There’s an argument about whether or not the decade ended in 2019 or will do this year. My view is we have started the next one. I also think we have a moment.
In August 2010, a Kenyan super-majority voted in, and approved, a fresh new devolution-driven and rights-based Constitution underpinned by an inspired leadership and integrity charter that presupposed a radical redesign of government.
The idea was simple. Justice as fairness. Development as progress. To juxtapose Henrik Ibsen and Will Smith, the “Enemy of the People” and the “Enemy of the State” were one and the same. We were no longer supposed to be mediocre, or average. ‘Katiba’ (Kiswahili for the Constitution) was supposed to transform Kenya for the end of time.
The media might incessantly obsess over devolution’s Article 6 and Chapter 11, but Article 43 was the Constitution’s highlight. Think about the right to the highest attainable standard of health, including the right to health care services and reproductive health care; to accessible and adequate housing; to reasonable standards of sanitation; to be free from hunger, to have adequate food of acceptable quality; to clean and safe water; to social security; and to education.
That’s what families are thinking about. But families worry about the serial incompetence of a Jubilee Administration that can’t deliver on the 2010 constitutional promise. Or potential thinking on income opportunities and Hernando de Soto-suggested ideas on access to assets. Ten years later, what’s changed for Kenyans?
Singer King Kaka has suggested that the trouble with Kenya is we love to be average, and we’re happy with mediocrity. It’s all quantity, not quality. Yes, there’s great innovation but there’s also bad governance.
Current debate on the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination results reflects our poor appreciation of the difference between “life skills” (values, virtues) and “skills for life” (the future of work). Previous talk on water and sanitation “dams” point to a tender-driven culture driven by “high officials”. “Watsan” speaks to two issues — clean (water) and dirty (sewerage). But it’s all quantity, not quality.
A healthcare system that’s about “tenderpreneur-ed” equipment, not people and skills, represents national embarrassment. Health should be about two things – lifestyle and living conditions. Quality, not quantity.
Then families during Christmas wondered what “food security” means. As friends suggest to me, “it’s the family unit” that’s at Kenya’s core. As we enter a new decade, what does that mean, beyond GDP, “macro-babble” and debt-driven fiscal deficits? Where’s the jobs agenda for our children, or the social support for our folks? How do we escape this “average mediocrity”? Why do we refuse to implement the Constitution? Why are we average?
Why aren’t we discussing the major world issues? In a Guardian piece the other day, Nobel Economics Laureate Joseph Stiglitz spoke to three: climate change; inequality and democracy. We’re nowhere close to this debate because we disrespect rain and floods, wallow in economic indifference and refute the concept of electoral justice.
Instead, one suspects that Kenya is in a terribly impatient, probably revolutionary, moment. It begins with an incompetent government that resists reform. It might include a predatory private sector that’s more corporate than business. It may contain an exploratory fourth sector that revolutionalises private for public work.
But Kenya is also about simpler basics. A balance between hard and soft capital. The hard being finance et al, although we don’t eat roads. The soft represented by social connections, like family, and community. But why are we average and mediocre? Let’s have this family discussion. As the prelude to a national leadership discourse.
It’s an unhappy New Year mood. And it’s average and mediocre.