Kenya’s celebrations of 50 years of independence begin on the afternoon of 11 December when Uhuru Gardens are open to the public. The official ceremonies start at midnight with the hoisting of the flag by President Uhuru Kenyatta, son of Kenya’s most famous freedom fighter and first president, Jomo Kenyatta.
On 12 December there are gala events at Moi international sports centre at Kasarani, where there will also be a concert on Friday 13 December. The country’s great Olympic sporting heroes will be honoured there the same night. Celebrations go on until Sunday when there is an air display at Wilson airport.
The festivities seem low-keyed and have been overshadowed by the mourning for Nelson Mandela in South Africa, whose funeral takes place on 15 December.
But even before the death of Mandela there seemed little enthusiasm for this milestone event and planning has been uneven and lack-lustre. Even the coverage in the media has been unexciting. One blog in The Standard online edition was headed “Kenya facing a mid-life crisis@50”.
The lack of enthusiasm may be in part a reaction to the tragedy of the terrorist attack at Westgate shopping mall, which killed at least 72 people at the end of September. Details of the tragedy are still mysteriously vague although four Somalis are still held in detention, while four others are believed to have died in the attack.
The mood has been darkened further by the killings in early December in north Kenya close to the Ethiopian border where five police and three civilians were shot dead. Ethnic violence in this area has been increasing in recent months. Last May four police were shot and seriously wounded in the same area.
In addition the conflict with Somalia continues and Nairobi, with its large Somali population, is nervous.
However eight programmes have been identified for the coming year to mark the 50th anniversary. These include restoring Uhuru Gardens, the renovation of the paediatric wing of the National Hospital in Nairobi, the refurbishment of the Mathari mental hospital, planting 50 million trees, the rehabilitation of the Kenyan national theatre, the setting up of a Kenya@50 fund to provide investment capital for 50 small business and the launch of Vision 2030’s medium-term programmes. Vision 2030, the country’s long-term development programme was first set up in 2008 to provide all the country’s citizens with “a high quality of life in a clean and secure environment” by 2030.
The government has approved Sh500m for the festivities and it is hoped that another Sh2.6 billion will come from the private sector.