Africans, Our Emperors are Naked!

As a young African who has had a fair share of scars from life’s cruel edges, I, inadvertently, find myself trying to do things in an attempt to make life better for those around me and generations to come. In this state, such questions as Which Way Now Africa? Become your lullaby, your laughter, your cry, your best enemy and your worst friend.

In my quest to find the answers, I bumped into this beautiful story.

Once upon a time, there lived an emperor who cared only about his clothes and about showing them off. One day two con men came to him and said that they could make him the finest suit of clothes from the most beautiful cloth. This cloth, they said, was very special. The cloth was invisible to the stupid and the low-born.

Being a bit nervous about whether he himself would be able to see the cloth the emperor first sent two of his trusted advisors to see this special material. There was, of course, no cloth at all, but neither would admit that they could not see it and so they praised it.

As word of this special cloth spread, all the townspeople were now interested to learn how stupid their neighbors were. The emperor then allowed himself to be dressed by the con men in his special new suit, made of this special cloth, for the procession through town. Although he knew he was naked, he never admitted it for fear that he was too unfit and stupid to see that he was wearing nothing. He too was afraid that the townspeople would think that he was stupid.

Of course, all the townspeople wildly praised the magnificent clothes of the emperor, themselves afraid to admit that they could not see the clothes, until a small child said:

“But he has nothing on!”

The child’s parents gasped and attempted to silence the child, but the child would not be silenced. As he twisted and turned, pulling his parents hands from his mouth, he continued to say, “The emperor is naked!” Soon, a few of his classmates were giggling and joined in.”

After a while adults joined their children and began to whisper, “The kids are right! The old guy has nothing on. He’s a fool and he expects us to be foolish with him.”

Soon the whisper spread from person to person until everyone in the crowd began shouting, “The emperor has no clothes.”

The emperor heard it, of course, and although he knew they were correct, that he was stark naked in front of the town, he held his head high and finished the procession. Although he knew he was naked, he never admitted it for fear that he was too unfit and stupid to see that he was wearing nothing. He too was afraid that the townspeople would think that he was stupid.”

Most industry leads in Africa are typical Emperors with no clothes, surrounded by sycophants and lead by the edge of the sword.

I attempted to analyze the national budgets for different African countries. Kenya, my own country gave me a sucker punch right on my face. In a budget of 3 Trillion ($30 Billion), half of it goes to people who are employed by the government in form of recurrent expenditure; salary, travel, flowers and office snacks. In a country of about 50 million people, civil servants are less than 1 million. 49 Million People are carrying the burdens and ‘need’ of luxury for the 1 million. One state official spends 3.7 Million ($37 Thousand) a day to fuel the cars in his motorcade.

According to UNICEF, 42% of Kenyans live below poverty line (1$). World Bank says unemployment rate in Kenya has been roughly the same figure for the past 28 years now. Yet it is not uncommon to see top executives, in government or otherwise, take home hundreds of millions on the same day their pens wipe out tens of thousands of jobs. Just cameras and smiles, they tick that as a good day at work. Dreams shattered, families broken, lives ended. But who cares! Provided theirs is okay, life goes on right? …Wrong! If we don’t change, indeed one day, the poor will have nothing else to eat but the rich.

Our schools will never admit that they are not preparing our children for the real world, credence to Your Degree is Degraded, Your University is outdatedNeither the governments nor the industry leads will ever admit to failure. They will continue toasting to their lifetime of hereditary leadership in luxurious hotels after posting rosy success stories with theoretical figures showing economic progress, employment reduction, better healthcare and advanced infrastructure.

So what is the solution?

In the words of Shanta Devarajan, we need to ‘… overcome government failure.  This doesn’t necessarily mean that governments are evil or even that they are incompetent or ill-intentioned.  Analogous to “market failure,” government failure refers to a situation where the particular incentives in government lead to a situation that is worse than what was intended with the intervention.

For instance, governments finance and provide primary education so that poor children can have access to learning.  But if teachers are paid regardless of whether they show up for work, and politicians rely on teachers to run their political campaigns, the result is absentee teachers and poor children who don’t know how to read or write—precisely the opposite of what was intended.  We see similar government failures in health care, water supply, sanitation, electricity, transport, labor markets and trade policy.

Why do I say the problem is government failure, and not, say, lack of education or health or infrastructure?  We have known for some time that education, health and infrastructure are important for escaping poverty.  The question is: why has there not been more education and health and infrastructure for poor people?  The answer is not simply a lack of money.  The problem is that much of the money spent on these sectors is captured by powerful elites before it reaches the poor.  In Chad, this is literally the case: only one percent of the nonwage public spending on health actually reaches the clinics.  In other cases, it’s more nuanced, such as the teacher (and doctor) absenteeism mentioned above, or when trucking monopolies keep transport prices so high that African exports are uncompetitive in world markets.  In short, while education, health and infrastructure—among other things—are important, to get spending on these sectors to benefit the poor, we need to overcome government failure.

Overcoming government failure is difficult. These failures are the result of the interests of some powerful groups in society—including government officials and politicians—who will resist attempts at reform.  What can be done? Pouring money into a leaky bucket will not solve the problem.  And asking governments to reform—even if the request comes with the implicit threat of a cutoff in funds (sometimes referred to as “conditionality”)—is unlikely to work if the government itself is captured by the special interests.  Perhaps the most productive action is to reach the people who are losing out—the poor—and empower them with information—about teacher and doctor absence rates, the incidence of energy and water subsidies, the costs of labor regulations and protective import tariffs—so that they can bring pressure to bear on politicians.  Politicians can ignore technical advisers and external actors, but they can’t afford to ignore the citizens of their country.

To be sure, empowering poor people with information is not easy.  First, many work 15-hour days just to make ends meet.  Expecting them to attend village meetings or read the newspaper or listen to the radio is notstraightforward.

