Why the 60th anniversary of our Uhuru seems muted

President William Ruto makes his way to Parliament buildings for the State of the Nation Address on November 9, 2023. [PCS]

The zoom effect seems to have become a permanent feature of our economy, mostly muting. Why is the 60th anniversary of our uhuru (independence) so muted?

Have you seen any billboards? Strangely, it’s not just the government that is mute on this anniversary, even the private sector.

Why are there no promotions around the diamond jubilee? Even the media is muted on this milestone, with few stories.

The closest we had was King Charles III visiting the country. The Konrad Adenauer Foundation in Kenya had a recent conference themed, transforming a nation. It focused on Kenya’s achievements in the last 60 years.

In one session, a 60-year-old gentleman was requested to share his experience. He shared how the cost of living has gone up, but admitted the standards of living have gone up too.

Why is the anniversary muted? Does it reflect the state of the economy and national pessimism?

This year, the cost of living and taxes have dominated the headlines. That was just after Covid-19 was tamed, but not its aftermath like joblessness and fear. Soon after Covid-19, climatic change has taken over as the other threat to humanity, and a source of fear.

Another reason could be demographics. Eighty per cent of Kenyans are below the age of 35.

They were born 25 years after uhuru. Their memory of colonialism is scant. They see no connection to the past.

Those who worked in plantations, or lived in concentration camps can easily see the need to celebrate.

There is enough from the media to divert the youngsters from the past.

Add the fact that this younger generation is the one most affected by the economics through joblessness or high cost of living.

What is curious is that we are not celebrating 60 years when celebrations have become the in-thing.

Cake makers can attest to it. Even Halloween is celebrated. Add baby showers, engagements, birthdays and more. Even graduations for kindergarteners are now celebrated.

Add retirements and promotions. Could this point to our individualism? 

The third reason could be that our leaders have not made us proud of our past and its achievements including a bloody route to uhuru.

When I travel outside Kenya, I am always surprised by how much respect we get because of the means to uhuru through Mau Mau.  

Glorious past

In Kenya, other issues crowd our glorious past. One is that focus on uhuru and how it was got gives some regions credit and raison d’etre (reasons for being) for leadership.

It would rather be muted.  Competition for scarce resources, including highly coveted public jobs diverts us from our past achievements.

So much is the competition that we even introduced the “face of Kenya” in the Constitution to ensure every community is represented in the public sector jobs. We forget the number of civil servants in Kenya, about 900,000 is a drop in the ocean. The bulk of the jobs are in the private sector with less glamour. 

Kenya lacks big corporate jobs that would rival public offices, particularly political officers. If you do not join politics in the US (United States), there is the Forbes list of big corporations. 

Let’s accept that the majority of Kenyans are at the subsistence level, at Maslow’s lowest level of human needs. Celebrations are too far up.

Hungry and often angry people have no time to celebrate. Remember celebrations are expensive!

The other reason is that we have no benchmarks for celebration. It should not surprise you that Kenyans who have traveled abroad are more likely to celebrate our achievements.

They have other countries as benchmarks. You realise we are not that badly off.  It’s no wonder those who immigrate to Kenya are more likely to celebrate.

They too have benchmarks.

How many Kenyans know that having house help, even among the affluent in the West is rare?

What of loneliness and isolation in the crowd so common in the West? The less traveled think their mum is the best cook.

As one person put it, indigenous Kenyans wish they could live in another country; a paradox considering the number who would love to live here.  

 There could be other reasons. But I still believe we have something to celebrate in Kenya after 60 years. A few reasons.

 We are living longer. Life expectancy has gone up - thanks to hygiene and modern medicine. Hope we are living longer and happier lives. How many reading this have seen lice or fleas? 

We have enslaved technology, let it do our work. Traveling, cleaning, farming, shaving, communication and other facets of our lives.

Technology has advanced, so much that it seems like magic. Unfortunately, technology has not saved us from fear and our prejudices. Check some of the vitriol shared on X and WhatsApp. 

We have more knowledge than in the past. We use it to solve our problems and satisfy our curiosity.  But that has not eliminated ignorance. 

Shore of ignorance

As one sage put it, “We live on an island of knowledge surrounded by a shore of ignorance. As our island of knowledge expands so does our shore of ignorance.”

We enjoy more freedom in our homes, workplaces and on this small planet. The only problem is that this freedom is not shared equally. You enjoy more freedom if affluent.

Paradoxically, this freedom is restricted by fellow men, not the Sabre-toothed tiger. 

We have not lost our instinct to control other human beings, at times for no reason. 

Finally, we can celebrate our dreams, that tomorrow can be made better than today. And more importantly, we have the freedom and capacity to make it better. 

You may not have been there on uhuru day, but looking back, what do you think you should celebrate as an individual or country? Talk to us.