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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

We must enlist political, economic and moral assets to tackle climate change

Climate change is used to describe larger than normal variability in weather and climate parameters, especially rainfall and temperature. The cause of climate change on a global scale has touched off divisive debate. However, the long arc of evidence bends toward human causal factors. It is therefore in our power to act. And act now we must.

Regardless of it cause, climate change is expected to reduce grain yields and cuase food prices to rise steeply, especially in Africa. It is projected that total calories available in 2050 will be significantly lower than in the 2000. It is expceted that lower grain yields and food price spikes could lead to a 20 percent rise in malnutrition among children in Africa. Variable rainfall patterns are likely to constrain fresh water supply, compromising hygiene and increasing the risk of diarrheal diseases, which kills over 2.2 million mostly children under 5 years of age in Asia and Africa.

 The major causes of death in Africa, malaria, Rift valley Fever, malnutrition, and diarrhea are climate sensitive are exoected to worsen under climate change. According to WHO, the direct cost to health, excluding costs in agriculture, water and sanitation, is projected to reach $2-4 billion annually by 2030. The World Bank estimates that $75 billion will be needed annually to deal with the impacts of climate change such as tropical diseases, decline in agricultural productivity and damage to inrastructure owing to sea-level rise.

A new study, Health and climate change: policy responses to protect public health, published in the journal Lancet shows that the potentially catastrophic risk to human health posed by climate change has been underestimated. The point is that climate change is creating the perfect storm, with pandemics invigorated by warmer climate, water scarcity, and changes in vector ecology.

The impact of climate change on human health is not something that looms in the distant future. This month in Pakistan, temperatures have breached a staggering 48 degrees Celsius, leading to severe heat wave and a death toll of over 1200. Moreover, the impacts of climate change are not limited to Africa and Asia. In 2003, over 70,000 people died in Europe as result of severe summer heat.

However, the poor, who mostly live in the global South, bear a disproportionate burden of the impacts of climate change. It is a widely held belief that countries in the developing world, Asia, Africa and South America have contributed less, historically, to greenhouse gasses. The South argues that they have a right to pollute their way to economic prosperity. In Africa, we have argued that advanced economies must pay for the cost of adaption that is necessary to cope with impacts of climate change.

Climate change is a veritable economic, social, ecological and health emergency. And it has got the Pope talking. In his encyclical, the Pope Francis has called for a radical transformation of economics, lifestyle and political to confront climate change. In the Pope’s mind, climate change is anthropogenic, human-caused. Hence, the Pope has associated the Catholic congregation closely with mainstream scientific thinking. In his call to action, the Pope urges ordinary citizens to change their life choices and to pressure politicians to take bold action to re-think economic and energy policies.

The overarching theme of the papal encyclical is ecological harmony, nature and human beings.  At the heart of the Pope’s call to action, especially among the Catholic faithful, is the imperative that in order to love God you have to love fellow human beings, and all of God’s creation. This is perfectly consistent because St. Francis of Assisi is the patron saint of animals and the environment.

The Pope challenges the notion that our species has God-given dominion over the earth. According to Pope Francis, the scripture directs human beings to cultivate, protect and preserve Earth’s resources. Pope Francis calls for decisive national action, international cooperation and a spiritual and cultural awakening to restore the Earth, our only home.

The science and policy community will benefit from the moral awakening, which Pope Francis has infused into what in my view is the urgent challenge of our time. What can we expect from the 21st session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Paris in December 2015? Can governments commit to a new global agreement to halt global warming?

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Why we are not wining the "war on terror"

The word terrorism was coined in the 1790s during the French Revolution. Then the Jacobin Party executed a reign of terror against its opponents and used methods including the guillotine.  

But for much of the 20th century the term terrorism was applied to violence aimed, directly or indirectly, at governments in an effort to influence policy or topple regimes or cause political liberation; examples include, IRA, ANC and the anti apartheid movement, Mau Mau, ETA in Spain, secessionist movement in Chechnya, Palestinian Liberation Organization, the Sikh Punjab, the Ku Klux Klan, American Left-wing organization- Weather Underground etc.

