What happens to a dream deferred?
- Langston Hughes
Dare to dream
But surely we have one life and we must go after our dreams.
In many ways we grew up on a steady diet of dreams. Or, at least, on the availability. That someday we could dream our way out of (or was it into?) something different. In many ways, the path of the dream, and the dreamer, has been romanticized – as if somehow the path needs to look a certain way. This person had to suffer, but look at them now! They did it and so can you.
Somewhere, implied, is that suffering is the product of dreaming. And to claim that one is “chasing their dreams” is to imply that they are struggling (or they would have caught them – and stopped suffering).
But, the same society that dared you to dream also demands that you live within a script. Which is to say the statement is more “Dare to dream (in the following prescribed way).” And to dream outside those parameters is to set oneself up for various forms of failure – hence suffering.
These ways are normally the ways that are outside set systems that we have created. In a very direct way – the lawyer, doctor, accountant system. The real secret is finding out how to channel your dreaming to fit within professions that have established systems and are protected by the state themselves.
But there’s only so much room in these spaces – and there’s only so many people who will go into any given profession at any time. So what you really end up with is closed spaces and job creation as an election promise that will never go old.
And even if you find ways to channel your dream in the right direction there isn’t any winning. Doctors in hospitals find themselves taking up several consultancies to stay afloat. Lawyers drive suitcases of money across the city.
A friend of mine says that the problem is everyone is trying to do the same thing. And because there is only so much of this thing and everyone wants it, it ends up eating into itself and whatever spaces could be available for other things. Office buildings continue to eat their way into residential areas – gentrification is real. But cities have plans, and planners. And societies have architects, builders and pawns. So the question becomes “why is everyone doing the same thing?”
And it was asked – and the answer came: dream of something different.
Dare to dream. This is the diet.
It was fed to us three times a day, seven days a week.
We can’t entrepreneur our way around bad leadership. We can’t entrepreneur our way around bad policies. Those of us who have managed to entrepreneur ourselves out of it are living in a very false security in Africa.
- Ory Okolloh Mwangi
And then of course that is the problem. As the person who was dreaming you find yourself in the position of keeper of the dream, policy maker, educator, system creator, industrialist and maker of tea. All specialized areas (particularly maker of tea) and areas that get in the way of dreaming. Thus a young filmmaker finds themselves being a young marketer, studio head, advocate for the arts and maker of tea. All these are things that would get into the way of the business of actually making films.
And what happens when these people bring it up? They aren’t dreaming hard enough. Or, did they not know that innovation is difficult? The onus of creating an environment, as opposed to being placed on the architects of society is instead placed on the individual. And they find themselves not only frustrated at factors outside themselves, but constantly running into inadequacy.
The idea of Kenyans as generally corrupt or of Kenyan society as rotten does not gel with the facts and simply serves to obscure the real nature and source of corruption. As Ms Wrong put it, “although the problem is in fact one of elites writ large, Kenyan corruption is traditionally viewed in terms of economic rivalry among the country’s main ethnic groups.” Blaming Kenyans, or Kenyan culture is in reality blaming the victims for their own immiseration, and must be seen for what it truly is: a cover for impunity.
So when the answer to dwarfed dreams is to dream harder – what is really being said? What’s masked in the demand to “dream now and dream big!” to, “stay hungry and stay foolish?” If not to keep one focused on chasing illusions and dance around the central question? As Ory asks, how do we dream ourselves around bad policy?
But perhaps we can make a case for better policy and better structures that acknowledge a diversity of dreams. That things can only be created as they should once the space for them to be created has been made. Because only when these spaces are made can we begin to see proper movement in local industry. Only when structures and policies begin to centre people can we see people begin to centre themselves – and use themselves to cause others to flourish.
Without this demand the call to dream our way out of (into?) another life rings hollow. Like willing a plant to grow and starving it of water and warmth – we will our dreams to yield but starve them of the environment they need. Then, we put on our most puzzled faces ‘why?’ we ask, ‘why won’t they grow?’