The weight of an oath gives a person power to give promises

Saturday September 17 2022

Britain's King Charles III and his son Prince William walk behind the coffin of Queen Elizabeth II, adorned with a Royal Standard and the Imperial State Crown, during a procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster, in London on September 14, 2022. PHOTO | AFP


What a week.

Seventy years ago, Elizabeth Windsor was on holiday in Kenya when her father King George VI died. As the story so famously goes, she went up a treehouse a princess and came down a queen.

Last Thursday, Prince Charles went to say farewell to his mother and left Balmoral as king. On Saturday for the first time, King Charles III’s accession and proclamation were televised and the world got to witness how one officially becomes the English Monarch.

Last Tuesday, in the very same Kenya that gained its independence during Queen Elizabeth’s reign, President William Ruto was sworn in, having won the 2022 election and the contestation of the election results to become the fifth president of Kenya.

My President, Samia Suluhu, was honoured by being called Mama and Aunt to the East African Community during Ruto’s inauguration and was given the privilege of addressing the audience last.

Meanwhile, back in Tanzania, the Mwalimu Nyerere Creative Writing Award was launched and Shafi Adam Shafi read a passage to the audience from his seminal work ‘Vuta N’kuvute.’ It was a special moment for him, a man of 82 years, to do so in front of such a gathering as a Tanzanian writer. Word.


Being unique

All of these events are tied together for me by virtue of being unique, and firsts. All of them also involved a promise of things to come. And what could be more important than a promise, an oath?

In the lead up to the Kenya elections I saw a disturbing trend on social media as I eavesdropped on Kenyans talking to each other about their politics.

Many youth were not only planning not to vote, they were influencing fellow Kenyans to also avoid this civic duty. There was a sense of the futility of this aspect of the democratic process. They weren’t avoiding the polls for fear of violence: they were avoiding the polls because they figured that “my vote won’t make a difference.”

I am willing to bet that these same young and brilliant Kenyans are sharing their opinions on the monarchy and colonial trauma, as well they should. Note that the Mau Mau and others had to fight for their freedom and right to self-rule in a republic. A republic in which the people get to choose their leader through the vote.

Are you seeing what I am seeing here? The disconnect? It’s not just Kenya, mind you — I get this “voting is nonsense” nonsense in Tanzania too, all the time. But we have opinions to share on how Mama Samia is doing her job!

This leaves me to wonder: what went wrong? What is missing in our broader civic education that we don’t take these fundamental rights and responsibilities seriously, that we don’t seem to understand them?

Are we writers part of the problem, have we let our people down by not telling the stories of the grassroots and the struggles, of the importance of holding on to what you actually have and valuing it, of how history is present in the here and now, of oaths of public service and why we need them to govern?

Have we been derelict, is the environment not conducive, are journalism and literature hard in Tanzania? What do we have to show for the discharge of our civic duties?

Very real

Rights and privileges are not an abstract. The personal is political, and very real. We are led in monarchies and in republics alike by one person, whom we give overwhelming power to influence our lives, and whom we can only hold to account through the strength of their oaths of service and our constitutions.

Ironically enough, the very concept of constitutionality and the modern nation-state as we currently practice it is a legacy of colonialism too.

Just as apparent in the format of the presidential inauguration in Kenya and the uniforms of the judicial officials and the beautiful architecture of State House as it is in the uniforms of the Royal family and the magnificence of their palaces and cathedrals and their struggles with fountain pens as they sign into the indentured service of legacy.

I don’t know. Maybe to help bridge this gap and, someone could write a Mwalimu Nyerere Creative Writing Award winning story.

Blind people

Not a praise song; an allegory perhaps? About blind people who stumble with lanterns in the darkest of forests, accidentally illuminating core truths about society and power and historicity, and the importance of the written word and oaths and voting in republic, for the sighted and visionary people around them, while they themselves have nary a clue of the effect of their blind lantern carrying ways during a time when public discourse is filled with talk of a New Constitution because The People want a change for the better.

Something like Salman Rushdie would do, but in Kiswahili.

I don’t know. I just write to fulfill a contract — an oath of sorts — and in a sennight so rich with topics, to paraphrase the late Queen: “I hope I did alright.”

What a week indeed.

Elsie Eyakuze is a consultant and blogger for The Mikocheni Report: E-mail: [email protected]