Iddi Amin’s 8-year rule in Uganda has been characterized as a reign of terror; his Public Safety Unit and the State Research Bureau were state sanctioned intelligence death squads; effectively terrorist organizations.

Hence terrorism can be defined as the use of violence to advance objectives of race, ethnicity, nationalism, liberation, religion, power and political ideology. Terrorism has been practiced by private citizens, political organizations and state institutions such as the police, intelligence and the army.

But the world and how we understand terrorism was being re-defined in 1979, when the son of a Saudi construction billionaire joined the Mujahedeen, along with Pakistanis and Afghanis to fight the Soviets.

In 1998, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Al-Zahawiri, a surgeon, combined the prodigious wealth of his Saudi heritage with the formidable philosophical foundation of a leading Egyptian radical Islamist, Sayyid Imam al-Sharif (Dr. Gadl), and Al-Qaeda was born.

Osama attacked the Saudi Royal family over the use of Saudi Arabia territory to execute the first Gulf War. He fled to Sudan in 1992, where he lived until 1996, from where he directed the bombing on World Trade Centre and is he is associated with Black Hawk Down – which persuaded the US to move out of Somalia.

Bin Laden’s message when US troops pulled out of Somalia was, “we can defeat this great power because they're not used to hardship and tragedy, so if we can inflict that they'll retreat”.

Bin Laden moved to Afghanistan to support the Taliban’s Mullah Omar. He declared American citizens and interests legitimate targets for attack. De-classified documents show that US State Department analysts warned the Clinton administration in July 1996 that Osama bin Laden's move to Afghanistan would give him an even more dangerous haven as he sought to expand radical Islam.

And we know the story; August bombing of US Embassy buildings in Kenya and Tanzania; US retaliatory strikes in Sudan and Afghanistan; September 11 2001, when hijacked planes were flown into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.

And the reaction was swift, reckless, and wrong headed and thoughtless.

On March 20th 2003President Bush invaded Iraq in a “Shock and Awe” attack, toppling Saddam Hussein. But Saddam's demise and The mismanagement of the occupation led to widespread sectarian violence between the Shias and the Sunnis, as well as protracted insurgency against the US and coalition forces.  

Here at home, after the Kibaki government launched Operation Linda Nchi, Al-Shabaab vowed retaliation against the Kenyan interest. But we did not listen. Like the US we displayed hubris and intensified conventional military assaults against “enemy ranks”.

Al-Shabaab has stepped up local recruitment, creating an active fighting cell referred to as “Kenyan Mujahedeen”, with 25% of its ranks drawn from recent converts of Islam population. These are largely poor unemployed disaffected youth, mindless foot soldiers who often blend easily in the local population.

Since 2011 terrorist attacks on our soil have escalated. Starting with an attack at Mwaura’s bar on Mfangano Street and numerous other attacks in Mombasa, North Eastern and in the densely populated, less affluent neighborhoods. As long as Al-Shabaab was killing and maiming the ordinary Kenyan it was not a big deal.

But things changed on September 21st 2013, when 69 people were brutally executed at an upscale mall. The Westgate Mall attack demonstrated the bold resolve and ambition of Al-Shabaab. The political, business elite and the upper classes of the Kenyan society listened up.

And, once again we got it wrong. The Kenyan government rounded up and brutalized innocent Kenyans and executed Muslim clerics.

And this year, April 2, the beastly attack on university students underlined the vicious cruelty of Al-Shabaab.

The response this time again was mindless. Close down Dadaab refugee camp and forcefully repatriate all Somalis by bus back to their country.

Decades after the US declared war on terror, Afghanistan is far from stable, Iraq is in a state of collapse; Somalia is unresolved; Al- Shabaab remains virulent; ISIS is on the march; Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi is the first caliph in generations.

All of this implies that world needs to begin to understand a new enemy and wage the right war; the war of hearts and minds.  

Radical extremism and the new form of terrorism is not a war in the traditional or conventional sense and cannot be countered militarily, with armies and airforce and naval fleets.

It requires that we understand and counter the ideology and the logic of radicalism.

