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We The People: 10 Deep Philosophical Thoughts from Timothy Njoya

Timothy Murere Njoya is a retired Presbyterian minister, a human rights activist and a theologian. During the repressive Moi regime, Njoya turned the church pulpit into a platform to demand for political and social justice reforms in Kenya. Njoya was among the leading lights in the 80s and 90s from the church who mustered the nerve to speak out against the brutality of Moi’s government. He is also a prolific writer and as I came to learn, an ardent student of philosophy. Njoya is the personification of courage and purpose.

I was eager to grab a copy of Timothy Njoya’s memoir, We the People, published by WordAlive, that was launched on July the 3rd at Daystar University in Nairobi. Unfortunately, there were no copies for sale. Njoya in his address claimed that the book had been delayed deliberately by saboteurs. 30 years on, the words of this small bodied man with a wicked sense of wit still makes the authorities tremble. It was a compliment to his work that some busy bodies in government had to go through such extreme measures to stop Njoya’s ideas from spreading. The publisher reassured us that the challenges at the port would be resolved…soon.

Nonetheless, I got a rare chance to listen to Njoya delivering his sermon on his latest work of art and got thoroughly drenched wading through his deep thoughts.

As we twiddle our thumbs waiting for the copies to arrive, I put together some Timothy Njoya’s radical, and philosophical thinking for a tease of what is to come in We the People: Thinking Heavenly, Acting Kenyanly.

 

  1. His inspirations:

I am inspired by Amilcar Cabral who said that not all theories are revolutionary but there is no revolution without a revolutionary theory.  I am also inspired by Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations Secretary General who was killed by the CIA during the Congo crisis in 1961.

Hammarskjold said, “ Life yields only to the conqueror. Never accept what can be gained by giving in. You will be living off stolen goods and your muscles will atrophy”.

I am also inspired by a 1st Century Political detainee, John, who having got sick and tired of the Roman Empire said, “ I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”.

  1. The roots of Njoya’s radicalism:

During the 1960s-70s I wanted to lead the world beyond how thinkers such as Frantz Fanon, W.E.B Dubois, Chiekh Anta Diop, Ousmane Sembene and Chinua Achebe defined post-colonial Africa. The visions that they put forward in the famous books like The Wretched of The Earth, The Souls of Black Folk, Civilisation or Barbarism, God’s Bits of Wood and Things Fall Apart provided an opposition to imperialism. But opposition was not enough.

I wanted to provide a transformative vision that could show us how to create a new humanity that Fanon wrote about in The Wretched of the Earth, “ For Europe for ourselves and for humanity, comrades, we must turn over a new leaf, we must work out new concepts and try to set afoot a new man”.

However his generation left us with an unfinished task and without a blueprint. That task has fallen on us and it is up to us to answer that call. I may have never fully accomplished my wish on the ground but a philosophical level, I put Kenya on the right track.

  1. Developing his philosophy:

Throughout the ages, philosophers have always attempted to distinguish selfhood from social identity by defining selfhood as the ultimate goal. The finest and best that a human being can become as the unity of heart, soul, mind and spirit. Nicolai Hartmann a self-proclaimed atheist said that selfhood is in and of itself a sufficient point of reference to identity, God, truth, justice and morality. Bertrand Russell held that selfhood contains in itself the cause and reason of its existence. In this type of atheism, evils such as wanton cruelty between men, unmerited suffering, earthquakes, slavery, disease and even accidentally injuring one’s finger while cutting sugarcane have no real existence, except as manifestations of the inherent incoherencies within everything that exists.

But other philosophical views can give us a different perspective. Philosophy contrasts selfhood with cultural identity by calling identity the form and appearance through which selfhood manifests in the real world. This Aristotelian philosophy of the common good is where Jean Jacques Rousseau derived his idea of the social contract and Karl Marx, the idea that social relationships cannot exist without material relationships. A mother’s love is love for the self that itself in caring for her child.

Identity is loving others as a roundabout way of loving oneself more than them. But to Jesus, selfhood is to love others selflessly. St. Augustine said that the end of selfhood is finding fulfillment in oneself as a being itself and itself and manifesting this through the common good, beauty, freedom and happiness. This self-understanding that humanity is the very image of God (Imago Dei) and one manifests this image of God through collective identity, the Koinonia (community) is at the very heart of my concept of Thinking heavenly and acting Kenyanly.

  1. The Evil of mindless consumption in Kenya

According to atheists, evil has no form of independent existence apart from defects, incoherencies, shortfalls, incompetence, and incompleteness within selfhood. Such evils manifest concretely as unequal material and social relationships, masters and slaves, oppressors and the oppressed, exploiters and the exploited. Broken material and social relationships exist in a state of contradictions, conflict, war and restlessness between those who want to eat, mate and accumulate more than others. Herbert Spencer described such a state of conflict between self and others as the survival of the fittest.

Turning human relationships into the animalistic survival of the fittest mode, predisposed Kenya to become a man eat man society that Julius Nyerere warned against. It leads people to do evil, have no understanding, eat up God’s people as they eat bread and not call upon God as written in Psalm 53:4. Spencer did not consider animals that eat the most as the smartest. What he meant was that they eat mindlessly. Nyerere warned that the richer a section of society becomes, the more mindless and greedy they become. We can see this in Kenya today. The richer one gets, the more one desires to become president.

