On June 1, 1963, at the steps of today’s Harambee House, Jomo Kenyatta was sworn in by Governor Malcolm MacDonald as Kenya’s first Prime Minister.
Wearing a brightly coloured beaded cap — to match that of KANU’s Vice-president Oginga Odinga — Kenyatta was impressive with his ceremonial fly-whisk.
“This is one of the happiest moments in my life,” said Kenyatta. MacDonald described the occasion as the “grand hour in Kenya’s history”.
Shortly after, and in a sense of unity, Kenyatta, Odinga, Tom Mboya and James Gichuru — the doyens of KANU — drove off in an open car to waving, dancing and cheering crowds. A new nation was just about to be born in a few months’ time.
Madaraka Day, as it came to be known, not only marked the day that Kenya’s constitutional journey towards independence gained a clear momentum, but also marked the time when the self-rule constitution, negotiated at Lancaster House in London, came into force.
Duncan Sandys, the Secretary for Colonies and the man who chaperoned the process had sent a message to Kenyatta and which informed the thinking within the Cabinet on the future of Kenya.
“I trust all will work together and play their part in building a happy and united nation,” wrote Mr Sandys. By default, Governor MacDonald had declared June 1 and June 2 public holidays and as the days of “national rejoicing.”
Keeping this hope alive, and after 57 years, has been one of the biggest tasks that have faced the various governments — from Jomo Kenyatta to Uhuru Kenyatta.
Jomo had been asked to form the government after May 19, 1963, elections gave his party 58 seats in the House of Representatives against Ronald Ngala’s Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), which won 28 seats. At the Senate, KANU had 11 seats against KADU’s 9.
Inheriting a country that was awash with tribal feuds, Mr Kenyatta’s Kanu had crafted a manifesto that attracted votes from all tribes.
At the top of the agenda was not only national unity but also the desire to address the inequities brought about by more than 60 years of colonial rule.
It’s a challenge that still dominates national politics — and which has become a constant theme within political parties.
Madaraka day celebrations are held annually on 1st June as a national holiday to commemorate the day that Kenya achieved independent internal self-governance from the British colonists. It is one of the three national holidays that have been created under Article 8 of the 2010 Constitution.
While KANU was determined to put in place a unitary state with a central government, KADU had pushed, with Britain’s support, the idea of regional governments.
But the regions faced various handicaps, among them lack of funds and suitable administrators. KANU had promised to change the constitution once it secured full mandate by December 12, 1963, and put in place a unitary state.
This debate (Majimbo) later became a bone of contention. Finally, the idea cropped up during the clamour for a new constitution to replace the independence era document and Kenyans overwhelmingly voted to test whether County governments would deliver on the development promise of self-rule.
As Uhuru Kenyatta experiments with coalition building, his father did the same within the Madaraka Cabinet when he brought on board two Europeans: Bruce McKenzie, whom he appointed Minister for Agriculture, and Peter Marrian, who became Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Lands.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is also testing a similar coalition building within his party in a bid to streamline the workings of his government – and as he said last week, secure his legacy.
As Jomo Kenyatta went around the country preaching unity, it was a speech that he delivered in Nakuru on June 23, 1963, that indicated that those who wanted to divide the country would face his wrath.
“I would like to point out that the government, which is in power, is the government for the whole of the people of Kenya. It is not just for those who elected us. We shall care for those who gave us votes and those who did not, equally.
The opposition is formally recognized in our constitution and can play a constructive role in nation-building. On the other hand, we shall be as firm as any other government in dealing with anyone who turns to subversive action… we must not dwell on the bitterness of the past… let us look to the future of a good new Kenya.”
It is these aspirations of the founding father and the challenges that have come with it that have been driving the Kenyan nation — 57 years after we started the journey with self-rule.
At the moment, the government – like many in the world – has been tested with the emergence of COVID-19, which has not only disrupted the economy but also left millions jobless.
The usual huge gatherings at selected venues across the Counties will not be there but as a tradition, the Kenya Defence Forces parade will be held at the Nyayo National Stadium.
In addition, fighter jets will showcase their skills as they fly past the Nyayo National stadium.
The celebrations are unique in the sense that Kenyans are staying home to brace the COVID-19 restrictions.
President Uhuru Kenyatta is expected to address the nation with much expectations to reopening the economy.