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Kenya's Quest for True Independence: Unraveling Complex Legacies

Updated: Nov 10, 2023

As I embarked on my journey in Kenya, the allure of its rich cultural tapestry, vibrant landscapes, and resilient populace filled me with anticipation. However, as I delved into the heart of this East African nation, I found myself grappling with a profound question: Has Kenya truly achieved genuine independence?

Living amongst Kenyans, engaging in heartfelt dialogues, and keenly observing the realities on the ground, I couldn't help but discern the lingering impact of historical events and external influences. Despite Kenya's official independence from British colonial rule in 1963, echoes of history continue to resonate, shaping the nation's socio-economic landscape.

One cannot ignore the harsh living conditions endured by a significant portion of the population. Many Kenyans face dissatisfaction with the state of affairs, a sentiment that has fueled recent protests and demonstrations led by the opposition party, which led cities to completely shut off for days, hindering economic activity and social mobility. Living in Nairobi during these recurring protests, I was not able to leave my home to even get groceries or go to work for days. This undercurrent of discontent highlights the complexities that lie beneath the surface of apparent independence.

Kenya's post-colonial landscape is marked by a persistent foreign influence, raising concerns of neocolonialism's shadow despite its sovereign status. The French, among other foreign powers, exert a lingering impact on Africa's destiny, casting doubt on Kenya's complete attainment of independence. This sentiment reverberates across the continent, as demonstrated by South African President Cyril Ramaphosa's recent address at the New Global Financial Pact Summit in France.

Ramaphosa's unequivocal declaration, standing alongside African leaders, emphasized that Africa is not seeking handouts but equitable partnerships for self-driven development. In his poignant words, "We are not beggars." This sentiment encapsulates the ongoing resentment towards historical imbalances, exemplified by unequal vaccine access during the pandemic and barriers to vaccine manufacturing from global organizations. Ramaphosa's call for fair treatment and shared global responsibility underscores Africa's insistence on self-sufficiency and recognition on the global stage. As he noted, "We kept saying: what is more important? Life or profits by your big pharmaceutical companies?" This stark contrast between prioritizing lives and commercial interests echoes the lingering frustration felt by African nations.

The challenges faced by African nations are often exacerbated by the financial constraints imposed by international aid and multilateral organizations. On the surface, these organizations offer crucial financial support that can catalyze development initiatives in these nations. However, beneath this benevolent exterior lies a complex web of conditions and stipulations that raise fundamental questions about the true intent and morality of such support.

For instance, the World Bank's financial assistance to African countries is typically tied to specific economic reforms or policy changes. While these conditions are often presented as measures to enhance fiscal responsibility or governance, they can also have far-reaching consequences. In practice, they might shape a nation's economic policies according to the preferences of the lending organization rather than the specific needs of the recipient country. This can inadvertently steer these countries towards an economic path that aligns more with the global priorities of these organizations rather than their own sustainable development objectives. Climate action is a good example of this...

Moreover, it's disheartening to observe a significant number of economic establishments, such as hotels and restaurants, still under the ownership of foreigners, particularly of British origin. My interactions with some of these proprietors revealed an unmistakable aura of entitlement, deeply rooted in a history that predates Kenya's independence. The land upon which these establishments thrive has been passed down through generations, with scant awareness or empathy towards the rightful custodians – the Kenyan people.

During a weekend camping excursion on a farm in Lake Naivasha, the breadth of this issue became even more apparent. This expansive property boasts a strategically invaluable location encompassing over 70% of the lake and its islands. The farm employs a predominantly Kenyan workforce, laboring under arduous conditions around the clock. Conversations with them revealed a sense of gratitude for their employment. They shared that the land is owned by a British family who spends a fraction of the year there, managing the business remotely.

Meeting the British owner firsthand stirred discomfort. He inherited the land from his grandparents, who claimed ownership long before Kenya's independence. He spoke with an air of entitlement and pride, his condescension towards the local staff palpable. My attempts to compliment the farm's staff were met with dismissive responses – an unsettling showcase of his perceived superiority. In a conversation, he remarked, "We've managed it better than anyone else could. The locals needed our guidance." His comments underlined a stark disinterest in local perspectives and culture. His mentality underscores a troubling trend where external owners hold a superior position, leaving locals to acquiesce.

The absence of a visible and assertive sense of entitlement among Kenyans towards their land raises pertinent questions. To what extent is Kenya's economy and its resources genuinely vested in the hands of its people? Such a scenario prompts a reevaluation of the country's sovereignty, the distribution of economic control, and the intrinsic ties between ownership, history, and national identity

Examining these historical and contemporary influences led me to contemplate the manifestations of racism, a pernicious force that has traversed generations. The impact of racism and slavery are complex interplays of historical injustices and contemporary social dynamics. Racism's dark shadow has cast itself over generations, perpetuating a narrative that may inadvertently shape the mindset of some Kenyans. It is not a question of victimization or submissiveness, but rather a reflection on the historical and systemic influences that continue to influence perceptions of self.

As an observer and a seeker of understanding, it is imperative for me to approach these reflections with sensitivity and humility. I am but an onlooker to the unfolding narrative of this beautiful nation, striving to comprehend its complexities and celebrate the indomitable spirit of its people.

In conclusion, Kenya's journey toward genuine independence is ongoing and multifaceted. While external influences, historical legacies, and contemporary socio-economic dynamics cast shadows, the spirit of its people shines brightly as they navigate challenges and seek a more prosperous future. An equitable and empathetic lens will aid us in supporting Kenya's aspirations for self-determination and prosperity while fostering a world where historical injustices are acknowledged, and true independence can flourish.



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