Last week was Madaraka or Independence Day in Kenya, and it was marked by lots of government fanfare and spectacle. While many did voluntarily turn up at the stadium to be part of these state celebrations (unless you were part of the National Youth Service and your boss told you you that you had better show up with your green shirt to listen to the president), many more remained at home and unconvinced about this independence.
Notwithstanding the fact that there was definitely enough jingoism at these celebrations to provoke a Kenyan space launch (history shows that even a phantom moon landing works just fine), the ruse, if there ever was a successful one, has definitely been washed out of our eyes as the majority of our people suffer from such violences that even ubiquitous podium declarations of “independence” “indivisibility” and “sovereignty” cannot cover these up.
Trending that same day, the hashtag #52yearsofsufferinginNEP challenged these veneers of freedom and showed just how North Eastern Kenya folks felt about Madaraka Day. People from places like Garissa, Mandera and Dadaab have seen their homes made synonymous with terror and al-Shabaab. <
“52 years of suffering in NEP” is not a chance statement. The central idea was clear: when the promise of Kenyan freedom is up for discussion, not every Kenyan counts (despite Uhuru’s assertions otherwise). Here is a snapshot of some of the tweets from #52yearsofsufferinginNEP.
— Kenya West© (@KinyanBoy) June 1, 2015
Constitution is suspended in NFD, martial law is in full force #52YearsOfSufferingInNEP
— Nomad (@Hudheifaden) June 1, 2015
#52YearsOfSufferingInNEP: Police harassment, extortion, home invasions, physical violence and massacres.
— Mo SheikHz (@MosheikHz) June 1, 2015
Early on in his speech Uhuru had to correct himself when, instead of saying “adorn our freedoms with wholesome values,” he accidentally said that these “freedoms” should be “adorned with “wholesale values” (check out Madaraka Day speech at 6:13 minutes). Bearing in mind the current situation documented above, could this have been a Freudian slip?
One of my favourite tweets was from @Farhiyaa4, who wrote: “When NEP hear is madaraka day and realize they have been suffering since madaraka day. #52YearsOfSufferingInNEP.”
Nothing appears to ever change in “NEP.”
Currently, insecurity has necessitated the closure of 90 schools. What’s more, poor roads are being washed away by the rains and these compound the abject poverty and poor services that have been made the norm in this part of Kenya.
Garissa hospital is also the only hospital facility in the country where, in 2011, a stray cat was reported to have climbed in through a window and began to eat the body of a still born baby who was left lying on the table.
And yet these counties remain our scapegoats?
While the idea of independence may be contested in Kenya broadly, this hashtag shows that its grand claims for freedom and justice remain much more ironic in places in the North. And with the violences unabated in this part of our world and further extreme measures looming in the horizon, Madaraka Day is definitely an unsuitable name for June 1. Just like Uhuru may be a very ironic name for our president.