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27 March

Towards a New Kenya

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Towards a New Social and Economic order for Kenya
A talk by Eric Kimani to the Rotary Club of Langata on 27th March 2008



My fellow Rotarians and guests,
I am going to venture to speak on an area I often avoid but given the recent events in our country I think every Kenyan must hold a view on the social, economic and political order of our beloved country at this time.

The one issue I will seek to deliver a direction on is the whole issue of what needs to be done to move our country Kenya and its people to a positively higher level of societal advancement and trust.
How do we deal with the social, political and economic challenges in Kenya in the face of the complex outcomes of the recent past?

Any country in my estimation anywhere in the world will have an economy “owned” largely by a very small minority of the population and the rest is shared amongst the larger population. This is the likely case in Kenya, Singapore, USA or Europe etc. The difference in my view is that while, the owning minority in all other countries works to ensure the safety, well-being and survival of the majority who work with them, in Kenya we have largely ignored this. The violence that has accompanied the 2007 election, like that of 1992 and 1997 before it, is partly a backlash of this. We must consciously go out to build a sustainable middle class amongst all communities in our society. I am talking about a middle class that grows, not from the rich becoming poorer, but from the poorer moving out of the poverty bracket into sustainable productivity. I’m talking about a productivity that is over and above subsistence and insecure livelihoods. It is largely this small middle class that helped hold much of Nairobi and to a certain extent the entire country together even as the poorer areas flared. It is most of us sitting here today that made sense prevail despite the deliberate political attempt to whip up ethnic bias.

Many of the problems are known to us and are described as poverty and underdevelopment characterized by: hunger, unemployment, low literacy, disease, high mortality, low life expectancy, poor governance, poor infrastructure, low per capita income, poor wealth distribution, lack of a middle class, lagging technology, poor application of justice law and order, low productivity, lack of a business culture and poor wealth creation, poor leadership and role modeling. It is perhaps this last one on leadership and poor role modeling that we should dwell on in the future because in my view everything else revolves around leadership.

Today I however want to assert that the one thing that has gone seriously wrong is that our value system is kaput as I will show elsewhere. To quote the respected Dalai Lama in advocating a new world social order he says and I quote; “We must attempt the impossible. I am convinced that if we continue to follow a social model that is entirely conditioned by money and power, and that takes so little account of true values such as love and altruism, future generations may have to face far worse problems and endure even more terrible form of suffering”

No country in the world has recorded sustainable growth without its local population playing a significant role in the economy. The economies of East Africa in my view have an unusual problem with the indigenous people having little to do with entrepreneurship. I have sat in many business advocacy groups and I can tell you with certainty that Kenyans have little to do with entrepreneurship. Ninety percent of us sitting here are employees of particularly the large corporations We must train our young people to aspire to become entrepreneurs.

Today I want to emphasize that the destiny of this country does not lie with the government- it lies with you and me. We are the government and the line that the government should do this or that must cease. We must take responsibility. We must drive the people’s agenda to see real and lasting positive change.

The deep rooted problem of unoccupied youth first hit me on a visit to Rwanda 3 years ago and driving to and from Goma in eastern Zaire. Young idle men line up on the roadside just gazing in the air all day long. This situation is common everywhere in Kenya. Even in the central business district of Nairobi around Hilton hotel- hordes of able bodied men spend all day sitting on the railing watching the world and wasting away while the more able jobless spend time walking the streets and the malls. This is a time bomb for our countries as the recent events proved. Then I remembered a visit to Spain five years ago. I met a young man at a rail station with a backpack and enquired where he was going. He told me he would be taking a four hour train trip to some town he had never been to go and look for a job. He had given up his latest job in search of a more adventurous one!! How many of our youth in say, Meru will take off to say Kisumu or vice versa in search of more adventurous opportunities? I venture to say that after what happened in our country recently, even 100 Km away from “tribal homeland” would feel too far!

I advocate a new way of thinking to reclaim ourselves, our youth, and our people!
And how do I suggest we proceed?

We must inculcate a new and different value system. We must adopt a different way of thinking. We must create in our people a paradigm of abundance and encourage a departure from a scarcity paradigm that cheats us that a loss to others is our gain. We must teach Kenyans the need to build a bigger cake for all of us instead of scrambling for a dwindling national cake.

We must teach our youth to aspire for better through productive honest work. We must teach them the law of the farm- the need to prepare the land, plant, weed before you can harvest. We must emphasize the need for hard work.

We must kill the big man syndrome which is tantamount to the ‘beggar mentality” in our people that kills initiative. The syndrome that teaches you to accept a kilo of sugar for a vote must die.

