Last month I was invited by Multi-choice to attend the CNN awards in Johannesburg, something that got me quite excited. One because CNN was looking for a speaker on Social Media in East Africa, and gave me the chance to do it, Second because of the sessions we were to attend sounded exciting, with a great line up of African speakers such as Moeletsi Mbeki, (political analyst and economist) a brother to former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki; award winning Journalists and others who share my passion for Africa, Third, because its Johannesburg, a place that brings back good memories for me.
It was the sessions about Africa’s future that I enjoyed most. Most Significant for me was Mr. Mbeki’s presentation of what he aptly described as
Africa’s Leadership (yes crossed through). Because in many ways; Africa is in dire need of good leadership.
Allow me to digress, I know that Africa is not a country, and I’m among the first to angrily jolt if someone asks “How is Africa”. But, for once, I let my preconceptions rest, and allow those that more experienced in Africa’s matters talk of what they see as the Africa of tomorrow. We have similar challenges, most countries in Sub Saharan Africa at least, and that allows for easy grouping, hence: “The problem with Africa.”
I am not answering any questions. I don’t know the answers. I am questioning the systems. What happens when good leaders are elected into Parliament? They Change. It’s a historical fact, driven by money, power and greed.
So let’s not argue about it.
At one of the sessions hosted by Coca-cola, a lady who worked as a policy advisor at the UN for 9 years asked, “ How is my grandmother deep in a Zimbabwean village able to buy herself a bottle of Coca-cola yet she cannot buy a mosquito net”. In Kenyan currency, that would be the price of 5 plastic 500 ml bottles. 250 shillings is round about the cost of a mosquito net. It’s slightly higher if it is medicated.
Her question raised even more questions in my mind. Is it a question of a lack of priorities? Would we rather die from malaria or has Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy created a need that has become bigger in our priorities than basic necessities in malaria prone Africa? Or have African governments failed in guiding our basic priorities?
A few days ago I had lunch with a friend. The still water bottle was a Keringet blue one, a clear upgrade from the regular clear plastic one. He asked me about our water drinking culture. He asked, “is it that Kenyans have become more aware of clean drinking water?” we discussed that for a while, and he raised an important point- we’d rather drink bottled water, have a dispenser in our houses and offices, because we lost faith in the City Council water we pay for, and we settle for a different option, but not necessarily a solution.
When our roads are bad, we buy 4 by 4 cars. When electricity supply is on and off, we buy generators. We’re so good at finding alternatives, and have given up on demanding for our rights. The upside though, is that opportunities arise where the government fails, though half the time, these opportunities are exhausted by those that have the money and power to avert the situations. Many times, these are the same politicians.
The leaders have failed us, but as the voting population, someday, we’re going to have to raise our voices beyond the bottled water, beyond Generators, beyond alternatives. We’ve got a constitution that places a lot of power in the people. Let us learn how to make Kenya work for us, not the other way round. The biggest problem may be the leadership, but we, ordinary Africans also have a role to play.