As Nairobi hosts the 25th International Conference on Population Development (ICPD+25) from Tuesday to Thursday, we celebrate two milestones globally and particularly in Africa — the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and 25 years of the annual conference.
It was in an African city, Cairo, that 179 governments adopted a revolutionary programme of action that called for women’s reproductive health and rights to take centre stage in national and global development efforts.
The resulting plan of action had the core message: “The full and equal participation of women in civil, cultural, economic, political and social life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex”. It has been the steering document for UNFPA’s work.
A quarter of a century later, the ICPD is in another African city, Nairobi, to review and assess the progress made and also gird up to tackle the challenges that still remain.
The UNFPA’s mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth safe and every young person’s potential fulfilled.
But while the destination is clear, the road to getting there is arduous and often full of obstacles, requiring an intimate understanding of people’s cultural mores and their fears and hopes. That requires a gentle touch, infinite patience and boundless stamina.
Africa’s population will increase from one billion in 2010 to 1.6 billion in 2030 and three billion in 2065, when there will be 531 million young people, or 30.2 per cent of the total.
I am a strong advocate of the demographic dividend and have great faith in our youth to use their originality and inventiveness to leapfrog into the 4th Industrial Revolution and usher in a new era of prosperity for the continent.
In 2016, I promoted a campaign, #PutYoungPeopleFirst, which has a reach of some 3.6 million youth on social media.
However, without an enabling environment, the demographic dividend could well turn into a demographic nightmare.
Most of the work by the UNFPA’s West and Central Africa Regional Office revolves around capturing the demographic dividend to kick-start the continent’s long-awaited economic boom.
It is, therefore, vital to change the discourse on population issues by linking demography to unmet social demands, the labour market, migration and, of course, instability.
Achieving the dividend could generate exceptional economic growth in Africa of $500 billion (Sh50 trillion) a year for 30 years, based on the Asian experience.
This unprecedented potential requires changes in the population structure, the empowerment of women and improvements to health and education.
The watchword is no longer birth control but voluntary family planning based on human rights, where individuals or couples choose the number of children they wish to have and when.
At national and continental level, coherent policies and investment in human capital are needed.
With strong international partnerships, African countries have all the resources to move the demographic dividend forward.
Again, family planning is no longer simply controlling the demographic growth of developing countries but also of social change.
Moving beyond family planning requires the empowerment of women as well as more comprehensive sexual and reproductive health measures and a massive effort to enrol girls in school.
If we can do this, virtuous circles of change are then set in motion, placing Africa in the driving seat.
However, good intentions are not enough; we must follow through with implementation.
Many countries have taken the responsibility of development in their own hands — through programmes that mirror the African Union’s Agenda 2063, among others.
But demographic forces cannot be halted; they can either be steered to a bright new future or they overwhelm us.
Let us build the future by addressing the pressing needs of the most vulnerable among us. The aim is to ensure that nothing will ever be the same again and that we leave no one behind.
Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus
Last year in December, Nation Media Group held its first Kusi Ideas Festival in Kigali. The festival tried to peer ahead the next 60 years in Africa.
There were many Brave New World ideas about how that future might look like, and also the perils that progress almost always brings. Needless to say, no one saw Covid-19 coming.
A futurist curtain-raiser in The EastAfrican, titled Africa in 2079, came close to outlining a mirror universe to the one Covid-19 is bequeathing us.
Between London, Zimbabwe, and the corners of Africa where Econet’s fibre optic network reaches, Strive Masiyiwa, founder and chairman of Econet Wireless and former chair of the board of AGRA wrote:
“I recently invested in a tech start-up that has created an Uber-like platform for tractors, enabling farmers to link up with a central database and order a tractor via SMS…freeing the farmer from the drudgery of the hoe. This service is particularly valued by women farmers, enabling them to circumvent social norms that might otherwise hamper their ability to hire a tractor.” From wherever we are hiding from the virus, unable to roam the farm, Uber farming could be the new way a lot of our food is produced.
From Tanzania, Aidan Eyakuze, who is executive director of Twaweza East Africa and has been confined in-country as an elegant prisoner for nearly two years because of his love of inconvenient data, painted an intoxicating but strange utopian-dystopian picture of Africa at the end the century.
By 2079, he foresaw the “vast majority of Africans earn their living through multiple micro-tasking (MMTs) ever since every ”job” was unbundled into its component tasks…leaving only those unbundled micro-tasks needing social intelligence, creativity or dexterity to be done by people. All ”taskers” are always-on private contractors who bid relentlessly for the privilege of tasking.
