Saturday, June 1, 2013

Happy Madaraka Day!

Today is Kenyan Independence Day! And I'm celebrating enough for the entire country.

When I asked a few Kenyans how they were going to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Kenya's casting off of the British shackles, I mostly got a few shrugs and some 'I don't know - what am I supposed to do?'s in response.

Never one to be deterred, I decided I'd celebrate Kenya's independence in the grand tradition of America's Independence Day, and I decided to go full-on Kenya Pride. Which means that today, I have done the following things:

1. Worn only Kenyan clothes. (A dress I bought in Aitong [for 200 ksh, sweet!] and my khanga all day.)

2. Drank only Kenyan beverages. (Tea instead of coffee for breakfast, then Stoney instead of Coca-Cola with lunch and Tusker instead of a G&T for sundowners.)

3. Tried to speak only Swahili. (But gave up when someone asked me a complicated question about decentralized government and states' rights in the US.)

4. Listened to Kenyan Music (I love Kagwe Mungai!)

5. Read President Uhuru Kenyatta's 2013 Madaraka Day Speech and reflected on the interesting facts of life in a new democracy. (Check it out if you're interested in a quick peek at this government's priorities and concerns for its country.)

Which leads me to my next point:

Some Interesting Facts of Life In A New Democracy
Living in a country that's only had a democratic government for about 50 years sure puts into perspective a lot of my own political-cultural expectations of leadership. Here are a few things I've observed:

Fact #1: It's Really Damn New.
While we proudly boast President #44 back home in the States, Kenya's welcoming in President #4. It's really damn new.

Fact #2: A young democracy is vulnerable -- to corruption, to exploitation, to violence.
In the States, we have the luxury of not worrying that every local or national election might potentially end in a horrible corruption scandal where it turns out that it was all a farce all along. Not that every election is all buttons and kittens (*cough*2004*cough*), but the possibility that we'll end up with a man who rules for 24 years and tries to establish a de jure dictatorship is slim to nil. The possibility of a violent eruption of displeasure with loss is also one we've rooted out early in our history, and no longer have to live in fear of. Here's a personally favorite quotation (spuriously attributed to George Washington, so not sure who the correct author is):
"What is most important of this grand experiment, the United States? Not the election of the first president but the election of its second president. The peaceful transition of power is what will separate this country from every other country in the world."

Fact #3: People don't yet know their own power. 
Part of living in a democracy (the best part, if you ask me) is that you get the privilege of telling the government what to do. Leadership positions are held by someone else, but owned by the people. Now arguably, it's a flawed system (lack of access/education limits the power of groups or individuals, etc.) but it's still a damned good model. Governor Martin O'Malley is not a miniature king of Maryland. He doesn't have some form of incorruptible claim to governnorship. He temporarily occupies a position of power because the good people in the great state of Maryland have decided to allow it. We put him in office. He works for us.

But switching the zeitgeist over to that after centuries of "Because I Said So" rule is a tough transition to make. So sometimes people haven't quite gotten the hang of it, and the fear of authority rules its ugly head.

Fact #4: Getting it right is really hard.
From the government's perspective, they just really want to get it right. The drive for Kenya to catch up with the world is overwhelming. But there's so much catching up to do (building infrastructure, strengthening the economy, etc.) that sometimes it's tempting to take shortcuts, particularly when the fair and democractic approach to problem-solving just takes so damn long sometimes.

But the Kenyan people have done a really brilliant and really admirable job of pushing forward, even into unfamiliar political territory, and I have nothing but hope in my heart for this country. And living in a new democracy can be pretty awesome at times -- particularly when you get to teach a fresh crop of  people to the critical importance of an independence day BBQ. :)

With love & pride from Kenya,

No comments:

Post a Comment