In 1963 Kenya won independence from the United Kingdom after a long drawn-out guerrilla warfare dotted with intermittent negotiations with then national leaders. This year, Kenya is fifty years old and as Kenyans look back at the achievements over the years, sadly we realize that even though we have much to celebrate there is also much to worry about.
Multi-party democracy is worth celebrating even though there is much left to be desired about the Jubilee government. However, gone are the days when we worshipped the president and lived in mortal fear of the government. The people who fought for this democracy may not be here to enjoy it but for us who no longer have to suffer the terrors of a tyrannical government; we are grateful.
Development has been swift over the last 10 years. Although for most of that time I lived in the United States I made yearly or so visits to the country and was amazed by the transformation. Nakuru, which was my home town growing up was a dreary, lifeless city which I left as fast as I could; now it’s a weekend destination for young revellers. The shopping malls, hotels, products, infrastructure, technology and services available in the country are fast improving and this is one of the things that I am proud of about my country. People from all over the world can come and live in Kenya and still access basic services which make life easier.
International recognition of Kenyans in various capacities has continued to put Kenya on the map. Various Kenyans have won awards in their areas of expertise. Writer and activitist Ngugi wa Thiong’o, noble peace prize winner, the late Wangari Maathai, actress Lupita Nyong’o, and photographer Mutua Matheka with his amazing pictures of Nairobi. I am particularly proud when I watch BBC, CNN or AlJazeera and see documentaries about Kenyans who have made a mark beyond our borders.
Despite the #WeAreOne that has been going around on the social and printed media, the truth is we are not one. It is clear that Kenya even after 50 years of independence is trying very hard to manufacture some type of patriotism that does not really exist in our hearts. Despite the craving for a patriotic spirit that might accelerate development – #WeAreNOTOne …..yet. I am not sure what kind of oneness we are seeking as a nation however I think we should seek a common goal while still cultivating our different cultural beliefs, because we can choose to align these beliefs to fit in with the common goal of the county.
Poverty remains a huge concern for the country. Since independence we have experienced regimes which plundered the government wealth leaving the poor paying the price of corruption. A Budget Watch 2013/2014 report recognizes that between 2005 and 2013 the number of households living below the poverty line have increased sharply. Pair this situation with the increasing taxes (VAT) and county government fees and we are headed for worse times. Unfortunately the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. In Nairobi we have people who fly around in private jets living side by side with people who eat two or three meals weekly.
Corruption and Poor Governance goes hand in hand with poverty. A report claims that Kenya loses about Kes 300 Billion to graft every year. Certain incidences this year have shown that the country is still rolling in the deep with corruption and we are still in search of proper leaders. First, former Justice Shollei comes under pressure for reporting corrupt officials in the Judiciary. Sadly, the ensuing story leaves her jobless but also leaft Kenyans in full knowledge that the Judiciary is still corrupt.
Secondly, the Westgate siege clearly revealed to Kenyans and to the world that indeed little has changed in the leadership of the country. The Kenya Defence Forces spent 5 days ‘rescuing hostages’ while footage has now suggested that they were looting and the said terrorist whom they were exchanging fire with had left Westgate days before.
The mayor or Nairobi slapped the Women’s representative of Nairobi country on camera, and pictures (real or modified) have been circulating of the Nairobi Women’s representative allegedly having an affair with the Nairobi Senator. These are the breed of elected leaders in place and sadly there seems to be little political will in citizens to oust them. Unless our leadership changes and corruption is tamed, then there is nothing much to celebrate about Kenya being 50.
We have come a long way as a country, I remember as a child reading about assassinations, disappearances and watching my mother produce a KANU government card in order to be allowed to shop at the municipal market. Kenya has made great leaps and I believe we will continue to make greater leaps. However, there are issues which are eating us from inside out, and unless we resolve them soon then the achievement we have made and are making may all be in vain. All this said – Happy 50th Kenya!