Garissa-A Journey to Truth
Garissa. Where do I begin this tale of love at first sight between a forgotten people and myself? This story began a few weeks back when the Afya Kenya Foundation and Safara Trust came together with the firm resolve to break into previously unchartered territory for both organizations. Nasri and Cornelius, the Founders of the Safara Trust, and I, share a lot of beliefs; a firm belief in people, and people’s ability to determine the course of history, and the value of meaningful human interaction, plus the need for every person to live a life of dignity. And most importantly, a belief that for too long had we operated in our comfort zones. It was time to step outside of the box. It was time to get uncomfortable.
We left Nairobi on Friday afternoon weaving our way past the busy Thika Road traffic. Its splendor a testament to our beloved President’s resolve to leave a legacy that will resound in the annals of Kenyan history. This got me thinking about many things at once. First and foremost, it got me thinking about this word ‘Legacy’ and what it means. What will people say when you are gone? Have we done anything in life that will echo in eternity? In addition to this, it got me thinking of the value of time and how we spend it during this fleeting episode we call life. By the time we got to the beautiful Nomad hotel in Garissa town, I had plenty of questions. By the time we departed one day later, all were answered.
I have had the opportunity in the course of my work with the Foundation to meet a lot of people and see a lot of things. I have had the privilege of seeing astounding human development. I have had the good fortune to see progress. I have seen this in my home province Nyanza especially in the areas of health, infrastructure and economic advancement. And I sang the praises of our Government for this to all and sundry. Especially considering that for a long time, all this was nothing more than a pipe dream!
But on further soul searching, I realize that I must agree with Dante that the hottest places in hell are reserved for those who in a period of moral crisis maintain their neutrality. There comes a time when silence is betrayal. The truth of these words is beyond doubt. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily take to opposing Government policy especially when it suits us. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within our own bosom.
On this basis, the painful truth must be told. The Government has failed the people of North Eastern Kenya. Indeed, the Government has failed us all. For injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. Kenya, since our inception as a nation, has always attempted a grand experiment in compromise- a continued effort in striving to live by the time proven adage that every man cannot have his way in all things. Without this mutual disposition, we are disjointed individuals but not a society. Sadly, that is the case today. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. We are more disjointed today than we ever were. Not in a violently morbid sense as was the case in 2007-2008, but in an even more significant human sense.
We, the privileged decision makers in Kenyan society, have grabbed everything at the table leaving not even a morsel for North Eastern. Why else can I count the women (out of the over 400 I interacted with) who can read and write on one hand!? Fourteen year olds married off. Twenty year olds with a brood of five children and no economic activity to feed them. Geriatrics bed-ridden for months with no hope in sight for deliverance. A single two-roomed dispensary serving a radius of 80 kilometers! Epileptics more common than educated women. Traditional birth attendants reigning in a kingdom of ignorance and poverty. And of course, famine! Some may argue culture. But remember, several African communities shared a lot of these cultural aspects and yet are not in the same dire situation. The statistics are available (Kenya Demographic and Health Survey 2008-2009) but I was told to write an article on my human experience. Well, my trip put a forlorn human face to the statistics, bar graphs and pie charts. I shed a tear.
The trip to Garissa for me was similar to that of the biblical Paul, formerly known as Saul, to Damascus. I had an epiphany in the tundra of Charidende & Nanigi and my eyes were opened. I began to realize just how small I am in the grand scheme of things. I began to see just how big the challenges facing North Eastern are. And, as Paul did, I realized that I must stop the persecution of God’s children. I must stop this persecution of systematic neglect. The giant triplets of ignorance, disease and conflict continue to ravage our people as we prioritize super highways in our cities is not just. A national budget that spends more on the military than on the basic needs of the far flung communities cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice and love.
I therefore call upon you for a greater fellowship amongst Kenyans. A fellowship pegged on humanity. A revolution of values. We need to develop an overriding loyalty to mankind as a whole. A loyalty that lifts our concern beyond tribe, race, class and origin. A concept often dismissed as weak and cowardly. I oppose our Government’s policies because I love Kenya. I speak out against these disparities not in anger but in anxiety and with sorrow in my heart but above all with a passionate desire to see our country stand as a moral example to the world. I speak out because I am disappointed with Kenya. There can be no great disappointment where there is no great love.
Martin Luther King Jr said: “My Bible tells me that Good Friday comes before Easter. Before the crown we wear, the cross we must bear. We must bear it for truth. We must bear it for justice.” And thus, I have not lost faith because the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. We can overcome!
Noah Oduwo Akala
Afya Kenya Foundation