Frederick Douglass was an African American abolitionist leader who was known for his anti slavery stand as well as for his great oratory and writing skills. Separated from his mother at the age of one so that she could go back to working in the plantation as a slave and forced to work as a slave himself at the age of 10,he rose to become one of the leading lights of the civil rights movement in America long before it became popular to do so.
Former slaves who had escaped like Douglas and were well read,joined a minority white population who decrying the evils of slavery.To Douglas literacy as he was so often quoted was the path to freedom
This great man came to mind because i realized that in Kenya today though we lack the chains of slavery ,poverty,ethnic bigotry have taken up where slavery left off.With a population of 40,862,900 as of August 2010 the world Bank report on Kenya shows that our national poverty levels were at 45.9% in 2010,this was a marked improvement from 1997 when it stood at 52.3%.The literacy levels in our country are also very high with the report showing that of our population above the age of 15 years,at least 87% are literate.This of course can be nothing but good news.
But why our high literacy levels are not translating into change in our political sphere is another matter altogether
Am sure we cannot forget the clips we have seen of hungry children in Turkana,a region that has been largely marginalized since independence and that is only in the news for the wrong reasons-hunger and drought.
I often find myself wondering what the residents of Turkana would do if they knew the power to change their circumstances lay in their hands.That they do not have to wait for the government and non governmental institutions to provide relief food when drought strikes.
With one of the lowest literacy levels in all of the 47 counties and a poverty level that is said to be at 95%,i the solution to Turkana lies in its people.With the right government support this county which is home to the largest fresh water lake in a desert,can be a case study of the proverbial phoenix and rise from the ashes of poverty,disease and illiteracy.
Much of Northern Kenya is faced with the same problems Turkana is battling with and the issues the counties in this region face will be waged in the classroom.
A correlation and a causal effect has been shown between illiteracy and poverty levels,disease and high infant mortality rates.Much of the cause for disease especially among infants can be attributed to lack of rudimentary knowledge on good hygiene .
Other factors such as lack of safe drinking water,good sanitation,poor nutritional knowledge and lack of economic power all contribute to under development in the region.Government however does not escape blame for forgetting the region exits when it does its planning and allocation of resources.
With the mapping out and setting out of boundaries soon commencing let us hope that the funds these counties in the region receive will be prioritized especially towards fighting illiteracy,because that’s where change for Northern Kenya will begin.
To paraphrase a quote by the former Secretary General of the UN,Kofi Annan,literacy lies at the heart of development of any region and it is only this that can guarantee and active democratic participation of the members of any society, country in active development.