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Heroism (Ushujaa) & Kenyan Madaraka

Heroism (Ushujaa) & Kenyan Madaraka[1]

By Matunda Nyanchama;

June 7, 2008

Matunda KCO Madaraka 2008

Matunda at KCO Madaraka 2008

Madaraka in Kiswahili means responsibility. In the Kenyan historical context, this is the day our country obtained internal self-government; Madaraka was one of the last steps towards full independence, Uhuru.

Madaraka happened in June of 1963 following competitive elections in May of the same year, and in which the major political parties of the day were Kenya African National Union (KANU) and Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU).

The coming of Madaraka would eventually usher Uhuru, on December 12, 1963.

Although Madaraka was not full independence for the country, it was a momentous occasion when it came. To understand what it meant to Kenyans, one must rewind back to colonial Kenya and the lives of Kenyans under colonial subjugation.

Kenya in the colonial era was a place with few rights for the African, the indigenous people of the land. Kenyans were in a condition in which they had lost their lands and the expression of freewill. They were forced to work in order to pay taxes to the colonial government and prop the British Empire that thought the sun would never set on it! In their own country, Kenyans were denied access to certain areas of the country and parts of the major cities.

A former boss in my days at the Kenya Posts and Telecommunications Corporation used tell of the excitement, what became possible with the coming of freedom! Now a Kenyan, in his/her own land would have access to privilege (I call it rights!), positions and places that had been reserved for the Mzungu and other advantaged classes. For example, Nairobi’s Westlands was reserved for white people! Parklands was for the Asians while the Eastlands were for Africans! In the corporations and civil service, some jobs were exclusively set aside for the white colonialists. And come Uhuru, my former boss, used to say, and they found themselves allocated houses in Westlands and Parklands! And, to boot (!) promoted to officer positions that previously were the recluse of white people!

One can imagine the celebrations that followed the declaration of Madaraka (and later Uhuru) once people realized that freedom would be theirs and oppression would be a thing of the past! And that which Kenyans had been unduly denied could be possible.

Talking about oppression one can imagine the Kenya of the time, a country, like the rest on the African continent, that was the legacy of the Berlin conference of 1884. In that conference, colonial powers, in search of resources to sustain their lifestyles and empires, drew arbitrary boundaries[2] and created territories for themselves without consultation of the indigenous populations that occupied the lands.

In the 1890s Kenya would become a British Protectorate and later a full colony in the 1920s.

In Kenya, colonialism came with displacement of people from their lands, despite fierce resistance. With superior weapons and trickery, the colonialist managed to stake a claim to much of the country. By late 1920s close to 80% of the country’s arable land was in colonial hands.

Kenyans didn’t take conquest lying down; they resisted colonial incursion and paid dearly, with many losing their lives. In order to realize full conquest, the British co-opted local agents under their indirect rule system.

Agitation for return of the land that had been forcefully acquired started early. Indeed, by the 1920s Kenyans were calling for full independence. Foremost among the champions were trade unionists like Harry Thuku. Land was central to the conflict that would eventually lead to independence. It is in this regards that Jomo Kenyatta was sent to UK to present the case of the Kikuyu Central Association.

Agitation for independence came in full force following the end of 2nd world war; Mau Mau (first guerrilla movement on the African continent) emerged in the late 1940s through the 1950s, initially as a land freedom army and later independence guerrilla war.

The call from the late president Kenyatta at independence addressed three major things: poverty, ignorance and disease.

Kenya has made advances in education, agriculture and health. The decade following independence saw economic expansion, increased access to education and health. Infant mortality rates declined, life expectancy increased as did literary.

Today, the Kenyan population is among the most educated on the African continent. Kenyan professionals permeate all sectors across the world, from business to academia.

Kenyan wildlife and parks are world famous as are its athletes, coffee and tea.

On the democratic front, the country has religiously held elections every 5 years without fail, except in 1969 when there was on year delay and early elections in 1983 brought forth by the government of the day to weed out opponents.

The country has also seen its challenges, especially with respect to democracy. Various governments of the day have unfairly jailed those opposed to them. This was especially so when Kenya was a de facto and (later) de jure one-party state. The most recent test came after last elections when there were accusations of rigging that favoured the incumbent.

