Nelson Mandela Lives!

Dear Kenyans,

To honour Mandela on this Nelson Mandela International Day, the UN asks everyone to devote 67 minutes to public service. In the Tata Madiba spirit, DR suggests the following good deeds for the day:-

1. Read a story-book to small children eg. Mike Sonko & Co.

2. Help the blind e.g. the GOK. by printing out the entire Constitution in braille so that they can finally SEE what Kenyans are making such a big fuss about.

3. Help the deaf e.g. Kenya Power, by coming up with your own pictoral ads to tell them how you really feel about their services.

4. Help the needy e.g the Nyachae-led Commissioners who have apparently been working pro-bono for over six months.

5. Be kind to animals e.g Parliamentarians. by dangling the “carrot” of your 2012 re-election vote, only on condition they shape up.

But on a serious note, this time last year I wrote a post “When Mandela Dies” to coincide with Madiba’s 92nd birthday but more so as a reaction to the surprising news that the UN had officially made July 18th Nelson Mandela International Day. It seemed a liiittle premature to me, but hey, these things happen right? Anyways, based on the comments we recieved, the general consensus seems to be that Mandela is no god and the world must simply tone-down on the hero-worshipping. Even South Africans themselves amidst the Mandela-mania also admit that Mandela was/is not perfect. But the difference between them and the rest of us is that while we are quick to start comparing Mandela to Obama, Gandhi, Mother Teresa and others, South Africans simply look at the man that is Nelson Mandela. South Africans have watched him go from man to myth and now more than ever want to emulate him.

As one SA journalist puts it:

“His transformation from a world renowned prisoner to a global icon has been phenomenal. The secret must lie in his proven ability to reinvent himself and the astuteness of those who worked on his image when he could not do it for himself. Perhaps we should not be altogether surprised. Mandela has been meticulous and deliberate about the building his own image for a long time – an exercise fanatic, a snappy and a strategic dresser for nearly fifty years. If one adds to all these a deliberate campaign of defiance – inside and outside the country – designed to make his name known, the result could only be an icon and a myth of global proportions.”

All in all, Mandela will forever be a global icon in his own right. Although there’s always a tendency to compare him with other historical figures of the world, we should never forget the role he has played and continues to play in putting the African continent on the map.

Happy Birthday Madiba!

Belated Birthday Wishes to R.O.S.S!

Note: Normally I don’t condone the use of exclamation marks in blog titles but then again witnessing the birth of a new nation on July 9th isnt exactly a normal occurrence, innit?

Africa is in unprecedented celebration the proclamation of independence of the 54th African Nation, the Republic of South Sudan. After Sudan, Kenya became the next country to officially recognize the sovereignty of South Sudan and warmly welcoming it into the community of free States.

Unless you’re in your early 60s, chances are you’ve never witnessed any country let alone your own formally gain its independence and become a fully fledged Republic. So watching the birth of South Sudan on July 9th 2011 has no doubt trumped any another historic event in our generation’s history, including Wangari Maathai receiving her Nobel Prize as the first African woman or Barack Obama’s Swearing-In Ceremony as the first Kenyan African-American President of the United States.

That said, I hope our government does not tire in reminding the rest of the world just how instrumental Kenya was in South Sudan’s long and difficult road to independence. Through the framework of the IGAD peace processes, the AU and the UN General Assembly, Kenya literally held SPLM/A’s hand and remain loyal and true.

Yeah, we made you, R.O.S.S.

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Enlightened Self-Interest: Towards An East African Federation

“Integration is more than five presidents meeting in Arusha and patting their backs on an illusionary integration” – Ahmednasir Abdullahi Anonymous

As we speak there is an East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) Symposium taking place in Arusha, Tanzania themed: “A Decade of Service towards a Political Federation”.

Now, I may not have been born in the Seventies, but I’ve heard stories of how things were especially between my country and its neighbours. The most vivid accounts were of the icy relations between Kenya and Tanzania. Relations hit their lowest ebb in the mid 1970s. At one time, the late Mwalimu Julius Nyerere was so frustrated by the late Mzee Jomo Kenyatta’s capitalist economic policies, he angrily described the Kenyan leadership as being made up of “nyang’aus” (‘hyenas’) and the country as a ‘man-eat-man’ society. This description has stuck, the mistrust and mismatch of ideologies and practice has persisted till this very day.

As for our other neighbour Uganda, we have all witnessed the on-going dispute over the Migingo and Ugingo islands. I didn’t know what big of a deal it was until Museveni arrived at our Promulgation ceremony last year and he was pelted with boos and chants of “Migingo is ours!”

That said we were all filled with hope in the EAC, when the Common Market was officially launched around this time last year (remember the google doodle? Awesomeness!). But a political federation is a whole different ball-game. A federation is ofcourse a worthy goal but it calls for a bold and visionary leadership by the five Heads of State to succeed. For, beyond greater economic integration, it requires political will and unity of purpose. That is where the catch lies.

Are the political leaders of the five countries capable of matching their well-intentioned sentiments with concrete action to integrate the five countries politically?

