November 16th, 2010 | Posted in Reproductive Health
by Jay Gribble, vice president, International Programs
Sitting in the hall where Kenya’s National Leaders Conference will be starting in a few minutes, I can’t help but feel that there is an opportunity to refocus national attention to development…to the goal that I have heard repeatedly of becoming a Middle Income country. And to achieve this goal, they must first recognize that population is an underpinning development issue that cannot be ignored.
In the 1980s and 1990s, Kenya was a leader in reproductive health and maternal health, really setting a pace for the continent. But during the 2000s, Kenya turned its attention to other pressing issues—namely HIV/AIDS—and began to give less attention to population issues. Though HIV continues to be a plague, it is now time to return to the importance of slowing population growth, for until this fundamental issues is addressed, there will be less opportunity for education, jobs, and better health. At the same time, as a predominantly rural country with agriculture representing a major part of the economy, smaller families will be critical to maintaining farms that are large enough to feed families and the country.
This conference promises to reorient attention to Kenya’s development plan—Vision 2030—a multisectoral view of what Kenya needs to do to advance its economic development. Kenya’s economy is growing faster than many of its neighbors. Yet long-term solutions need to be developed and carried out to turn things around.
To make this change happen, leadership must come from the top. Ministers and parliamentarians need a renewed attitude. Instead of focusing on large families—and a larger number of future voters for reelection—they need to focus on building the capacity and opportunity of each Kenyan—regardless of sex, tribe, age. On Kenya’s national coat of arms is the Swahili word Harambee, which means to pull together—like during a tug of war. Citizens and leaders alike need to pull together and recognize the goal of becoming a Middle Income country and take the appropriate steps to make this vision a reality.