In December 2019, Rwanda hosted an event called The KUSI Ideas Festival – The Next 60 Years in Africa. Kusi is the southerly wind of the Indian Ocean which allowed travellers from Africa and beyond to journey north along the East African coast; the Festival was a platform for African leaders, great thinkers, doers and influencers to come together to reflect on Africa’s past and future.
It was inspiring to watch and listen to the conversations and debates that took place during this festival. It was enlightening to learn more about other countries and our fellow neighbours who like me, like us, call this beautiful continent Home. The discussions ranged from trade and technology to infrastructure and industry; integration and migration to health and the arts; agriculture and conservation to energy to innovation. Many of the conversations struck a chord with me. It felt particularly good to immerse myself in dreaming a new future of my continent and its people. To imagine a world where life was good for everyone, everywhere in Africa. And to believe it can (and will) be a reality- because we have everything we need to realise it.
A personal anecdote that really struck me, was that of the African Union Commission Chairman, H.E. Moussa Faki Mahamat, from Chad who grew up a shepherd boy and today holds the responsibility and position that he does. Born in 1960, I realised his story, was one of many millions of stories of Africa’s past 60 years. And what a story that must have been for him, for the continent. What a journey it has been from Africa in the 1960s to Africa in the 2020s. There’s still so much missing, still much that is wrong. But there is also so much good and so much progress that has taken place, and sometimes, all too often, I forget the good, the progress, the journey.
It got me thinking a lot about the past, and my parents’ lives, born in the 1930s and 1940s and now physically gone. Their lives journeyed from mud homes to stone houses, tiny homesteads to vibrant towns, firelight to electricity, fetching water from rivers to turning on taps, bare feet to socks and shoes, speaking one mother tongue to fluency in English and Kiswahili, and to reading and writing eloquently. I thought further back to my great grandparents' to my grandparents' journeys from the late 1800s to the 1980s and 1990s. How their lives transformed, how much change they saw and experienced, how they struggled and sought to thrive so their children could thrive. And then their children struggled and sought to thrive so that their children could thrive. And then, here I was, the next in line.
It is a long, long line that came before me to make my life today possible. It was a team relay of centuries and decades of descendant after descendant passing on the baton – passing on the best that they had done, to the next descendant to run with, who then, in turn, passed the best they could to the next, and so it went. Until it reached me.
Maya Angelou once said ‘I come as one, but I stand as ten thousand.’ I am standing here today, holding the baton for my parents, and all my ancestors that came before me. They are with me. Watching me, encouraging me to live well, to do right, to do well; because in time, it will be my turn to pass on the baton.
As I begin 2020 – and this new decade, I step into it understanding that I, too, come as one but I stand as ten thousand. I carry the hopes and dreams of my ancestors and the better world they hoped for, worked for, cared and dared to live for. It is my turn to hope and to strive for better; for the ones who will come after me. I must dream and act for a better Kenya, a better Africa, as my ancestors before me did; it is up to me to continue pursuing that dream and to pass it on.
My father once told me that every day he prayed for Kenya and her people, and for prosperity and peace for all Kenyans. In sadness, I realised it had never crossed my mind to do that. I think my parents always knew they were part of a relay team that was doing their part to build a better family, a better community, a better nation, a better continent for the next generation. It is time now for me to do the same. Because even though I may stand as one, I am here as ten thousand. The life journeys of those that came before me have led to me – and mine will lead to someone else’s. The journey is meant to continue towards a country, an Africa, a world that is always getting better from one relay team member to another.
I wish us all a great 2020!
And if you ever need it, as I do, remember that all those who came before are with you in your journey; you come as one but stand as ten thousand. We, today, are their life’s work and the keepers of their hopes and dreams.
Also read: The Invisible Change: Sometimes It Just Takes One Reason to Question Everything