In DepthColumnsProject Kenya and the golden jubilee


Posted on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 15:12

Project Kenya and the golden jubilee

Photo©Thomas Mukoya/ReutersKenya's golden jubilee independence anniversary celebrations on 12 December this year will be unique in at least one respect.


It will be the first time in the country's history when Jamhuri Day is led by a president with no direct memory of colonialism.

Born in 1961, President Uhuru Kenyatta was an infant when the Kenyan flag went up for the first time. His deputy, William Ruto, was not yet born.

the nation turns 50 at a time when the very idea of nationhood is deeply threatened

Of the millions who will mark the event, only slightly more than a million of them countrywide would have any memory of the first Jamhuri Day. There is much to celebrate.

After decades of misrule, the promulgation of a new constitution in 2010 ushered in a new democratic dispensation.

Similarly, the economic stagnation of the 1980s and 1990s gave way to a decade of sustained economic growth. The International Monetary Fund predicts that gross domestic product will increase by 6.2% in 2014.

Regional trade and integration have deepened since the revival of the East African Community more than a decade ago. Kenyans now trade more with their regional counterparts than with anybody else.

New oil and mining projects promise to raise the government's revenue.

Just as important, the demands for a more equitable sharing of national resources and for the dispersal of executive power is guaranteed under a new devolved county governance system.

However, the nation turns 50 at a time when the very idea of nationhood is deeply threatened. Insecurity is rife and there are unprecedented levels of ethnic suspicion.

After Kenyans overwhelmingly voted to end four decades of the Kenya African National Union's autocratic rule in 2002, two consecutive elections have sharply polarised the political elite and divided the nation along ethnic lines, as witnessed by the 2007-2008 post-election violence.

Read More: Kenya at 50

Moreover, economic growth has failed to deliver on the promises made at independence. Kenya's income disparities are high, and many regions have been marginalised in terms of infrastructure and service provision.

For the generations that came of age in independent Kenya, there is a sense of two Kenyas – one of privileges and entitlements and the other of grinding poverty.

But it is the problems facing the current leadership – the court cases at the International Criminal Court – that perhaps reveal more about the fundamental issue of elite impunity the country faces.

At independence, 'Project Kenya' was a euphoric work in progress – a nation would be forged out of the shared history of colonial oppression.

It was in many ways meant to be a transcendent project, transforming diverse ethnic groups into a single national unit.

That dream was betrayed by a leadership intent on hogging power, patronage and resources. The nation, as the writer Binyavanga Wainaina has remarked, never imagined itself into being.

At 50, these acts of the imagination are the ingredients of a hopeful future, but time is running out.

Every missed opportunity to resolve deep-seated issues consigns the next generation to a Sisyphean struggle against itself. Having spent the first half-century of its existence avoiding the lessons of the past, the country's leadership is in danger of repeating its own vexed history. ●

Parselelo Kantai

Parselelo Kantai

Parselelo Kantai is the East and Horn of Africa editor of The Africa Report. He also writes for Africa Confidential and the Financial Times. He has been a Reuters Fellow and his fiction has twice been shortlisted for the Caine Prize for African Writing.

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