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Olympics decision good – Daily Nation

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EDITORIAL

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The decision by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) not to subject athletes who had qualified for the Olympic Games in various disciplines to yet another qualifier for the quadrennial championships is timely.

Coming just days after the IOC postponed the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the decision is welcome news for Kenyans who had qualified for the extravaganza.

After months of anxiety, the IOC and the Japanese government on March 24 agreed to postpone the Olympics, which had been scheduled for July 24 to August 9 to July 23-August 8 next year. But there still were fears that athletes would be qualified afresh.

Although the rugby sevens teams and the women’s volleyball squads and some local boxers had gone through by the time of the postponement, other Kenya teams were still fighting to qualify. In particular, Africa women’s beach volleyball qualifier tournament held in Nigeria in March was hit by low turnout after prevalence of coronavirus was reported in the West African country.

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Kenya did not send a team to compete in the tournament. Only home team Nigeria and Zambia competed and the men’s qualifier tournament was subsequently put off.

The IOC’s assurance means that Kenya’s marathon teams, rugby sevens teams, women’s volleyball squad and the already qualified boxers can continue training on their own in preparation for the Olympics.

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In fact, they now have ample time to train rigorously and prepare well for the Games.

On the other hand, Kenyan teams that had not qualified have a chance to do so once the threat of coronavirus pandemic has been eradicated globally and it is then safe to compete.

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ONYANGO-OBBO: Forget Covid-19; think about camels and cannabis right now

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By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

After five months of restrictions to save us from the new coronavirus, lives have been saved, but many have been infected and died too. But with no cure or vaccine, we are actually surrendering because the personal and economic pain is unbearable. Rulers everywhere are reopening economies, and we are saying “kama mbaya mbaya” — let us go and die from the virus.

South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa has been ruthlessly realistic as people go back to work and begin mingling, albeit with masks on. He has said infection numbers are “expected to increase exponentially.”

We have also spent a lot of time on how the virus will change the world. My suspicion is that the big changes will not be the obvious ones — like a dramatic shift to contactless payments, migration by those who can afford to less-contracted suburbs further out or a return to the drive-in cinema.

The signs of big changes are often hidden in plain view, and we tend to brush them off. So, I did an about-turn on a story in late April, that said Saudi Arabia would temporarily lift the ban on livestock imports and buy “600,000 sheep and 100,000 camels from Somalia in the next 30 days”.

The Gulf countries buy many sheep, cattle and camels from Somalia. It is the one trade that has largely been immune even to the civil war. By 2014, when Somalia was nowhere near the half-stable country it is, it still exported 4.6 million goats and sheep, 340,000 cattle and 77,000 camels worth $360 million (Sh36 billion) to the Gulf. These regional countries that laugh at Somalia as a failed state don’t hold a candle to it.

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On reading of Saudi Arabia lifting the ban, I got interested. But although camels got a bad rap when they were thought to be a source of the human infection with the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), they are “well-known hosts to harbour different strains of the coronaviruses and were shown to produce effective neutralising antibodies to these viruses”.

Although it isn’t clear if it’s the reason Saudi Arabia lifted the ban, if that turns out to be a thing, the camel could emerge as the wonder beast out of this crisis. And, of course, Somalia, which has a leg up on rearing the animals, would be in for some big dough and could, well, finally rise from the ashes on the back of camels. Before long, many East African ranchers could be camel keepers.

‘Weed revolution’

That, though, might not be as dramatic as the revolution that would be wrought by cannabis, or “weed” as the good people on the street call it. A lot of good things have been said about cannabis and Covid-19. Some people swear it is a cure but, like claims about other leaves and herbs, there is no scientific proof.

A South African publication, City Press, reported this week that a group of local researchers are looking into the possible role cannabis can play in curing the coronavirus.

The Vaal University of Technology (VUT) and private firm Cannabisiness, said the report, hope to find out if the plant’s anti-inflammatory properties can alleviate the body’s inflammatory response to Covid-19. It notes that cannabis plants, as many know, have been used in traditional medicine in Africa for millenniums.

Last year, the duo partnered on combating inflammation in rheumatoid arthritis sufferers using cannabidiol, a chemical found in cannabis.

In a few African countries, especially in the south, the use of “weed” has been legalised and licences are being handed out to grow it for export.

How could a breakthrough be revolutionary? According to GBNews, despite extensive global prohibition, with only just over 50 countries having legalised some form of medical cannabis, and six have legalised cannabis for recreational use by adults, more than 263 million people consume cannabis every year.

There are an estimated 1.2 billion people suffering from medical conditions for which cannabis has shown to be of therapeutic value, it says. Adoption of medical cannabis treatment, by even a small proportion of that population, would create a massive market. And there is serious money. The total global cannabis market (regulated and illicit) is about $344 billion — nearly equal to the global smartphone market. Africa is in the top five regional markets for cannabis, worth $37.3 billion.

A coronavirus-fuelled blow-up of cannabis could create unstoppable demand for legalisation, and smart governments would be quick to cash in. Our prohibition-based moral order would be overthrown. Massive fortunes could be made by farmers, who would ditch most other crops (the teas and maize) and become ‘weedpreneurs’.

Life would be extremely interesting, and nothing like we have today.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer and curator of the Wall of Great Africans. @cobbo3

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ADHERE: Will China be Africa’s trusted partner?

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By ADHERE CAVINCE

Not surprisingly, many of the apocalyptic projections of the impact of Covid-19 on Africa are yet to materialise. According to the Africa Centres for Disease Control, the continent had by May 30 registered 3,922 Covid-19 deaths and 135,292 cases. The global toll was 360,000 and case tally six million.

Africa’s young population, ecological dynamics, experience dealing with epidemics and mitigation measures by governments are seen as behind its better showing in managing the disease. But this could just be end of the good news.

