When Roger Swynnerton imagined a new Kenya in 1954, his Kenya was one where a few of us had land, received education, loans and access to markets. These newly educated and empowered land owners were to be the new middle class (for in his imagination no African would ever been upper class). The middle class, he imagined, would in turn hire the lower landless class to be their servants, a fact for which he thought the poor would be grateful. His Kenya was therefore a white upper class, a few African middle class and many, very many, African lower class. Thus the seeds of structural inequalities in Kenya were sown.
The interesting thing about the Swynnerton Plan is that it worked, and exports grew. The pre-independence economy boomed. Yet despite this, the Mau Mau rebelled, the country was ill at ease and there was no quelling the hunger for freedom. From Kisumu to Mombasa, from Wajir to Maralal and from Moyale to Narok, we all wanted freedom. That freedom was multi-pronged. We wanted political emancipation, economic emancipation and spiritual (dignity) emancipation. The poor African didn’t want to remain poor and the middle class Kenyan wanted to be upper class.
As the Union Jack came down and the Kenyan flag went up, many Kenyans saw their economic lives rise, they saw hope for a better future rise with their flag. President Jomo Kenyatta declared war against the trio vices of hunger, diseases and ignorance. Their hopes however were soon dashed when in 1965 the Sessional Paper No. 10 on African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya was adopted by the government. Instead of embracing a policy of land redistribution, the paper essentially re-enforced the Swynnerton system accepting that some Kenyans would be more privileged than others and development would focus on the lands and peoples along the railway line and the continued development of the middle class at the expense of the bottom of the pyramid: the hustler.
This obviously created huge disparity between different lands in Kenya, with some who lived in the ASAL areas believing they were not really in Kenya. This combined with rampant corruption among government officials ensured that the country did not develop as it should and the poor who had neither access to land nor to plum government jobs only got poorer. The tragedy was that the most affected were the Mau Mau freedom fighters whose pieces of land were consolidated into the ownership of the homeguards before the former came from the forest were released from detention.
The status quo continued under the government of President Daniel arap Moi until the 1990s when the Kenyan masses agitated for a new political and constitutional order, realising that dilapidated and weak institutions were key reasons why they were poor. A regime change was what they imagined they needed to set them free from the class system upon which their poverty had been compounded for years.
The transition from single party rule to multiparty and eventually to the new Constitution 2010 was the second liberation when Kenyans set themselves free from a system that kept them under institutional chaos and institutionalised classes of haves and have-nots.
It is clear then that both at independence and at the second liberation the Kenyan people saw the political freedom they sought twinned with economic prosperity nationally and personally. Remembering this fact is key to understanding almost every struggle this country has had.
This economic freedom dream began to unfold clearly when both presidents Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta embarked on robust infrastructure, economic and institutional development. The economy grew, the middle class and the upper class ballooned but the hustler at the bottom of the pyramid remained poor. In actual fact the percentage of the poor increased as our GDP grew from 15 billion to the present 100 billion dollars.
This circumstance called for the third liberation. The liberation of the hustler at the bottom of the pyramid to finally be brought up the economic ladder. This is why 2022 was the most peaceful election. An election about issues and an election in which Kenyans voted for a better future. Our own studies as the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) show that Kenya is the most peaceful it has been in any election period.
This is no mean feat, but underneath it lies a deep desire for the final transition and liberation of the people; when the Swynnerton concept is finally overturned; when the common person is also allowed to prosper; a nation where finally there are no classes anymore but instead a nation where we are all upwardly mobile, where no one is left behind. Such is promised by the Kenya Kwanza Manifesto and articulated even more clearly by President William Ruto.
Stay informed. Subscribe to our newsletter
As such the freedom that Kenyans now need is freedom from poverty, a cohesion based on a common desire to prosper. We have dropped our tribal politics to finally embrace issue-based and economy-based politics. With the Ruto administration, Kenyans have new found hope! What remains then is a white paper from the Kenya Kwanza government on how to achieve political stability, economic prosperity and social cohesion and that to be followed by execution, to the hilt, of all the promises upon which Kenyans voted for a third liberation.
This new administration is a chance which we cannot afford to waste. It is a golden opportunity: Let us all join hands to lift Kenya up to the next level. To rid ourselves of poverty and to create the most beautiful success story Africa has ever heard.