Democracy remains a challenge ahead as is economic development: consider that the country now has close to 35 million people compared to about 10 million at independence. There is threat to resources and competition remains stiff. And despite strides made in recent times (5-6% annual growth) many Kenyans remain in abject poverty.

Kenya needs support to make the current government realize benefits for the people.

The country needs investment to help spur economic growth and hence alleviate poverty.

Kenyans abroad need to set examples to those at home in demonstrating unity of purpose and work to bury the curse of ethnicity that hampers the entrenchment of strong communities.


Now that is the history and more!

There are many lessons we can learn from the coming of Madaraka and Uhuru. One of them is the central role of heroes men and women that place their lives in the line for the sake of others. This is what the fathers and mothers of Uhuru did for us. Today, we are proud to call ourselves Kenyans because of their struggles and sacrifices.

And I want to suggest to you that you too can be a hero in your own way. And it doesn’t matter what your station in life is. When you sacrifice your time, effort and material for the sake of others, you can change their lives irrevocably, hopefully for the better.

Think about the lives of Jomo Kenyatta, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Dedan Kimathi, Tom Mboya and others. Think of Harry Thuku, Paul Ngei, Bildad Kaggia and many others. Think of those that resisted colonial rule like Koitalel Arap Samoei, Waiyaki wa Hinga, Otenyo and many others.

As you think about them consider the life you lead today from which they are distant and far. Ask yourself whether they have benefited from today’s condition which they were, in party, responsible for its creation?

My point is that heroes do what they do for the common good; often, they do not live long enough to enjoy the fruits of their labour and effort. However, future generations reap the benefits brought through others’ struggles. Indeed, heroes often sacrifice themselves in the service of others. And their impact way outlives them and could, indeed, be global in nature.


I want to given one example of the impact of one man on the lives of millions of people world wide.

The late Kenyan Minister for Economic Planning, the late TJ Mboya is credited with the mass airlifts of Kenyan students to the United States in the late 1950s and early 1960s. These student airlifts were aimed at training young Kenyan professionals that would take over from departing colonialists at independence. Mboya was a friend of John Kennedy, then a US Senator, according to legend. Mboya is said to have asked for JFK’s assistance with this manpower development exercise.

Consequently, it is also reported, JFK approached the Eisenhower administration to offer scholarships to Kenyans. The administration was reluctant. The good senator then turned to the Kennedy Foundation to fund the airlift. In the end, the administration did relent, ashamed of appearances that would project it as being unfriendly to African countries emerging from colonialism!

Barrack Obama Senior was one of those airlifted to study in America! Today, we are overjoyed that Obama Junior could become the president of the most powerful country in the world! And would Tom Mboya have known this? Would JFK have guessed this?


There is more! Heroes sacrifice for the common good; and as the beneficiaries enjoy the fruits of struggles, many of those heroes may long be dead! For example, where the Nandi leader Koitalel Arap Samoei of today? He never enjoyed the fruits of his resistance nor lived long enough to see independence come to Kenya; where is Waiyaki wa Hinga who was buried alive in resisting colonial rule after he discovered he had been conned into signing an unfavourable treaty? How about Harry Thuku who led the labour movement in the 1920s and one (if not) the first person to call for Kenya’s independence?

Tom Mboya, at the young age of 39 had achieved plenty for Kenya; and his actions and sacrifices continue to impact the present like no one imagined before? Dedan Kimathi and the Mau Mau that started a Land Freedom Army and later morphed to a guerrilla movement seeking independence. Kimathi paid with his life, hanged by the colonial government. Today, however, we live the dream of independence Kenya that he envisioned. How about the Kapenguria Six: Bildad Kaggia, Kungu Karumba, Achieng’  Oneko, Paul Ngei, Jomo Kenyatta and Fred Kubai?

One can ask of each hero, many that may even be nameless and less recognized but whose fruits of the struggle outlive then!

Today we enjoy those fruits of their struggles! And those fruits go to many, many more and spans generations.


Did you know that you too can be a hero in your own right? I would like to suggest to you that you can. By taking necessary steps and doing good for your fellow man, you too can! In our own community here in Canada, or across the Diaspora, you too can impact on the lives of others in ways that only the future can fathom.

Example: a few weeks ago, on Mothers’s Day, the KCO Women Forum launched a scholarship fund to support members of the community (especially the youth) pursue higher education. Reports suggest that this fund will be available effective September 2008 for those that qualify and will be in university or going to university.

