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Madaraka in 2021: Towards a Stronger East African Community

Photo by Muhammad Ilyasa from Pexels

The East African Community is making great progress. The most recent forward step was receiving the mandate to lead the adoption of Kiswahili as the Africa Union language. But until very recently, the EAC was something I only read about in The East African newspaper. What I had been reading did not touch my life in any way.

This all changed during the 2021 Madaraka Day celebrations in Kisumu. On a day that has always been set aside to celebrate Kenyan achievement, we were introduced to a very new idea of the East African Community.

National economic co-operation

Burundi president Evariste Ndayishimiye was the guest of honour for the event. After jetting into the country a few days prior to the event, he had previously toured Kenya widely and signed tens of trade deals. This goes a long way towards strengthening bilateral ties between African countries.

Even as the stadium started filling up, there were three flags blowing gently in the wind – the Kenyan flag, the Burundian flag, and the flag of the East Africa Community. And for the first time since I started watching official day celebrations (military parades!), the Kenyan anthem was followed by the East African anthem.

Specialized military units

Aside from the politics, it’s not every time that you find something exciting to write about the national day celebrations. But on this day, we were thoroughly entertained by the entry of the Specialized Paratroopers Division into the stadium. Nicknamed “Death From Above”, five paratroopers eject high above the stadium and descend one by one into the midst of the cheering masses below.

Foreign military bases in Africa

A few days later, I found a report about foreign military installations in Djibouti. A country the size of Nairobi County, Djibouti has about five foreign military bases – basically all the global contenders for the “superpower” crown.

What was even more jolting, however, was hearing the words “Scramble for Africa” used in reference to this new epic race. It did not end very well for us when “world powers” started competing for African resources. Might we need that Special Operations Training School down the line?

As we continue struggling to find our place in the world, we cannot forget our roots. In fact, we need to reconnect with our roots now more than ever. Not just we as Kenyans, but the entirety of Africa. Click To Tweet
The place of traditionalism

There’s no denying it – we are all tribal. We have witnessed a lot of drama in the Mt. Kenya region following the anointing of House Speaker Justin Muturi as a Gikuyu elder. And even as the mount region went up in an uproar, Muturi announced his intentions to run for president in 2022.

It seems like whatever progress we make, we simply can’t shake off tribalism from the African psyche. So maybe we should stop trying and instead find ways to coexist better. When a Luo elder took the podium to give the traditional blessing of the occasion, the traditionalist in me swelled. And even though I didn’t understand a word he said, I received the blessing nonetheless.

As we continue struggling to find our place in the world, we cannot forget our roots. In fact, we need to reconnect with our roots now more than ever. Not just we as Kenyans, but the entirety of Africa. Spiritual rootedness is absolutely indispensable in finding that elusive awakening of mind, body, and spirit – individually and as a nation.

The highlight of the occasion was a performance by the Burundi Drummers and their gargantuan drums. It was another dazzling display of motion, sound, and coordination reminiscent of the Rwandan high jumpers.

Long live women

Burundian first lady Angeline Ndayishimiye took to the stage after her husband. In a very short speech, she highlighted the natural bonds that Africans share. Her case; a South African Xhosa lady married to a Burundian Luo man. And they felt at home in Kenya, in Burundi, and in South Africa.

Her message is simple: “Long live women.”

Indeed, women are everlasting in Africa. From Egyptian times, our women have always played an active role in leadership. Our ancient history throws up strong women leaders in nearly the same frequency as strong male leaders.

Also read: Leadership Lessons From Africa’s Great Leaders: Mekatilili Wa Menza

In fact, only the most recent period of African history has been devoid of women leaders. We have made great strides to correct this and will continue to do so. And as we forge a new path for our future, there is no debate about women’s inclusion in development. We can either all succeed, or no one does.

Towards economic empowerment for all

For the first time in sixty years, the president addressed the freedoms the Europeans never returned to Africans – financial freedoms. After centuries of exploitation, colonial rulers left Africa in the 1960s. However, they left us with badly leveraged economies. This partly explains why African countries are yet to take off sixty years down the line.

The 2021 presidential Madaraka Day address will go down in history as a momentous event in the future of the country. That is if our leaders follow it up with inspired programs. The biggest take-away included;

  • A functioning economy must avail opportunities for all citizens to thrive.
  • Short-term thinking has been screwing up Africa from the start.
  • The continued use of development programs by politicians to score votes

Unless we can fully unlock the potential of Kenyans, we will never unlock the full potential of Kenya. The same goes for the East African Community and the continent as a whole.


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