Secondly, information by itself may not be enough to empower poor people. They need mechanisms to hold politicians accountable. And third, governments may not welcome these efforts at making evidence available to the public; some will consider it incendiary, and attempt to block it.

But if we agree that overcoming government failures is key to ending poverty in Africa, we need to promote poor people’s access to information.  Today’s technology helps.  The fact that one in two Africans has access to a cellphone has made it easier to reach them—and for them to reach politicians.  In a sense, then, Jim’s social media campaign—and other open knowledge initiatives—are more than just ways of eliciting ideas about ending poverty: they are potential instruments to end poverty.’

Crab Mentality, Beware Of This Dangerous Plague!

In Deira Market in Dubai, live crabs are stored in a bucket or pot. Individually, the crabs could easily escape from the bucket or pot. Instead, they grab at each other in a useless ‘King of the hill’ competition which prevents any of them from escaping and ensures their collective demise. ‘Crab Mentality’ is a way of thinking best described by the phrase, ‘If I can’t have it, Neither can You.’ or ‘If I have it, nobody else should.” Unfortunately, most Africans are plagued by this. I used to wonder where it all begins until I joined University. 

I was shocked when a lecturer confidently beat his chest with pride and bragged about being the only professor in his field in East and Central Africa for more than a decade. He told us how busy he is traveling to Universities in the region to administer his services single handedly. To show us how ‘difficult’ his subject is, he gave rough statistics of the performance in his previous classes. About 98% of students in his class fail his subject. He went ahead to assure us that it wouldn’t be any different for our class. He made it clear that there was nothing we could do and there was nowhere we could take him. His word was final. He determines the grades. Whichever complaints we’d place, would somehow find its way to his table. And he would ‘come’ for you. I just stood there and wondered, ‘What a terrible teacher!’

You mean someone can be so horrible that they teach a subject for more than a decade and never inspire anyone else to take interest in it. And how demented would you be to take pride when people fail, more so in a subject you claim to be teaching. Little did I know that his was not the only case, most of the lecturers I would meet henceforth fell into the same category; measure their toughness based on how terribly students fail in their subjects. And the system is so skewed that grades are entirely determined by the teachers’ feelings, frail ego and self esteem issues not merit. As a result, students took to the unhealthy competition and would sabotage the other anytime they spotted a weakness. 

This partly explains the unhealthy #culture in most local companies in #Africa. Unhealthy #politics, constant gimmicks and unnecessary #conflicts. There is grave distrust at all level of #leadership. Top Executives happily taking home tens of millions on the same day their pens wipe out ten thousand jobs. They receive huge bonuses, while millions of people lose their jobs, their homes and their retirement nest eggs. Employees live in constant fear hence unable to give their best at any given time. People waylay each other when they sense potential #success.

Data from the Kenya Engineers Registration Board indicates that there are 1,323 registered engineers out of the estimated 6,323+ engineers serving a population of 45+ million. ‘Getting registered is a miracle that some of us my never see,’ says Joe, a masters student in Electrical Engineering.

At least every Kenyan student knows of people who have been attempting to get Masters or Phds in a field for 5+ years to no avail. The reason being, the supervisors want less competition in their field hence fake busyness, complicate simple processes, differ on baseless claims and eventually fail people undeservingly. 

Rihanna releases a lip gloss, people spend a fortune to buy it. Michael Jordan puts out some new trainers, people buy it. Dr Dre has new headphones, people buy it. Oprah promotes weight loss programs, folks jump on board, waking up against time zones just to follow. Beyonce has a concert, people get tickets worth a year’s house rent. 

Friend or family starts a new business, people are wary. ‘Not sure this is gonna work’, ‘I’ll give it 6 months’, ‘They’re a bit expensive!’ Why are we so quick to support someone we don’t know, who has plenty of money already but we find a million reasons not to support someone we know?

When building, nobody dares to like, share, follow, talk about or buy your products. Complete strangers are more inclined to help you succeed rather than people you actually know. They are more interested with Kardashians, Beyonce, Nicki Minaj etc yet when they are broke or in trouble they call you for help. ‘Why don’t you call Nicki Minaj?’ I keep wondering.

A #jew was asked why it is close to impossible to identify a poor jew on earth. He said money spent in a Jewish community remains in that community for up to a month before someone breaks the chain, and the money leaves for the greater economy, the fiscus, or overseas. In #Asian communities, it is said, the duration that locally spent #money circulates is two weeks. But the time frame for money staying in black communities that has been spent there on black-owned businesses is 6 hours!

Africa has over 100,000 US$ millionaires but listen to African tech bloggers complain how Silicon Valley VCs are only investing in white led African startups? What about our 100,000 millionaires? What is stopping them from investing in African youth? Why are we expecting other races to invest in our youth when we do not do so ourselves?

I once wrote an article about youth unemployment titled, The Quagmire Of Youth Unemployment and had less than 20 interactions on facebook. A prominent politician in the city copied everything word for word without giving credits and pasted it as his, on his profile. He got 40,000+ likes and thousands of shares.

Remember when you support a small business, you are helping families feed their kids and pay mortgage, not adding a few more zeros to a celebrity’s bank account. So next time you see a friend posting about their business give them a quick like, share or a comment, you don’t even have to buy the product or service. It all helps to gain more exposure for their business which really helps.

 A South African student, Ghaneshree Moonsamy, had her Masters thesis converted to PhD. This is an unimaginable occurrence that I never thought would happen while I am alive. Maybe change is not as impossible as our experiences tend to force us to think. Maybe it is possible. Maybe it comes quick when we are the change we want to see. Because we are not children of a lesser God.

