There is much to be hopeful for despite wasted opportunities

Pupils cheer during Jamhuri Day celebrations at Uhuru Gardens, Nairobi, on December 12, 2023. [Samson Wire, Standard]

Kenya finally turned 60 last week. Credit must go to the organisers for the great jamboree at Uhuru Gardens.

My highlight was the granting of high-level state awards to our sports people. We need to institutionalise celebrating these great Kenyans who keep our flag flying high, even when our profile is wanting.

In a country that is packed with negativity, this week’s column has chosen to focus on some positive areas that we have gotten right over the 60 years, even as I recognise that there are many spheres where we have failed to live to our full potential.

The first area we have gotten right is our constitutional development. It took us more than 40 years to get our reformist Constitution in place. The numerous starts and stops, including the impugned Bomas Draft and the rejected Wako Draft, provided valuable lessons in what was essential to include in a document that would redress our challenges.

Consequently, the 2010 Constitution contains far-reaching provisions for people’s involvement in the governance process. It has progressive human rights provisions, and it seeks to constrain power through institutionalisation and the creation of checks and balances between institutions of government.

In this respect, the Judiciary has consistently shown its mettle, remaining a refuge when the State acts ultra vires or violates the Constitution. To celebrate our Judiciary, one only needs to study the goings on in Zimbabwe as President Emmerson Mnangagwa seeks to extend his parliamentary numbers and the role of that country’s Judiciary.

The Constitution creates a framework for fiscal and resource equity, and, in devolving power, seeks to enhance the self-government. We have failed to implement a significant portion of the Constitution or abused powers that were granted for the benefit of the people - but that is not the fault of the Constitution.

How you know our Constitution is progressive is that it is more popular with the citizens than with those who exercise power. That it has not been fully implemented should not surprise any student of history.

The much-celebrated American constitution was for many years applied in a way that subjugated minorities and women. People forget that women’s right to vote was only recognised by law in America in 1920, more than 100 years after an “all are created equal” constitution. Even then, States found ways to keep women and blacks out of the voting booths and only in 1965 did the passage of the voting rights give power to women and minorities.

Secondly, and related to the first, is our growing sense of nationhood. This has been a long time coming. For years, there were parts of Kenya that felt totally marginalised and not part of the Republic.

Devolution and the spread of the national wealth to all parts of the country has made it easier for everyone to feel part of the Kenya mosaic. Granted that we have slackened in the “empowering through devolution” agenda, but we have made significant strides. There are now signs in every part of Kenya, including the forgotten North, that a portion of the national cake has been served.

On ethnic unity, President Uhuru Kenyatta may have made many mistakes, including overextending our debt, but there is one thing we shall be eternally grateful to him for - he oversaw the political coming together of formerly bitter political enemies: the Kikuyu, Luo and Kalenjin. For the first time since multipartyism was introduced, voters in the 2022 elections defied traditional voting patterns. One hopes that this unity will endure and will not be undone by the political elite who generally benefit from ethnic-defined political action.

Finally, Kenya has evolved one of the most enterprising populations that one encounters in the continent.

If you want to experience Kenyans at their most resourceful, pay a visit to the other side of Tom Mboya Street, or drive to Kayole, Embakasi, Kitengela and such other hustler settlements. They are not the best planned and organised environments but are extremely vibrant as people engage in creative trades and businesses to survive and thrive.

So yes, we have squandered many opportunities to get further ahead, and have left too many Kenyans in daily despair, but there are still many reasons to jivunia kuwa Mkenya.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court