By supporting the fund and helping someone complete university you would have impacted that person for the better! Irrevocably! Indeed, you would have shaped the lives of many that this person would impact in turn!

Support the fund, shape someone’s future and you would be a hero!

There is more!

Today, our country suffers from political and ethnic polarization. The situation in which we found ourselves after the general election in December 2007 was most shocking and depressing. That we Kenyans could, hack each other just because of ethnic origin is mind boggling.

There is now a Grand Coalition sharing power, perhaps reaching the realization that no one person, ethnicity or idea can shape the future of the country; we are obligated to share power and work towards the betterment of the nation.

In your own way, you can be a hero if you can build the bridges to fellow Kenyans of a different ethnicity from yours. If you are of Kisii origin reach out to the Kalenjin, the Luo, the Kukuyu etc; and talk about how we could live and work together; if you are a Luo do the same: speak to the kikuyu, Kamba, etc. ditto for the Kikuyu; ditto for all of us!

And who knows? Through our simple, but powerful act, we will sow the seeds of national cohesion so necessary for the survival of our nation.

And that way, we too could be heroes like those that have gone before us!

And there are many more ways you could be a hero; indeed, more ways than one! You can support that school in your neighbourhood in Kenya or here in Canada and give the children there a chance to succeed.

Last year I attended a presentation by Prof. Ruth Oniango when she spoke at the University of Toronto about projects she was running to support people in Western Kenya.

I learnt that a classroom takes about $5,000 to complete; that is a permanent classroom complete with doors, desks and all that can sit up to 40 students! And how many of us, through our friends in Canada, would it take to raise such money and benefit hundreds of students that don’t have learning facilities. And how many of such students could have a better chance to serve mankind once they benefit from such a facility?

And who knows, they may talk about such an act in the future, grateful that someone took the steps to sacrifice for them!

Think about it!

Here in our midst you might be the bridge to the success of that new immigrant struggling to make a living in this country. Go out and help such a person and family; and in that way, you too would be a hero!

And you can be a hero by working with others to strengthen our community here in Canada. How? By sharing information about opportunities and the future; mentoring the young and giving them education from your own experiences; supporting each other in times of need: indeed, even in times of no need, being there for fellow Kenyans.

You can be a hero in respect of our nation through impacting its economic development. And yes, tell your friends that the unfortunate chaos of January this year is over. And that tourism can resume. Getting tourists to Kenya helps creates jobs for fellow Kenyans! It helps families to survive and who knows the positive impact that this would have on lives of many!

In fact, there is a lot, lot more you can do in the economic front! How about investing in the country? In addition, how about getting others to invest in Kenya? For example, how many of you bought shares in the recent Safaricom Initial Public Offering (IPO)? Investing in such venture gives the company capital to work with and in the process provides jobs for fellow Kenyans. And in the process, your money may grow!


I want to finish by saying that Madaraka remains a landmark in our country’s history. Madaraka was a precursor to Uhuru and freedom. There are many lessons we can learn from Madaraka; one of those is the subject of being a hero. Those that struggled for Kenya’s independence left us a legacy of sacrifice and struggle for a better Kenya. They are our heroes. And we are better off today because of their efforts and sacrifices!

In our own way, we too can be heroes and in the process create a better world for those that will come after us.

And it is never too early to start. Start now! Indeed, don’t listen to what others are wont to saying that “work hard for ye shall be leaders of tomorrow! Listen not to these sentiments, I say, for you are leaders of today. You lead where you are! Today! Never wait!

And remember that heroes create new possibilities. So go create such new possibilities for today and tomorrow. One quote I like goes like this: “A leader takes people where they want to go. A great leader takes people where they don’t necessarily want to go but ought to be.” ~ Charles A. Cerami

So go ye out there and lead! You would be our heroes for tomorrow.

God Bless you!

Here are links to the pictures from the celebrations:

Madaraka 2008-1

Madaraka 2008-2

[1] Speech at the Madaraka Day Celebrations organized by the Kenyan Community in Ontario (KCO – in Toronto, Ontario, Canada June 7, 2008.

[2] We live with this legacy to date with families often split across national boundaries. For example, the former Kenyan Vice President, Moody Awori, has a brother who was running for presidency in Uganda, a consequence of the family straddling the border between the two countries.

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