Saved by the Boda


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It’s 22nd May, approximately 4.30 pm and it’s raining heavily in Nairobi, Kenya. For reasons, un-known to me, I am particularly calm taking into consideration that it is a Friday evening and its raining cats and dogs. For those who are well versed with this city one knows that when it rains, traffic comes to a standstill. And I mean stand still, no movement no nothing; you might as well switch off the car and wait for 3-4 hours to move an inch. To paint a clearer picture for those not familiar with the area; barely a week prior, a former school mate had posted on Facebook how she had left her office at 5pm only to arrive home at 5 am the next morning in time for a hot shower, breakfast and head back to the office. She wasn’t the only one. My timeline for the rest of the week was telling of such like catastrophic incidences. One may wonder why this is the case. I think this is partly due to the poor drainage coupled with torrential rainfall and poor visibility on the roads.

This blog post is to share about my experience on a boda-boda in the rain and elucidate on why I would do such a thing.

I was headed to the airport to catch a flight to Johannesburg for a youth engagement strategy workshop which I will talk on a little later on. Seated in the car with my brother who had offered to drop me, we begin to calculate the fastest route. To make it to the airport in time, we had 3 options and settled on one which proved to be the worst; a new road in Upperhill. Nonetheless, my flight was for 9.30 pm so I was still a bit calm, little did I know that the worst was yet to come.

As we approached the road, I could spot 5 or so cars whose engines were switched off; this was a sure sign of what to expect. I asked my brother to turn around but he reminded me of the traffic we had witnessed on the other side as we drove past. “This should be interesting,” I muttered. Just as I shifted in my seat to try and get comfortable, a cousin called me and inquired on where I was. It’s like she knew. “I really hope you make your flight considering how difficult this trip has been.” To take you back a little further, I had already missed this very flight two days prior. This was my second attempt. But that is a discussion for another day.

It’s 6.30 pm and we’d barely moved. Meanwhile, my colleagues in Johannesburg who I was meant to be joining for the workshop were frantic. Honestly if it were not for their continuous encouragement and concern I would have long gone given up on this trip and called it fate, destiny if you may. George, Rotimi and Ruth, thank you.

I then go to the boot of the car and begin removing things from my suitcase as my brother looks on waiting for an explanation. He sees me put on a shower cap and jacket. He had read my mind. “Let me call that boda guy,” he says.

It’s 6.45 pm and I know that I have to be at the airport in 45 minutes. First, because I needed to sort out the mess that was missing my previous flight and secondly, for obvious reasons I just did not want to miss this flight. The boda guy whose name is Philip was very encouraging.

Philip hii ni mara yangu ya kwanza kwa boda tafadhali enda pole pole lakini nahitaji kuwa airport 7.30.” (Philip this is my first time on a boda please go slow though I need to be at the airport by 7.30) “Such a tall order, poor guy,” I thought. I bid my brother good bye and off we went. If my brother was at all worried at that point he deserves an Oscar for the calm and confidence he exuded; there was no sign of worry or strain in his voice and face. It’s only he’s frantic calls in 30 minutes that gave him away. Bless him.

Philip then guides me on where/how to place my suitcase and where to place my feet as he hands me the helmet. I whispered a short prayer loud enough for Philip to hear and we both said amen in unison. We were well on our way to the airport in the rain.

Now, if I had decided to brave the traffic there’s no way I would have made it, not even by midnight. The roads were in disarray with cars overlapping left, right and centre. My gestimate (guess-estimate) is that people arrived at their respective destinations past 2-3 am.

I had periods of oscillating faith, periods of doubt when I quietly pondered my fate with the wet tarmac as Philip zoomed past. He tried to ease my tension by talking about his life as a boda driver. In fact he mused with pride, “I go home every fortnight on this boda, it takes me 4 hours.” I could tell that I was constraining his breathing and flow from how he kept shifting in his seat as he talked. I was clutching on way too tight and had lean in way too hard but Philip said nothing, my comfort was key. It only hit me on Mombasa road. By this time the rain had subsided somewhat and I could feel my clothes drying out.

We arrived at the airport in 10 minutes. I was in utter disbelief. The policeman at the airport was in utter disbelief too. “Madam umeshinda leo,” (Madam you have won today) he said as he hailed a cab for me. I thanked Philip profusely for the ride as I paid him his dues and we bid our good byes. I definitely will be calling him for the next exhilarating boda-boda ride.

My colleague and friend Ibraheem came to receive me at O.R Tambo looking more beat than I. It was then that it dawned on me the high adrenaline levels still pumping through my system 4 hours later!

But why was this trip so important to begin with?

About a year ago, I met a group of forward looking individuals within the African Union Commission, particularly the African Governance Architecture secretariat which is within the Department of Political Affairs(DPA). These individuals have made it their paramount goal and objective to ensure that youth regardless of their education, professional background or affiliation pervade all spaces within this regional body. Here was an opportunity to learn and brainstorm with them on how to push the buttons a little more, take it a notch higher in ensuring youth take ownership of this institution that is essentially here to serve them. I will be sharing more on these engagement spaces in due course.

Every generation must recognize and embrace the task it is peculiarly designed by history and by providence to perform,” Chinua Achebe.

Who does Justice and Privilege belong to?


By Nyaguthii Wangui Maina*

[This is a series of blog posts on the African Feminist Strategy meeting on Financing for Development & the Post 2015 Development Agenda, the first of which can be found here]

 People want to live in societies that are fair, where hard work is rewarded and where one’s socio-economic position can be improved regardless of one’s background. With a focus on the structural realities of Africa’s economy today, the position of African women in global and local economies is precarious. Sub Saharan Africa has a 30% gender pay gap at the lower level; this means that regardless of doing the same amount/type of work, women receive 30% less than their male counterparts. When one digs a little deeper, it is common place to see women in low-salaried insecure occupations such as small-scale farming, or as domestic workers where they comprise about 83 per cent of…

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The Way We Lived – A Review of Chinua Achebe’s ‘There Was a Country’

AiW Guest: Pelu Awofeso

there-was-a-countryAfter the dust raised in Nigeria by its publication had settled, I finally read There Was a Country, Chinua Achebe’s last published book, which centres on the Nigeria-Biafra civil war and Achebe’s personal experiences of and participation in it. But that is not where the story ends, because the book is also as much about Achebe’s “coming of age” story as it is about Nigeria’s long spell with bad, visionless leadership. Page after page, the author takes the reader on a historical journey through Nigeria’s smelly underbelly, unfolding the dirty linens one by one and revealing in shocking detail where “the rain began to beat” his beloved country.

It is more or less like being shown CCTV footage of a series of crimes that could have been prevented. With There Was a Country, I felt like a teenager seated at the feet of an elder…

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African Feminists Strategy Meeting: Financing for Development (FfD) & the Post 2015 Development Agenda


By Nyaguthii Maina*

Globally, governments from both the North and South have come to a succinct realisation through the soon to be expired Millennium Development Goals that collective efforts are required in achieving gender parity for now obvious reasons: 1) it is a human rights issue; and 2) it is one of the surest measures for poverty reduction, inclusive growth and prosperity. This realisation can be seen as reflected in the soon to be adopted Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 5 which envisions achieving gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls universally.


A more in depth look at the proposed SDG 5 is below:

SDG 5 – Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls:

5.1. End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls
5.2. Eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls
5.3. Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced…

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Ten reasons why 2015 is a crucial year for Africa

Source: Africa Progress Panel

Contextualizing Financing for Development in Africa

In a bustling market square in Accra Ghana stands Marta Luttgrodt’s store, a modest structure where she sells alcoholic beverages sourced from Accra Breweries which is a few kilometers away. Marta like many of us today represents the backbone of Africa and is a candid example of the opportunities and challenges facing the continent’s success narrative.

Pic credit:

Pic credit:

Pic Credit: The Guardian

Entrepreneurship and innovation are today well known key drivers for increased wealth and growth in society. These drivers in order to be efficient and effective require the support of strong pillars such as political institutions which encapsulate democracy and good governance whereby citizens can exercise their voice and governments alike are accountable and responsive to their needs; economic institutions which include finance institutions that enable entrepreneurs and innovators to gain access to capital to actualize their innovations; strong intellectual property rights and strengthened labour markets . These pillars are critical to the growth story of Africa because only an inclusive political, economic and social system will see the continent progress collectively.

So what does this even mean and how is it related to Marta?

