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How has Kenya changed in 60 years

An old colonial house probably owned by Joubert De Wet. How did we fair on after uhuru? [XN Iraki, Standard]

Kenya is either 59 years as a republic, 60 years as a self-governing or 128 years since it became a country.

The focus has been on republicanism, not 68 years of colonialism, defined by indirect rule through chiefs, cheap labour through plantations and Mau Mau uprising that humbled the Empire.

We can even go further before colonialism, best espoused by our traditional cultures, beliefs, governance and how we took care of nature and co-existed with each other.

We have let the indigenous knowledge and traditional wisdom fade with time. Think of our proverbs which can explain most social and cultural phenomena. 

The new order, based on Western philosophy and religion has not really taken root in us, leaving a “floating generation.” Why did we skip this period into Zinjanthropus and other prehistoric characters? Noted how Indians carry their cultural and religious roots wherever they go?  They carry their temples and names. 

Does that explain why they led Google, IBM or Microsoft and gave the UK a prime minister?

Enough digression; what has changed in 60 years? One is population growth best espoused by new settlements, subdivision of land and intense competition for resources.

Building upwards, through skyscrapers and apartments demonstrates the rise in population.

We thought it was a joke for someone to grow up in an apartment or even buy one. When we talk of national problems, population growth is muted, because of religious overtones.

Population is the demand side of capitalism, another reason for silence over it. Without going to statistics, the population growth rate is slowing, thanks to modern medicine and hard economic times.

Will taxes and levies reduce population growth further? We are getting smaller families, hopefully, happier ones. In 60 years, rural-urban migration has gone unabated. It’s not just about young men and women leaving the rural areas, but brain drain. We extract the best brains from every village, hamlet and county and frown upon any well-educated person returning to the village, unless on retirement or death.

How do we expect to transform the rural areas?

Two is the change in the way we relate to each other. Keep your lane.

Despite all chamas, gated communities, going to school together and WhatsApp groups, we confide to only a few people. We exclude the vast majority.

Great show-offs

Loneliness haunts us. And it’s worse as we grow older. Interaction has become more transactional, remove emotions out of it.

How many people do you call just to say hi, without any crisis?

Curiously, we are more private in physical meetings but more public in cyberspace, with great show-offs on our achievements.

We have become more status and class-conscious.  Three, the shift to services. Manufacturing has stagnated in 60 years. The vast majority of us work in the services sector.

Think of what you use every day, from your shaver to shoes. Where are they manufactured? 

When you add the fact that imported things are considered superior (including names), you easily explain why new hotels, not factories define devolution.

Industrial parks based in the counties are a step in the right direction. Shall we love “Made in Kenya”?

Shall we tap into global supply and value chains? It’s about the market, the rest falls into place. If you get a market for chameleons, someone will breed them!

Four, is the opening up of our economy. After uhuru, the ordinary citizens celebrated.

There was freedom at last. But we were left by the undercurrents of globalisation. We opened up but never left. How come there was no “Windrush” from Kenya?

Though we have relatives or siblings abroad, members of the East African Community (EAC), African Union, the United Nations and other multilateral bodies, our lives revolved around a few places; workplace, village or estate, the matatu or car, supermarket or kiosk. Life is simple. The jet set group is small. We regress to the mean and define our lives with only a few parameters. 

Five, the existence of parallel lives. This has become the defining characteristic of our 60 years of uhuru.

We believe in evolution and creation at the same time. We believe in democracy and autocracy, we believe in family values but single parenthood at the same time, we believe in helping but stealing from society, we believe in capitalism but hate work. How do witchcraft and religion co-exist? The list can get longer. Six, the love of celebrations. From birthdays, graduations, baby showers, Halloween, Kwanzaa and many others. Could it be the Covid-19 effect? We appreciate our mortality more and celebrate life. 

Seven, in 60 years, we should have realised that freedom is more of an illusion, more like a rainbow. Those who have lived in the West, or East know that, holding material things constant, Africans could be enjoying more freedom than their colonisers.

We lose lots of freedom as we get modernised. Just think of how many people or institutions compete for your attention or money.

Resident associations

The chief, the police, the church, the schools, the politicians from MCA to the president, the WhatsApp groups (how many are you in?), resident associations, co-operative unions, your employer, family, friends, your tribe, among others. When are you ever free? 

Eight, technological changes. It took me two years to get a fixed telephone line!  I paid Sh60 per minute to access the internet in 2001.

We pay everything including dowry through M-Pesa, ATM is old-fashioned. We are even fearing artificial intelligence (AI).

Luckily technology will not replace common sense, our judgement, innovation and creativity. 

Nine, we have remained human, in search of meaning and purpose in life. That’s why religion has gained new importance. It does not matter if it’s traditional churches, mosques or new ones including cults.

The floating generation is seeking an anchor. Across the social spectrum, from the rich to the poor, we all seek meaning and purpose in life.

What’s beyond self-actualisation in Maslow’s hierarchy? What other change have we left out? Happy New Year; wherever you are on this small planet.

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