Individuals in society, as they grow in their respective environments, in an endeavor to fulfill their needs, encounter many challenges: environmental, social, economic, political and cultural. In everyday life therefore, they have to participate voluntarily or otherwise to overcome them, otherwise they are bound to remain in the same state or dwindle even further. As such, there is need for individuals to participate actively in the development of their communities, their nations and the world as a whole with a special reference to social, economic and political awareness. Kenyans are not facing any different situations.
For example, in the education sector, progress towards attaining universal primary education, which was initiated by the incumbent government in 2003, has had the effect of increasing the enrolment by two million children. Recent enrolment gains have benefited the girls, resulting in near gender parity. Despite these gains, regional inequalities are pronounced, particularly in the enrolment of girls in the arid and semi-arid regions (Child, 2006). This initiative has had positive impact whereby the economic ability of the parents is not an excuse for failure to access basic education for their children.
As the government endeavors to make this a reality, glaring issues should not be ignored. For example, the student-teacher ratio has increased, hence hampering delivery of quality education. There is dire need therefore to employ more teachers. Resources in the schools; such as text books, laboratory materials, computers among others are limited. What lingers in the minds of many is whether the introduction of free primary education was timely. Were economic issues such as the ability of the government to meet its obligation considered?
If yes, would the education budgetary allocation cripple other pillar sectors of the economy such as Roads and Transport or Agriculture? May be the government would have to resort to external funding to finance its budget deficit, but with what implications? My own experience is that, the growing numbers of students in the public schools have been unmanageable with the available resources being stretched to the limit. Mature students have joined primary schools causing social tensions within the school environment. Since adult education programme is in place, such students would have been encouraged to enroll in that programme.
It is possible that this was a political move to show the whole world how our government is ‘committed’ to providing education to all. Cultural issues have been a major impediment to provision of education to all. Some communities in Kenya do not encourage girls to take up education opportunities. Or even if they do, women are to play a specific role in society: to do household chores, bring up the children and take care of their spouses. It is no wonder, therefore, that early marriages are still rampant in certain communities. Some young girls fail to complete primary or secondary education because of early pregnancies.
With such situations, realizing development is almost futile. The question is whether the government or the communities themselves have been or are committed. If yes, to what extent, and if no, then why and what are the implications? A case in point is in my home village, among the Giriama tribe in Kilifi District, Coast Province. Early pregnancies and marriages for the girls are rampant with little being done to the culprits. Those responsible for these ills in most cases are male adults, who are of sound mind. Hence, the noble effort of free primary education is not appreciated.
In my opinion, the effort of the government and the local leaders in designing and implementing educational programmes for the citizens should involve the whole community. The adults could act as good examples, but they have to be sensitized on the importance of education to all. If the adults embrace change, and they actively participate in implementing it, less or no young girls will fall victim to these unfortunate circumstances. Social development in Kenya has also been hampered by diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis. The current rate of infection for HIV/AIDS is 6.
1% of the adult population down from a prevalence rate of 16% in urban areas and 8% in rural areas in the late 1990’s. This is an encouraging situation with support from the government and its agencies, such as the national Aids Control Council and STDs Control Programme (NASCOP). (Child, 2006). What should not be ignored is about the victims themselves. How does the society engage them in economic, social and political growth of the country? There have been reported cases of stigma at the work place, in schools, religious circles and political arenas.
With the availability of Antiretroviral drug therapy, infected individuals can almost live their full lives. It is therefore important for individuals to know their HIV status and be proactive in prevention of its spread. In Sub- Saharan Africa, Kenya has been placed 15th out of the 48 countries on good governance and economic management with an overall index of 59. 3. This index was pegged on the five pillars of good governance: safety and security, rule of law transparency and corruption, participation and human rights, sustainable economic opportunity and human development.
