Is Kenya having a mid-life crisis?

 
Demonstrator wears a mask in the colours of the Kenyan flag - June 2013

Kenya turns 50 on Thursday - and I'm reliably informed that this an age which is truly a turning point in life.

Memory, vision, hearing, movement - speed, flexibility and agility - are all faced with challenges as the years creak by. So is Kenya at 50 acting her age?

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Memory:

The ruins of a building following a bombing in Nairobi on 7 August 1998 In 1998, 224 people died when al-Qaeda bombed the US embassy in Nairobi

As middle age kicks in it is common for people to forget things: You misplace your keys; you forget the title of the film you watched last month.

Kenya, too, is becoming increasingly forgetful.

Before the terrible attack at the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi last September, in which scores of innocent lives were lost, Kenya had faced a similar, more deadly terrorist attack which targeted the US embassy in the heart of the city.

But all the lessons of the 1998 bombing were quickly forgotten - until Westgate happened.

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Vision:

Children pose for a photograph outside their classrooms in Nairobi, Kenya - June 2013 80% of Kenyans are under 35 years old

Changes in age lead to changes in vision. As we get older, we require glasses or stronger lenses for reading or driving.

Kenya is almost legally blind.

And as Kenya itself grows older, it has failed to see that its population is growing younger.

Eighty percent of Kenyans are under 35 years old and each year, one million Kenyans jump out of their mothers' womb screaming their heads off, for education, food, better health and jobs.

Yet, despite their large numbers, it is the young who are hardest hit by lack of jobs.

Infographic showing population rising from 8.9 to 43m, while child mortality rate has fallen from 175 to 73 per 1,000 live births Kenya's population is growing rapidly and has more than quadrupled in the past 50 years. About 42% of the population is below 15 years of age. Child mortality rates have fallen - although Unicef says figures vary, from 54 per 1,000 live births in Central Province to 206 per 1,000 in Nyanza Province.
Graph showing life expectancy has risen since 1960 but fell with spread of HIV/Aids in the 1990s before recovering  Life expectancy in Kenya rose until the late 1980s, when the HIV/Aids virus started to spread. It is still reported to be the leading cause of death in the country. According to Unicef, about 1.3m people are currently living with HIV in Kenya, but latest figures suggest prevalence is dropping.
Infographic shows GDP/head has risen from $321 to $594, proportion of population living in urban areas has increase from 8 to 24% Kenya has the largest GDP in East and Central Africa. Its main exports are tea, coffee, horticultural products and petroleum products. The World Bank says Kenya needs to adopt more modern farming methods. About 75% of the population still live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for most of their income.

According to a UN Programme for Development (UNDP) report released earlier this year, youth unemployment rates are several times higher than among adults and particularly in cities and among females.

Kenya has recently been to the optician to acquire new lenses that will focus better on its children, through new government initiatives that aim to create employment for young people.

However, Kenya's blurred vision means the country is sitting on a demographic time bomb.

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Hearing:

A protester carries a dummy pig head covered with animal blood, reacts as he participates in a demonstration against lawmakers" demands for a pay rise There have been angry demonstrations about MPs' salaries this year

If you have ever had the experience of shouting into your grandma's ear because of her failing hearing, then you will understand the frustrations of Kenyans.

As the years catch up with Kenya, its ears are rapidly failing.

Before the elections in March, the "wananchi", or ordinary people, took to the streets and shouted down their members of parliament who were attempting to raid public coffers and award themselves lucrative pay hikes and astonishing retirement packages.

Fearing reprisals at the ballot box, the politicians reluctantly backed down.

But with Kenya now increasingly deaf, the MPs are once more analysing their payslips and knocking on the treasury door.

They just did not hear what the wananchi told them.

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Movement:

Kenya's finance minister holding up a briefcase containing the budget in Nairobi - June 2013 Disagreements between politicians can paralyse government business

Age can be cruel: the knees that held you upright now begin to call for a commercial break in the middle of an exciting journey.

They do not even have the courtesy of letting you sit down quietly - they will creak, moan and sigh loudly.

The six-pack tummy of youth turns into a beautifully rounded one-pack balloon that is finding the ground more exciting to touch than staying firmly in place.

Kenya has stepped into all these challenges of age.

Start Quote

If God wanted me to touch my toes he'd have put them on my knees!”

End Quote Kenya at 50

As the knees, which guide movement and symbolise all sections of government, decide with one accord to take the country forward in a particular direction, disharmony sets in gradually and the body is thrown into rigor mortis.

The left knee, which is perhaps the senate, twists out of shape and decides to walk in the opposite direction.

The right knee, which symbolises parliament, sulks and decides to sit down.

Meanwhile, the spine, which represents the county governors, suffers a slipped disc as it contorts itself out of shape trying to reach for more money from central government.

The rest of the Kenyan frame has little choice but sit still, breathless.

No-one goes anywhere.

When the wananchi question this lack of agility, direction and purpose, ageing Kenya has a ready answer: "If God wanted me to touch my toes, he'd have put them on my knees!"

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  • Mid-life crisis:
A woman registers to vote with an official with a laptop in a village in Kaijado County, December 2012 Kenya envisages a digital future

So you can see Kenya has aged, but there is hope for the country at 50.

Just like the men and women who have renewed themselves with age, found new hobbies and new callings in their mature years, Kenya is trying to make the most of its mid-life crisis.

It has a 2030 vision to propel it into middle-income status by 2030.

High-speed commuter trains - the equivalent of a flashy sports car for the man chasing his youth - will replace the chaotic and inefficient public transport system of today.

A fully digitised society, complete with laptops in schools, an electronic-government, and internet-enabled rural villages will complement a new oil-driven economy.

With improved eyesight, a sharper sense of hearing, greased knees and joints, as well as memory-enhancing exercises, I feel confident that Kenya, with its dyed hair, will be unrecognisable when it sits amongst the world's leading economies in the year xyz.

For now in advance of the big day, let me say, "Happy birthday Kenya!"

Even without teeth, you are still a great companion to live with at 50.

 

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  • rate this
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    Comment number 32.

    The question shouldn't be 'is Kenya having a mid-life crisis?' but rather 'do we care..........???????????'

    This back page story has been up 2 days.....the answer is NO

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 31.

    what a disgraceful title! it claims that Kenya is undergoing a midlife crisis! its only 50 years old! how long has UK been around as independent state? 1000 years. laughable title and shows one rule for Africa in terms of development and another for West. Arrogant title shows you cant wait for Kenya to fail. intentions exposed! you slipped up BBC. always knew you are desperate to see Africa fail.

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 30.

    Like many other Kenyans, rich and poor, I am proud of my country. Yes we have had challenges in the last 50 yrs, which country hasnt? The US was the same in early 1900s, Europe was at war 70 yrs ago. Africa has been exploited but I am happy a new crop of young leaders led by Kenyatta is emerging. The old men are slowly exiting and Africa renaissance is slowly taking root. Kenya is going places.

  • Comment number 29.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this
    +1

    Comment number 28.

    Let's have SOME POSITIVE COMMENTS ABOUT KENYA! WE have SO VERY MUCH TO BE THANKFUL FOR! SO MUCH DIVERSITY , THE PEOPLE, CULTURES, NATURE...A country is much more than statistics!.GO FORWARD- FORGIVE!. 50 years country-wise is a TODDLER, but we're making the first steps!! IT'S TIME FOR UNITY & HARMONY! KEEP ON, KENYANS WITH YOUR INDOMITABLE SENSE OF HUMOUR AND SPIRIT OF SURVIVAL !

 

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