What you need to know:
- Neither the politicians nor their advisers are dealing with the real issues being felt by the people.
- When will Kenyans enjoy truly world class services that they can afford and are willing to pay for?
The campaign season is prematurely upon us. The public will be buried under a mountain of fake promises and corruption deals packaged as “policy proposals”. So what will be different this time around? Why should we care? But let me tell this the right way.
In the highlands where I grew up, there wasn’t much malaria. Older people would often complain of it, but then “malaria”, like “cold”, could be almost any illness under the sun. Older people will have travelled to the lower reaches of our district which are warmer and, therefore, more conducive to mosquitoes. I have heard of highland malaria, but I can’t remember seeing or being bitten by a mosquito as a child.
So the older folks, more widely travelled, had the parasite in their bodies, but they couldn’t spread it because there was no vector. I moved to a mosquito paradise at the age of 14. Siakago, in Mbeere sub-county of Embu County, is warm and semi-arid. The mosquitos here are the most advanced in the world, I suppose, because this is their place; a wonderful place to raise a mosquito family.
I fell ill almost immediately. Fortunately, the healthcare system had a working, if rudimentary, system of dealing with malaria since it was so common. The diagnosis was reasonably accurate given that malaria was perhaps the most common illness and the symptoms simple and straightforward. And the treatment was also basic but effective: some chloroquine and painkiller. When this was first prescribed, I couldn’t handle it. So the nurse advised me to put the pill in the middle of a piece of ripe banana and swallow the lot.
For the next eight years I suffered malaria symptoms, initially with a frightening regularity and severity. As a matter of fact, in Form One I suffered from malaria every term. Everything became routine and predictable: I’d have loss of appetite, joint pains, headache and fever. Then the medication followed and I’d get well. Then it became less regular and finally stopped completely. I have not had malaria in 30 years.
In fairness, I haven’t been back to Siakago either but it is safe to assume that I developed immunity against the disease, my immune system found a way to kill plasmodium, thank God.
But tens of millions of people in Africa, especially children, do not have that immunity. In 2019, some 409,000 Africans died of malaria, 260,000 of them children. Malaria is a very serious problem for our continent and our country. One would expect that these politicians in their colourful party clothes who are dancing in campaign meetings would identify the real problems and propose serious policies to address them.
But neither the politicians, typically glib drama queens, nor their advisers, often arrogant, Mr Know-All advisers, brilliant in their day but now faded and incapable of learning and tackling emergent problems, are dealing with the real issues being felt by the people.
When a politician who is a magic billionaire (people in or around government who are filthy rich even though they have never put in a day’s work and can’t explain how they came by their fortune) talks about “our problems as Kenyans” is akin to me, or anyone from my generation, talking about “our problems as boda boda people”. We don’t know, we can only engage our imagination and cobble up some populist pap.
A 70-year-old politician standing in front of an adoring crowd and speaking with passion and eloquence about the problems faced by the youth is most likely out with the fairies. He has been transported to magical lands and put in a wondrous dream state.
This time, politicians and their parties must ensure that their manifestos are not exclusively written by magic millionaires or their peacock advisers; let the have the opinions of the Kenyans who live the problems they claim they want to solve rule. If you want to address the problems of land, let the perspective of the squatter be heard and not just that of your European-educated “expert” who in every respect is alien to ordinary people and their pains. Who told you the squatter wants land?
And we should ask fundamental, if painful, questions: Is this really our country or does it belong to those who profit from it? And how do we reclaim it and its politics so that the quest for public office stops being a crass pursuit for corrupt riches? How do we restore patriotism and ideology to public life?
How do we make the government work for the people, as opposed to working for a circle of clever double-speakers who make fortunes through theft and corruption? When will Kenyans enjoy truly world class services that they can afford and are willing to pay for — safety, right to own property, hospitals that work and are not exploitative, world class schools, good and safe public safety, clean spaces, an affordable life, good housing, clean water, an affordable house to call their own?
We became independent 58 years ago but malaria is still scything through the population as it did back then. We need to put government to the use for which it is intended — not to enrich a few but to make life better for the people.