REWRITING OUR KENYAN STORY

ImageWe have consumed a lot as a country, mostly choosing to skew negative about where we are, 50 years after independence. The obvious elephant in the house is the cases in ICC which to a great extent over shadow our Kenyan enthusiasm. Naturally it has never been pleasant being on the international map for all the wrong reasons. But somehow this brings out our ‘Kenyanese’, resilience is a perfect word which best depicts our unique way of ‘moving on’.

A lot has been documented about the jubilee year, for many it is a basket full of mixed reactions. We shamelessly pass the blame to our leaders. But they did not come from Mars, they are part and parcel of who we are anyway. Having said that, I choose to have a different perspective of where are, obviously having made serious mistakes in the past, but who doesn’t. For a long time we have overlooked many unsung heroes and success stories made in Kenya.

In August 2010, Imagewe promulgated a new constitution giving way to a new political dispensation which was unheard of in the past. It encapsulated and addressed boldly a bill of rights which is arguably one of the most comprehensive in the world. Where we are now, 2 years later, can be attributed to the new constitution . Of course we have a long way going forward, but what matters at least is the first step.

Nairobi Stock Exchange, which is our financial leverage hub is a top performer in the continent , after Nigeria even when threatened by many challenges including the latest VAT Act. Africa’s richest man, Aliko Dangote is investing somewhere in Kitui.Think of the ingenuous fast growing ICT sector in the country, with customised innovations starting with an award winning Mpesa platform.Just the other day, three Kenyan teens made it the list of 15 finalists of ‘Google Science Fair’ a competition which had over 120 countries with their project, ‘Can heat and tomato produce electricity’. In Murang’a a form four is generating electricity from a nearby river and serving the whole village.

Think of how far our sports sector has come, despite the many odds. Kenya athletes have been a force to reckon for decades, rugby growing pretty fast even before we roll out full professional players. Last week I watched our volley queens, lamenting of lack of government involvement in their preparations, but they went ahead to win the African cup. Which country does that. Do you remember the ‘You tube Man’,  Julius Yego going all the way to the London Olympics without a coach. Aren’t we unique and blessed.

Our very own Lupita Nyong’oImage is doing rounds all over in Hollywood even featuring in a movie with the likes of Brad Pitt. ’12 Years A Slave’ which debuts in October should be a movie to watch .Her other works include an award winning MTV series ‘Shuga’ amongst many other other acting projects. ‘In my Genes’ has been one my favourites, a powerful documentary which highlighted the plight of people living with albinism in Kenya. The likes of Winnie Ojanga a Kenyan based in Switzerland are doing us proud in the fashion industry. 

Victor Wanyama is a brand every Kenyan football enthusiast reveres. Even with prolonged football wrangles, he went ahead to become the first player from Eastern Africa to play in English Football. That was huge and unbelievable. Back in Kenya, What brings us more together more than Safaricom Sevens. We quickly emanate from our tribal cocoons to bring out the best in us, enjoying rugby, camouflaged by beautiful people and some good music. Why do we never stretch this to our places of work?

Motivational speaker Walea Akinyemi calls it the power of one. It is through one, that teams and societies are formed, revolutions are witnessed and success stories are told. Lets start with a Kenyan smile perhaps.

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WAR-TORN NORTHERN KENYA

garrehWe all tired of the conflict in former Norther Eastern province precisely Wajir and Mandera Counties which seems to be the epicenter of two major rival communities, Garreh and Degodia .Since January this year, at least 70 people have been killed and many displaced due to this clashes, but wait a minute; It is not due to the usual fodder we are fed year in, year out, about pastures and water, its emerging tensions caused by political disagreements.

The Degodia feel disadvantaged by the outcome of last election where most of the political positions were carried away by Garreh community locking the former both in legislative and administrative posts.The situation is complicated by the porous border of Ethiopia and Somalia where access to fire arms is as easy as going to buy airtime in a shop. But an interesting aspect is shaping up, leaders are holding numerous ‘peace meetings’ with usual ‘PR stunts’ and then going behind the scenes to incite their communities.

According to one news agency Garre Online, even prior to March 2013 elections, politicians from Degodia community financed militias to intimidate and evict Garreh people from their settlement to render the area homogeneously Degodia. But that is one side of the coin, Degodias in return have accused the news agency of fueling negative propaganda to instigate their displacement from the land they only have.

