, NAIROBI, Kenya, Oct 1 – Soon after Kenya attained its independence from British colonialists in 1963, founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta uttered these words:- “Many people may think that now there is Uhuru now I can see the sun of freedom shining, richness will pour down like manna from heaven. I tell you there will be nothing from heaven! We must all work hard, with our hands, to save ourselves from poverty, ignorance, and disease. If we respect ourselves and our Uhuru, foreign investment will pour in and we will prosper.”
Many Kenyans heeded his advice, including a young, energetic James Mungai Kere who, in 1966 – full of ambition and determination – made his way to Nairobi and set up retail business at the City Market.
“Business opportunities were all over,” Kere, now 75, reminisces to this writer.
“I joined traders at this market even before I was circumcised together with my late brother who taught me how to do business. I was a hard working young man and that is why I have been able to sustain my business until this date,” he says.
Kere looks back at the four governments that have ruled independent Kenya, saying each regime has performed well despite challenges. “We have really scaled great heights as a country.”
“Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, our first president created a platform for Africans to develop; we were allowed to do any business like the rest (the Whites and Asians),” he recalled.
Asked how different business was when he started compared to today, he says; “competition has increased. Many people have joined the business and most of them are Africans.”
“During Independence, many businesses were owned by Asians but when Mzee Kenyatta took over the reign, he urged them to train Africans until they become good businessmen.”
While noting some infrastructural developments like the Thika Super Highway, Kere says: “The thing that may derail development in the country is tribalism. Tribalism is our biggest enemy.”
“We used to see ourselves as Africans; our fathers paid the price; not with dollars or gold but with blood and sweat, why should we see each other as a Kikuyu or Kamba?” he asked.
“We as a people have a very high expectation of Kenya as a nation, and we need together, to work towards a more developed, a more prosperous, a more united Kenya in the hope that we bequeath the coming generation one nation, under one God.”
To the youthful Kenyans, Kere says, “for them to flourish, they must work hard.”
Nancy Muema also a trader at the City Market cautions national leaders to redouble their efforts against corruption. “We should live to what our founding fathers started.”
“Our leaders should ensure that development projects are all over the country,” she pointed out.
But there is a trader who sees nothing much to celebrate as Kenya prepares to mark its Jubilee on December 12. Stephen Maina, a newspaper vendor in the Nairobi Central Business District says only the rich have a reason to smile.
“I have been doing this business for 10 years and life continues to become expensive as time goes on,” he says. “The poor have nothing to celebrate, if you cannot have three meals a day; can you celebrate?”
Maina challenges political leaders to honour the promises they make during their campaigns.
“I will celebrate when our leaders will start being there for us more so now when maisha ni ngumu (life is hard),” Maina said.
One of the main challenges facing residents and traders in Nairobi is insecurity, and the city’s police boss acknowledges it.
County Police boss Benson Kibui says crime rates in Nairobi have risen over time, but he attributes this to changing dynamics over the past 50 years, including population growth.
“Fifty years ago, the county had a lesser population; we are talking of five million residents during the day and four million persons in the night today,” he noted.
“The rate of poverty could also have contributed (to crime) but the city residents are now aware of their rights unlike those days when they could not report.”
He noted that police have since improved their services.
“We are not blowing our own trumpets, we are doing a good job and Kenyans can attest to that. Runaway crime that used to happen has stopped,” he said.
It’s still not clear if President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto will be in the country for the 50th anniversary celebrations after a revised schedule of the International Criminal Court placed both of them in the Hague over December 12.