On the way to Kisumu today I was overwhelmed by the hopelessness of many people’s situations out in ‘the rurals’. I’m not usually prone to bouts of pessimism, but this morning it seemed like rural Kenya was presenting its most pitiful face as I sped past in a car. I’m sure there were more children carrying sticks or tending to livestock and obviously not going to school than I’ve seen for a while. Even the children that were going to school were still carrying sticks and little containers of water – of all shapes and sizes. I wonder how Parent Teacher Associations in the west would start off the agenda item for ‘children bringing firewood to school’.
The landscape by the side of Lake Victoria looked barren and worn out. Here and there the odd oasis of green stood out in contrast to the dried up fields that had been optimistically ploughed, only to fall victim to the lack of rain. My driver, David, beeped the horn at every cyclist and pedestrian that strayed on to the main carriageway and was particularly scathing in his opinion of a group of five or six youths who were just sitting on the kerb.
“Idlers”, he said.
As a description it was hard to disagree with him, but I’m sure they wouldn’t be idlers if there were better things to do with their time. The world woke up to the power of unemployed and disaffected youth during the Arab spring. Youth unemployment is a major problem in Kenya and has the same potential for sudden and dramatic political and social upheaval.
As the journey went on, accompanied by the usual considerate driving, a dead dog in the middle of the road and clusters of cattle and sheep which had no road sense, I started to think about what it will really take to lift the lives of the people I drove past out of poverty. I’ve tried very hard to steer clear of politics in this blog, on the grounds that I’m a guest in Kenya and a citizen of Kenya’s ex colonial overseer but I do, occasionally, get very angry about the plight of the rural poor. Whether it was caused by colonisation, post independence politicking and corruption or a toxic cocktail of all the above, the fact remains that millions of people are living in houses that most children in the West would turn their noses up at as dens to play in. Their health is compromised by lack of basic infrastructure and health services and their futures are blighted by ignorance due to lack of education.
Our ‘Next Generation’ children have got a big job on their hands.