Suppose Charles Dickens was alive today? Suppose he was given the task of describing our times? I am in no doubt that he would use the very same words he used in opening that riveting drama that is A Tale of Two Cities.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”
And indeed it is. We live in a world of extremes. So extreme that the BBC made a documentary series on it-one of the best, I believe that BBC has worked on in recent times. It is on the problem of hunger that these extremes play out. The recent famine that plagued the horn of Africa, its effects still felt, comes to mind. Most of us watched it’s unfolding from the comfort of our living rooms, I suppose with a plate full of food in front of us. I am guilty here. I cannot forget a frail old woman who had to be supported as she made her way to receive relief food being supplied nearby. At some point she stumbled and fell. At that very point, my heart sank and my appetite for food vanished. All I could do was keep staring at the TV. It was a blank stare.
Do you remember Bob Collymore’s speech during the Kenyan for Kenyans Initiative? There were some reports that deaths had occurred in Turkana, hunger-related deaths. The government was quick to sweep these reports under the carpet. Forget Alfred Mutua’s, blatant denial of it. However, for heaven’s sake, do not forget what Bob told us he saw while in Turkana. He saw death, the death of dignity. That is precisely what hunger robs you off-dignity. It is the reason why a father cannot look into the eyes of his daughter. The shame wrought by the unfortunate fact that he cannot put food on the table is too big to bear. It is the reason why that street child walks with his head hung low, his gaze fixed on the dirt below lest he is tempted by the revellers in that outdoor restaurant. It is the reason why a mother absent mindedly thrusts her nipple into her child’s mouth knowing very well that she so little to give. This is reality to most. Yet there are those who cannot relate to this picture no matter how hard they try. Their lives have been one of plenty. Their every desire, especially for food, is met with the greatest of ease. They cannot imagine that a soul can sleep hungry. The world of extremes it is. It’s population seven billion. Two billion malnourished; one under nourished, the other over nourished; One struggling with gaining weight, the other struggling with losing it; One throwing food in the dumpster, the other receiving it; One imposing taxes on high trans-fat foods, the other craving for it; one proposing giving extra grades for school children with normal BMI, the other struggling to keep children in school; one world having overweight air passengers pay extra, the other gazing at flying planes overhead with open mouths and empty stomachs. Ah! A pathetic extreme world it is.
The year 2011 has come to be known as the year of revolution. It is right to say that democracy was a driving force. However, the real reason is the animosity caused by the chasm between haves and the haves-not. When a man is pushed to the wall, he is capable of anything. And neither a high perimeter wall fence nor a state of the art security system can save you from his wrath. If hunger is thrown into the fatal mix, then this man becomes a most lethal weapon. It is our duty to ensure that men of pure souls are not driven to such extremities. We do that by raising our voices against that age-old monster called hunger and even when it seems that it is winning, we do not yield. Instead, we raise our voices higher, on TV, on radio, in print, on the web, in our neighbourhoods, in our barazas, in our homes, and most importantly, on our knees. Then and only then, can this merciless monster be slain.