Monday, November 19, 2012

Come What May, I Must Vote

For the first time in Kenya’s history, Kenyans living in the Diaspora, will have an opportunity to cast their votes at select voting stations wherever they live. This is one of the perks that Kenya’s new constitution allows for and which Kenyans are and should be very proud of. Today marks the start of the voter registration process in Kenya. I will be exercising my right to vote for the first time in my life in the next elections and judging by trends on social media, it is becoming imperative that Kenyans, and especially us the youth, must exercise that right in masses.

The official statistics as of December 2011 show that 40% of Kenya’s population is unemployed. Unofficial sources have indicated that this figure may be as high as 62% with the majority of the unemployed being the youth. This is a ticking time bomb, and one which the current leadership have shied away from tackling. Most of the popular presidential aspirants (most from the upper population age groups) have not offered a concrete plan of action on how they intend reducing this rate of unemployment, and the use of emotional tactics to reach to this vulnerable section of the electorate have mostly been employed. I must vote so that I can give a chance to a President willing to work to change this state.

A few weeks ago, public servants and specifically health and education professionals were on a prolonged strike with both groups demanding both higher wages and better conditions of employment. It is very embarrassing and utterly unacceptable that some public hospitals (the only source of health care services for a majority of Kenyans) do not have basic equipment and supplies like cotton wool, swabs and test tubes. Again, it has not been priority for government to ensure key professionals are adequately remunerated and that their conditions of service are improved. Instead, Kenyans watched in horror as senior government officials struggled to take responsibility and deal with the issues. I must vote so that scenes like those stop being the norm in Kenya.

Many Kenyans still do not have access to water and electricity, especially those that live in rural Kenya. Every election season, these Kenyans are bombarded with visits and messages of change from aspiring leaders. They are given money and other short term benefits yet the next they see those they elect is the next election season. It is not right that in the 21st Century and with the kind of technological advances the world has witnessed, we should have children studying using paraffin lamps or in the dark. It is not right that there are still communities where children have to wake up early in the morning before school to walk long distance in search of firewood and water for the day. I must vote to ensure that each child is given an equal opportunity to play time, quality education and access to basic services.

Very often whenever we have Kenyan gatherings in South Africa, an odd person walks up to me and questions my tribal affiliation in Kenya. It is common practice that people do not view themselves as Kenyans/ Africans first but rather Kikuyu, Luo, Kamba, Kalenjin or whatever other tribe first. Leaders in the past and present have used tribalism and ethnicity as campaign tactics; they have used unacceptable language and rhetoric that has had very costly consequences. Thank goodness for a new constitution where leaders are now being taken to task for using inflammatory language. I am an African and I will remain as such till the day I die. It is because of tribalism and ethnicity that the world watched as Kenyans were killed during the post election violence in 2008. Tribalism and ethnicity have resurfaced in recent ethnic clashes, which have left hundreds dead in parts of Kenya. I am going to vote because I want to send a clear message to leaders that I will not partake in politics that perpetuate tribalism.  I must vote because we have to start appreciating and exploiting all the wonderful diversity and strengths that each Kenyan regardless of tribal affiliation brings in a bid to advance Kenya and the continent.

The ills of corruption, bribery and patronage have plagued Kenya for decades. I have witnessed cases where public transport operators have publicly bribed traffic police. I have heard of instances where Kenyans have been denied the right to access key and basic services like education, health care, and even the right to have a birth certificate, identity document or passport because they have had no money or have refused to bribe government officials. Kenyans have watched as scandal after scandal has been unearthed; taxpayers’ monies have been diverted into projects that benefited only the mighty, wealthy and politically connected; money meant to support free primary education has been used to enrich education officials and countless other cases. I must vote because I want a future where meritocracy is the key to accessing gainful employment. I must vote because vulnerable groups in society must have the same rights to access basic services. I must vote because children that are not born out of wealth must have access to the best schools. I must vote because the consequences of corruption, bribery and patronage are human rights issues.

