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Getting back our self-respect: the time is NOW

Imagine a 44-year-old adult. Let’s say his name is K. K is a grown man, but an underachiever. He dropped out of school early, and does menial work for little pay. He watches his neighbours with envy: some have developed their own businesses; others get large pay-packets for performing highly skilled jobs. K has to get by working for the neighbours on low pay.

K’s life is subject to many vicissitudes. He is often hard hit by unemployment caused by events beyond his control, and is forced to go those same neighbours for occasional handouts. They usually oblige, but only after much lecturing and preaching. Some even go as far as to offer money only if K allows them to take charge of his life. He has to follow their instructions and account for every penny he takes from them.

As you would expect, K is an unhappy fellow. His wife and children have abandoned him because they don’t want to associate with a loser. He is often found in bars squandering other people’s money and complaining loudly about his life. He points out how he helped so many of his ‘friends’ when they were younger, only for them to dump him later. He talks incessantly about how his forefathers were rich and advanced people who fell victim to vicious exploiters. Then the alcohol runs out, and K shuffles around looking for more handouts, and receives more lectures.

If you knew K, would your advice to him not be obvious? Get a grip on your life, man! Stop thinking of yourself as useless, for a start. Acquire some real skills that allow you to get more out of life. Take responsibility for your own affairs, and stop depending on others. Forget about the past, real or imagined: it’s standing in the way of your future. Rely on your self and your own efforts – stop begging. You may suffer for a while, but eventually you will rise up on your own steam, and you will engage with your neighbours as an equal, not as a basket case.

It sounds obvious when personalised, but when you realise that ‘K’ is Kenya, and that his ‘friends and neighbours’ are the rich countries, it all gets hazier. K’s life is that of independent Kenya: underachieving; brainwashed to feel inferior; happy to depend on others – all the while complaining loudly and tediously.

I feel humiliated – do you? Why should a grown-up country have such little self-respect? Why should it run itself so badly that it is constantly in need of help? Why should it squander all its money instead of educating itself so that it can become something better? Why should it stand by and watch other nations raise their skill and productivity levels and their average incomes, while it remains stuck in a low-wage low-quality prison? Why should it be a lowly waiter at the ball, while others partake in the feast?

Why should it be home to every patronising partner and do-gooding NGO in the world? Why should it have to listen to lectures and strictures about reforming itself – instead of just doing it? Why should it stand to attention to foreign ideas, gurus and methodologies, instead of doing its own thinking for itself?

After we get humiliated, let us also get angry. Angry not at those patronise us, but at ourselves. All these people only line up to aid us, assist us, teach us and control us because we have made ourselves so pathetic. Let us not deny that we DO let our people starve every so often; that we DO allow our leaders to be the richest people in the land; that we DO mismanage our economies and our affairs; that we DO create a situation in which our youngest and brightest fall over themselves to leave the country; that we DO allow savage and barbaric militias to grow unchecked in our midst. After those admissions will come enlightenment.

Where is our dignity? This country is filled with thoughtful ideas, with brilliant people. Yet most of us stand by and watch the circus while the world laughs at the clowns on stage (and sends aid). We are all grown up as a country – we don’t need aid, we don’t need other people’s business models. Kenya, and Africa, must come to the party as an invitee, not as the driver of the taxi.

Listening to the great buzz of talent and determination that can be heard in the land these days, I have no doubt that it will happen. The only question is how soon; and how much longer we are willing to wait. There are world-class organisations emerging from within us. There are people sitting in our midst with the ideas to change the world.

But to make it happen, more of us need to feel the insult of our situation. I feel it – do you? I want it to end now – do you? I know what I’m doing about it – do you?

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