Those of you sitting here today must begin planning and thinking the future. We must take control of ours and our children’s future. Regrettably we are very short term planners.
It has worried me that even when the economy was recording phenomenal growth in the recent past, this did not reflect in proportionate increase in the living standards of the common man. Driving through middle income areas like South B, South C or Buru Buru where I once lived, it leaves me depressed- there are no roads; no standards; no law and order- no wonder militias are growing everywhere!
A drive to the rural country-side elicits the attention of every villager. Each household has a kiosk at the roadside. Small time vendors mainly in the form of “Mama Mboga” are everywhere trying to make a living selling a handful of mainly food items. The towns are full of cyclists trying to eke a living by using raw human effort to ferry people. In major towns we see human driven push-cats in the form of “Mkokoteni” carrying loads that even a pick up vehicle cannot carry and causing immense traffic problems. A kiosk mentality has befallen our people. Their aspiration is far too low. They work to get food only and no more!

When I drive through the streets of Nairobi, Kampala, Dar-es-laam or rural Kenya I see sad faces of hungry and at times angry people wearing hopeless faces. We must address the root causes of poverty and inequality through opportunity and job creation.

I will now venture to describe what in my view has gone wrong, what can be done and where we can start and in no particular order.

What, in my view, went wrong?

- Common decency is dead- The behavior of motorists on our city roads is evidence enough- it is enough to take your blood pressure to an all time high. Moral decency is dead too. The moral fabric of our society has been perverted. Simple human values are no longer practiced. The murder or death of a person is no longer news in our country.
- Trends world-wide indicate a widening gap between the rich and the poor. In Kenya the problem is even more widespread and acute. I think we are ranked third on a global scale. Our politicians earn more than most of their counterparts even in the richer West!
- Leadership has failed us big time. Poor role- modeling has played havoc on the aspirations of our young people. I recall a conversation among two law school students who agreed that their greatest desire after graduating from law school was to set up a Non-Governmental Organization ( NGO), to fleece the donors and get rich!! They had seen far too many people become rich this way!
- We have had an economy of rip-off’s where no one is prepared to bell the cat- everyone complains of corruption and no one of substance among those involved has ever been jailed for it!
- The death of aspiration- our youth no longer has it in them to aspire for a better life and seem to resign themselves to fate. We have an education system that is flawed- enhancing ethnicity as opposed to rewarding the discipline of studying, commitment to excellence and diligence in work.
- A scarcity thinking entrenched again by ethnicity- where your gain is perceived as my loss- a zero sum game. A win/lose mentality and the “my people” syndrome that seem to drive our politicians into a wasteful competition of “a share of the cake for my people”.
- The big man syndrome and its related injustice rules supreme in Kenya. Whereas we hear that the daughter of a billionaire could go to jail in the USA or that some ministers went to jail in Singapore, the nearest we got in Kenya was the “Golden bag” saga where one of the culprits made a joke of our court and justice system! There is no fairness and justice for all. No nation can ever survive where there is selective justice. We have heard of powerful countries where powerful presidents were dragged to court to give evidence to extricate themselves out of their actions! This issue of selective justice to me is particularly central! Until the government is seen to walk the talk, corruption and abuse of authority will not end! We, the people of Kenya must demand equal justice for all as minimum!
- There is inequality in many areas for example geographical and regional, but above all in opportunity! Besides the disparity in income levels which I mentioned earlier that places Kenya 3rd on the global scale, we must address the many other forms of inequality without allocating blame. The biggest form of equality can only be redressed through opportunity particularly in education and allocation of resources. In my humble view, the relative calm and peace in our country is deceptive and short lived if we do not deal with the apparent inequalities! My fellow Kenyans who live around Nairobi and the high value and developed central Kenya need not apologize to the rest of the country but they also must not concentrate protective power around themselves. They are duty bound to give opportunity to the less endowed parts of the nation to realize their potential. The state of Mississippi in USA will never be the same as the rich state of California but the latter must contribute more to the national kitty to give opportunity to their less endowed brothers in the former. The fact that 80% of the “best” national schools are located in central Kenya and Nairobi area is a colonial historical accident that successive leadership should have addressed but instead they compounded it with some of our past presidents doing nothing and some complicating it further by putting up similar “tribal” schools to compete with the historical accident while our current government continue to ignore the matter! I am a “father” to over 120 children under the Palmhouse Foundation sponsorship in every national school in Kenya and I can tell you that the recent events in Kenya have moved us further into tribal cocoons than ever before!

What can be done to put things right?

