I celebrated my fiftieth birthday on the 19th of August 2010.
This was a special occasion for me in many ways.
First of all, it was never a given that I would live to see this day.
My generation-I am talking of Kenyans born in the late fifties to the mid sixties- have had a rather bumpy roller coaster ride throughout our brief existence on this Mother Earth.
Born during the heady, hopeful and optimistic Uhuru Sasa days, we were kids when giants like
Kwame Nkrumah, Abdel Nasser, Oginga Odinga,
Amilcar Cabral, Mwalimu Nyerere, Patrice Lumumba, Jomo Kenyatta, Nelson Mandela, Milton Obote, Tom Mboya,
Malcolm X dominated the wider African liberation scene.
Our parents were enthusiastic nationalists and Pan Africanists- that is why you find so many forty something and fifty something Kenyans bearing names like Lumumba, Nyerere, Kenyatta, Oginga and others.
We were literally conceived and born during the Decade of African Independence.
But even before we turned teenagers, we could see the bitterness and sense of betrayal in the eyes of those very mothers and fathers who thought they were ushering in a new
Here in Kenya,
Pio gama Pinto was assassinated;
Bildad Kaggia marginalized and
Jaramogi Oginga Odinga hounded from the vice presidency as a new African comprador bourgeois elite went on a looting and grabbing spree even as millions wallowed in poverty, prompting the late patriotic politician
JM Kariuki to quip:
“ We do not want a Kenya of ten million beggars and ten millionaires”.
Our generation lived through the dark years of one party rule and many of us endured imprisonment, torture, police harassment, joblessness, exile and worse.
We were there in the 1980s and 1990s when structural adjustment programs and other IMF inspired austerity measures took away the free medical and health services we had taken for granted in the dispensaries and public health facilities; when privatization and downsizing saw many civil servants and public sector employees lose their jobs, when they were still in their prime; when the cost of living escalated beyond the means of many; when former social housing estates like Makongeni and Madaraka became the magnet for unscrupulous developers; when school play grounds and public toilets were grabbed by well-connected tycoons; when many young women were forced into commercial sex work just to make sure they put food on the table; when a lot of young men graduated from borstal institutions into full fledged maximum security prisons as petty crime became their only desperate option.
But our generation was also at the forefront of the massive broad movement to restore multi-party democracy in Kenya. Some of us participated in socialist oriented anti-imperialist clandestine groups like the December Twelve Movement, Mwakenya, Ukenya, Umoja, Harakati ya Kupambania Demokrasia Kenya, Me Katilili Revolutionary Movement, Kenya Anti-Imperialist Front and later on helped to form the bedrock of support of parties like FORD, Ford-Kenya, Ford-Asili, DP, Safina, NDP and others who challenged the hegemony of KANU.
2002 NARC victory was our victory too.
On a sad note, our generation contributed a big chunk of the Kenyans who lost the battle to HIV/AIDS, a pandemic which robbed this country of some of its most brilliant sons and daughters.
There was time in the 1990s- when I was still exiled in Canada-when I was even afraid of calling home and inquiring about the health of family members, friends, former schoolmates and neighbours. This was when the stigma against the dreaded scourge was so pervasive that obituaries and funeral announcements in the newspapers used the euphemism “ died after a long illness” instead of naming complications due to HIV/AIDS as the cause of death.
Our generation has also survived because of the credo of the late South African poet
Dennis Brutus who urged us all to live with “Stubborn Hope”- a stubborn hope for better days ahead; a stubborn hope which eschewed cynicism as a luxury we could ill afford.
That is why I celebrated my fiftieth birthday the other day- because it was by no means obvious that I could survive to be a half century old. I could have died in prison in my early twenties; succumbed to HIV in my mid thirties like my youngest brother and several cousins) or been a victim of post election violence in my late forties.
Somehow I survived, just like my generation.
One of the greatest reasons to celebrate my fiftieth anniversary of residence on this planet had to do with the passage of the new constitution following the August 4th Referendum. The YES victory was a message of hope, reassurance and reaffirmation to all Kenyans, but especially my generation who had grown up under the old draconian constitution which had buttressed dictatorship and corruption.
Many members of my generation are now fathers and mothers- some even grand parents- so when we talk of a constitution that will protect our children and grandchildren, we are not engaging in hyperbole and metaphorical euphoria. We are being literal.
I believe my fiftieth birthday also came a few days after the Second Republic of Kenya was born.
A lutta continua as we used to say and still say.