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Raila on Kenya: A vision for the next 60 years and beyond

Opinion
 Azimio Leader Raila Odinga speaking on a Vision for the next 60 years and beyond as Kenya marks 60th anniversary at Catholic University Nairobi on December 08, 2023. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

In a few days, we will mark a momentous occasion. Sixty years ago, our people proclaimed our country’s independence. With that we affirmed our natural right as a people to be masters of our own fate and destiny.

Over the years, the joy of independence has been tempered by many battles, a struggle that has continued for six decades.

We have fought poverty. We have fought ignorance. We have fought disease. We have fought corruption and we have fought tribalism. But these challenges march on with us. In spite of our tribulations, and against monumental odds, we have fought and we are still struggling to build a thriving democracy.

We are still fighting for individual freedom within our free nation. We have become the beckon of hope for millions of immigrants from the four corners of the Earth.  We are struggling to forge a free and modern society that lives by the ideals of liberty, justice, and respect for human rights. We have fought and we are still fighting not to let any obstacle stand in the way of our destiny.

I've been extremely fortunate to see the emergence and progression of Kenya up and close, as a son of a freedom fighter, as a son of the first vice president for a brief period, as a son of a Vice President turned detainee, a fighter for second liberation, a detainee myself, as minister, opposition leader and as prime minister.

The people of Kenya endured the pain of colonialism, the tragedy of single-party dictatorship and the horror of the economic collapse of the 1980s and 1990s, enabled by elite corruption and weird policies like the Structural Adjustment Programs of the IMF. In these periods, of colonialism, elite corruption and ethnicization of national life, callous and cruel leaders took away lives and broke apart families through detention camps, jails, assassination and state-enabled high levels of poverty.

But all these tragedies and unfortunate turn of events could not take away the spirit of the Kenyan people.

I have seen Kenyans pick their armour of courage to confront dictatorships and bad regimes. This 60th anniversary is therefore a good time to reflect on our past. It's also a time to look to the future. Where will this country be on the 120th anniversary of its birth- another 60 years from today, which will be the year 2083? This a challenge I want Kenyans to reflect on.

Will we still be a country going around the world with begging bowls? Will we still be a country straddling the weight of corruption, tribalism, lack of accountability and empty promises for which the promise makers pay no price?

Are we able to set the stage for a future of a dramatic departure from the Kenya of today?

As a nation, we have always had great ideals on paper, including in our constitution and various policy documents like Vision 2030.

We have values and principles of governance that include patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people.

We also aspire for human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability, among others. We aspire to live in unity, peace and liberty. We aspire to be a nation of plenty.

We aspire to be a caring nation that provides the best possible medical care to all citizens; a nation that provides the best possible education to its children, for free.

We have always aspired to be the nation that extends a helping hand to the elderly, the needy, the widows and the orphans through social security safety net programs.

The founding vision is a critical document for nations that proceed to succeed.

Now that we are in a Catholic institution, we can turn to the book of Joshua Chapter 1, for an understanding of the value of the founding vision.

God talks to Joshua about the founding vision in the following words:

“Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

Today, we are way off the original dream. The nation is reeling under a heavy burden of corruption, officially sanctioned tribalism, heavy burden of taxation and a harsh and heartless leadership. We are not the confident nation we have been over the decades.

Once upon a time, Kenyans were too proud and so confident of their nation that they refused to seek jobs abroad, including with the UN.

Today, our people are scrambling to leave the country. A recent study by Pew Research showed that up to 54 per cent of Kenyans would wish to relocate from the country.

Our children are struggling to get farm jobs in Israel, to be house helps in Saudi Arabia and security personnel in Qatar. Government officers themselves, including a whole president, openly say that they are trying to get jobs abroad for Kenyans.

Young people with the new skills and knowledge that we need are being exported because the government cannot create jobs. And the government sees it as an achievement.

We live on debt, but we still live large. We drove ourselves into the traps of the IMF and the World Bank and their usual conditionalities that are driving us back to the 1980s and 1990s. We are on a downward spiral and a steady one at that.

We are staring at failure. We are uncertain and fearful of what tomorrow holds. We live one day at a time because the longer-term founding vision has been dropped.

