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Reassessing the Roots of the Core Challenges Facing Kenya Today

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What is the core Kenyan challenge? Or rather, what is not the Kenyan challenge? In A Framework to Defeat Government Incompetence, I made the claim that Kenya is not likely to join the first world anytime soon. This, partially, is because we still lack the technical competence to take charge of and adequately address our problems. The technical incompetence, speculatively speaking, is a direct consequence of our education system that indoctrinates rather than enlightens.

Why is our society so utterly dysfunctional? In this essay, I want to pose and answer the reverse question: What doesn’t ail us? The objective is to get a clear view of reality on the matter.

The scapegoats
  1. Corruption 

For a long time, one of the most peddled explanations for Kenya’s distress is corruption. Listening to Kenyans blame the country’s wounds on corruption makes one think we have mastered theft and impunity. 

Reason for poor governance? Corruption. Mediocre healthcare? Corruption. Insecurity? Our officers are corrupt. So, what is this corruption that Kenyans blame everything on, one might ask?

Conceptually speaking, corruption is a form of theft, an inherent human trait. In Kenya, it takes the form of bribing a police officer to get on with your trip or paying an extra amount to get your passport faster. It could be politicians embezzling public resources in mega scandals like the Anglo Leasing and the NYS cases. Corruption is entrenched in Kenyan society, and the reason for that is still unclear.

For the Kenyan case, the prevalence of corruption must be a natural response to an unidentified sickness. If we establish that corruption is theft, we should naturally see that the vice is not unique to us. Since time immemorial, society has harboured thieves. As such, Kenyans’ claim that they’re in a poor societal state because of corruption is lazy, inadequate, and inaccurate. Corruption is a symptom of a more significant underlying issue, a people’s response to something that we’re yet to get to the bottom of.

2. Ethnic divisions

The lack of national unity is often attributed to ethnic division, another scapegoat for Kenya’s inability to care for herself. According to political leaders, praying for unity would address the Kenyan problem. Their hyperbolic assertions would lead a stranger to conclude that Kenyans are in a civil war – that Luos, Kalenjins, Maasai, Merus, Kikuyus, and Rendilles are still embroiled in endless and meaningless tribal wars. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

For all our diversity, we live in relative harmony. The cases for ethnic-based violence are low and further diminishing. In the 1950s, Kenya averaged multiple ethnic-based violence cases per year. Today, that number is significantly lower and has minimal impact on the functionality of Kenyan society. That our leaders keep selling unity as a solution to major problems suggests how divorced they are from a realistic grasp of the social dynamics of our era.

Poverty

The third reason for Kenya’s inability to thrive is poverty, another unsubstantiated claim. The consensus is that Kenya and Kenyans are poor. By that, they mean we lack the economic resources and model to sustain our needs. It could be true that Kenya lacks an efficient economic model under which to operate. However, like most African countries, Kenya has vast, untapped economic resources.

One of the main reasons Europeans were and are willing to risk everything to have a say in African affairs is because the continent harbours some of the most valuable economic resources. The DRC produces 60% of the world’s cobalt, a critical raw material in the lithium-ion batteries manufacturing industry. The continent has ample energy resources ranging from solar, wind, hydro, geothermal, oil, natural gas, and coal. Resources that, if fully tapped into, would drive down energy costs and significantly increase the region’s economic competitiveness.

Kenya is also home to some of the world’s most agriculturally productive lands. It is among the top exporters of tea and horticultural products. In essence, Kenyans are not economically poor; hence poverty is not the cardinal Kenyan problem.

Figuring it out

We’re not uniquely corrupt or tribal, and we have plenty of economic resources. So, what is holding us back? Could it be that there exists an underlying motivation to keep the country chaotic? Or are Kenyans still resisting the imperial project that is Kenya and expressing that resistance via theft? Any hope of identifying and addressing the primary problem hampering our young nation lies in knowing what is essential and what is miniature. Weeding out the noise from the substance and genuinely engaging these core questions. The way I see it, corruption, ethnic division, and economic stagnation are symptoms of an underlying issue to whose roots we need to get.

Take the education system, for example. In the sciences, mathematics, and engineering, in particular, there is a lack of meaningful academic research at Kenya’s institutions of higher learning. Productive academic research that leads the way in solving society’s problems is the ultimate culmination of an education system befitting the 21st Century. 

As such, we need to subject all our systems/institutions to constant critical scrutiny – making critical thinking a crucial skill for all learners.

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