Monday, June 27, 2016

With Brexit, Seniors just screwed up the youth

The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered”. These were the words of David Cameron after nationalist Eurosceptic voters chose to leave the EU and brought Cameron’s premiership to an abrupt end.

The consequences of Brexit vote are rolling fast and furiously. The value of the pound tumbled and markets crashed. Half of the Labour party’s top team is set to resign in what is seen as a bid to force Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the Labour party. Mr. Corbyn’s commitment to the Remain campaign as been described as a study in reluctance.

A second Scotland referendum is imminent. Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said the Scottish government would prepare legislation to enable another independence vote because with Brexit Scotland, where 62 percent voted to Remain would be taken out of the EU against their will. Similarly, in Northern Ireland where 56 percent voted to Remain has motivated speculation about the possibility a unity referendum to unite with the Republic of Ireland.

Two weeks ago, IMF published an analysis of the consequences of Brexit. In one scenario Britain plunges into recession in 2017, unemployment rises to seven percent by 2018 and real wages stagnate because of high inflation. But last Thursday, June 23, UK voters chose to leave the EU. Cameron had drafted in Obama to help the Stronger In campaign. In April Obama warned that the United States would be more interested in doing trade deals with a "big bloc" like the EU than a single nation like the United Kingdom. But even Obama’s exhortation to remain failed to persuade voters.

Brexit is a catastrophic blow to the process of European integration. Voters in France, Italy and Netherlands are demanding their own votes on EU membership. Mindful of mass exodus from the EU, German Chancellor Angela Merkel cautioned that the other 27 members of the EU should “not draw hasty and simplified conclusions from the British vote that would only divide Europe further”.

Two people think Brexit is an inevitable fortune. Vladimir Putin is gloating. He thinks Brexit was a comprehensible consequence of “arrogance and a superficial approach from the British leadership to issues that are vital to the UK”. Speaking in Scotland a day after the referendum, Republican presidential flag bearer Donald Trump said Brexit made total sense because the vote mirrored the anger and despondency smoldering among Americans about the economy, jobs, immigration and border control.

Brexit is a vote against UK’s future. Youth strongly favored Remain, with 75 percent of citizens aged below 24 voting to stay in the EU. Young people will face the consequences of Brexit for longer. They must feel screwed over by their parents’ votes.

Britain is stronger in the EU and Leave voters must regret June 23. Brexit underlines a cataclysmic failure of leadership by UK’s political class. Why was such an incredibly complex decision left with the citizens, most of whom have no clue what the EU is about?

Use urbanization to drive prosperity


Our epoch has been characterized as the Athropocene. Our species, Homo sapiens is capable of the same disruptive and devastating effect on our planet just like volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes and tsunami. We are virulent. Look at what we have done to our climate and our environment.

But the virulent disruption of our kind, especially through our industrial and technological prowess has been uniquely associated with the migration of over half of human kind from the fields into cities. Hence, a fundamental characteristic of the Anthropocene is the age of urbanism. I would like to think about our kind to today as Homo sapiens urbanus.

In Africa the phenomenon of urbanization has been late in onset. Somehow Africans, especially in Eastern and Southern Africa lingered too long in the farms. But today at 3.5 percent, Africa is fastest urbanizing landmass on the planet. In Kenya for example, the rate of urbanization outpaces the rate of annual population growth by 60 percent. A recent UN-Habitat report projects that by 2025 Africa’s urban population will outstrip that of South America and Europe combined.

By 2040 African cities are expected to have to accommodate 79 Million additional inhabitants. Between 2040 and 2050 the figure will rise to an astonishing 84 Million. The potential consequence – challenges and opportunities – of these bewildering growth rates are relevant for all us, whether we live in urban or rural areas. As we all know, the Africa rising saga and the surge of an African middle classes is underlies the triumph of the African urbanization.

The scale and pace of Africa’s urbanization is unprecedented. But something else is happening in Africa. Circa 80 percent of the population in Sub-Saharan is aged below 35 years old. Moreover, the median age on the content is below 20 years and is projected to reach a youthful age of 25 by 2050. I dare say that Africa is on the warm threshold of a youthful urban moment. This changes everything.

