Peter Kagwanja, Christopher Shikanda,Christine Mabonga, Edward Mureithi

From left: Prof. Peter Kagwanja, Christopher Shikanda,Christine  Mabonga, Edward Mureithi and Joseph Kariuki Mwangi.

| File | Nation Media Group

Kenyans at 60: Reviewing the hits and misses

In a remarkable coincidence, a group of Kenyans who are turning 60 this year have found themselves not only celebrating their own milestones, but also commemorating Kenya’s 60 years of independence. These individuals are an integral part of the nation’s history, as they have witnessed its journey towards true freedom and development.

As Kenya marks its 60th year of independence. Their personal stories intertwine with the country’s larger narrative of growth and development, reflecting the strength and determination of the Kenyan people.

Born in 1963, this generation has witnessed the country’s evolution firsthand. From the early struggles for self-determination, to the huge milestones in education, healthcare, and infrastructure, their lives mirror the progress and challenges faced by the entire nation.

Now, as the country marks this momentous occasion, the Kenyans who are aged 60 are coming together to commemorate their own journeys. This unique convergence promises a celebration filled with nostalgia, pride, and a deep sense of unity, emphasising the shared history between the individuals and their beloved nation.

Joseph Kariuki Mwangi, 60, Farmer in Kirinyaga County

Throughout my life, I have witnessed Kenya’s remarkable growth. When I was young, there was only one paved road connecting Nairobi and Nyeri, but today the infrastructure has significantly improved. In the past, selling agricultural produce was hard due to poor transport networks, but now it is a different story.

 Farming has become a viable business, as sellers now come directly to our farms to seek our produce, whereas previously we had to go out in search for buyers due to limitations in transport. Economically, our country has made tremendous strides. In the past, houses were typically made of mud and iron sheets, but nowadays it is rare to find a mud house.

The living standards have really improved. Education has also become more accessible. Back then it was difficult to find a secondary school since most were government-run, leaving us with limited options. But now there are more opportunities. While land may have been cheaper in the past, it is important to consider the changes in the value of the Kenya shilling. Additionally, obtaining information used to be quite challenging, but now it is readily available. The internet has facilitated easier access to knowledge and resources.

Edward Mureithi, 60 Retired Police officer

Edward Mureithi

Edward Mureithi.

Photo credit: Pool

Life has changed significantly over the years. In the past, despite having little money, its value was high because the population was smaller. Now, even with greater wealth, the value of money has decreased as a result of a rapidly growing population.

Growing up in Nairobi, I recall a time when the landscape was vastly different. There were fewer buildings. The city’s infrastructure has greatly improved.

Education has also experienced a shift. In the past, schools were government-owned and run, and law and order was maintaining always. Teachers were known simply as "teachers." However, today, teachers have become both educators and entrepreneurs, driven by a desire to make profits.

These transformations highlight the evolving nature of society, where economic factors and changing demographics have shaped the way we perceive and experience life. In the next 60 years things will have changed even more.

Christopher Shikanda, 60 Retired teacher

Christopher Shikanda
Photo credit: Pool

I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a mission setting, where our housing arrangement was tailored to accommodate white priests and nuns. This upbringing within the church provided me with a unique perspective during my formative years. I am glad that Kenya has successfully realised its urban development plans, particularly in terms of water infrastructure.

Piped water is now accessible throughout the country. Additionally, if the government genuinely supports and financially empowers the counties to implement their plans, significant progress can be achieved. While life in the past was relatively comfortable, the present reality poses some challenges. The cost of living has increased, education is more expensive, and the sense of community has diminished. Nonetheless, the country has made significant advancements, evident through the availability of electricity and the presence of streetlights. These are signs of progress.

Susy Wangusi, 60   Retired teacher

Susy Wangusi

Susy Wangusi.

Photo credit: Pool

Looking back at my childhood, I remember a time when items and necessities were more affordable. We had a sense of community where it was common to share food with neighbours. That doesn’t happen much anymore.  Furthermore, there is a noticeable decline in the moral values of the younger generation compared to previous years. Concepts such as LGBTQ were simply non-existent.

Despite these challenges, Kenya has made remarkable strides as a nation, particularly in terms of infrastructural development. The once dilapidated roads have been improved. Education is now more accessible, albeit at a higher cost. Moreover, the unemployment rates have soared, necessitating a preference for self-employment. These transformations evoke a mixture of excitement and concern, as individuals without jobs or a means of income may face significant difficulties in the future.

As Kenya continues on its journey of progress, it is crucial to address the evolving societal dynamics, nurture moral values, and strive for a more inclusive and economically stable future for all its citizens.

 John Chesire, 60   Former police officer

I was a government officer, but I am now retired. When I compare the past and now, I can attest that the situation is bad. There are a lot of problems. We can no longer rely on our children to care for us in our old age, because they have no jobs.

I am however proud of the fact that we have done a good job in taking our children to school, and doing away with backward traditional practices. By constructing more universities, we gave Kenyans a chance at education, unlike in the past when we only had the University of Nairobi which was dominated by students from a few tribes.

We have also done well in ensuring there is freedom of speech, which has trickled down to the family unit. Women can now speak for and defend themselves, unlike in the past. We have also done well as a country in ensuring that girls get to enjoy the right to inherit their parents’ property, whether they are married or not.

However, we need to tame corruption. In the past, if you worked for the government, you would not be allowed to run a business or own a company. Nowadays, we see people setting up companies and leaving them under the control of family members, while they syphon government funds and award themselves tenders. That’s why Kenya is not growing.

