How we felt on December 1963 and the spirit in today's youth


Jaza Outlet staff dance during the opening of the Buruburu branch on Jamhuri on December 12, 2023. [David Gichuru, Standard]

There is now only a small number of Kenyans, who were alive and adult on 12th December 1963, to remember what the day felt like, what it stood for.

As one of this fast-diminishing number, I spent part of the week before, recollecting the day. Dignity, hope and equality were the overriding feelings on that great day.
Dignity rained the whole day over all of Kenya. It cleansed us of the demeaning and humiliation of the whole of the 68 years of colonialism in Kenya.
Hope was attending every ceremony of the day. It gave reassurance for the future to all Kenyans, rich, poor, of all parts of the land, whether they were present or not where the new flag went up. They were ready to continue the fight for the entrenchment of freedom for their children and their future.

Many of those children had gone on the Student Airlifts to the US. Many others were even then studying in India, the UK, Russia, East Germany, also on scholarships.

They would be coming back within a year or two, to take up their positions in the Public Service, making those places truly representative of the country.

We looked upon the Cabinet as fully representative of us all. They were all nationalists, highly qualified, experienced in public affairs and with a track record against oppression. Therefore, all of us till today can name the members of that first Cabinet and their portfolios, something that has never stuck in our minds for the last 50 years of poor cabinets, wholly devoid of these qualities.

Most of all there was a sense of consciousness on our part that we would be the generation that had to effect the changes on the ground, in detail.

We were taking the country out of colonialist hands in London, and placing it in our own hands, both metaphorically and literally. We were confident we could do this.

Kenya was shifting gears. Teachers’ staff rooms were changing. Teachers were teaching changed classes.

They not only taught their academic subjects, but also reassured and supported the children that their dreams and aspirations were valid and could be realised in those life-changing days.

And Kenyan students, having since gone all over the world and done very well, are proof that their teachers did discharge these fine duties to the fullest. Lawyers had to reverse the presence of discriminatory colonial attitudes, whether tacit or overt, in the interpretation of our laws.

They had to bring the Kenyan Common Law into Kenyan law, which meant bringing into the courtroom what Kenyans thought about issues like damages, trusts, provocation, and marital rights.

Much in law is decided on the test of what is ‘reasonable’.

We now had to stamp how Kenyans applied this often-subjective conclusion. Literature, music, paint, dance, song and theatre had to depict national feelings, national stories. And indeed, the books of our novelists and poets came prolifically off the printing presses. As did magazines and photographs.

We had to decide how to correct equitably and lawfully, the dangerous imbalances in farming land ownership and in retail trade. We did that too. Better than South Africa and Zimbabwe later tried.
And those who thought we could not do it; and those who had practised the Colour Bar were shamed. Many left to go and practise it in other countries, now one fewer by our great achievement.

The freedom fighters at Takwa Maximum Security Camp on Manda Island and other camps, did not come out of detention unprepared for freedom. During their detention, they discussed what their experiences and beliefs meant, so as to define the Kenya they would be making.

Here is what one of our assassinated heroes, Pio Gama Pinto, wrote on that day: “Kenya’s Uhuru must not be transformed into freedom to exploit, or freedom to be hungry and live in ignorance. Uhuru must be for the masses, Uhuru from exploitation, ignorance, disease and poverty… to be free from economic exploitation and social inequality.”

Sadly, betrayal followed too soon. Our task, the task of that day, remained unfinished. Now those tasks are retrieved by the 2010 Constitution, together with the duty that the dignity, hope, and equality of that day would now be fulfilled.

I see this determined spirit in the youth of this generation, now. And the sense, that this generation will largely fulfil that promise.

The writer is senior counsel