Even as Kenyans begin to get preoccupied with proceedings at the International Criminal Court and 2012 succession politics, it is imperative that we remain focused on what is important to us as a developing nation.
If you speak to the ordinary person, they are concerned about the escalating fuel and power costs which in turn affect the price of virtually all consumable goods. Simply put; life is tough and getting even tougher under these conditions.
I sense some sort of apathy to politics because the majority of people have discovered that, in accordance with the Pareto Principle aka the law of the vital few, most political decisions (80pc) only impact the lives of a few (20pc) positively. The majority of Kenyans continue to struggle to survive in the murky waters of meeting their basic needs.
I am of the opinion that as a country, we are at cross roads. We must choose between letting the status quo persist or redefine how to meet the challenges of the masses. This decision is not an easy one, but it is also one that is almost obvious unless we want to contend with uprisings similar to those we’ve been witnessing across the globe.
It is clear in my mind that a substantial part of our solution will come from becoming innovative. Traditionally, when we’ve thought of innovation, solutions such as the MPESA money transfer service come to mind. Innovation has been equated to solar powered mobile phones and laptops, use of alternative energy, and greening our environment to name but a few. However, such solutions are not only time consuming to derive, they are also labour and capital intensive.
Yes, we must continue on this quest. However, I would want us to cascade innovation even lower to meet the needs of those at the bottom of the pyramid. I would want us to advance solutions that are cheap and relatively easy to access. This is the only way that we’ll be able to alleviate the suffering of the masses.
Let me take you back to secondary school when you learned about refraction of light. Well, a Brazilian engineer discovered that if you fill a two-litre pet (recycled) bottle with water and place it in a hole of the roof of a house, this bottle of water has the capacity to bend the light waves and redirect them into the house, thereby serving as a 50 watt water light bulb.
This innovation is not only cheap because it doesn’t require the use of batteries or electricity but it can also be assembled by literally anyone with a recycled bottle and clean water. The only thing that might be of some cost is the two capfuls of bleach that must be put into the bottle of water to prevent the formation of micro-organisms.
For me, this idea is revolutionary because it can provide lighting in the slums during the day complemented by the use of solar lamps such as those produced by our CNN hero, Evans Wadongo, at night. Essentially, this solution would substantially cut down on power costs leaving our slum dwellers with more coins at their disposal… perhaps to buy more unga. It would also alleviate health conditions caused by the use of paraffin and cut down on medical costs.
If at all possible, these same slum dwellers could also put up a biogas digester to manufacture gas for cooking and heating purposes.
Whereas this idea is a little more capital intensive, I feel that it could easily be financed from contributions from the community or would-be beneficiaries. Alternatively, financing could easily be obtained from community development funds, donors, micro-finance institutions or our Sonkos if they so wished.
In this latter idea, the community would in addition to benefiting greatly from cheap power; they would also be conserving the environment. Instead of cutting down firewood for cooking, they would only need to buy two cows whose dung can be used to generate enough bio-gas over time to repay the cost of the bio-digester project. Imagine also the fire hazards that our city would have avoided every year.
In both these solutions, as a country we would be meeting some of the basic needs of those at the bottom of the pyramid at zero or close to zero cost. Furthermore, it would reduce our reliance on petrol and paraffin whose prices are beyond our control. If given enough attention, such projects could also generate income for the community thereby improving their source of livelihood.
I am sure there are many more practical solutions not mentioned here that would add substantial value to our lives and help meet our MDG objectives. Take for example the electricity poles produced from recycled polythene papers by a Kenyan company.
What I am trying to highlight here, is that innovation is key to our survival and it need not be complicated. The world’s greatest innovations are often taken for granted, until we customize them to meet our needs.
Perhaps what we need to be telling those seeking election into public office, is that we need more than their empty promises and de-humanising financial incentives. We need them to help us improve the quality of our livelihoods, beyond mere survival, by helping us to put into practice some of these innovative ideas.
In the words of a famous saying, we need them to teach us how to fish rather than promise us fish. I hope you agree with me that at times minor ideas and innovations can be used to transform the lives of a nation’s citizenry.