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Inside Story

Kenya: An African success story?

As the former British colony celebrates 50 years of independence, we ask if it is still haunted by legacies of the past.

Last updated: 13 Dec 2013 14:38
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As Kenyans marked half a century of freedom from British colonial rule this week, they reflected on the country's emergence as a regional economic heavyweight.

If 1963 was the dawn of a new era, then Kenya today can be seen as basking in the sun. But corruption, crime, inequality and the threat of ethnic unrest are still casting long shadows, tempering the anniversary celebrations.

"In his independence day speech [in 1963] President Jomo Kenyatta made a pledge that has since been ingrained in every school child's mind," said Al Jazeera's Peter Greste, reporting from Nairobi. "The new government would, he said, eliminate three great scourges - poverty, ignorance and disease."

I don't think it means a lot to us, because we are still unemployed we have no jobs, we have no hopes … As we watch the president speak today ... we [are] still facing the same struggles as we were facing 50 years ago.

Boniface Mwangi, a Kenyan photojournalist

But 50 years on, there is still "a huge gap between what Kenya's politicians promise and what they deliver," Greste added.

"Of course that is a common complaint everywhere, but here it has created such a disconnect that the entire political system is now dysfunctional."

Even so, thousands turned out to celebrate Kenya's golden anniversary at the Kasarani Stadium in Nairobi on Thursday.

President Uhuru Kenyatta addressed the crowd, as his father Jomo Kenyatta had done in 1963 after becoming the first Kenyan to lead the East African nation.

"The freedom we enjoy today was earned by the blood of patriots and their sacrifice must never be in vain," Uhuru Kenyatta said

"As we recognise the important role they played in our nation's history we must remember the greatest honour that we can give them is to live by the high ideals that they envisioned for Kenya."

Kenya is considered one of Africa's so-called 'Lion Economies'. The International Monetary Fund expects Kenya's economy to grow by 5.9 percent by April 2014, accelerating to 6.3 percent through to 2015.

A population boom has quadrupled the number of Kenyans since 1963; the population now stands at 43 million - but it is a young country, with 80 percent of Kenyans under the age of 35.

Life expectancy is four years above the average for Sub-Saharan Africa at 60-years-old, but number this has remained the same since the mid-1980s.

Mobile phone use is seen as a good indicator of African technological progress. Kenya leads the pack, with 71 mobile phone subscriptions for every 100 citizens.

But at 50 years old, is the country suffering from a mid-life crisis, haunted by legacies of the past?

And how is the focus on President Kenyatta's impending trial before the International Criminal Court influencing events at home and perceptions of the country abroad?

To discuss this, Inside Story, with presenter Sue Turton, is joined by guests: Binyavanga Wainaina, a Kenyan author and journalist, and winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing; Stephen Howe a senior research fellow in History and Cultures of Colonialism at Bristol University; and Boniface Mwangi, an award-winning Kenyan photojournalist, who won praise for his images of the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008.

"We are in a place where we've come through quite a battle against very conservative and retrograde elites, to start to define how to stretch out of those constraints by a new constitution. Those for me are the territories that are quite exciting, that the country that I begin to see looking possible is breaking out of the habits of the constraints that the colonial [powers placed], and in that process we have a lot of chaos and a long way to go, but it's an adventurous type [of chaos]."

- Binyavanga Wainaina, a Kenyan author and journalist

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Source:
Al Jazeera
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