Hunger in The Horn of Africa: Which Way for the “D” Generation?

Published on 29th August 2011

Graduands excited                      Photo courtesy
More than 10 million people in the Horn of Africa, especially Somalia, Ethiopia and northern Kenya are fighting for survival for lack of food. Images of dead and feeble humanity trekking to refugee camps in search of food fill our living rooms. Why have we sunk this low? Where were our planners when this was unfolding? Where were our academic giants?

In the past one month, I have attended several prize giving ceremonies in schools. As usual, only individuals who score the A grade are celebrated. They are perceived to be the solution to challenges plaguing the society. They are hailed as the future food experts, doctors, pilots, engineers, lawyers, corporate managers, planners, economists and architects, among other fields. Why have these Grade A celebrities taken the back seat as starvation ravages our populations? Are they overwhelmed by circumstances?

Currently, thousands of  Kenyan university graduates may be forced to go back to class for remedial courses after failing to secure practicing certificates. They are " very bookish" according to Mr Vimal Shah, (CEO, Bidco Ltd) hence making Kenyan universities to rank poorly in the list of global institutions of higher learning, with only three making it to the top 5000.

Let down by the minority Grade A holders, I think it is time we focused on the majority but obscure Grade D holders. Out of the 357,488 students who sat for their Kenya Certificate of  Secondary Education (KCSE) examinations in 2010, only 97, 134  (or 27.17%) scored the C+ and above grade. Data from Gatundu North District indicates that out of 1963 candidates who sat for the KCSE in 2010, 61% or 1187 scored the  D+  grade and below while in Central Province,  out of 117 district schools with 9013 candidates who sat for KCSE in 2010, 31% or 3198 obtained grade D+ and below.

Social development planners ought to investigate: Where does this sea of humanity with Grade D go? What is their role in the development agenda and societal transformation? The “D” generation is stigmatized. Viewed through elitist lens, the “D” generation are second class citizenry that lack analytical skills and are generally a “failure.” They are scarcely treated as a valuable human resource. They are neglected in decision making. They are engaged in running battles with town authorities as it tries to articulate its concerns or eke a living. The “D” generation only gains momentary relevance when elites armed with poverty eradication proposals seek funding or individuals seek elective posts.

A large population of this generation prevails in the agricultural sector. It is not uncommon to find  most school drop-outs, those who score the “D” grade  and retirees asked to go home and dig. What does this message communicate? That agriculture- the engine of food security- is a haven of failures. With such a mentality, can Africa be food secure?

This stigmatization has adversely impacted on the “D” generation’s psyche. Since this generation forms the majority of the society, to ignore it is to prescribe anarchy to the society. With our society focusing on Grade A celebrities who seem to be overwhelmed, could the solutions to our country’s challenges be embedded in the majority “D” generation that suffers socio-economic and political exclusion? A generation that offers us roasted maize, cleans our shoes, carries us on bode boda, brings goods to our doorsteps through hawking and yet we can’t appreciate it?

CK Prahalad in his book The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid argues that the world's most exciting, fastest-growing new market is where it is least expected: at the bottom of the pyramid. Collectively, the world's billions of poor people who form the bulk of the world’s population have immense untapped buying power and represent an enormous opportunity for companies who learn how to serve them.

It is imperative that Kenya and by extension African countries streamline policy to  appreciate the “D” generation and transform them into a constituent mass that shall respond to their environment and offer solutions to the challenges facing the society. It is imperative that this generation be tapped to bring millions of people from the margins of Africa's economy into the mainstream.

Condemning a critical mass to “failure” and the back seat status breeds profound and far-reaching social, civic, and economic consequences. If by insinuation we relegate agriculture to “failures,” how do we expect our region to be food secure?  If we don’t turn our farmers into professionals, how do we expect them to weather the vagaries of climate extremities and intricacies of market trends? No wonder, Africa is unable to feed itself.

The “A” generation is passive, short-term focused, reactionary and waiting for somebody else to fix the problem. It has surrendered the Horn of Africa to outsiders who are not answerable to respective African countries’ strategies and priorities. Perhaps it is time that we stopped wasting the talent in the “D” generation but tapped into it with a view of turning the “D” generation into the drivers of development.

By Mary Njeri Kinyanjui
Institute for Development Studies,
University of Nairobi

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