Founding President Jomo Kenyatta leads Madaraka Day celebrations in June 1967. FILE PHOTO | NMG
Today, Kenya is celebrating its 59th Madaraka Day, a commemoration of that defining day in 1963 when Kenya attained internal self-government under its new Prime Minister Jomo Kenyatta.
This was after Kenya had held its first truly democratic general elections a few days earlier, and which KANU had overwhelmingly won against KADU and a smaller party APP.
As a 15-year-old, I remember Saturday, June 1, 1963, as a dump day when I sneaked into Karatina Moll’s Stadium to listen to our newly elected Mathira MP, Anderson Wamuthenya who made a good attempt at explaining the difference between “internal self-government” and “Independence” for indeed after winning such a tough election a week earlier many thought we were home and dry with our ‘uhuru’.
The newly elected government was expected to negotiate with the colonial office a suitable transition timetable leading to independence on December 12 later that year, and that is when uhuru would be celebrated with jubilations.
Madaraka day was merely the occasion for swearing-in the Prime Minister and his 13 ministers by the colonial governor. Many have subsequently argued that June 1 and December 12 holidays should be merged into a single occasion on December 12, due to their related significance. This would help reduce the serious clutter of public holidays in Kenya.
Madaraka Day was indeed the climax of the parliamentary elections (Lower House and Senate) and regional assemblies elections held in the previous month. They were part of a constitutional transition agreed in the Lancaster House London the previous year.
They were also critical elections for Jomo Kenyatta, who had vowed to change the constitution to abolish regionalism (majimbo) for unitary government, should KANU win the elections. Indeed by 1966 the Senate and Regional Assemblies had been abolished.
Most of those who contested in 1963 elections were leaders who had participated in the struggle for freedom or were in other forms of leadership available to Africans, for example, trade unions, teaching or civil service.
Business or wealth did not feature much for indeed Africans had very little of these. There are also the younger educated graduates mostly from USA and India who genuinely offered themselves to serve a new country.
After nearly six decades, Kenya is just about to hold its 13th general election in a totally changed environment from which we saw in 1963. The most significant shift is the motivation and justification for leadership, which in the 1963 elections was mostly driven by patriotism and the desire to serve. Personal gain was less of motivation, than is the case with leadership contestants of these days.
As for the voters they did not expect monetary or material inducement to vote for particular candidates as loyalty to parties and candidates counted a lot. Monetary inducement was not a common practice as there was not that much cash around. However, ethnic loyalties were quite strong, a feature which unfortunately remains significant to this day.
Although development and leadership are generational and change with time, these should be consistent with generally accepted national ideals, which were defined in 1963 by our founding leaders. These were to drive away ignorance, poverty, and disease.
Over the last six decades, the average standards of living have definitely changed as Kenya became increasingly a part of globalised socio-economy. However, standards of living in many parts of Kenya and among particular groups of our society are yet to transition to qualities of life befitting Kenya of today, and this remains major work in progress.
What we did not correctly define in 1963 were the guiding leadership standards, for indeed many governance vices had not developed at the time. However, this corruption cropped up immediately as vested interests deliberately nurtured self-serving corrupt practices, which were perfected and handed over to incoming generations of public servants.
By the 1980s corruption had economically devastated our country while becoming enshrined in day-to-day government functions. It is this systemic corruption, nurtured over the past six decades that has denied Kenya the capacity to sufficiently address the three maladies of poverty, disease, and ignorance.
Whatever message is contained in today’s official Madaraka Day speech, and indeed future celebrations should target returning this country to the values and ideals envisaged in 1963. And there is no better starting point for their implementation than in the coming elections and new government.