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So We Want Science, But Won’t Accept It?

I don’t know about now but back then, she was the personification of awesomeness. The coolest bug-hunter ever. Everyone that dared to speak about her did so only in whispers. When we weren’t whispering about her, we could be found envying the ground on which she walked and the insects that got to spend so much time with her. She put the pro in programme—bless her—and she didn’t even have to try. Damn.

Imagine my shock and pleasure, then, when I learnt she’d be lecturing us, moreover in something that had nothing to do with creeping and crawling things. I was up early. I wanted—no, I needed—to be there when she walked into the lecture theatre; I had to be counted among those students she’d glared at through her clever-than-thou glasses. Imagine our extreme confusion when, after a curt good morning, the distinguished and dainty doctor said, ‘I’m not here to challenge your religious beliefs. I’m just here to do my job, OK?’

We all exchanged confused glances. ‘Ohh-kay. Where is this coming from?’

We learned, later, that she had good reason to issue some sort of verbal disclaimer. It turned out evolutionary biology was the single most failed unit in the entire faculty. It didn’t help matters that it was a core five-course-unit affair. Evil bio. That’s what the third years called it. Those who could afford to call it evo bio did so; I suppose they decided that if they weren’t going to pass, they might as well pay tribute to the legendary Mitsubishi evo. The general performance was so dismal that, by the time I left, there were plans to discontinue the unit.

The issue, apparently, was that many students were bent on giving to religion even that which (rightfully or otherwise) belonged to science. Their inability to separate certain concepts and themes (evolution, for instance) from what they felt was a deliberate campaign meant to undermine their belief in God had translated into an inability to answer questions in the sort of manner that would earn them enough marks to avoid a re-sit.

Course work had turned into an opportunity for scorned students to defend their faith. Answers to essay questions had mutated into sermons. I remember a lecturer telling me how completely stumped he was to find that one of his star students had used the space provided below the long answer essay question to (quote) preach (unquote) to him.

That seems like such a long time ago, now, though, and one would hope that something has changed. Except it hasn’t. Joe, Janice and Jake Public still distrust science. They distrust its motives. They distrust its methods. They distrust its results.  They distrust the manner in which it declines to pick up after itself. They distrust it even as our leaders and governments continue to thrust it into the public domain. All around the continent, there is a fervent emphasis on science. How are people supposed to sign up for something they do not trust? How to trust something one does not understand?—and how does one understand something people have not bothered to explain?

Those that are in position to demystify science are, at the same time, worried that the entire process of demystification will ‘dilute’ their esteemed discipline. The rationale is that for science to enjoy its exalted position, it must, by necessity, maintain some of its mystery.

Unlike Einstein, many don’t think one should be able to explain the laws of physics to a barmaid. Because, really, what sort of science would that be?—and where would that leave the wannabe Michio Kaku? But perhaps scientists need not worry about the dilution of their beloved body of knowledge because there is always going to be that percentage that couldn’t care less—the percentage for whom science will always remain, for lack of a better word, ‘concentrated’: the barmaids that will only ever be interested in finding out whether you are going to have a Tusker or Guinness or Waragi.

And couldn’t the issue simply be that science has been misrepresented. Perhaps once the Publics understand what science is and what it isn’t, what tools it uses, how it supposes to find ‘truth’, what it tries to do and what it can’t do, they will stop going about with delusions of persecution all the time. Perhaps if students understood that not every scientist they are ever going to meet is out to get them—that not every scientist is bent on proving that there is no God, they might loosen up enough to write their exams and pass.

Hey, some of those scientists really are just doing their job. But maybe that’s the problem, eh?

On Thinking Like A Man

The worst thing about blind dates isn’t so much that you don’t have much to go on in the beginning. Nope. It’s that you are obliged to report any progress (or lack thereof) to the person/people that set you up. Your friend combed the entire city, bent over backwards, to find you someone ‘compatible’—you can’t very well go home and forget about it, now, can you. Nope. Not a shot in hell. You must pick up when she calls you later that night and be ready with a blow-by-blow account of what went down. When she holds her breath and asks “So, how did it go?” you’ll probably have to lie, fiddle the facts a bit, for the sake of everyone involved, because your blind date just happens to be your best friend’s boyfriend’s cousin’s best-friend’s Z-lister brother, and you just know there’s no way you should even think of saying, “Gaaah. I never thought anyone could be so gauche. It was a disaster.”

It was awkward, at first. No butterflies. No love at first sight. No immediate connection, even. Nevertheless, there we were, bound by a mutual loyalty to close friends who knew less about our preferences in companions than we could ever have suspected. We were there, so we decided there was no harm in trying. While we weren’t strictly each other’s type, we decided it wouldn’t be the worst thing if we enjoyed ourselves. We’d have a good time, go our separate ways and exchange sunshiny hallos if we ever bumped into each other. That was the plan.

Having shed our expectations, we relaxed and had a memorable give-and-take. Smooth and courteous, for the most part. The best part is that I didn’t even have to say much. When I did speak, I tried very hard not to say something stupid. Yes, if you must know, this was as difficult an endeavour as it sounds.

