Government statistics indicate that 70 per cent of Kenyans live in the rural areas. This means that out of the population of 31 millions, about 22 million people live in the countryside. The remaining nine million are scattered in Nairobi, Mombasa, Kisumu, Nakuru, Eldoret and other towns.
Kenya remains a rural country Technologically and economically, we are a developing country with a small modern sector distributed among the five main urban centers. Most rural folk survive on a subsistence farming. And due to the rural nature of the country, parliament is dominated by representatives from the rural areas. By the same token, the three post-independence governments were on the strength of the rural vote.
But despite its numerical strength, has the rural sector attracted Government attention in terms of development? Has there been a consistent rural development policy since independence? Its pathetic condition indicates neglect. For instance, in North Rift, Western, the rural economy is almost dead. The local communities survive on less than a dollar a day. They cannot educate their children, access quality health care and afford decent housing and healthy food.
Our three successive governments have ridden to power on the promise to stamp out poverty, disease and ignorance. But this has proved mere talk because only a small percentage leads decent lives. The majority of people affected by poverty live in the rural areas and one wonders why the government cannot start fighting poverty from here.
Instead of effectively tackling the problem, our leaders only shift blame and formulate wrong policies. To make matters worse, they do not have the political will to implement the policies. While the Government should be held accountable for the way it manages our meager resources, the common man are not without blame. As we shout from the rooftops that we want development, we are unwilling to conform to measures that can reduce poverty, leading to development.
We have been enslaved by retrogression cultural practices, which is our undoing. This includes bearing many children, marrying many wives, barring women from inheriting property, failing to take the girl-child to school and electing leaders with questionable characters, among others. Recognizing that we operate within an international framework but can develop solutions locally is the first step to economic self-emancipation. The government should revive the rural economy as a starting point.
Despite the international trade barriers, the attitude of developed countries towards Africa is changing. Bilateral agreements can be negotiated and money borrowed from donors to initiate development from the grassroots level. If our leaders rid the country of corruption and other vices, we would begin the journey to free ourselves from the yoke of poverty and eternal begging from donors. Africa must stop playing the victim.
Prepared By. Johnstone Sikulu Wanjala