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Exams cheating should be the least of our concerns

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FAITH ONEYA

By FAITH ONEYA
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The exam season often milks students of their self-worth because of absurdly high expectations and insurmountable pressure from their parents and schools to attain the elusive perfect grades.

Little wonder then that cheating is rife during this season. The Kenya National Examinations Council (Knec) has once again made a grand show of identifying cheating hotspots.

This year, places like Bungoma, Kisumu, Kisii, Homa Bay and Migori made the list.

The Knec has also adopted stringent security measures to curb the vice, and billions of shillings have gone into the exercise.

The tough-talking Education Cabinet Secretary George Magoha has promised us that “no examination will be seen before the morning it is supposed to be seen”. A warm toast to relevant ministries for these relentless efforts.

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But declaring war on cheating has not had perfect results in curbing it in the past. In 2018, the results of 3,427 Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education (KCSE) examination candidates in 44 schools were cancelled for irregularities.

In short, no amount of efforts put in place is guaranteed to completely wipe out cheating. The real puzzle is why the rain keeps beating the hallowed national examinations.

It could be that the Ministry of Education and Knec are busy fighting the symptoms of the problem while the root causes remain deeply entrenched in our culture.

Picture a candidate who makes a conscious decision to cheat in his KCPE or KCSE exams. Is he really to blame for daring to do all that is in his power to fit into societal expectations?

Because the truth is that cheating is just a symptom of a society that worships good grades as a measure of success in life; even with the certain knowledge that given the current trends, being educated is one of the surest ways to poverty.

In fact, one stands a higher chance of being appointed to chair institutions like the National Employment Authority (NEA) if they cannot construct a comprehensible English sentence. Such are the realities of today.

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The joy of learning for any child who steps into a Kenyan classroom is often sucked dry by academic goals of the school (and cheerleading parents) that are carefully crafted and housed in hackneyed phrases – like “Forward Ever, Backward Never”, “Education is the Key to Life”, or “Pressing Towards the Mark” – and painted on school gates.

Their lives in school are marred by copious amounts of homework and endless tuition classes. This is where the cheating problem begins, and it follows them all the way to KCPE, KCSE and university examinations (where the mwakenya cheating syndrome reigns supreme).

Throughout their education, failure in exams will be flaunted as a fatal, irreversible and catastrophic thing.

Failing in exams will become such as great source of physical and emotional pain that they will start crafting ways to alleviate this anguish.

Translation? They will start cheating in exams long before they sit for KCPE or KCSE.

Come exam season, the candidates’ lives will be inundated with shiny, colourful, musical success cards that will add pressure on them, with messages about being the best and “number one”.

Prayers will be held by the schools with cooperation from parents. Now, the ministry of Education has labelled such prayer events unnecessary and banned them this year.

The candidates need all the spiritual nourishment they can get because the exams will leave some of their spirits very, very broken.

Cheating will remain an endemic problem during national exams as long as pressure to score the elusive ‘A’ grade remains, so let us ease the pressure on candidates just a little.

For parents, especially those whose children are KCPE and KCSE candidates this year, let us save some of the tight embraces reserved for ‘A’ students for the ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’ and ‘E’ students as well.

The ‘Y’ students, too, need to be comforted, not condemned. After all, all the candidates are victims of impossibly high academic standards.

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Smart food markets for the future way to go

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By BETTY KIBAARA

Nothing excites me more than visiting an open-air market and sampling some succulent, juicy pineapple, or a yellow-ripe sweet banana amidst small chit-chat with the friendly women vendors.

These pleasantries are no longer the norm. With all of us wearing masks, I can hardly recognise my vendors and they cannot make out their customers. I don’t taste the fruits until they are washed in soapy water.

The Covid-19 pandemic has revealed that while open markets are a key component of a sustainable food system, they aren’t built for a crisis like this one. Urban food markets in Africa often lack adequate infrastructure, resulting in over-crowded spaces and massive amounts of food waste. Vendors have little or no control over the hygiene practices of their suppliers and customers, making food safety protocols difficult to follow.

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FOOD SUPPLY

The Ministry of Agriculture has provided guidelines to help secure the food supply during this challenging time. But we need to be thinking about the long-term changes that will make our markets more resilient. African countries can develop prototypes for “smart” markets designed to ensure health and safety and equipped to meet our food needs into the future. And what could an African Smart Market look like?

First, the vast roofs of markets are a perfect place to install solar panels, enabling markets to run on sustainable energy and power surrounding consumers and businesses.

Secondly, modern African markets provide the perfect opportunity for water harvesting infrastructure. The roofs could collect water during rains, keep the market well-sanitised and supply customers and vendors with clean drinking water.

Water, sanitation and hygiene facilities are critical to limiting infection spread and protecting health. Clean facilities, maintained by private sector partners, could offer services such as sorting bays and sanitising surfaces for vendors.

Kenya generates eight million tons of waste annually, nearly 40 per cent of it from urban areas. Market waste can be sorted and converted to bio-degradable products to generate power. Organic waste could be used to produce alternative proteins for animal feed such as black soldier fly production.