JUGGLING BUSINESS & EMPLOYMENT

I will use the views we share with Dr.Tayo O to project how one can juggle employment and business. I run at least 3 businesses while working for a leading company. I rent an office space, hire employees and work with them remotely while doing an incredible job for my employer.
Let me first debunk an insidious lie that has killed many careers:
“Your salary is the bride they give you to forget your dream.”
This is a blatant Lie. 
“Your salary is what you earn while giving value to your employers and learning to run a business at their expense.”
We can’t all start a business straight out of University. Many of us have to work for food, clothing and shelter after graduating. Others need to support family members to at least get to their feet as well. Whatever your reason, don’t see paid employment as a betrayal of your goals.
Here are some of the essential steps I learnt that helped me build my business without compromising my outstanding service delivery to my employer.
Cultivate on relationships
In the end of your life, you will not regret not having passed one more test, not winning one more verdict or not closing one more deal. You will regret time not spent with people, spouse, sibling, son, daughter or friend.
 
As you fantasize about opportunity falling on your laps, remember the final influence comes from a human being. I can’t emphasize how important relationships are in a business/ career.  As with all relationships, the most important factor in building strong business relationship is trust. Building trust is a critical factor in fostering quality business relationships. People prefer to do business with those they can trust to act in furtherance of, or at least not opposed to, their best interests. 
Don’t get caught in the insane lie that the selfish dot com shallow thinkers thrive on claiming, 
“Your coworkers shouldn’t be your friends, Get your money and go home.” So you only want to impress your boss and never care about other colleagues around you, slavery mentality. Cultivate healthy relationships with all your colleagues. Once they trust you, you will have endless free resource of knowledge, referrals, potential clients or even partners. 
Your coworkers are human beings like you, all human beings are relational by nature. If you build good relationships with them, they won’t think twice about being your ambassadors in their networks. Those networks eventually determine your net worth. Get rid of your earphones and your childish frail ego that only allows you to interact with familiar faces only. Break those walls you have erected around you blocking everyone from getting to know you in person. Start building bridges. Ask the old, extremely talented people who gave all their life to fulfill their jobs but retired feeling underachieved, what they regret the most about their formative years. This might help you know the value of building relationships. 
Don’t step too far from your core competence
If you work in banking, you probably understand finance better than most people. If you work for a Fast-moving Consumer Goods, retail may be your Forte. If you work in tech, you are likely to run a tech start up more efficiently. Find something that is in your natural sphere of influence. Once you attain consistent momentum, you can start incorporating other aspects into an already working system.
My first business was a tech development firm. We built business strategy implementation tools. I was a business leader implementing a new strategy for my paid employment. The tech we built was based on my experience delivering value to my day job’s board of directors. It grew rapidly and attracted the attention of major players in the sector. A leading company asked us to present our product to stand a chance of winning funds and mentorship. A rushed decision led us to overshare, we lost it. The company ended up implementing everything we presented on their new product which offered the same services as we did. But I used the lessons learnt from the start up in my paying job. This was well received by my supervisors. It got me double-promotion in a spun of three months. 
Start small but think global
There are no guarantees in business. Your business can fail despite the best laid plan and even topnotch implementation. Start small, then scale slowly until you can do it full-time.  Start with the least possible amount of money you need to run your fundamental operations while gauging your delivery against world leading brands in the field you are in. Exhaust all possible lessons you need to learn at that level and only scale up when the demand for your service/product rises. Prioritize lessons not profits.
I have a friend who started a restaurant in Lagos with about $250,000. He had the money and thought it would be a good idea to blow out the competition on day 1. Bad idea, He lost everything. It is never really about size. It is always about efficiency.
Work with a trusted partner
In this increasingly individualistic society which glorifies one-man-shows, never undermine the power of unity. Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable, swahili proverb.
It is equally important for one business partner to work fulltime in the business. If that’s not feasible, give a small equity holding to your most senior employee. That way someone in the business has ownership stake that binds him/her to the firm. At times, especially challenging moments, the only motivation comes from knowing that you are a part of something and that the bond goes beyond immediate financial gains.
Recognize the place of institutional support in your paying job
You are a star employee. That’s great. Corporations however, have strategies to help you succeed. Make sure you can deal with the uncertainties of entrepreneurship before making the jump. I have met incredibly talented young people who seemingly never achieve equivalent success because they have no sense of professionalism. Unfortunately, their version of ‘keeping it real’ means having no regards to structures and respect for others; clients, partners etc. However great your service/product is, you will never grow if your conduct invalidates people around you. Your clients will never come back. Nobody will want to be associated with you. Corporate companies help you discover the value of professionalism and give you safe environment to actively develop this.
Don’t leave your paying job until your business can pay the bills 
You’ve gradually built a business while working for an employer. Is it time to resign and face your hustle full time? Maybe. But be sure that your hustle can pay the bills before making the jump. I find it satisfactorily rewarding and motivational to use early returns to develop the business as opposed to paying personal bills. This is only possible if you have other sources of income.
Finally, don’t compete directly with your employer and don’t become a direct supplier to them. In my view, most businesses don’t violet direct competitive and supplier clause hence won’t get you in trouble. Phil knight ran Nike as a side business for about ten years while working at PWC.
In cases where an employers won’t tolerate your having a side business at all cost don’t worry, there is a workable plan. Your time is yours after 5pm. Trust me, even your MD has a side hustle. Give your employer your best till 5pm and then face your hustle afterwards. Keep it low though to avoid unnecessary confrontations which may affect your relationship. Nobody needs to know you are not going home to watch TV after work.

