Maintenance (or lack thereof) in the African context

An old African proverb advises against pointing a finger to another person, because you’ll have three pointing back at you. This can probably be one of the reasons that most Africans are so sensitive to criticism even positive criticism.

Lest I be labeled anti-African and ungrateful to my motherland, I wish to make one point clear. Not that I despise my Africa, but that I love my Africa more and would like to see it achieve more.

How can I not be proud of Africa when it not only educated me in its best schools, but it also taught me good manners that people everywhere seem to appreciate. It taught me to live with people from every race anywhere on earth with respect although this at times is misinterpreted as being naïve.

But, in the same way I would criticize my children when they err, I feel compelled to criticize my Africa, not out of disrespect but out of love.

When I was little at the dawn of independence in Kenya, in my village, we had public piped water points at every corner of our village. Abundant water supply. School going children were given a free cup of milk every day. School books were free. During national celebrations, the government used to supply bulls to be slaughtered for mass barbeques for the consumption of the villagers.

There were organized sporting events between villages and winners could go away with coveted prizes, such as charcoal iron boxes, blankets or cooking pans and you could call 999 emergency hotline and police would show up.

The only tarmacked major road was a center for attraction for both you and old friends from far away villages where there was no such luxuries.

This highway was well maintained by the colonial governments. And now and then they would clear the overgrown bushes along the highway.

A rural access road in Kenya

A rural access road in Kenya

Even though most of the houses were mud houses, the owners were required to maintain them in good condition, and a government housing inspector, who was incorruptible, would ensure that this was done before the end of each year.

And then independence came, and the African assumed control of his house.

“..there is no people on earth who would not prefer their own bad government to the good government of an alien power”. The great Mahatma Gandhi is quoted saying these words to the occupying British colonial government. Can it be possible that they could have read this and decided to take it in its literal form!

If not so, how can anybody explain why Africa is so badly managed by Africans for the Africans?

Why did life become more unbearable with the advent of the Africa’s self rule?

You could no longer call the police hotline as it no longer existed and if you did the police station by any other means, you never got help because either they did not have a vehicle to come in or it had no gas!

The communal watering points dried in time due to lack of Maintenance of pumping engines and clogged pipes.

Parents started building schools, buying books for their children, paying school fees and paying teachers as the government could no longer afford to do so..

Communal feasts courtesy of state were all gone. Non tarmac roads used to be maintained, now no more.

Why was the Kenya-Uganda railway left to such a point of disrepair that a new one had to be rebuilt? The old one could have been maintained alongside the new one as part of history and as a tourist attraction.

Nairobi Railway Station built in 1899, no improvement made on it in 52 years of independent Kenya

Nairobi Railway Station built in 1899, no improvement made on it in 52 years of independent Kenya

Why is it that roads that used to be tarmac at independence no longer exist because the few tarmac remnants had to be removed as they made the roads impassable?

Why is it that we cannot travel on any of our roads without coming across craterlike potholes?

How it is that sewage system in our cities is nonexistent and there are no plans in place to build them even as city population increases by biological progression.

Many have struggled with the question as to how and why this happened, why did everything have to go the African way, as John Githongo once described this African dilemma.

Zimbabwe, the former granary of Africa became a food recipient, Cairo International airport, one has to carry own luggage down a flight of stairs on mobile ladder to a dilapidated transit bus. Sports stadia became cattle rearing grounds or grabbed by African Strong men.

Is it possible that “Maintenance”, a word which has no equivalent in any of many African languages, does not exist in African way of life?

How can lack of a particular word in a language have such a profound effect in people’s lives?