My Madaraka Day thoughts and a belated welcome to Somalia

Madaraka Day

Schoolchildren attend the 60th Madaraka Day celebrations at the Moi Stadium Embu on June 1, 2023.

Photo credit: Kevin Macharia | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • Kenya is inseparably linked to Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania.
  • Kenya’s role in the search for peace in Somalia will remain written in golden letters.

Happy Madaraka Day, dear Kenyans! You may remember my reminding you in detail, around this time of year in 2022, of the origins and significance of Madaraka (self-government), Uhuru (freedom, the event) and Jamhuri (republic status) in the process of our liberation from British colonialism.

I was nineteen, getting on for twenty, at the time of these momentous developments, and I remember the rapt joy with which the wananchi received these fruits of their blood, sweat and tears.

Tanganyika and Uganda had attained independence before Kenya, in 1961 and 1962 respectively. But their struggles could not be compared to the bitter and painful campaign of the Kenyan people, part of which was the armed Mau Mau campaign.

The new leaders, heroes on whom the people lavished their adoration and adulation, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Ramogi Achieng’ Oneko, Paul Ngei, Kungu Karumba, Fred Kubai and Bildad Kaggia, were recently released detainees, from years of trumped-up charges and sheer extrajudicial restriction.

I might have told you somewhere that when I first learnt to read, at the age of eight in 1952, the most eye-catching stories in the nascent Ugandan press were of the Mau Mau struggle, the Emergency and the trial of Jomo Kenyatta and his colleagues at Kapenguria.

Seeing the same men taking over power more than ten years later, when I was a sixth form student of history and public affairs, was quite fascinating. But our interest was not theoretical. Most of Uganda’s manufactured goods came from Kenya, which is also our main route to the sea. Those guys were taking “madaraka” not only for Kenya but also for their neighbours.

This, indeed, brings me to the main thought I wish to share with you this Madaraka Day. “Madaraka”, as I pointed out to you, comes from the action word “kudiriki”, meaning, to be responsible for, to take charge of or to accept an obligation for a situation, an event or a community.

African unity and integration

I propose that Kenya’s Founding Parents, by calling their country’ self-rule “madaraka”, signalled their vision and mission for their country as a responsibility and an obligation to ensure true freedom, prosperity and well-being for everyone. Are we still living up to the ideals?

Another streak that ran strong through those early days of independence was the sentiment of Panafricanism or a continental identity as a fruit of our newly-won freedom. I told you of Mwalimu Nyerere’s tentative offer to delay Tanganyika’s independence if Kenya and Uganda were willing to join the “Trust Territory” (as the colonists called Tanganyika) in an East African Federation.

It did not happen exactly like that, but that was a pointer to the future Jumuiya (EAC). Even in the popular mind, the continental spirit was bubbling, with our musicians crooning about “shirikisho la Afrika” (African Union), and declaiming, “tabu zimeisha, Africa ni yetu” (the troubles are over, Africa is ours).

Did you know that the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the forerunner of today’s African Union, was launched in Addis Ababa on May 25, 1963, exactly a week before Kenya’s first Madaraka Day?

Kenya was, thus, literally born into African unity and integration, and her “madaraka” (responsibility) had, and still has, to transcend its borders. This is not only ideological but also geographical and historical.

Geographically, Kenya is inseparably linked to Somalia, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Uganda and Tanzania, with many “cross border” populations.

Think, for example, of the Waswahili, the Wadigo, the Maasai, the Luo and Wakuria on the southern borders, the Baluhya, the Iteso and the Kalenjin on the western borders and the Borana and Somali on the northern and north-eastern borders.

Historically, the colonists had administered Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda as one “East African” unit. We Waswahili, as I call East Africans, knew the advantages of this unity.

That is why the Jumuiya (East African Community) was born, died and, like the famous Son of Man, rose again, and is expanding phenomenally, stretching from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.

Peace in Somalia

Kenya, being at the heart of this wonderful experiment in practical African unity, has to take primary and central responsibility (“madaraka”) in its survival, improvement and smooth operation.

Indeed, Kenyan leaders have done impressively well in this respect, despite the Kenyan people’s recent tendency to be overly inward looking.

Kenya’s recent initiative of “visaless” movement across its territory is an example of taking continental responsibility. Her part in the delicate negotiations of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) that led to South Sudan’s independence is another feather in her cap of regional responsibility.

Similarly, Kenya’s role in the search for peace and sane governance in Somalia, at unforgettable national risk and cost, will remain written in golden letters in the history of the region.

Indeed, I think one can say without fear of contradiction that South Sudan’s and Somalia’s joining of the East African Community is primarily due to the crucial role that Kenya has played in orienting those countries towards peace and stability.

I did not welcome Somalia or South Sudan to the Jumuiya with my characteristic effusiveness. This maybe because I already took their joining as a fait accompli. These countries were already strongly in East Africa, and we were in them, mainly through Kenya.

I was in Juba in 2009, during the CPA, helping senior officers polish up their English before they proceeded to academic and professional courses, and there was never a day there when I felt that I was out of East Africa.

Comparably, when my ex-KU student, Dr Adnan Mukhtar Barre, had earlier invited me to Garissa to address some high school audiences, I realised fully how inseparable Kenya and Somalia are.

This is even before we start talking of the many well-established Kenyan Somali communities in nearly all the urban centres of East Africa.

I am yet to visit Mogadishu, but I am sure I would receive the same hospitality as I get in some vintage Eastern Nairobi estates.

Meanwhile, tudirikiane, tafadhali (let us be responsible for one another, please). That is true madaraka.