It also requires responses that emphasize rationality over emotion. The first step to developing rational responses is to understand the nature of modern radical extremism or modern terrorism.

Military force can be used but only sparingly, and in support of law enforcement and active and inclusive socio-economic empowerment of youth and women. There is no psychological pattern of a terrorist and no single path to radicalization.

Rather, all types of people follow multiple trails to terrorism. One of the best tools in the anti-terrorist arsenal is to develop law enforcement agencies that act as extensions of neighborhoods.

And most of all, we must strengthen rather than alienate civil society organizations from across all faiths. They are the best weapon we could fashion against extremism.

There is no such thing as ethnic Muslims or ethnic Christians. We are all Kenyans and the demented ideology of violent extremism appeals to the most base urges of all humankind.

We are all in this together and must foster dialogue among communities and transcend the clash of ignorance and promote interfaith understanding and love.

Monday, June 8, 2015

AfDB must lead Africa’s economic transformation

“Together, we can build a stronger and more prosperous Africa, with smart infrastructure.. new economic opportunities that will deliver quality jobs and hope for millions of youths and women, revival of Africa’s rural economies to lift many out of poverty..” These words were contained in the acceptance speech of the new President of the the African Development Bank. 

But who really is Akinwumi A. Adesina?
Akinwumi Ayodeji Adesina was born in Nigeria. His father earned $0.1 as a farm labourer, raised him and his siblings in a one roomed hut. Until his appointment in 2011 as Nigeria’s Federal Minister for Agriculture and Rural Development , he was Vice President of Policy and Partnership for the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). Prior to joining AGRA in 2008, he was associate director for Food Security at the Rockefeller Foundation, based here in Nairobi.

Dr. Adesina erupted on the global agricultural development scene in 2007 when was awarded the presitigious YARA Prize for pioneering innovative approaches to improve access for agricultural inputs for African Farmers. In 2010, UN Secretary Ban Ki moon appointed him as one of 17 world leaders to galvanize international support for the MDGs. Adesina also serves on the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition. In 2013, Dr. Adesina was voted African of the year by Forbes Magazine, not for his material self worth, but for leading unprecendents, transformative reforms in Nigeria’s agricultural sector.

As Nigeria’s Minister for Agriculture, Adesina is credited with ending decades of government subsidized corruption in the fertilizer sector, introducing the Electronic Wallet System through which farmers receive vouchers for seeds and fertilizer, adding an additional 21 million tonnes to Nigeria’s domestic food supply; contributing to the decline of Nigeria’s food import bill from $6,5 billion in 2011 to $4.3 billion in 2014. Forbe’s Africa editor Chris Bishop described Adesina as a man on a mission to help Africa feed itself.

That is the man and his record. But what is he up against? Founded in 1964 as as Africa;s multilateral development finance institution, the African Development Bank (AfDB) has had a troubled history. The bank was on the brink of collapse in the 1990 but turned around in the under Omar Kabbaj’s leadership and regained its AAA credit rating.

In 2010, under the leadership of outgoing President Donald Kaberuka, the AfDB’s authorized capital trippled to $101.4 billion. Entrained in the Africa rising narrative, the AfDB Strategy for 2013-2022 aims to improve the quality of Africa’s growth by ensuring that “growth is shared and not isolated for all African citizens”. However, the strategy is diffuse, and lacks a coherent and intergrated clarity on how the what it defines as operational priorities (e.g., infrastructure and  governance and accountability) would hang together with the the so-called areas of special focus (e.g.,agriculture and gender) to deliver real transformations in quality of life for a majority of Africans.

Africa’s challenges are both complex and formidable. For example attaining the proposed 17 Sustainable Developed Goals (SDGs) will require Africa to invest between over $2 trillion per year. In 2013, AfDB sector approvals in loans and grants were estimated at only  $3.5 billion. It is estimated that AfDB provides about 6 percent of total development assistence to Africa. There are clear limits to what a bank the size of AfDB can do.
What can the AfDB really do over the next 10 years under the stewardship of President Adesina? With limited financial resources, the AfDB could play a leadership role, re-defining development priorities of regional member countries through high quality research evidence. AfDB can forge strategic partmeships with larger movers of Official Development Assistance and Foreign Direct Investment to drive more integrated and diversified investments to deepen and broaden Africa’s growth.

