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Motieri’s “Death” and Africa’s Development

Monday December 30 2013

Bitange Ndemo

Bitange Ndemo 

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In my village lived a beggar known as Motieri.  He mostly begged for Bananas at Market centers walking bare foot and mostly wearing his long and dirty beige coat.  One day he lay a sleep under a shade of young eucalyptus trees (gum trees).  It was 1pm.  The sun rays were hot and strong giving rise to signs of the usual Kisii afternoon rains. 

Ombati, a habitual drunkard was passing by but his attention was momentarily disrupted by the position in which Motieri lay on the ground.  He gave a closer look at Motieri and touched his chest.  In his drunken stupor, he confirmed Motieri dead.  He shrieked loudly, uuuiii, uuuiii sending the entire market into a spin.

Within a few minutes a crowd had gathered with women wailing.  It was a confusing moment for us children then as not many people paid attention to Motieri while he was alive.  No one tried to verify Ombati’s assertion that Motieri was indeed dead.  The rains started to pound Isecha Market.  People scuttled to find shelter while others simply left for their homes. 

With our eyes fixated on Motieri’s body we took shelter under a nearby building only to see Motieri trying to rise up.  The rains had awakened him. As his weak body tried to find some footing, we rushed to him and helped him get into the shelter.  A young lady who had come from afar dashed to Tinega’s Hotel and brought some hot porridge with bread for Motieri.

He chewed slowly and with every moment of it he gained some strength to talk.  It was getting late now and the rains had stopped.  He thanked all of us as he walked away in the mud.  Bare foot.  The news from the market had spread afar that Motieri had died.  As it is the Kisii tradition when someone dies, nobody goes to the shamba.  We had reported that indeed Motieri woke up but we were ignored as child talk.  People gathered at the home of Motieri.  At around 10am, he too arrived.  There was pandemonium as people scampered to safety from the Ghost of Motieri.

Elders got together and indeed verified the reversal of death.  Now they had another problem.  To reverse the course of events traditionally.  As children, we were unwelcome to listen in on the next course of action.  This true story has stayed with me for most of my life.  As we look to 2014, Motieri is more like Africa.  Africa is us and with us but we rarely ever pay attention to her.  Only our selfish needs matter.  It took Africa 20 years to realize that the Somali problem is our problem.  The Great lakes region is not stable.  There is crisis in Western Africa, in Northern Africa and in Southern Africa.  South Sudan is on ‘fire’.


Curious Ombati are those who come round to tell us that we are failed nations.  And we must focus on growth led policies.  Grow GDP at rate of 10 percent per annum else you die.  We do not verify this.  We are not even curious of this statements. 

Virtually all educated economists in Africa agree with such statements to the extent that we have no idea of our own prognosis.  Is there a real link between growth and development?  When our economy grew at 7 percent, the ordinary Mwananchi did not feel it.  In other words the trickledown economics did not touch the intended destination.  India has one of the highest GDP growth rates in the World today but poverty continues to bite hard.

In their new book, Jean Dreze and Amartya Sen, An Uncertain Glory, India and its contradictions, they put a strong case for an all-round development inclusive of education and environment, which is not just focused on GDP.  They say:

"It is important to understand that caring about the environment need not undermine the commitment to development and the removal of poverty and deprivation.  In the broader perspective of seeing development in terms of promoting substantive human freedom, fighting poverty and being responsible about the environment cannot but be closely linked.  Development is not merely the enhancement of inanimate objects of convenience, such as rise in the GDP (or personal incomes); nor is it some general transformation of the world around us, such as industrialization, or technological advance, or social modernization.  Development is, ultimately, the progress of human freedom and capability to lead the kind of lives that people have reason to value”.  

We do not question events around us, we trust passersby who may not have the skill to help us advance.  We make a big deal of others’ findings.  It is a culture that undermines our future as a people.  Although our literacy levels in Kenya for example are high, we have not transformed education into knowledge that enhances our capabilities.  It will be another year of disappearing indigenous knowledge. 

It is our individual responsibility to store the knowledge we have and transform what we know through learning into useful capabilities.  This is how to fight ignorance for even with best intentions, you cannot secure freedoms of every individual if they remain ignorant.  Motieri was ignorant as his brothers took away his land.  He died of pneumonia few years after the Isecha incident.

Have a curious 2014.