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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.

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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.


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