Uhuru Gardens, which contains a number of national monuments dedicated to celebrating Kenya’s independence, is Kenya’s national memorial park.
Set aside at the dawn of independence by the government to honour, celebrate and serve as a memorial for the country’s independence day. It is often confused with Uhuru Park, a recreational park in the central business district, that was made famous by Kenya’s Nobel Laureate, the late Prof. Wangari Mathaai.
Uhuru Gardens, however, is the park in which the Kenya’s national flag was hoisted as the Union Jack was brought down on night of December 12, 1963, to mark the day when Kenya became a republic. Another flag was also simultaneously hoisted on Lenana Peak, on Mt. Kenya the same night.
At Uhuru Gardens, at the position on which the flag was hoisted, stands a Mugumo tree that was planted by the first president of Kenya, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, in 1964. The choice of Mugumo, a sycamore fig tree, was deliberate. The tree is thought of as sacred by many communities in Kenya and Africa. One of the beliefs that surround it is that it cannot be cut, without asking it for consent in a traditional ceremony conducted by elders.
It was therefore an ideal tree to serve as a memorial as many people would hesitate to fell it, even in a country that has lost a good share of her forest cover to logging. It is also one of the few natural phenomena that has been used to memorialise an important event in Kenya, making it a good site to visit.
In 2013, when Kenya celebrated 50 years of independence, President Uhuru Kenyatta planted a commemorative olive tree 50 steps from the Mugumo, in a symbolic gesture signifying the 50 years that had passed since the first tree was planted.
Though the tradition form of memorials is cemeteries, many nations in the world have moved forward and created memorials for many events that their own nations need to remember, either as lessons, reasons or celebrations.
One of the reasons that Kenyans seems to forget what happens to us as a nation might be because we are not good at creating memorials. National events that might have been worth memorials included the Kenyans who were lost in the violence following the 2007 elections. This might give Kenyans a reason to remember their own ‘never again vow’.
A Kenyan dam might be named as a memorial for those who lost their lives in Nakuru when a poorly build dam burst its banks, destroying lives and properties in a night of aquatic mayhem. This will remind all dam builders that any shortcuts on their part can have tragic results for the nation. Memorialisation was traditionally part of our cultures and was often stored in our languages as a reminder. As indigenous language takes a back step in national life, events remembered through language are getting less.
Close to the Mugumo tree is a concrete monument put up to commemorate 20 years of Kenya independence by the second president of Kenya, Daniel Toiroitich Arap Moi. The monument was commissioned in 1983 and build in 1986. On the monument are statues portraying the harambee spirit – pulling effort together – and a symbol of the court of arms without the lion. It also has a cockerel which might have been meant to represent the then ruling party, KANU.
Almost at the centre of the park is a monument commemorating 25 years of independence and inscribed with the Nyayo philosophy of peace, love and unity, which when not individualised is as applicable to the Kenyan population now, as it was 25 years ago.
Uhuru Gardens is also a public park and green space, giving reprieve to urbanites who increasingly live in smaller concrete spaces or areas that lack green spaces. The proximity of the park to Kibera has given this space accessibility to the urban poor.
One end of the park has also been reserved for the unresolved national heroes and heroines park. A national monument is under construction for this purpose.
The park is however not most popularly known as an independence park, but rather a place where ‘Nairobi business people’ park all day in their cars and relax and transact.