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Intellectuals and the media need to shape narratives

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TOM MSHINDI

By TOM MSHINDI
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The US government representatives at the UN Climate Change Conference in Madrid last week were unmoved by the passionate pleas by the UN secretary General Antonio Guterres to the world to effect “rapid and deep change” in the way it handled the grave crisis of climate change precipitated by the global warming that is now triggering devastating weather patterns the world is not prepared for.

After all, the US is formally exiting the 2015 Paris Global Accord that imposed specific targets (of how much and by when) the US and China should meet on carbon emission if the rate of global warming is to be gradually brought under control. President Trump, an unapologetic globalisation revisionist, has shredded that accord and effectively anaesthetised any progress in this space as long as he remains President.

The Democrats will, in all probability, reverse this churlish decision by Mr Trump if they win the US elections in 2020. But it is a big IF given the surprisingly strong support Mr Trump enjoys among right wing Americans who want America’s interests at the top of any global agenda. With the riveting impeachment drama in Washington, the Brexit charade in Britain and fresh French riots grabbing all the attention, the Madrid summit flashed by. Back home, unseasonal rains came down with a tragic abundance, choking many parts of the land unused to such generosity from the skies. Starving rivers woke up with a ferocity that shocked Pokot, raptured the earth’s skins and left many gaping wounds, and dead bodies.

The response was hardly surprising. From Governor Sonko’s bizarre tweets as he sat in his gold-plated dining room, to the helpless look on Governor Lonyangapuo’s face and the opportunistic helicopter ride of Deputy President William Ruto to tour the disaster areas, the script was familiar. Even the really pathetic food and relief materials distribution by government ministers was properly choreographed.

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But even this tragedy could not distract the divided country from its latest heart-throb – the Building Bridges Initiative report launched a week ago. The political implications of the report many have dismissed as a romanticised commentary and diagnosis of the country’s social and economic challenges has eclipsed critical debates on issues around how our actions (and inactions) on issues like the Mara and environmental degradation. 

This is Kenya’s real tragedy. Intellectuals and we in media seem unable to successfully mediate public discourse to give a comprehensive and nuanced view of what is happening and why it is happening. We are not adequately explaining the almost inevitable link now between what is happening globally and what is preoccupying the lives of common mwananchi. There is also a historical context that is all-too-often forgotten.

By missing these linkages, our narratives treat each activity as an isolated event. The cause and effect relationship is replaced by episodic perspectives that cast our Wanjikus as forever victims at the mercy of “hero” rescuers. The repeated reinforcement of this image has generated one of the most slavish statements of this generation whenever it confronts adversity: “Tunaomba serikali . .” (“We beg the government . .”)

American politics, the UN decisions, tribulations and opportunities at regional blocs all matter to wananchi. Why should Kenya want to join the UN Security Council at this point and how do decisions at that level impact our lives?

There are those that argue that the educational system must also re-introduce the critical thinking approach that was sacrificed with the indiscriminate expansion of tertiary education. It is one strand on the many that we need to orchestrate to help nourish and emancipate the imagination and thinking of our people.

Those privileged to have platforms that interphase with the public must change this narrative.

Mr Mshindi is the former editor-in-chief of the Nation Group and is now consulting under Blue Crane Global. [email protected], @tmshindi 

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Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus

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By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

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.

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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.

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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.

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Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation

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By EDITORIAL

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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.

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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.

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Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly

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By EDITORIAL

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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.

POOR STATE

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.

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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.

REPEAT CLASSES

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.

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