In the last 15 months we have seen the Arab youth display what I can only call a spectacular revolt. I am awed by the bravery of the Tunisian, Egyptian and Libyan youths trying to overthrow decades of tyranny. One by one we have seen great dictators crumble â€“ from Zine el Abidine Ben Ali to Hosni Mubarak to the self proclaimed King of the United States of Africa - Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.
These were leaders whom no one thought could leave the helm but with orchestrated civil resistance in sustained campaigns involving strikes, demonstrations, marches, and rallies â€“ one by one, like a deck of cards, the leaders fell.
What amazed me was not the fall of these leaders but the courage of the youth to stand up against all odds. They went into the streets knowing very well that they were going to face security forces that will not hesitate to open fire â€“ they knew their first steps out on the streets might be their last on earth. But they did it anyway â€“ because they were yearning for freedom and were ready to die for the love of country.
The same issues that led to the Arab Spring - High youth unemployment, high food prices, high fuel prices, endemic corruption and nepotism - are the same issues that Kenyans are going through today. So why arenâ€™t Kenyans taking to the streets like their brothers in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya?
The answer is simple; Fear. Fear that their revolution will amount to nothing. Fear that, going to the streets means a face-off with death and no one is ready to die. Fear that I would rather have a leader of my ethnic group than one of a different group. This fear has led us to maintain the status quo. But for how long?
The problem with status quo is that it has consequences, and that means our government will continue doing what it has been doing. So what has the government been doing?
Uncontrollable MPs: Kenyan members of parliament are notorious for awarding themselves ridiculous salary increases. Today Kenyan MPs get paid 13,092,000 a year or 1,091,000 Kenya shillings a month ($13,640 a month) compared to UK MPs who each earns $104,194 a year ($8,682.83 a month) and a US Congressmen taking home $174,000 a year ($14,500 a month). A Kenyan Member of parliament gets paid more than a UK MP and a few hundred dollars less than a US Congressman. My question is simple; what does a Kenyan MP do to deserve getting paid all that money?
Letâ€™s not forget that, all this is happening in a country where the minimum wage is $80 a month. If this issue by itself is not enough to take people to the street, then I do not know what is.
High Fuel Prices: in the last two years the price of petroleum has skyrocketed, not because the price per barrel has gone up but because Kenyan petrol is controlled by a well-connected cartel. Petrol in a landlocked country like Uganda is cheaper than in a country with a seaport like Kenya. Kenyans are paying the same price for petrol as the British. The difference being that in UK, some of the petrol money is used to pay for road repairs, housing and the national health system while in Kenya it only enriches a few baronâ€™s.
Corruption: Corruption in Kenya is mind boggling. Lets for a minute forget about the small street corruption â€“ Kitu kidogo hapa na pale. In the last 15 years we have had some major scandals that our leaders and judiciary has turned a blind eye on - Anglo leasing, Goldenberg scandal, Navy ship scandal, Embassy scandal you name it and we have heard it. These scandals have cost Kenya billions of shillings. Money that could have helped us tackle major social issues we cannot dare mention - healthcare, food, water etc.
Those are some of the things we have let our leaders do and none of us has had the guts to question. These misdeeds have led to the middle class squeeze. The poor have given up hope and Kenyaâ€™s middle class is barely staying afloat. Today! Kenyaâ€™s who consider themselves as middle class find that inflation in consumer goods and the housing market prevent them from maintaining a middle class lifestyle, thus making downward mobility a threat to counteract aspirations of upward mobility.
We need to get off the idea that things will change with time. We need to get to the street and demand the change. Our revolution should not be against â€œa person,â€ it should be against â€œan institution.â€ It should be against the exploding social and economic inequality, high youth unemployment, politician greed and endemic corruption.
If there is a lesson to be learned from the Arab Spring, it is that with courage and will, â€œa peopleâ€ can bring about the winds of change. I would like to believe that our leaders have seen what could happen and are considering measure that will bring about change but I would be delusional if I did. So my message to my fellow Kenyans is; listen to the wise words of the famous Bob Marley; â€œGet up, stand up - stand up for your rightsâ€ and rise up to the occasion.
By George Nyeki
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