My favorite human rights activist/future presidential candidate is getting married tomorrow! He recently sent me an article he wrote on the State of our nation that I’d like to reproduce here verbatim. No need re-inventing the wheel when he says it so much better than I ever could! (Njonjo, this sounds like your inaugural speech… enough said!)
ONE COUNTRY, MANY NATIONS…
A Reflection on the Eve of the 10th General Election
By NJONJO MUE (Advocate)
Geologists tell us that the earth’s crust is made up of several tectonic plates joined together at fault lines far beneath the surface of the earth. Sometimes when pressure builds up, the tectonic plates move against one another causing earthquakes on the surface that can cause great loss of life and damage to property. Our nationhood is also made up of several socio-economic tectonic plates which tend to be covered by a veneer of unity.
Kenya as a country is very young only dating back to 1920 when the British declared it a colony and attempted to administer disparate mini-nations (tribes) as one entity. Their endeavour to create one country was however not helped by the fact that the colonists used divide and rule tactics to foment hostility between the African peoples in order to further entrench colonial rule.
Today, negative ethnicity remains the greatest threat to our efforts to create one united country out of many nations. Politicians, lacking ideas as to how to inspire the people, often resort to the lowest common denominator and mobilize support on the basis of blood ties. “It is our turn to eat” has become the political mantra of the ideologically lazy.
While negative ethnicity is our country’s original sin, another reality has recently started to insinuate itself on the edges of our national consciousness. This is the sad reality of social and economic inequality. Kenya is one of the most unequal countries in the world where the top 10% of the population control close to 50% of the country’s wealth while the bottom 10% control less than 1%. Half our population subsists on less than KShs. 100 a day, while some people drive around in vehicles worth Kshs. 17 million!!
This inequality of opportunities has placed near-permanent barriers that lock large sections of our population in an inescapable poverty trap – the poor cannot properly feed their children, which interferes with their development; nor can they afford quality education for them, which locks them out of the job market or confines them to lowly paid blue collar jobs, and the cycle continues.
The crust of Kenya’s nationhood also consists of the tectonic plates of gender and age. While women make up more than half of our population, they remain largely marginalized and under-represented in all forums of decision-making. In the 9th Parliament, there were 18 women legislators out of 222 of whom only 9 were elected. Women bear the brunt of poverty, domestic violence, social exclusion and other forms of injustice. We have confined half of our people to the margins of society.
When it comes to the youth, while Kenya is a very young country with close to 75% of the population under the age of 35, young people are yet to take their place on the stage of human endeavour. The youth are spearheading a renaissance on the cultural and arts scenes but their full impact is yet to be felt in influencing the socio-political direction of the country. A casual observation of the recently concluded election nominations reveal that with regard to our politics, the old is refusing to die while the new cannot yet be born.
Kenya is a multi-ethnic, multi-racial, multi-religious society. Creating one country out of many nations was never going to be easy. We stand at the crossroads and we have important choices to make. The tectonic plates make up a rich diversity that, if managed creatively, justly and equitably could make us strong. But if exploited to divide and alienate, pressure will inevitably build up between the cracks and cause destructive earthquakes on the surface, which could wipe out the gains we have achieved over the last four and a half decades of independence.
MANY NATIONS, ONE PEOPLE…
In spite of the challenges facing us, or perhaps because of them, we as a nation must continue in the effort to build a society that upholds human dignity and justice for all. The tectonic plates that divide us will form the ingredients out of which we shall build the beloved community.
Our diverse ethnic groups are a gift from God out of which we can create a beautiful mosaic as we learn from one another’s strengths and make up for each other’s weaknesses. We shall find our strength in our unity in diversity. The challenge of gender inequality can be overcome when we uphold in our daily lives the biblical truth that both men and women are created equal in worth in the image of God, and each gender has a unique contribution to make on our journey to true nationhood.
The challenge of inequality is not insurmountable either. With selfless and creative planning we can put in place the policies that are necessary to raise the standard of living for all our people and work for the day when no child will have to go to bed on an empty stomach. For as Martin Luther King Jr. once poignantly reminded us, there is enough for all our needs, but not for all our greeds.
Likewise, the great age divide can be bridged when we recognize that progress is not made up of the new replacing the old, but the old and the young working together for the good of the nation. We shall continue to value the wisdom and the experience of the old, but they must recognize that whatever their past achievements, there is no success without a successor. They must therefore prepare a new generation of leaders in all sectors to take the Kenyan dream forward after they have called it a day.
As we negotiate the treacherous curves on the path to true nationhood, we as the Church have a historical role to play in modeling a truly caring, compassionate and united community and in shining a light in the dark corners of our society that are currently inhabited by the ghosts of tribalism, inequality, crime, violence and other forms of injustice.