It’s an honor to be here at Strathmore again.
Education remains the best chance any nation can give its children and this university does a great job at giving it.
I asked a few of your students what makes learning here different.
Grace Dida…I hope she is around…Grace told me “where else would you find a dean who knows all his students by name and has an open door policy with all his students?
DrLuisseems to be doing a great job with the personal touch. These young minds need quite a bit of that to enable them see and go further than my generation.
There is this famous journalist Hellen Thomas who served longest as White House Correspondent. She saw nine presidents come and go, beginning with JF Kennedy in 1960 to Lyndon Johnson, to Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, George Bush, Bill Clinton and George Bush junior. And she covered president Obama until she retired in 2010.
After observing the lives of these presidents, Hellen came to this conclusion:
“That if you want to go into public life, decide at the age of five and live accordingly.”
I want to speak to you on Living Accordingly.
You are growing up in a freer and more open country than the one we grew up in. The foundation has been laid for you to pursue your dreams and to succeed.
But we have much to improve on. It is you to carry on with that journey.
From time to time, the world has witnessed great revolutions. The Industrial Revolution ushered in the steam locomotive, automobile and the telephone among other inventions.
Today, we are in the ICT revolution that puts all earlier inventions to shame.
It will enable you do things you never imagined and my generation never dreamed of.
You never used the typewriter, telephone booth or fax machine and didn’t have to use the telegram or even buy postage stamps.
I had a conversation with one teenager who told me the basic needs of life are no longer food, shelter and clothing as is taught in Economics 101.
Young people now begin the day checking the phone battery and data bundles. Something to wear, something to eat and a place to sleep come much later. Battery, bundles and the phone are the new basic needs.
Everywhere, everyone is free to voice an opinion and even tell the President off, thanks to ICT.
One could say it is easier to succeed today because of these revolutions. But the revolutions have also created a more competitive and more confused and confusing world.
What does it mean to Live Accordingly intimes like these? What does it take?
I will share my thoughts.
Despite the changes around us, certain basics remain constant.
President Bill Clinton recently said that if he were to sum up his view of public life, it would come down to… “Are people better off when you quit than when you started? Do children have a brighter future?
Are things coming together instead of being torn apart?”
I can say without fear of contradiction that President Clinton spoke for me. He has lived my life and pursued my dream.
To Live Accordingly requires that you set up certain standards; not just basic standards but high standards. It requires that you have some principles and stick to them no matter what.
Some people decide that freedom is a principle worth defending and dying for. Nelson Mandela did.
At the start of his trial in April 1964 Mandela said: “During my lifetime I have dedicated myself to this struggle of the African people. I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and to achieve. But if needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.”
Some decide that equality and dignity of the human race are worth dying for. Martin Luther King did: “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” he said.
King went on: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident; that all men are created equal.”
“I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of the former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.”
Whatever it is, there must be something you are willing and ready to die for.
That is Living Accordingly.
Otherwise you live in vain. That, in my view, is what distinguishes human beings from the beasts of the wild.
I know this school has some ambitious Kenyans with big dreams. I hope Benedict Nzioki is here? I am aware Benedict has made inquiries on what it takes to be president because he is thinking of being president one day. And I encourage him to explore it. Those who want to be First Ladies and running mates, now you know.
Benedict only needs to be courageous. That too is part of Living Accordingly. It takes courage to cause change.
At some stage, all of us need to be able to ask; “Is there anything I have been able to put myself on the line for, for the sake of my community, my neighbor or my country?
Remember J.F. Kennedy: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.”
Regardless of what you hear, the successes and failures you see, I want to tell you that it still pays to work hard and play by the rules. Success is a lie when founded on short cuts and deals negotiated in smoke-filled rooms.
Don Williams sings of “some schemers, some sinners and dreamers” none of whom died wishing they spent more time at work. Avoid this group like a plague. They are living dangerously.
Today, you grow up in a world scoured by new and serious security threats. It is highly unlikely that terrorism will be stamped out in our lifetime. But it is possible that by your attitudes and responses, we can bridge the gap by ensuring a more equitable, more just and fairer society.
If we build a society in which one section is more likely to be poorer than the other, where some are likely to go to school than others, we are likely to see more of extremism.
That is the society we have built in the last fifty years.
And we are now in a race against time to reverse it through Devolution.
Is there anybody here from Northern Kenya, or Kilifi, Kwale or Turkana? As you travel to Nairobi do you sense the difference between the regions? Do you ask yourselves why? Do you sometimes wish not to go back to your rural home because it is a deprived place?
Well, your generation did not create the divided and unequal Kenya. But you can use your education to change and not perpetuate it. That is Living Accordingly.
Many a times, unfortunately, we have used our privilege of education to justify the inequality and marginalization.
By Living Accordingly, young people can keep bad things from happening to our country.
You can force a rethink. The youth in the US have done it three times. American students like you caused a rethink of the slavery and discrimination laws through civil rights movement.They stood up against the war in Vietnam. In 2008; they forced the election of the first ever black President in the Western Hemisphere.
There has never been a shortage of such young people in this country. I often talk to you about the Young Turks who took it upon themselves to reclaim the country from a solid dictatorship.
It was a solid dictatorship. Back then, solitary confinement meant just that. Nothing like today when WhatSapp and tweets can show people you are alive in jail and even where you are being held.
NgugiwaThiongo wrote books on toilet paper in detention.
Some victims lost limbs by standing in water clogged cells for years.
Which should remind us of the words of President Franklin Roosevelt:
“Those who have long enjoyed such privileges as we enjoy forget in time that men have died to win them.”
Our nation is much better today because some people decided to wage selfless battles.
We are where we are because some of our citizens pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their dignity. They lived accordingly. It is a life still worth living.
Our country still needs people who are prepared to Live Accordingly.
Those people have to be you.
Thank you for listening.
AND LIVE ACCORDINGLY:
LECTURE BY RT. HON RAILA ODINGA AT STRATHMORE UNIVERSITY
SEPTEMBER 2, 2015.