Monthly Archives: January 2014

Africa’s Poverty Contradictions and Dead Capital

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In 1993, I quit my $60,000-a-year job in the United States of America as a Senior Financial Systems Analyst to come home.  The 1992 elections had just ended and the country was grappling with hyperinflation as a result of too much money chasing too few goods. 

It was rumoured that cash had been printed to bribe voters. Central Bank, in an effort to mop up excess liquidity, raised interest rates to 70 per cent.  This meant that banks had no motivation to lend to consumers since Treasury Bills paid more than they could earn anywhere.  My more than five years savings of $160,000 (about 20 million in today’s exchange rate) went up in smoke.  My saving grace was a ten-acre piece of land I bought in Kajiado. The rest was converted into dead capital in form of a small rural home.

Broke, jobless and just married, I found myself hustling as a real estate agent until a relative asked me to join her in exporting horticultural products to Europe.  I drove her three-ton canter into Murang’a and Kirinyaga in search of French beans, passion fruits and snow peas. 

INTERNATIONAL STANDARDS

Some days I drove to Matuu in Eastern Province to fetch okra.  This gave me sufficient income to pay rent, buy food for my family and socially contribute to the usual harambees for funerals, education, weddings and other community requirements.  I was beginning to settle into the business and started a plan to effectively address some of the problems the farmers faced, like productivity.

The horticultural industry was facing real problems as Europe was beginning to impose the ISO 9000 (international standards).  I had some knowledge of how these standards could be implemented.  I began to juggle as a consultant as well as an exporter of horticulture.  At my rural home people started to whisper that I was selling vegetables (koonia emboga).  In Kisii language, this is derogatory and in actual sense means I was like some old woman selling vegetables on the side walk.  Although initially it did not bother me, it became too much when everybody began to doubt if I ever went to school while in the US.

While doing my vegetable research at the Uchumi Super Market, Aga Khan Walk, I bumped into Hon. Jimmy Angwenyi then Chairman Department of Business, University of Nairobi and now Member of Parliament Kitutu Chache where I was born.  He startled me.  Don’t tell me that it is true that you sell vegetables.  He asked.  And before I replied and standing by the vegetable section, he said “Bogonko oonie emboga”? (Astonishingly asking – Bogonko you really are selling vegetables).  Bogonko is our great grandfather and the pride of the Kitutu people.  “Did you not go to school in the US?” he asked.  “Yes I did, and after my graduate school I worked as a financial systems analyst,” I said.  “Did you say systems?” he asked. “Yes, systems,” I replied.  “Can you teach a course called accounting systems?” he asked.  I responded, that is my forte.

DEAD CAPITAL

Two months later, I was in class teaching an Accounting Systems course as a Tutorial Fellow.  Starting salary, KSh7000.  My monthly rent was KSh12000.  I had just been impoverished by pressure from society.  I began to regret why I put up a house in my rural home while I suffered in the city.  The house was dead capital.  I could not rent it to anyone yet I had to pay somebody to take care of it.  In fifteen years I have used it twice.  This is not just my story.  It is the story about Africa’s investment decisions and mixed priorities.

Although no one has ever established how much dead capital there is, it runs into billions of dollars.  Kenya alone is dotted with village shops that are hardly used with zero financial return as well as zero payback yet even in today, people are taking loans to build shops at village market centers.  

People are taking loans to build double storied homes in places out of this world.  Reason.  The society demands it.  It is a home where you will be buried.  It is said that you will embarrass the clan were you to die and you have no home.  Africa is preoccupied with death when the living cannot feed themselves.  Of what sense is it when someone puts up a KSh20million home in a rural area only for the relatives to raise money to pay school fees for children after his death?  These are houses that no one will buy, sell or rent because graves dot the home.  What is the value of culture? 

At the turn of 20th Century, Africa’s culture was more like socialist societies embracing use of resources communally.  This is how former Tanzanian President Julius Nyerere created Vijiji vya Ujamaa.  People lived together in small villages and left much of the land to grazing and farming such that large scale commercial activity can thrive.  In Kenya, the Swynnerton Plan of 1954 changed both the land use as well as the African culture resorting to subdividing the land.

