If you ask any youth now what they would want to become in the future, be sure to get a variety of replies, some strange and unbelievably outrageous at their age.
I asked one boy a similar question and I cocked my head to the side waiting for his response. He was only about 12, but he looked mature for his age. His face was firm and his lips looked parched. At one point, I wished I had a bottle of clean water to give him.
The slums of Manyatta in Kisumu city from where he was growing up, had limited supply of electricity and the sanitation services were not as good as the kind I grew up with. Dirty puddles of water in the middle of the roads, shanties patched by polythene and cardboards, the conditions were not even fit for a pauper to live in.
The murky sleepy slum with dilapidated infrastructure including a makeshift primary school was his world. But out there beyond the indistinct legal boundaries of this cursed people, there is another world, a world with better choices, a world where the likes of this boy, are not welcome.
I posed the question carelessly, expecting an answer a boy his age would give without a doubt, but his reply made me pause and wonder what was really going on in his head.
“I want to be like my dad,” he replied. He was serious. I knew the father fairly from the times I went off-beat in the slums, in fact he was one of my sources when I interned as a reporter with Nation Media Group. Besides tipping me when something happened in the slums, he was an unskilled, casual laborer who always smelled of cheap booze and was always hustling for people like me for some loose change.
Of all my thoughts at the moment I could only think of what in the world did this child admire in his father? And what was it that he wanted to emulate?
The inference from the response was both disconcerting and tricky. The boy was looking up to the leader in his life; the role model who would effectively shape his future. I argued out that he was on the path that would lead him to become a riff-raff in the society and a foe to the ‘other’ world.
As innocent as he looked at the time, his face would soon change, hardened by the realities of deprivation. It will not matter that there is a new constitution that speaks of human dignity and promotes basic human rights like the right to life and liberty, the rights to a decent standard of living, the right to work and the right to education.
I wondered why the young boy was in such a dipshit and not me as I made my way out of the slums. I also wondered if I was in Peter Pan’s world to think that Kenya, on its own, will re-organize itself for the sake of the likes of this little boy and others like him growing up with no hope of ever enjoying the freedoms that some of know.
Is the new constitution really an anchor of safety and security for people like him? Or is it just another document for intellectuals like me to discuss and debate about in the office with my boss and colleagues?
I realized that something is amiss. Something is seriously wrong with a country that boasts of economic growth and celebrates almost 50 years of independence, and yet it does nothing at the pathetic situations the slum boy and his generation face, a generation of total despair and self-destruction.
Have you looked at the number of young adults reported to have succumbed from consumption of illicit brew i? It is mind-boggling. The same goes for slum dwellers and low income persons who died trying to siphon fuel from a leaking pipeline and tankers.
I do not mean to be mean but the likes of the little end up in places like Sinai, Kibera and Mukuru when they leave small slums like Manyatta to search for ‘greener pastures’. A dead end when they realize life is harder than where they actually came from.
No one can solve the problems of millions of disillusioned young people of this generation considering the high birth rate of children in poverty stricken areas. I cannot pretend to have a ready solution for the boy and his generation but my country does. The answer lies with the politicians, if they could change their attitudes, opinions and root for the best in the people who placed them in power.
Written by Robert Kondigo