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OBBO: Nature has become moody but it seems nobody cares

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CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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Not too long, in the wider East Africa the big story was drought. In Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia cattle were being wiped out, and farmers were selling their animals for pennies to cut their losses.

The photos of gaunt mothers and their children in camps were everywhere. Ethiopia and Somalia were facing the worst drought in over 60 years, and South Sudan was likely to perish in a famine.

Then the rains came, and from the Horn, central Africa, to southern Africa everything was under water. And again hunger, lost livelihoods, and emergency rescues, were the order the day.

Barely had we caught our breaths, than the fearsome locusts joined the action, ravaging every green thing in their way from Ethiopia, Somalia, to Kenya, with fears they could cut a ravenous path to Uganda and South Sudan.

In all these crises, governments and our societies have struggled. Beyond prayers and appeals to the international community for help, we’ve otherwise been out of our depths.

Nature has become moody and even angry, and we are told these calamities will be the order of the day from now on, because we have upset the balance of the Earth’s climate.

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For our survival, many things have to change. For one, national governments can no longer work alone.

They must just ramp up efforts for collective action. Kenya, for example, benefits if Ethiopia and Somalia don’t keep locusts a state secret, and let Nairobi know they are on the way.

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The downstream countries along the River Nile, are better served if the upstream ones tell them the river has burst its banks. It means trouble is coming their way. It seems, then, that nature might just once and for all settle the argument over regional co-operation.

At national level, all our governments have so far given more money to soldiers (defence), than agriculture, early warning systems, or weather.

Some time ago there was a rather shocking story in Uganda that the meteorological service’s regional offices send their reports to a central point by boda boda, then they would be gathered and sent to Kampala.

Hopefully the situation has changed, but that meant the meteorological authority was issuing reports that were several days late — with the weather long changed.

The idea that a weather scientist with a faded suit, thin tie, and seated in a leaking office no one otherwise cares about should start getting more money than a general with a three-car envoy, will for sure be a near-impossible sell. But the countries that survive in the near future, will be those that make the leap.

Environmental ministers can also no longer be just the president’s favourite ruling party clown, whom he is keeping fed in the job until the next election, or the chap who failed as Agriculture minister and is being given the docket as a soft landing in a cabinet reshuffle.

It has to be a clever woman who studied environmental science, and knows the difference between climate change and global warming.

We might also have to accept that the time for charismatic presidents who fill stadiums with crowds will have to end.

To deal with the climate challenges, we will probably need clever but boring chaps who read science journals on vacation, and have crowd phobia, to lead us.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is The author is curator of the “Wall of Great Africans” and publisher of explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]

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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

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.

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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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