African Church Information Service
NAIROBI, KENYA, June 30, 2003: Controversy is brewing in Kenya between Christians and members of the public over the country's national motto Kenya's had for 40 years, "Harambee." A number of Christians, drawn mainly from the Pentecostal churches, want the motto erased from the country's coat of arms, alleging that Harambee gives honor to a Hindu Goddess called Ambee (Kali). "As committed Christians and patriotic Kenyans, we are disturbed by the realization that our national motto gives honor and glory to a Hindu Goddess, yet as Christians, we are aware that honor and glory belong to God alone," Linda Agalo-Achieng of Alpha Kenya, a Christian organization, told a commission here, on June 24.
But some members of the public have challenged this view, saying that they have grown up knowing that Harambee means "pooling together for development." "We should not ignore the fact that Harambee as our motto has helped build schools in this country. We must not narrow it down to a spirit since it is deeply entrenched in our culture," said Wafula Buke, a human rights activist.
Investigations into the origin of the Gujarati word, according to the Christians, indicates that Indian workers, while working on the Mombasa-Kampala railway more than a century ago, lightened their work by chanting "Haree Ambee," which in their words meant "Hail, Ambee." With time, the words came to be assimilated into Kiswahili, Kenya's national language, to mean "pooling together."
"There is a spirit behind the word. When Kenyans shout the motto, they get into contact with that spirit. This is offending to Christians," says a local pastor. But Mr. Kabacia Gatu says Kenyans should see Harambee from its original meaning of pooling resources together for development.
The current debate centers on the government's instituted commission to evaluate whether public fundraising, also known as Harambee should be retained or scrapped. The commission has been gathering views from the public and not yet come to a conclusion.