Tuesday, April 18, 2017

A rotten barrel will cause apples to rot

A survey conducted by the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University on values, attitudes, aspirations of East African youth yielded findings that were both troubling and encouraging.

Encouraging because youth are willing to be part of the solution to the problems they face. For example about 50 percent would start their own business. A majority of youth would invest in building their communities through charitable giving and creating employment opportunities for other youth.

The findings are troubling because youth condone corruption, would participate in political fraud and engage in tax evasion. About 50 percent of Kenyan youth believe it doesn’t matter how one makes money as long as one does not end up in jail. Another 30 percent believe corruption is profitable and 35 percent would readily give or take a bribe.

Only 40 percent of youth believed it was important to pay taxes on earned income. Moreover, 40 percent of the youth believe that a bribe from an individual vying for political office would influence their vote. About 30 percent of the youth believed Kenya would be poorer in ethics and values, and experience more substance abuse.

The attitudes and values of Kenyan youth are not surprising. Kenya is one of the most corrupt countries in the world. In 2016 Kenya ranked 145th out of 176 countries on Transparency International’s corruption perception index. During a state visit to Israel in 2016, President Kenyatta revealed that Kenyans are "experienced in stealing and perpetuating other crimes". In his paper “Inequality and the Moral Crisis of the Elite”, former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga demonstrates that corruption is now the fourth arm of government, easily the most powerful and the one that controls the executive, the judiciary and the legislature.

Corruption is flourishing in Kenya’s public and private sectors. Schools and religious institutions have not been spared. Greed and flagrant violation of the law is prevalent and is seldom frowned upon. Consistently, the police, the judiciary and the Ministry of Lands have been named the most corrupt institutions in the public sector. Kenya’s private sector is teeming with corrupt individuals and businesses that are enabled by the political elite to perpetrate corruption.

Are you wondering why Kenyan youth think corruption is profitable, admire corrupt individuals, and would evade paying taxes? Dishonesty and rule violation are prevalent in our society. Values and morals tend to co-evolve with institutions. Studies have shown that weak institutions enable rule violations and impair individual intrinsic honesty.

A study published in the journal Nature –“Intrinsic honesty and the prevalence of rule violations across societies” – shows that participants from countries with a high prevalence of rule violations (PRV), including Guatemala, Kenya and Tanzania, displayed higher levels of dishonesty compared to participants from countries with low PRV like Sweden.


It is unlikely that good apples abound in a rotten barrel. Kenyan youth have been shaped by societal norms that have normalized dishonesty and corruption. It will be difficult to eradicate corruption. But we must not give up.

Yes, there is growth but prosperity remains fragile.

GDP growth is on the upswing across East Africa. Life expectancy is rising again. But is prosperity irreversible and inevitable?

Maternal, new born and infant mortality is declining rapidly. Life expectancy in Kenya is now estimated at about 63 years. Enrollment in primary school remains high. Student numbers in secondary and university level is surging. Interest and investment in technical and vocational education is gathering momentum.

Access to electricity is high and rising, thanks to massive expansion of the national grid and the falling cost of solar power. Significant improvements in major trunk roads have cut travel time between far flung villages and cities. The proliferation mobile telephony has revolutionized access to information and financial services.

Overall, life has improved for the majority of East Africans. But there is still so much to do. Rapid expansion of access to education, from primary to university level, has come at the expense of quality. About a third of children finishing primary school do not possess requisite levels of literacy or numeracy. Graduates from our universities are mostly functionally illiterate.

According to the Kenya Medical Practitioners, Pharmacists and Dentists Union, the doctor patient ratio stands at about 1 to 17,000, against the WHO ratio of 1 to 1,000. Our schools are inadequately staffed. Agricultural extension services have collapsed. Smallholder farm productivity is in free fall. Pockets of hunger and chronic malnutrition still exist and will deprive our economies of vital human capital. 

The rate of urbanization has outpaced the capacity of our cities to plan and provide basic services such as housing, water and sanitation. About 80 percent of the residents of Dar es Salaam live in unplanned settlements. According to the World Bank Kampala could become a mega slum in less than 10 years. The city of Nairobi cannot provide clean water for its residents.

The path to sustained prosperity is neither certain nor inevitable. Our progress remains fragile.
The challenges presented by climate change, intense competition for and degradation of water, vegetation and soil resources, unequal distribution of growth, conflict and failing global leadership are complex, entwined and unprecedented on a global scale. 

Across East Africa, Debt levels are beginning to surge again. Commodity prices are in decline. Traditional job intensive sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture continue to defy growth.

Moreover, the youth bulge, rapid and unplanned urbanization, anemic public sector governance, feeble civil society, jobless growth and a looming risk of violent extremism make more complex our challenges.

New ideas and innovations in governance, in public and private sector, must emerge to deal with the challenges that confront us. Grappling with these challenges will depend, imagination and creativity, cooperation and sacrifice from all of us.


We can’t afford the politics of rancor and division. Politics and governance must be about solving our most urgent challenges. Moreover, it’s not okay for citizens to stand pat and blame politics and government for everything that is wrong. We the people must live up to the scared obligation of citizenship – enlightened engagement.

China and Putin: the new superpower duo?

After the collapse of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in 1991 the world become unipolar. The United States of America bestrode the world like the colossus. America pronounced itself the moral leader and even policeman of the world.

There has always been grumbling about American hypocrisy whenever it condemned human rights violations and undemocratic conduct abroad. However, America’s broad commitment to individual liberty, opportunity, democracy and the rule of law has accorded it a great measure of moral authority. Moreover, America’s phenomenal economic power, its global leadership in education, research and innovation as well as the unmatched scale of its military power have buttressed its global dominance.

The hegemony of the west was both unbridled and unmatched for nearly two decades. America and its European allies could circumvent global collective governance mechanisms like the United Nations, act unilaterally and declare war. The invasion of Iraq and the decapitation of Saddam Hussein is a case in point. America and the world chose to look aside as Hutu and Tutsi tribes butchered each other in Rwanda. The Arab-Israeli conflict endures, in favor of Israel, because of the inordinate influence on Israel on American foreign policy.

But the world has changed. China rose. Forbes Magazine named Vladimir Putin the most powerful man in the world. Brexit happened. A real estate mogul erupted in Washington. China’s extraordinary economic growth coupled with trade and diplomacy has enhanced its power and influence in Asia, Africa and Latin America. China’s economic presence in Africa is burgeoning. For instance, in December 2015, Chinese President Xi Jinping offered a mouth watering $60 billion loan and aid package to Africa.

China has emerged as the world leader on combating global warming. China is now pushing America to meet its commitments, and live up to the letter and spirit of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which according to Xi Jinping was “hard worn”. Vladimir Putin keeps European energy in a chokehold.  It is alleged that the Kremlin orchestrated hacks into email accounts as part of a campaign to elect Donald Trump. Ties and contacts with Russia by Trump senior aides are now under Congressional investigation. 

President Trump has defended Putin against accusations that he is a killer, asking Fox News talk show host Bill O’Reilly “What, do you think our country’s so innocent?” Steve Bannon, anti-globalist and Trump chief strategist, and Putin were both for the Brexit vote in the hope that it would weaken and isolate the United Kingdom.

In combination, the complex political process of extricating the United Kingdom out Europe, the cacophony that has attended Donald Trumps early days in the White House and has left a dangerous leadership vacuum, especially among societies that uphold or aspire to the ideals of liberal democracy.


A new global regime is emerging in which America fades away, staggered by Trumpism and the European Union is irredeemable weakened by Brexit and the rise of nationalism. Will China and Putin emerge as the axis of a new global regime?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Youth are vital to the future of the East African Community

A survey conducted by the East African Institute revealed that less than 5 percent of youth between 18 and 35 years identify as belonging to the polity that is the East African Community (EAC). The youth believe that the EAC is a political construct of the elite. They believe the EAC is some regional trade deal to open up markets for free movement of goods, labor and capital.

The community of the people of East Africa is not just a figment that dwells in the minds of the political and business elite. It is more than an expansionist or federal obsession of the Arusha bureaucrats. The Community is more than the lofty dreams of common currency or common trade tariffs.