The Kenya I have always dreamt of, the Kenya that I know is possible to attain, the Kenya I wish for, will only start to take shape if I and other young people in Kenya exercise their rights to vote come March 2013. I must vote, come what may because I want to be part of change. I must vote, come what may because I want to be part of the generation that changed the course of history for Kenya and the continent. 

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Is this the Education our Continent’s Forefathers Dreamt of?

The last couple of months have been awash on the South African media with images of Section 27 representatives, the Department of Basic Education and other experts discussing how the South African education system has failed the child in Limpopo province.

It all started when Section 27 took the Basic Education Minister, Angie Motshekga to court to order her to ensure the department provided textbooks to schools in Limpopo. These learners have been without books and teachers without teaching materials since the beginning of the school year.

In Swaziland, a public sector strike for the last 5 weeks has meant that children have been without teachers and access to education for that long. It has meant that some teachers have been illegally fired for engaging in strike action, in effect removing access to those children affected by this.

In late 2009, Kenya was rocked by a major scandal (not the first in the education ministry) where Ksh3.2billion could not be accounted for. This money had been lent to Kenya by a number of donor countries including the UK to assist with the rolling out of the free primary school programme announced by President Mwai Kibaki in 2003.

And these are not isolated incidences in the continent. Media archives and current media coverage continues to bring to the fore great inefficiencies and maladministration regarding basic education for the African child.

And it is not just any African child that is affected by this. It is the poorest of the poor black African child who also has no other option to access education. Our black African led governments have continuously failed the black African child.

During and after the struggle for freedom in Africa, many of the continent's founding fathers including Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere, Jomo Kenyatta and Robert Mugabe passionately preached and encouraged Africans to empower themselves by accessing the best education thatthey could. Our founding fathers entered into agreements with the West that ensured education programmes for the African child were rolled out. During the struggle, many Africans were in exile accessing the best education that would ensure an efficient transition into freedom, in terms of governance and administration of governments.

And for a while after the advent of freedom, many African education systems were overhauled to provide the best possible education to their citizenry.

In the late 20th Century and current 21st century, things have changed and our forefathers must be turning in their graves when they see the quality of education the black African child is accessing. It must be a real let down for them when they see how good education plans and policies often fail in the implementation phase.

It is the poorest of the poor black African child that has had to suffer from the corruption and maladministration that has crippled the African education system. It is the poorest black African child that has no access to a feeding programme when the money is siphoned by a bureaucrat.

It is the black African child that has to travel by foot kilometres and kilometres everyday to reach to school because funds to build a new school next to his/her home or provide transport have gone to build a politician’s million dollar mansion.

I am angry! I am angry because our politicians did not all start out wanting to siphon money from the public coffers. I am angry because they have turned to animals that continue to produce illiterate people from our schooling systems, who are unable/ struggle to compete on the world stage.

I am angry that the black African child whose parent is a politician continues to access the best private school education within and outside the continent, a private education that very few can afford.

I am angry because the emerging middle class in the continent are being forced to divert money that could otherwise have been used to building wealth for the continent for their loved ones can access the best quality private education.

I am angry that the King of Swaziland, just by a mere pronunciation that the public strike should end in Swaziland and without any further negotiations in sight, the unions order teachers to go back to class. To go back to class to teach when they are not satisfied with their conditions of services and their remuneration benefits. What kind of an education can we expect these teachers to provide to Swazi learners that have already missed 5 weeks of school?

We, the citizens of this continent, just like Section 27 and other civil society movements, must begin to hold our governments accountable.

We, the citizens of this continent, need to fight for the rights of the black African child to access the same education as anyone else.

