In our quest to becoming a nation, we cannot understate the importance of developing a common narrative, a story of who we are, where we have come from, and where we are headed. If you study success stories of unity in history, you will find that all united societies had a cherished narrative woven within their fabric, enmeshed in their way of life, and knitted into the ideologies advanced by their leaders.
Even today, when “globalism” is on the rise, we are united by the positive stories we tell about ourselves and our world. A survey by the World Economic Forum found that 70 per cent of young people are optimistic about their future. This in my view, is a good indication.
The enemy within
Nonetheless, we are living in interesting times. The rise of social media platforms has changed the rate at which news and information travel across the world. In fact, traditional media sources are being relegated to the sidelines as social media runs the show. Many of us now receive news first through social media, then later turn to traditional media sources to churn and dissect meaning.
Modern day humans now have unprecedented access to a lot of information. Prof Patrick Wolfe, Executive Director of the University College of London Big Data Institute confirmed this when he said; “the rate at which we are generating data is rapidly outpacing our ability to analyse it.”
Granted, this is an age where information is on overload, most of which most is irrelevant, negative and damaging. Sensational news, unchecked facts and staggering innuendos now sell more, and attract bigger public attention than well-researched information, opinion, and news with ‘technical boring stuff’.
Perhaps this is why negative narratives are much more contagious than positivity, rumours of war travel faster than the promise of peace, scandals spread faster than the common cold.
The result is that we are now living in a world full of negative headlines as both new media and traditional media compete for the attention of our people, especially the youth. With many distractions already demanding for this attention, it would seem that the only path to sustained relevance is to become more sensational, more scandalous, and more negative.
But as we become more sensational, more scandalous and more negative in a bid to capture the decreasing attention of the modern day human, are we instilling our collective consciousness with fear, a sense of insecurity, doom and hopelessness?
When our young people wake up every day to negative headlines, stories filled with consequential pessimism, and a collection of scandals on both new and traditional media, shall we fault them for throwing their hands up in despair?
Kenya as a success story
Ultimately, what kind of grand narrative are we building our society on? For the sake of our future, and for the generations that are coming after us, we need someone and a place to tell the good stories are yearning to be told. The stories of a resilient people, our continued growth, and our journey to a shared prosperity. The stories of how far we have come, the progress we have made, and the future we envision.
I recall the story of Joyce Nyawira, who during the official launch of the M-Pesa Academy in 2018, asked President Uhuru Kenyatta a question of grand importance; ‘By 2022, what do you think is going to be something that you’re going to say this is what Uhuru did and we will never forget?”.
The President replied ‘I hope many things, but two things in particular, one that I will have left a united, cohesive society, and two, that we shall have won the war on corruption’.
Joyce was a Form Three student at the time. She depicts the hope that our young people have in our nation, and our need for a positive meta narrative in which to centre our aspirations on.
Our nation is beaming with many other Joyce Nyawiras, who have a bright future and hope in their hearts. It is these young people whom we have a collective responsibility towards; to preserve the positive stories that have united us even in the face of adversity.
Ultimately, we all have a choice, every day we wake up in the morning, we can choose to be grateful for the gift of life, track our small wins and our big wins, hold our steadfast faith in our humanity and our hope in the future.
Or we can choose to focus on what seems to be going wrong, what seems broken, and to throw our hands up in despair.
Mr Mokamba comments on social issues