By LUKOYE ATWOLI
Sunday Nation 23 August 2009
Last week, I spent some time with a poor family on the outskirts of Eldoret town in Kenya.
The first time I met the family they were the most politically opinionated group I had ever met.
They were optimistic that the 2007 General Election would bring real change to the country at last, and they would not hear of any argument running counter to their expectations.
They were ecstatic whenever they heard their candidate speak, and would switch off the television set or radio whenever they heard his opponent speak.
They would have done anything to ensure their candidate won and, indeed, they did do everything in their power to campaign for him. Suffice it to say that despite the war that broke out after the General Election, their candidate is today one of the principals in the grand coalition government.
The above family represents most Kenyan homesteads in the run-up to the last General Election. Only a minority managed to stay away from the euphoric mood preceding the most closely contested election in our independent history, and the subsequent events have affected all Kenyans.
Last week when I sat down with some members of this family, the mood was decidedly different. There was a sense of dejection that was informed by a perception of betrayal by “their” principal.
Reminded of their enthusiasm before the General Election, most of them just shrugged their shoulders.
They claimed that they had hoped for better things than they have experienced since the election. They had hoped for constitutional change, better infrastructure, improved governance and a sense of pride in being Kenyan.
Instead they had been rewarded with post-election violence, famine and hunger, political instability, water and electricity rationing and rising unemployment.
This disillusioned family is a microcosmic representation of the state of the Kenyan nation at this point in time. Disillusioned youth all over the country’s shopping centres are hankering after anyone peddling hope, but are instead coming away with more hopelessness and despondency.
People are vowing never to vote again, and even the chair of the Interim Independent Electoral Commission was recently heard lamenting about the apathy attending the forthcoming by-elections.
The rulers of the land are tottering from crisis to crisis, appearing singularly uncoordinated in their interventions, and promising special funds for one proposal after another.
As has been argued eloquently by others before me, the land is ripe for revolutionary change. Those of us that dismiss this talk of revolution are only expressing our comfort with the status quo and fear the unknown consequences of radical change.
One thing we learn from history is that change is inevitable, and those that stand in its way are often swept aside and replaced by those that prepare for it and ride it to a new dispensation.
The tragedy with unmanaged change is that it often develops a life of its own, and is prone to being hijacked by diverse forces with interests ranging from the truly altruistic to completely personal ones.
My visit with this family on the outskirts of Eldoret town left me convinced that unless something drastic happens, this country is headed into such a dark hole that it may not manage to emerge from it whole.
Urgent measures must be taken to start tackling the root causes of the huge gap between the rich and the poor. Long-term plans to tackle hunger and unemployment must be activated, and the results must begin to be felt sooner rather than later.
The recent frantic efforts by the two principals to deal with the famine in the country, though laudable, are in fact a continuation of old thinking and approaches.
Most of their actions betray a certain difficulty appreciating novel realities that demand new approaches in dealing with the challenges of the 21st century.
Continuing bickering over matters of national importance such as environmental conservation, health care and even taxation demonstrates a dangerous insularity on the part of our political class, and the consequences to national well-being are obvious to any observer.
Those that have coined the phrase “Round hii si mchezo” (This time it’s no joke) have no idea just how far the movement they are unleashing may be willing to go for real change in the country.
It is useful to remember that most of those that participated in the post-election violence were youth who felt they had no stake in the national economy and were, therefore, willing to destroy the very infrastructure that supports it.
Unless the coming revolution is harnessed and used to introduce a radically new order in this country, it will inevitably be hijacked by blood-thirsty brigands who will not hesitate to destroy whatever they can lay their hands on in the name of correcting “historical injustices”.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine