An Alternative Perspective on Africa Rising

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Is Africa’s growth trajectory overhyped? Is it as Omidyar Network’s Ory Okolloh call, ‘a fetishisation’ over some of the continent’s development achievements at the heavy expense of turning a blind eye to the weighty issues? As she concernedly asks, “will technology ‘save’ the continent from its poorly run resources, bad leadership and ineptitude?” Is Africa really rising? And if she is indeed rising, who are the beneficiaries? This was the subject addressed by Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International when she spoke at LSE on 12 October 2015.

Credit: Africa at LSE

“As I prepared to come here to give my views on this topic, I promised myself I would not be an Afro pessimist,” she announced. “My job has me talking about poverty everyday but being an African girl, I can say that I am proud of what Africa has achieved. I am proud of my country, the continent and her people and at the grassroots especially, you see a true reflection of the resilience of her people.”

“Africa has witnessed four centuries of slave trade, one century of colonialism totalling five centuries of domination with just 60 years of independence,” she continued. “Growing up in Uganda, I know what it feels like to have false freedom and false independence. I grew up with a leader, Idi Amin, who would decide overnight new legislations pinning them to what he claimed lucid dreams; dreams of women without make-up, skirts, and more aggravating, education. But regardless of this, we took on the risk of getting an education with the support of ordinary people who inspired resilience,” she reminisced.

Today, African economies are growing at an average rate of 5% per year and Foreign Direct Investment has expanded by over 30%. Fewer mothers die in child birth and the rate of child mortality has decreased tremendously. The continent boasts several of the fastest growing economies in the world and is posited to leapfrog in development through its ever growing innovation and technology. “The universities are hotbeds of innovation,” the speaker stated with a smile. “However, despite all this, one in two Africans lives in extreme poverty. Women are the hardest hit earning 30% less than men.”

“The most important question I would ask you today is, Africa is rising but it is rising for whom?” she poses.

“Jane is my mother’s god-daughter. She was married at 16 years old and not out of choice but for labour. She was a successful farmer tilling her husband’s land. She lost three of her children to curable diseases but due to poverty, she had to bear the burden of burying her own. Her husband too passed on. I am helping her to build on her husband’s land but now she wants to leave it to her son. Under Ugandan law, she can claim the land but as a second wife, the land belongs to the son of the first wife. When she came to ask for money to buy the land from her son, I challenged her to claim what was rightfully hers to which she opposed.” Through this poignant story, Winnie Byanyima unmasks the reality of Africa, her people and the challenges they face on a daily basis; challenges of legacies of discrimination regulated by traditions and custom.

“Increasing the income share of the poor and middle class increases growth; illicit financial flows alone make Africa a net creditor to the rest of the world,” she informs. “Tax reforms need to be fit for purpose.”

“I have worked in several positions but none compares to working at Oxfam International where I feel that I can challenge elite capture. I love this job because I can speak truth to power,” she affirms. “Power lies with organised citizens because it is through solidarity that power shifts. Africa is the youngest region yet the oldest and by the year 2030 we will see a demographic dividend. My hope is that we will have halved the tax gap and these resources will be channelled to health, education and social protection thus investing in Africa’s true wealth, her people.”

This article is based on a LSE Public Lecture with Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of Oxfam International. Follow this link to listen to the full lecture.

Article Originally posted on Africa at LSE 

Women in extractive industries: Addressing inclusive growth #DGTrends

A woman toils at Bilbalé, while her child holds tight to her back.

(Pic Courtesy of LarryCPrice)

‘There is no shortage of growth in Africa’ read a headline in the Economist last year; of the top ten fastest growing economies in the world, six are in Africa and are rich in natural resources. Africa has been ranked as having the second largest if not largest reserve of bauxite, cobalt, industrial diamonds, manganese, phosphate rock, platinum group metals and zirconium; minerals whose main use is in everyday products.

Statistics also show that this is just the beginning; many parts of the continent are yet to be properly surveyed for their mineral potential. As seen by the growing demand and investment in Africa’s mining industry from Asian and other countries, the mining sector’s outlook is bright. Africa indeed is the story; the big story.

However, we are also aware of the challenges that this industry is facing: corruption, weak government institutions, inconsistent policies, outdated infrastructure and lack of expertise and skilled workers which has consequently led to conflict and severe instability witnessed across the continent.

