Re-imagining National Sovereignty and Self-determination
As time passes, so does the risk of losing the gist of the major milestones that outline the journey of a nation escalate. On this score, Kenya is not an exemption. At almost 60 years since independence, only a handful of individuals alive today had the chance to witness firsthand the jubilation that lit up Kenya’s onset of self-determination.
Those who witnessed the excesses of colonial rule and then the watershed moment that marked the end of foreign domination in Kenya would, in all likelihood, explain what sovereignty and self-determination mean with a tinge of solemn reflection. The majority of Kenyans today, however, may not be too emotionally invested in what may pass as remote or romantic notions best left for intellectual adjudication by legal minds and scholars of History and Political Science.
But what then is national sovereignty? Simply put, national sovereignty is all about the assertion of full authority and power by a given nation’s leadership in running the affairs of a nation-state away from external influences or interference by alien entities.
To better appreciate the concept of sovereignty it is important to interrogate its variants and how the notion of sovereignty has evolved over time.
Titular sovereignty is nominal or, if you like, ceremonial. It is symbolic and may, yes, be habituated but in reality it doesn’t exercise effective power. This type of sovereignty thrives in set traditions, etiquette and honour. Such is the case of the Queen of England, the King of Japan or the President of India.
Internal and external sovereignty is a complex blend that recognizes the exercise of power over persons, groups and institutions within a certain jurisdiction whilst upholding the right and freedom to establish diplomatic ties with other sovereign state in within established foreign policy strictures.
On legal and political sovereignty, the state legislates and enforces its authority with minimal—if any—restrictions. In this type of sovereignty, political supremacy bequeaths legitimacy to legal authority.
As for De Jure and De Facto sovereignty, the main concerns are on what the dictates of the law command or where the reality on the ground wins hands-down. In other words, should sovereignty bend to the whims of the laws of the land or should it be about where reality and commonsense rein?
Finally, popular sovereignty… This type of sovereignty is primarily about people’s power and the active participation of the people themselves in their own governance.
Thankfully for us in Kenya and in accordance to Article 1 of our 2010 Constitution;
(1) All sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya and shall be exercised only in accordance with this Constitution.
(2) The people may exercise their sovereign power either directly or through their democratically elected representatives.
(3) Sovereign power under this Constitution is delegated to the following State organs, which shall perform their functions in accordance with this Constitution —
(a) Parliament and the legislative assemblies in the county governments;
(b) the national executive and the executive structures in the county governments; and
(c) the Judiciary and independent tribunals.
(4) The sovereign power of the people is exercised at —
(a) the national level; and
(b) the county level.
All said, the notion of sovereignty, generally, has mutated significantly over time. The establishment of regional blocs and the effects of globalization, for instance has significantly redefined the classical definition of sovereignty. That notwithstanding, it is critical that independent states stamp their authority as entities that are sufficiently enabled to defend their freedom and right to determine their premeditated and hoped-for future. In all, any pursuit of sovereignty that doesn’t purpose to dignify its subjects is essentially dead on arrival.
Our Founding Fathers, led by the first president of the Republic of Kenya Mzee Jomo Kenyatta sought to rid Kenya of the unholy trinity of poverty, ignorance and disease. This dream, by extension, aimed at draping the citizens of newly independent Kenya with the dignity they had lost under imperial rule.
Kenya’s Founding Fathers seemed to echo Nelson Mandela’s wisdom when he surmised that, “Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life.” Though the fight against poverty is hardly over, Kenya is certainly not where she was at independence.
The philosophy that informed Kenya’s education system during colonial times maintained that the African is trained primarily for clerical work. Very few Africans had access to tertiary education by design. Therefore, at the turn of independence only a handful of Kenyans had attained levels of education commensurate with positions that would soon fall vacant as self-rule kicked in.
That being the case at the time, it was imperative that access to higher education be accelerated as a precursor to the Africanisation of Kenya’s work force. Fighting ignorance therefore became one of the top priorities for the newly independent Kenya. Kenya’s Founding Fathers guided by Plato’s enduring wisdom—“Better be unborn than untaught, for ignorance is the root of misfortune”—erected to deal a body blow to ignorance.
In 1963 Kenya had 151 secondary schools with an enrolment of 30,120 students. Today, according to Ministry of education records, Kenya has 10,487 secondary schools—8,933 public and 1,554 private—as at 2019. By the year 2020, Kenya had 3.5 million students in both public and private secondary schools. Granted, at independence Kenya’s population stood at 10 million compared to today’s nearly 50 million. Still, the exponential growth of the secondary school sector is evident.
Back in 1964, the University College, Nairobi offered degrees awarded by the University of London. Two years later, the college started offering degrees of the University of East Africa headquartered at Makerere in Uganda. Today, Kenya has 30 public universities, 30 chartered private universities and a further 30 universities with Letters of Interim Authority. Clearly, no effort has been spared in providing Kenyans with opportunities to overcome ignorance.
Nothing stymies productivity across various economic sectors, as does poor health. Yet at independence, healthcare for Africans was clearly wanting in Kenya. Those who went to school in the early years of Kenya’s independence may remember learning about afflictions such as kwashiorkor, beriberi, marasmus and trachoma. These are sometimes regarded as diseases of the poor, which many Kenyans indeed were back in the day. Over time, child mortality and life expectancy have improved in tandem with progressive reforms in the health sector.
Today, Kenya has an elaborate healthcare structure with relatively well-equipped medical facilities of different levels right across the country. Much as Tuberculosis, Malaria and a number of lifestyle diseases still stalk us, impressive strides in the healthcare sector have been made since independence.
The majority of the youth today may not conjure up images of the Kenya of 40 or 50 years ago. However, we can only downplay the cumulative impact of Vision 2030 and The Big Four Agenda in delusion. In deed, gauging from what has happened over the last more than five and a half decades of Kenya’s independence, there is a lot to be proud of in terms of improved livelihoods across the country. That, however, does not mean there is no room to make things even better.
It is easy to forget that the progress Kenya has made since 1963 has been aided significantly by the fact that we are a sovereign state duly enabled to exercise our right to self-determination. To make the most of our sovereignty and self-determination Kenyans and particularly the youth, have a duty to make Kenya work in progress we achieve crucial national goals as outlined in key development blueprints. Promulgating the 2010 Constitution was a key milestone towards that end.
Lest we forget, Kenya has been the envy of her neighbours, some steeped in perpetual internal conflicts. It is time to leverage on the relative tranquility Kenya has enjoyed over the years in order to build a stronger economy driven by manufacturing, value addition of farm produce and all natural resources, modern agriculture, an efficient and thrifty bureaucracy and a fully empowered private sector.
If we dwell in unity with justice as our shield and defender, Kenya will reap peace and liberty and plenty will be found within our borders. In common bond united, if we build Kenya together we shall eat the fruit of our labour and fill every heart with thanksgiving.