Kenya At 50 has little to celebrate – Alex Ndungu Njeru


Kenya turned fifty on Saturday, no mean feat by itself, the founders, men and women who fought to establish Kenya as an independent republic had a unique vision for this country. At inception the Kenyan state was beset with a certain set of challenges that needed swift addressing, the first task of the post-colonial government was to eradicate illiteracy (Ujinga), Poverty (umaskini), and disease (ugonjwa). The eradication of these three problems has proven quite the bane for Kenya, for Kenya’s first government and governments thereafter. Older generation Kenyans especially those that had the opportunity of colonial rule, have hang-ups to this day, they nostalgically remember colonial times as the only time when institutions worked around the country. I know this has to be taken with a pinch of salt, save for the colonial gulag elderly Kenyans remember colonialism more for the strength of institutions around colonial times.  What went wrong? Why haven’t we ever taken off? Why are we still on the ground flapping our wings helplessly in our quest to reach the sky?


We have not been a country without vision, for Kenya and Kenyans have always had a wonderful vision for this country, we have big dreams of a grand Kenya. We all know the direction this country ought to take. We are all aware of the enormous potential we as a nation posses.  We are constantly reminded of how in the 1970s and early eighties we were at the same level of economic development as South Korea. We are told to emulate the South Asian tigers and embark on a path of exponential economic growth.  We are a country infatuated by development but a country that does not court development in earnest. We are a people that constantly remind ourselves to forget that development does not just happen, it is made to happen. We ignore the fact that we cannot wish ourselves into prosperity, we have to plan and act in accordance in order to lead ourselves into the heights of development that we so desire. Why have we for the love of life never actualized our potential as a country? Which tide drowned the dreams of our founding fathers?

It sounds incredulous but the answer to our ineptness at the development game does not go beyond our nose. We have always known we suffer from a critical lack of leadership. But time and again we have gone forward to make the same terrible mistakes at the ballot. We have elected leaders not because of their ability to take the lead but rather for their ability satiate our appetite for freebies. Now we are up in arms we are calling them pigs. Well if they are Pigs we are the ones that fan their greed. Our leadership seems particularly bereft of ideas, any ideas I would say, you hear of leaders in places like Japan having policy frameworks named after them, like Abenomics for example, now I challenge you to mention a leader who has come with collaborative economic policy directions in the last 4 decades. Apart from their ability to deflower our economies, institutions and societies our politicians are oft times devoid of any thought. 

A dereliction of key institutions seems to have set in immediately after colonial administrator left government. The rule of law was thrown to the dogs and the rule of the jungle was installed. Government policies were not so much geared towards development but rather the self-preservation of the leviathan state together with all those who extracted rent from it. After independence corruption became accepted and standard practice by the state officers, the rule rather than the exception.

In  such a state of state, institutional and leadership paralysis, it is inconceivable that we can dare dream about development. We need to embark on an earnest exercise of strengthening our institutions in order for us to develop and achieve the visions of the founding fathers of this country. Social economic and political environment does not just happen, an environment capable of promoting and supporting development has to be put in place. The rule of law has to be institutionalized, respect for the private property is mandatory, inhibitive and excessive taxation has to be brought down to bare minimums, national plans and blue-prints policies that cut across political cycles have to be developed, The rate of national and private savings has to increase.

As a citizenry we have never taken charge of our development, we have not been vigilant enough to effect development. We have not demanded enough from ourselves and from our governments for us to develop. We have always been allured to that government that will come and end poverty, disease and illiteracy with a magic bullet. That government does not and will never exist. It is time we employed our creative faculties to achieve what we so much desire, and we have to take charge of our own development.

Njeru thinks Kenya could have had more to treasure at 50