01-06-2023 by Freddie del Curatolo
It all began sixty years ago in Kenya. On 1 June 1963, for the first time, after long battles, first of awareness, then of liberation from slavery, and then of bloodshed in the bloody epilogue of the Mau Mau revolt, a free nation that could stand on its own two feet was thought of. It was still a 'shadow' government, that of Jomo Kenyatta, fresh from ten years of imprisonment but capable even in prison of dialogue with the former British colony, but he was able to propose the first internal rules, to give himself the 'power of responsibility' (this means 'Madaraka', which then became the name of the day we celebrate today) and in fact take over the country.
Madaraka Day was the culmination of parliamentary elections (House and Senate) and regional assemblies held in the previous month. These elections were part of a constitutional transition agreed the year before at Lancaster House in London.
A few days earlier, in fact, Kenya had held its first truly democratic general elections, overwhelmingly won by the KANU of Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga against the KADU, which included politicians from the coast, maasai and kalenjin and was led by the Giriama Ronald Ngala.
To put it simply, the first draft of the Constitution of Kenya was outlined, which would later be revised and corrected, with the help of some 'enlightened' British, during a process lasting several months in which the newly elected government negotiated with the colonial office an appropriate roadmap for the transition that would lead to independence, to come into force on 12 December of the same year.
An important anniversary, which coincidentally falls one day before Italian Republic Day. Important not only for its symbolic value (the first conscious step towards independence with an official declaration) but because on the same day the famous banner with the shield symbolising those who had fought for independence, on a black red and green background was shown in public for the first time.
Significant were the words spoken by 'mzee' Jomo Kenyatta in 1967, during a memorable speech, to explain why this date was so important.
"Madaraka is a Swahili word meaning 'power'. Every year since 1963, we commemorate Kenya's achievement of internal self-government from the British colonial powers. It is a very special day in the Kenyan calendar, as it serves to remind citizens of the immense and unrelenting sacrifices made by selfless compatriots in the struggle for independence.
Remembering this feast has always been an important signal of breaking down tribal barriers and unity, but in recent decades these values have been overshadowed (if not crushed) by the riches conquered by the first ruling class and ardently desired by the new generations, without giving too much thought to the growth of the entire population, of the entire country.
We quote the comment of one of Kenya's most distinguished economists, Professor George Wachira, on Madaraka Day.
"Although development and leadership are generational and change with time, they should be consistent with the generally accepted national ideals set out in 1963 by our founding leaders. It was about eradicating ignorance, poverty and disease. Over the past sixty years, average living standards have definitely changed as Kenya has increasingly become part of the globalised social economy. However, standards of living in many parts of Kenya and among particular groups in our society have yet to move to qualities of life appropriate for Kenya today, and this remains an important work in progress. What we did not define properly in 1963 were the standards of leadership, because indeed many vices of governance had not yet developed at that time. However, corruption emerged immediately, as vested interests deliberately nurtured selfish corrupt practices, which were perfected and passed on to subsequent generations of public servants
By the 1980s, corruption had devastated our country economically and had become entrenched in day-to-day government functions. It is this systemic corruption, nurtured over the past sixty years, that has denied Kenya the ability to sufficiently address the three evils of poverty, disease and ignorance".
Happy Madaraka Day to Kenya and Kenyans, and may the sixtieth anniversary be a warning and a lesson to return to the spirit that reigned when we dreamed of a free country where there were no more social and economic inequalities, race and culture.
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