AfDB under the leadership of Adesina should direct its infrastructure investments more strategically to revitalize and transform Africa’s agriculture through appropriate mechanization, create new rural prosperity zones and bring women and youth into lucrative value chains (technology, processing, packaging, logistics, warehousing, insurance). Adesina should direct more investments into vocational and university education to provide world class skills and drive enterprice and innovation to power and stamp Africa’s claim on the 21st century.

Adesina must revamp the AfDB’s strategy, invest in Africa’s distinct comparative advantage, its youth, women and its vast but untapped agricultural resources to build a stronger and more prosperous Africa.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Our schools have become miserable grade factories

Of the 880,486 children who sat KCPE last year 445,981 scored below the average grade. The school system and our society instantly label these children as failures. We wonder if they will ever make anything of their lives.

These children remind me of Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison and countless number of brilliant and creative individuals who were written off by teachers and the school system. In my view, the hundreds of thousands of children who deemed to have failed on account of a grade associated with their name are victims of the education system. They are not failures. The education system has failed them.

The hundreds of thousands of young people who are failed by our antiquated exam-centric education system struggle to hold on to a sense of self-esteem and purpose in life. Sadly, many give up. The children who fail KCPE are not stupid or lazy. They just can’t cope with an outdated system of education. 

Sometimes I am tempted to believe that the hundreds of thousands of children who fail KCPE and KSCE are really the true genius. A majority of the children who pass the national standardized tests prove one thing; they are great at taking a test. They are not necessarily capable of thinking or analytical reasoning. Our schools have become miserable grade factories.

Our education system is antiquated and out of step with what we know about how learning occurs.  Our curriculum should cultivate love for learning and discovery, a sense of playful curiosity and creativity. In the 21st century, and especially with the ICT revolution, content heavy, teacher-dominated and exam-centric models of education are arrogant, limited and irrelevant.

Our education system is antiquated because our children, digital natives, sit in classrooms, where a syllabus, standardized test and the teacher dictate what they learn and how they learn. Our education system does not resonate with the way children think and learn.

Our school system does not get it. The era of educating unthinking obedient natives for a colonial administration is over. Our country needs innovators and entrepreneurs, not just a handful or a few hundreds but in the millions. One or two technology hubs are not sufficient to drive the scale of change that we need. We need to prepare the next generation of ethical public servants, journalists, businessmen, industrialist and philanthropist. 

Moreover, we need to nurture our nascent democracy and build a united nation for all, rising above the petty ethnic nationalities constructed in the image the current crop of politicians. A vibrant and functional democracy demands that citizens can think for themselves, evaluate political manifestos and see beyond hollow political rhetoric.

Given the scale of the challenges we face today; declining agricultural productivity, rapid urbanization, climate change, unemployment and ethnic division, we do not need an education system that prepares reliable employees. What we need is an education system that prepares creative thinkers and problem-solvers.

The 21st century globalized knowledge economy demands more than a heap of examination certificates and proficiency grades. To navigate and thrive in a turbulent 21st century world school must cultivate the habits of mind that enable students to think, to be analytical, collaborative, curious, imaginative, innovative, creative and to cope with uncertainty. We must appreciate the fact that as educators we are preparing children for an unknown future. Thirty years ago not a single professor or teacher could imagine students working in IT. The point is that we are preparing students for jobs that do not exist. Students must leave school or university not elated or depressed with their grades but as inspired lifelong learners.

As educators we must be mindful that much of the so-called knowledge we impart to students will certainly be outdated or irrelevant at the time they begin their careers. The best we can do is to provide than with a capacity to think and the ability to learn, unlearn and re-learn. The education system we inherited from the colonialist has served as well. But it is deficient as a guiding light for navigating the complex and unique challenges of a globalized knowledge economy.

We must shut down the miserable grade factories we have build for our children. Now is the time to reform the education system to leverage the ICT revolution and free our children to think, learn, create and innovate and build a prosperous society.


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