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Government should start initiatives that help and give people hope

By Suleiman Shahbal | Apr 11th 2022 | 3 min read
The role of true leadership is to inspire genuine hope with realistic plans for a better tomorrow. [File, Standard]

Going into politics gives you absolute clarity of the reality on what is happening in ‘mashinani’, which literally means at the grassroots of our country.

Many people who read this newspaper have no idea of what is really happening in our cities today because they have never visited and seen what the slums and underbellies of our cities hold. There are large areas of Mombasa and Nairobi that you wouldn’t recognise or believe are in a city.

The poverty and desperation are heartbreaking, and the indifference of our politicians is appalling. Many see these areas purely as vote catchment areas to be fished with short term offerings of food and cash.

They will correctly tell you that the people there are also not interested in long term projects. The politicians say that poor people don’t think long term and are only interested in what they can make today.

But the role of true leadership is to see how we can lift people out of this desperation and inspire genuine hope with realistic plans for a better tomorrow. If Safaricom were to do a survey, they would probably be surprised at the number of inactive M-Pesa accounts that have gone dead because of Fuliza.

This mobile debt app has plunged millions into very expensive personal debt to the point that they cannot use M-Pesa anymore because any new funds would be swallowed up. This is a duplicate of where we are as a nation; we are indebted at national level and at personal level.

In Mashinani, people have seen their meagre incomes devastated by rising food prices and living standards have deteriorated because of the high cost of living. We are in dire straits. But all is not lost. Kenyans are a resilient and enterprising people. Historically, Kenyans have been used to begging the president for help, then we started begging the government but neither the president nor the government came through. So, Kenyans began to help themselves.

At the grassroots, young people and women have organised themselves into Community-Based Organisations (CBOs), self-help table banking or 'chamas'. Young people have started their own small businesses with next to no capital and are making ends meet.

People have carried the responsibilities and problems of the neighborhood on their own heads as “wazee wa mtaa” (village elders), “mabalozi” (ten house ambassadors) and community health volunteers (CHV’s) are serving the community without pay.

In many areas, people have taken the challenge of insecurity by setting up community policing units. All these efforts are bearing fruit and helping the community. In some communities, it is such small business initiatives that are giving hope to people. We need to help this spirit. Our economic and political planning must change to recognise these public initiatives at the grassroots.

We need a balance between investment in infrastructure and investment at the grassroots. I have advocated for Ward Development Funds for the last 10 years based on the unshaken belief that if we facilitate the people, they will solve problems that the government bureaucracy is incapable of solving.  

If county governments were to invest at least 10 to 5 per cent of their budgets to support initiatives at the grassroots, we would have a better Kenya. I am sure that people in Mashinani are listening. Are you?

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