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Monday, December 31, 2012

On The Last Day of 2012

On this last day of 2012, I would like to say thank you to all of you my readers and especially those who have signed up to follow my blog. I have learned so much from your comments, which have also emboldened me to keep plugging away and providing a forum for collective discourse of the most important and urgent issues of our time. 

Even though the challenges that we face may seem ever more daunting, I am hopeful and encouraged that we as global community have within our powers all the resources necessary to find resilient solutions to secure today for ourselves and guarantee a prosperous and peaceful future for our children.

The crisis of global governance and collective action remains unresolved and will become even more so in the years ahead.  I am mindful that we still have no concrete commitments to rid the planet of dangerous anthropogenic greenhouse gases. We are yet to figure out how to feed bigger, hungrier and thirstier world. Urbanization is now emerging as the biggest challenge of our civilization. The value of education in a connected and interdependent world is unclear. Moreover, we still do not understand how to educate our children for an unknown future. 

We are still shamefully divided by racial bigotry and the pettiness of narrow constructs of religion. I think that in many places around the world, religious fundamentalism is on the rise. The rights of women all over the world is curtailed in the name of God. Minorities are oppressed and their freedoms and political aspirations undermined by the so-called majorities. For a majority of African people, politics offers not hope but fear and terror. Government is overbearing and leaders are shamefully greedy. 

Amidst unprecedented global wealth, the world is becoming more unequal and poverty is on the march in the south and increasingly in the north. Our collective effort to rid the world of poverty, disease and hunger has faltered. 2015 is just about here but the MDGs are unmet. 

Here in Africa we view the China decade with trepidation. China portends both good and evil for Africa. Good for government and evil for the aspirations of African citizens who hope that government will be more accountable to the electors. In the China decade and the apparent decline of the global reach and influence of the US, we are headed for another unipolar and unbalanced global power dynamic. 

In 2013 I hope and pray that the global civil society will rise up and take its rightful place; check the excesses of state power and stand up for justice and equality for all of mankind. We have made it this far as a collective and we can only navigate a more complex and uncertain world if we are, each one of us, our brothers keeper. 

As JFK said, "Our problems are manmade – therefore they can be solved by man. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings. Man's reason and spirit often solved the seemingly unsolvable – and we believe they can do it again". 

Sunday, December 23, 2012

What The Doha Climate Gateway Achieved


Two weeks ago, 10,000 weary diplomats, activists, journalists, and government-type hangers-on must have been relieved to catch their flights back home from the Qatari capital of Doha. Reaction to the UN climate conference outcome, the Doha Climate Gateway, is mixed.
For the ministers from nearly 200 countries who sweltered in the heat of the negotiations, the outcome was broadly satisfactory. However, the minsters were careful to admit that no major agreements were reached and significant problems remain unsolved.
According to Connie Hedegaard, public intellectual and European Commissioner for Climate Action, at Doha represents the bridge from an old climate regime to a new system, on our way to the 2015 global climate treaty. Ms. Hedegaard urged more ambition and speed. President Obama’s special climate envoy Todd Stern was more guarded and argued that Doha was must be seen as a transitional conference. He was optimistic that progress toward a global treaty was feasible, albeit slow and painful.
As expected the motely crew of tree hugging dirt kissers and anti-poverty zealots slammed the Doha conference as disastrously weak, dangerously timid and innocuous. According to Africa’s own, Kumi Naidoo, anyone who thinks Doha was a success is “suffering from a terrible case of cognitive dissonance”.
Celine Charveriat, Ofxam International Director of Campaigns and Advocacy, observed that governments have done too little to slow down greenhouse gas emissions. In her view governments are trying to put out the flames of a burning planet with watering cans.  According to Asad Rehman of Friends of the Earth, the Doha Climate Gateway is nothing but a polluters charter, legitimizing a do nothing approach while creating the impressing that governments were acting in the our interests to save the planet.
So what really come out Doha?
First, the extension of Kyoto was finally approved. 27 member states of the European Union, Australia, and Switzerland along with 8 other industrialized nations signed up for binding emission cuts by 2020. The US remains outside Kyoto Protocol while Canada and Japan have refused to announce targets for the second commitment period. Moreover, Doha also reorganized the climate treaty negotiations into a single unified set of talks, leading to a global climate treaty that would require both developed and developing countries to cut their emissions. The treaty is supposed to be signed in 2015, at a conference in Paris, and come into effect in 2020.
Second, governments agreed on something called loss and damage. This a kind of compensation to vulnerable communities for the loss and damage caused by climate change. As would be expected this was certain to stir controversy, especially with respect to any form of admission of legal liability on the part of industrialized nations and the need to pay compensation to poor countries. Key implementation questions remain unresolved, including whether funding toward loss and damage will come from existing global pool of resources currently available for humanitarian aid and disaster relief budgets. It will also be hard to untangle damage caused by climate change from those caused by natural disasters.
Third, Doha upheld the undertaking at Copenhagen by industrialized countries to make available up to $100 billion in climate financing, including the identification of options for mobilizing resources and the adequacy, predictability and accessibility of these resources. The Doha Climate Gateway promises that funding for adaptation and mitigation will continue to grow. More importantly, Germany, France, Sweden the UK and the European Commission announced concrete financial commitments to the tune of 6 billion up to 2015.
Fourth, the “technology mechanism” of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change has become fully operational, with the United Nations Environment Programme as the leader and host institution of the Climate Technology Centre. 
 Fifth, Efforts to promote Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD+) faltered when Brazil objected to calls from international donors such as Norway for an international verification system of emissions reductions for REDD+, leading to the suspension of discussions in Doha. This was a major blow because deforestation generates 15-20% of global emissions, second only to the energy sector.
In my view our governments, through successive UN climate conferences, have failed to come to terms with the fact that climate change represents an urgent and potentially irreversible threat to the global economy, human societies and the planet.

Our governments have failed to recognize that the global nature of the climate challenge demands the widest possible cooperation by all countries, to deliver a robust and appropriate international response to accelerate the reduction of global greenhouse gases. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Poaching Could Drive African Elephant to Extinction and Fan Political Instability


Jane Goodall, one of the world's greatest conservationists, has made an impassioned plea for a worldwide ban on the sale of ivory to prevent the extinction of the African elephant.
Her call follows the seizure in Malaysia last week of 24 tonnes of illegal ivory and a report by conservationists warning that the illegal ivory trade now threatens governments as rebel groups use the sale of tusks to fund their wars.
"According to the world’s foremost primatologist, Jane Goodall, Tanzania has lost half its elephants in the last three years. Peter Msigwa, a Tanzanian MP, said last week that poaching was "out of control" with an average of 30 elephants being slaughtered for their ivory every day.
Last year Tanzanian police seized more than 1,000 elephant tusks hidden in sacks of dried fish at Zanzibar port. Conservationists blamed the Tanzanian authorities for not controlling ivory poaching and trafficking.
According to World Conservation Society Director Paul Elkan, Poaching in some countries is said to be out of control. In southern Sudan the elephant population, estimated at 130,000 in 1986, has crashed to 5,000
A recent report submitted to the UN by WWF International warned that the illegal ivory trade threatened political stability in Africa as rebel groups used the sale of ivory to fund their wars. Ugandan military planes have been seen over the Democratic Republic of the Congo shooting elephants from the air. Armed militias are now shooting the elephants.
China's growing presence in Africa has been blamed for an unprecedented surge in poaching. The discovery last week by Malaysian customs of 1,500 tusks hidden in secret chambers in 10 containers supposedly carrying wooden floor tiles was the largest illegal ivory haul ever. The containers were reportedly on their way to China via Spain from Togo, a popular destination for armed gangs to smuggle ivory.

See original story http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2012/dec/16/jane-goodall-ivory-poaching-elephant

Science Teaching in University Needs Urgent Reform


The African Development Bank (AfDB) and the Kenya Government recently signed a $43 million loan agreement. The funds will go towards improving the quality and relevance in engineering education at the university level. The ultimate goal is to train a critical number of qualified and skilled engineers to drive the key sectors of Kenya’s Vision 2030.

This loan agreement is both laudable and critical. However, I am not sure that investing in university engineering faculties is sufficient to stimulate a deep and sustain a culture of scientific and engineering innovation. I have argued in this column that Kenya’s education system, especially the teaching and learning of science and math, is having a catastrophic effect on how and what our children learn.

As a scientist and educator I have been deeply engaged in our education system at all levels. The archetypal approach to science is to “learn about science”, rather than to “learn to be scientists”. Hence, science is arduous and excruciating. Science and math are presented as collection of fusty facts or formulae or principles, which students must remember and regurgitate to be memorized and regurgitated for high-stakes standardized national exams.

Our curriculum, especially in science and math promotes superficial coverage, affording little opportunity for in-depth learning. For the most part the curriculum is an inch deep and a mile wide. Consequently, learning is skin-deep and retention is fleeting. The fact-laden school textbooks are an onerous catalogue of out of context and often-outdated stuff.

