Madaraka Day: Hope must define our collective destiny

Five decades ago, after years of strife, betrayal and suspicion, Kenya achieved internal self-government and began a rapid path to full Independence as a majority-ruled republic.

While our national consciousness recalls the frenzy of celebration attending this change, history records a more complex series of events fuelled by the ethnic and racial tensions of the day and the challenges facing the first majority-black Government in its infancy.

Much has been forgotten or deliberately rewritten about that period of transition as a narrative more suited to fashioning a nation out of a collection of ethnic groups. But seen without the aid of rose-tinted nostalgia or the distortion of modern day politics, the early years of Kenya’s first half century as a free nation holds invaluable lessons for our future.

The dreams our forebears had, the fears they harboured, the challenges they faced and the compromises they made on the way to failure in some areas and success in others are invaluable to solving this era’s transition challenges.

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 The benefit of hindsight has often led to uncharitable conclusions about the achievements and failures of the age. But because time bends our memories like a stick in water, the Kenya most of us remember is not quite what we think it is. Taking another look opens our eyes to a better understanding and to the new possibilities for escaping the pitfalls of repeated failures.

As we mark the start of the year of the Golden Jubilee, Standard Group’s newspapers and other media outlets continue to explore this colourful history in a six-month campaign titled ‘Kenya @ 50’. Apart from a review of five decades of political and social change, it is a celebration of our great nation and its potential to rise above its past. We hope it can help Kenya learn from the experience shared in Africa’s first half-century of independence.

Sometime today, at a State event attended by tens of thousands, the country’s fourth President will address the nation on the 50th Madaraka Day, kicking off a six-month countdown to the Golden Jubilee of our Independence from the United Kingdom. His vision of where the country goes next comes at a time of some uncertainty. The nation has a history of impunity yet to be dealt with; a legacy of poverty and injustice holding it back; economic challenges to overcome; social inequalities and disparities that threaten progress; bitter political and ethnic divisions over these issues; regional and global pressures it has little or no control over; institutions and offices still finding their footing in a new constitutional dispensation; and an incomplete reform agenda, among other challenges. These are not challenges leaders can handle alone.

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s with the nation’s founding fathers, President Uhuru Kenyatta, Deputy President Wiliam Ruto and their government have a tough row to hoe in managing this transition. And just like them, they can get lost in the battles of political survival if distracted from this task. That they do so with the help of 47 county governments reduces the risk that the failings of a few overbearing individuals and institutions hold back our development. But to achieve the dream of an open, successful society, Kenya cannot pin its hopes entirely on the Government. Much of what has been achieved over the last five years has been done by this nation’s great people, often in spite of the failings of the State and its leadership. The greatness we aspire to will be built by the people through their efforts to compel leaders to do better and their efforts to shape their destiny irrespective of whether they succeed at that first task.

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Kenya’s collective destiny is far more important than the interest of any individual person or group. Our history reminds us of this on occasions like this. Madaraka Day, like Mashujaa Day, affords Kenyans the opportunity to celebrate Independence and modern-day heroes and heroines who have brought pride and joy to our beloved country. However, it should also be an occasion to encourage an every-day heroism among citizens. As John F Kennedy put it to his generation: Ask not what your country can do for you, but instead ask what you can do for your country.

Encouraging and rewarding this kind of attitude to nation building will create a new breed of heroes that could transform the country radically.

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