Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Africa needs skilled workers, great citizens and ethical leaders

The findings of the East Africa youth survey conducted by the East Africa Institute were both hopeful and worrying. Following the study, the interest in the plight of the youth and concerns about the state of our common future has been unrelenting.

Unemployment among youth, especially rural woman, is worryingly high. The vast majority of the 10 million African youth who enter the job market annually are either unemployed or underemployed.

While youth are optimistic about the future – which they believe will bring more jobs, better access to quality health and education – they are strongly inclined to give or take a bribe, evade taxes and engage in electoral fraud.

The political and bureaucratic processes lack both imagination and creativity to harness the unprecedented abundance of Africa’s youthful human capital. The African Union’s African Youth Charter signed in 2006 remains an innocuous document. Conversations across the continent, from Accra to Nairobi are unanimous about a future in peril.

The state of Africa’s youth is not strong because the youth are not willing to step up to the plate. The state of Africa’s youth is feeble because we don’t care enough and think someone else will deal with it. The corridors of public offices on the continent are teeming with highly paid consultants, donors and foreign NGOs grappling with Africa’s problems.

Yes we need help. But the help we receive cannot be modeled on the classical industrial age paradigm. Our path to prosperity and a secure future where youth thrive must be powered by Africa’s own unique, novel and contextually relevant ideas.

There is not an overabundance of easy solutions. Building inclusive prosperity, providing African youth with the right skills and creating well-paying jobs will demand everything of our politicians and policy makers. It will demand more than hollow charters or declarations from the African Union.

First off, our education system, at all levels, must prepare our youth for an unknown future. We must educate for a post-knowledge economy. Standardized tests powered by rote learning and unthinking regurgitation must be replaced by an orientation to analytical reasoning, experimentation, discovery and problem solving. Creativity and innovation, not basic numeracy and literacy must become goal of education.

But our education must prepare young Africans not just for the workplace. Great citizens and ethical leaders are sorely needed on the continent. Citizenship is more than nationality or ethnic ties. Citizenship is a sacred obligation to service, a commitment to common aims and a constitutional injunction to civically engage.

Ethics is about rectitude. It is about values. An ethical leader is honorable, persuaded by decency and an invariable commitment to justice. Ethical leadership springs from the wells of great and vigilant citizenship.

A strong predisposition among youth to bribery, tax evasion and electoral fraud is an indictment on our societies. It betrays a fundamental and simultaneous failure of citizenship and leadership on the adult side of the aisle. Ours is a case of a rotten barrel spoiling a bumper crop of apples. Fix the barrel.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Crisis of leadership in a complex, changing world

A Google search with the words “crisis of leadership” is revealing. It returns 639,000 hits for books, 4.4 million news stories and about 1.1 million videos. Hundreds of thousands of images of consequential historical figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela, Lincoln and Martin Luther king pop up.

As a social construct, leadership is as much obfuscated and illuminated by scholars in management, political science and social theory. Eugene E. Jennings in his book An Anatomy of Leadership suggests that leadership is an “omnibus term” deployed without discrimination to roles as varied as sports coach, politician, committee chairperson, corporate executive, and school headmaster.

Today we bemoan failure of leadership in every sector, and especially in the government, media, NGOs – both local and international – business, political parties, multilateral organizations like the World Bank and the United Nations.

I will focus on political leadership. On the one hand rising inequality and poverty, terrorism, global climate crisis and immigration have created near unanimous mistrust of government and political leaders. On the other hand increasing change, complexity and uncertainty in an intensely globalized world have converged to produce an unprecedented demand for exemplary political leadership at local, regional and global scales.

Traditionally, leadership denotes a state or position of influence. Understanding political leadership, its failure or success, must take cognizance of the fact that leadership is a relationship between two parties, the leader or the persons exerting influence and the persons influenced.

More importantly, a functional relationship exists between the leader and the follower. Some early scholars have characterized the relationship as a structured, institutionalized pattern of authority and subservience. This was certainly true in imperial Europe, in the dark ages of colonialism and dictatorship in much of the developing world.

