National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi has revealed that a man wrote to parliament seeking that the word ‘Harambee’ be removed from the coat of arms, saying it is a bad omen for the country.
Charles Koinange Mangua from Limuru claimed he had received a revelation from God that tragedy could befall the country if the word, one of the country’s most famous clarion calls, is not removed and replaced with ‘Kenya’.
“You shall be held responsible collectively and individually before God concerning the matter of the word on the Coat of Arms, which should be reading the name ‘Kenya’,” states the petition read by Speaker Justin Muturi.
The petitioner claimed that God was not happy with the continued use of the word, and that parliament should urgently review its usage.
The term Harambee was coined from a Bantu word halumbe, meaning to pull together. The concept was adopted by the first President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta to mean pulling together the country to build a new nation.
Kenyatta encouraged communities to work together to raise funds for all sorts of projects, pledging that the government would provide start-up costs. Wealthy people who wanted to get into power would donate funds to local harambee drives and gain traction.
However, due to repeated abuse over time, Harambee has been perceived to refer to manipulative or deceptive collection of monetary funds from the public.
Harambee funds drives have been abused through:
- Misappropriation of publicly collected Harambee funds by individuals.
- Force contributions by government officials
- Forced contributions through forced or unofficial deductions on the salaries of government employees,
- Corruption and abuse of Harambee funds for personal gains,
- Many stalled Harambee projects (schools, hospitals, roads, state-owned factories etc.
There have been attempts to replace the word Harambee over the years.
In January 2002, the Risk Advisory Group Ltd commissioned by President Daniel Arap Moi’s administration as part of the anti-corruption recommended the abolition of harambee.
In 2003, when the National Rainbow Coalition NARC took over from the Kenya African National Union Kanu, President Mwai Kibaki enacted the Public Officers Ethics Act which prohibited Members of Parliament and Cabinet Secretaries from presiding over harambees.
In February 2018, a petition presented at the senate sought to abolish harambee from the coat of arms and the public seal. Petitioner Isaac Aluochier claimed that the word harambee refers to a Hindu goddess.
Jubilee Party senators supported the petition as their Opposition counterparts dismissed it as a waste of time.
Christian groups also want the word removed due to the Hindu goddess quotation.
It is alleged that Harambee is a Gujarati word originating from Kenyan history a century ago. Indian workers who were working along the Mombasa- Kampala railway made their work lighter by chanting “Haree Ambee” which in their words meant “Hail, Ambee (Hindu goddess)”.
With time the words came to be assimilated into Kiswahili and ultimately the national language.
“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.
If parliament follows up on the proposal, it will have to amend the Second Schedule of the Constitution, which lists the Coat of Arms as one of the country’s national symbols
“My humble petition and prayer to the National Assembly is that you all convene urgently to pass the Bill for a constitutional amendment to change the word,” Petitioner Koinange pleads.