Kenya’s legacy at 60

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Members of the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) parade during celebrations of the country's 60th Jamhuri Day or Independence Day at the Uhuru Gardens in Nairobi, Kenya, December 12, 2023. REUTERS/Monicah Mwangi

Kenya, a country rich in history and resilience, marked its 60th year of independence earlier this week, on December 12. The journey from colonial rule to a sovereign nation was fought for ad culminated by the formal handover of power by Prince Philip in 1963, paving the way for the birth of the Republic of Kenya. The legacy of leaders like Jomo Kenyatta, the first president, and the struggles for independence are ingrained in the nation’s identity, embodied by landmarks such as Kimathi Street and Jamhuri Day. However, as Kenya reflects on its six decades of self-rule, a nuanced narrative emerges, with both achievements and challenges shaping its present and future.

The Arguments

Kenya’s recent history has been marked by ethnic divisions, notably during the post-election crisis of 2007-2008. Yet some observers would argue that today’s Kenya has made a positive shift towards unity. The “hustler” narrative promoted by President Ruto during his 2022 campaign sought to transcend ethnic lines, focusing on shared economic struggles.

Despite these efforts, the presidency is now under harsh scrutiny, not based on ethnicity but on economic performance. These days, the mood of celebration is tempered by the stark realities of a struggling economy faced by many Kenyans and soaring debt faced by the government.

The Facts

President William Ruto has been in power for a decade, as vice-president for nearly ten years during the previous administration, and as president for a year. He faces added scrutiny as he implements austerity measures, cuts subsidies and introduces new taxes.

Economists contend that the rush to showcase success in the aftermath of the 2007 crisis led to a borrowing spree, exacerbating the fiscal crisis. Today, large infrastructure projects like the Nairobi Expressway and the Standard Gauge Railway, while ambitious, contribute to the growing burden of national debt, currently estimated at $60 billion, with a debt-to-GDP ration of 59% by the end of 2022.

The struggles to liberate themselves from British colonial rule and subsequent influences led to the implementation of the 2010 Constitution. This historic document stands as the inaugural government system crafted by the people, for the people. The key changes proposed by the new constitution included the separation of powers between the three arms of government i.e., executive, legislature and judiciary and also enshrined equality in law, and led to the establishment of key institutions aimed at promoting and protecting minorities, namely women.

As Kenya’s first leaders fought for independence from the English, then fought for multiparty democracy, and stronger institutions, the legacy of its 60 years of independence is marred by concern over the challenges and austerity that lie ahead.

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