The pious hopes we habitually exchange around this time every year do have a purpose, and that is mainly to put all our travails to the side and dare to think up new realities we have not been blessed with thus far. So, we hope against hope that this coming twelve months will usher in greater joy than we have had, better lives and more happiness.
All that is in order, for we are told that those who cannot hope are condemned to be hopeless, and the hopeless are a damned lot. So, let us wish each other a very happy new year and lift our gazes to the horizon to discern our blessings such as they are.
That does not, in any way, excuse us from coming to grips with our lived reality and to recognise our failings, with a view to finding ways to remedy them. And since our problems are legion and cannot be wished away even in a lifetime, let us tackle those we can tackle at a tactical level while we keep in mind those other that we can reserve for more strategic consideration.
In this country, the most pressing problems we have are naturally those we have to consider existential, by which our very survival might be threatened. Even whittled down to the basics, these will remain innumerable. But we can try to name a couple we can identify with a sense of urgency.
Off the top of my head, without necessarily seeking to be alarmist, I see a likely inability to feed ourselves. The rains have been capricious in many of our provinces, not very different than in many of the countries in the neighbourhood, where the “myth” of climate change has taken on a cloak of reality.
To make matters worse, the so-called Ukraine war continues to put a heavy strain on world food and energy supplies, with most devastation felt in our kind of countries and economies.
So, while we take measures to grow our strategic food reserves, we have to watch out against waste at all levels. We have seen for ourselves that food is a finite item, and that it could run out; in certain cases, it has indeed run out. So, it is urgent to protect what we have, as we continue to strive to get more.
One method of this protection is to take concrete measures to wean our people off rainfed food production, by enabling them to collect water by building dams to prevent water from escaping to the ocean, a most silly example of wastefulness.
It is rather funny that people join in congregations praying to the Great Wizard for the rains to come, and when the rains do indeed fall, and in great torrents, they stand around and watch as all that water runs off to the ocean.
However great as an engineer, God does not build dams.
Another point to consider on this trajectory is to show respect for our farmers and peasants, those on the battlefront of food production.
Our rulers have to realise that this category of people is simply the most important group rendering the most vital service to us all. I have for long adopted this useful mantra: If you eat, you are into agriculture.
This reality must be reflected in all our policies and programmes, including budgetary allocations, extension services, and fair pricing structures. It is only a soulless government that sets aside more money for ministers’ SUVs — for sufferers of the Beyoncé syndrome —than for tractors and fertiliser.
This point has been made since forever, but our rulers seem to have stuffed their ears with cotton wool. You just cannot rule over a poor country such as ours and behave with such arrogance and nonchalance.
Looking at the government vehicles and other conspicuous expenditure, we have the most expensive government around, but the same government begs to build pit latrines!
These, then, are the basic problems that we have to grapple with, and at base must be the realisation that matters are likely to get tougher, not easier. The “Ukraine war” is not ending any time soon, and its effects are likely to have a lasting effect.
We are essentially nations of beggars. Fortunately, those from whom we beg have themselves hit a rough patch, suffering multiple winters of (their own) discontent, exacerbated by Putin’s war. They are not likely to pay heed to our cries of self-inflicted hunger. The “deafness” of the donors — wholly understandable in the circumstance — should be a wake-up call for us to come to our senses and stop behaving like beggars with expensive tastes.
These are tough times, and they are likely to get even tougher, as I have pointed out above. Our government should demonstrate that it is aware of this, and take the requisite measures to soften the impact imposed by these economic realities.
Issues like the Ukraine war are clearly beyond our power, and no one can blame the government for what is happening outside our borders.
But, as I have said, some problems are firmly within our reach, and all that is needed is a little conscience and respect for our people.
With this end-of-year thought, I wish all readers a very Happy and Thinking New Year!