Several Sundays ago, I took to driving around Kiambu County. For those of you who may not know, the county has some of the most exotic sights and sounds in this country. It is a beautiful county with ridges and valleys, cash crop plantations such as coffee and tea, breathtaking landscape and diminishing forests and shrinking rivers.
Yet, with the decline and neglect of the coffee plantation over the last 25 years, many farmers, both big and small scale, have chopped off their coffee trees, opting to sell their agricultural land to the highest bidder. The result of this has been concrete jungle, where beautiful coffee berry trees once adorned the land. The rate at which Kiambu is turning into a concrete jungle, in the name of private real estate development is mindboggling and a tragedy.
But that is not what I want to talk about today.
Once one of the richest counties in the country, Kiambu is, today, beset with poverty and impoverished people, a phenomenon that has been unprecedented in recent times. The use of illicit liquor and consumption of both harmful and innocuous drugs, among the burgeoning youth is at an all-time high. This has been occasioned by overtime mass unemployment among the school-leaving young adults, tertiary colleges and university students.
Subsistence farming has been waning by the day – a cumulative effect of land fragmentation and consolidation. The net result of this will be that the county in the not too distant a future, will be importing food. The collapse of coffee, coupled with the shrinking subsistence farming, have drastically reduced the base economic activities that for many years propped up its economy.
The youth who ought to have been engaged in these agricultural activities, have been left to the vagaries of the weather and at the mercy of politicians who use them as militia gangs for hire and fire. The consequence of all these dysfunctionalities is that not only has poverty increased, but crime levels have shot up. ''Anake niahotu'' (the young men are hungry), one resident told me in Kikuyu town. Recently, the town, alongside other areas such as, Gitaru, Sigona and Zambezi, have seen a rise in home burglaries and bands of youth accosting alighting travellers from bus stops in the evenings and at night.
On the Sunday that I went touring Kiambu town and its environs, I witnessed an interesting emerging phenomenon: Christian crusades, on a day that worshippers had attended services in the morning, were everywhere in the afternoon. We drove to Kiambu town, but just before entering the town, we used Boma Road, which is behind the town and which goes all the way to the junction connecting the road leading to Limuru town. On that road alone, which is about eight kilometres, we counted eight crusades, on the roadside.
To be fair to the word crusade, these were not crusades as such, but a motely grouping of one to 10 people surrounding a young man holding a usually worn-out bible and seemingly preaching to the birds. In one 'crusade', two young men facing the road in the scorching sun cut the figures of ''ad men and specialists'', doing their thing by exhorting the road to hearken to their message of the end of the world and the coming Armageddon. For every kilometre, on Boma Road, there were young men, some on rickety makeshift platforms, apparently 'teaching' and ‘spreading’ the word of God.
I asked Peter Karanja from Thogoto, an ardent Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK) worshipper what was happening. ''The county is undergoing its greatest economic hard times in so many years…the people don’t know whether they are coming or going. The sun is blazing hot, some parts of the county are already experiencing acute food shortage and if it doesn’t rain soon, even Kiambu people, once dubbed as coming from one of richest counties in the republic will face famine…it’s that bad.''
Amid all these chaos, the exploited youth of Kiambu are confused and disoriented, remnants of the proscribed group, the Mungiki are trying to re-group and re-appear at the matatu termini, those who operate as boda boda riders by the day, turn to criminal activities at night, and some have even been known to mug their own clients. And now, some are turning to the Lord. When everything seems to fail, hope becomes the last bastion of defence and survival.
In the mid-1980s, when Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs) were first introduced in this country by the multilateral donor agencies such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB), life became very difficult for the mwananchi because the government was asked to remove many of the subsidies and even privatised some services.
It is around this time that Christian revivalist crusades preaching hope and messianic messages flourished and gripped the country like a plague of locusts. Even President Daniel arap Moi helped bring in some of the mega televangelists of the time to come to Kenya and preach their soothing messages to the suffering Kenyans, of not banking their hopes on the earthly belongings, but in the hereafter heavenly world.
For the Kiambu County youths to organise Christian revivalist rallies on a day that people have spent their better part of the day being preached to in the churches, by ministers, pastors and priests, who also have taken to preaching messianic messages, is truly a desperate situation. But that is where the Kiambu youth is at now.
Mr Kahura is a senior writer for 'The Elephant', a Nairobi-based publication. Twitter: @KahuraDauti