by Paloma Njeri Gatabaki
It is often said that the 21st century will bring about a new beginning. This new beginning will for some be incredible and exciting. For others, a welcome relief. But for the majority, it will bring the harsh reality of their world into painful focus.
As much as we look forward to a new century, and as much as we might want to firmly hold on to what it represents, we as Kenyans find ourselves in a complex situation that favours few, while the majority live in abject poverty, are unemployed as well as illiterate. We then, quite rightly, ask ourselves "Why?"
For most of us, the answer is usually at the back of our minds, because acknowledging the answer is tantamount to admitting our failure as Kenyans to get rid of bad governance, extreme levels of corruption and do away with the "underdevelopment of development."
To be able to explain all these terms, we find that we have to go back to the early years of our independence, which went hand in hand with the Cold War. Young African countries, Kenya included, were lured to two camps, the East or the West on the basis of ideology or monetary gain. Because of this policy, bad governance and corruption went virtually unchecked by the "free democratic states." The use of foreign ideological frameworks in shaping both political and economic policies deprived Africans of their own concepts of development in these two vital areas. What had already been our fate, colonisation, followed by bad governance, ensured that little of what was our own remained. For example, before the advent of colonization, the African economy was agrarian based. Today, instead of developing the agrarian sector, we have tried to move towards the industrial sector, with little or nothing to help sustain that move. Because of this short-shortsightedness, high levels of famine and drought have been the result. On account of this Kenya has attained a high level of debt and we have become totally dependent on the West.
Most important, however, we lost our culture, and with it our morals and ethics. This is because we have been so eager to ape the Western culture but by so doing we lost our heritage. Then Kenya woke up to a changing world: one with only one superpower and one where good governance and democratic principles were the yardstick to any meaningful development. We found ourselves alienated from this world and became a "society of inaction." Our inability to cope with the growing demands of the New World Order left us demoralised.
During my childhood years, life seemed so much easier for my parents and everyone around us. There were fewer street boys, crime was controllable, the streets were not marked with massive craters and potholes as well as huge mountains of garbage: the City Council did collect the garbage from households. By the time I turned eleven, the situation was less promising and Christmas was never celebrated with that "distinctive air" again. So now I ask myself, do I really want to continue celebrating this joyous occasion like that?
I dream of a Kenya where missed opportunities will not mean one's demise. I want to live in a Kenya, where I can walk down the streets at 6.00 p.m. and not have to carry mace in my bag or wonder if I will arrive home. I want to live in a Kenya where money is not everything but everything is love and togetherness. I want to live in a Kenya where the political arena does not resemble a circus ring, and where the political leaders debate issues of significance, issues that affect the lives of all Kenyans regardless of tribe and status. Thus, my vision for Kenya is that of a country united as one across all the tribal divides, a country which is economically stable as well as prosperous and having negligible level of poverty. I dream of a Kenya where the government is I, and I am the government. The question is, can my dreams and my vision become reality?
I believe my dreams and my vision can become a reality with time, and if Kenyans open their hearts and minds to these ideas. The problem has been that for too long ordinary people have been downtrodden by a malicious and bureaucratic system and by those who take advantage of the system's shortcomings. For too long the public has sat back and allowed others to ruin a country which once had a vibrant economy and was a leading nation of Africa. And for too long, we the people of Kenya, have in fact permitted men and women of ill repute to be in charge of the public coffers and let them get away with economic crimes.
To be able to accomplish our dreams and visions, I believe that we must start now and from the top. Corruption and blatant inefficiency in the handling of public money have spread to all corners of the society. To be able to effectively tackle this situation, the public needs to see a top official of the government prosecuted for wrong doings! This I believe will send a message down the ranks.
To borrow a leaf from the late Julius Nyerere, the founding father and first President of Tanzania, we need to have one official language for the nation. This will help unite the over forty tribes this nation currently protects. We also need to put in place an effective and regional educational program to ensure that we are all taught the same syllabus. This will help curb the deficiencies of being taught through various systems, namely, 8-4-4, the American system and the British system of tutelage.
What can I do to make this vision work?
Maybe the vision will not work, but I will not know until I try. One learns by having the ability and the courage to try out ideas and thoughts and then admitting publicly that sometimes theory should remain just that: theory. One needs to look no further than Tanzania and the Arusha Declaration. My part in this equation is to highlight the parts that do not conform to the norm.
How do I do it? By writing essays such as this one. By encouraging meaningful debate among my peers, and most importantly, by acknowledging both privately and publicly that something has gone wrong.
Today, we are on a threshold. We are starting to question situations that five years ago, we would never have dared discuss in private, much less in public. This is the way forward and honestly, this is the only way forward.
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