EXCESSIVE SUBDIVISION

Although the Swynnerton Plan’s main objective was to create family holdings large enough to keep the family self-sufficient in food and also enable them to practice alternate husbandry and thus develop a cash income, it was meant to secure settler community with large tracks of land ownership.  It introduced agricultural land ownership.  Today we are slaves to the plan as land subdivision has become excessive and in essence undermined the livelihood of the people.  It is why we are building haphazardly to the extent that we may never benefit from common infrastructure like energy, water, and sewerage that minimizes cost and ensures disease is kept at bay.

Our culture must be looked at from a future sustainability point of view.  We must plan for the future generations by provisioning land for agriculture and build communities around urban set ups with proper property rights.  Property that can be useful now and in the days to come and is transferrable.  Hernando de Soto said, “When you look at 19th century America or 18th and 16th century Europe, all of a sudden it’ll become clearer that … the thing that broke the back of poverty and privilege in developed countries in the past was when property rights came around and destroyed feudal title.” This therefore will mean that we do away with much of the current cultural practices on land.  Create a common cemetery and all other common infrastructure. 

This is how we can sustainably deal with poverty by reducing the cost of dead capital and our own contradictions.  On Vegetables, I will soon start helping farmers with productivity measures.  It is absurd when Israel harvests between 100 to 150 tons of tomatoes from one hectare of land when we do less than 1 ton from the same.

Dr. Ndemo is a senior lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Business School, Lower Kabete Campus. He is a former Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Information and Communication. Twitter: @bantigito

Source: Daily Nation

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Is Your Kid Addicted to the Internet?

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Sitting is the new smoking.”

That’s what a neighbor said to me the day I returned to full-time office work after an extended child-rearing hiatus.

Although I laughed at the time, that remark took root in my brain. Every day I’m baffled at how many hours slip by when I’m doing online research. I forget to stand up or sometimes even to eat lunch.

But a more accurate saying just might be: Surfing the Internet is the new smoking.

I’m far from the only one who experiences the can’t-tear-yourself-away-from-the-screen aspect of being online, all the time. In China, where there have been reports of people dying after lengthy, uninterrupted stints in cyber cafes, Internet addiction has been categorized as a clinical disorder.

The documentary film Web Junkie by Hilla Medalia and Shosh Shlam looks at one of the many Chinese rehabilitation centers specializing in the problem of web addiction. Medalia and Shlam follow three teenagers who have been taken to a treatment center in Beijing by their parents for an intensive, and often brutal, three month rehab.

Last week’s New York Times Op-Doc video by the two filmmakers provides a quick look at one such center, and how many Chinese parents have chosen to treat the problem in their children. At times, it’s difficult to watch the kids, locked up in the militaristic treatment facilities, crying and begging to go home.

As many American parents already know, the disorder is not unique to China. Recently, a friend woke up at 2 a.m. to find her 9-year-old son playing Minecraft online.

Is the Internet the new smoking? Will our kids look back and wonder how we ever let them spend hours surfing the web or playing computer games just like we marvel at how older generations could ever have thought smoking cigarettes wasn’t dangerous?

According to a new Greek study, the severity of a child’s Internet addiction is linked to parenting style. The study’s lead author, Argyroula E. Kalaitzaki of the Technological Education Institute (TEI) of Crete, says that “good parenting, including parental warmth and affection, that is caring and protective parents, has been associated with lower risk for Internet addiction. Whereas bad parenting, including parental control and intrusion, that is authoritarian and neglectful parents, has been associated with higher risk for addiction.”

If that’s not enough to get you—and your kids—to shut down the screens once in awhile, I don’t know what is.

If you think you or a family member might be too into the Internet, check out Texas State University’s Internet Addiction site for warning signs and ways to cope.

Source: Florissant patch

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Uhuru team reeling under graft claims

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The Jubilee administration is facing increasing pressure over corruption allegedly taking root at high levels and influencing tenders worth billions of shillings.

