Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Walk My Path

The last few months in my toastmasters journey have been a whirlwind. Since December last year I have delivered four speeches and taken two roles. Of all these yesterday's speech was the most exhilarating. I spoke on a topic which I am deeply passionate (EVA) and its potential to generate wealth in rural areas. The speech was also special as it was delivered as part of the International Taped Speech Contest for Toastmasters. I was humbled that despite very worthy contestants also giving speeches the judges awarded my speech as the winning speech. Here is the full text of the speech below, titled Walk My Path.

UPDATE: You can now see the video here or at the end of this post.

Almost 60 years ago, my grandfather at the behest of British colonialists was forced out of his central province and found refuge as a miller in the Rift Valley town of Njoro. It took independence of our nation for him to find a chance to move his family back.

30 years ago, my father left a cushy government job that let him traipse the country with helicopters and brought his family to Njoro to lecture at Egerton University. He was attracted by the genial multiethnic atmosphere of intellectuals, where he felt his children could best develop.

And so I, two years ago, driven more by romanticism than rational, determined that I would be the third generation to find his future in Njoro.

I laid the plans to invest in an outsourcing centre that would pioneer in Njoro and spread to other rural towns around the country. The centre targeting Nairobi clients would rival the much heralded Konza city in its ease of setup, its impact to the community, and its value to its customers.

My father once told me that he who walks alone will soon find a hyena trailing him, ready to pounce on the swinging hand if it falls off. I have embarked on this path, and though my hands are not in danger of falling off, I know the value in bringing more to caravan. Today I am here to ask you to walk with me, to walk my path with me. Walk my path, leave your urban life and find your future in the rural towns.

My friends warned me against this path, prophesying it would end in misery. My investment would not be welcome in ethnicities different from my own, there was no infrastructure in the village, and I would never find qualified personnel to work in the centres. So I was forced to base my decision on reason.

What I found, is that those fears could not be further from based from reality.

I travelled the breadth of this country to find the truth. In Migori county: from the gold mines in Nyatike to the sugar cane plantations of Aedo, I was given friendly welcome and abode by diverse ethnic communities. Deep in Kerio Valley near the fluorspar mines, I found a primary school with teaching technology more advanced than our universities, training future knowledge workers; and in southern Meru past Mitunguu I found irrigation technology that had converted unproductive land into wealth generating banana plantations. All these rural areas dispelled the myths floated by well-meaning friends, and everywhere I visited, there ran a common deep vein of aspiration and openness that contrasted with the indifference and rejection that I had come to accept in Nairobi.

My most significant trip was to Mbale, the home of my maternal grandfather. A town perched on the hills of Taita overlooking the plains of Voi. My elderly aunt, a woman of nearly 70, invited me to her home. It was up a 60 degree incline and she bound up the hill as if wound on springs, while I portly labored on all fours from the physical infelicities of my sedentary lifestyle.

Like her, most of the villagers were grizzly beards and sun-weathered crow’s feet. Where are all the youth I asked? A strong wrinkled finger pointed at the coastal city Mombasa. They have gone to look for jobs.

It is the same reason I found my way to Nairobi to find economic prosperity. Barely legal I braved the smoke from the buses and the dust from concrete structures going up left and right leaving no trees in sight. With many others, we came to Nairobi to be millionaires but instead became a million heirs to the scraps of the spoils of what the true owners of Nairobi had already shared among themselves

The dream of success in Nairobi at the same time is what inspires us and shackles us. For until we believe that our success can be found elsewhere we remain forever imprisoned by the false promise of urbanity.

So I call unto you. Walk with me. Walk my path. Let us remove the negativity attached to rural life. Never before has chance met with such opportunity. We are a generation at the cusp of an once-in-a-lifetime prospect. In a weeks’ time our structure of government will change and the commission for revenue allocation will begin releasing hundreds of billions of shillings into these rural areas; and there is something there for all of us.

Young graduates. You need not tarmac for months upon months fighting over the few jobs that Nairobi can offer, free yourself and instead create jobs, through your skills and passion. Walk with me, become the entrepreneurs and managers of these outsourcing centres.

Middle class professionals: teachers, doctors, engineers, insurers, professors, marketers. You have attained comfort and security but at the expense of being pushed further and further away from the city centre. Left clinging to the notion you are a Nairobian only by expanding the Metropolis. Instead, achieve your true destiny and potential. Walk with me, walk my path. Your investments and experience will meet ready returns can make you the royalty of these burgeoning county economies.

Nairobi elite, you who own Nairobi, whose surnames adorn our buildings and roads; whose factories manufacture our bread and butter. There is opportunity for you too in providing housing estates for the professionals and shopping malls for the consumers. Walk with me, walk my path, and if your soles cannot tread this path the let your wallets walk with me and partake in the opportunities.

Near the top of that steep hill in Taita, my aunt noticed that I had fallen behind and because sometimes we need a guide to see our dreams, she reached out her hand to pull me up. And as I reached the top and the heavens kissed my temples, the clouds in my mind were cleared. I knew that this path held the future, for me, and for you, and you and you.