Today is Idd-ul-Fitr, a Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan, whose date is decided around the sighting of the new moon. Since the Kenyan calendar is peppered with national holidays, I decided to do a bit of research around the subject.
What was interesting to me was the relevance (or lack of it) of next month’s Moi Day (10th October) and Kenyatta Day (20th October), where the Kenyan people celebrate public holidays to honour their first two leaders since Independence.
Kenyatta assumed power in 1963 (46 years ago) followed by Daniel Arap Moi on Kenyatta’s death in 1979 (30 years ago). As the ensuing years have slipped by new light has been shed on their respective times in power which were not without controversy, thus calling into question whether the holidays should continue to be honoured or are perhaps outdated?
On 19th September 1999, writer Michael Mundia Kamau suggested scrapping both days ‘in favour of one alternative public holiday that the entire nation can relate to.’ Others, including current Prime Minister Raila Odinga last year, have suggested that Kenyatta Day be renamed ‘Heroes Day’ in an attempt to move Kenya away from what has become known as post-independence personality cults. In spite of this, both Moi and Kenyatta Day continue to be firmly fixed on the Kenyan calendar.
Some years after President Moi was elected, enthusiasm for the new Moi Day holiday had waned. Critics of Moi argued that by naming a day after himself he was setting a precedent, where each successive President would be tempted to further overcrowd Kenya’s already full calendar with new holidays to commemorate their own tenures.
In 2002, the last year of President Moi’s twenty four year long presidency, Moi gave instructions ahead of time that Moi Day should be celebrated quietly (perhaps embarrassed by the attention it drew). So instead of the usual personal address to the nation preceded by festivities, that year President Moi chose to make a low key visit to a home for the disabled just outside Nairobi.
So far President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have resisted the urge to create new national holidays in their names. The only addition has been ‘Obama Day’ created last year in a wave of Obama mania on the 6th November 2008, the day the new US President was elected. Aptly catching the public mood, President Kibaki sent a public message to Barack Obama; ‘We the Kenyan people are immensely proud of your Kenyan roots. Your victory is not only an inspiration to millions of people all over the world, but it has special resonance for us here in Kenya.’
It remains to be seen whether Kenyatta Day, Moi Day and indeed Obama Day stand the test of time or will be swept aside in years to come. With Madaraka Day, Jamhuri Day and Idd-ul-Fitr (the celebrating of Id-ul-Hajj was last year de-gazetted in Kenya) also jostling with better known Christian holidays such as Christmas, Boxing Day and Easter, Kenya is losing a sizeable chunk of revenue through disruption to local businesses on each public holiday; perhaps more frequently that the country can afford? This year we also had Census Day thrown into the mix in August.
Rationalisation of Kenya’s Public Holidays would be a bold political move for any incumbent leader in the current Coalition Government, so it is unlikely that we will see any changes made soon. Announcing a public holiday still seems to be viewed as very much a crowd pleasing manoeuvre by Government.
Meanwhile we will continue to celebrate twelve public holidays each year in Kenya (barring last minute additions) which is still fewer than Uganda’s thirteen days and Tanzania’s eighteen days of celebration, then we will count the cost to the economy later.
(The UK celebrates seven public or bank holidays per year and the USA ten – plus one Inauguration Day celebrated every four years).
The following days are observed as public holidays in Kenya:
New Year's Day 1st January
Good Friday As per the Gregorian calendar
Easter Monday As per the Gregorian calendar
Labour Day 1st May
Madaraka Day* 1st June
Moi Day* 10th October
Kenyatta Day* 20th October
Jamhuri (Independence) Day* 12th December
Christmas Day 25th December
Boxing Day 26th December
Idd – ul – Fitr (today - 21st Sept)
Any public holiday falling on a Sunday is observed the following Monday. (2008 we added Obama Day and in 2009 Census Day – bringing the total to 14 holidays)