The humble sweet potato can help power Africa in the face of climate change


An interesting piece by Nane Annan: Forest fires during a record-breaking warm winter in Europe, Arctic cold in the US and melting glaciers are clear signals that climatechange is impacting all of us but it is in Africa where such extreme weather is having the most significant impact. More intense conditions are hitting the continent harder than anywhere else on the planet, bringing with it severe droughts, heatwaves, and at times, flooding.  This is only likely to get worse in the years ahead, posing a threat to food production and security at a time when hunger and malnutrition continue to blight many African communities: ‪TheAfricaWeWant BetterAfricaBetterWorld #IAmTheSonOfAfrica

 

Forest fires during a record-breaking warm winter in Europe, Arctic cold in the US and melting glaciers are clear signals that climate change is impacting all of us but it is in Africa where such extreme weather is having the most significant impact.

More intense conditions are hitting the continent harder than anywhere else on the planet, bringing with it severe droughts, heatwaves, and at times, flooding.

This is only likely to get worse in the years ahead, posing a threat to food production and security at a time when hunger and malnutrition continue to blight many African communities.

My late husband Kofi Annan and I saw first-hand the potential that sweet potato – a fast-growing crop rich in vitamins and micronutrients – has in improving diets, fighting malnutrition and increasing the incomes of smallholders farmers in Ghana. It was one of the inspiring stories we highlighted as part of the Kofi Annan Foundation’s Combatting Hunger programme.

Now, the ability of this simple staple food crop to support climate adaptation is becoming increasingly important.

And I believe we must fully exploit the potential of Africa’s staple crops for greater climate resilience, in particular the sweet potato and its orange-fleshed varieties rich in vitamin A.

In countries like Ghana, sweet potato is the fourth most important root crop after cassava, yam, and taro. Yet it is the staple root that offers the quickest nutritional returns in the face of increasingly challenging weather conditions. Instead of waiting up to a year for yam or cassava to mature, sweet potato – with all its nutritional benefits – is ripe and ready in as little as three months.

Making the most of these qualities to ensure good harvests, rising incomes and nutritious food in ever hotter and dryer environments is not easy, but efforts by the International Potato Center (CIP) and partners have shown promising initial results.

For example, CIP scientists have developed climate-smart sweet potato farming practices, which protect valuable sweet potato roots and planting material in drought conditions so that farmers continue to have vines for early planting when other resources are limited.

One method, known as “Triple S”, involves storing small sweet potato roots in dry sand after harvest and then planting out the sprouted roots two months before the rainy season to produce more seed vines for early planting and harvests.

Combined with the use of good agricultural practices, this method can boost yields and help provide food during periods when food stocks are low and other crops have not yet been harvested.

The valuable qualities of sweet potato, from high levels of vitamin A to its short harvest time, can be further enhanced through breeding to produce more drought-tolerant varieties that compensate for tougher climatic conditions.

This can have profound benefits for household food and nutrition security at a time when an estimated 100 million people in sub-Saharan Africa are at risk of blindness from vitamin A deficiency.

Not only then does sweet potato offer a resilient, consistent source of food in harsher climates, it is also highly nutritious, providing an incredible value for health in an otherwise challenging environment.

Just 125 grams of orange-fleshed sweet potato provides the daily intake of vitamin A needed to avoid illness, blindness and stunting, while its edible leaves are a rich source of lutein, essential for preventing sight degeneration.

Finally, harnessing the versatility of sweet potato to meet consumer demand for a whole range of different products – from breads and cakes to chips and biscuits – can also generate an additional source of income for millions of smallholder farmers and create employment opportunities for young entrepreneurs.

Steamed and mashed orange-fleshed sweet potato can replace up to 60 per cent of wheat flour in various baked products, and given that most African governments import the majority of their wheat flour, the benefits of an orange-fleshed sweet potato flour substitute should clearly resonate with policy makers.

As Africa Climate Week lays out the continent’s priorities ahead of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit and the UN Climate Conference, decision-makers and donors should be paying close attention to the impact of rising temperatures on hunger, poverty and equality.

The challenges will become even more difficult as climate change intensifies, but some of the most effective solutions for addressing food and nutrition security may lie in simple staples.

To this end, I hope decision-makers recognise the need for more investment dedicated to research into breeding the most nutritional and resilient varieties of sweet potato, as well as developing initiatives that get them into the hands of farmers and families.

Supportive policies, such as nutrition counselling and vouchers for pregnant women, sweet potato included on school lunch menus or reduced barriers to markets for sweet potato products, can help generate a consumer demand for these valuable crops. Africa’s ability to feed herself in a warmer world could depend on it.

  • Nane Annan is a board member on the Kofi Annan Foundation

A guide to Africa’s ‘looted treasures’

During colonial rule in Africa, thousands of cultural artefacts were plundered. African countries want them back and major museums across #Europe have agreed to loan the famous #Benin Bronzes back to #Nigeria. Now #France has launched a report calling for thousands of African art in its museums to be returned to the continent.

A brass plaque under the Benin Bronzes collection

The Benin Bronzes, which are actually made of brass, are a #collection of delicately made sculptures and plaques that adorned the #royal #palace of the Oba, Ovonramwen Nogbaisi, in the Kingdom of Benin, which was incorporated into British-ruled #Nigeria.

They were carved out of #ivory, #brass, #ceramic and #wood.

Many of the pieces were cast for the ancestral altars of past #kings and #queen mothers.

In 1897, the #British launched a punitive expedition against Benin, in response to an attack on a British diplomatic expedition.

Apart from bronze sculptures and plaques, innumerable royal objects were taken as a result of the mission and are scattered all over the world.

A picture shows two artefacts from the Benin Bronzes collection, a long-beaked bird and the monarch's bell, returned to the Benin kingdom by a British pensioner during a ceremony in Benin City, Nigeria, on June 20, 2014.

The British #Museum in #London says many of the objects from Benin in its collection were given to it in 1898 by the Foreign Office and the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty.

