By Raila Odinga
Mashujaa Day this year has found me in the United States of America with some of our countryâ€™s governors seeking opportunities for our people living in some of our most neglected counties. It is an interesting coincidence that got me thinking of the work that the heroes of yesterday began and that our children and their children have to carry on with. Our country has had great men and women standing up at different times but towards the same goal of ensuring liberty, prosperity and justice for all.
The freedom fighters risked all to liberate us from the colonial yoke. After independence, another generation stepped in and risked all when the very dreams that inspired the freedom fighters were being rolled back. These are the heroes of the Second Liberation who faced the single party machine and reclaimed the rights and freedoms that were being taken away. Of course they paid a great price. The heroes of our first and second liberations have brought us this far. We are immensely indebted to them.
In December, Kenya turns 50. As we remember the heroes of the past half a century, we must focus on the next 50 years ahead and ask ourselves, who will be our heroes of that period and what will make them?
Listening to governors Ukur Yatani of Marsabit and Ahmed Abdullahi Mohammad of Wajir speak about the challenges and promises of their counties, I found myself thinking of our countryâ€™s next fifty years, its old challenges that we have been unable to subdue and the new ones we are yet to start figuring out. Then it occurred to me that the heroes of the years ahead might be made in the counties.
Our counties are certainly set to be the next theatre of action, opportunities, challenges and growth. In Wajir for instance, there is not an inch of tarmac road, 50 years after independence. The governor recently laid his hands on a 1913 colonial government report saying the county has sufficient limestone to produce cement for 100 years. The limestone has never been exploited to date.
In Marsabit, NASA records the strongest all round the year wind blowing in the same direction and capable of generating electricity for all of East Africa. It has never been exploited. Like many other African nations, Kenya is changing fast but transforming too slowly. The economy is growing. But so is poverty. Despite new challenges and new opportunities, the old mindset persists. The heroes of the next fifty years of our country will be men and women who accept that we cannot create the future by clinging to the past.
Kenya has a chance to open a new chapter with the coming of devolved units. Already, a number of our governors are toying with grand visions.
In the struggles of these governors, I see a journey to determine the countryâ€™s future by expanding our countryâ€™s productivity. In this regard, the counties carry great potential in determining our countryâ€™s next heroes. Unfortunately, the passion of the governors alone is not enough. Every defining moment in a nationâ€™s history needs a champion at the centre. Abraham Lincoln stepped in to save the union that remains standing as USA. He remains his countryâ€™s hero to date.
Kenya too needs somebody to champion and save devolution and secure our next fifty years. There is a simple logic that makes me passionate about the future of the counties. The logic is that when I try to empower and make a neighbour rich, I create room for sharing, trading and making life bearable for my neighbour and myself.
We still need to work hard to create better relations between our forty plus ethnic groups. To win the battle against colonial powers, our founding fathers pulled together, in one direction. Today, we are falling apart at the seams. The heroes of the years ahead will be the men and women who will recognise this fact and act to permanently patch up the widening cracks between our ethnic groups by addressing honestly and candidly the things that are setting tribe against tribe.
But we must also never forget that the struggle for freedom never ends. Future heroes will be men and women who remember the words of Ronald Reagan thatâ€¦â€Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It must be fought for, protected, and handed onâ€¦â€
Finally, whether we are ready for it or not, the world is moving into the era of innovation, science and technology. Economists tell us that the world is getting smaller, but it is not coming together. The nations that innovate are going to rule the world.
Kenya has pioneered mobile money. The M-pesa is a unique Kenyan contribution to the world. While it shows the capacity of Kenyans to innovate, it may not be long before somebody comes up with something better. The heroes of the coming years will have to be men and women who keep Kenya on the front row through innovation, science and technology. We live in an era when some corporations are richer than entire nations. I am confident that if we invest in them, the Kenyan youth will give us the Sony, Citicorp, Philip Morris, Yahoo and Google of the next century and make them our heroes. The choice is ours.
The writer is CORD Leader and former Prime Minister of Republic of Kenya