By Raila Odinga
The New Year bell chimes and 2010 is here. It is my pleasure to wish all Kenyans and our friends far and wide a happy new year. But New Year wishes must not simply be words that we utter without thinking. If we are to make this year a truly happy one for our nation, we must all face the stark reality of hard work ahead.
This is the season when we say, ‘Out with the old and in with the new’. Perhaps never before has this sentiment held such powerful meaning for Kenyans.
The beginning of 2010 finds us in the throes of trying to establish a new Constitution, the bedrock of our nation’s future. Our old Constitution is no longer adequate for the modern world. Our new one must meet the demands of that world, including ending discrimination and ensuring a new approach to transparency.
Whatever happens this year, our Constitution-making efforts must not bow to narrow partisan interests that seek to keep our nation shrouded in the dark age of our continent. Light is beginning to be seen all over, as Africa emerges from a long repressive era of dictatorship. We do not want to risk anything that will take us back to that.
We have seen how difficult 2009 has been. Our national spirit has limped along through hunger, drought and the economic downturn. Although the government unveiled a number of reform programmes, reactionary forces that dog our footsteps every inch of the way still seek to hamper really tangible progress.
This is the year when we as Kenyans must say, Enough is enough. We will not allow ourselves to be held to ransom by political agendas that have nothing to do with our real lives. From Rift Valley to Coast, North Eastern to Ukambani, suffering people have no time for games. We must make progress.
To my mind, our short-term goals must be the adoption of a new Constitution, getting to grips with the food security situation and – with the support of our development partners, to whom we express our grateful thanks – developing anti-recession and anti-poverty programmes. The twin scourges of corruption and impunity remain continuous challenges that are regrettably likely to be with us for some time to come. But we shall never give up in our fight to contain and eliminate them.
We should not allow anyone to plunder our sense of brotherhood, to incite our fellows to rise against each other, to slaughter each other like dogs, to rape and torture and maim, and then again to hide behind shallow, self-interested excuses.
Wherever these terrible acts have occurred, and whoever was behind them, Kenyans must be allowed to apply to their wounds the healing salve of justice. The government has made a commitment to support the ICC process, which the majority of our nation also overwhelmingly believes is the surest way to address this issue.
Beyond these matters, our future, as I see it, will depend very largely on how we tackle reform in three main areas – education, health and the environment.
Let me begin with the environment, for without an environment that fosters life and growth, we are nothing. We shall remain hungry. We shall be waterless. We shall not be able to facilitate development. We shall be in danger of extinction as a people – for who but a few can survive in a treeless and parched landscape that is hostile to human life?
That might sound over-dramatic. Believe me, it is not. Our destruction of the environment that has nurtured our people for millennia is a thoughtless, blockheaded rush to self-destruction. We are like so many Gadarene swine, tossing ourselves with dimwitted abandon off the edge of a cliff, careless of the certain death that approaches.
There is a clear link between our collective failure to conserve our environment and our hunger, between the destruction of our forests and the failure year after recent year of our rains. We must turn this round before it is too late. It is no secret that the need for water-catchment areas is basic science, reflected even in the conserving wisdom of our ancestors. It is a sad reflection on us that those wise men of old acquired knowledge through experience, and acted on that knowledge to ensure the perpetual greening of our land – in a way that we have totally failed to do.
There is ample evidence that depletion of our forest cover and the related changing world climatic conditions are the main causes of the drought that has killed our livestock, left our people hungry and thirsty, and caused power rationing. This is a clear and present danger. We can no longer allow anyone to plunder our green lands and hide behind shallow, self-interested excuses.
The other two issues, education and health, pose serious challenges that we have no option but to meet if we are to thrive and develop. These sectors will play a huge role in shaping the future of our nation.
In education, we are currently hobbling along like a lame person, unable to make significant changes and progress, unable to keep up with others because of our disability. We have enormous problems of appropriate training and lack of employment. Yet we are investing next to nothing in the science and technology that could give that lame man, our nation, a new leg and the wherewithal to move from limping to skipping. Besides other educational changes, we need a complete revamp of the Science and Technology Ministry to lift our nation from the dust of despair.
The health sector suffers similar problems. Our facilities are old and battered and hopelessly inadequate to heal and mend the sick among our nation of some 40 million people. Modernisation is the key that will open the door of access to better health, and enable us to meet our millennium development goals.
We must have a sense of purpose in all we do if we are to rise to these challenges. If our sense of purpose is only to impose our personal political agenda, we have lost our way. We need to search for the path back to the appropriate transformation of our society into one that truly observes the timeless principles of People First; Human Decency, Honesty and Justice. Only through these will come the prosperity we all seek.
I look forward to a year in which we in Kenya, together with countries all around the world, support each other to promote peace, stability and prosperity, so that a peaceful, beautiful life does not remain a bitter, elusive dream for the majority.
We live in serious times and mine is a serious message. I hope we can all dig deep within ourselves, consult our consciences, ask what we can do to help our nation overcome and survive its present troubling challenges, and act accordingly.
With all my heart, as this new year dawns, I wish you happiness, peace and health. My commitment to ensuring these basic rights for all – real lives, real reform and a real future – forever remains unchanged.
RAILA A. ODINGA
PRIME MINISTER REPUBLIC OF KENYA