A goal without a plan is just a wish,” Antoine de Saint-Exupéry once said. The distinguished French author of the bestselling children’s book, The Little Prince, wrote it for grown-ups to communicate fundamental truths from the wisdom of a childlike perspective.
The book has been so successful that it has been translated into more than 250 languages and dialects.
The protagonist of the book, a boy prince from another planet, has landed on Earth after visiting several other planets, where he meets some strange people.
Among them is a king who claims to rule with absolute power, but whose only subject is an old rat that he hears at night and the sun, which he orders to set at sunset. On another planet he meets a drunkard who spends all his time drinking to forget that he is ashamed of drinking.
Like Saint-Exupéry, I would say that a vision, such as the Kenya Development Vision 2030, without proper implementation is grand scale wishful thinking.
When the National Treasury failed yet again to include zero-rating of books in the Budget, I became gravely concerned that Vision 2030 may not be just a wish but perhaps a dream from which we are receiving a collective rude awakening.
It is a rude awakening to the reality that we may have placed very low value on knowledge as the bedrock of development.
Books are the means by which we acquire knowledge. They unlock our imaginations and creativity. Through books our children travel beyond the limits of their experiences and learn about the world. If we curtail our children’s access to books, we inhibit their education.
Vision 2030 stands tall and is majestically elevated on three pillars: the economic, the social, and the political. However, without a sound foundation — quality education of our mostly youthful population — none of the three pillars can stand.
To stand, the economic pillar requires sustained growth. We need knowledge and imagination to grow the economy. We need a “thinking nation” that creates wealth, not a “serikali saidia” one that looks to the government for jobs. But how will a generation raised without books learn to think creatively?
The social pillar aims at a just and cohesive society and equitable social development. If the economy is in the gutter, the social pillar will be right there beside it.
Poverty is not conducive to justice, cohesion, or equity. Injustice hardens hearts and encourages division. A generation raised without books has a slim to nil chance of gaining a wider and more tolerant perspective.
The political pillar advocates an issue-based, people-centred, result-oriented, and accountable democratic system. This pillar, too, can stand only if the other two survive.
Why is it so difficult for the bureaucrats to see the impact charging VAT on books has on education? Is it not evident that education is suffering from fewer books in schools and homes?
CHILDREN NEED BOOKS
That many children will go through school without basic competencies? Or is VAT on books a deliberate structural barrier to deny Kenyan children, mostly the needy, quality education while giving them lip service? This would be akin to apartheid in South Africa when the official policy was structured to limit black people’s access to quality education.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, if he were a Kenyan living in our day, might have added to his book the story of a country that wants its young people to grow up wise and intelligent, so it sends them to a classroom with no books every day for 12 years, then tells them to go out into the world and be wise.
Simply stated, our children need books to be successful. A mother bird must teach her young ones to fly and to hunt for their own food, otherwise they will eventually get too heavy for the nest, fall out, and perish. Likewise, we must provide our children with the knowledge and means for success in a rapidly globalising world.
To achieve this, we must remove any barrier that impedes their access to knowledge. The VAT Bill 2016 should therefore be amended to zero-rate books. Progressive nations such as America are intentional about establishing a society of deep thinkers.
In fact, one of the legacies US presidents bequeath their country after leaving office is a presidential library. Little wonder then that though America supplies only about 5 per cent of global human capital, it contributes 36 per cent of global wealth.
Tomorrow, Kenya will be governed by today’s children. The education they receive, the books they read growing up, and the nurturing of their intellect and morals will play an important role in determining the success or failure of Kenya as a nation 50 years from today. You can tax that and take it to the bank.
Mr Waweru is CEO, WordAlive Publishers. [email protected]