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What happened to real Madaraka, African unity?

The hopes and potential of an entire continent were seemingly within reach

In Summary

• Will there ever come a time when we cannot just hope but actually achieve dreams?

AG Charles Njonjo looks on as Jomo Kenyatta leads his son Uhuru while Vice President Moi follows in the mid-1960s
GOOD OLD DAYS: AG Charles Njonjo looks on as Jomo Kenyatta leads his son Uhuru while Vice President Moi follows in the mid-1960s
Image: ARCHIVES

In May 1963, the Kenya colony was on the threshold of freedom, and I can imagine that for most people, it was absolutely exhilarating. 

 

Kanu won the general election, which was conducted from May 18 to 26. I’m not altogether sure why it took so many days, except that remote parts of the country were even more so then as the road network was pretty basic. So getting votes cast to district or provincial headquarters for counting would have taken time. Today, of course, we’d just say they were rigging the result.

When the results were declared, the BBC reported, “Jomo Kenyatta is certain to become Prime Minister after his party, Kenya African Nation Union, won the country's first general election.

 

“Thousands of Kenyans ran through the rain-drenched streets of Nairobi tonight, cheering at news of the results.

“In an address to the nation, Mr Kenyatta, aged 73, called for tribal and racial differences to be buried in favour of national unity under 'the principles of democratic African socialism'.”

Meanwhile, as all this was going on, the independent countries across the continent were rushing forward in the spirit of pan-Africanism to start the organisation some hoped would be the start of a shift to a United States of Africa. Their leaders met in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa to launch the ambitiously named Organisation of African Unity.

The hopes and potential of an entire continent were within reach and seemed easy to achieve with a little effort and determination.

So, what happened? Where did it all go so badly wrong? I don’t think there is any one easy answer, and I wouldn’t presume to know the solution, but I do wonder whether there will ever come a time when we cannot just hope like that again, but actually achieve those early dreams.

President Uhuru Kenyatta during the 54th Madaraka Day celebrations at Kabiruni grounds in Nyeri county, June 1, 2017
President Uhuru Kenyatta during the 54th Madaraka Day celebrations at Kabiruni grounds in Nyeri county, June 1, 2017
Image: WAMBUGU KANYI

The month of May leading up to June 1 in 1963 must have been a very hopeful time to be alive and Kenyan.

There was an election campaign that everybody knew would lead to the country joining our neighbours, friends and regional siblings Tanganyika and Uganda as independent countries. 

 

Tanganyika (it only became Tanzania in 1964) had been first down the road to freedom on May 1, 1961. The nation, which was a British mandate after its original colonial power Germany lost everything in World War Two, developed self-government under Prime Minister Julius Nyerere. 

Uganda, a former British protectorate, had been next, with its internal self-government under Chief Minister Benedicto Kiwanuka being attained on March 1, 1962.

Finally, on June 1, the Kenya colony would take its penultimate step in joining the free countries of Africa. This by achieving self-government under the premiership of one of two candidates. Either the man who was the country’s first (and last, so far) Chief Minister (of the Kadu minority government) Ronald Ngala, or the man who just three years earlier had been in detention, Jomo Kenyatta.

Ngala never realistically stood a chance at that election. He had only been Chief Minister since Kanu, under the leadership of stalwarts like Oginga Odinga and James Gichuru, had refused to form the government. They demanded that the old man be freed. This, even though they had won the February 1961 election.

By the way, if I may digress here, I know some of you may be wondering what the difference between a mandate, a protectorate and a colony is. If I recall my school history, a mandate was a former colony awarded to victorious powers after World War One by the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations.

So in this case, after Germany lost WW1, Tanganyika became a British mandate until 1947, when it changed status again and became a United Nations Trust Territory under British administration, a status it kept until its independence in 1961.   

Technically, protectorates are similar to mandates in that they're nations that require the assistance of a great power for economic or military purposes. Protectorates weren't awarded by the League of Nations; they were formed (more or less in theory at least) bilaterally. Uganda had been one since 1894, when the Kingdom of Buganda was placed under a formal British protectorate.

A colony is a lot more straightforward. It is a country or area under the full political control of another country and occupied by settlers from that country, as we had in Kenya and Zimbabwe, for instance.

Long story short, we broke free of the shackles of our rulers, but decades later are still far from the hopes and dreams of independence.