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Fuel crisis aside, Kenya is a country of many shortages

A man carries petrol in a plastic container on Koinange Street, Nairobi at the height of the fuel crisis across the country.  [Wilberforce Okwiri

The recent biting fuel shortage in Kenya was a blot on the government’s reputation, highlighting the reason it should let the market do its work.

But this is unlikely to happen in an election year. It could happen after the polls, depending on who wins the presidential race.  Too focused on fuel shortage, we forgot there are other more serious shortages.  

One is the shortage of good public schools. In the middle of the fuel shortage, we got the list of the 10 most preferred secondary schools in the country.

Their average acceptance rate is 0.4 per cent. The acceptance rate for Harvard is five per cent.

Simply put, our best secondary schools are 12 times more competitive than one of the world’s top universities.

Some may suggest I am comparing apples and mangoes, but if you are a parent whose child sat for the Kenya Certificate for Primary Education (KCPE) recently, this is not a fairy tale. 

What is more important to the average Kenyan? A good school for their child or a full fuel tank for their car, if at all they own one?

Yet the headline on Nanyuki High School attracting 154,000 students was dismissed as just another story.  

Good schools are rare in Kenya, even after expanding the pool of national schools. We did not make matters any better by expanding old and reputable schools into mega schools instead of building new ones as was the case with the Standard Gauge Railway or the Nairobi Expressway.  

The lack of good schools can be explained by underinvestment, too much government control and “closed” schools.

Two is the shortage of honest people. Businesspeople and employers can attest to that. Many businesses have to invest a lot of resources in security, fraud detection and even lie detectors. It’s worse when “working smarting” is glorified. Employers complain many people want jobs but not work.

Why didn’t we import the protestant work ethic alongside the bicameral Parliament complete with senators, MPs and governors? 

Three is a shortage of role models beyond musicians, artistes and politicians. We have all been equalised. 

While in other countries every sector has its role models, we hate those who do better than us, often through hard work. The drifting of roles models into politics does not make matters any better.  

Four is the shortage of public spaces and sporting facilities. Why can’t we have the equivalent of Uhuru Park in every Nairobi estate and county, where the majority of the people live? 

In most towns, there is no space to rest and breathe fresh air, except in hotels and restaurants, which translates into spending money.

Where can one sit and watch the sunset as nature intended? Where are the stadiums, tennis courts and basketball courts, among other public utilities? How do we keep our youngsters busy?  

Five is the shortage of creativity. Have you noted how we love forwarding jokes and video clips in WhatsApp groups? How many homegrown jokes do we share?

Someone says we are like water pipes that never drink any water; they just carry it through. We share jokes or forwards without commenting or improving them, just like pipes. 

Six, and more serious is the shortage of spouses. There are many young men and women, but when it comes to marriage, it’s difficult to get a spouse.

Few men and women are sincere on matters of love, which has become transactional. Talk to many couples today, and it’s a story of unhappiness, regret and anger. No wonder many young people are reluctant to marry, and single parenthood is on the rise. 

Seven, there is a shortage of global thinking. We are too inward-looking. When did you last hear a serious national discussion on the East  African Community,  African Continental Free Trade Area, the African Union or even the United Nations? Have you heard any serious discussion among the political contenders on global issues? What of matters like space exploration?  

Eight, there is a shortage of knowledge on how an economic system operates. Two examples stand out - fuel price controls and promising citizens free money. The market system operates better when the invisible hand of the market is allowed to do its work.

The visible hand of the government only comes in to correct the market failure, and not to supplant it.  Nine, there is a shortage of rain and freshwater. We can do much better about that.

The white settlers who lived in the arid and semi-arid areas built dams that still give us water. What happened to the Nairobi Dam?

Is there a shortage of fresh air?  

Ten is a shortage of national optimism. Too many Kenyans are disillusioned with the future. The institutions that ought to give us meaning, hope and inspire us are not doing that. 

These include families, schools, the government, churches and our traditions. 

What else have I left out? 

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