However the construct of authority and subservience remains the defining model of leadership. Globally, political leaders have failed to recognize that leadership must be about influence and less about power or authority. In a republic as opposed to a monarchy or a colony, we have citizens and representatives, not subjects and potentates. Citizens are the custodians of sovereign power, which they donate to elected representative – political leaders.

In my view at the heart of the crisis of leadership is the fact that political leaders are ossified in the imperial, colonial era. Even in large democracies like the US we see spectacular displays of envy of autocracy by President Donald Trump, who has great admiration for Vladimir Putin’s style of leadership.  

The context of political leadership has changed, and radically so. For example Donald Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Accord is now seen as temporary absence of the US as State Party. Nearly 100 cities, five stares, six more to join and hundreds of leading firms have vowed to unite behind the Paris Accord.

Those who sit at the zenith of political organizations must uphold the ideals of democracy, adapt and innovate to meet the demands of a dynamic, pluralistic, globalized and multipolar world.   

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Resolve to combat global warming must not falter

On November 6, 2012 Donald J. Trump tweeted, “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive”. He promised to “cancel the Paris Climate Agreement and stop all payments of US tax dollars to UN global warming programs.

On June 1, 2017, President Trump announced that the United States would withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord.

According to Trump, the onerous energy restrictions of the Paris Accord could cost the US $3 trillion in lost GDP, 6.5 million industrial jobs and households would have $7,000 less income. These statistics are staggering. Trump’s source is the National Economic Research Associates. As you would expect, the assumptions behind these numbers have been rigorously contested.

According to President Trump,  “withdrawal from the agreement represents a reassertion of America’s sovereignty”. And Trump made it clear that he “was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris”. And it was time to make America great again.

Across the world, Trump’s decision to exit the Paris Climate Accord has been met with robust defiance and criticism. Speaking in English, French President Emmanuel Macron said, "I do respect this decision but I do think it is an actual mistake both for the US and for our planet… Wherever we live, whoever we are, we all share the same responsibility: make our planet great again."

In a joint statement, the EU and China termed Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord a “big mistake”. It is expected that closer cooperation between China and the EU will ramp up research and investments and accelerate transition into a low carbon economy.

Condemnation was swift in the US. Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer called Trump’s decision a “devastating failure of historic proportions”. Hillary Clinton said the decision to exit the Paris Accord was a “historic mistake that leaves American workers behind”. Former President Obama, who spent years negotiating the landmark agreement, said the Trump administration joined a small band of nations that “reject the future”.

A group of 180 mayors have joined 10 governors in denouncing President Trump's decision to withdraw the country from the Paris Climate Accord. The mayors have vowed to “adopt, honor and uphold commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement”. Over 80 university presidents and 100 businesses have also joined the Climate Mayors. Michael Bloomberg, former New York Mayor said, “We’re going to do everything America would have done if it had stayed committed.” Mayor Bloomberg will personally pay the $15 million the United Nations will lose after Trump exits the Paris Accord.

A new green economy beckons. But President Trump remains entrenched in the dungeons of fossil fuels. Transition to green energy will create millions of new jobs and lift millions across the globe out of poverty. The resolve to combat dangerous warming is unflinching. We must make our planet great again! 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Together, we can restore Nairobi’s riverine glory

Nairobi was founded in 1899 as a railway depot by the colonial authorities. This was two years after the colonist established Machakos as the administrative centre for the Kenya Colony.

At the turn of the 19th century Nairobi – Maasai word for cool water– was lush and green with wetlands bisected by clear rivers. A significant part of the upper Athi River basin drains through the city of Nairobi and its suburbs. The colonists chose to set up the Uganda railway beachhead in Nairobi precisely because it had plentiful supply of freshwater and a benign climate.

Complete or reliable records of Nairobi’s environmental history are scant. But early accounts describe Nairobi as a marshland devoid of humans and dense with animals of all kinds. Today lush swamps have disappeared and thriving wildlife is gone. In their place buildings and roads have emerged. The clear rivers are no more. What we have now are open sewer canals, teeming with bacteria, loaded with heavy metals and chocked with plastics.