In October, top museums in Europe agreed to loan crucial artefacts back to Nigeria for the new Royal Museum, which it plans to open in 2021. #IAmTheSonOfAfrica #History

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-45406557

 

Study shows increased appetite for investment in Africa

A new #study amongst professional #investors reveals that 45 per cent view #Africa as an attractive investment #opportunity. This helps explain why 64 per cent expect foreign direct investment into Africa to increase over the next five years.

The research was commissioned by #UWIN (Unleashing the Wealth in Nations), a new #blockchain #business aiming to transform #farming and commodity trading in Africa and other parts of the developing #world.

The main reason why investors believe Africa will attract more foreign direct investment is because technological advances will help transform economies.

This is followed by 54 per cent who said it is because the continent will become more appealing to investors because there will be greater stability in the region, followed by 44 per cent who said it’s young and fast-growing workforce give it an advantage over many developed countries that have the opposite.

Lack of #infrastructure is seen as biggest obstacle holding back Africa – highlighted by 82 per cent of professional investors interviewed. This is followed by a lack of robust regulation (78 per cent of investors) and political risk (80% of investors). However, there is a strong feeling amongst investors that many of these issues are beginning to be addressed.

Much of the investment into Africa is also expected to go on improving the infrastructure of the region – 80 per cent of investors expect the use of Project Finance in Africa to increase over the next five years, and 88 per cent believe the amount spent on infrastructure overall will increase.

64 per cent of professional investors expect foreign direct investment into Africa to increase over the next five years.

46 per cent believe Africa will enjoy some of the strongest economic growth of anywhere in the world.

Biggest obstacles to Africa reaching its potential are a lack of infrastructure, #corruption and poor regulation.

Sandra Ro, Managing Partner and COO of UWIN said: “Despite the positive attitude towards Africa from many investors, the continent has many issues to tackle.

In terms of the biggest ones holding them back, 82 per cent of investors we interviewed cited a lack of infrastructure, and 82 per cent highlighted corruption. This is followed by a lack of robust regulation (78% of investors) and political risk (80% of investors). However, there is a strong feeling amongst investors that many of these issues are beginning to be addressed.” #technology #innovation https://www.newtimes.co.rw/business/study-shows-increased-appetite-investment-africa

Do you care that we’re losing souls daily?

A senior manager from a multinational, leading consulting firm just committed suicide today morning after jumping from the 17th floor of his office in Nairobi Westlands. A childhood friend of mine, a prowess soccer player that we named after a legendary footballer, Gaucho Ronaldinho; threw himself into a borehall and died yesterday. My in-law to be, from University of Nairobi school of medicine, told me the other day about a classmate who ended his life just earlier this week. Sometime last month we woke up to images of a young beautiful girl hanging by the neck on a fly-over bridge that marks the entrance to my home town, Kitale.
Avicii, one of the best talents ever walked on this planet, reportedly died from self-inflicted injuries after using broken pieces of a wine bottle to cut his veins. Two sources have said that Avicii cut himself on his neck. One said he just slit his wrist open.
Anthony Michael Bourdain, an American celebrity chef, author, travel documentarian, and television personality who starred in programs focusing on the exploration of international culture, cuisine, and the human condition committed suicide by hanging himself while in his room in a french hotel. He is considered one of the most influential chefs in the world.
I won’t even mention an incredible friend who committed suicide recently just after finishing school. He was about to graduate summa cum laude, in one of the best courses offered in the country. Not to mention he was amongst the top performers in the country in his high school exams, that is how we met. This article might end up to be a book if I listed all the suicide cases I have heard of just this year. If you pause for a while and recollect your memory, I am certain there are several images of similar cases you can attest to as well. Probably the suicide notes that people post online or something related to this. Do you care that we are losing these souls and more? What if tables turn?
About three years ago, after a heart to heart talk with victims of depression, I published a video, ‘We all Are Broken’ on my YouTube channel. I received 300+ emails of appreciation from people I have never met. That is when the reality hit me. There are so many people who are acting normally; smiling with family; friends or colleagues; working diligently and even delivering exceptional results but are dying inside. They are suffering from depression. Their souls are screaming but their facade is calm. And nobody can hear their cries.
Our society has been desensitized by violence in the streets, movies, games, social media. We have been taught to be aggressive, vicious, savage and care less about our actions and the implications to those around us. We are mean to everyone we meet. We use the slightest of opportunities to insult or disparage anyone we interact with. We walk around with frowned faces as though everyone else in the world just farted. We want to be seen as tough, no-nonsense people. We are chasing money and power. An we are willing to do anything it takes to get it. We have won our egos, but we are losing souls.

Employers just want results. You have to hit targets, perform better surpass their expectations, even if it means suffocating all other aspects of your life. They don’t care if your family is falling apart, your health deteriorating or whether you are physchologically depressed. Just deliver.
The school teachers and associates want zombies for students. Don’t ask don’t talk back don’t do anything to rock my boat. Let me come here for a few hours and collect my pay and be done with you. I’ll pretend to care but if you cause me any …slight friction you are out of here. Courts are full of good kids who have never crossed a bad line just the one that pissed off someone in the faculty and can’t afford justice. Parents don’t rock boat cause it is their baby sitting service, just a duty.
Doctors and nurses no longer offer care. They insult patients and trivialize their pain. Ironically, they are trained to be compassionate, to be able to empathise; but they don’t. Every day, they witness death, they see how patients suffer, the pain they go through. They see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. They see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all. But it is just a job. When they go to clinics every day, or to the wards, they take blood, give the medication but are the patient real to them? Not at all. It is just a job, they do it, get out of the ward, and can’t wait to get home, to do own stuff. Of course they know all the medical terms to describe how they feel, all the suffering they went through. But in truth, they don’t know how they feel, not until they become a patient.
1 out of 5 adolescents are diagnosed with a mental illness any given year, but only 20% of those that need treatment will receive it. In third world countries the number could be tripple. Moreover, children living in disadvantaged neighborhoods are much more vulnerable to mental health issues and less likely to have access to treatment.

