“We meet at a college noted for knowledge, in a city noted for progress, in a state noted for strength, and we stand in need of all three, for we meet in an hour of change and challenge, in a decade of hope and fear, in an age of both knowledge and ignorance. The greater our knowledge increases, the greater our ignorance unfolds…” so says John F Kennedy in his speech we choose to go the moon. I am not yet acquainted with the scientific rational behind the correlation of knowledge and ignorance as brought out by this outstanding orator, but in the wake of the recently launched vision 2030 roadmap, it’s only prudent to subscribe to the same flight of thought in totality. If you read on I will tell you why.

Today at 5am My Singapore made alarm clock bid me good morning, I get into my Italian attire, and gladly emptied a cup of British processed coffee in a China made mug. I received a call via my Hungary made nokia phone, from a Kenyan brother working in an Indian owned paper manufacturing firm, who finds it imperative to shares with me the sad news of the demise of his Canada made Mp3 player that passed on due to unavailability of spare parts. I then take my South Africa made pen and write to you this letter, heavily quoting an American states man. It is sad, absurd and for lack of a better British phrase bizarre to note that the only Kenyan thing about me is my name, my heritage and my pitiful pride. I beg to be excused for submitting that the answers to Kenya’s development questions largely lie on the innovative capacity of our engineers. Show me an emerging economy, and I’ll show you a country with enterprising engineers. Kenya has four universities with full-fledged engineering departments yet we use cutlery made in china, electronics made in Japan, automobiles made in America…for the love God, where do the over 500 engineering graduates every year go to? For good measure, allow me to assume they put their five years of intensive training to the assembly of motor vehicle parts, procurement of electronics from oversees and only heavens know what else!

Shame on us, if we can’t come up with innovative, economic sensible & ecological friendly solutions to the technological quagmire facing this country; shame on us, if 40 years after independence we can still import basic kitchen ware like cutlery; and above all shame on us if we can proudly walk head high masquerading as engineers yet we cant design a simple machine to grind maize cobs so as to produce animal feed. Make no mistake comrades, the challenge to every student engineer today is not to make spoons and knives and export them to the economically ailing state of Zimbabwe; our challenge is to invent an eco-friendly technology of making a spoon of superior quality at the lowest possible cost, and have it compete in the international market; our greatest challenge is not to come up with a machine that can recycle used tyres, our utmost challenge is to identify that used tyres have an economic value and they need to be recycled at a sensible cost. The challenge of today’s engineers is not to see the technological vacuum arising from global warming; escalating population and inflation- It is to anticipate such a vacuum and its economic consequences; our challenge, I insist, is not to do the impossible, it is to see the invisible.

Everyday starting yesterday, in the intellectual menu of Kenya’s cream of the crop, vision 2030 has been- and shall continue being- a delicacy. As much as it may be fashionable to sing to the tune of this scholarly in-thing, the million-dollar question to all student engineers and by extension, citizens of good will is, “what is my personal contribution to the realization of this ambitious but feasible dream?” tradition reminds us that dreams only occur at night… and indeed last night that was the past 40 years, we did build castles in the air. But Henry David Thoreau tells us our work need not be lost; let’s now put foundations under them. I can’t agree more. A new day has come, it’s now time to wake up Kenya… and heed to the challenge posed by John F. Kennedy a political icon in the American democracy, said he, “ask not what your country can do for you- ask what you can do for your country.” I Rest my case.

ONGOMA SHITANDI

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Kenya Engineer is the definitive publication of Engineers in East Africa & beyond and the official journal of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya. Kenya Engineer has been in publication since 1972.

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