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This is not Marxist mantra; the poor are fighting for their rights

By | October 25th 2009

By Juma Kwayera

Last week, 400 internally displaced persons who had been living at a camp in Limuru embarked on a 170km trek to some ‘Promised Land’ in Nyandarua District. They did 70km but their tale was gory.

Their stoic determination was inspired by a gift of 40 acres of land from a ‘Good Samaritan’ for their resettlement. The awry spectre of five-year-olds elicited little interest because the sights are all too common. The images of blistered children, hungry old women yawning and bleeding feet of old men symbolise the rot in our politics.

It was the sum total of depletion of the social fabric and a manifestation of moral decadence.

The historical circumstances that impoverished these children’s parents are weighty issues political leaders shy away from. But for how much longer will they be doing this? Although the ‘great trek’ ended on a positive note, it had begun on an eventful weekend when Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka was in Western Province drumming up support for his presidential ambitions.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga was in China soliciting development funds, while President Kibaki, as usual, had insulated himself at State House. Executive indifference to the plight of the landless is the most callous aspect of Kenyan leadership.

Kenya has set itself a target of eradicating poverty by 2015. In Vision 2030, it outlines its roadmap to economic lift off as a newly industrialised country. As the country celebrated 46 years of self-rule on Tuesday, last week, the trekkers had no place to call home, food or shelter. They may have been just 400, but their tale can be repeated a million times over in all parts of the country.

Like many African governments, the burden of poverty has been on steep incline exacerbated by ambivalent policies, which rather than spur socio-economic growth have fostered deprivation.

According to UN Development Programme, 70 per cent of people who live in poverty are women and children, while half a million women continue to die annually while giving birth in developing countries.

The funereal impassivity over fight against extreme poverty has created the impression that the Government regales in armies of poor people it has over the years used as the fodder that drives politics. But times are changing if last week’s UN ‘Stand Up’ campaign is any guide. An overwhelming 116 million people — a Guinness Book record — took to the streets worldwide to remind their leaders of their responsibilities.

Thousands turned up in Kenya — Nairobi, Mombasa and Kakamega— to say ‘No to Poverty’.

But how much longer will people living in extreme poverty have to wait to free themselves from the vicious cycle of extreme poverty?

Experience worldwide is the poor will grab their chances. They can no longer afford to be fodder in bloody political contests.

This is not a Marxist mantra. The poor’s realisation that they too have a right to life, education, health, food and sanitation is taking root by the day.

It is undeniable that the combined effects of the economic, climate and food crises are affecting people of all ages and stations in life and women and children are the hardest hit.

Given the amounts of money used to bail out banks in Europe and US that grosses $1.5 trillion — approximately Sh112.5 trillion — in just one year, it is an established fact that the resources to hoist more than two thirds of the word’s population from extreme poverty are available. What is lacking is the political will to tackle poverty.

Regrettable as it is, the Executive would rather sit by and hope the snowballing scenario dissipates. But will it happen? The 116 million people campaign was a warning to governments world over that they cannot be content to sit on their hands at times when dire situations demand decisive action for the sake of their hungry, impoverished, sick and semi-illiterate.

In the words of Director of UN Millennium Campaign Salil Shetty, "With just six years left until the deadline by which heads of State have pledged to eradicate extreme poverty and its root causes, ‘Stand Up’ will be a stark reminder that citizens will not accept excuses for governments breaking promises to the world’s poorest and most vulnerable citizens."

Didn’t reggae legend Bob Marley urge the downtrodden: To Get up, Stand up; Fight your rights’? A ‘People Power’ is nigh!

—The writer ([email protected]) is a senior political writer with Standard Weekend Editions.

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