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  • Writer's pictureIrungu Houghton

Reflections on turning 50: February 22, 2016

    Once I step over the word amazement, two words describe turning 50 on February 22; alive and self-expressed. I was born on February 22 1966 less than two kilometers from my current home. In between I have lived in London, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Washington DC and spent enough days in Addis to pay as much taxes as the locals. Six cities, three continents and back to Kilimani. The last five years alone seem like a couple of lifetimes. A new love and marriage, family, friends, career in the public interest, a community foundation and twitter.

    Five lessons stand out for me. In my twenties, I used to be told to “slow down, you will burn out”. I know now I am never going to burn out before I die but I can prioritise better. Focus on those things that have the greatest chance of transforming the issues that matter to me, the people in my life.

      Secondly, anything very important or really big I want to achieve is too big for me to create alone or in this lifetime. This informs my work with the Kilimani Project Foundation and my belief in my younger colleagues in the dawn of their careers.

    Thirdly, that while I may still struggle with confidence (this was the norm in the twenties), the biggest handicap at 50 is my ego. Most times my impatience with procrastination and endless consultations is actually my ego speaking. Having the wisdom to know when to interrupt others and when to just listen and know that even the endless conversations allow others to clarify their thoughts.

    Fourthly, even the deepest of disappointments can be handled. A few years ago, I was not shortlisted for public office. Dark and righteous thoughts emerged. “Not even shortlisted to 200 applicants?” and a few others too dark to be repeated. I breathed, gave myself 20 minutes to think dark thoughts and then asked, “OK, what do you want to do next?”. Light replaced darkness.

    Out of that came the Kenya Dialogues Project at the Society for International Development. The project is now a 200 million shilling campaigning force working nationally and across ten counties to protect our public schools, challenge corruption and discrimination and create Kenya in the image of our constitution. If we keep our faith ahead of our fears, our actions ahead of our ideas, disappointments and complaints have no power to rob us of life.

    Lastly, an increasingly predictable question these days, are you going to run for public office? As I look at Kenya through the lens of chapter 6, not all who are in public office act in the public interest. Too many have been claimed by the epidemic of corruption. My work in Kilimani and nationally is in the public interest. For now this suits me. My work is to bring the public interest back into the public offices that have forgotten their primary mandate. For unless those in public office recognise that public service is the privilege not the privileges that come with public office they are useless to the interests of the public.

    Lastly, I want to thank my wife, children, family, friends and even the strangers in my life. You have accompanied each and every one of the four decades of this path traveled so far.

    You are my life and I am grateful.



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