Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Obama era has finally caught up with us

Sunday Nation 07 August 2011

The past few days have been very illuminating for me. I watched in astonishment as an ambitious project to raise funds for hunger victims in the North raised Sh500 million in a few days.

I sent in my contribution in the early days, expecting the ever-procrastinating Kenyan to wait for the final days before sending in theirs. Alas, how wrong I was! Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans contributed generously, raising close to a Sh100 million within a week.

In Eldoret, where I live and work, residents also got together to raise funds under the banner “Eldoret Food for Turkana”. Within a few days of announcing our effort, residents had donated millions of shillings in cash and food.

Many others had volunteered their time and expertise to help alleviate the famine in parts of this country.

All this set me thinking. Instead of continually complaining about the state of our economy, infrastructure and, especially, our political system, the Kenyan citizen has the power to effect change without asking anyone for permission.

For instance, the “Kenyans for Kenya” drive demonstrated to our politicians the power of the citizenry, and within no time all those with political ambitions were talking about helping the hungry and ‘sustainable’ measures to prevent future catastrophes.

Others started making forays into the affected areas, and trying to show just how concerned they were about the fate of their fellow citizens.

Soon after denying knowledge of any Kenyans dying of hunger, the government mobilised the military to transport food to areas where people are starving. For once in our country, the citizen compelled the politicians to act positively.

These wildly successful fundraisers demonstrated the power of the ordinary Kenyan, and have direct bearing on the next General Election. It is conceivable that in raising funds for the 2012 election, at least some of the candidates will utilise a platform similar to the Kenyans for Kenya and Eldoret Food for Turkana initiatives.

Many are already engaging Kenyans on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, and it is obvious that they are learning more on these platforms than they are teaching.

We are obviously very late converts to this mode of citizen engagement, and it will be interesting to see all the relatively elderly candidates seeking out the expertise of geeky youths in fundraising and political organisation.

The tables will finally have turned in favour of our youth, giving them an opportunity to influence the direction our New Republic takes after the next General Election.

US President Barack Obama used this strategy to raise funds, and more importantly, to attract a traditionally apathetic youth constituency that practically guaranteed his victory.

With our largely youthful voting population, it is possible that the candidate who most identifies with this demographic will carry the day.

It behoves the youth to grab this opportunity and elect the leaders they believe will change the face of our country. It is not too early to start identifying, among the plethora of pretenders to the throne, the one who most represents the face of Kenya, and more specifically the face of Kenya’s de-ethnicised youth.

The Obama era of Facebook, Twitter and alternative media seems to have caught up with us at last; and in the most unlikely of times!

Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine


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