We survive problems, but solve hardly any

Sunday July 31 2016

There is a symbolism to the school fires, so deeply saddening that it would be remiss of us not to reflect on it.

That over one hundred secondary schools have gone up in flames in a matter of weeks.

That it’s a blame game between various actors on where fault lies, or who should take responsibility.

All this speaks to a heart-wrenching indictment of how the status quo simply isn’t working a generation currently representing a majority of the nation’s population.

The injustice of the status quo has moved further upstream, and a few more people need to see the danger therein.

While the schools affected represent about one per cent of all secondary schools, as CS Matiang’i pointed out, we cannot afford to seek a statistical representation to call it a crisis.


We also cannot assume that the underlying grievances manifesting in these unlawful acts of arson aren’t also simmering in the hearts and minds of the rest.

We had a similar cycle with university riots, informed by their flawed electoral processes not too long ago. Out of sight or the news cycle, therefore, out of mind till the next time; the very same pattern with the general elections cycle.

In fact, in 2013, we had very little room to examine the cracks and crevices. Back then, the “peace lobotomy” took precedence. While it carried us through, the underlying issues are surfacing, most predominantly through younger generations.


Now we have teenagers, born in this millennium, deeply disillusioned by a system that is failing them even before they make it to eighteen. The promise that they are the future is already broken, and the innocence of believing in it till later in life is rapidly being snatched from them.

What, then, are the flames from the school fires, if not a symbol of their raging hearts, of their inarticulately expressed and unappreciated desperation?

This is a generation that was in its formative years when the country burned in 2007 and 2008, and has been oriented into a system that has changed very little, where politics and political organising is still based on tribal affiliation and alliances.

These deliver us through the threshold of the election cycle, only to dump us into the wilderness of confusion, disappointment and heartbreak until the next election.

Eric Wainaina’sLove + Protestalbummay not have been his most famous one, but it is laden with much profundity, eloquently capturing the urgency of our time.

The first song off the record, "Revolution Time", has been poking at my conscience for a while now; its lyrics, it turns out, strike right at the heart of where we stand in time.

[…]There’s a rumbling in the bellies of the young (wo)men

They’ve got plans, they’ve got dreams, they’ve got vision

They are up to their chins in the status quo,

And the status quo, I tell you man, is smelly

So they tear up the railroad in desperation

And that’s all that we’re told on the television.

The status quo was aptly captured by a tweep, who visualised itthusly. The anger, this time, seems misplaced, and many of the proposed solutions are quite ridiculous.

I don’t know that the ‘speech’ step has been initiated. No leader seems to have spoken to this issue for the urgency that it demands and way too many are speaking at the students, when what we should be doing is apologising profusely to them for betraying their dreams even before they get a chance to launch!

And we seem to be accepting, ready to move on.

There are fewer and fewer ways to sanitise or rationalise the status quo. The status quo, I tell you, is smelly.  


The journalistic inquisitiveness to guide readers and viewers through this, is wanting. Commentary that packs a punch, and places the school fires in context, isn’t emerging from the media fraternity, often a preserve of guest contributors.

So while the issue has media coverage, we know what is happening, with very little guidance on why it’s happening. Not to mention that the media industry is caught up in a myriad of challenges, and bare minimum news coverage may be all we can get at this time.

We have always been told the youth are the hope and the future. However, the space of youth has always been laden with the burden of cleaning up the mess, of reversing the course of injustice.

It bears rather unrealistic expectations, for which generation grows up in a vacuum, unencumbered with the political, economic and social baggage of the day, and the accumulated ones of times past?

From our parents, to us, and now to the children, who are letting out very loud and serious cries for the status quo to be disrupted:

How can you play when the ground’s uneven?

When the rules are made behind your back

[…]How can you run when you’ve never walked?

How can you sing, they won’t let you talk

It’s the law of the jungle in the city

When the cries of the people make no pity.

This status quo preys on a great strength of ours, but also perhaps our greatest weakness as a people.

Anywhere you go in this country, what you will find is a resilient people, taking whatever life throws at them, and making it work as long as they can.

When faced with problems, our resilience steers us towards surviving the problem, rather than fixing it.

In turn, we have fewer and fewer ways of surviving, and no one is manifesting this more than the children of this nation.


We won’t out-survive the difficult, compounded problems this country faces. What should also be very clear by now is that strategy of passing them down to the next generation, hopefully unintentional, is definitely not going to work any more.

Where resilience does not cut it, cynicism creeps in, creating a race to the bottom, for it then becomes about who expresses this cynicism best.  All the while, the status quo remains, and it emboldens and benefits fewer and fewer of us.

Should we shrug our shoulders in indifference?

Should we sit there and suck our teeth?

Throw up our hands in surrender

And take our position on the fences?

We cannot sit down when the ground is shaking

Trembling from below, the earth is breaking!

This is the urgency of our time. Not political party affiliations and alliances, not which candidate will be fielded from what camp.

The soul of this country has been bleeding for way too long, perhaps best captured best in these words:

We want to see the fruits in time

We have to heal the wounds in time

Twitter: @NiNanjira