Science is not about facts. Science, the centerpiece of engineering and innovation is a process of inquiry and investigation. Science is a way of understanding and evaluating the world. Ultimately science must be applied to solve problems in the real world outside the classroom. Surprisingly, the vast majority of primary and high school teachers only think of science as the collection of facts they have to teach and the set of tricks or rules or relationships students have to master.

The situation is not different at the university. As a young undergraduate the sloppy teaching of some of my professors dejected me. One of my professors once asked why I was not taking the notes he was dictating. Without hesitation, I told him that I knew the book he had copied his notes from. To make him feel better, I reassured him that I would write down everything that seemed like his own ideas or reflections on the stuff he had plagiarized.

As an undergraduate I also watched in disbelief as my friends taking technology and engineering courses labored to commit stuff to memory. I was always mystified by how little time they spent designing or making or dismantling thing. My engineering friends took lots of courses and spent long hours in lectures, not in discussion groups debating engineering solutions to basic societal problems such design principles for low-tech water purification devices. 

In Kenya, professors have two primary obligations: to generate odious personal income from consultancies and to educate students. The incentive system heavily weight efforts toward consultancies at the expense of teaching. Moreover, a majority of professors hardly think of themselves as teachers or educator. Few university professors understand education theory or read education research.

University teaching has not changed in correspondence with advances in science, math and engineering research. Consequently, how students acculturated into science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is antiquated and undermines curiosity, experimentation, discovery, collaboration and the evidence-based culture of science.

The AfDB investment presents an opportunity to implement systemic changes in the teaching and learning of STEM to improve the quality of undergraduates and enhance their capacity to catalyze the scientific and technology innovation necessary to drive the key sectors of Kenya’s vision 2030.
Laboratories and equipment are critical but this is how I would invest part of the $43 million:
1.     Establish a national STEM teaching and learning institute to equip faculty with modern teaching skills that promote active learning and techniques for evaluating student learning and teaching effectiveness.
2.     Engage chairs, deans and vice chancellors in creating a culture that values and promotes excellence in teaching as key requirement for promotion. We need agreement on the broad goals of STEM education and establish a rubric for evaluating how professors meeting these goals. Teaching must be treated as a scholarly activity;
3.     Define and institutionalize the full range of pedagogical skills and strategies that best describe best practices in the evaluation of teaching effectiveness, particularly approaches that encourage inquiry, experimentation, discovery, reflection and peer learning and collaboration;
4.     Develop a lean set of flexible core competencies or standards in the major fields of STEM.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jobs, Jobs, Jobs


I was in Dar es Salaam for a couple of days last week. I always look forward to my trips to Tanzania for one reason; I get a chance to practice speaking good Kiswahili, often with the taxi driver.

Juma the taxi driver had moved to the city recently in search of work and a better life. Like millions of young Africans he moved to the city in search of work and a better life. His parents relied on remittances from him to purchase agricultural inputs.

Like many of Africa’s young adults, Juma graduated from high school and had no skills. As driver, Juma was struggling to pay his living expenses and send remittances to his family in Iringa. The taxi company Juma works for is a small; staggered by local government levies, police shakedowns and punitive statutory taxes.

Two decades ago a majority of unskilled school leavers like Juma could find gainful work in the countryside. But this is no longer the case. Today, only teenagers and adults aged 50 years and above comprise the majority of the population engaged in farm labor. The population aged between twenty and late forties are more likely to seek non-farm employment, often migrating to towns and cities.

In 2011, Afrobarometer, which conducts research on public attitudes on economic and political social matters in Africa, asked Kenyans what they considered to be critical problems that government must address. Management of the economy and unemployment were the top two. Essentially, Kenyans expect the government to provide jobs. This fits with the political rhetoric in this campaign season. At his coronation as the ODM’s presidential candidate, Mr. Odinga proclaimed that his administration would focus on three priorities: job; job; jobs.

More than the past three governments, the next government will have to deal with the onerous challenge posed by the high proportion of the population who are of working age; a phenomenon known as the demographic dividend. Coupled with the demographic dividend is the veritable structural transformation at two levels.

The first level of structural transformation characterized by rapid urbanization – driven in part by unprecedented migration to towns and cities by families seeking jobs and better lives. The second level of structural transformation is the significant sector shift in output and employment from agriculture to manufacturing and services.  Agriculture now accounts for just 25% of Kenya’s GDP, down from 40% in the first decade after independence.

The next government must do two things: provide a progressive policy and institutional environment to support inclusive and sustainable urbanization; provide an enabling investment and entrepreneurial climate to support the industrial and service sectors to create new high quality jobs to absorb the bulge of potential workers.

