Monday, September 27, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

September 23, 2010

The other day I was in Nanyuki discussing the impact of child mortality in our society. As I embarked on my presentation, it dawned on me that some parts of our country may be doing worse than losing our children to diseases we can easily prevent. They are actually not producing children at all because women are not getting pregnant!

I must plead my ignorance that before I got involved in UNICEF Child Survival campaign, I never knew that this country loses more children per day than it produces. And when you add to this tragedy, the news that some parts of Kenya have stopped producing children can really be disturbing.

In sensitizing journalists in Central Kenya to understand the urgency of educating our communities in prevention methods being applied by UNICEF’s Child Survival Campaign, my colleague Philip Ochieng brought another angle to the whole debate. He set us think about the meaning of the word development in broader terms than we probably have done for donkey years.

Let us face it. When a whole region in Kenya fails to produce children, it is not a laughing matter, more so when the problem is attributed to excessive consumption of illicit alcohol. However , the fact is, the bottom line is abject poverty that breeds frustration that in turn leads to high consumption of dangerous brews as a way of drowning the sorrows of these villagers. When life loses meaning, the tendency to resort to drugs and alcohol are very much on the horizon.

Based on the above; where is our priority as a nation if we want to achieve a measure of national development and prosperityin the next 20 years as envisaged in our Vision 2030 Development Plan?

Where will we get a young and energetic generation when we have stopped producing children due to poverty induced alcoholism?

When our children can still die of malaria, pneumonia, diarrhea, malnutrition or sheer lack of food on a daily basis, can we claim to be on the path to development? When 4 million of our children are at home because they cannot go to school; when thousands of our children are turned into domestic slaves when they should be in school; when millions more are learning under trees as they sit on stones day in day out without clean water and electricity in the 21st century, we have reason to search our souls and ask aloud where the rain started beating us.

As we think of super highways, let us think of those poor mothers that die every day in our villages as they try to deliver their babies. Let us think of the difficult circumstances they face every day when basic transport facilities are not available to rush them to the nearest dispensary at their hour of need. Let us remember that as we lament the lack of pregnancies and child births in parts of Central Province, many innocent infants are lost at birth or before they celebrate their fifth birthday in Nyanza, Rift Valley, Western Province and other parts of Kenya. These are the little things that matter in a developed society.

Our narrow interpretation of the word development in the past has hampered our discussion in more ways than one. We always equate development to tall buildings in our cities, highways, street lights, permanent buildings in our villages or even hospital and classroom buildings in our communities. We are more concerned with what impresses us from the outside than what values there are in those enclosures or monuments of “progress.”

We hardly stop to think that development is a holistic concept that embraces more than concrete blocks of flats or super highways like our upcoming Thika Super Highway. We never think that the level of education, literacy or the amount of information available to our citizens can be classified as development.

Who amongst us ever stops to think that if we had properly constituted governance structures like Parliament, the Judiciary, Watchdog bodies, and effective civil societies, respected and credible human rights organizations, we would be considered a developed society? Do our MPs stop to think that if they passed good laws and obeyed the same laws, they would substantially contribute to our national development? Do our judges and magistrates ever stop to think that if they were efficient enough to dispense will cases that come before them without procrastinating, they would be contributing to our national well being as a nation and there considered developed?

In most developed societies, rights of individuals and communities are taken seriously. They are protected in the constitution and law enforcers ensure that vulnerable groups such as children and women are not violated. In the USA, any child under the age of 13 cannot be left alone in the house. If social workers get wind of it, the parents are punished severely. In the same America, having carnal knowledge of a minor below the age of 18 can earn someone a prison term of up between four and forty years without the option of a fine. In other words, having sex with a 16 to 17 year old person is punishable in law; never mind that both were consenting. The law bars PROHIBITS minors from enjoying their consensual rights even if they both wanted to.

In a developed society, the law is an ass and justice is blind. It does not distinguish between the mighty and the powerful. The law is the law whether one is poor or rich. That is why celebrities, industry barons and politicians can be jailed for up to 90 years or more in the United States. This equality before the law builds confidence among the populace in their judicial system. Society is considered developed and civilized if the rule of law works.

In most developed societies, there is a social contract between governors and the governed. If the rulers are given the mandate to govern, they in turn must deliver basic social services to the electorate. Social services such as healthcare facilities, clean and piped water, electricity, garbage collection, good roads and highways, planned cities, adequate and hygienic shelter, working transport system and security of every citizen are the reason citizens pay taxes. Ensuring that every child goes to school and provided with a safe environment and adequate learning facilities are part of the social services in a developed society.

There is no way a country can claim to be developed when it cannot feed its own people or even provide security of its citizens from external aggression because that is the responsibility of a responsible and developed state.

In civilized societies, environmental issues are never taken for granted. Much as there is high level industrialization, the way industrial pollution is managed is an indicator of the level of development. It shows that governors are concerned about the health and well being of their citizens.

When one looks at all these indicators of development, it dawns on us that indeed we are still far away from being a developed country.

Can we achieve even 50% of these yardsticks in 2030? Only time will tell.