Everyone you meet is fighting a battle. Be Kind Always. Life is hard enough to everyone you see. We all have something we are battling with or bleeding for, within us. Don’t be a cause to worsen the pain. Most people are crying for help as the pain of depression and mental illness surpress their voice and deprives them off normalcy. They are sorrounded daily by loved ones who are too busy finding ways to show love to them, but never still enough to listen to their silent cries. They wish just one person cared enough to be still and listen. Don’t be too absorbed in your world that you don’t feel other people’s pain. Look out and help someone. But If you can’t help out, at least don’t hurt them.

Remember the world goes round, when it rains, it pours.

Wake Up Young Girl!

A murder story of a top journalist who is behind bars after being caught up in a murder case committed by her lover is really saddening. A man who has reportedly been abusive, overprotective and constantly insecure about the status of the journalist finally confirms the fears her friends had expressed but she was too dumb in love to listen to ‘other people’ .

The man posed as a high end security guard but never identified himself with any official company. He didn’t have anything to his name, not even a bathroom to answer nature calls. Mysterious stories, shady deals and restless spirit was written all over his life. But ‘she loved him’.

The fateful day, he went and picked up another female friend from the airport, using his girlfriend’s car. He took her to her place in one of the leafy surbubs and had sex with her, leaving his DNA all over her body. He then turned into a beast and mercilessly slit open her throat from the left ear to the right ear, leaving her in the bath tub bleeding to death. He stole all her money plus the purse and escaped unnoticeably from the neighborhood. He went home and left the handbag in his girlfriend’s house. He then short himself to cover up and the loyal girlfriend set out to cover his tracks, took his clothes and burnt them, because he loved him. Now she’s in prison for aiding murder.

This reminds me of a shocking experience I had months ago when my good friend, Prisha, asked me to help her out reach out to some ladies from my country who could be interested in an event she was facilitating.

Prisha* is one of the youngest female professors of Asian decent in Software Engineering field. She lectures at a leading university in South Africa. The team she leads was largely involved in organising a Royal Engineering summit in Kenya.

This was her first visit to Nairobi. They had just concluded a crisis meeting two days before the event when she called me,
“Danstan, I need a big favor,” she proceeded in an anxious tone, “we have less than 10% of ladies who have registered for the event. The ambassador needs at least 40% of attendees to be ladies even if it means extending the venue. Would you help us get more ladies from accross all campuses in Kenya?”

Several names of potential ladies we considered able to mobilise more ladies popped up in my mind. I agreed to help. Based on my judgement, they presented good aspects of leadership and would greatly benefit from all that the summit had to offer.

I drafted an official message requesting for their email so I could share the links for special registration and forward Prisha’s details incase they needed further clarification. Boom! I thought my work was done.

A minute later, I receive a message saying, “I can’t talk to you, my boyfriend doesn’t allow me to talk to other men.”

This text blew my mind. I got so mad that my hair stood. Sweat tingles started popping all over my body. My hands started shaking. It got even worse when I asked whether this was forceful; she said it wasn’t. She is okay with all restrictions the boyfriend sets for her even if it means giving up her basic need for community to influence her general growth as a human.

Well first, “I deeply apologize if I look interested in you, I am not. I even find this really offensive that you’d think I’d be interested in you!” But that’s besides the point. It just never occured to me that in this age, someone would think of themselves as disabled by virtue of being in a relationship. It has gone as far as relinquishing common sense and freedom of expression or interaction. It is sickening that one would be okay being a slave to master and not feel a tad bit of delirium! But she loved him.

It just dawned to me how wicked our society has become. We sexualise women to a point of enslaving them under caves of our needs. We treat them like we’d do a dog just giving commands and they taking commands in humility. It is sadder that some of them have accepted this malady and live with it to appear ‘submissive’ and ‘wife-material’.

So nobody can interact with her because the first thought in her mind is licentious. She suspect you are making sexual advances. She won’t think if a possibility of an intention to engage her intellectually or professionally. When anyone reaches out to her, thats a threat. If it is man, he is interested in her. And if it is a lady, she is a hater.

This is disturbing.

Ladies, Because you didn’t want to lose him, you lost yourself in the process. You became a girl who kept being mistreated and you formed a habit of saying “I’m used to it”. You became a girl who kept being unappreciated and you began to tell yourself “It’s okay”. You became a girl who kept being undervalued and you learned how to say “I’m fine”. You became a girl who kept being put last and you naturally reacted with “It’s whatever”.

You became a girl who kept being taken for granted and you dealt with it by repeating “Everything’s okay”. You became a girl who kept being unhappy and you regularly told people “I’m gonna be fine”.

And if you’re reading this right now, then you need to understand that no guy is worth losing yourself for, no guy is worth suffering for at the expense of your happiness, and no guy is worth tormenting yourself over for the sake of making him happy. At this point, perhaps losing him is the only way you’d be able to get yourself back. Love is supposed to set us free, from our insecurities, fears and shadiness. To be the best and truest version of ourselves. As much as you wouldn’t want this to be true, he’s the only thing that’s in your way of finding yourself and he’s the only reason you’ve lost yourself for so long.

The sad bit about losing yourself for a guy is living to impress them all your youthful, only to lose him to a woman who protected her identity, stood for her values and made the world adjust to her reality. Or lose your life an end up in such despicable places as jail. But she loves him.

More internet access is coming to Africa, but the market isn’t always ready for it

The prospect of connecting Africa’s 55 countries and over one #billion people via better #road and #rail networks has often run into the challenge of raising the #billions of dollars needed to turn a decades-old #vision into reality.