The Kenya Economic Update report produced by the World Bank in collaboration the Kenyan government, and released last week, does not paint a rosy picture. According to the report, economic instability, weakness in infrastructure and pervasive corruption constrain business growth and job creation.

Based on the Kenya Integrated Household Budget Survey and the 2009 Census, the World Bank report provides very helpful insights into Kenya’s employment market. Farmhands comprise the largest single category of wage jobs. A majority of non-wage employment is in agriculture. A small minority of Kenyans is employed in engineering and technical fields. Domestic workers, street vendors, skilled trades like dressmakers, carpenters, and motor vehicle mechanics make up proportion of non-farm self employment. Only 2 out of 5 wage jobs are modern or formal.

But here is what I find disconcerting and think every responsible Kenyan ought to lose sleep about. Kenya’s working age population – the demographic dividend – is expanding by circa 800,000 annually, while modern sector wage jobs are growing at 50,000 per year. Essentially, only 6.25% of the workforce entering the job market can find high quality, well paying jobs. This is worrisome and is a tinderbox for social and political instability. 

There is great scope to increase public investment in agriculture to increase productivity and catalyze an eruption of cottage industries for value addition. We must trim government and cut wasteful spending. A smaller government would stimulate private sector growth through outsourcing of non-core government functions, such as licensing, permits and transport.

There is a great opportunity to reform education to focus on building technical and entrepreneurial skills necessary for a 21st century competitive knowledge economy. We must a focus on vocational training and skills development through apprenticeships in a public-private sector partnership. More importantly, the government needs to adopt tax and expenditure policies that will create incentives for local savings and investment to support rapid job creation, especially through creation of small businesses. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

What Next After the MDGs Expire?




The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) emerged at meeting in New York in September 2000. 189 heads of state agreed on eight ambitious goals, including eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, achieving universal primary school education and reducing childhood mortality rates.

Over the last 12 years, the MDGs have influenced the flow of financial and technical aid. The MDGs have also shaped national development priorities and planning in a majority of developing countries. Here in East Africa, national vision statements of the five East African Community countries resonate deeply with the MDGs.

But the MDGs are set to expire in 2015. As the deadline approaches, and furiously so, a fundamental question begs; what next? Even as I ask this question, I am mindful that it took 10 years to formulate and agree on the current MDGs as framework for international development. I am also mindful that in a majority of African countries, hunger and poverty endure millions of African children die before their fifth birthday, women still constitute the majority of the Africa’s poor and 800 African women die every day owing to complications in pregnancy and childbirth.

What really should happen post 2015? Some options are being bandied about: extend the deadline for the current MDGs; build and consolidate, based lessons learned, existing MDGs; in a bold paradigm shift, frame a new model for global development.

In January 2012, the 22-member Panel, established by the Secretary-General in August 2010 to formulate a new blueprint for sustainable development submitted its report. The report, “Resilient People, Resilient Planet: A Future Worth Choosing”, noted that he world is not yet on a sustainable development path and that progress is neither fast nor deep enough, and the need for further-reaching action is growing ever more urgent.

More importantly, the report notes that world faces new and powerful drivers of change, among these are: global patterns of resource consumption; resource scarcity; climate change; gender and income inequality; global financial crisis; urbanization. However, Sara Best of Oxfam International described the High Level Panel report as “weak medicine for a life-threatening diagnosis”. 

In July 2012, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the 27 members of a High Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda. The Panel is co-chaired by British Prime Minister David Cameron, Indonesia’s President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, Liberia’s President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.  At a recent meeting in London, the Panel noted the importance of reflecting the changed world in any new global development framework, taking into account the new global development challenges including sustainability, inclusive growth and productive capacity, conflict, gender equality and women’s empowerment, and global partnerships.

The conversation about what shape the global development agenda takes is not a monopoly of the United Nations General Assembly. Civil society is active and engaged in the post-MDG debate. According Beyond 2015, a global civil society campaign, a new global development framework must take into account the shortcomings of the current MDG approach, especially its limitations in addressing structural causes of poverty, inequality and exclusion. Beyond 2015 further suggests that a new framework for international development must specify enforceable accountability mechanism at the national, regional and global level.

The debate on a new framework for global development presents an opportunity for a paradigm shift, which goes beyond the limited – development expert and donor aid dominated – paradigm that created the framework of the current MDGs. This is the time to think about creating an enabling environment for robust private sector growth, especially in Africa. This is the time to think about the role of public-private partnership and explore the modalities for incorporating entrepreneurial and inclusive business models in a new framework for global development.