With no vaccine in sight and World Health Organization indicating that the coronavirus is here to stay, the pandemic continues to be an existential threat to humanity. Yet, even in the face of such grim realities, the global consensus to wrest it is elusive — President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the United States out of the WHO the latest indication that an international bipartisan approach to contain the pandemic is hard to realise.

Although Africa has performed reasonably well in saving lives so far, the same cannot be said of livelihoods. Many countries are reeling under the yolk of economic hardships. Firms are closing down. Millions of jobs are lost every week. A Kenya National Bureau of Statistics survey report indicates that nearly a third of the population could not pay their house rent in April. Women constitute 51 per cent of the most afflicted.

As the US abandons its seat at the WHO high table, China is emphasising functional multilateralism; an idea that an overwhelming majority of the countries also subscribe to. In his address to the 73rd World Health Assembly, the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, pledged $2 billion (Sh200 billion) to the WHO and called for solidarity to build a healthy global community.

Should China succeed in developing a Covid-19 vaccine, President Xi added, it will be both accessible and affordable, as a global public good. This view contrasts with that of Washington, where President Trump stated that the US will develop a vaccine only for the American people.

President Xi has also committed to pair 30 leading African hospitals with their Chinese counterparts and expedite construction of an Africa CDC headquarters.

The work of post-Covid-19 economic reconstruction will be a steep climb for emerging economies, especially those reliant on commodity exports. Many of the traditional partners of Africa in Europe are yet to climb out of the pandemic affliction, leaving them little room to extend a helping hand to the continent. With the US indifference towards Africa, only Beijing provides some dependable basis of long-term and pragmatic relations with the continent.

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Drawing from nearly two decades of sustained economic cooperation between China and Africa, surveys over the past five years indicate increased acceptability of Beijing as a strong development partner.

A 2016 Afrobarometer survey, for example, revealed that 76 per cent of Kenyans welcomed China’s economic cooperation with Nairobi. Two years later, an Ipsos poll in Kenya placed China ahead of the US, for the first time, as a development partner. Then in 2019 a Pew Research showed 68 per cent of Kenyans believed that a stronger Chinese economy is good for Nairobi.

But it will take serious efforts to translate this into productive economic cooperative arrangements that can be a force to pull Africa out of the Covid-19 conundrum. To promote industrialisation that can create the much-needed jobs and wealth, African countries should implement investor-friendly policies to tap from the burgeoning Chinese private sector.

Secondly, official development assistance from Beijing should be invested in productive sectors that create value for the majority and not a tiny elite.

Thirdly, according to statistics from the General Administration of Customs of China, the volume of trade between China and Africa was $204.19 billion in 2018. Africa’s exports to China was, however, $99.28 billion, a 70 per cent drop in surplus compared to 2017. Interestingly, 96 per cent of all African exports to China are oil, minerals and timber.

Although the surplus looks good continentally, at the country level, the prospects are totally different. Trade volume between Nairobi and China in 2017 was valued at $4 billion, yet Kenya only exported goods worth $500 million to Beijing that time.

China should, therefore, open up its vast market of 1.5 billion people to more African products. Recent sanitary and phytosanitary agreements signed between Kenya and China is a good example of efforts to promote the entry of African agricultural produce into the Chinese market.

Mr Cavince is a PhD student of International Relations. [email protected] @Cavinceworld

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Leadership is a public service not a political reward

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TEE NGUGI

By TEE NGUGI
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At long last, Lesotho Prime Minister Thomas Thabane resigned. He had resisted doing so since his second wife was accused of murdering his first wife.

If this were a plot in a Shakespearean play, it would make for entertaining literature. Unfortunately, this real-life drama is being enacted in one of the most underdeveloped countries in the world.

Half of the population in Lesotho lives below the poverty line. Unemployment rate hovers near the 30 per cent mark. It has the second highest Aids prevalence rate in the world.

Most of its foreign exchange earnings come from remittances from citizens working in South Africa. The country’s beautiful landscapes mask extreme rural poverty.

Like most of Africa, the country has not escaped occasional coups or attempted coups. By contrast, Lithuania, a European country with almost similar population and geographical size is many times richer and more functional than Lesotho.

You would think that for a country with such an epic task of rescuing its people from dysfunction and poverty, Lesotho’s leaders would be the last in the world to be mixed up in such drama.

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You would expect a prime minister, tainted by the drama either by association or because he was complicit, to immediately resign in order not to hinder the country’s progress in any way. And yet the prime minister resisted calls for his resignation for months, and when he eventually did, he claimed he was retiring due to old age.

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This unfortunate episode once again calls attention to how African leaders view power. To them, political authority is not a tool within the matrix of governance whose purpose is to bring transformation. It is a perquisite, a reward.

In his essay, The Monarchical Tendency in African Political Culture, Ali Mazrui discusses this conception of power, and its consequences.

We know too well the gruesome fate of those in Africa’s post-colonial history who were seen as trying to take away these “personal gifts.”

For a country of three million people, the country labours under a costly royal family.

The most successful societies in history are those that figure out the most efficient and productive ways of organising themselves. A long monarchical tradition does not confer efficiency and productivity to that system of governance.

True, there are rich countries that have constitutional monarchies, but they can afford it. Many other countries have found monarchies to make no sense or cents.

The Russians and Chinese got rid of theirs. The French guillotined their last monarch. I’m in no way advocating the French solution to the monarchy problem in Africa, only asking whether monarchical governance in desperately poor countries such as Lesotho and Eswatini is the most efficient and productive way to organise society.

But more urgently, we must find ways of depersonalising political authority in Africa and restoring it as a function of governance for public advancement. Perhaps an African Union summit will put this on its agenda. But don’t hold your breath.

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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