  1. The history of oppression in Kenya

From 1888 to 1963, Great Britain laid the foundation of Kenya as a market.  The market is a social pyramid supported by economic pipes for siphoning resources from the bottom to the top. After independence, the government continued building on that same foundation and became the most wanton organ of the market.

In reality Kenya is a market and Kenyans are property. On 6th September 1888, by Order in Council, Queen Victoria gave a Royal Charter to Sir William MacKinnon to make British East Africa her overseas market and Africans property of British Overseas. The Charter gave him and his Imperial British East Africa company absolute mandate to function as a fully-fledged government with sovereign powers to sign treaties, raise taxes, impose custom duties and act as the Government of British East Africa ( Kenya).

In 1901 King Edward VII sent Sir Charles Elliot as the first Governor of Kenya to establish the legal framework for making indigenous Africans his Crown property. By the 1902 Land Ordinance, Elliot signed into law that the land in Kenya belonged to the British and Africans were tenants at the will of the Crown. Ali Mazrui described Kenyatta as the Last Colonial Governor.  Moi became the second last colonial governor, Kibaki the third last colonial governor and Uhuru the fourth last colonial governor. If Raila wins the August 8 elections he shall become the fifth last colonial governor. I may never accomplished my wish on the ground but at the philosophical level, I kept moving in the right direction.

  1. Why Kenya is a human market.

My philosophy to transform Kenya from a market into a nation and Kenyans from property into humans is relevant today as it was when Kenya began in 1888 and attained independence in 1963. When Patrick Renision was governor, the 40 000 European colonists who constituted only 0.1% of the Kenyan population, controlled 99.9% of the GDP.  The 4 million Africans controlled 0.01%. 54 years after independence, 1% of Kenyans own 99% of land in Nairobi and 20% control 60% of the GDP.

Today the economic ratio between the elites and the masses is still imbalanced. The war in Kenya is not about tribe pitted against tribe but about verticalism versus horizontalism, about the market versus the nation, property versus humans.

  1. Cleaning out the Church

My commitment was to build churches as maternity wards that would deliver Kenyans from the broken and unequal material relationships into moral, just and peaceful relationships. My struggle has been with the political and religious merchants bent on turning the government and churches into butcheries for perpetuating their economic cannibalism.

  1. The philosophy of Transformation

The task I have taken up over the last few decades is to transform African societies from broken material and unequal social relationships. The real enemy of the world is not the colonial masters but the market structures of unequal and broken material relationships in which people are property rather than humans. You cannot decolonize Kenya by working anti-clockwise; you have to remove the rich-poor dichotomy. When the material relationships get broken such material brokenness breaks all social relationships; family, gender, business, religious or racial. Hence war breaks out.

An anti-clockwise ideology of decolonization cannot provide a way forward. African leaders such as Kenyatta and Kwame Nkrumah lacked a theory which to base their backlash against colonialism. The African backlash against external imperialism failed to transform Africa because African scholars reacted against imperialism in accordance with the Newtonian mechanical law, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. The Nkrumah-Kenyatta Pan-Africanism wreaked psychic damage against the evolution of intellectualism because they lacked a philosophy to flame innovation, creativity and vision.

  1. Reclaiming Pan Africanism

The original Pan-Africanism that went beyond tribalism and oppositional identities was my runway. The second generation Pan Africanists had no runway. They only ran back to the African past. Neo-Pan Africanism became the betrayal of the original 19th Century Pan-Africanism called Negritude.  Negritude was borne out of the need for the African Diaspora to express their all inclusive selfhood as an alternative to slavery. It was not an anticlockwise movement of going back to Africa but for making the world a better place for all.

  1. The power of Negritude

I reinforced my philosophy with the philosophy of two Martinican poets, Aime Cesaire and Leon Dama. They sought to transform how they defined their French colonial masters by defining themselves and their own future identity. Despite being a minority and living in tiny islands they enlarged their selfhood, let it float across the oceans and linked it with the spirits of other Black people in the whole world and thereby transcended their Babylonian Captivity.

Negritude was not ethnic identity. Senghor’s The Anthology of New Black and Malagasy Poetry (Anthologie de la nouvelle poesie negre et malgache) became a classic in Francophone colonies. When W.E.B Du Bois wrote his Amie Cesaire he championed Negritude and became a citizen of Ghana. Nkrumah’s and Kenyatta’s nationalisms failed to have a transcendent philosophy like the humanist vision of negritude poets. The ideology of independence was an anti-white identity fundamentalism. By retracing their steps backwards to pre-colonial times, they failed to become models that their disciples could move forward.

I have made it clear that my book, “We the People”, paves a dialectical way forward to the future of Kenya, Africa and the world.

 

Oyunga Pala is a Kenyan newspaper columnist. The blog examines the texture of everyday Kenyan life and the challenges of modernity and disillusion. The writings commonly feature the struggle of the Kenyan male to maintain integrity in contemporary society.

2 Comments

  1. Interesting! I too would love a copy of thé book. I would want to sée how hé épouses his philosophy in thé light of thé likes of Aime Césaire, Senghor among others.

  2. samuel dzombo

    He gave Moi’s government a headache. One of the true hero’s who fought for second liberation movement.

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