Apparently, young men in Murang’a are not at all interested in procreating, but that is probably because they can’t. The only folks who may be celebrating the reported conspicuous absence of pupils in that county are those who ardently believe that there are too many of us in this world already, while those who may be really hurting are politicians to whom numbers are an existential imperative: without the voters, their careers will grind to a halt.
In the next nine days, Kenyans will be counted and the truth of what has not been happening in that county in the past three decades will become clear. It is my firm belief that Kenya’s population is still manageable despite all the noise. Some people think that birth control is a conspiracy by members of the Aryan race who fear that one day, the earth will be overrun by people of colour and there will no longer be space enough for the self-described “superior races”.
Others, perhaps, have come to realise that unless rapid population growth is curbed, the resources available – food, water, and the very air we breathe – will be so severely compromised that violence must inevitably erupt during which only the strong will survive. Neither of these two aspects of social Darwinism is particularly appealing.
To go back to our theme, Murang’a is not the only county in Central Kenya similarly afflicted; it just happens to be the area which the versatile Nation features writer concentrated on. I am not aware of any comprehensive research done to provide answers on why schools in the region are shutting down for lack of learners, but one possibility is that at one time, Murang’a people built too many schools for its population size.
But whatever the case, a common thread runs through the narrative of the dwindling population in Central Kenya – the profusion of illicit liquor dens in the region which has rendered thousands of young men seriously challenged on the sensitive area of sexual potency. The problem is that even some of the legal stuff sold openly is said to have similar effects on these same young men – they quickly become addicted and think of nothing else but their daily dose of beer or spirit. This, of course, is an improvement from the days when the stuff they imbibed used to be laced with chemicals that blinded or killed them long before their time. Today, these poor fellows are only left numb in the wrong parts at night.
There is also the other saving grace brought about by the imposition of the Mututho rules, which means they never start as early in the day as they used to. This, of course, does not mean that their lifestyles have changed significantly. A huge number, when they are not drunk, still walk around like zombies, waiting for anyone kind enough to buy them a mug or two, and so some things never really changed. Nor will they change so long as the circumstances of these youths remain the same – grinding poverty and lack of opportunity. In the past 17 years, both the Kibaki and Uhuru governments have tried to fight the menace of excessive alcoholism with distinctly mixed results. The persistence of illicit liquor indicates clearly that reducing alcohol addiction will require a lot more than administrative fiat. County commissioners, coordinators, chiefs, assistant chiefs and the police have either failed to do the job, or some of them have become shareholders in the highly lucrative bootleg business.
Obviously, this is not a ‘tunaomba serikali saidia’ moment. There are many things that any government can, and should, do to help the afflicted, but giving aid in the procreation process is not one of them. The fight will only be won when the level of unemployment and poverty falls significantly. Too many youths are idle and without prospects and so they become vulnerable to debilitating influences that help significantly in reducing productivity – and fertility.
At the same time, it would be useful for those in authority willing to help young people keep off alcohol and drugs to think long and hard on the methods they adopt. The kind of project the Kiambu Governor, Ferdinand Waititu, tried last year should never be replicated anywhere else in this country. Instead of rehabilitating drunken youths in the county, Waititu will go down in history as the governor who turned even mild drinkers into addicts by dishing out to them Sh400 daily for reasons that have remained obscure.
In fact, it is now emerging that the six-month Kaa Sober “rehabilitation” programme in which youths, some of whom never touched a drop of alcohol, were hired to clear roadside bushes ostensibly to keep them out of trouble was a not-so-clever ruse to allow a few to steal public money and earn the governor extra votes in the future. The Sh356 million used in the programme would have been sufficient to build an extractive factory which would have employed an equal number of youths and allowed them to produce something of value for themselves and for society in general.
Mr Ngwiri is a consultant editor. [email protected]