FOOD PROCESSING

Markets can be designed with basic food processing infrastructure to convert fruits into juices, reducing food waste. Fruits and vegetables spoil quickly under the hot sun. Cold storage solutions would reduce post-harvest losses. The smart market would provide an additional opportunity at the point of sale to reduce losses.

To safeguard human health, food safety and traceability must be a priority throughout the food system. While subsistence production, informal distribution channels, and traditional community markets make it difficult to implement large-scale food safety interventions, smart markets could promote a shift in consumer attitudes by designating a section where traders only sell certified and traceable produce.

Markets could be optimised to have clear entries and exits and take into account the direction of the sun and wind, minimising the need for extra work and unsanitary makeshift solutions.

We should also explore business models to help markets become self-sustaining. We can protect vendors’ livelihoods and ensure secure access to healthy, nutritious food for consumers.

Ms Kibaara is director, Food Initiative, at The Rockefeller Foundation. [email protected]

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Will South Sudan be the weakest link in East Africa’s battle against Covid-19?

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By JOK MADUT JOK

If ever there were any regional efforts in the East African Community (EAC) in which countries of the region coordinated their measures to fight Covid-19 together, the question of whether or not South Sudan would pull any weight in that effort would undoubtedly present itself.

Though the country was the last in the EAC to report a first case of the Coronavirus, it quickly surpassed all of the others in new daily infections. The sense of casualness that the disease was initially greeted with has now given way to a widespread feeling of anxiety, as the virus spreads, infecting senior government officials, including two vice presidents, their families and several national ministers, and killing prominent individuals in government and in the private sector.

On May 26, for example, the country registered a whopping 188 positive cases, the largest in a single day, out of a total 300 tests conducted on that day. Based on these developments, it would not be surprising if the rest of the region sees South Sudan as a potential exporter of new cases to their territories, even long after these countries have curbed the pandemic within their borders. It is already being seen by some as the weakest link in any joint regional efforts, not only offering very little in any collaboration, but possibly becoming a liability.

XENOPHOBIA

Recently, a local government official in northern Uganda, close to the border with South Sudan, railed in a recorded message, telling the local people not to allow South Sudanese to come into their country and that any Ugandan found hosting South Sudanese would be jailed or fined. While it was probably within the lock down orders, the message was delivered in a way that smacks xenophobia. But such attitudes are common throughout the region. South Sudanese themselves had a similar posture at the start of the pandemic, when their leaders saw the country as virus-free and that it would only get the virus if foreigners were allowed to enter their country. All this may well have been with xenophobic tendencies, but they were also great public health measures that should have been taken up officially and enforced in ways that did not victimise anyone. Because these were not streamlined as national policies, they were bound to be implemented haphazardly, hence ineffective while diminishing the fervor for regional collaboration.

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The way Covid-19 is being managed in South Sudan and the speed at which it is spreading, despite the late onset, gives the neighbours chills. Not only does the country lack a well-coordinated response to the pandemic but its health system has also been totally overwhelmed, health personnel frustrated and a big portion of its population is not observing the physical distancing orders. Additionally, the country’s available resources are not being managed properly as to take care of its poor people who are now made all the more vulnerable by the shifting of focus away from services in an attempt to meet the expenses of the public health emergency responses. This situation is not relieved by the realities of South Sudan being both landlocked and imports-dependent, posing such a serious challenge of screening truck drivers and other essential travellers at border crossings, quite possibly wiping out its economy and making the country the last bastion of the pandemic in Eastern Africa.

Does this mean there is no need for a collaborative effort against Covid-19 within the EAC? As South Sudan is the newest member of the EAC, many of its citizens are still riding in the euphoria of their country’s partial admission into the bloc. Whereas many citizens of the older core founding countries, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, have seemingly become cynical about the organisation’s capacity to rally its member states for collective action on urgent matters affecting them, South Sudanese are still trusting in the EAC. There is a strong expectation that their country’s partial membership in the regional body bears benefits to them, not just in trade, residence and access to educational and health services they have been buying for years in Kenya and Uganda, but more because there is now a global pandemic that is quickly threatening to inflict a massive damage on the young country’s population, and that requires any assistance it can get from its neighbours.

Without a strong national response plan that has a dedicated political figure to rally troops against the pandemic and becoming the face of that fight, South Sudanese cannot be blamed for looking beyond the borders, to the EAC, to some of the region’s strong leaders who have demonstrated visions and credible plans in the fight for their peoples’ lives. They hold out hope that there is still a chance of coordinated actions between the member states, perhaps to the benefit of all. Even if South Sudan has nothing to contribute to a collaboration, it is in the region’s interest to help South Sudan contain this virus, lest that country remains a vector, to the detriment of the whole region.

COLLABORATIVE RESPONSE

That said, however, despite pronouncements to the effect that the governments of the EAC member states need to work in concert with one another against Covid-19 scourge, the Coronavirus collaborative response has not materialised beyond communication between the heads of state and the public statements that follow their conversations promising joint efforts on screening and quarantining of people who cross borders to provide essential services and to keep the national economies of the region alive.