The latest salvo was fired Sunday when Uongozi, an advocacy group associated with the former anti-corruption czar John Githongo, wrote an open letter to President Uhuru Kenyatta asking him to suspend the Sh425 billion Mombasa-Malaba railway project until all questions that have been raised over the tender are answered.

“We write to you as patriot citizens in good faith, to share our deepening concerns regarding a number of issues which in our humble view threaten the soul of our beloved nation,” the group said in the letter signed by Mr Githongo, Dr PLO Lumumba and Mr Tom Mboya.

“We have reached a critical tipping point hence our decision to address you… Given the whiff of irregularity, it is our submissions that it would be prudent to immediately terminate the current process and begin a transparent process afresh, so as to ensure efficiency and value for money.”

COMMITTED TO FIGHTING GRAFT

But on Sunday, the spokesman for the Presidency, Mr Manoah Esipisu, said Mr Kenyatta was committed to the fight against corruption.

“The President has even launched a website on which to report any cases. He is always in touch with anti-corruption agencies,” he said.

Deputy President William Ruto also declared  that the government would neither engage in business with corrupt cartels nor accept to be held to ransom.

“We are here to serve all Kenyans, not a few greedy individuals,” Mr Ruto said at St Monica ACK church, Dandora during a thanksgiving service for Embakasi North MP James Mwangi Kaguya.

“No one  and nothing will stop us from building the railway, building the roads, giving children laptops and doing irrigation among other pledges as enunciated in our manifesto.”

Earlier, the Consumer Federations of Kenya warned that the rising number of corruption cases could make the cost of living too high for Kenyans as cartels will block the flow of cheaper services to the public.

“This is no longer just about the government because it has demonstrated that it has a weak ability to fight corruption,” said Cofek secretary-general Stephen Mutoro.

Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) said some of the cases could take long to be concluded.

“These scandals seem to be in succession, but the EACC is very much aware. If we get a good case, we will let everyone know,” said Mr Yasin Amaro, the commission’s public communications officer.

Since May, questions have been raised on some of the government’s investment and expenditure decisions. Among the most prominent was the controversial hiring of a luxury jet for the Deputy President, the airport expansion project, repair works on the Deputy President’s official house in Karen and the multi-billion-shilling railway tender.

This month, the controversial Tassia NSSF project has come to light after Mr Francis Atwoli, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary-general called it “the scandal of the year” for supposedly going forward without a formal board approval.

Yesterday, Mr Atwoli, who has since written to the Ombudsman to complain about the project, said every participant in the scandal should be punished regardless of status.

“Cotu wishes to see any individual involved in defrauding Kenyans dealt with irrespective of his/her political persuasions,” he told journalists in a statement.

SUSPENDED PROJECT

Last week, Labour Cabinet Secretary Kazungu Kambi suspended the Sh5.053 billion housing venture to allow time to address Cotu’s complaints.

The renewed focus on corruption comes just a day after key Jubilee coalition figures led by National Assembly Majority Leader Aden Duale and Senate Majority leader Kithure Kindiki  gave President Kenyatta an ultimatum to expose corruption cartels tainting his administration.

Speaking at a funeral in Kieni, Nyeri, the leaders claimed that corruption networks were blackmailing the government by pretending to expose graft after losing out on lucrative procurement deals.

The leaders seemed to be targeting critics of the railway project led by Nandi Hills MP Alfred Keter, who has claimed that the tender was riddled with corruption.

The MPs accused Mr Keter and other Jubilee critics of being used by merchants and wheeler-dealers who were out to discredit the government and derail important projects after losing out on tenders.

They cited the networks inherited from the Kibaki government, such as those behind the Anglo-Leasing scandal,  which they claimed were still in government and trying to resume their activities.

The railway deal is the subject of investigations by two parliamentary committees.

Starehe MP Maina Kamanda, who chairs the Transport Committee, hit out at unnamed individuals who have allegedly infiltrated the government to try and influence decision-making.

