At the recent ICPD25 (International Conference on Population and Development), Kenya was on its typical vow-making spree.
We pledged to eliminate Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in the next three years, eradicate gender-based violence by 2030, increase budgetary allocations to related sectors, among a litany of promises.
Of course, there is the bit about being seen to do something, and the other bit about trying to outshine peers; and yet another one about getting inspired in the heat of the moment, but do we mean all these lofty promises that we make? Do we even realise, as the wise men put it, that a promise is a debt – that needs to be repaid at some point?
Remember, talk is cheap. Until the promises are matched with action, they remain just that. This is the reason naysayers will continue dismissing such international forums as mere talk shops. This not only waters down their credibility but also misses an opportunity to do something for the betterment of mankind.
Surely, what will we tell people when we get to 2022 or 2030, and are still nowhere near delivering the promises we made in the full glare of the world? Will we get something to blame? Or will we just put on a straight face and act like nothing happened?
It is usually said that goals need to be smart – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time-bound. Whereas some of these promises score on some of these metrics, they seem to fall short on their being realistic and achievable. Do we even pause to think if some of these promises are realistic, in the first place?
There are those who argue that ambition is great – we have to constantly push ourselves towards a grander ideal. That we have to constantly aim for the stars, so as to at least land on the moon. Fair enough – the only thing we keep forgetting is that this has to go beyond just aiming. We have to make effort to move in that direction, as well.
In addition to this, we have to make effort to learn from past attempts, even as we make a fresh onslaught. Take the practice of FGM for instance. Kenya has previously made effort to vanquish the practice including presidential decrees banning it, enactment of a law after past failed attempts and a state agency leading the charge. The assumption is that it is from these lessons that we are confident of getting lucky on the next attempt. The other assumption is that we have an idea how prevalent the practice is, as to offer an idea of what we are up against. This is the only way to know when we are winning.
The ICPD25 commitments are not the first for the country, though. There are so many protocols and declarations that we have signed up on, complete with commitments, from which nothing has come out. Some of these are firmly within our control, such as the commitment on budgetary allocations to certain industries and sectors, but nothing substantial has come out of these – besides excuses.
If only we followed through and put some effort behind these commitments, the continent would be way ahead, in terms of quality of life for the people and development.
At Independence, the founding fathers of many African countries set out to conquer the main challenges that they faced then – poverty, illiteracy, hunger and bad governance. Close to half a century later, these still remain aspirations. The main reason for this is there are more promises than action.
Until we change our approach towards development and inject some action into intent, we will just continue mark-timing and aspiring.