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On June 1, Kenya marked 50 years of the declaration of self-rule ahead of the granting of independence on December 12, 1963. But do the country’s people enjoy full freedom?

Fifty years later, June 1 still represents a critical reference point in Kenya’s historical march towards becoming a fully independent, democratic developmental state.

Fifty years ago, this date signalled the outer marker as the date for the full independence of Kenya closed in. And as we seek meaning today around what this date signifies, we need to re-interrogate the question as to why independence was so significant. Here are three reasons.

Independence represented the moment Kenyans were to transit from being subjects to the colonial master; enslaved by a dehumanising and predatory political and administrative order that sought to negate and nullify their humanity and rapaciously exploit them.

This is captured in the language that was used to represent the African. For example, from “vermin” to “black monkey” to “boy”, the African was not deemed to represent a fully formed and functioning human entity.

Rather, the African was dehumanised and sub-humanised in a manner that was instrumental in justifying and enabling his/her flagrant violation and abuse.

These violations were so egregious that, for instance, we are informed today that the British Government would rather settle out-of-court a claim based on them that has been launched by veterans of the Mau Mau war of independence.

Hence, independence was seen to represent the equalisation of all as human beings; irrespective of their skin colour or any other difference that had previously been used to subjugate some.

And this should have represented a critical break from the past so that what we should be seeing today is the political and administrative treatment of all as equals: However, is this what has transpired fifty years later?

Why, if this had been the case, would we need a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission? Why did we need to promulgate a new constitution on August 27, 2010? Why did Kenya take herself to the International Criminal Court in the first place?

Second, independence was supposed to represent democratic progression where there would be equality of vote; and democratic rights were fully respected and actualised.

In this respect, not only should we be enjoying the full spectrum of electoral rights but also the attendant civil and political rights. As we consider the most recent Kenyan elections, it is important to ask ourselves whether Kenyans’ electoral rights have been vindicated, not just this time, but throughout our 50 years of existence.

Although electoral results always dominate the headlines, the electoral process is fundamentally a process that replenishes and re-affirms the citizens’ faith in their political system.

Despite the Supreme Court of Kenya ruling with regard to the recent presidential elections, the conduct of the 2013 electoral process still stands seriously impugned for several reasons: among them, we have an indeterminate voters’ register, a collapsed electronic voter-registration and results-relaying system, and a controverted results-counting-and-tallying process.

In this regard, it is clear that the political “moving on” that has happened represents a postponement of real electoral grievances rather than their adequate settlement: a temporary political ceasefire rather than a full breakout of political peace.

In addition, unfortunately, what we have seen is a system that favours a winner-take-all political result; those who have lost seem to have concomitantly lost their political voice and stake. This is one of the outcomes that devolution is supposed to redress.

But we saw what happened to devolution in the early post-independent years. The attacks on the devolution chapter of the 2010 constitution suggest that it will face a similar struggle for survival.

Unfortunately, proportional representation, which would have been another key plank in providing broader political equity in this kind of milieu, was not constitutionally provided for.

One needs, in addition to electoral rights, to also consider the enjoyment of civil and political rights that give meaning to the electoral process. And here, Kenya has abysmally failed: there has been no accounting, for instance, on the impact of political and electoral violence in the Coast province.

Today, how can we, for instance, talk of civil and political rights when citizens peacefully protesting the political avarice of their political leadership are clearly beaten in the process? And is the media in Kenya really free given its ownership and advertising dynamics?

The dawn of independence was, thirdly, the starting gun for Kenyans’ to craft, devise and implement their own developmental path which would have truly freed the country from want.

In fact, it was a key call at that moment that independence signalled the beginning of the journey liberating us from hunger, disease and illiteracy. Fifty years later, how free are we from want?

It seems that rather than being liberated from want, Kenya is instead incarcerated by it. Look, for instance, at the most obvious case of want-incarceration – the clamour today of Kenyan legislators to apportion to themselves their previously shamefully exploitative remuneration packages.

It is not just their raw greed that rankles but also the way they have gone about trying to run roughshod of the constitutional checks and balances that should ordinarily keep things at an even keel.

First, they threatened to disband the Salaries and Remuneration Commission that has the constitutional mandate to set the remuneration of all state officers, of whom they are part.

When this failed to work, they set about attempting to undo the gazette notice that had set their new (and still very healthy) remuneration packages. Of course this was in absolute violation of several constitutional provisions including the provision that one cannot make a decision in a matter where they have a financial interest.

Clearly, the public interest is the furthest consideration in the minds of our political elite. This is just one other illustration of the crippling malaise that has afflicted Kenya’s grand march to development since independence: corruption, patrimony, tribalism, nepotism are other similar symptoms. So as we celebrate Kenya’s internal self-government today, let us not delude ourselves. We are independent but not free.

* Mugambi Kiai is the Kenya Program Manager at the Open Society Initiative for Eastern Africa (OSIEA). The views expressed in this article are entirely his own and do not reflect the views of OSIEA. This article was first published in The Star in Kenya.