The tribalism in State appointments wasn’t as widespread as it is now. I would go to Jogoo house to seek help for my children, and no one bothered to know which tribe we belonged to. Widespread tribalism started with the entry of multiparty politics. Now we are struggling with high rates of unemployment, and even qualified individuals often have to give bribes to get jobs. We need to go back to the drawing board, stop corruption, and award jobs, contracts and tenders on the basis of merit. it would also be good if tenders and contracts are supervised by independent bodies to avoid undue influence of office holders.

Pauline Ollinga, 60  Primary school teacher

 I was born in Langata barracks in Nairobi and was brought up by my grandmother. I am a primary school teacher heading to retirement.

 Looking back to my childhood, life was so cheap. We moved around in pickup trucks and went to school in shifts, mostly in the afternoon because that was when there were more pupils.  Sugar was cheap, and we would buy a kilogramme for two shillings and a loaf of bread for one shilling and 50 cents.

 People started school when they were much older, roads were very bad, and when it came to cooking, we relied solely on charcoal and firewood. Even though hospitals were congested, the situation was better than it is today. It helped that it was rare for one to fall sick.

 I believe that one of Kenya's biggest achievements was the introduction of ICT, which promoted literacy. However, its uptake has been hindered by poverty and lack of electricity in some areas

 We have also made significant strides in making education accessible by building many schools and universities. Our downfall is rooted in corruption, which continues to drive us back into poverty.

We need to empower more citizens to get into trade, build more schools and lower school fees to ensure that every child attends school. We also need to eliminate corruption in government offices.

Prof Peter Kagwanja, 60   Political scientist

Prof Peter Kagwanja

Prof Peter Kagwanja.

Photo credit: Pool

As a scholar, one thing I liked about Kenya was the strategic approach that was adopted by the Kanu government. When we defined and clearly understood our problems, we were more focused.

We were united in fighting against poverty, which was a big threat. We were also against ignorance. We were focused on building citizens who were aware of themselves, their environment, their national obligations and the direction the country was headed. That is the basis of freedom. You cannot be free unless you know who you are. We were also fighting against diseases.

As a politician, I remember how important political parties were. They were platforms where we could organise our politics, and discuss economic development and the future. That was very important.

People respected political parties as the roots of a government. We started off very well in Kanu, and unified our people from all corners of the world. We used to sing Kanu yajenga nchi. We didn’t talk about the President building the nation because we knew that the President is a human being with selfish interests.

One of the most important things we did as a country was drafting the Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965. That is the most important document in our country. It defined who we are. It stands as the legacy of the late Tom Mboya and the late Mwai Kibaki.

We started veering off the road around 1980, through the adoption of the multiparty system. We began having parties being run by individuals. All of a sudden, a party could be formed today and in a week’s time it would be competing to be the ruling party.

However, we did so well by adopting vision 2030, which has almost reached its full implementation. As we prepare for vision 2063, we must be forward thinking. We must stop focusing on elite squabbles and stick to building a people-centred country.

 Moving forward, we must tame our desire for material things. Our morals have been eroded.  We need to go back to the drawing board and rediscover our values. We must believe in our people, unite them, and respect their lives as opposed to focusing only on money. We also need to start schools that teach our children the importance of patriotism, the same way President Moi did by starting the National Youth service. 

 We also need to do proper planning. We cannot be killed by drought and then be killed by floods. Most importantly, we need to do more in developing the education sector.

Christine Mabonga, 60 Primary School Teacher  

My childhood was very challenging but interesting. Most of us walked to school barefoot, and because schools were very far, we would even cross rivers on our way. During rainy seasons, we relied on adults to carry us across the rivers.

Even though we did not have much, we never placed too much importance on money. I remember when I got my first job at a private school and was earning Sh500 per month. I gave it all to my father to support the family. A piece of land then cost about Sh11, 000, unlike now when you may need Sh2 million to buy about an acre in western Kenya.

Infrastructure such as hospitals were also few. And for a girl, if you were sick, you were always suspected of being pregnant, even though you may have been suffering from malaria. We would also walk for miles to access services such as the posho mill to grind grain. Universities were also very few, and I remember the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University being the only prestigious universities. They were however far removed from the communities, were expensive and were somewhat reserved for those who were rich enough to afford them.

We are doing well now, as everyone can access education. Moreover, learning resources have improved, to the point where we now have text books for every child. The relationship between a teacher and a learner has also become good. In our era, learners fled whenever they saw teachers. It was as though teachers were special beings.

Security levels have however worsened. There were low levels of crime then, mainly because the population was low. With the bulging population, scarce resources, and a culture where people want to get rich but don't want work, the levels of crime have skyrocketed.

 Drug and substance abuse has also become common, unlike in the past where drinks brought people together. I believe that to solve this, the government needs to share land equitably. Those who have unused parcels should donate to those without. Young people also need to embrace blue collar jobs, and ensure that children spend time with grandparents to learn their culture.

Lucy Maina, 60   Trader

I turned 60 about a month ago, right here in Nairobi where I run my shop. Looking back, we have made both improvements and mistakes. The main thing I miss about the past is the fact that we had barter trade, where we could exchange goods for other goods. Even though not very widespread, this ensured that we never slept hungry.

However, that cannot be said for the current situation. Kenyans do not have money now, and it has even become hard for family members to host each other because affording a meal is becoming tougher by the day.

Our cultures were rich. We respected the elders, and the community came together to raise children collectively. Nowadays, that has changed. Youngsters behave and speak disrespectfully towards elders. Capitalism is thriving, and people, including teachers, fear disciplining children.

I also feel that we have emulated the Western culture so much that we are slowly becoming like them. This includes manner of dressing, behaviour, language and even matters of sex and marriage. If we do not go back to our roots, we will become completely Westernised in the next few years.