A new framework for global development must not be solely about a new paradigm and new goals. It must also be about consolidating the successes and lessons of the past decade. Moreover, Africa has a huge amount of unfinished work before we can embark on sustainable development. Come January 2016, millions of Africa’s children and women will still be dying from preventable causes. Millions more will still be hungry.

For Africa a new global development framework must put women first. African women are the emblematic face poverty. Putting women first means prioritizing education and increasing access to high-quality health care. Significant reductions in child and maternal mortality in recent years are attributable to women’s literacy. Recent studies have demonstrated a strong positive correlation between early child development and literacy of a mother.

Most importantly, the global community must re-new its commitment to reducing green house gas emissions. Dealing with the challenge of global climate change is the most important down payment for our planet’s sustainability.


Monday, November 26, 2012

AIDS Free Africa is Possible


An estimated 34.2 million people around the world are infected with the virus that causes AIDS, H.I.V. The scary part, what is disconcerting is that 23.5 million or 70% of those suffering from AIDS live in my part of the world, sub-Saharan Africa.

There is no prospect that scientists will find, any time soon, a vaccine that will prevent infection with the AIDS virus or a cure for our brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, uncles and aunts, husbands and wives, friends and neighbors already infected with the virus.

But today our spirits must continue to soar. Our collective will must be indomitable. Our embrace of the gift of life has never been stronger. The vision of attaining zero new HIV infections and zero AID-related deaths remains the collective resolve of all of us.

It is possible that in the not too distant future, no African child would be born with the AIDS virus. I have a dream that one day millions of African teenagers and young adults, heterosexual and homosexual, would have a very low risk of becoming infected and those who do would have access to affordable treatment.  Achieving an AIDS-free Africa is truly imminent. We can and we must get there.

Here is why we will get there. Historic success in scaling up HIV programmes, combined with the emergence of powerful new tools to prevent new infections and AIDS-related morbidity and mortality has enabled the foundation to be laid for zero new HIV infections.  We are beginning to reap the benefits many years of concerted work and multiple strategies: behavior change campaigns; promotion and use of condoms; medical male circumcision; access to antiretroviral therapy; and, focused programs targeting sex works, gay or straight. 

According to the just released UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic, new infection rates have fallen by 50% or more in 25 countries – 13 of them in in sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, the number of people dying from AIDS-related causes in sub-Saharan Africa declined by 32% from 2005 to 2011. What is most heartening is that half of all the reductions in HIV infections in the past two years have been among children. The scaling up of antiretroviral therapy has saved 14 million life-years in low-middle-income countries, including 9 million in sub-Saharan Africa since 1995. The pace of progress has accelerated. In just two years, 60% more people have accessed lifesaving HIV therapy, with a corresponding drop in mortality.

In what has been billed as a scientific breakthrough, scientists have shown that antiretroviral therapy reduced the risk of heterosexual transmission by 96%. Today treatment as prevention (TASP) is a term used to describe prevention methods using antiretroviral treatment. An HIV-positive person’s viral load is the single biggest risk factor in HIV transmission. Antiretroviral therapy decreases the amount of virus in a person’s bodily fluids, significantly reducing the risk of transmission.
Circumcision substantially decreases a man’s risk of becoming infected with the AIDS virus by a female partner, cutting infection rates by 40 to 60 percent. In Kenya medical male circumcision in Kenya is focused on Nyanza Province. 54% of the targeted 230 000 male circumcisions have been performed as of December 2011. As a medical procedure circumcision is simple. A nurse can perform it safely and it can be done in assembly-line fashion using devices that do not require scalpels and stitches.
Although progress is heartening, the war against AIDS is yet to won. The sharp reduction of AIDS in Uganda was hailed as a stellar success reduction, providing a new impetus and inspiring novel public health strategies to fight disease in the developing world. Today, Uganda is one of only two African countries, along with Chad, where AIDS rates are on the rise. Infection rates in Uganda have increased to 7.3 percent today from 6.4 percent in 2005. Furthermore, Uganda is one of in six sub-Saharan African countries where less than 5% of the target number of men had been circumcised by 2011.

According to the UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic, HIV affect more women and girls across sub-Saharan Africa. It is estimated that women represent about 58% of people living with HIV.  More significantly, because of social and economic power imbalances between men and women, a majority of girls and women and girls have little capacity to negotiate sex, insist on condom use or otherwise take steps to protect themselves from HIV.