Then I shared what I’d heard over the radio sometime back, because we’d talked about nearly everything two people that have just met can talk about and it had come to that time when one is supposed to make it known that one does something else with one’s free time besides watching House and learning card tricks and quoting one-liners from The Big Bang Theory to one’s long-suffering workmates.

It was a contentious theory about how the recession might not have been such a recession if there had been more women in supervisory roles. More women CEOs, MDs, Presidents. More women on executive boards and committees. That women would have asked all the right ‘stupid questions’ because they don’t have egos the size of Lake Victoria, because they have no problem ‘losing face’; they would never have pretended to know what’s going on; they would have been wary of taking unnecessary risks. In addition, women have that fabled sixth sense—they would have known something wasn’t quite right. They would have sniffed out dubious investments faster than you can say, ‘Wanasema, how comes?’ Etcetera, etcetera.

Blind date made some snarky, sexist comment and I thought: Heavens, no. Please, not another one of those god-awful men-are-better-than-women-at-everything-period arguments. I refused to go down that road. I was determined to enjoy myself so I let the comment slide. I deliberately steered clear of any topics that might result in a battle-of-the-sexes bloodbath. Then somewhere along the way, I said something that got him saying:

‘You’re thinking like a man.’

To this day, I’m not sure if that was a diss or a compliment. My friend thinks it’s a compliment, because when a man tells a woman that she’s thinking like a man, that can only be a good thing. Because thinking ‘man thoughts’, looking at things through a man’s eye, arriving at solutions with a man’s thinking cap on, is equivalent to being an honorary man: for a woman, there is no greater honour. It means you’ve arrived. Or something to that effect.

Is thinking like a man all it’s cracked up to be?

If thinking like a man means paying $500 dollars to spend two and a half days in some hotel conference hall listening to another man in a suit tell you the exact same thing your wife/girlfriend would have told you at home, free of charge, while she washes the dishes, then perhaps it isn’t.

I’m just saying.

We Must Accept the Blame for the Troubled Boy Child

I was once a boy child.

I grew up in a time when having a son was considered a blessing. And after a certain age, all my short-comings and indiscretions were dismissed as “boys will be boys”. This is not to say that I wasn’t raised right. As a son, parents were never really scared of you falling prey to bad company, drugs and alcohol, or getting your heart broken by girls or contracting a life-threatening disease or fathering a child out of wedlock. These concerns were largely directed to the girl child because she was always seen as the more vulnerable one, the one that needed to be given the best possible chance to succeed. For the boy-child, it was believed that all it took was constant reminders of “be a man!” and observing the older men around to figure out how to navigate through life.

It is indeed true that the boy child in Africa for many generations has unwittingly benefitted from a patriarchal society that has prized men over women and sons over daughters. And so, the boy child used this gender imbalance as a crutch to get by in life and even prosper with very little effort compared with his female counterparts.
But that was then, now things have changed. As issues of women’s empowerment gain prominence and a wide array of policies aimed at uplifting the girl child start to bear fruit, suddenly the boy child is now emerging as the threatened one.

There are two schools of thought that appear to be emerging on the way forward.

One view widely held is that women are unfairly overburdened. As it stands, mothers, aunts, sisters, wives, females in general carry the load of empowering the girl child as well as providing support and guidance to the boy child. While men do little or nothing.
Women’s rights activists therefore believe that society should stop blaming women for the troubled boy child. Furthermore, women should no longer be considered as the custodians of traditional societal values such that when children stray and destroy their lives, blame is heaped on women failing to raise them right. Therefore the reproductive role can no longer be borne by women alone. The responsibilities of pregnancy and child rearing must be shared equally between the man and the woman, as much as possible.
Therefore, this school of thought concludes by stating that the troubled boy child dilemma should not be left to women to figure out and deal with. Men themselves should start holding the boy child’s hand the way women have long been doing with the girl child.

The second school of thought, which I happen to espouse, begins by conceding that menfolk have indeed neglected their duties to the boy child as fathers, father-figures, big brothers, cousins, uncles leaving the boy-child neglected and troubled. However, the overall responsibility of ensuring that there is gender balance in society remains a concerted effort between both men and women, especially those already involved in the human rights movement and within civil society.

The appeal being made in this regard is that women ought to make affirmative action to be more about gender empowerment than just women empowerment. The danger of not addressing the emerging issues surrounding the boy child is that we are slowly breeding an angry, misunderstood and marginalized generation of men which has serious social consequences. And so like my protégée Nittzsah I agree that we need to shine the spotlight on the boy child. However, dealing with the troubled boy child issue cannot be divorced from the empowerment of the girl child. The challenge to men (formerly boy children like me) is to get more involved and actively participate in the formulation and implementation of affirmative action programmes and policies geared to addressing gender disparities for the betterment of the entire society.

At a societal level, empowered men can start by mentoring younger males within the family and in the community, having meaningful discussions and talks with them about what it really means to be a man and the challenges of manhood that await them. It’s time that we, men played our part.