It is my position that if we return to the founding vision of this country, Kenya can emerge in its 80th or 120th anniversary as one of Africa’s greatest democracies and a secure and flourishing homeland for her children.

We can emerge as a democratic state that is governed by law, respects human rights, and rejects corruption. I deliberately put emphasis on the pursuit of democracy and rejection of corruption as a critical pathway to Kenya’s progress. If we return to the founding vision in the coming decades, Kenya will be able to witness a period characterized by tolerance and integration between communities.

The country will witness equitable sharing of the wealth that God put at our disposal.

If we return to the founding vision, Kenya will live through a period where leaders answer to the people, not the other way round. We will have a country where leaders focus their energies on important things like funding education and schools, fighting corruption, creating jobs here for the children we educate and easing the burdens of the people.

Kenya will then open a hopeful chapter in which her people can live a normal life. As things stand today, Kenyans are not living normal lives.

The dramatic departure the country needs from the sorry state of affairs of today will not arrive easily. Many will say it cannot happen. It will meet violent and even deadly resistance.

Transition is a bold vision, but I know it can be achieved. I have been fortunate to live long enough to witness nations and regions turn around their fortunes in 50 years or even less.

Think about the currently prosperous and stable Western Europe. Europe went through total war and genocide that ended in 1945. During and after that war, it was difficult to believe that 50 years later, Western Europe would be free, peaceful and prosperous.

South Korea went through a crippling war and sought help from Ethiopia during the war between 1950 and 1955. Ethiopia sent 6037 soldiers to Korea. Now Korea provides aid to Ethiopia, Kenya and all African countries. Kenya once gave aid to Singapore, before Singapore zoomed past us. In a mere six decades, Japan emerged as a democracy and an economic powerhouse manufacturing and exporting high-quality products to every household in every part of the world.

With vision, a lot can happen in the next 50 years and I pray that Kenya can rise to the occasion.

At this moment, it is proper to recognize and say thank you to the nations and development partners that have stood with us in our journey as a nation over the last 60 years. The US, UK, EU, China, Japan, and Korea among others, we thank you.

We have our neighbours to thank for this sixty-year journey as a nation. Uganda remains our biggest and most reliable trading partner. We thank them for their loyalty. Tanzania remains a second home to Kenyans because of their friendliness and people-to-people ties across the border. We thank them. We thank the entire EAC block of nations for their support and friendship.

It is my firm belief that if we made good use of the help and goodwill that nations like the US, UK, EU, China and others are extending to us, Kenya can emerge from poverty and take its place among the economic powers.

If we cemented and respected the ties we have with our neighbours, Kenya can cement its place as an economic powerhouse and guarantor of democracy in the region.

But something stands between us and the future we desire. Corruption is killing our future.

Tribalism is stealing our potential. Under the current regime, these two vices are officially sanctioned. The country is divided between people with shares and those with no shares.

The corrupt are getting plum jobs and State protection while those who try to stop corruption get arrested and arraigned on trumped-up charges. In the case of KCPE, indications are that KNEC as an institution will be sacrificed to protect the cartels.

I therefore wish to call on our development partners to partner with us in calling out the ills of corruption and tribalism that are crippling our country and making nonsense of the aid we obtain from abroad.

The transformation this country deserves requires a generation of leaders with the courage to confront and defeat corruption and tribalism and direct public resources to public causes without discrimination.

We need a generation of leaders who stand firm on the solid rock of values and who can tell when the nation is taking the wrong turn.

From where I stand, and at my age, I know the country is taking a wrong turn when a 14-year-old child has to go to court to seek Justice over KCPE marks. Kenya is failing her children.

I know the country is taking a wrong turn when workers take home only a third of their basic salaries, the rest going to taxes.  It is wrong when a person earning Sh50,000 has to surrender 20.5 percent of that money to Compulsory taxes.

We need a change that would make our fathers proud of the nation they founded. We need to return to our original vision for a selfless leadership that would be a light unto other nations.

 We need to secure this country and its future by building a mighty democracy that can endure and withstand the worst of the challenges to our nationhood that might emerge in future.

I believe it is possible. It can be done. We can do it.

God bless Kenya.

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