Mr Kamanda accused the individuals of seeking to hold the government to ransom.

Speaking to the Nation on condition of confidentiality, a State House official agreed with the claims made by the Jubilee MPs.

“It is a motley of groups that have had long interest in government. They are so deep in government that nothing can happen without them having their hands on it,” the source said. “They are the reason some of the projects have not taken place even though money was released.

They are now back seeking to demonise the grand projects like the railway.”

CARTELS

Senator Kipchumba Murkomen also spoke of cartels who he accused of seeking to hold the government to ransom.

Senate Majority leader Kithure Kindiki had earlier said a few wealthy people were using their connections to intimidate people in government to award them tenders.

“You can intimidate some people some time, but you cannot intimidate all the people all the time,” he said.

And Mr Duale cautioned the cartels against using the courts to achieve their goals, saying Kenya now has a reformed Judiciary that did not condone corruption.

Reports by Bernard Namunane, Aggrey Mutambo and Ouma Wanzala

Source: Nation

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Death of Facebook predicted as more youngsters log out

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Are you a young person who feels your Facebook feed has become quieter or boring with serious issues missing and pictures dominating? Well, you are not alone — and, in fact, it may get worse.

The reason could be that older people are joining the site en masse, pushing youngsters out. And now, according to some researchers in the West, a number of the younger users are retaining their accounts but are not posting anything of interest.

Others in their teens and 20s are choosing to abandon the social site in droves to avoid the wrath of their new Facebook friends — parents, uncles, aunties and in-laws.

That means all the pictures from that night out where beer flowed freely and everyone let their hair down — which a few years ago would have been posted on Facebook — now have different destinations: Twitter and Instagram.

Currently, the average age of Facebook users stands at 41 years. Indeed, Edythe Kirchmaier, Facebook’s oldest registered user, turned 106 last Wednesday.

Mrs Kirchmaier, who has more than 47,000 friends and a fun page with more than 12,000 likes, couldn’t enter her birth year of 1908 when she first joined the site. There is even worse news for diehard fans of Facebook. American researchers on Friday described the social site to be like an infectious disease, which is experiencing a spike before its decline.

The researchers predicted that the social network will lose 80 per cent of users by 2017.

Two doctoral candidates in mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University made their astonishing claims in a paper published online at a scientific research archive, but which is not yet peer-reviewed.

But a Facebook spokesperson told Time magazine the report is “utter nonsense”.

Based on the rise and fall of MySpace, John Cannarella and Joshua Spechler say that Facebook, the largest online social network in history, is set for a massive fall.

“Ideas, like diseases, have been shown to spread infectiously between people before eventually dying out, and have been successfully described with epidemiological models,” they wrote.

They applied a modified epidemiological model to describe the dynamics of user activity of online social networks, using Google data that is publicly available.

It will make uncomfortable reading for the social media giant co-founded by Mark Zuckerberg, which has more than 1.1 billion users around the globe and turns 10 years old next month.

Their study said Facebook, whose shares climbed to a new high of $58.51 (Sh4,973.35) this week, has been in decline in terms of data usage since 2012.

“Facebook is expected to undergo a rapid decline in the upcoming years, shrinking to 20 per cent of its maximum size by December 2014,” said the report posted online to peers at ArXiv.org.

“Facebook will undergo a rapid decline in the coming years, losing 80 per cent of its peak user base between 2015 and 2017.” The new research comes amid surveys suggesting that younger users started migrating from Facebook in 2013.

Cannarella and Spechler told AFP they did not wish to comment publicly in person until their manuscript had completed its peer review process ahead of formal publication.

Last week, a writer for the Atlantic overheard President Barack Obama remarking during a chat with some unidentified youth at a café that teens are becoming disinterested in Facebook. The President was overheard saying, “It seems like they don’t use Facebook any more.”

In December, anthropologist Daniel Miller’s social media study in Europe discovered that Facebook is “basically dead” for teenagers between 16 and 18 years old.

The study established that young Facebook exiles are using Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp. Mr Miller said most teenagers only use Facebook to stay connected with parents and relatives and “many are embarrassed to even be associated with it,” said Miller.