The UNAIDS report on the global AIDS epidemic provides specific recommendations critical to the goal of zero new infections: provide HIV testing, counseling; ensure timely HIV care, treatment and support for women an children living with HIV; strengthen safe sex behavior to ensure that reproductive-age women and their partners avoid HIV infection. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Trade Not Universal Cure For Africa’s Chronic Hunger



The lion economies are on the prowl. McKinsey Global Institute, a business think tank, shows that sub-Saharan Africa’s real GDP growth rate jumped to an annual average of 5.7%, up from only 2.4% over the previous two decades.
However, impressive GDP growth rates in Africa have had no impact on Africa’s chronic hunger and malnutrition. According to the first Africa Human Development Report by UNDP, over 200 million Africans are undernourished and one third of Africa’s children are stunted. Africa’s chronic hunger and malnutrition impairs livelihoods, undermines human development and creates intergenerational poverty traps.
The US, the world’s largest exporter of maize and wheat, is facing the most severe drought in 50 years. Similarly, severe weather has also visited havoc in other major grain exporting countries like Australia, Brazil, Russia and India. Consequently, global food prices hade jumped 6%, with price of maize going up 23%.
Rising food prices is bad for Africa’s poor households who spend over 50% of their earnings on food. Similarly, rising food prices have severe impacts on Africa’s trade balance because only 5% of food imports come from within Africa. Moreover, Africa’s food imports are projected to double by 2020 hence the macroeconomic impacts of food importation will only get worse.
Africa’s chronic hunger, the rise in global food prices and the ever-growing food import bill has turned global attention to Africa’s agriculture and food policies. In a recent report, “Africa Can Help Africa”, the World Bank argues that increased regional trade has the potential to: expand the regional market for food staples; boost agricultural production in surplus zones; and, ameliorate price volatility, improve national and regional food security.

Agricultural potential is not equitably allocated within and among countries. Africa has traditional areas of food deficit and food surplus. Drought prone areas, such as the Horn of Africa and the Sahel often experience crop failure. Highly productive agricultural zones such as Eastern Uganda, Northern Zambia, Southern Mali, and Southern Tanzania are food surplus areas.

Given the differences in weather patterns across countries, regional food production tends to be less variable than production at the country level. Moreover, seasonal variability in rainfall and production, which will increase with climate change, is not limited to national borders. The World Bank argues, rightly, that an Africa food security model based on national self-sufficiency goals alone cannot work.

The report, Africa Can Help Africa, offers four messages worthy of careful reflection:
1.     Removing regional trade barriers offers benefits to farmers, consumers and the economy. Farmers gain incentives to increase production to supply expanded markets. Consumers benefit from reduced price volatility and improved access to food. Local and regional economies benefit from jobs created by the value chains created through labor markets, input supply markets, storage and distribution, including transportation and financial services;
2.     Remove regulatory barriers to trade and competition along the farm to fork value chain. Trade barriers deny African farmers access to higher yielding seeds and better fertilizers available elsewhere in the world. What is needed is a consistent and stable policy regime to regulate trade in agricultural inputs as well as enabling the creation of public-private partnership that reduce the transaction costs of coordination failures and information asymmetry across the value chain;
3.     Build and reform institutions that guarantee market stability and efficiency.  The primary objective is to support informational and distribution functions of food markets. In this regard, commodity exchange and warehouse receipts are essential. Weather-indexed insurance can lessen the impacts of climatic shocks on farmers. The idea is that if rainfall or critical climate parameter falls below a certain threshold, a farmer would receive compensation for production losses;
4.     Political economy issues that constrain open regional trade must be addressed. Commitments to opening up regional trade in food, implementation has generally been weak.  Opening up agricultural and food staples to regional trade will inevitably create winners and losers. Where reform reduces the gap between producer and consumer prices, farmers and poor consumers will gain; middlemen and political rent seekers will lose. Hence, governments must explain the benefits of a regional approach to food security and build political and social consensus for integrated agricultural markets.

It is not uncharacteristic of the World Bank to propose a classical neoliberal market approach to dealing with Africa’s chronic food insecurity. In our quest to solve problems we often get trapped in a linear construct, which leads inevitably to non-integrated and limited solutions. Cross border trade must be part of an ecosystem of solution options, including attracting Africa’s youth to agriculture, adaptation to climate change and careful stewardship and monitoring of natural capital (e.g., soil, water, pollinators) critical to sustainable agriculture. Complex problems abhor simplistic approaches.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Eradicating Malaria in Africa Demands Integrated Strategies


Malaria kills 1.2 million people each year, according to new research and published in the British medical journal the Lancet in February 2012. This is more than twice as many deaths as reported by the World Malaria Report published in 2011.

