Ongala Maurice

To Inspire is to Empower



Let’s take the bull by the horn once, for all of us and for all time. Last week, I, like scores other Kenyans, was appalled by the bold yet bewildered initiative taken by the now famous Jackson Njeru to create the equally famed Deadbeat Kenya Facebook Page. Just in the unlikely event that you’re wondering what this is all about, Deadbeat Kenya is a page where women and men bash people they had babies with, and have since taken off or neglected responsibility of the same. And as you would authentically expect, Kenyans have flocked this page for obvious reasons – which I have chosen to deal with in this piece. It has been embraced by all and sundry. It has trended probably more than any recent hot topic on both Social Media and the Mainstream Media. The ‘bashers’, by statistics largely women, post pictures and phone numbers of fathers of their children and accompany such with some not-so-lovely description of what has hitherto transpired.

deadbeatNow, good people, before we hit the crux, it will serve us perfect to examine some basics. According to The Advanced English Dictionary and Thesaurus, a Deadbeat also referred to as Defaulter, is someone who fails to meet a financial obligation. But that is more general. Wikipedia, in quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1965), says thus,

“Deadbeat parent is a racialized pejorative term to parents of either gender who evade court ordered child support obligations. Primarily used in the United States and Canada, the gender-specific deadbeat dad and deadbeat mom are commonly used to refer to men and women who have fathered or mothered a child and intentionally fail to pay child support ordered by a family law court or statutory agency such as the Child Support Agency.”

The issue of who is the father of a child is one person’s word against another’s, unless it is determined by a paternity test or a court of law. This is the first problem anyone must have with the Jackson Njeru-run Facebook initiative. Assuming the above cited law explicitly applied to Kenya, still most, if not all, of the wailers and hecklers (or are they shoe-throwers?) on Deadbeat Kenya have not sought court redress over the paternity and child maintenance. Therefore, they have not an iota of moral justification to defame their so-called exes, male or female. Based on this, users of this unfortunate page risk being charged in a court of law for character assassination and defamation. But that’s not all. According to Section 29 (b) of the Kenya Information and Communication Act, CAP 411 of the Laws of Kenya, the users of Deadbeat Kenya can be charged for causing “annoyance, inconvenience and anxiety”, all of which are criminal offenses in this land. Just a screenshot to any police station is good enough to trigger the legal process!
Personal opinion: Deadbeat Kenya is the case of washing your very own filthy (inner) garments in the public arena as others watch amused. The onlookers clap for you and cheer, “wash more! Use the latest detergent…!”, and in indeed, you keep washing. How backward! How thoughtless! How reckless! Two adults consenting to cheap pleasurable moments in private (or perhaps in public – Masaku 7’s and Muliro Gardens are still fresh in all of our minds) with no thoughts of the consequences, end up in shameless public online duels. Will this give bread and meat to the poor innocent human being you brought into the world? My generation makes me shudder.

Time to take this a half a notch higher. I am in no way being the devil’s advocate here, but who said that single parents cannot make it to raise great people? President Barack Hussein Obama was raised singly by his mother even when his biological (Kenyan) dad was alive and kicking. That in no way deterred him from becoming the most powerful man on earth today, and for the last couple of years. Right home, the CEO of Equity Bank, Dr. James Mwangi, a man celebrated at home and abroad, lost his dad at a tender age and thereafter, brought up by his peasant mother in a poverty-stricken village right here in Kenya. Today his own bank is soaring high in the East African region, and he is a billionaire! Think of the other numerous examples, time limits me.

Kenyan youth have been known to have their priorities wrong. They fight vehemently for jobs; consideration and involvement in policy formulation and implementation yet make no deliberate efforts to prepare themselves for the tasks they demand. Education and learning, to them ends with college and everything that follows could include nothing further than parties, raves, alcohol, sexual exploits and clandestine, which results in unexpected pregnancies and deadly infections. A sick society of moral decadence, indolence and slothfulness.

Turkey, The Koreas and China – some of the greatest Asian economies – have a labour force relatively similar to Kenya (the highest being 20 – 34 years old, on average). This is a pretty young workforce, just like Kenya. The youth in the cited countries spend most of their time in innovation hubs trying to solve technological problems and coming up with innovations that are eventually exported to Africa. They take full advantage of the 24 hour economy and make the most out of it. They do not acquire education in order to be employed, but rather to be self-dependent. A second, before you defensively say, Kenya has no innovation hub, 24-hour economy et cetera, allow me to pull you closer home. Youth Hub Africa is a youth run online initiative founded by a Nigerian young person, Rotimi Olawale alongside others. An online youth interaction platform that promotes excellence, Youth Hub Africa has helped connect numerous young people on and off the continent to opportunities; fellowships, scholarships, conferences, trainings and so on. Keeping with West Africa, John Armah, only 23, is one of Ghana’s youngest entrepreneurs. He is the founder of Ghana Centre for Entrepreneurship, Employment and Innovation (GCEEI). This centre is committed to easing the unemployment problem amongst the youth in Ghana in both the formal and informal sectors by providing a platform where the unemployed youth can connect with experienced entrepreneurs, business financiers, recruitment agencies, skills training experts and policy makers, so they can either be employed or receive the requisite training, advice and funding to actualize their business ideas. Again time and space beat me.

Back home, young people of the employable age and qualities (read self-employment), have so much time to meddle in online mediocrity at the expense of the country’s economy. Kenyan youth burn so much time doing online politicking, perpetrating and spreading hate speech, and engaging in counter-productive online ventures like Deadbeat Kenya, which only enrage resentment, anger, anxiety and animosity. I am in no capacity to justify why any right-thinking man would bastardize a baby – in the simplest term, it is unacceptable antisocial behaviour! Having underscored this, it even beats me the more why a level-headed woman would rant about her bastard and his/her irresponsible father in public, in this age and time, instead of seeking legal redress. Makes me wonder, which of the two actions would bear the most admirable fruits? Where is wisdom? What happened to the fabric of our social order ans sense of shame?

I wouldn’t close this before I opine that in the wake of devolution of resources to grassroots and lots of privileges and favours directed to the youth from the government and by the constitution, we can do better than the ‘Deadbeat Kenyas’ of this country. We can rise above mediocrity and start cherishing excellence. We can desist from burning idle time on unproductive social media ventures, go out there and do actual work.

The author is a Social Development Consultant, Youth Africa’s Correspondent in Kenya,  Kenya Community of Practice’s National Youth Representative and CO-Chair of African Youth for Results Network (Y4R)