While the #investment in #building and maintaining intra-country road networks has been slow in coming, connecting Africa via the internet has lately made more progress. This week, French telecom giant Orange struck a deal to invest in the West Africa-based Main One Cable company, whose landing stations are in #Nigeria, #Ghana and #Portugal. It will enable Main One to extend its  7,000-kilometer system to #Dakar, #Senegal and #Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire by mid-2019.

Liquid Telecom, a unit of Zimbabwe’s Econet #Wireless, has confirmed financing and #partnerships to expand its system over 60,000 kilometers from Cape Town through all #southern, #central, and eastern African countries up to the #Sudan- #Egypt border. This is the other Cape to #Cairo.

But what happens when these cable systems open for business? Remember internet access still has to be bought, packaged and resold to consumers via local telecom operators. Mobile networks are the dominant providers of internet access in Africa. On the ground, the reality is African countries have the world’s most expensive internet access, according to a study by the Alliance for Affordable Internet. Few African countries come close to the UN Broadband Commission’s target that a gigabyte of data should not cost more than 2% of average monthly income.

As we’ve noted, it’s a problem for many developing countries, but it’s particularly acute in Africa. One reason for this is a lack of meaningful competition in some countries, particularly smaller African economies that struggle to support more than a couple of network operators. Research by Ecobank showed the average cost of buying 1GB of data in countries with two or fewer operators is more than twice than in countries with four or more.

Competition is key, and it should not be measured simply by the number of operators. For example if a country with three or four operators is dominated by a dominant player with say 70% share (Hello? Kenya?), it’s what economists refer to as a market being too concentrated.

Building out infrastructure is undoubtedly a positive step in Africa’s development, but so is a functioning, competitive marketplace that will be able to deliver the best economic outcomes for citizens.

Congratulations! Now Throw Away that Paper

Few weeks ago my friend Daniel, a senior #Pilot in a multinational company; Bill, one of the most promising upcoming lawyers in #Kenya (according to The Standard Newspaper): Erick, a smart #chemist and I, Danstan, the mysterious #Engineer got together to plan about our intended fun flight around Kenya just to quell our insatiable appetite for #adventure.

For our, meeting, we decided to do it in our weird way; build a couch and a King size bed for me as we discuss the agenda. Daniel made us discover this underlying hobby for carpentry and it keeps getting exaggerated. Even before our parties, we start by building something first.

Sorry I digressed. So while building the bed, one of us took a picture and used it as his profile picture on social media captioned, ‘Unavailable, Men at Work’ and tagged us. Immediately, a mutual friend commented with mockery emoticons. This was followed by a long paragraph disparaging the ‘deplorable activity’ we were ‘wasting our time’ on. He went on and on…

Hence my decision to go for this coffee date with my imaginary friend Henry*, the professor. At the most fancy restaurant in town, as I am well known for. These are his words:

Yesterday, a friend called to check on me. It had been long since we talked. He asked if I had sometime so I could roll over and check on him. I was happy to go check on him. After we had finished University, he had started a small restaurant in town. It has grown exponentially over the years. When I arrived at the restaurant, I was very impressed by how many leaps he had made, in what I believe to be a short time for a business like his. We shuffled through the memories and had a hearty laugh.

As hours went by, I noticed that when customers entered and took seats, he was attending to them and doing a lot of the serving. I asked him if he didn’t have enough staff. He told me that one of the girls working at the restaurant was sick while another guy simply didn’t show up or call to let him know…so he was short of labor. I asked if I can help. He joked, ‘Henry you know I can’t afford you. Here I pay 10000shs to the attendants. How will I manage to pay you?’  I told him am happy to work.

I quickly oriented myself on the etiquette and customer care rules …and most importantly what was available. So we started serving people that came in. In total, I served about 8 clients before something interesting happened.

As we talked and laughed about the crazy things we did in school, two students I taught at University (a gentleman and lady) came by. They did not immediately notice I was the one but their eyes kept preying on me to confirm they were seeing the ‘real person.’

To confirm their disbelief, I asked my friend to let me serve them. So I went over, humbled myself, bent slightly, greeted them and asked to take their orders. They were very surprised and asked me, ‘What are you doing here sir?’ I told them that am there to serve them.  They looked at each other and with the face of mixed feelings wondered why I would be working in a restaurant.

The girl asked, ‘Sir, but why are you working here? You can’t serve us. I mean…?’ she nodded her head in disbelief before continuing, ‘…you can’t work in a restaurant?’ I told them I would serve them and am happy to take their orders. You could easily notice that they were very surprised and reserved about placing their orders.

They had mixed feelings about my presence there and the type of work I was doing.  After a very interesting exchange, they finally made their order which I delivered promptly. They had their delicious meal as we also continued conversing and reminiscing the years gone by. From time to time, I kept checking on them and asked if they needed anything else. When they were done, my friend punched in the bill, printed the receipt and I delivered it to them.

Their bill was 24,500shs. I placed it on the table and took the plates away. The guy placed two notes (a 20k and 10k shs) on the table and they left. I delivered it to my friend, who was now serving as manager, cashier and sometimes a waiter. He gave me back the change of 5,500shs which I happily slipped into my wallet.  By the way …by this time, I had 15,000shs in tips from the other 8 clients I had served. So by adding this 5500shs, I was 20,500shs rich already.

As the couple (my former students) went out, they each looked back in disbelief. I looked at them and raised my hand to say bye. They walked into the street and faded away into the bright light from approaching cars. A couple of other clients came in and I served them. My friend was very pleased and paid my 10000shs and a bonus of 2000shs which he says he offers once a waiter exceeds a certain number of clients.  At 11pm, I left the restaurant and went home.

As I sat in the car to head back home, I couldn’t help thinking about my students. Their disbelief was innocent…but it speaks a lot about a general problem we have in our society. These two students represent thousands of others. They made me think, very deeply, about our African graduates. I do not blame them, its a general problem.

