Monday, August 1, 2011

Beyond Bottled Water

Last month I was invited by Multi-choice to attend the CNN awards in Johannesburg, something that got me quite excited. One because CNN was looking for a speaker on Social Media in East Africa, and gave me the chance to do it, Second because of the sessions we were to attend sounded exciting, with a great line up of African speakers such as Moeletsi Mbeki, (political analyst and economist) a brother to former South Africa president Thabo Mbeki; award winning Journalists and others who share my passion for Africa, Third, because its Johannesburg, a place that brings back good memories for me.

It was the sessions about Africa’s future that I enjoyed most. Most Significant for me was Mr. Mbeki’s presentation of what he aptly described as Africa’s Leadership (yes crossed through). Because in many ways; Africa is in dire need of good leadership.

Allow me to digress, I know that Africa is not a country, and I’m among the first to angrily jolt if someone asks “How is Africa”. But, for once, I let my preconceptions rest, and allow those that more experienced in Africa’s matters talk of what they see as the Africa of tomorrow. We have similar challenges, most countries in Sub Saharan Africa at least, and that allows for easy grouping, hence: “The problem with Africa.”

I am not answering any questions. I don’t know the answers. I am questioning the systems. What happens when good leaders are elected into Parliament? They Change. It’s a historical fact, driven by money, power and greed.

So let’s not argue about it.

At one of the sessions hosted by Coca-cola, a lady who worked as a policy advisor at the UN for 9 years asked, “ How is my grandmother deep in a Zimbabwean village able to buy herself a bottle of Coca-cola yet she cannot buy a mosquito net”. In Kenyan currency, that would be the price of 5 plastic 500 ml bottles. 250 shillings is round about the cost of a mosquito net. It’s slightly higher if it is medicated.

Her question raised even more questions in my mind. Is it a question of a lack of priorities? Would we rather die from malaria or has Coca-Cola’s marketing strategy created a need that has become bigger in our priorities than basic necessities in malaria prone Africa? Or have African governments failed in guiding our basic priorities?

A few days ago I had lunch with a friend. The still water bottle was a Keringet blue one, a clear upgrade from the regular clear plastic one. He asked me about our water drinking culture. He asked, “is it that Kenyans have become more aware of clean drinking water?” we discussed that for a while, and he raised an important point- we’d rather drink bottled water, have a dispenser in our houses and offices, because we lost faith in the City Council water we pay for, and we settle for a different option, but not necessarily a solution.

When our roads are bad, we buy 4 by 4 cars. When electricity supply is on and off, we buy generators. We’re so good at finding alternatives, and have given up on demanding for our rights. The upside though, is that opportunities arise where the government fails, though half the time, these opportunities are exhausted by those that have the money and power to avert the situations. Many times, these are the same politicians.

The leaders have failed us, but as the voting population, someday, we’re going to have to raise our voices beyond the bottled water, beyond Generators, beyond alternatives. We’ve got a constitution that places a lot of power in the people. Let us learn how to make Kenya work for us, not the other way round. The biggest problem may be the leadership, but we, ordinary Africans also have a role to play.


  1. This is Kenya, for Kenyans by Kenyans. Sadly, we don't seem to change that (mis)conception

  2. At one time while i was interviewing Prof. PLO Lumumba he told me, we deserve the leaders we elect not that i hadn't heard this before its because of the person telling me what i already know! And even as we move towards another General election i bet my life on this, we will be looking for an alternative! Enough said! How long? The treasury allocated 8Billion for the ministry of Agriculture, ironically we are going to spend 10Billion to mitigate the current hunger and drought! are you still reading this?? the government has denied any deaths, is this admitting irresponsibility ?

  3. You've given me a totally new perspective of how as Kenyans we have (unconsciosly) learnt to live with the (mis)management of our public institutions. Your examples are so apt, and the whole article concise & precise.

  4. It's a case of 'a people getting the leaders they deserve..' No matter how good the new constitution is, without people knowing what they should expect from the pseudo-leadership in will all remain a lost cause....not even worth the paper it's written on.

    I rest.

  5. after reading this am not sure i will even vote today at the by election at KAMUKUNJI its on point am not sure yet

  6. "......and he raised an important point- we’d rather drink bottled water, have a dispenser in our houses and offices, because we lost faith in the City Council water we pay for, and we settle for a different option, but not necessarily a solution. ...." Very true!!!

  7. Cbtoo- Im on Generator Power as i write this,(we having 100-150hr blackouts!) my 4X4 awaits me outside, my kids go to International schs, i buy water even for brushing teeth, i hire an exhauster every 6months to pull the shit out; im on standby with AAR- to fly to Nbi if any medical complication arises with my family- U name it- we have it- (yaani mashida!) and not coz we are rich but the country i live in is in a deplorable state-
    hapo tuu jirani- Tanzania
    Now- fellow Kenyans- before you laugh-note that this can happen to you as well- if we dont head to what the writer proposes- it'll be just a matter of time before we succumb to such low levels-
    Africa Africa Africa- what can we do?
    Sir God help us!


  8. Thanks for your incredible contributions to this blog- it is critical that we begin to exercise our rights and do away with alternatives.

    These questions were posed to me on email about this blog, by a man I deeply respect. J.K:

    * Can Africa progress as one "country", with all our different stages of economic strength coupled with different political ideologies?
    * Is it possible to have a symbiotic relationship among the different countries or will a parasitic one prevail at all times?
    * Who has more power in Africa, the person casting the vote or the one counting the vote?