that helps him to return to base unharmed.
Only then can he be available for another battle. Hence the saying: Live for your country: never deliberately die for it.
Patriotism is mental and manual commitment to one’s country for as long as possible. To die willingly, even in your country’s name, is treason.
To go to battle with chest-thumping carelessness – making yourself an easy prey to the enemy’s shrapnel — is to succumb to Shakespearean resignation: “Come what come may/Time and hour runs through the roughest day.” This is fatalism. Time has become your master, whereas time must flow in your own terms.
That is why, in the destructiveness of the present battle, you must protect yourself. There is no cowardice in dashing into hiding when necessary. Whatever the immediate factor, you save your life and make yourself available for a much more worthwhile battle.
If you die, I lose the chance to convince you that, at the moment, your weapons are aimed in the wrong direction. It is not the Kikuyu or the Kisii who have plunged us into Armageddon.
And, whoever it is, his targets are not the Kalenjin, the Luhya, the Luo or the Swahili.
No. Only individuals are guilty. Though they seek to hide under tribal labels, they have not done it to benefit their tribe but only themselves as individuals.
By taking arms to injure other Kenyans on the basis of their tribes, you are only making it easier for the culprits to hide under those labels. If Mr Samuel Fulani is the culprit, why attack the Swahili?
Indeed, you endanger your own lives. The crisis has revealed how desperately interdependent we are as tribes. Everything we do to another tribe boomerangs badly on us. However powerful its leaders may be, no tribe lives in a castle surrounded by a moat.
Every time you attack members of a tribe living in your area, you are digging the graves of your own relatives living in other tribal areas.
Once the revenge game begins, there can be no end to it. Why have we failed to learn even a single lesson from Somalia right next door? Yes, we wronged innocent Kikuyus and Kisiis. But, as Lewis Nguyai, my new MP, was telling my fellow constituents, a small spark of stupid reprisal is sure to turn into a national conflagration in which the arsonist himself is most likely to burn.
In other words, not a single tribe can gain even pesa nane from it. That was why I ran into safety – to be able, through writing, to continue to offer such advice. Maybe Robert Frost had Kenya and myself in mind when he wrote:
The wood is lovely, dark and deep;
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep.