I often fall into the illicit pleasure of savouring words put together in great elegance, even if it is often at the expense of some poor soul who happens to lend himself/herself to cruel satire that may or may not be entirely deserved.
For instance, the other day Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta used his constitutional muscle to shake up his Cabinet in what got Kenyan commentators to see a grand plan to clip the wings of would be 2022 succession contestants and their supporters.
In one case, a Nairobi daily carried this gem of a blurb on its front page: “Fuelled by an outsize ambition, courting political martyrdom, to fire career into orbit, weighed down by a very poor record of achievement in public office, (so-and-so) stuck out his neck and the President obliged and fed him to the locusts.”
I just loved this. It contained several accusations against the man who was shown the door, including inordinate ambition and a poor service record while in office, which are the common currency of most of our politicians whose desire to rise and rise is usually inversely proportional to their intellectual acuity and/or their intention to be of any service to those who they claim to serve.
So, I would be the last person to shed a tear when one of them bites the dust, for whatever reason. Still I do not understand the reason locusts are brought into the equation, unless there is a suggestion that President Kenyatta has turned Kenyan locusts into meat eaters.
Ordinarily, these insects are a vegetarian species which, when they invade, leave entire landscapes denuded of all vegetation. In fact, the food chain points in the opposite direction. It is humans who eat locusts, and Kenyan authorities have urged Kenyans to eat the destructive insects otherwise the latter will leave them hungry.
Maybe the scribe who wrote that blurb is not a keen entomologist, or scientific knowledge was sacrificed on the altar of a beautiful turn of phrase.
Nairobi colleagues are good at that kind of coinage. You will likely remember one professor who gave us “the tyranny of numbers” a few years ago? He was spot on, and his prediction worked like clockwork. Until, that is, it stopped working and other tyrannies came into play.
In the new era of ‘building bridges’, the tyranny of numbers may have been overthrown by the treachery of appetites, if not by the villainy of incongruity. One may also want to consider, in the particular context of Kenya’s recent history, the weightiness of memory.
When politicians whet their desires to ‘eat’ to such an extent that everything else becomes secondary, they are likely to step on each others’ toes more often than it is in their best interests to do so.
There is, evidently, a desire among a number of some of the leading political principals to chart out a modus vivendi by which all the competing interests and aspirations will be moderated.
The ethnic calculus on which that ‘tyranny’ was predicated may not cut much ice any longer; new pulls and pushes may be crystallising, even as we watch.
The Kenyan middle class will probably mean much more in terms of belonging than the backward ethnic straight jackets of days gone by, and the capitalists will lay greater store by how much money can be made and how much wealth created than by the spirits of the tribal ancestors.
Eventually, it is to be hoped that the contests will be informed by the philosophical underpinnings of the political formations, between those who strive for greater social justice and the others who are glued to the class privileges they inherited from their parents.
In between those two you may count as many other strands as the rainbow has colours.
This is true to Kenya as it is to Uganda and Tanzania, but Kenya has the advantage of having travelled the road of political conversations that the other two have not had the courage, or luck, to embark on.
As much as 2007 and 2008 was a truly excruciating experience, it may have had some cathartic value to help the more enlightened citizens to know how to care for the next person without necessarily knowing their tribal totems.
This way those who come from areas where locusts are a delicacy will teach the virtues of these otherwise destructive insects as culinary delights to be enjoyed by all Kenyans. Bon appétit!
Jenerali Ulimwengu is chairman of the board of the Raia Mwema newspaper and an advocate of the High Court in Dar es Salaam. E-mail: [email protected]
Our wizards saw the Brave New World, but none saw coronavirus
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.
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.
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.
Stadiums progress welcome – Daily Nation
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.
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.
Ensure reopening of schools runs smoothly
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.
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.
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.
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.