There is something more wholesome – we the people. We are the Community. The community, joined by bonds of kinship and exchange as are ancient as the hills. Mwalimu Julius Nyerere or Jomo Kenyatta or Milton Obote did not bequeath the Community to us. When they created the first EAC, they were merely repairing the division that was wrought upon the people of East African by the British and the Germans.

Across the borders, we share languages, traditions and beliefs. We share the picturesque beauty and splendor of Lake Victoria and Lake Tanganyika, the Indian Ocean, Mt. Kilimanjaro and Mt. Elgon, the Great Rift Valley, the Mara, the Indian Ocean, and yes the iconic statuesque men and women of the savannas. More importantly, our destiny is shared through the fears, hopes and aspirations of our youth.

When asked what the future will look like the youth from Uganda, Rwanda and Tanzania were was consensus about the expansion of material wealth among the few. The youth also believed there would be better access to quality health, education and that there would be more jobs for the youth. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania, the youth believed there would be more corruption and substance abuse and that their societies would be poorer in ethics and values.

The youth were unequivocal about what they want government to do tackle urgently. Nearly 70 percent of the youth want government to address unemployment and expand access to capital for investment. Youth were confident about their skills for entrepreneurship and possessed strong entrepreneurial aspirations, with over 60 percent of youth saying they would like to start a business.

While the youth are suffer the highest rates of unemployment, they are willing to be part of the solution if only the government could provide access to investment capital, business opportunities, skills, and advisory services.

But more importantly, high unemployment among the youth in East Africa should invite us to examine the structural flaws that have caused just so few to reap the benefits of the last two decades of economic prosperity.

Clearly, there is no such a thing as trickle down prosperity. To secure the East African Community we must grapple with our biggest challenge – youth unemployment – and harness the potential demographic dividend to drive greater and inclusive prosperity.  

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

East African youth share common challenges but hold different values and visions for the future

In 2016 the East African Institute of the Aga Khan University released the findings of a youth survey conducted in Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi. The findings of the survey were received with both despair and hope.

According to the survey 53 percent of youth in the four countries were unemployed. About 80 percent of youth aged 18-20 who were not in school were unemployed. About 63 percent of rural women are unemployed. About 50 percent East African youths with university education were unemployed.

Circa 53 percent of the youth said they would like to go into business. Less than 25 percent expressed interest in pursuing traditional careers in medicine, engineering or education. Only 12 percent said they would take up farming as a full-time vocation. The survey shows that youth who had the strongest interest in business and farming had no more than primary education. Moreover, 54 percent more youth with primary education reported they were self-employed compared to youth who have attended university.

Over 80 percent of the youth surveyed valued faith first. Hard work and family were ranked first among 50 percent of the youth. The youth also indicated that wealth and freedom were important values for them. The values of faith, family and hard work are largely founded in the Abrahamic faiths of Islam and Christianity, which are the dominant religious traditions of East Africa.

With the exception of Rwanda, the survey findings on integrity set off alarm bells. In Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania parents, faith leaders and civil society were befuddled by apparent contradiction between the values youth profess and how they would act. The survey findings raise concerns about the moral character of the future generation.

Between 30 and 45 percent of the youth believed corruption was profitable and would readily give or take a bribe; over 50 percent of the youth believed it didn’t matter how one made money as long as one didn’t end up in jail. Moreover, 60 percent did not believe it was important to pay taxes. In contrast, only less than 10 percent of Rwandan youth believed corruption was profitable and would give or take a bribe. About 20 percent believed it didn’t matter how one made money as long as one didn’t end up in jail.

Rwandan youth were the most optimistic about the future. Over 70 percent believing that their countries will be richer materially with better access to quality education and jobs. Tanzanian youth were the most pessimistic. Less than 35 percent of the youth believed the country will be wealthy materially with more jobs for youth and that hard work would be rewarded. About 60% believed Tanzania would be poorer in ethics and values, and more youth would engage in substance abuse.


This Saturday, March 11, the East African Institute will bring together youth leaders from Kenya, Uganda Rwanda and Tanzania to grapple with the moral, ethical and governance imperatives fo  just, prosperous, inclusive and equitable societies.

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