Because if we do not stand up for these children, the future of this continent, they will continue to be failed, and the continent’s prospects will be curtailed significantly

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Behind the Scenes of Conflict

‘I am always scared that the police will nab and take me back to my home country or a refugee camp because I don’t have any legal papers’

‘When I fled my home country, I had to walk many days without food or water to get to a place of safety’

‘They rape us and our girls and there is nothing I can do about it because we are at their mercy’

‘I don’t understand why foreigners have to be allowed in our country. They are now taking our jobs. Why can’t they just go back to where they came from?’
Somali Refugees
Image from:
These are some of the sentiments that I have come across from a number of refugees, all affected in one way of the other by prolonged conflict either in Somalia or another Africa country. It is always easier to quantify and qualify some of the effects of war like instabilities, increased vulnerabilities by minority groups, and economic stagnation. But very often, effects that war has on the family unit, social interactions within communities, and integration of refugees or asylum seekers in their newly found and sometimes temporary homes are ignored.

I have never been a refugee. What I write here is solely based on my interactions with Somali refugees in various parts of the world, and my knowledge from what Kenya faces, with an ever increasing number of refugees in the country.

The refugee status in any country has its own limitations regarding how integrated one can be. For instance, it stipulates that one can only work (if allowed) for so many hours and often the wage is perhaps not good enough for one to be able to feed a family. I am aware that a lot of refugees prefer to run away from the refugee camps and take on jobs that may sometimes be very demeaning so that they can be able to take care of their own. And in doing these jobs, the refugees often do not have legitimate legal working papers, are abused by employers in the name conditions of employment, do not have the same rights of recourse like citizens when they are abused by employers, and often have to live with the fear of the police arresting them.

Many refugees today were once upon a time successful people in their countries of origin. I know of people that were teachers, lawyers, public servants, doctors, nurses, accountants, police or defence officers that have now taken up jobs as parking attendants, waitresses/ waitrons, domestic workers and other jobs that they would not have otherwise done if their countries were safe and peaceful (not to say that the jobs mentioned above are not important). A few weeks ago, I watched a programme where a man, originally from the DRC had been a parking attendant in South Africa despite being fully qualified as a Maths and Science teacher (and he was very passionate). He began offering after school tuition to learners on the parking lot where he worked and was eventually hired by a school in Johannesburg. Because refugees often do not have legal status in the adopted countries, have often run away from home without any proof of their qualifications, it becomes very difficult to secure jobs.

Then there are the constant nightmares that many refugees have to deal with at night as a result of their experiences during times of conflict. It is very easy to heal the physical, and even when one gets their life together in a foreign country, there will always be those ghosts that they have to confront. When one witnessed their entire family being killed, it is very hard to get over that trauma. When a woman has been raped multiple times or been kept as a sex slave for prolonged periods of time, something about their sense of humanness is lost, and it is hard for them to comprehend life. Refugee aid agencies do a lot of work, and are too inundated to offer the psychological support most refugees need, and therefore a proper healing process is never initiated.

Other silent consequences of war include xenophobia like we have witnessed in South Africa. A lot of Somalis continue to face this problem within the communities they live and this increases their vulnerabilities. I have heard of cases where a school would not allow children of a refugee to attend school because the school could not ascertain what grades the children were to be placed. Refugees also suffer from problems involving integrating themselves in the societies that adopt them, and often face social rejection. This problem partly explains why they will tend to associate with those that are like them rather than integrate.

Our societies are not properly informed of what the word, ‘refugee’ actually means.

Our societies do not understand the circumstances that force people into the life of being refugees.

Our societies do not understand that refugees, more than anything, need our love and understanding as they struggle to integrate in our societies.

Part of our responsibilities as humans, first and foremost, is to identify and care for those amongst us that a most vulnerable. This is a responsibility that goes beyond caring for only our own. It is a responsibility that should be extended to those amongst us that really need our friendships; those that have faced far much worse circumstances due to conflict and war.

Next time you see a refugee or a foreigner in your society, smile at and befriend them. Sometimes, that is all they need to keep going!

Friday, June 1, 2012

HIV Pandemic Blamed on 'Beautiful Women'

I could not help but wonder how someone in a position of power could even say something like this. 

The biggest problem we have in the prevention of the spread of HIV/AIDS is that most people do not understand the science of the virus. This is something that the South African Minister of Science and Technology, Mrs Naledi Pandor alluded to when she gave a keynote address at a meeting I attended last week.

This article proves her articulation