Many may ask, where is national intelligence in all this, is it reactive as usual? Not once have politicians been summoned to CID headquarters, what happens next? Your guess is as good as mine. Politicians have been funding militias even from Ethiopia to cause displacement of perceived enemies. The attackers do not use usual local machetes, their weapons are more sophisticated from AK-47 guns to rocket propelled grenades (RPG).Revenge is order of the day, humans have been reduced to mere empty souls being shot without a blink of the eye. Government has chosen to be a mere spectator, choosing not to exercise one of its responsibilities of protecting its citizens which is anchored and more importantly a preamble of the new constitution.

The sad reality is that, retaliation attacks are escalating by the day. Who will save the innocent lives? For how long will a our leaders be myopic? Where are religious leaders?

PERSPECTIVE ON SYRIA

ImageOn August 21st this year, chemical weapons were at play in Syria in what security pundits term as ‘sarin nerve gas’. At least 1,400 people died many of them children, quite unfortunate. The attack caught the West hands off and totally oblivious. No one has claimed responsibility but as expected, opposing camps are busy trading accusations. The rebels are alleging Assad’s administration is behind the attacks, on the other hand the latter is fiercely defending itself even going further to purport it was stage-managed by rebels. 

Assad and company are daring the West to make good their threat to use unilateral military action. The argument they have is that, rebels executed the attacks to compel U.S and its allies to act on Assad by over throwing him. So what options does Obama have ? Last year, he made it clear that U.S would take action if Syria crossed the ‘red line’ and there is evidence it has. As CNN would put it, his choices are bad, worse and horrible. For starters, its closest ally, Britain’s support was slowed down after its parliament rejected use of its military in Syria.Image Closer home, Americans are divided down the middle, only half the population support use of military power and more interesting, over 80% say it should happen with congressional approval.

The biggest headache for Obama is complicated by the fact that Al Qaeda has infiltrated the rebels. Equipping them could be counter productive akin to what happened in Libya, the oppressed may turn out to be the oppressor. Iran, Syria’s big brother is also likely to come in handy to assist an accomplice once the West pounces. Worse still, Syria has had enough time to hide its weapons and any action by U.S to send drones may end up in deserted buildings if not to civilians.

The world is getting tired of Syria, three years down the line over 100,000 people have been killed. China and Russia are playing safe and are against any efforts of the U.N security council which they are member countries to act, by imposing penalties on Syria. They have categorically said they are not taking sides and are pushing for a transitional government as opposed to entirely over throwing Assads government which might cause worse problems. 

Syria has not attacked any U.S targets nor its citizens hence the need for Obama to consider a coalition of countries to demystify the notion that America is encroaching sovereignty of the Arab country. However Obama made a smart move to drag congress in this mess in case it haunted him in future. Republicans who will not ratify America’s use of military will have a hard time justifying themselves. A simple reason would be, if America does not act now, it will encourage Iran to proceed with its nuclear weapon program which is more catastrophic. 

The future is grim, America is at a crossroad, Obama is confused. He is riding on one choice, to keep waiting and hope for more evidence on use of chemical weapons,some  new ally or better still new intelligence.

POACHING; THE ENEMY WITHIN

ImageKenya tourism revenues declined in 2012 from a year earlier by 2%. Earnings dropped to sh.96 billion from sh.97.9 billion in the previous year with 1.78 million tourists having visited Kenya last year. Tourism is critical  for this country since it was one of Kenya’s major foreign exchange earning sectors.It contributes about 12% of the Gross Domestic Product and creates over 300,000 jobs. Poaching is emerging as the worst menace for this lucrative sector for the government and indeed all stakeholders. Its through tourism that Kenya has remained on the map for its wild parks including Masai Mara where the seventh wonder of the world takes place.

The worst hit are elephants and rhinos due to the high prices of their products.Last year poachers managed to bring down at least 384 elephants from 289 in the year 2011. In the last eight months of 2013, they have killed 190 elephants, 35 rhinos and 2 forest rangers. Global black market is encouraging many to engage in poaching due to the demand of jewelry, carvings, sculptures and many other akin products. Am told rhino horns are used to cure health conditions associated with reproduction while others are used for aphrodisiac activities.

