I have read the witty comments on social media and the sober reviews in newspapers about President Kenyatta’s promise of laptops to standard one pupils with rising distress. Though the negative views are in the minority and easy to laugh at, they reveal the poverty mindset the nation needs to abandon to move from “analogue to digital”. The point is not that we believe what the president is saying is impossible; rather the point is that many people have no knowledge of what must be done to bring about national transformation.
If the president holds to his word, he will be doing no more than Moi or Kibaki who moved education forward with the 844 system and free primary education. At the time people said these initiatives were impossible, unwise or too expensive. I don’t think those who benefited from these changes would mindlessly call them a waste of time.
When President John F Kennedy told Americans on 21st May 1961, “we shall put a man on the moon before the end of the decade”, the people scoffed. The people could not see beyond themselves and the cold war. But America did put a man on the moon in July 20 1969, less than a year before the end of the decade. Sadly, Kennedy did not see that glorious day. However, Kennedy’s victory was not that commander Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, but that America was transformed forever. Americans took a great leap forward and believed in themselves once more.
By making the moon a national priority, Kennedy inspired the people to look up. He caused the advancement of technology in every sector of the economy and inspired industries to feed the national goal. When the people realized the government was serious about the moon mission they mobilized the resources needed to make it happen. The people created enterprise, innovations and creativity to drive a stagnating economy. The goal shifted the focus from agriculture and military arms race to technology and modern industry. In short, the nation was transformed.All the leadership gurus give place to the need for big hairy audacious goals (BHAGS) to transform a nation from Jim Collins, John Kotter to Myles Munroe. It would be a great shame if our national vision is limited to lollipops. If Kenyans realize President Kenyatta’s goal before the end of his term, it is not the president who will be walking on the moon. We will have created new fundamental belief systems to drive society, new industries to drive enterprise (and employment) and expanded the participation of Kenyans in the global economy. We will have laid a foundation for the next generation to succeed in our rapidly changing and challenging world. In short, we will transform our nation.
Admittedly, lollipops are cheap, available in every village and provide ten minutes of sweetness. They are not like laptops that are expensive, facilitate career development and provide a technology window to a lifetime of opportunity. Our challenge as a nation is not that we do not have lollipops or laptops, but that we must change our thinking from lollipops to laptops. Just because sweets are affordable does not mean they should limit our vision. To move from sweets to significance, we must be prepared to sweat for success.
Allan Bukusi, April 2013
Author of How To Lead Corporate Transformation