(Otieno, 2001). This could be true; however, the index used the 2005 data as the baseline hence it is subject to a variety of opinions presently. As much as we would like to appreciate this growth, the ordinary citizen is still facing enormous challenges. 60% of the Kenyan population is still surviving on less than 2 dollars per day. The Kenyan government has defined the poverty line as 17 dollars per month in the rural areas and 36 dollars in the urban areas. The country lacks robust food production and is vulnerable to unstable rain patterns.
(Child, 2006). With these statistics, the country cannot boast of excellent economic growth. It is not surprising therefore that the government’s domestic debt is growing twice as fast this year to seek more funds to finance social expenditure. At the community level, joblessness is still on the rise. As restructuring of government and private entities increases, more Kenyans are retrenched, rendering most of them poorer than they were before. Change is inevitable as companies struggle to stay afloat in the market.
However, alternative sources of income have to be provided or sought by the individuals themselves. For example, the government, through the Ministry of Local Government, has initiated the Rural Poverty Reduction and Local Government Support Programme (RPRLGSP) in providing clean drinking water, construction of schools, modern slaughter houses, solid waste management and rehabilitation (Ongwae, 2007). Some of these projects at the community level have provided a way of livelihood to the people. Citizens should not wait for government initiatives to participate in development.
However, they need to be critically aware of the resources available within their environments and how to utilize them for their benefit. For example, instead of retired civil servants depending on their children for financial support, they can come together, identify joint projects and may access loans from financial institutions to start them off. Political structures on the other hand are a cornerstone to social and economic growth. Since independence in 1963, Kenya has had three heads of state. Political turbulences have been evident as the country struggles to embrace democracy.
The state has witnessed a transition from a one party to a multi party system of government. Government officials have been associated with grand scale corruption malpractices taking the country to economic oblivion. A good example is the Anglo Leasing Scandal, where it was claimed that billions of shillings were paid to dubious companies within and abroad. The perpetrators of this vice have not been brought to book to date. It has been assumed that the law makers always enact laws to protect themselves.
A bill was passed in parliament recently to stop the Kenya Anti –Corruption Authority from investigating and prosecuting the individuals with pending corruption cases before 2003, when the current government came into force. Evidently, the members of parliament may be protecting themselves. This therefore is a big challenge to the electorate as campaigns for elections due in December this year are in top gear. Politicians are shifting political alliances by the day and forming new ones. The current government was formed under a coalition of parties.
As politicians are criss-crossing the country to secure civic and parliamentary seats, many more parties are finding common grounds to merge. This could be seen as a practice of demonstrating their democratic rights, though many questions linger about the seriousness of these individuals. Hence, should the electorate vote for the individuals by virtue of their political parties or the individuals’ ability to initiate development agendas? What of the politicians who give hand outs during campaign time? Do they realize that the citizens have problems only during the election year?
Many promises have been made before by the same or other aspiring candidates. The performance of most of them has been dismal or at all. When they pass bills to reward themselves handsomely in salaries and allowances, who stands to benefit, them or the citizens? Is the economy stable enough to accommodate such hefty wage bill? The Kenyan politician in essence, has been known to be selfish to a larger extent. The electorate has to come to terms with this and cast a vote for a ‘new’ politician who is likely to initiate social, economic and political change.
The citizen has to be critical in this political process and participate in the voting process wisely come the December elections. It is clear from this discussion therefore, that it is the citizen who has to participate actively to initiate social, economic and political change. This has to be done with a critical analysis of all the forces in place. It could take time, development could be gradual, but finally, every citizen will take responsibility for their actions and become agents of change for a better future for the generations to come.
References: CHILD, K. (2006) The OneWorld Kenya Guide [Online] http://uk. oneworld. net/guides/Kenya/development? gclid=CIHot73j3o4CFRtAgQodkThZPQ [accessed on 18. 09. 07] ONGWAE, E. (2007) Initiative helps improve standards of life. Daily Nation 26 September 2007: p. 35 OTIENO, J. (2007) Kenya in League of 20 states, Daily Nation. [Online]. 26 September 2007. Available from: http://www. nationmedia. com/dailynation/printpage. asp? newsid=107244. [Accessed 29 September 2007] Isaac Oyugi Samwel.