NAIROBI, KENYA — Kenya on Thursday celebrated the 50th anniversary of its independence from Britain, with a call for greater national unity to overcome longtime ethnic divisions.
In an exuberant ceremony at a stadium outside Nairobi, Kenyans commemorated their country’s Golden Jubilee.
Neither particularly young, nor especially old, age 50 is a good time for Kenyans to measure progress, and reflect on the challenges ahead.
In his address, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta said independence was not won easily, and that challenges remain in uniting the country where ethnic violence threatens peace and development.
“Our shared aim is to end meaningless ethnic tension and rivalry and to unite all our citizens. I am determined to provide leadership toward the attainment of this noble objective,“ he said.
Kenyatta also said the way forward for Kenya is greater integration with African nations. He announced new initiatives to this end, including the easing of visa requirements for African citizens to travel to Kenya.
“Africa has always stood by Kenya as we seek integration and growth, and we, in return, will always stand by Africa which is now the center of our nation’s economic policy,” he said.
Kenyatta is the son of the country’s first president Jomo Kenyatta, who on December 12, 1963 oversaw the lowering of the British flag, and the raising, for the first time, the flag of Kenya.
Similar ceremonies took place across the country as Kenyans were swept up with a feeling of national pride.
National unity questions
A veteran of the Mau Mau freedom fighters who fought colonial rule, Gitu Wa Kahengeri, remembers the joy of that moment. “In the middle of the celebration where Kenyatta was addressing the celebration, listeners were extended for about 2 miles, surrounding that area. It was as if nobody was left at home on that day.”
Though proud of Kenya’s progress in health and education, he said the country has lost something of the dream of national unity.
“We wanted the people of Kenya to come together, to love each other and to help each other the way we can. It is not happening. The young generation of today instead of looking over the mountains, they are looking down at their shoes,” said Kahengeri.
Kenya has suffered dark moments in its history, none much darker than the inter-ethnic violence that followed the 2007 election, leaving more than 1,100 people dead.
Kenyatta and his deputy are facing trial at the International Criminal Court on charges they helped orchestrate the violence - charges that have overshadowed their time in office.