By Anyang’ Nyong’o The US is a strong nation and a dominant economy globally because of the strength of its parts – the strength of each state that is part and parcel of the union. Each state brings to the union what it is good at producing: California is the agricultural breadbasket and the leading producer of wine.
But California could easily stand as an independent state because it is an economy on its own right, perhaps the fifth biggest economy in the world.
Hawaii brings in tourism and has specialised thoroughly in this department, even giving up sugar production and shutting down the factories to create space for growing coffee, corn, macadamia, cocoa, fruits and vegetables, which are consumed locally and are roped into the tourist circuit. The Waikiki Beach alone, an area much smaller than the Nyali Beach on the Kenyan Coast, has 78 hotels and hosts close to 100,000 guests every night.
The story continues; every state has a tale to tell. And no one gets elected to the state congress or the congress in Washington if she or she does not have a social or economic agenda that the residents of his or her state view as relevant to their wellbeing. It is not enough that one lives in this or that neighbourhood to be elected as the son or daughter of the soil; the neighbourhood has many sons and daughters but few qualified messengers to articulate issues in representative institutions.
One good quality of Kenya’s Constitution today is that it recognises and seeks to institutionalise individual and people’s rights the way the US Constitution does. This is the only way we shall turn our ethnic diversity to positive use. So far we have used ethnicity negatively by gnawing at each other negatively at the national level and not producing positively at the local level so as to add positively to national development.
This was made worse by the three successive presidential authoritarian regimes that concentrated power in the presidency, making it very easy for all kinds of thieves and knaves to misuse national resources to the detriment of both the nation and its constituent parts: the individual and the people. By getting rid of this presidential authoritarian regime, and having a president constrained by democratic institutions as well as devolved government, we should now release the energy of the individual and the people for more creativity and development. We shall have our own Hawaiis and Californias.
When it is dry in northern Kenya people and animals die due to drought; when it rains in this part of the world the same tragedy occurs due to floods.
Something is missing in this equation: the control of floods to use the water to produce life when the rains are no longer there. This will lead to developing a horticultural economy and dry land tourism that Kenya has so far not seen. Only the people of this area, adequately resourced, can perform this task. This is devolution at work.
The Nyanza Gulf is the most endowed water resource in Kenya. Properly managed it is a producer of freshwater fish for export as well as home consumption. Water sports could easily produce sportsmen of world class to compete in the Olympics. We could also include here water cruises of the type that attracts many a human being to troop to Florida everyday to visit the Caribbean Islands; Lake Victoria could even be more attractive in this regard.
The growth of the entertainment industry naturally lies in the western part of Kenya, what has been known as Nyanza and Western provinces. It would be amazing how the growth of this industry could easily re-orient agricultural production to fuel and feed it, much in the same way as agriculture has been re-oriented in Hawaii to feed and fuel the tourism industry.
What makes many tourists to travel long distances from their homes to other places is curiosity: the urge and need to see and experience something unusual or historical, like the Taj Mahal in India. Quite often such places and experiences are introduced to them through sheer propaganda, something we respectfully call "advertising".
In Kenya we are very weak at advertising what we are, what we offer and what one can enjoy in our country. For a long time we have been stuck with two products: the animal and the coast. Sometimes we add the colonial curiosity with the Maasai man jumping beyond the clouds as another tourist attraction.
We can do much better than this.
What about advertising the Wanga Kingdom and the great dynasty that existed in Western Kenya whose shrines can still be seen and experienced as if the King himself is reincarnated. What about Nganyi the rainmaker, he who watered the lake basin with heavenly liquids even at a time of great drought throughout East Africa in times gone by? What about Simbi Nyaima and Luanda Magere, not to mention the warrior Gor Mahia who was the Luo version of Goliath of the Biblical myths? Let us then crown it with Kit Mikayi the shrine where, like Mount Sinai, all the important edicts were once given in the heartland of the fishing communities of the lake Region.
In that regard, we will need to be more imaginative about our tourism industry in general, and along the coast in particular, to involve the people more and integrate them into the tourism economy as producers and service providers. It is totally unacceptable that home-based tourism is not a domestic but an alien product along the coast; a properly conceived economic stimulus program by the future county governments, devoid of crony capitalism, should encourage local people to engage in home or cottage tourism.