In his address to the African Union on April 29, Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta declared that “If we are to defeat this enemy, we need to ensure that through our regional economic communities we are able to communicate, work together and able to deal with cross-border issues because unless we fight together, we will lose together.” Rwanda’s Paul Kagame has lamented the willingness of the region’s leaders to allow bureaucratic procedures to get in the way of working together to fight an enemy that is likely to leave a massive health, social, economic and political impact the region.

There is an EAC Covid-19 Response Plan, unveiled on April 30, discussed and supposedly revamped at the virtual summit of four leaders of the bloc on May 12. But to the extent that this can be called cooperation, it has been limited in scope and seriousness at the political level. It does not go beyond the sharing of case reports to the regional bloc’s Headquarters in Arusha, Tanzania. If the pandemic is going to be contained in the whole region, such that no country is left behind to become the source of the next wave of the Coronavirus spread, what’s blocking collective efforts? Weakest link or not, it seems that it is not the suspicion that some countries would have little to bring to the collaboration table. Instead, it’s both national pride and local political dynamics in each country that almost prohibit the leaders to think and act regionally.

The author is a professor of anthropology at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.

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Africa ties more essential than ever

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By AHMET MIROGLU

The unprecedented conditions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic render the solidarity symbolised by Africa Day even more significant this year.

The progress made by Africa in recent years in many fields and the developing partnership between Turkey and the continent on the basis of a win-win understanding and mutual respect enables us to look into the future with hope, despite the challenges.

We are working hard to develop our economic and commercial relations, to increase our development and humanitarian aid as well as the number of higher education scholarships and Turkish Airlines flights.

A look at the figures best tells Turkey’s determination to bring the relations to the highest-possible level.

From only 12 in 2002, the number of our embassies in the continent have increased to 42, while there are 36 African embassies in Ankara from 10 in early 2008. Between 2015 and 2019, there were more than 500 high-level visits.

The bilateral trade volume has soared six-fold in the past 18 years. The Turkish Maarif Foundation operates 144 educational institutions and 17 student dormitories across Africa.

With 22 Turkish Cooperation and Development Agency (TIKA) coordination offices in Africa, thousands of students from 54 African countries have graduated from universities in Turkey through the Türkiye Scholarships programme.

SUPPORT AU

Besides the historical and human ties, the foreign policy resulting from political stability in Turkey since 2002 has led to a strategic partnership with the African Union (AU).

Istanbul hosted the inaugural Africa-Turkey Partnership Summit in 2008. Shortly after I was appointed Foreign Affairs minister, I accompanied President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the second Africa-Turkey Partnership Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, in November 2014.

When African leaders founded the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), the precursor of the AU, on May 25, 1963, they sought to protect the continent’s affairs by together, united, supporting the independence struggle and discarding the colonial economic model of exporting raw materials to import manufactured goods. Turkey has always sided with Africa in its just cause.

The historic Addis Ababa summit had an impact in Turkey. The news in the Turkish press and records of debate in the Grand National Assembly show the importance given to ties with the new African states.

The quest for independence by Africans was likened to Turkey’s struggle during the founding of the republic 40 years before, in 1923, and Apartheid was fiercely condemned.

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Today’s Africa has made significant progress towards the integration that visionary leaders have dreamt of since 1963, and Turkey will lend unconditional support to the AU’s targets for 2063.

WAR ON VIRUS

That is why we wish to hold the Third Africa-Turkey Partnership Summit as soon as possible. The third Turkey-Africa Economy and Business Forum, held in Istanbul in 2016 and 2018, was planned for October.

African countries have taken timely measures against Covid-19. I hope this will continue and that the disease will be eradicated from the continent.

Turkey is among the countries that have overcome the first stage of the pandemic and new cases are below the treatment capacity.

Turkey will increase its assistance capacity, having provided equipment assistance to some countries since the first months of the outbreak.

The direct result of the slowdown of economic activity globally due to protective measures is the decline of production and revenues of every country.

A secondary result is the drop in prices of commodities such as minerals and oil that are used in industrial production and transport.

This affects countries that depend on the sale of such goods for export revenues. These problems require the international community to seek solutions together.

The post-Covid-19 world should be one that requires more, not less, international cooperation than before. Turkey is ready to play its part.

COOPERATION

Unfortunately, the picture that has emerged at the international level in past weeks is one where competition — not cooperation — comes to the fore and a perspective that regards the world as a zero-sum game prevails.

Yet history has shown the harmful effects of such brutal rivalry and cold wars.

I believe a united Africa will overcome this challenge as well and that it will contribute to not only the welfare of its peoples, but also to the new world order.

Our partnership will be an example in the post-pandemic world, where solidarity will be critical. That is why the spirit of May 25, 1963 is essential to us all.

I heartily congratulate all Africans on this year’s celebration of Africa Day.

Mr Miroglu is Turkey’s Ambassador to Kenya.

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