When President Uhuru Kenyatta called on Kenyans to observe March 21 as a national day of prayer, there were those who mocked him, wondering if prayer would cure Covid-19. They missed the point. In the words of Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher, "Prayer does not change God. It changes him who prays."
Indeed, prayer changes us. That’s why it is fitting that CSs Fred Matiang'i, Mutahi Kagwe and George Magoha last Thursday held a consultative meeting with religious leaders and assured them of their support to facilitate their scaled-down activities. During this difficult times, prayers continue to strengthen our spiritual muscles and reignite our moral standing as a nation. Although Albert Einstein was known for his scientific genius, he hit the nail on the head when he said, "only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life".
This beauty and dignity is sometimes swallowed by greed and selfishness. That’s what happened during the 2008 post-election violence. Our tribal tendencies metamorphosed into violent tribal warfare.
But when Eliud Kipchoge conquered the world in Vienna, or when Harambee Stars carried the national flag into the Africa Cup of Nations in Egypt, our better selves came out and vanquished negative ethnicity. That’s the moral foundation we need to stand on at this difficult time.
Our morality should compel us to commit that we shall make a positive difference during this Covid-19 pandemic. Presently, most businesses and virtually all institutions are closed. We can turn this negative into a positive.
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With schools closed, education stakeholders are now tussling on the opportune time to reopen. As they do that, the citizenry must take a long hard look at the other side of the coin by asking tough questions whose answers reveal numerous opportunities. For instance, is learning limited to physical school premises? No, it is not. Some students are home schooling. Some enterprising individuals and teachers are offering online lessons that are crafted on the official government syllabus.
Many churches, too, are offering online services every Sunday. These churches, together with other religious entities like mosques and temples offer invaluable services to society. They nourish our inner selves, and in so doing, infuse life into our better selves. Because it is difficult to measure the success of this service, it is easy to dismiss religious institutions as irrelevant. But if ever there was a time when we needed them, it is now.
They must therefore rise to the occasion and help us to be our brother’s keeper. Many have rightfully countered that a majority of Kenyans don’t have access to the internet so focusing on it as a platform for service delivery will only widen the gap between the haves and have-nots. However, arguing like this would be similar to those who said during Kenya’s early days that urging parents to take their children to school would disadvantage places where there were no schools. What mattered back then was to build schools in every corner of the republic. What matters now is to ensure that high-speed full-fibre broadband internet is affordable and available countrywide.
Today, Japan has more than 95 per cent broadband internet connectivity. Just 11 years ago in 2009, only 23 per cent of Japan’s 127 million people had access to full-fibre broadband internet. If Japan did it, Kenya can, too. However, the situation is much more challenging in Kenya because 32.7 million people live in rural areas, as compared to the 14.8 million in urban areas. The digital divide is handicapping most of these Kenyans in rural areas. Most of them are among the 48 per cent of Kenyans with no internet access.
Because internet can only be accessed through hardware like smartphones, tablets and computers, there should be a concerted effort to put these devices into the hands of every Kenyan, or at least every student.
Out of Kenyans who own phones, only 36 per cent own smartphones. The rest are 'kabambe' owners, who use their phones exclusively for voice communication and SMSes. We have a solemn and ultimate moral authority to ensure that every Kenyan will be able to access the internet of things. If we do that, we shall significantly develop the moral fibre of a society that sustains political and economic stability hidden in Covid-19. To move from plan to action, we should think green and act green.
- The writer is founder and chairperson, Green Africa Foundation. www.isaackalua.co.ke