Let me start by confessing that this article is partly possible because June 1st being a Sunday, the public holiday on that occasion was extended to the following Monday, therefore I didn’t have to go to work.
The public holiday in question in Kenya is Madaraka day, a day to commemorate Kenya Colony being granted internal self-government (not to be confused with independence) on June 1st 1963. Unlike years gone by, there was hardly much pageantry. In fact it seems to me that nowadays folk are just going through the motions, when it comes to marking Kenya’s national days.
Government offices and a few patriotic private establishments decked out in worn out flags. Public rallies in stadiums across the country, where whomever happens to be the most senior government official makes his speech, maybe some local artists are given a platform to remind us what the latest fad on the airwaves is. Throw in a marching band or two, and call it a day.
All in all it’s like, rather than having several distinct national days, to commemorate important events in Kenyan history, we pretty much have been photocopying the same holiday celebration, every national holiday, year in year out, since Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was sworn in as Kenya’s Prime Minister on June 1st 1963.
Granted things were not always so half-arsed. I can remember a time when the ‘holiday’ part of public holidays was taken so seriously, even the newspapers closed shop as a sign of respect of the occasion. Not that there was much depth to marking of the occasion, but at least there was some passion.
Be that as it may, when I take a minute to reflect on the purpose of a whole country dedicating a day, or a number of days in a year to reflect on some important occurrence in the nations history, it gripes with me that the actual activities meant to do so in Kenya are so…generic.
How many (younger ones in particular) Kenyans really connect with the actual struggles which former generations of anti-colonialism and anti-imperialism undertook to make the country we now live in a reality? How many of us really ‘get’ why some Africa born African man being put in charge of a nation in Africa, by other Africans was such a big deal it had to be made a public holiday?
Then again maybe it’s better to be more concerned with the here and now, rather than poke over past achievements of a bygone era. Though some of the challenges remain, the reality of today’s Africa, and its place in the world, has fundamentally changed in ways that mean these occasions cannot be marked the way they were before.