 This research conducted by the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation also found that while many believe most malaria deaths occur in children under age 5, 42% of all malaria deaths occur in older children and adults. Malaria is caused by a parasite passed to humans through mosquito bites. The parasites then travel through the bloodstream to the liver and infect red blood cells. If left untreated, complications can include kidney failure, liver failure, meningitis and, ultimately, death.

 According to WHO, 81% – 174 million out of 216 million cases of malaria world wide – occurred in Africa. Moreover, malaria is the cause of 1 in 5 childhood deaths in Africa. Jeffery Sachs, the world’s foremost scholar of sustainable development and Director of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, has shown that global distribution of per-capita gross domestic product has a striking correlation with malaria and poverty. In a paper published in the journal Nature in 2002, Sachs concluded that where malaria prospers, human societies have prospered the least.  

The direct impact of malaria on household income and nutrition in Africa has been demonstrated. For instance, in Ivory Coast, farmers suffering from malaria for more than two days out of a growing season had 47% lower yields and 53% lower revenues than their neighbors who missed no more than two days.

Scientists have shown that malaria may be accelerating the spread of HIV in areas of sub-Saharan Africa where there is a substantial overlap between the two diseases. The viral load of a HIV-infected person increases ten-fold during an attack of malaria. This is because the immune system's response to the malarial parasite produces proteins called cytokines, which have the perverse effect of encouraging HIV to replicate. This is according to a study published in Science in 2006 by Laith Abu-Raddad of the University of Washington, in Seattle, and his colleagues.

International funding for malaria control increased sharply over the last decade, reaching US$1.5 billion in 2009. Increased global funding resulted in robust expansion of antimalarial programs: rapid scale-up of distribution of insecticide-treated mosquito nets – reaching 76% of the population at risk; expansion of indoor residual spaying, reaching 13 million in 2005 to 75 million in 2009; increase in the use of rapid diagnostic test, prior to treatment, for all patients with suspected malaria from less than 5% at the start of the decade to 35% in 2009.

But new commitments for antimalarial programs have stalled, falling short of the estimated US$6 billion needed from 2010 going forward. This is especially worrying because progress and gains against malaria remain fragile in a majority of high-risk malaria countries in Africa.

The stalling of funding for antimalarial programs is especially troubling in Africa for the following reasons: decline in government health budgets and weakening of population health systems; expansion of rural and urban populations to malaria prone areas; expansion of agriculture through building dams and irrigation schemes; changes in mosquito ecology owing to deforestation and effects of global warming such as increased frequency of El Nino events.

A vaccine against malaria, like a HIV vaccine, remains elusive goal. At a vaccine conference in Cape Town November 8, 2012 GlaxoSmithKline revealed at a cost of USD $300 million, clinical trial of their vaccine Mosquirix proffered only 31% and 37% protection against malaria for infants and adults respectively. With Funding from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative has committed more than USD$200 million into vaccine development.

To deal robustly with malaria, Africa must look beyond drug therapy, insecticides and vaccines. New strategies for malaria control and prevention must deploy integrated malaria management. This approach could deliver cost effective malaria control benefit while minimizing effects such as bioaccumulation of toxic chemicals and drug resistance.

Integrated malaria management solutions include flexible and adaptive management of ecological, environmental, hydrological conditions and knowledge of patterns of malaria transmission, and human settlement planning, which: improve management of reservoirs and irrigation systems; eradicate vector larvae through biological control; reduce vector breeding sites; locate human settlement away from corrals and potential mosquito breeding sites; and, better housing design and construction.

Integrated solution work. Studies have shown that the cost of environmental management for malaria in copper mining communities in Zambia is lower than the cost of control programs that utilize insecticides and chemoprophylaxis implemented in countries like South Africa and Kenya.

For Africa integrated vector management, which provides effective control of the malaria without reliance on any single intervention while delivering cost-effectiveness and sustainability, is the sensible policy approach.   

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

The Big Check


A privately funded campaign is has narrowed in on a tool for helping men to gauge their obesity. When standing upright, can they see their penis?
After funding their own survey of 1,000 British men, the health advocacy group found that "33 percent of men in Britain aged between 35 and 60 years are unable to see their penis" because of their bellies. They presumably controlled for poor vision.
Dubbed "The Big Check," the campaign is based on the simple idea that men may be flippant about the health risks of belly fat, but anything concerning their junk is likely to get their attention.
According to the group's staff expert, "Men care more about maintaining their cars than their own bodies, and often only see the doctor if told to by a female partner or relative." Dr. Sarah includes helpful tips on how woman can shoulder the responsibility for their guy's health, which, aside from one "sexy" suggestion ("encourage him to check his testicles regularly for lumps -- or check them yourself as part of foreplay") are mostly just variations on nagging.
Dr. Sarah's apparent lack of faith in men being able to do anything for their own health comes off far from progressive. But as long as we're throwing the kitchen sink at the obesity epidemic, I can think of worse ways of going about it.

