When President Mwai Kibaki first campaigned on a NARC ticket in 2002, the party manifesto promised to deliver free primary education to all Kenyans if he was elected.
It was a feel-good time and Kenyans – even though they were highly skeptical about its affordability – remained optimistic about such a great prospect. We were finally making laudable steps towards development; worthy of entering the Guinness book of World Records.
In fact, this promise made worldwide news following a media interview where former US President Bill Clinton talked of shaking the President’s hand. Locally, the late Kimani Maruge became the poster boy for what FPE embodied, and even toured New York on that ticket.
What some people may not know is that the struggle to achieve this goal has been in place since the general elections in 1963. The ruling party then KANU, had published a manifesto committing to provide a minimum of seven years of free primary education and made tangible efforts towards the same during the Moi era.
In short, FPE has been a dream long in waiting and thankfully with donor support, it finally took shape. Having said that and knowing very well the character of our people, I am of the opinion that Ministry of Education should have done better in monitoring utilisation of those funds.
Noble dreams and goals, especially those that impact social and national development, should be nurtured and guarded carefully to ensure they come to fruition as envisioned.
However, I will not focus on our failures at this time. I want to express gratitude that DfID has seen it fit, not to withhold funds any further and will instead disburse them through alternative channels. Congratulations for keeping sight of the goal.
Some may argue that we are a sovereign nation and we should be able to cater for all our needs by efficiently utilising all our existing resources. But from where I stand, we need all the assistance we can get, if we are to move an inch closer to achieving universal primary education by 2015 (MDG 2).
What I must echo to our partners is the concern by a majority of Kenyans that our NGOs are also not all above board. Some people have been known to use NGOs as mechanisms for profiteering at the expense of the communities they purport to serve.
There have been public suggestions to keep away from the NGO sector altogether and instead consider partnering with other UN bodies such as UNESCO to disburse the funds. Others have suggested the establishment of private sector foundations to ensure greater accountability.
We acknowledge that it is not our place to dictate how you disburse the FPE funds. All we ask is that you continue to do so through whichever means and that you encourage other partners to do the same.
However, we trust that you will give due consideration to the concerns of Kenyans.
First, that you will use locally credible organisations, which have a national reach so that no community is adversely affected. In line with this is our quest for financial accountability and transparency such that any concerned Kenyan can monitor the use of these funds.
Secondly, we hope that you will stipulate that the majority of these funds are channeled directly to the needs of pupils rather than meeting overhead costs (read administrative and technical assistance).
In the meantime, Kenyans are watching and waiting patiently for swift justice to be meted out on those who misappropriated FPE funds.
In conclusion, I will re-sound a famous African Proverb that ‘it takes a village to raise a child’. If we are to actualise the dreams of our forefathers, we must work in partnership as a true global village to achieve “Universal Free Primary Education.”