- Let us return to basics and avoid just doing patch work! It will be painful and sacrificial to your generation but rewarding for generations to come! If you do not do it, it will continue to haunt you and you will never enjoy the fruits of your labor. You will eat like the proverbial antelope perennially looking over your shoulder for imminent danger and with a wasteful mentality!
- While we must fully support the envisaged government of national unity we must take the position of the now missing opposition to demand that the current parliament implements constitutional and structural changes that will ensure that abuse of power and authority shall not be repeated in Kenya in the scale we have seen in the past. We must demand systems to be put in place to ensure that those who dare will face the full force of the law. We must not as a people accept business as usual! We must demand to be allowed to create the Kenya we want. I feel that the opportunity for a better Kenya has never been as real as presented by a government of national unity. But I also feel that the window of opportunity to bring real and lasting change is small and may close sooner than many of us imagine. We must not, in my view, let the blood of many Kenyans that was poured unnecessarily and the pain that we bear go to waste!
- We, the Kenyan public and particularly you sitting here tonight, must become political power brokers- we must rightfully get the power back from the politicians. We must hold them to account for time and actions they spend in parliament after all the rest of us Kenyans are paid for performance which is evaluated every 4,6, or 12 months and the company lets us go if we are not adding value. Why should our leaders and politicians perform by any less a standard? We must not give this new found peace deal a break. We must put pressure before the “party begins”. We must hold the grand coalition to account. A citizen driven agenda must become the voice of the opposition in parliament. We must not leave it to narrow advocacy and pressure groups with their narrow but well meaning agendas. We must demand of the coalition to deliver on the new constitutional framework for Kenya, sort out the land issues, entrench justice and fairness and create equal opportunity for all.
- We must change our approach towards the existing education system ensuring as far as possible that no child goes to “tribal” secondary school or university. We must teach our youth abundance thinking and inclusive diversity.
- We must entrench and apply the principle that every individual has an inalienable right to life and happiness
- We must go back to entrench nationalism at Primary school by teaching our young to sing and live the national anthem. Teaching them to re-learn the common good, nationhood and unlearn being individualistic and the negative ethnicity.
- We must re-ignite the passion of our people starting with the youth. We need to retrain us in being proudly Kenyan, speaking positively about ourselves our communities and our nation.
- We must begin glorify hard work even in our religions by teaching it with the same vigor we preach prayer! We must remind every Kenyan the need to make every day count as far as work goes.
- We must begin to teach principle centered living -values we knew as kids as fairness, truth, justice, ethics, morals, honesty, and respect for all. We must for example demand common decency on our unnecessarily clogged city roads. We must demand the moral dimension in commerce. It is worrying how business in Kenya perpetuates corruption and yet shouts the loudest against corruption in government!
- We must restore the sanctity of title. Every time I fly over Lake Victoria, the world’s second largest fresh water lake and remember any such waters anywhere in America or Europe, I feel at a loss why I cannot own a quarter acre on the shores of Lake Victoria? Why is no one doing it? Until we reach that point, land issues will remain of concern. Like one of my pastors once said, we must remove the Kenyan attachment to “mugunda” (land) and agree that your mugunda can be anywhere in Kenya and can take any form not necessarily a piece of ancestral soil!

Where do we start?

- We must begin by transforming the thinking, attitude and aspirations of our youth and our young people. Teaching them “the law of the harvest” to replace the misplaced concepts entrenched in our people of short-cuts. We must teach them the principle of delayed gratification.
- We need to teach our people the way to futuristic thinking. We must teach them the art of savings and the need to think about future generations
- We must encourage and grow small and medium entrepreneurs. To continue to award “Company of the Year” to for example Safaricom or Barclays every year while admittedly a good idea, needs modification. Glorify more the smaller companies that are the true engine of economic growth. Create special credit schemes for SME’s. Did you know that the economies of countries like America, Germany, etc are built on the small and medium enterprise?
- We must re-look at the current education system and possibly scrap the district schools and ensure free movement of Kenyan students everywhere in the country like in the old days. I would also recommend every young person to serve in the Youth Service for a year to entrench discipline and nationalism like we did in the past. Our education system must drive our youth towards entrepreneurship as opposed to training people for “employment”.
As I conclude I would like to quote H.E Kaguta Museveni, President of the Republic of Uganda speaking on the social economic problems of Africa, in his book Sowing the Mustard Seed where he said “Economic and social structures lack (ed) the ingredients to usher in the basic changes which could have transformed a primitive social order into a modern civilized one. These basic ingredients are; an independent technological base, coupled with managerial and entrepreneurial skills”
I could not agree more. Herein lies the key to unlocking Kenya’s and indeed Africa’s potential – building a technological base and managerial and entrepreneurial skills of the African people must be the starting point.
I will now express a view that may not endear me to many. In my humble view, we have spent far too much time and energy on democracy in the recent past in the mistaken premise that with democracy we will have development. Democracy has failed to stop the ethnic, tribal and sectarian conflict that is all too common in Africa. We saw it happen in democratic Kenya.
I further quote Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s leader 1965-2000 in his book “From Third World To First “ a people must have reached a high level of education and economic development, must have a sizeable middle class, and life must no longer be a fight for basic survival, before such a society could work a democratic political system”. Again I could not agree more.
I began by posing the question about what must be done to move Kenya to the next level. I have suggested what went wrong, what we need to do and where we need to begin. The question that now remains is one for you to answer- Who will do it? Please do not for once begin to even imagine that it is me, your neighbor or the government- if it be any other person THAT person is YOU. You are talented and equipped differently to take action and be the change we so desperately need in Kenya. Only a people driven agenda will take Kenya to the next level! You are the people- Arise!

Thank you.

© Eric Kimani 2008

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