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Why Kenyans are losing hope

By Julie Masiga | Published Tue, January 10th 2017 at 00:00, Updated January 9th 2017 at 21:16 GMT +3
Julie Masiga

NAIROBI: One month and five days. That’s how long doctors who work in the public health sector have been on strike.

As the industrial action continues to hit Kenyans where it hurts most, those yet unaffected by the broken healthcare system have kept up a steady commentary about the possible causes and the obvious effects. There has been talk that the contentious 2013 collective bargaining agreement is legally defective and therefore unenforceable.

And there is speculation that dark corporate forces have engineered the downfall of government healthcare; that they are waiting in the wings to swoop in and replace public health facilities with very expensive private ones; that medical insurance companies are salivating at the prospects of their premiums going through the roof as soon as Kenyans have no national health safety net to fall back on.

As far as speculation goes, and being very aware of the country we live in and the lengths a few connected individuals would go to fatten their wallets, this one might not be as farfetched as it sounds.

This is no country for poor men. It’s not so hard to imagine that even life itself can be sacrificed on the altar of Mammon. And it’s easy to lose hope.

It's easy to decide, even this early in the game, that come Election Day you will reserve your right to vote, rather than waste your ballot on leaders who really couldn’t care less.

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And to be clear, it doesn’t matter which side of the political divide you find yourself on.

Every time you raise your voice to defend Jubilee, CORD, Nasa or whatever, remember that five days before Christmas, while you were trying to figure out how to make ends meet, Members of Parliament added Sh5 billion to their ‘send-off’ package.

Every last senator and MP will partake of that farewell gift, whether they sit on the Government side or pledge their allegiance to the Opposition. Meanwhile, this Government cannot find a loose Sh8 billion to pay 5,000 doctors.

As I say, it is easy to lose hope even when hope is the only thing we have. Next week on Friday, Donald Trump will be sworn in as the 45th President of the United States of America, bookending eight glorious Obama years.

Glorious because despite the failings of the Obama administration, he campaigned on a hope platform and for two terms, kept the fire burning. The 2008 ‘Yes, we can!’ campaign slogan captured the imagination of the American people because it inspired hope.

They believed that anything and everything was possible, never mind Obama’s actual election promises. In 2012, he urged Americans to move ‘Forward’, to keep going in the pursuit of happiness.

By that time, many who voted for the man the first time were completely disillusioned. He had fallen short of their expectations; he knew it and they knew it. But he asked them to remain hopeful, and they did.

The 2016 Christmas edition of The Economist described the Obama presidency thus: “His presidency will be counted in speeches because its trials proved harder to overcome than the barriers he scaled to attain it. Often he spoke as no other president could, becoming, through his identity and eloquence, a receptacle for the hopes of Americans and of—and for—the world.”

If there is one thing President Obama has modelled for the world in his eight years in office, it is the audacity of hope. He has shown that it is not unreasonable to have expectations for a better future.

While he has been criticised for having a polarising effect on race relations at home, of being timid and ineffectual on the world stage and a whole host of things in between, in the end he will be remembered for being a living, breathing representation of the idea that all things are possible.

Yesterday, much of this country suffered a power blackout that lasted hours. Taps were dry in parts of the capital as the water rationing programme entered its second week. Public university staff threatened to go on strike.

Citizens grappled with post-holiday financial constraints in the face of tough economic times. Form Four leavers faced a possible audit of the most critical examination in their academic progression. Kenyans in every county continued to ail - and to die – as the doctor’s strike entered Day 36.

As I say, it is easy to lose hope, especially in the absence of leaders who inspire it. But we have to believe that somewhere in this great republic there is a man or woman who can give us a reason to endure this long dark tunnel in pursuit of the light.

And yet, with or without a messiah, all is not lost. To paraphrase Michelle Obama in her farewell speech, it is the fundamental belief in the power of hope that will allow us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear that we have faced in our own lives and the life of this country.

The hope that if we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us.