We are all one great family, connected to one another through bonds of kinship and friendship.
Nothing tests and shakes these bonds like the demise of a close relative or a dear friend. This passed weekend my grandmother was laid to rest.
My grandmother, aka “Min Osea”, was born before World War I. She was a teenager in the great depression and married my grandfather just before World War II erupted. She was in her thirties when a world, bleeding, broken and stung by the holocaust, said never again and founded the United Nations 70 years ago.
My grandmother lived in the century that saw the meteoric surge of human ingenuity through science and technology. She was born when there were hardly any cars on the streets or planes in the skies. In her lifetime we sent a man to moon, conquered space and put time and distance in chains. She was only 14 years old when Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin and revolutionized medicine.
She lived in the warmest decade since we started taking instrumental records of weather and climate. In her lifetime, a planet is in peril and dangerous climate change now threatens lives and livelihoods for billions. She has lived through the dysfunction and paralysis in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Can COP21 in Paris deliver the breakthrough needed to halt dangerous warming?
My grandmother had lived for half a century when a people were liberated from the colonial yoke. She witnessed the fireworks and jubilation and passion and hope that greeted a former colony’s right to self-determination and Kenya’s independence.
My grandmother like many in her generation was galvanized, entranced by the invigorating unity and love among all Kenyans, tied by the bonds of liberty, aspirations and common purpose. She listened to the soaring oratory and solemn pledge by our founding fathers to eradicate poverty, disease, and illiteracy, and build one nation. A nation was young and a people were hopeful and united.
What has changed in the more than 100 hundred years my grandmother lived, and especially in her last 50 years after this country wrestled freedom from the British? We have made so much progress through the century my grandmother lived. But there is still unfinished business and so much more to do.
After independence, we cut maternal and infant mortality. But today, hundreds of thousands of children still die from preventable diseases. We are still listed among 34 countries with 90 percent of the global burden of malnutrition. Nearly four out ten children born in this land are stunted. Millions of Kenyan children of school going age are out of school. Hundreds of thousands who go through our education system complete school but are barely literate of numerate.
Throughout the century in which my grandmother lived, this country has 21 physicians, 5 pharmacists, and only 3 dentists per 100,000 people. In the village where she lived the local dispensary, outpatient morbidity for children under five years is dominated by malaria, diarrhea, pneumonia and respiratory infections. In a sense majority of children born in my grandmother’s Homa Bay County have the odds stacked up against them.
My grandmother had imagined that politicians were called to preserve the dignity of their fellow citizens. But more than half a century after independence, our politics is bellicose and primordial. Our politicians have fed many of us the spoilt meat of tribalism. Ethnic division and mistrust have replaced the unity of purpose and the shared aspirations that galvanized my grandmother’s generation at independence.
Deep inside, we all grapple to answer a most basic but non-trivial questions: Who am I and why am here? I am convinced that your answers must be more profound than merely owning a big house, a fancy car and having a well paying job. There must be a higher purpose to our lives; a higher purpose, which connects each one of us with all of humanity, bound together by the desire to perpetuate our kind as responsible stewards of Mother Earth.
The task of building this nation is always work in progress. It is a shared responsibility worthy of our best talents. If my two daughters, Daisy and Disiye, were to live as long as my grandmother what will they see and what difference will we have made? We owe our children a better future.