But at least for now, Facebook’s fortunes are in good health. Rising share prices have made chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg the latest tech billionaire and Zuckerberg, 29, has a personal fortune estimated at about Sh1.6 trillion.

But some analysts have refuted the latest study.

Time magazine argued that if we allow for a moment the idea that search interest is a viable measure of a social network’s popularity, then yes, interest in Facebook is, admittedly, showing a very slight dip. Mr Alexander Howard, a fellow at the Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at the Columbia Journalism School, told Time that “applying models from the biological world to social networks and the broader online world isn’t an unreasonable approach to studying the dynamics of what’s happening there and why.”

The Time report further suggested that you are unlikely to leave Facebook because all of your friends and family are on Facebook now. “There’s little reward for being the first of your friends to go somewhere else, as there’s no guarantee anybody will follow you there,” argues the report.

“MySpace never achieved this critical mass (your grandma never had a profile there — probably) so when Facebook started surging, there was no penalty for MySpace users to switch over.”

With no credible research on the trends in Kenya, will the scenarios suggested by reporters in the West be mirrored locally.

Souce: Sunday Nation

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Security agencies ignored warning of terrorist attack on two occasions

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It is now official: security agencies ignored the warning of an impending terrorist attack two times before the horrific Westgate massacre that killed 67 people and left close to 200 others wounded.

One of the warnings was issued just 19 days to the attack on September 21 last year, and the other at the beginning of August. Shockingly, police did not move to secure the identified targets.

It is also official that GSU commandos had managed to corner the terrorists who struck at the upscale mall and that the change-over to the military bungled the operation.

These are some of the highlights of a report by two parliamentary committees which jointly investigated the mid-morning attack at the Westlands mall that left Kenya and the world in shock.

The report seen by the Sunday Nation says the attack could have been prevented had security agencies acted on intelligence information in 2012.

Chillingly, an intelligence report warned about an impending attack on Westgate exactly a year to the day of the attack. The briefing, dated September 21, 2012, said Somali militants from the al-Shabaab terror group were planning to attack the Israeli-owned mall.

“Another intelligence briefing in February 2013 warned of attacks like those that happened in Mumbai in late 2008, where the operatives storm a building with guns and grenades and probably hold hostages. It is unclear what measures were put in place to prevent the attacks,” says the report.

The warnings just before the attack were filed on August 6 and September 2.

“There was general information on the impending terror attack on all the malls and other strategic Western interests, especially in Nairobi. The information was made available to the relevant security officers in Nairobi County on August 6, 2013 and on September 2, 2013,” says the report of the Joint Committee of National Security and Defence and Foreign Relations.

The committee was co-chaired by MPs Asman Kamama and Ndung’u Gethenji, and tabled the report just before Parliament adjourned in December.

Experts who appeared before the committee said the Kenya Defence Forces (KDF) soldiers should not have been deployed at the mall because the GSU Recce squad had already cornered the terrorists by the time soldiers arrived at the scene.

“Involvement of the military should be a last resort decision, especially if there is external threat to a nation’s security. The presidential directive to have the Inspector-General to take command of the Westgate Mall operation was proper. The Chief of the Kenya Defence Forces should have ordinarily consulted with the Inspector-General of Police and should have withheld the deployment of KDF,” experts told the MPs inquiring into the attack.

On Saturday, the Leader of Majority in Parliament, Mr Aden Duale, said the report will be discussed when Parliament re-opens next month.

“The report was tabled in December. We will ensure the House Business Committee gives it priority during the first few days of re-opening of Parliament. The last verdict on the report will be from the House to amend and adopt. I urge members to think about Kenya during the debate,” he said.

NEW PHENOMENON

Mr Duale, who is the Garissa Township MP, urged MPs to look at the report with Kenya’s future in mind.

“Terrorism is a new phenomenon. As a country, we must put in place measures and structures that ensure Westgate does not happen again in Kenya. That is why the House must look at this report keenly,” said Mr Duale in a telephone interview.

