There is no shortage of bad news in today’s Kenya. Newspaper headlines are drenched in the despair sweeping across the nation with greater intensity than the locusts. Some of these gloomy headlines speak to the scourge of mental illness in the country: students as young as 14 committing suicide due to bad exam results; women slain to death owing to love gone sour and entire generations of young men lost in alcoholism.
Last November, experts from the Ministry of Health revealed that one in four Kenyans suffers from depression or other forms of mental illness. Some of these people resort to deadly acts like murder of lovers or suicide. We must rise to the occasion and offer a helping hand to millions of fellow Kenyans sinking deeper into mental illness.
Chronic physical illness like cancer are also continuing to make headlines as more and more Kenyans lose their lives to the scourge. As if this situation isn’t bad enough, there is more bad news on the economic front. Although 843,900 jobs were created in 2019, there are still too many Kenyans without jobs. Even these new jobs created are unstable since they are predominantly in the informal private sector. Such jobs rarely have reliable pay slips of any sort. Further to this, their health insurance is practically non-existent. Currently, only 18 percent of Kenyans are insured through the National Hospital Insurance Fund. This leaves millions of Kenyans without any form of health insurance.
Even as disease munches away the health of a nation, fatal road accidents continue to break bodies and snatch promising lives. Although the year is still young, 73 Kenyans have already lost their lives through road accidents. But tragic as this is, it is a better statistic than the 2019 when 235 Kenyans had already lost their lives by early January. However, behind every statistic are grieving families and shattered lives. As such, one life lost on the roads is one too many.
The situation is similarly bleak on the agricultural front, where there are barely any happy farmers. Sadly, many of the problems in our farms are of our own making. For instance, despite the climatic and logistical challenges faced by maize farmers, Kenya loses one fifth of its maize yield through waste. This happens despite the fact that we are still a food insecure country. The 2019 Global Hunger Index revealed that Kenya suffers from a level of hunger that is serious. This situation is further exacerbated by increasing food prices that push basic foodstuff beyond the reach of millions. In late 2019, maize prices ranged from 14 to 41 per cent above average. The same applied to beans, whose prices ranged from 9 to 25 per cent above average.
All these critical national challenges are often swallowed up by the deafening political noise that continues to ricochet across the country. We must tune out this noise and refocus on our grave national challenges. Ironically, the locusts currently ravaging parts of Kenya can teach us a few lessons on the way forward.
In a single day, these locusts can destroy sufficient food for 2,500 people. Considering that the locusts can cover the distance between Nairobi and Nyeri in a single day, their destruction is mammoth. However, one locust cannot do much harm. But when the locusts converge together in a powerful swarm, they can conquer almost anything in their path.
We cannot overcome the food insecurity, health challenges and economic downturn in our national path if we remain divided. Even as we disagree on politics, we cannot afford to respond to our national challenges in divided fashion. This united approach towards solving our problems should be built on the words of Nelson Mandela that, ‘I dream of the realisation of the unity of Africa, whereby its leaders combine in their efforts to solve the problems of this continent.’
Our leaders, irrespective of their political persuasion, must unite in providing solutions for our serious food insecurity; our rampant underemployment; our mental and physical health crisis; our economic hardships and several other key national challenges. More importantly, Kenyans themselves must unify their efforts in tackling national challenges. It is particularly critical for young people to shake off the divisions of the past and face the future in a more united manner that will overcome any national challenge in their path. These can only happen when we think and act green!