Fifty-four years ago, Kenyans were celebrating their first few days of ruling themselves after more than 80 years of colonial rule. They had elected a 73-year-old Jomo Kenyatta as their Prime Minister, and while the unelected Queen of England was still their head of state, it was a mere formality and she would only hold that post for another 18 months before Jomo took over.
Meanwhile, 10 years earlier in April 1953, a year after Elizabeth ascended to the throne, Jomo had been part of the Kapenguria Six sentenced by a kangaroo court to seven years in jail plus another three years hard labour, to run concurrently, for their part part in organising “the rebel Mau Mau movement” that some Kenyans knew as the Kenya Land and Freedom Army. The other five were Fred Kubai, Richard Achieng Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Paul Ngei and Kungu Karumba.
The symbolism of Madaraka Day is the concept of Kenyans taking responsibility for their own lives under their own elected leaders.
In the last 54 years, we have had our ups and downs as a nation, but generally have exercised our sovereign power, either directly or through our democratically elected representatives.
In about three months, we will be back in the polling booth to make choices about the next five years of our life as a nation.
Already, the campaigns have begun, and from where I sit in Cape Town, the most important choice is not so much the presidential one but the governor ones. This and the election of county assembly members are for me at the core of the 2010 constitution.
We wanted more of a say at the grassroots and that’s why we created these posts. When voters go into their booth to cast their ballot, I’m just wondering whether they will be thinking hard about what makes an ideal county.
In my view, an ideal county should be a microcosm of an ideal country. It should to the best of its ability: Provide democratic and accountable government for local communities; Be responsive to the needs of said communites; Ensure the provision of services to communities in a sustainable manner; Promote social and economic development; Promote a safe and healthy environment; Encourage the involvement of communities in the matters of governance; Facilitate a culture of public service and accountability amongst its staff; and Assign clear responsibilities to the county’s management, while ensuring the coordination of administrative units and mechanisms.
The day Kenyans can say that majority of their counties are run in such a manner, will to my mind be the day we will have taken the meaning of Madaraka to heart. Until then, we are treating it as a “nice to have” and not a necessity.
It will also mean that my old boss, the columnist Jaindi Kisero, was right when he wrote recently: “As a society, we set very low standards for leadership. As a people, we suffer from a culture of low expectations.”