Tanzania marked 50 years of independence at the weekend. One celebrating young women speaking amidst a background cacophony of cheering, singing and the sound of multiple musical instruments being played, declared, “We are all Tanzanians!” Another man was not cheerful: “I’m crying”, he said, “I have nothing in my pocket. I have nothing to celebrate”.
Yesterday’s Jamhuri Day celebrations here in Kenya were, as always, a chance to view where we’ve come from, where we are now and to look back on what has been achieved 48 years after independence. Kenya however, still has two years to go before the ‘Big 50’ and the Kenya Forum thinks that we should also take this time to consider what needs doing over the next two years so that come the day Kenyans will feel like the happy young Tanzanian woman and not like her disillusioned male fellow-countryman.
There is a great deal to be optimistic about. The front cover of the African Business magazine’s November issue was emblazoned with the headline ‘Astonishing Kenya!’ with a sub-headline, ‘How to turn crisis into triumph’. Inside, the magazine carried several articles covering aspects of what it called ‘Astonishing Kenya’. The country had bounced back after the disaster of post election violence in 2007-08 their reporters declared. In the three years since that time Kenya had undergone reforms that in ‘scale and scope’ were ‘unprecedented in the history of modern Africa’ against the background of a growing economy.
In an interview with President Mwai Kibaki, His Excellency declared that, “Together we made our country a better place that Kenyans are happy to call home”. A few pages later and Prime Minister Raila Odinga said that Kenya is, “now in pole position to play a positive role in Africa” and that internally, “We are implementing this new constitution to give equal opportunity to all in the country”.
There followed articles declaring Vision 2030 a ‘Roadmap for a bright future’, suggesting Kenya was about to take on India as the innovative centre for new technology, and predicting ever greater times for our tourism, banking and agricultural sectors.
Admittedly the African Business articles did have the ring of ‘advertorials’ about them rather than objective journalism but the claims made were in the main based on discernable reality and the African Business is not the only publication effusing optimism for Africa.
The Economist magazine (December 3-9) had as its front page a boy running along flying a multi-coloured kite shaped in the form of the African continent under the headline ‘Africa rising’.
The Economist’s editorial noted that over the past decade ‘six of the world’s ten fastest-growing countries were African’, that in eight of those years ‘Africa has grown faster than East Asia, including Japan’, and that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) ‘expects Africa to grow by 6% this year and nearly 6% in 2012, about the same Asia’.
Yes, The Economist admits, Africa’s economic growth is partly driven by the commodities boom that could become more of a bust if the rest of the world’s economies slump into recession but it added that Africa also has growing manufacturing and service sectors. To this the magazine added favourable demographics (i.e., a growing young not aging population), a fast-growing ‘middle-class’, soaring foreign investment and more mobile-phone users than America or Europe.
BEWARE, THERE’S MORE TO BE DONE
More objectively than African Business however, The Economist cautioned that, ‘Having a lot of young adults is good for any country if its economy is thriving, but if jobs are in short supply it can lead to frustration and violence’, and concluded on that point that, ‘Whether Africa’s demography brings a dividend or disaster is largely up to its governments’. Quite so say the Kenya Forum.
This theme of potentially disaffected youth was taken up by Maina Kiai in the Saturday Nation. ‘Across the country’, he declared, ‘there are millions of underemployed youth, frustrated, poor and isolated from authority and Kenya’.
Peter Orengo in the Standard on Saturday also took a sobering line arguing that healthcare in Kenya is worse today than it was 30 years ago. Similarly Peter Opiyo writing in The Standard’s Independence Day issue noted that the country was celebrating the 48th anniversary as doctors continued their strike, inflation is at 18 per cent (or higher), the Shilling is surrounded by uncertainty, and the cost of living all but ‘unbearable’ for ordinary Kenyans.
The Nation’s brilliant cartoonist Gado once again hit the nail on the head. Yesterday’s cartoon depicted people waiting for a doctor in front of an empty chair, a petrol pump sporting a ‘No fuel sign’, a gas bottle similarly bearing a note reading ‘Out of stock, a graduate standing in front of a ‘No vacancy’ sign, and a man pulling out his empty pockets in from of a woman saying, “What a way to celebrate 50 years of independence”.
THE KENYA FORUMS ‘TO DO’ LIST FOR 2014
So the Kenya Forum returns to its opening point in this article. With two years to go to our 50th Independence Day anniversary celebrations, what can we do between now and then to ensure that it is a day truly worth of great festivities? We have some suggestions.
The Forum team believes that instead of ‘basking’ in the glow of achieving largely ephemeral and intangible achievements the people of Kenya, and particularly the young, want to see real, tangible and practical achievements that make a positive difference to their everyday lives, and provide them with the opportunity to achieve more.
To this end our list of things to be done in Kenya before December 12, 2014, includes (not in order of priority perhaps): making sure the electricity supply stays on and that far more people have access to electric power (so increase generating capacity); at least starting to upgrade the Nairobi-Mombasa road to three-lane motorway status; developing the rail line between Nairobi and Mombasa to take freight off our roads; upgrading the country’s fuel supply infrastructure so that the pumps do not, again, run dry; introduce greater competition in the supply of cooking gas so that the price of this vital commodity is brought down to affordable levels; ensuring that all new housing has access to a sustainable water supply and that existing housing improves its water supply collection; ending petty corruption at all levels, from the police to Nairobi City Council officials, and driving centres to government ministries; and enforcing the law so that the carnage on our roads caused by matatus and buses is brought to an end.
There are many items that should be added to the ‘to do’ list. The Kenya Forum invites its readers to add to the list and at a later date we will publish your suggestions.