By Jerry Okungu
December 12, 2012
This week Kenya celebrated its 49th Uhuru Birthday. However, Kenyan history is being distorted before our very eyes. Those born after Uhuru may never know the difference between Uhuru Day and Jamhuri Day.
This week, Kenya celebrated 49 years since we attained independence. It was Uhuru that was attained on December 12 1963 not Jamhuri.
A year later on the same day, the nation became a republic under Jomo Kenyatta. It is therefore correct to say that it is 48 years since Kenya became a republic.
To tell you the truth, Uhuru Day was more historic and euphoric than Jamhuri a year later. On that day of December 12 1963, the British flag was lowered as the Kenyan flag climbed Mt. Kenya.
As little kids in early primary schools, we didn’t know much about what Uhuru was in our villages but we knew something big was about to happen in Kenya. However, because of the hype by the then freedom fighters who we had only heard of, news filtered that independence was coming very soon and it was being brought from England in a big aeroplane by Jomo Kenyatta, Tom Mboya and Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. That was all we knew even though none of us had ever seen them.
Village Uhuru heroes were very good at giving us heroic deeds of Jaramogi, Oneko, Mboya, Kenyatta and Masinde Muliro, confusing the latter with another Masinde the sect leader at the time.
We were told countless times how Mboya, Kenyatta and Jaramogi, through their magical powers had cheated death planned for them by the colonial masters and their collaborators in Kenya and abroad. To us therefore, these three musketeers were invincible supermen that no human power could destroy- not even the Mzungu’s smoking gun.
In our little villages, our small minds were fed with Uhuru fantasies.
With the fall of White power, all the big jobs, houses, cars and trains would belong to us.
We were told by our village heroes that all the good things in life, milk, honey and all would flow in to the village and that all those beautiful mission houses belonging to White missionaries would be given to us for free.
There would after Uhuru be free education, medical care and that all forms of transport would be free. This free access to everything our hearts desired was in tandem with the impending freedom- freedom to acquire.
What our heroes never told us was that the fruits of Uhuru we were anticipating would only come through sheer hard work. We were to learn the hard way years later when Jomo Kenyatta started talking of Uhuru na kazi- that nothing was going to be for free.
In my little mind I took literary what my village activists had promised me.
And so, on the morning of December 12 1963, I walked away from home to our local market three miles away. From there I proceeded to the bus stop and got into one of the big buses plying Nairobi Kisumu route. Indeed I was given a free ride to Kisumu 42km away from home. When I got to the town, hell broke loose.
The multitude that greeted me at the bus stop caught me bewildered. I was literally lost in this sea of humanity. What was worse; I had no money and did not know how to get back to Awasi.
It then occurred to me that one of my teachers, Mr. Solomon Ageng’o had joined East African Railways and Harbours and was the Station Master at Lela near Maseno. However, how to get to the Kisumu Railway station was another issue since I was in Kisumu for the first time alone in my life.
After several attempts I finally got to the Railway Station and reported my plight to the Station Master who promptly radioed my teacher. However, by that time, the Kisumu Butere line was long gone. The next train would depart at 6am. I had to spend the first chilly Uhuru night at the railway station.
Soon after independence, we started seeing symbols of freedom for our peasant village elders. Poll taxes were abolished. Forced labour especially in the Chief’s camps was abolished. Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, an anti-colonialist had long held the view that Chiefs, Sub Chiefs and Headmen had no role in modern Kenya as they had been used by the colonial government to suppress and oppress peasants.
To effect his policy shift, as Home Affairs Minister, he forced chiefs to be elected by the villagers.
It is funny that what our new constitution is trying to give us 49 years later we had from the beginning. The 1963 Uhuru ushered in a central government under the Prime Minister and less than 20 ministers and their permanent secretaries.
The same Lancaster Constitution gave us the Senate and eight regional governments complete with their governors and regional assemblies. This dream government that was forced on Kenyans by the then opposition KADU was the ideal arrangement that should have ensured equity from day one.
However, due to blind euphoria and faith in our founding fathers, we let our hard won Uhuru die on its first birthday. In its place came Jamhuri with absolute authority of the president. Overnight, the opposition KADU, the Senate was gone, regional assemblies were abolished and the Prime Minister became the President without any reference to Kenyans.
This situation was not unique to Kenya. It was the same story in Tanzania, Uganda, Ghana, Nigeria and most British former colonies at the time.
For Kenya, the 49 long years were punctuated by loss of freedom, political assassinations, rampant official looting of public resources and a mini civil war.
For our troubles, we got a new constitution.
Would things have worked out differently had we remained a British dominion for a while just like Canada, New Zealand and Australia had done before us?
We will never know