For the academy, the African urban moment raises scholarly and policy relevant issues. What does sedentary lives and changing diets mean? The prospect of the convergence of communicable and non-communicable diseases has far-reaching consequence on health and morbidity. Will urbanization hinder or aid efforts to reduce poverty and deal with growing chasm of inequality that has attended the Africa rising saga? How will urbanization affect the quality of African lives? Cities across Africa are bursting at the seams, engulfed by mountains of garbage and squalor, immobilized by wretched traffic gridlock, and paralyzed by scarcity of decent, affordable housing for new immigrants. Will the urban moment come with better prospects for employment youth Africa’s youth? And will urbanization change the character of politics in countries like Kenya, where ethnic bigotry looms large?

Urbanization is perhaps the most powerful game changer in our lifetime. It is full of promise but peppered with peril. The good fortune is that we have the power to harness this unprecedented boon. Lets seize it for our common good. 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Africa’s youth can make Africa rising real


The lion cubs of the savanna are on the prowl. The fastest growing economies are here in Africa. I have said this before. I will say it again. This is Africa’s moment. This is our century. Only Africans can squander the moment.

Africa is home to the youngest population in the world. The median age on the continent is just about 19, and is estimated to rise to circa 25 by 2050. Africa has youth and the juice. Africa is the future. Africa holds the canvas on which to re-draw the path of human development, restore our relationship with nature and heal the planet.

Africa is on the cusp of a demographic transition. In Kenya for example, about 78 percent of citizens aged between 18 and 35 have post-primary education. This is perhaps the best-educated generation in Kenya’s short history and encounter with literacy. Demographic projections also show that the working age population in Africa will exceed that of the regions of the world combined by 2035. But today the incidence of unemployment in East Africa is about 50 percent. 1 in 2 East Africans with a college degree is unable to find work.

While Africa is the least urbanized landmass, it is today the most rapidly urbanizing region of the world. In Kenya for example, the rate of urbanization is nearly 60 percent higher than the rate of annual population growth. Young Africans, men and women, are leaving the land lured by the promise of opportunity in new towns and bustling cities.

Africa is the hungriest and most malnourished continent. Over 250 million Africans will sleep hungry tonight. The irony is that Africa’s constitutes 25 percent of global arable land and yet we contribute only 10 percent of global food production. It is also estimated that Africa has nearly 600 million hectares of uncultivated land, which constitutes about 60 percent of the new agricultural potential globally. But Africa will also suffer the most damage to its land, water and vegetation resources as a result of climate change.

Africa’s is promise inextricably bound with what many people think is it’s Achilles’ heel: the world’s youngest population; the world’s hungriest population; the continent that will be ravaged by the impacts of climate change; rapid urbanization that is dominated by squalor, rapid GDP growth coupled with de-industrialization; and, youth unemployment that has reached a crisis proportion.

I believe this is Africa’s moment because we can break new ground and pioneer innovations that that respond to the climate crisis by harnessing renewable energy and ending our addiction to fossil fuels. Africa can break new ground, re-invent agriculture by developing crop varieties that demand less water, nutrients and pesticides, while nourishing millions of African children. Africa can break new ground because we can deploy the world’s youngest and brightest farmers to the solemn task of feeding the future while replenishing the planet.

There is in my view, infinite economic opportunities across agricultural value chains to deliver value for all actors, especially Africa’s youth. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Kenya’s youth must rise up and lead


The median age in Kenya is just 19 years. Those aged below the age of 35 comprise about 80 percent of the population. The youth –those aged between 18 and 35 years – also happen to be the most educated of any generation this country. But does the so-called dominant minority get it?

The dominant minority here refers to those aged above 35 years. This is because they comprise just 20 percent of the population but dominate politics, government, civil society and business. In my view, the dominance by the minority is tenuous. The shear demographic force of the youth of this country is unprecedented.

Think about this; 40 percent of those aged below 35 years identify as Kenyans first. Moreover they have a strong es esprit de corp because 35 percent of Kenyan youth identify as such. About 12 percent identify by their faith first. This is unprecedented. These young people are by and large citizens of the world, hyper connected active global citizens, unencumbered by nationality or tribe.