A rhino horn is going for about $97,000 per kilogram while an elephant tusk would trade at $1,800 in the black market. To make it even more unfortunate, Kenya for a long time has entertained lenient poaching penalties which ironically has encouraged the menace to spread far and wide .The highest fine has been sh.65000 equivalent to about $.775 while most offenders walk away with fines as low as sh.2000 ($24). Many offenders once released go back to commit the same offenses again. Kenya currently has a population of about 35,000 elephants from 167,000 in 1967 and about 500-1000 rhinos.

There is hope at least, recently cabinet passed Wildlife Conservation and Management bill and policy that will not only greatly reduce poaching cases but also streamline wildlife management services. There will be increased surveillance in wildlife zones, and hiring of more rangers and better still, hefty penalties up to one million shilling for poachers. There will also sacking of KWS officials engaging or conspiring with poachers. While this remains good on paper we can only hope for full implementation of the legislation if we want to save and continue savouring our wildlife heritage .

DANCING WITH DEATH ON KENYA ROADS

kenya-road-accidentKenya loses about 3000 lives through road accidents annually as a result of at least 13000 crashes, translating to eight everyday. 85% of which are attributed to human error and 15% due to poor roads. The third highest cause of deaths in Kenya is road accidents after malaria and HIV/AIDS. In monetary terms, road crashes cost the Kenyan economy about sh.14 billion or 5% of the GDP annually.

The reason Kenya has one of the highest number of road accidents is due to the casual way we treat the cases. We have come to accept it as a way of life, its ‘inevitable’, we can as well blame fate. Now, that is mediocrity, its unacceptable to accept and embrace impunity and ignorance. In my simple research, I found out that the common causes of road accidents which to some extent sounds like a cliche at least in Kenya are; Over speeding, over taking carelessly, drunk driving, over loading, reckless pedestrians, poor road conditions and incompetent or unlicensed drivers amongst others, which over the time, have claimed thousands of precious lives.

Rogue driving schools working in cahoot with corrupt police force are partly to blame. The schools are dishing out driving licenses to people who have never attended driving lessons. We are talking about people who cannot even start a car, that is how serious it is. Am tempted to say ‘ufisadi itatuuwa’. Just recently, a journalist working with Nation Media Group easily walked in some of the so called top notch driving schools in Nairobi and obtained genuine interim driving licenses without attending a single driving test, with just sh. 6,000.

My worst nightmares should be when travelling along Thika road.thika road The bus drivers are not only reckless but untouchable.Pedestrians in our very own peculiar Kenyan way no longer use footbridges which ironically have been designed for them. I do not understand how people dare to cross eight lanes while there is a safer alternative. Of late there has been an influx of motor cycles in the market which now serve as the main means of transport in some regions but that not with standing, they have really messed our roads. Since they are cheap, they come in handy in rural areas. Even in developed countries, they have the highest fatality rates which is no good news for Kenya considering the riders only go for about two hours training.

We do not have many options other than observing the basic traffic rules and enforcing them. I must commend ‘road-hog’ an initiative of Citizen tv which is trying to unmask rogue drivers on our drivers and forwarding their details to KRA for action. As a society we must embrace a culture of respecting the law otherwise will remain a third world country and neither live to achieve Vision 2030, it will just be an illusion. But worse still, many family breadwinners, our relatives and friends will continue to perish in the hands of ‘killer drivers’. Toa Sauti!

COLOUR KWA FACE

Albino child‘Do not stare, just ask' that is the bold motto of Albinism Society of Kenya an organisation that strives to improve the lives of people living with albinism in the country. Its core objectives include awareness creation, legislative work, provision of sunscreen and eye care services, promotion of access to education for learners with albinism amongst other activities. Wikipedia tells me albinism is a genetic disorder characterised by complete or partial absence of a pigment in the skin, hair or eyes due to absence of an enzyme involved in production of melanin. Lack of skin pigmentation makes for susceptibility to sunburn and skin cancers.

