Wednesday, September 22, 2010



By Jerry Okungu

Nairobi, Kenya

September 22, 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.

I must plead my ignorance and own up 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 Central Kenya’s dimension where primary schools are closing down for lack of enrolment or maternity wards count themselves lucky if one child is born in a month, then you may be able to understand the magnitude of our problem.

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.

Our narrow interpretation of the word development 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 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 those 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 because a nation whose well being is sound is definitely 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, women and the disadvantaged minorities 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 can be in dire straits. In the same America, having carnal knowledge of a minor; and a minor means any person below the age of 18 can earn someone a prison term of up to four years; never mind that there was mutual consent between the two parties.

In other words, having sex with a 16 to 17 year old person is punishable in law; never mind that both were consenting. In other words, the law bars minors from enjoying their consensual rights even if they 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, top 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 come begging to be given the permission to govern, they pledge basic social services that they must deliver 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 50% of these yardsticks in 2030? Only time will tell.