Kenya at 45; So far from where we began, yet so far from where we should be


by Nelima Kerré • Happy Jamhuri (Independence) Day to all my fellow Kenyans!

What a great day this is as Kenyans all over are celebrating their freedom from the clutches of British colonial rule 45 years ago.

A sketch of my family’s colonial background goes something like this; my mom was seven at the time of Kenya’s Independence, but she remembers that during the colonial times my grandfather worked as a farm manager on “Major’s” farm in Entebbes. He was an ’Omwikisi‘ (teacher) back at the reserve . The women and children were permanently relegated to the reserves. Those who worked in the white highlands had to carry with them a card granting them permission to walk free in their land. ‘ Ncha mureserve’ (I am going back to the reserve) was a common phrase that was even turned into a song. With time the Bukusus and Tachoni , tired of servitude fought the wazungu in the war commonly known as ’Lie mulumboka’ for freedom and to get their land back. Unfortunately the fight for independence by other tribes was not really taught in Kenyan schools leading many think that only the Mau Mau and Kikuyu fought for our freedom.

The story of Kenya’s colonial history goes something like this; the Portuguese under explorer,Vasco da Gama, were the first Europeans to set foot on Kenyan soil at Mombasa in 1498 but their rule of the E. Africa coastal areas officially began in 1505. The Omani Arabs then took over the coast from the Portuguese in the 1600s, but the inland was still untouched. After the scramble for Africa in 1885 E. Africa (like the rest of African) was partitioned and in 1895 the area became the British East African Protectorate, it was in 1920 that Kenya officially became a British Colony. Kenya achieved independence on Dec 12th 1963, with Malcom Mc Donald as governor general and Jomo Kenyatta as Prime Minister. Kenya was declared a Republic on Dec 12th 1964 with Jomo Kenyatta as its first President.

Anyhow, here in Minnesota the party plans are grandiose and I have heard it will be the same for other states in the US. Yes most Kenyans will celebrate, but not commemorate or reflect upon the meaning of this day. Our history is forgotten. A friend said that maybe because some of us were not yet born, we do not understand the severity of the struggle of our forefathers? I do not think that justifies the lack of critical analysis of where Kenya is and should be headed. At least Kenyans back home will have the choice of watching T.V documentaries on our forefathers fight for our freedom, but from what I hear, the majority of the youth just want to know where the Independence Day party’s at.

Sometimes I now look back on those national holidays in Kenya. I remember songs on the radio like, “Kenya , Kenya, Kenya Taifa Yaaangu. Kenya, Kenya Kenya Nchi Yangu” (Kenya, Kenya, Kenya my republic. Kenya, Kenya, Kenya my country). I also remember my dad ‘forcing ‘us to go for the celebrations at the stadium and by law no one was allowed to leave once former President Moi started giving his speech. What sweet nostalgia, and to think I was not too concerned about all of that back then.

I also look back to the times when I trusted the water that came out of our tap, enough to actually drink it. I look back to the days when the city council came and picked up the trash. Wasn’t that way back when kids in public school drank ‘Maziwa ya Nyayo’ at break(free school milk program)? I think at the time a U.S dollar was exchanging for less than 20 Kenyan Shillings. I remember it was safe for unattended youth to go to boat riding at Uhuru (Freedom) Park and hang out at City Park. My siblings and I regularly wandered through Kibera slum for adventure without any fear back then.

But somehow in the mid nineties things went south. Clear tap water was replaced with muddy brown water. Waste management was non-existent and people resorted to dumping at some far away dump site, eventually these sites got closer to the residential areas. Roads weren’t cleaned or maintained anymore. It’s commonly said that only a drunk person drives in a straight line, because they don’t care to avoid the potholes anymore. The recreational park are now havens for all sorts of criminals in fact being out alone past 7pm is just not safe anymore. How did this happen? How could our leaders let this happen? How could we let our leaders let this happen?

In my view, Kenya hit rock bottom when post-electoral violence claimed the lives of more than 1200 and displaced over 300,000. The scars of this violence still runs deep. So here we are independent of colonial rule, but still fighting for freedom. This is Kenya at 45; So far from where we began, yet so far from where we should be.