Let me begin by explaining a phrase that’s often verbalized in Kenya which has in fact become a nugget for comic relief. “Naomba Serikali” (I am asking/begging the Government) this is where Kenyans across the spectrum plead with the government to provide jobs for them, their daily subsidies, basic services such as security etc. Nonetheless as valid as it may be, Kenyans have pushed it a notch further by asking for the most absurd requests. On a serious note however, the Kenyan government is mandated to provide basic services but it like all other governments cannot be the ‘source of employment’ i.e. creating jobs in the public sector to absorb new university graduates entering the job market. It can within its mandate create an enabling environment through the pillars I highlighted above which ensures that the likes of Marta have flourishing businesses further increasing job and wealth creation.

Marta like many entrepreneurs in Africa earns a decent income $400 and pays her taxes in the hopes that the government will meet its end of the bargain by delivering quality public services. To highlight just a few; a good education for her children, health, security, good infrastructure to expand her business etc.

The worthwhile thing to note is most governments actually do envision delivering these services but for obvious reasons fall short of doing so. Public institutions muddled by corruption ensure that taxes collected from Marta never see the light of day. Majority of the budget deficits stem from poor domestic resource mobilization which can be attributed to poor tax legislation and lack of capacity in comprehensive tax revenue collection. It is for these reasons that we see governments in Africa depend extensively on foreign aid which we have painstakingly come to learn over the years as being unsustainable; this is not new news.

What is most appalling to note however is that Marta, a budding entrepreneur in Accra Ghana pays more in taxes than Accra Breweries a subsidiary of SAB Miller, the world’s second largest beer company which operates just a few kilometers away from her.

Action Aid conducted a report on SAB Miller which elucidates how multinationals such as SAB Miller owe poorer countries billions in tax.The flip side of the argument is that SAB Miller is a major direct investor, employer and taxpayer in Africa and the multinational is making substantial economic contributions to the continent.

Borrowing from the report on Illicit Financial Flows in Africa,   Africa loses approximately $50 to $148 billion annually in revenue from tax evasion most commonly through tax mispricing. The report further informs that between 1970 and 2008, Africa lost $854 billion to $1.8 trillion in illicit financial flows and revealed that commercial money such as tax evasion and trade and services mispricing through multinational companies, constitutes the largest component followed by proceeds from criminal activities and public sector corruption.

Here’s a 3 minute video that explains tax mispricing.

Angry tax justice advocates from within and outside Africa have called on the governments where these tax havens are located to cooperate in tackling this menace through enhanced transparency and accountability. The response most times has been, “Clean up your corruption mess before you can come and dictate to us what to do.”

You and I are reflections of Marta, we all have areas in which we have specialized in hoping to improve our wellbeing and that of others. To contextualize this even further, let me give an example of Nigeria today. More babies will be born in Nigeria this year than in the whole of Western Europe. So if one is in the nappy business where else would you be looking to expand your business? Idealistically, to conduct business in Nigeria one will require sufficient amounts of capital; an environment that enables ease of business-minimum amount of hours/ zero levels of corruption to open the enterprise-; a robust energy sector for your industries which would allow you to work round the clock without any interruption; and a strong infrastructural network that ensures sufficient access to markets to deliver these nappies.

According to the World Bank, the cost deficit in mitigating the infrastructural gap in Africa today stands at $75 Billion; an estimated $38 billion of investment per year and a further US$37 billion per year in operations and maintenance. Revert to the figures given on the sums of money that Africa is losing annually.

So the questions I wish to pose for reflection are: Africa currently gives the second best returns globally in investments, is it really rising when these very multinationals that are projected to contribute to Africa’s growth narrative are undermining our progress? How then can we make this work for us? How do we secure the rights of the Marta’s in this continent?


Burundi: The African Union Must Catch Up Quickly!


La version en Français ici:

The situation in Burundi is becoming more and more serious. Police is firing live ammunitions at protesters; armed militias are terrorizing citizens. More than 20,000 people have already fled the country, including mayors of some areas … At least 12 people have died dozens were seriously injured and over 600 arrested and detained in inhumane conditions…

Yesterday, the Vice President of the Constitutional Court of Burundi Sylvère Nimpagaritse denounced pressures and death threats on his person during the assessment of the constitutionality of 3rd term of the incumbent president. He then fled the country. During deliberations of the Court, while 4 out of 7 members thought the 3rd mandate is unconstitutional, the court deferred its decision. Thus, the death threats started by the government … It is now clear that this court is no more credible and none shall consider its decisions.


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