Abdullahi Hussein Ali was awarded the prestigious Outstanding Dissertation Award by the University of Wyoming for his dissertation.
Ali, who has a PhD in Zoology and Physiology, emerged top out of 300 entries judged on their impact, merit, and quality. His dissertation focused on the range collapse, demography and conservation of the critically endangered hirola antelope in Kenya.
“I was in a field camp (in Kenya) when I was nominated for the award. To be honest, I never expected to win because there are so many smart people doing ground-breaking research,” says the 39-year-old.
The paper, titled Resource Selection and Landscape Change Reveal Mechanism Suppressing Population Recovery for the World’s Most Endangered Antelope, was published in the February 15, issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology. This is a bimonthly journal of the British Ecological Society that publishes high-impact papers on the interface between ecological science and the management of biological resources.
It had first appeared on the journal’s online edition a fortnight earlier. “I was excited to see my hard work finally pay off. The hirola population has declined from about 16,000 individuals in the 1960’s and is on the brink of extinction. We currently have a measly global population size of less than 500 individuals.
“A key question to ask is why this precipitous decline and why is the population not re-bouncing? This was the basis of my PhD dissertation. Even with the challenges that lie ahead, I am positive that hirolas will, once again, thrive in the plains of southern Garissa,” says Ali.
While there are other scientists who have studied the hirola before, much of their effort was often limited to opportunistic field visits and lacked sustained efforts needed to understand the causal factors underlying the population crash of the hirola. This opening inspired Ali to come up with a sustainable home-grown solution.
He says the motivation to do this comes from his passion for conservation and his belief that the long term future of African wildlife depends on African themselves.
“It is a shame that conservation as a career does not attract African nationals. I’m often puzzled by how most of the conservation efforts in Africa are spearheaded by foreigners,” says Ali who was born to nomadic parents in the outskirts of Garissa town.
Ali was lucky to have received an education in an area where youth face challenges such as poverty, lack of quality education, insecurity and lack of mentorship. He attended Sankuri Boarding School, the first school in the entire area built specifically to serve children from nomadic families.
“Nearly 300 of us being forcefully taken from makeshifts camps scattered across tribal territories to form the pioneer class,” Ali recalls.
He would later join Thika High School and the University of Nairobi thereafter, where he studied Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Biology and a Masters of Science in Conservation Biology.
In 2008, while he was still pursuing his Masters degree, he met Jacob R. Goheen, a professor from the US who had a passion for assisting dedicated African students find scholarships abroad.
After a series of meetings, the professor saw Ali’s commitment and passion for conservation and offered him his laboratory for research. From him, Ali learnt how to raise funds for research.
He also learnt various international organisations and partners who made it possible for him to complete his PhD within five and half years.
My research journey
In 2010, he was accepted into a multidisciplinary PhD program in Ecology at University of Wyoming, USA where he is currently a second-year post-doctoral Fellow at Utah State University doing research in areas along the Kenya-Somalia border.
“While most wildlife biologists choose to work in pristine islands, rich tropical forests and protected areas, I prefer to focus on remote locations of the world with limited conservation attention or research,” explains Ali.
Here, he discovered the difference between studying in the US and Kenya. Ali says that Americans, for instance, are more hands on with their work, have very strong work ethics, and their students are far more advanced in their analytical and communication skills.
“There is a lot of lab work, foreign exchange trips and practicum. I took a course in mammology locally and shockingly there were no corresponding labs for the studies. In America, on the other hand, I noticed that students spend a lot of time in labs and it is a big deal for them and their instructors.
“For us, a lot of text is thrown at you and if you are lucky, there will be one or two field trips. I would not be surprised if some our fourth-year mammology undergraduate students still have trouble differentiating the skulls of different animals,” Ali says.
He also says that while our campuses focus on writing a dissertation that goes on library shelves, students on the other side of the continent strive to publish actionable high impact scientific journals.
“You must contribute to the advancement of whichever field you are studying. There are scientific lecture series from top global scientists and their programs are often multi-disciplinary and highly flexible in the sense that one chooses what they want to study.
“We never pay attention to details and typically make careless mistakes. Some of these issues we take for granted here like plagiarism and spelling mistakes are considered gross misconduct there. They fight it like we are doing the war on corruption here.”
Ali raise money for his own research and also began a non-governmental organisation, the HirolaConservation Program. From his dissertation, he published six papers that went on international peer-reviewed journals.
This is what resulted in his celebrated win. “It was a huge motivation for me as it marked the climax of my education. It has helped me develop more robust conservation programs for the species.
“I have started a mentoring program where I help graduate students find the right professors and get the best out of their work. I offer free advice to Kenyans and many other international conservationists from different parts of the world too.”
Through a post-doctoral program, at Utah State University, Ali desires to reconstitute and restore the habitat for hirola by first assessing the limiting factors using large scale multi-site experiments across the hirola’s geographic range.