Story carried in The Atlantic Health http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/11/1-in-3-men-cant-see-their-penis/264615/

Sunday, November 4, 2012

High-Stakes Testing Killing Kenya’s Education


According to a report of the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics, Kenya Facts and Figures 2012, the Gross Enrollment Ratio (GER) in primary school was 115% in 2011. However, at 48.5%, the GER in secondary school was markedly lower than in primary school.

In real numbers, 9.85 million children were enrolled in primary school compared to the 1.8 million in enrolled in secondary school. Similarly, only 133000 and 198000 students were enrolled in middle level colleges and universities respectively in 2011. Why is progress in education so perilous for most of our children? Why is the quest for education associated with such a massive and unconscionable ruin of human potential? Are our children really incapable of high education attainment?

The catastrophic waste of human potential seems inexplicable until one accounts the outsized faith we have put on examinations. Our children are victims of high-stakes national examinations.

Thinking about the exam-centric education system reminds me of the logic of colonialism. The hegemony of the colonial state was advanced through the authority and tyranny of the settler minority with the support of a handful educated native acolytes. The raison d'être of education in the colonies was to cultivate a cadre of well-selected native acolytes capable of imitation and unquestioning execution at the behest of the colonial state.

Today, the Kenyan education system is centred on the authority of the curricular and the tyranny of high-stakes national examinations. The fact-laden curricular is sacrosanct; students have no chance to co-create or discover knowledge. Moreover, the oracular authority of the curricular and its high priest, the teacher annihilates the innate explanatory and logic paradigm for understanding the world, which young learners have.

The standardized national examinations have a tyrannical hold on students, teachers and parents. My high school headmaster referred to exams as a “necessary evil”. Evil from which we need divine deliverance. Weeks and days before the national examinations, students, teachers and parents congregate on bended knees to seek divine intervention.

Like every sphere of Kenya’s public life, the administration of examinations is plagued by maleficence. We know that parents, teachers and students collude to game examination outcomes. It is common knowledge that you could purchase examination papers for your children or students. A friend once told me that the national exam questions in the four A-level subjects he took were the same questions in their final school mock examinations.

Our exam-centric education system, especially the high stakes standardized examination, is the biggest purveyor of inequality in our country today. Winners and losers in our exam-centric education system map neatly along the fault lines of structural inequality, poverty and privilege in our country. Our education system fails hundreds of thousands of children from poor urban and rural families, who attend primary schools without adequate teaching and learning resources.

Conversely, our education system privileges a small minority of children who attend well-resourced urban public and private primary schools. Invariably, a large majority of these children make the grades to attend elite public secondary schools, pedigree that guarantees admission into undergraduate degree programs, which lead inevitably to prestigious professions.

For the massive outlay of public resources, 13.5% of the national budget, our education accomplishes far less for our children and society. Beyond memorization and regurgitation for the high-stakes national examinations, our education asks little of our children and teachers. In a majority of schools teachers are not focusing on teaching and learning, but on raising the mean grade in their respective subjects. As a consequence, our education has largely failed to develop the critical attributes of a competitive knowledge worker in a globalized world.

A recent report by Uwezo, a civil society group that monitors educational achievement, revealed that a majority of students complete primary school without being able to read or write or add. Similarly, there are increasing concerns about the state of undergraduate and graduate education. A majority of graduates our universities cannot write well and have no capacity for critical thinking and complex reasoning.

The national high stakes testing betrays an unnerving incapacity to re-imagine and re-create an education system that serves the urgent needs of a dynamic 21st century society. Given that the etiology of the dysfunction of our education system is founded in our colonial heritage and is deeply rooted in vested interests and political economy of the modern Kenyan state, bringing reforms to Kenya’s education system is akin to moving a cemetery.

Despite the drawbacks of our education system educators, from kindergarten to university,  unanimously agree that developing students’ capacities to think critically, intuitively, ensuring that they become adept at analytical and logical reasoning is the ultimate goal of education. More than facts and a high mean grade or grade point average, these capacities are the foundation for effective citizenship, civic leadership and economic productivity. 

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