Incomes are kept low by the relative scarcity of tasks requiring the human touch.
“The unrelenting competition for tasks is both stressful and socially divisive — you are competing against everyone all the time…even marriages have renewable term limits, ‘in case someone better comes along.’” With work-from-home regimes, the former has come 78 years earlier.
Indeed, even for the latter, more people now probably think being cooped up with the same man or woman in the house “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part,” is a very archaic model.
Between Italy and Kenya, the Society for International Development’s Arthur Muliro, peered into a what a truly borderless Africa might look. Among others, his gaze settled on, of all places, Libya.
“Libya…was now welcoming other Africans and allowing them to settle. The peace deal that had come after a decade of civil war was holding and there was new optimism, in part boosted by the arrival and expansion of new migrant groups who had settled there and were helping rebuild their adopted country.”
On a close re-reading, turns out Aidan hinted that Turkey, which jumped in the Libyan fray as the coronavirus made its way out of Wuhan, might have something to do with it.
Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation
Last week, the Sports ministry’s top officials, led by Chief Administrative Secretary Hassan Noor Hassan and Principal Secretary Joe Okudo traversed the country to access the ongoing construction of stadiums.
President Uhuru Kenyatta also made an impromptu tour of the Nyayo National Stadium to ensure that all is well besides giving Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed full support. That has made sure that renovation works resume at all the stadiums — including Kasarani, Nyayo, Kipchoge Keino, Kamariny and Wote — and that everything is running on schedule.
Upon completion of some of these arenas, the country will have positioned itself to host major world events, especially in football, athletics and basketball. The ministry must, therefore, ensure that, while it has given contractors an ultimatum to finish their work, it also insists on quality delivery.
But there are concerns about work at county stadiums, especially in Mombasa, where those who redesigned the arena have done away with the internationally approved running track.
The new stadium has been designed for football only hence won’t host any track and field events. The four lane track will only be for warm up and this has raised eyebrows.
Mombasa County Chief Sports Officer Innocent Mugabe said Bububu grounds in Likoni and Kenya Ports Authority’s Mbaraki Sports Club will be upgraded for sports use. Mombasa being at low altitude, it is suitable for staging major World Athletics events, having staged the 2007 World Cross Country Championships.
Kenya is bidding to host the 2025 World Championships in Athletics and Mombasa can easily be the venue with a good stadium in place. There is still time to build a county stadium.
Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
When Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha announced a fortnight ago the postponement of school reopening to January next year, he gave an exception. Universities, teacher training colleges and technical training institutions were directed to be ready to reopen in September.
Consequently, they were asked to put in place safety measures prescribed by the Health ministry, including reorganising classrooms and hostels to ensure social distancing. Just a month to the planned reopening, are those institutions really prepared?
In the past few days, Prof Magoha has convened meetings with the heads of the institutions to plan for the reopening and visiting the colleges to assess their preparedness. Preliminary reports from these engagements indicate that just a few institutions are ready.
At the university level, so far, only Strathmore has been declared ready for reopening. Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
For teachers’ colleges, three — Murang’a, Kibabii and Kericho — have met the threshold. Assessment is ongoing for the technical training institutions.
But the broad observation is that most of the institutions are not ready. Though not surprising, most of them are ordinarily in poor state and Covid-19 has just exposed them. Beyond the situation, long-term actions are required to revamp and revitalise them.
Reopening the colleges in September will be the starting point for relaxing restrictions in the education sector. The reason for beginning with colleges is that they have mature students who understand the health protocols and can, therefore, take care of themselves and minimise infections. Their experience would then inform plans for reopening primary and secondary schools.
Closure of schools and colleges has dealt a huge blow to education. Learners in schools have lost a whole year and have to repeat classes next year. This comes with high social, economic and psychological. Indeed, this is the first time in history that schools are being closed for a year.
The last time the education sector suffered most was in 1982, when, following an abortive coup, the University of Nairobi and then-Kenyatta University College were closed for nine months. That created a major backlog and that took five years to clear. This is the reason steps should be taken at the earliest opportunity to mitigate the damage.
The challenge, therefore, is for the colleges to work on those health protocols to prepare for reopening. All other sectors, such as transport and tourism, are reopening and, therefore, colleges have no reason to lag behind. We ask the management of the institutions to expedite the required processes and get ready for reopening in September as directed.