I have had the opportunity to travel and study from elsewhere or in other cultures and I have always been surprised by how people in other countries don’t despise jobs. My good students could not imagine their lecturer serving them in a restaurant. Since they know my work and qualifications, they could not understand how I can be in a restaurant at this time. As if it takes away my degree or other job. It gave me a lot of thoughts about our graduates. The more I have traveled, the more I have learned and unlearned.

In 2012, while at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine in England, one of my classmates used to drive a BMW, park it at a restaurant and work as a waiter. He came from a very wealthy family but he still worked. He told me that as soon as he completed high school, he had to take part time jobs to earn some money to pay rent to his father and contribute to household bills. It shocked me quite a lot considering what I have grown up seeing in my part of the world.

As if this was not enough, I also found out that, when students finish high school in these countries, as must, they have to find some work and either rent out, or pay their parents some money for rent if they are to continue staying in their parent’s house.  I was shocked by the idea of a son paying rent to his father. It took time to sink in. The more I interacted with more of these people, the more I realised that this is a common culture. They teach a child responsibility from a very early age. Work is not for money per se, it is a service.

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The lesson I learnt from them is that working is a value. One has to work and parents teach their children that they have to work and earn. Just because your parents are wealthy doesn’t mean your life is already worked out. You have to contribute to the home bills and somehow find something to do. The work doesn’t have to be white collar …but as a must, you have to find something to put your hands to. You can’t seat your bums and just wait for a white collar job.

When I went to Norway, I found the same story. Most university students, unless they simply can’t find time due to course overload, have to have some form of temporary work. Students often work as attendants, waiters in restaurants, cleaners in hotels, shop attendants, drivers, newspaper vendors, et cetera. It is a value to work and few people don’t despise jobs.

By the way, they don’t work because their parents can’t give them money. They work because it is a value that has been embedded in them from childhood. Once a student finishes high school, they take on a part time job and save money for use at university or travels. Few parents will buy their child a ticket to come to Africa to tour. You have to work and save for your luxuries.

If you want some money from your parents, you borrow and pay back. Nothing comes free. They teach you to live on your own. Being at University or having a degree is ‘nothing.’ You are not the first or the last. Serving people in a restaurant does not make anyone look less a graduate. Service is service! Work is a value.

As a matter of fact, most of the places near Universities are filled with university students working as part timers. University students are encouraged to take up these part time jobs. The white people we like to imitate are doing what we think is too dirty or casual for a graduate in Africa.

It got me thinking about students in our Universities here in Africa. I thought about all the restaurants around their schools, and the attitude of University students and graduates about these type of jobs. I thought about the poor attitude we have towards work. I looked at the chapatti boys and girls we despise who are minting money and doing great things in their lives and for their families. I thought about the people who fear nothing, who go out and just do it while we sit back.

The more I thought about it the more I realised why we are going to take longer to develop. We have a generation of young people who feel they are too educated to do certain jobs. We have a generation of children who have been prepared for a life that doesn’t exist. We have a crop of young people who act richer than the billionaires in first world countries. My time in Europe taught me that we need to get back on the drawing board and re-orient our graduates.

Students in our universities should be oriented to appreciate the value of work. There is no reason why a University should not employ students to clean the Library, kitchen, dining halls, hostels. It is improper that a university canteen should find external staff when it has over 30,000 students who can work in shifts and serve other students.

See, through this kind of work, being able to do ordinary jobs and be seen as a servant makes you true leaders. When students grow up with a sense of entitlement and a higher standard of living, it translates into greed when they get into national politics. They apportion themselves good things, higher privileges and want to float above everyone because work is about money, status and not service. Such humble work makes true leaders.

People who are willing to serve, and not merely earn make better leaders. Such work raises a generation of leaders who don’t do things to be seen or be thought of as higher and more qualified, but leaders who get things done. In some firms in western societies, when they look at a CV, such experience, demonstrates the attitude of a person, their humility, values and philosophy towards work.

We are raising a generation of children whose only image of the west is what they watch on TV. They speak using enhanced accents, know what is the latest, they are ‘cool’ but they have no idea what makes the west what it is. My experience in the west shows me something different. People work and do ordinary jobs and that’s how things get done.

If we are to get good leaders, we must first change the attitude of young people about work. An inflated self-image creates bad leaders who want to further segregate themselves from the ordinary people they consider low and less qualified. We have a big problem in our society and we have to find a way to deal with it.

Students despise these jobs because they believe work is about status and money. Taken further into their lives, it means they may likely want to maintain status and money as their pursuits when they get into leadership positions. If we must correct our leadership and governance problems, we may also need to do something about the attitude of students and graduates about their philosophies and values about work. In there, lies a very big problem.

Do not despise work, go out there and just work. The pope was once a bouncer at a club. Today he is one of the most powerful men in the world. Imagine that you had nothing to fear, what would you do to earn a living? Imagine that you had no degree or that anyone cares, what would you do to earn a living? Imagine, that no one is going to help you find a job, what would do?

I am not saying go do what you don’t like…but may be…just may be you may need to develop a new attitude towards work, serve people (in whatever opportunities unfold) and be happy to have served. You can never tell what the future holds, and you may never know who you will meet at your humble place of work. Most interestingly, you may never know the untold story of those who work and serve you in those places where you go as the bosses or the rich.

Even for you that are already employed in ‘high’ places, don’t mind going out and just find a part time job (if you have time) or offer services in the evening or weekend at any place where your services can be of use. Meet people, network and just keep yourself active. Degrees are everywhere…literally every one has them…so just forget about the whole hype about it and be true to yourself. As you look for other opportunities…don’t be afraid to branch off a little and keep yourself at something. Don’t despise jobs. Serve.

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This orientation is what we want for our generation next. Not to make such beautiful beds as mine: To change their perspective of Work and service.