Once we figure out this, we are implementing sequential management practices that include manual removal of invasive tree species, reseeding of grasslands and community education to oversee the recovery of rangelands.
“We will use island planting approach based on the premise that many degraded rangelands do not recover uniformly across landscapes. We therefore selected areas with favourable biotic and abiotic conditions (to improve establishment, persistence and spread) to improve habitat for hirola.
“One of my goals is to have the hirola downgraded from the critically endangered standing to endangered status. There are other ways to grow the population such as predator proof sanctuaries but carnivore control is logistically difficult and unethical in the long-term, therefore I believe habitat restoration within the hirola’s range is a prerequisite to their recovery,” he says.
Ali advices other PhD students to be prepared to juggle many balls as there will be low moments and a lot of expectations from professors. Being passionate, however, about what they do will assist them succeed in their studies.
World Bank pushes G-20 to extend debt relief to 2021
World Bank Group President David Malpass has urged the Group of 20 rich countries to extend the time frame of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative(DSSI) through the end of 2021, calling it one of the key factors in strengthening global recovery.
“I urge you to extend the time frame of the DSSI through the end of 2021 and commit to giving the initiative as broad a scope as possible,” said Malpass.
He made these remarks at last week’s virtual G20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors Meeting.
The World Bank Chief said the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered the deepest global recession in decades and what may turn out to be one of the most unequal in terms of impact.
People in developing countries are particularly hard hit by capital outflows, declines in remittances, the collapse of informal labor markets, and social safety nets that are much less robust than in the advanced economies.
For the poorest countries, poverty is rising rapidly, median incomes are falling and growth is deeply negative.
Debt burdens, already unsustainable for many countries, are rising to crisis levels.
“The situation in developing countries is increasingly desperate. Time is short. We need to take action quickly on debt suspension, debt reduction, debt resolution mechanisms and debt transparency,” said Malpass.
Kenya’s Central Bank Drafts New Laws to Regulate Non-Bank Digital Loans
The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) will regulate interest rates charged on mobile loans by digital lending platforms if amendments on the Central bank of Kenya Act pass to law. The amendments will require digital lenders to seek approval from CBK before launching new products or changing interest rates on loans among other charges, just like commercial banks.
“The principal objective of this bill is to amend the Central bank of Kenya Act to regulate the conduct of providers of digital financial products and services,” reads a notice on the bill. “CBK will have an obligation of ensuring that there is fair and non-discriminatory marketplace access to credit.”
According to Business Daily, the legislation will also enable the Central Bank to monitor non-performing loans, capping the limit at not twice the amount of the defaulted loan while protecting consumers from predatory lending by digital loan platforms.
Tighter Reins on Platforms for Mobile Loans
The legislation will boost efforts to protect customers, building upon a previous gazette notice that blocked lenders from blacklisting non-performing loans below Ksh 1000. The CBK also withdrew submissions of unregulated mobile loan platforms into Credit Reference Bureau. The withdrawal came after complaints of misuse over data in the Credit Information Sharing (CIS) System available for lenders.
Last year, Kenya had over 49 platforms providing mobile loans, taking advantage of regulation gaps to charge obscene rates as high as 150% a year. While most platforms allow borrowers to prepay within a month, creditors still pay the full amount plus interest.
Amendments in the CBK Act will help shield consumers from high-interest rates as well as offer transparency on terms of digital loans.
Scope Markets Kenya customers to have instant access to global financial markets
NAIROBI, Kenya, Jul 20 – Clients trading through the Scope Markets Kenya trading platform will get instant access to global financial markets and wider investment options.
This follows the launch of a new Scope Markets app, available on both the Google PlayStore and IOS Apple Store.
The Scope Markets app offers clients over 500 investment opportunities across global financial markets.
The Scope Markets app has a brand new user interface that is very user friendly, following feedback from customers.
The application offers real-time quotes; newsfeeds; research facilities, and a chat feature which enables a customer to make direct contact with the Customer Service Team during trading days (Monday to Friday).
The platform also offers an enhanced client interface including catering for those who trade at night.
The client will get instant access to several asset classes in the global financial markets including; Single Stocks CFDs (US, UK, EU) such as Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google, BP, Carrefour; Indices (Nasdaq, FTSE UK), Metals (Gold, Silver); Currencies (60+ Pairs), Commodities (Oil, Natural Gas).
The launch is part of Scope Markets Kenya strategy of enriching the customer experience while offering clients access to global trading opportunities.
Scope Markets Kenya CEO, Kevin Ng’ang’a observed, “the Sope Markets app is very easy to use especially when executing trades. Customers are at the heart of everything we do. We designed the Scope Markets app with the customer experience in mind as we seek to respond to feedback from our customers.”
He added that enhancing the client experience builds upon the robust trading platform, Meta Trader 5, unveiled in 2019, enabling Scope Markets Kenya to broaden the asset classes available on the trading platform.