Madaraka Day, also known as National Day, is a public holiday in Kenya observed every June 1st.
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It is a commemoration of the day in 1963 when Kenya gained control over its internal affairs, but full independence from the British Empire did not come until December 12th of the same year.
The colonial history of Kenya began in 1885, when Germany took possession of the Kenyan coast, which had formerly been occupied by the Sultanate of Zanzibar, which was a nearby Islamic island-kingdom just to the south. Soon, in 1890, the German territory was taken by Great Britain, and in 1895, the “East African Protectorate” was established. British settlers then began to arrive in greater numbers and seize some of the most fertile agricultural districts of the country from the natives. However, few settlers ever moved into the northern portion of Kenya, which is much drier.
In 1920, Kenya became an official colony of the British Empire, and only Europeans were permitted to control its government. It was not until 1944 that this apartheid policy technically ended, but few local African officials and representatives were appointed. Thus, the exclusion continued de facto for many more years.
In 1952, a rebellion broke out in Kenya against British rule. It was centred mostly in the central highlands and among the Kikuyu tribe. The conflict lasted until 1959, and many thousands of Kikuyu were killed, while only 650 British citizens perished. Despite the rebellion’s failure, it led to policy changes. Africans were allowed to elect legislators in 1957, and on June 1st, 1963, internal self-rule was granted. At this point, a Kikuyu tribesman named Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya’s first prime minister. On December 12th, 1963, full independence was granted, and on December 12th, 1964, Kenya adopted a Republican form of government with Kenyatta as the first president.
Madaraka Day is an off-work day, and banks, government buildings, and many private shops will be closed. There are still some places of business that remain open, however, so you will have options if more limited ones. Families often use their day off to go on picnics in parks or to travel to other parts of the country on short vacations. Many native Kenyans who have moved to the cities for work return to their home towns on Madaraka Day, and they frequently have large, traditional meals that include goat and chicken dishes. Many Kenyans also engage in native singing and dancing.
Some activities you might want to take part in if in Kenya on Madaraka Day include:
- Attend the main festivities in Nairobi, the capital, which are held in Nyayo Stadium. The president and the prime minister will give a speech, and there will be military parades, traditional singers and dancers, Kenyan flags waving all around, and a fireworks display.
- See the “Bomas of Kenya,” a tourist village in the Langata neighbourhood of Nairobi. There are traditional huts of a number of tribes, and you will learn much about how most Kenyans lived before the coming of the Europeans.
- Get out of the big city and visit the Shimba Hills National Reserve. It is located about 10 miles inland from the Indian Ocean and about 20 miles from Mombasa, the main port city of Kenya. Inside, you will see rainforests and grasslands, and there are dozens of rare or endangered species, such as native orchids. You will also likely see some an abundance of birdlife and butterflies, but the main attraction is the 700 forest elephants the migrate in and out of the reserve.
Madaraka Day in Kenya is time to remember Kenya’s past, honour its heroes, and work for a better future. For tourists, it is an opportunity to learn about the history, people, and wildlife of this exotic African nation.