The report confirmed earlier claims that when the terror alerts were sounded, the police were lethargic and unresponsive.

“There was general laxity and unresponsiveness among the police over terror alerts within Nairobi,” says the report.

However, during their investigations, Gigiri police chief Vitalis Otieno told MPs that he had no prior knowledge of the attacks.

The report states that Mr Otieno discounted claims that any terrorism alerts were passed on to them.

“The OCPD informed the members that he had no such information and that when he got posted (to Gigiri) he met the management of the mall over security issues and was also taken through the mall to carry out security assessments,” says the report.

Last year, intelligence reports that were leaked to the media showed that Cabinet Secretaries Julius Rotich (Treasury), Joseph ole Lenku (Interior), Amina Mohammed (Foreign Affairs), Raychelle Omamo (Defence) and KDF chief General Julius Karangi were warned that al-Shabaab fighters were plotting an attack in Nairobi.

The parliamentary report says failure to heed the warnings resulted in the Mumbai-style attack at the mall.

The MPs say that although four terror suspects have been identified, the number of terrorists who took part in the attack remains unknown.
However, the report confirms the suspects seen on CCTV shooting shoppers as Abu Baraal, Al Sudani, Omar Naban and Khatab Al Kene.

“On Saturday, September 21, 2013, attackers believed to be about 10 or 15 (number yet to be ascertained) stormed Westgate mall and randomly started shooting. About five armed attackers burst through one of the main entrances, guns blazing, while another four entered through an underground parking lot. Explosives also went off in the building causing some floors to cave in. It is not clear who between the terrorists and the security forces set off the explosions,” says the report.

The four named suspects are believed to have died in the attack. Naban was a relative of Saleh Ali Naban, who was killed in 2009 after US commandos raided an al-Qaeda hideout in Somalia. Saleh Naban was also involved in the 1998 US embassy and Kikambala hotel bombings.

The MPs also confirmed earlier reports that the Westgate operation was bungled from the outset.

“During the siege, the Recce Company from the General Service Unit (GSU) had contained the terrorists in one corner of the Westgate mall. There was, however, poor coordination by the multiagency forces during the operation. The change-over between the Kenya Defence Forces and the police was uncoordinated, which calls for the establishment of an incident Command Control Protocol,” says the report.

The report also talks about uncoordinated reports emanating from the command centre in the aftermath of the siege.

“There was a lot of miscommunication surrounding the aftermath of the Westgate terror attack going by the reports that the terrorists might have used the underground tunnel reported in the media as the escape route,” says the report.

The report upholds claims that KDF soldiers looted businesses at the ruined shopping mall.

“There was looting of business premises within the mall. Action has already been taken on three Kenya Defence Forces soldiers, one Administration Police officer, one Anti-Terror Police Unit officer and one Fire Brigade personnel involved in the looting incident,” details the report.

KDF has flipped-flopped on this issue that soiled its standing in the public eye. When the reports first emerged, KDF denied the claims. Even Mr Kamama and Mr Gethenji defended the soldiers and Gen Karangi, dismissing the reports as false.

SPIN DOCTOR

And when CCTV clips of soldiers leaving the smouldering mall with full shopping bags were broadcast and published, KDF spin doctors claimed the soldiers were helping themselves to water after a day’s work. Under pressure from the public, KDF retreated and charged some officers in Nakuru.

The report also talks about systemic corruption in the immigration, department of refugee affairs and registration of persons. The latter is in charge of issuing identity cards.

“There is nationwide systemic failure on the part of the Immigration Services Department, Department of Refugee Affairs; and Registration of Persons Department attributed to corruption at the border control points and registration centres, mainly in Nairobi, Coast and North Eastern areas,” says the report.

However, it does not say whether the terrorists rented offices at the mall before the attack.

If adopted by the House, the report is likely to spark debate on the relationship between the various security agencies and their preparedness to defend the country.

However, the report does not pin-point individual leaders who may have failed to execute their mandate before, during or after the attack.

Source: Sundaynation

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