BY KILEMI MWIRIA
This year\’s Madaraka day celebrations reminded me of the pledge, Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya\’s first President, made to Kenyans in 1963, which was to spearhead the fight against poverty, ignorance and disease.
Fourty eight years after that promise, the most noticeable achievement has been in education. At independence, access to education for the African population was for select elite. Most were restricted to basic education with a substantial number of school goers being directed to vocational education for skilled work and trades.
Now, nearly all Kenyans of primary school age attend primary school and almost seventy per cent of them proceed to secondary school. Unlike in the sixties when an average of one youth per constituency joined university, most constituencies now send over two hundred of them to public and private universities each year.
Expansion has come with challenges; a decline in quality due to inadequate inputs, unequal access to quality education and educated unemployment.
Health care has also improved with a health facility in most administrative locations.
However treatment, especially for referral cases (cancer treatment, surgery, dialysis for the poor) and medical staff remain key challenges. Having been content with what was put in place by the colonial government almost fourty years into independence, much progress is being witnessed in the area of infrastructure development, especially roads.
Meanwhile, poor planning, insensitivity to the farmer\’s problems and population pressure, have limited significant growth in the country\’s main economic activity; agriculture. As a result, and with increasing youth unemployment, endemic poverty remains our biggest challenge. Compared to 1963, a higher percentage of Kenyans now live below the poverty line.
Unpredictable weather is not to blame for our poverty; the trouble is almost fourty years of misrule. Ironically, Jomo Kenyatta started the slide back to the very ills he declared to fight in 1963 by entrenching dictatorship and a culture where his top leadership was more about itself than the citizens.
That is why he had the courage to challenge nationalists like Bildad Kaggia to show what they had done (looted?) for themselves as individuals, when along with Jaramogi Odinga, they advocated for a more meaningful Uhuru for the majority of Kenyans. The Mau Mau nationalists who fought for political and economic liberation were brutalized and marginalized by successive African governments, in which some of those who collaborated with the colonizer have been prominent.
Many of those liberation heroes died poor while those alive are struggling for basic survival for themselves and family.
Over the years, Kenya\’s privileged political elite have survived by entrenching dictatorship, sycophancy and tribal divisions to fend off any challenge to their authority. The onset of multi party democracy in 1992 did not improve matters much because enemies of genuine change infiltrated multi party government.
The current constitution provides us with a second chance to make a more dramatic break with poverty, ignorance and disease; but only if we lock out, from the post 2012 leadership, elements that invest in the status quo. Otherwise, the more things will change the more they will remain the same!