ByÂ Seth Odongo
A lot has been said about the ‘number problem’ in Luo Nyanza which invites us to ponder on the other factors. Now, research is one thing this region has often been ‘urged’ to dismiss especially when it touches on poverty or health.
I come from Nyanza. South Nyanza. I spent most of my formative years there and while I have been away in the last four years (only making technical appearances once in a while), I have maintained touch with my base.
Just so you don’t get confused, I think I’m fully a Luo.
In a supplement health issue today in the nation, another round of shocking statistics made me nervous about the situation at home. Egregiously, the life expectancy of a child born in any of the four counties in Luo Nyanza is averagely 17 years shorter than a child born in Bomet County, Laikipia County,Nyeri County, Murang’a County, Elgeyo Marakwet County and Nyandarua County among others.
With a life expectancy of 66 years, a person born in Bomet lives a whole 26 years more than another born in Homa Bay County (40 years).
Laikipia County has a population of 399,227. It has 40 dispensaries, 13 health centres, 4 district hospitals (no provincial hospital), 19 doctors and 276 nurses. It has 24 antiretroviral facilities. HIV prevalence is at 4.7%.
Bomet County has 89 dispensaries, 30 health centres, 9 level-4 district hospitals and 1 provincial hospital.
In life expectancies, Bomet and Elgeyo Marakwet leads at 66 years. Laikipia is 65 years. Nyeri, Embu and Nyandarua is 64 years.
conversely, at home, here are the figures: Migori (46 years), Kisumu (41 years), Siaya (41 years) and Homa Bay (40 years).
What is hidden in these numbers is that chilling reality of the ‘number problem’. A person born in Bomet, Nyeri, Elgeyo Marakwet and Laikipia will vote in a whooping four more elections than his age-mate born in Homabay!
Add to the quality of life and HIV prevalence. Add to the massive unemployment and the dwindling fortunes in education. Nyanza needs an emergency rescue.
Being a Luo, born and bred in Nyanza, and already deep in my late 20s, It must not be that I remain with less fingers to count! For this and many other reasons, I have made a call to my friend Stephen Macharia Wa Njoki (Murang’a County, 63 years) and another to Kura Kipkura (Elgeyo Marakwet, 66 years) to scout for available ‘land’.
But then again, our current leaders can do something about it. We need hospitals. We need clean water. We need industries. When we take kids to Maranda School or Kisumu Girls, we need to ensure they study ‘out of our home poverty’. We must go back to our farms and dig out the millet and the cassava. When we fish, let Kibuye not remain with Mgongowazi as we ‘export’ fillet to Nairobi and, or Thika.
Talking of millet and cassava. As a young boy, my father used to grow millet. However, at some point, we could not keep up with the ‘taunts’ of poverty that our neighbours in gweng’ who could afford ‘grade maize’ used to throw at us. In Nyanza of the 90s, growing millet was a sign of ‘abject poverty’. Which, somehow, was true; because those who grew millet couldn’t afford the ‘grade maize’.
The change from millet and cassava to maize (grade maize) was irreversible and, socio-economically, irredeemable. It was akin to the evolution from orality to literacy in ancient Greece. But I digress.
With time, millet growing disappeared. Maize took over. Because of chemicals and stuff, the soil couldn’t keep up; maize started ‘dying’ in the fields. Not only did we lose the nutrition value; we also lost on the ‘quantity’. I remember millet Ugali and Omena were limitless when I was a young boy herding cows in the village. However hungry or greedy you were; ‘finishing’ a heap of millet ugali would dwarf you. But when maize came, that arrangement changed!
Families became hungrier and angrier. Wives would be beaten. Children ate less as more food was kept for the ‘head of the family’. Women cared more about their men. ‘Wanyo’, the habit of visiting your neighbours during meal times, was now being discouraged. Communities turned into families. Extended families were cut to nuclear families. Even in nuclear families, as I have noted, wives (to avoid the evening beatings) cared more about their husbands!
Add to the dwindling fortunes of men. Men who went to school and college and the universities but for some strange political reasons couldn’t be absorbed in the civil service. Men who came to age and married at the height of ‘siasa mbaya maisha mbaya’. To add to this sad state, the government shunned Luo Nyanza, or should I say Luo Nyanza shunned the government? No hospitals were built. Dispensaries were scattered across the land. To be tested for ‘njofni or njofa’ (roundworms) I remember mother trekking kilometres to reach the closest dispensary. How I didn’t die only Nyasaye knows! I am a survivor hehe!
Democracy? Mutli-party? Freedom from arbitrariness of the state? Well, our parents paid dearly for these things. From 1966 to 2013, it has been long for Nyanza. That’s why my generation is jittery about this ‘opposition thing’. We saw the folly of our parents. We must never repeat some mistakes again. So when Luo Nyanza dies 20 years younger, you shouldn’t look too far. There are resources that individuals can’t pool. These needs the government. These needs good leadership.
In my view, Luo Nyanza should stop the craze and idiocy of chasing at the presidency! It’s been long time coming. We’ve been so close, yet too far. Now, we must be in government. Government and the presidency are two very different things! In a recent report on the composition of the civil service, kambas were more in government than Luos. Same to Luhyas. Kikuyus (as usual) topped and the Kalenjins followed.
Democracy has been too costly.
While at it; we must resolve one other issue: women! Boldly, we must solve the women problem in Luo Nyanza! We love women a lot. We love to party with women. Because of it, others cash on it big time. It is only Ramogi Night that goes on twice a year. Each Wednesday, whether Kisumu or Nairobi, Luos park their ‘machines’. Luos party. We work hard….they pay us….we party!
Have you noticed that most lifestyle adverts on TV nowadays have these promoters with heavy Luo accent, even when they are not Luos? That’s because its us who buy more. Sumsung galaxy s-what? Blackberry? So the young Luo grows up seeing a culture of consumerism.
The top and middle class Luo, with its ‘exclusiveness’, is said to save less and invest less.
Their money isn’t capital. It is what keeps the economy. It circulates in petrol stations, supermarkets, brothels, bars and churches! Money, women, machines!
We have become a consumer community! We consume more. We consume all. We consume early. Then, at 40, when life starts in Bomet, we are dead!