The once luxurious riverine zones are now dense with squalid settlements. Nearly all of Nairobi’s slums are on what should be protected riparian buffers. It is estimated that about 56 percent of Nairobi’s residents live on the edge of Nairobi River or its tributaries. Some of the slum residents rely on Nairobi’s rivers – filthy fluid colonies of bacteria and poison warehouses – for domestic water. High concentrations of heavy metals have been detected in riverine vegetation and river sediments.

Pollution of urban rivers is not peculiar to Nairobi’s rivers. In the mid 1800s, London’s sewers were emptied, unfiltered into the River Thames. By 1957, the pollution levels on London’s River Thames were so bad the river was declared biologically dead. Nearly sixty years later, the Thames is alive again: teeming with hundreds of species of fish, waterfowl and more than 400 species of invertebrates.

Past efforts to restore and rehabilitate Nairobi’s rivers have achieved little. This includes Nairobi Rivers Basin Rehabilitation and Restoration Program, which was implemented between 2003 and 2009. In 2015, the Cabinet Secretary of Water and Irrigation Eugene Wamalwa announced a master plan for rehabilitation and restoration of Nairobi River Basin.

What is needed is a partnership that brings together government, private sector, civil society and especially, the residents. I believe we can roll out the largest civil works project, signing up tens of thousands of youth to remove the solid wastes, de-silt the rivers stabilize the banks. This effort must include restoration of riparian buffers, urban storm water management, construction of large wetlands to cleanup storm waters, regulate discharge and conserve vital limnological functions.

Restoration of Nairobi’s riverine glory we will create tens of thousands of new environmental and engineering jobs for the youth.  More jobs will be created when we re-claim riparian buffers, construct wetlands and build thousands of new safe and affordable homes for the urban poor.

We win when Nairobi’s riverine glory is restored and picturesque waterfronts emerge as places for recreation for all cityzens of Nairobi.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Can Trump restore world peace?

In his first oversees trip US President Donald Trump bounced along to a Saudi sword dance.  Like his predecessor, Barack Obama, Donald Trump received the highest civilian honor, the order of Abdulaziz al-Saud.

Trump placed immense distance between himself and the virulent anti Muslim rhetoric that was the hallmark of his election campaign. When President Obama skipped the funeral of Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia, Trump tweeted “ I wonder if President Obama would have attended the funeral of Justice Scalia it were held in a Mosque”.

Trump acknowledged that Saudi Arabia is home is home to the holiest sites for one of the world’s great faiths. Trump has a newfound fondness for Muslims. Trump declared that America was adopting “Principled Realism” and decisions will be “based on real-world outcomes, not inflexible ideology”.

In his Saudi Arabia speech Trump said “I have always heard abut the splendor of your country and the kindness of your citizens, but words do not do justice to the grandeur of this remarkable place”. Trump moved from “Islam hates us” to “young Muslim boys and girls should be able to grow up free of fear, safe from violence, and innocent of hatred”.

Owing to his tremendous learning during his trip to the Muslim world I hope President trump would understand that when we see masses fleeing from war, plunder, blood drenched earth, murder and rape we see innocent men and women, and children who must be shown compassion.

Acts of terrorism and war anywhere demean all that is holy everywhere.  Show compassion Mr. Trump. Unclench your fist. Lift the travel ban and welcome refugees because in your own words Muslims have “borne the brunt of the killings and the worst of the destruction in this wave of fanatical violence”.

Trump’s message on terrorism to the over 50 Muslim countries was unequivocal. According to Trump, it’s a battle between good and evil and, the choice between features. Trump further declared, “terrorists do not worship God, they worship death”.

The solution, according to Trump, a better future is only possible if your nations drive out the terrorists and extremists. He urged Muslim leaders to drive extremists “out of your places of worship and drive them out of this earth”.

While we must demand action from Muslim leaders, it is also important for Trump to completely and sincerely restrain himself from spreading anti Muslim rhetoric of hatred that appeals to his political base, and fueled his election victory.

The root causes of violent extremism are complex. They cannot be supplanted by military assault alone. If Trump is sincere he must walk the hard and long road to help Muslim societies to build stronger economies and deepen civil liberties. The dreams and aspirations of hundreds of millions of Muslim children, especially girls must flourish.

We all must hope that this is not some phony dial back or re-set just to close arms trade deals with governments of the Muslim world.


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