Its the myths associated with people living with albinism that have left many surrounded by negative connotations and stigmatised.They have fallen prey to selfish middlemen out to make a killing on behalf of witches.In a continent where the gap between the rich and the poor is over the roof, many are craving for instant riches and success. Consequently, manipulation comes to play. Its obvious one of Africa's tough challenge is illiteracy which is a step brother of ignorance.

colour kwa face2The biggest threat to persons with albinism is misleading and negative belief about their condition. Since a majority of us especially people in the rural areas have limited knowledge and exposure, it becomes rich fodder for villains to mislead the community. Many victims are scorned, shunned, ridiculed, tormented, tortured and killed in cold blood all over africa. For them, viewing the sun rise and set is like a dream come true. Every new day brings along, more threats and renewed fears, call it stigma.
Their dreams have been shuttered and replaced with sorrow and prejudice from family friends and strangers. Some of the myths about persons with albinism are;
• They must die at a young age of between 30- 45years
• Sexual relations with them can cure HIV/AIDS
• They have magical powers
• They are portrayed as villainous , deviant , sadists and have supernatural powers

A film by the name 'In my Genes' best encapsulates challenges this people go through. It shares unique stories of seven Kenyans living with albinism. There is Agnes in the documentary who has defied the norm by refusing to live a life of sorrow. She has dared to stand out uncomfortably in the crowd. The film is a brain child of one Lupita Nyong'o a celebrated Kenyan film maker who has her eyes set in the international circles.

colour kwa faceAfrican leaders should take a cue from president Kikwete of Tanzania by appointing persons with albinism in high positions of government.The biggest responsibility and an equally perfect gift we can give to persons with albinism is through endeavoring to demystify myths about them. We have an obligation to make the society appreciate that, they are normal people only that they lack melanin just like many of us have flaws.

THE UNTOLD; MADIBA AND MADIBAISM

Amandela lot has been documented regarding Madiba as he is commonly referred to, by his compatriots. He is a unifying symbol of peace, an icon celebrated world over. In fact the UN set out a day to celebrate his life long achievements. He is a man that this generation has tried to ‘kill’ in vain especially in social media but his spirits surpass and overlook the negatives. Just recently, he celebrated his 95th birthday which caught many by surprise due to his deteriorating health.

Madibaism on the other hand is the positives he impacted to the world. He sacrificed his family life to fight for the black South Africans and to liberate them from apartheid and social segregation.mandela2 As a native African, I draw inspiration from him, Mandela symbolises tolerance, empathy, selflessness, forgiveness and true leadership.

In the midst of the awe we give him, there is more than meets the eye. Am told if you visit South Africa for the first time and probably visit the museums which include the house he used to live in with his family and Robben Island where he spent 18 out of 27 years in prison, you will be told of the positives that we all read in history books. But underneath, there is silent discomfort engineered by the likes of Julius Malema a controversial politician and leader of Economic Freedom Fighters. On the other hand is Azania’s People’s Organisation (AZAPO) which defied the wave of ANC in the 80’s to date. It is a political party formed out of conviction ANC had become bloated and corporatist. This is a party that campaigned for isolation of South Africa during the apartheid era by using trade unions and civic organisation to mobilise black people to fight for their rights.

AZAPO did not support Madiba, and instead blamed him for failing and duping black South Africans. As we speak, 80% of the land in the rainbow nation is owned by whites who form utmost, 10% of the population.Political pundits argue that Madibaism did little to unify its people. After the country gained independence, contrary to expectations, xenophobic cases increased. In 2008, more than 60 people died through a wave of xenophobic violence aimed at Zimbabweans and foreigners in Johannesburg and other cities.

South Africa has been facing a lot of challenges which not even Madiba and his zeal was able to resolve. The quality of education especially for most blacks is sub standard, corruption has undermined state legitimacy and worse still, it remains a deeply divided nation from racism to social classe. In 2007, UNAIDS reported that just under 12% of South Africans have HIV/AIDs making the nation to have the highest number of infected people in any single country in the world. In 2003, unemployment rate averaged at a record high of 32%.

In retrospect, we might have missed the point by forgetting that Madiba is a human being with flaws like everybody.  In any case he divorced twice and has had a wrangling family ever since. Perhaps its because he sacrificed a lot for the sake of his nation and probably over looked his own people. As they say, you cannot be everything to everybody. Am convinced he did his best, the ball is now on our side to endeavour in making the world a better place to live in.