If you are aged above 35 and raising children you are probably saying this will pass, they don not know what they are doing. Soon, you might add, the hard reality will settle and they will be whipped back in line, staggered by the burdens people like you, grown ups, have to bear. You may be wrong and here is why.

The times have changed, and irreversibly so. The structure of the new economy – the one that is occasioned by the Africa rising saga – is installing a new and relatively young Kenyan middle-class. It is restive, demanding and different. Unlike their forebears, they are not semi-illiterate and rural. They are not overawed by the wealth and privilege of the dominant minority. Moreover, this generation is not standing and waiting for crumbs to fall from the table of the presently dominant minority.

They are demanding opportunity. The youth feel they deserve better. They are civically engaged and 70 percent believe it is important to vote and have the power to bring about change. Furthermore, Kenyan youth believe the future will be more prosperous, with more jobs, better access to health and education.

They are not naïve about employment because circa 55 percent are unemployed. Government does not create jobs and they get it! A majority of Kenyan youth, circa 50 percent, would like to start their own business, do their own thing. What they asking for is skills, access to capital and opportunity to start a business.

The political and economic implications of a predominantly youthful population are unambiguous. The 2017 election must be about delivering the future that befits the emerging dominant majority. The next election must be about expanding the opportunity space for the youth.

We cannot rest until every child in this country is firmly on the ladder of opportunity. And it is time Kenyan youth, the dominant majority, flexed their political power. They are not pawns but queens and kings in this game.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

We face a catastrophic crisis of leadership


The 2015 Survey on the Global Agenda revealed that 86 percent of the respondents strongly agree the world is facing a ‘leadership crisis’. In the top worrying global trends survey respondents cite ‘deepening income inequality’, ‘persistent jobless growth’, ‘lack of leadership’ and ‘the weakening of representative democracy’. 

It is eminently clear that we are living in an epoch of unprecedented global peril. Violent extremism is on the rise. Poverty, inequality and haplessness are ubiquitous. Infectious diseases are re-emerging and non-infectious diseases are surging. The catastrophe associated our addiction to carbon looms large. The universal march of freedom and civil liberties is halting. 

Unequivocally, we are seeing a catastrophic failure of leadership from the family to the global stage. The calamitous dearth of leadership is reflected in the pitiful state of the human condition everywhere. The youth are staggered by the gusts of jobless growth. The old live in despair overwhelmed by the pace of change in world that is changing at a dizzying pace. 

In Africa, we occupy the front row seat of dysfunctional political leadership exemplified by runaway official graft and state incapability. Citizens are either delusional or indifferent. Power hungry politicians lie, cheat and use violence to cling to power. Citizens have decomposed into subjects and leaders have metamorphosed into monarchs. 

I challenge anyone to name an individual or society who can rise to grapple with the common tribulations that confront our civilization today. We are long on egotistic bluster and geo-political power games but woefully short on global consensus and leadership. 

That notion that the principles of leadership are immutable and based on timeless truths is fundamentally questionable and specious. Talk to the leaders of the cold war era or the ship builders of Glasgow and they will tell that this epoch is a bewildering in its volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. Leadership in this moment is in every sense unlike models of leadership in the eras past. 

The perils and opportunities that define this age – volatile, globalized hyper connected epoch – demand that we question the foundational notions of existing models of leadership. Look at our pitiful galaxy of so-called leaders today, these men and women deserve nothing but derision and infamy. They souls are darkened by greed and self-idolatry. The unprecedented global peril underlines the catastrophic crisis of leadership at multiple scales – from the self to the global stage. 

Leadership today must be about collaboration and consensus building. Leadership is about collective creation, rather dominant inspired individual visions. Leadership in our time is about generative listening, tuning into the future seeking to emerge. 

The leader in this age is not the omniscient alpha male with a baritone standing at the head of following humans.  The leader in this age is the person who in collaboration and through consensus guides from the side and inspires all of us to dream, learn and become our best selves. 

We can only hope that such leaders will emerge to answer the call of history.

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