Today, Kenya celebrates Jamhuri Day. The day has a double meaning, in 1963 it marked independence and freedom from the British Empire, and in 1964 it was the day when Kenya joined the Commonwealth as a republic. The following blog looks at the history and presence of Kenya and what COCO does there.
Kenya’s history has been a very rocky road. First, Kenya was ruled by the British Empire, from the late 19th century (formally from 1920) until 1963. The colonial period was full of conflicts over land, culture and political rule. During this time, the British oppressed and exploited Kenya severely and kept Africans away from the public sphere. The two key Kenyans who led the struggle for independence and political rights were Jomo Kenyatta and Dedan Kimathi. While Kenyatta tried to achieve this by peaceful means, Kimathi turned to violence and played a leading part in the violent Mau Mau uprising in the 1950s. The Mau Mau rebellion caused the loss of many thousands of lives and a state of emergency for most of the decade but also, more rights and power for Kenyans and it made the British to finally realize that they could not prolong the colonial rule.
In its 55 years, Kenya has only witnessed four different presidents. First, it was Jomo Kenyatta – the leader of the independence struggle and founding father of Kenya; then Daniel Toroitich arap Moi – who ruled Kenya for 24 years in an authoritarian manner; thirdly, Mwai Kibaki – the man of controversy; and currently Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of Jomo – who is facing heavy opposition.
Kenya’s independence has been marked by many struggles. These have included ethnic unrest, failed democratisation, human rights abuses, fierce competition for political power, terrorism, corruption and election violence in 2007-8. However, Kenya has also had many successes. It is one of the fastest growing economies in the world, one of the richest countries on the African continent, life-expectancy is 4 years above the Sub-Saharan African average and Kenyans are top of the technological process in Africa, with 71 out of 100 people owning a mobile phone.
Globally, Kenya might be most famous for its athletes and wildlife. To this date, Kenya has won exactly 100 Olympic medals, which is the most among African countries. Most of these medals have come from long-distance running in which Kenya is a true superpower. Kenya’s top athlete today is Eliud Kipchoge, who is the IAAF 2018 athlete of the year, the current marathon world record holder and who has been even claimed to be the world’s best marathon runner ever. The unique Kenyan wildlife, on the other hand, makes Kenya a popular tourist destination. Safari tours in Maasai Mara Wildlife Reserve are the top reason for many to come and visit Kenya. It is a home for giraffes, elephants, zebras, lions, crocodiles and hippos just to name a few species.
Because of the day’s huge historical significance, almost every Kenyan celebrates it but this is done very differently throughout the country. This is because Kenyans do not have a strong national identity because identity is more based on ethnicity and community. Kenya has over 40 ethnic tribes and is among the most culturally diverse nations in the continent. Each of the tribes has their own unique culture and traditions. Therefore, the Jamhuri Day is a combination of celebrating Kenya’s African background, independence and freedom, but also Kenya’s huge cultural diversity and richness. In practice, the day is celebrated by eating delicious Kenyan food, for example, Ugali – a maize porridge and Irio – mashed vegetable balls dipped in a meat stew; dressing up in traditional tribe clothes; singing songs and dancing.