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Echoes from the past as Jamhuri Day is marked

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On December 12, 1963, Britain’s Union Jack came down, and was replaced by the black, red and green flag with white stripes, cheered on by eight million optimistic Kenyans.

Kenya became a republic exactly one year later, and has gone through a journey of hope, uncertainty in late 1970s, oppressive one-party rule in the 1980s, renewed hope in 2002, a new progressive Constitution in 2010, and most recently, hope of a new Kenya punctuated by incessant concerns about public debt and use of public resources.

It has been a journey of quick fixes that worked and many that flopped, blueprints here and there left to gather dust, or implemented halfheartedly, and long-drawn political battles and rivalries.

But when President Kenyatta leads the nation in commemorating Jamhuri Day at the Nyayo Stadium today, he will be forced to address almost the same problems Senior Kenyatta faced 55 years ago.


In his first speech on that day in 1963, the bearded Jomo Kenyatta, with his trademark fly whisk, made a solemn promise that his government would address three big challenges of poverty, ignorance and disease.

Fifty four years later, when he led the country to mark the 2017 Jamhuri Day celebrations two weeks after being sworn in as president for a second term, Uhuru Kenyatta made a similar promise: He was going to tackle universal healthcare, food security, promote manufacturing, and facilitate the achievement of affordable housing.

While father and son named almost similar challenges they wanted to address, Junior Kenyatta does so under completely different circumstances. In 1963, Kenya had eight million people, one-sixth of the current population, with the latest estimates indicating a population of 51 million.

When Jomo Kenyatta took over the reins of power, the Gross Domestic Product was $926.6 million and a per capita income of $104. Today, Kenya’s economy has grown 80 times and is one of the strongest in the region and the continent, with a GDP of $74 billion.


But, though Kenya has advanced economically, it remains a largely unequal country.

Global charity, Oxfam, estimated in 2017 that 8,300 Kenyans (less than 0.1 per cent) own more wealth than the bottom 99.9 per cent numbering more than 45 million.

This is also a country where its richest 10 per cent earn an average 23 times more than the poorest 10 per cent, with Oxfam estimating that Kenya’s millionaires will have grown by 80 per cent, with 7,500 of them set to be created by 2027 — one of the fastest growth rates in the world.

Kenya also marks 55 years of independence at a time when its debt — now at over Sh5 trillion mark — has worried commentators, with calls for prudent borrowing.

On the health score, Kenya has recorded significant improvements with President Kenyatta expected to launch a pilot programme of a Universal Health Coverage plan tomorrow.

Kenya has moved from a country of 46.348 life expectancy at birth — the number of years a newborn infant would live if prevailing patterns of mortality at the time of its birth were to stay the same throughout its life — in 1963, to 67.032 in 2016.

In its bid to tackle ignorance, Kenya has grown from a country with a 67 per cent school enrolment in 1970, to just about 100 per cent now — boosted heavily by the free primary education during President Mwai Kibaki’s tenure, 2002 to 2013.

Next year, the government is targeting a 100 per cent transition to secondary school of the one million pupils who sat the Standard Eight exams.

President Kenyatta has to contend with the monster of corruption and a deeply divided nation. A ‘handshake’ with opposition leader Raila Odinga in March brought some calm, but analysts say more needs to be done.

As he leads the country in yet another important day in Kenya’s history, President Kenyatta will be alive to the challenges his father and former presidents Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki dealt with, and those he has spent six years tackling.