It is a terrifying scenario to imagine, let alone live it. A parent takes her child to school, chatting happily, perhaps, about the opportunities the new school term will present.
“Seize those opportunities,” I imagine the parent saying, as they part ways. With a final wave to her parent, the child picks up her bag and strides towards her future.
But there will be no future for her. A few weeks into the school term, the parent receives terrifying summons to the school. A fire, the parent is told, has consumed a dormitory and the whereabouts of her child are unknown.
One can imagine the frantic rush to the school, the search among charred rabble and debris, every smouldering log resembling the parent’s worst nightmare. The parent hurries past other parents whose search has been more merciful, weeping in relief with their traumatised children. But for this parent, fate has decreed no such relief. Her daughter, it will turn out, is among the eight killed in the fire.
This is not my imagination. It is the scene described by a journalist friend when he accompanied his cousin to Moi Girls’ School in search for her daughter. Their search came to an abrupt stop that only death can present with such merciless finality.
This tragedy at Moi Girls’ school has been repeated many times in our schools over the years. When these tragedies happen, we mourn the deaths and imagine sadly what benefits to themselves and to us the dead children would have brought in the future.
Then, just like we do with other tragedies, we as a nation relegate the painful episodes to the shadows of our memory. As a nation, we turn back to our national pastime — politics.
Politics is what consumes us. It is what we feel most passionate about. It is what unites a professor and his village kin. It is what we are ready to die and kill for.
We discuss with fervour the chances of our favourite candidates at the polls — impending or five years away. We calculate and assess the different clan/tribal formations that will ensure victory at the polls.
Whether these politicians are thieves, as most of them are, or whether they are liars, as most of them are, is really beside the point. In our conceptualisation of politics, there is no link between the poor state of the heath sector, the poor state of our roads or our Third World status and a leadership of thieves and liars.
True, we complain bitterly about corruption scandals or about MPs’ wage heists, but still we refuse to see how quality of leadership is directly linked to our underdevelopment.
In the just concluded elections, we were willing to kill or die for our preferred candidates. Yet the first order of business, even before being sworn in, for the victorious MCAs and MPs was to demand that their salaries, recently slashed minimally by the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, be reinstated.
People are now complaining bitterly about this betrayal. But in a while, this too will be forgotten, and we will once again be violently castigating each other on social media or in other public places in defence of these MCAs and MPs.
Can a nation that never learns ever progress socially and economically? We can argue, as we do when confronted with our shortcomings, the way politicians have taught us to: That we will make progress in due time; that Europe took hundreds of years to be where it is; that we are only 50 years old.
But other poor regions refused to wait for 200 years to escape the indignity of poverty. They linked poor leadership to their underdevelopment. Therefore, they demanded better from their leadership and state officials. They mercilessly punished thieves masquerading as leaders. They castigated negligence of state officials.
They thoroughly investigated tragedies, such as that at Moi Girls’ School, so as to learn what went wrong and , therefore, avert future such incidents. They punished those who, through acts of commission or omission, led to or facilitated the tragedies.
As a result, in just a single generation, those regions were able to transform themselves from Banana Republics into sophisticated First World countries.
Until we resolve this crisis of rationality, we will always be a nation that learns nothing from tragedies. We will always elect tribalist thieves to lead us.
We will always be a nation of deferred dreams, and, most tragically, a nation mournfully searching for its future among the charred remains of its children.