What is daunting is the fact that women remain marginalized from meaningfully engaging in this industry as it has been deemed culturally inappropriate.  Yet this is the very industry that provides numerous opportunities for all.

To gain a better understanding of the challenges on the ground, I spoke to a practitioner in the gold mining industry in Kenya. This is what he had to say:

Beyond community consultations, is there a role that women can play in gold mining bearing in mind cultural barriers?

The mining industry has a myriad of similarities to the construction industry in that majority of the jobs are blue collar jobs which require physically demanding tasks. Nevertheless, we see women taking up these jobs and also playing a part; equally in the white collar job segment which requires higher education. In most parts of Kenya and globally, artisanal gold mining is rife and it accounts for close to 25% of gold output yet it is not uncommon to find women particularly in river gold panning.

What are the on-the-ground challenges for companies when it comes to gender mainstreaming in gold mining? Are public policies facilitating this enough?

Getting the right people with the right talent be it man or woman is the major priority for most companies. If the individual has the necessary qualifications, then companies are more than willing to take them on if capacity allows. Investment in training is also important in this industry particularly in Kenya where mining is at its infancy. The Mining Bill 2014 highlights the need for gender sensitivity in the industry, however, implementation is going to be the greatest challenge as exploration and mining companies will need to invest substantially on training and recruitment in order to meet the policy standards which will increase their costs of operations in Kenya.

In your opinion what can the government and private sector do better to ensure the protection of women when conflicts erupt? Is it more economic involvement in the industry?

The ultimate solution is to prevent conflicts altogether. The root cause of conflicts especially in mineral rich zones is poverty. If we look at the mineral rich regions of Kenya, most of them are very impoverished, these are counties such as  Turkana, Kwale, Taita Taveta, Marsabit etc. Economic empowerment through quality education and training is highly important to prepare young women and men for jobs that come into the market.

Lastly, preparing a community for enormous social change that being including women in its mining workforce is as much a psychological process as it is about getting the right systems in place. This is quite an uphill task that the government cannot succeed in doing alone. In your opinion does the mining bill incentivize mining companies to do this? This is based on the aspect that organizations operate by economic principles. Is there any incentive for increased women targets at the national scale and at the administrative scale within the companies?

If you look at the proposed Bill there are no provisions for inclusion of women in the mining industry however local content is encouraged. My personal belief is that the government and companies need to work with the communities themselves. The incentive in this case shall not be monetary and neither would affirmative action be appropriate because it would push companies to boost figures and achieve targets without looking at the quality of the women recruited and consequently not help them in improving their craft. Companies need to be made aware of the dire consequences of not including and empowering women in the industry and concurrently informed of the social and financial benefits. Most exploration and mining companies have Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs and organs that work with the communities where they operate. This is an opportunity for organizations that work with women at the community level to reach out to the companies and show them how to work.


(Pic courtesy of )

To ensure sustainable growth, governments need to address structural weaknesses and deliberately and vigorously promote economic transformation with depth; this involves inclusive growth. Undoubtedly,the successful integration of women in the extractive industries ensures greater benefits for local communities and creates a more just and equitable society. The integration of women into these historically male-dominated industries is not going to be easy, but when it is done well, it will have a transformative effect on us all.

You’ve got a piece of the Congo in your pocket; Sexual Violence, Conflict and You #DGTrends

MDG : A mass rape victim and her son in the town of Fizi, Democratic Republic of Congo

(Pic Courtesy of Pete Muller/AP)

‘Electronic gadgets’, ‘sexual violence’, ‘conflict’ and ‘you’; four words that sound extremely misaligned when put together yet surprisingly, are words whose correlation is tied to the current state of affairs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

It is no secret that sexual violence in conflict has escalated over the years and is being used as a strategic tool of war; not an inevitable side effect but a weapon in itself.

It is also no secret that every other day we are purchasing the latest phone, latest tablet, latest laptop, latest camera, latest video game, latest everything. We live in an era where electronic sales have skyrocketed and the development wave is sweeping through the African continent and globally.

It is this very wave of electronic development that has exacerbated sexual violence in the DRC. Surprised? Me too.

Our insatiable demand for electronics products is helping fuel waves of sexual violence committed on women and girls as young as six years of age.

It is reported that the Congo war has the highest rate of violence against women and girls in the world, and reports indicate that hundreds of thousands have been raped, making it the most dangerous place in the world to be a woman or girl. One can only guess the exact number as large numbers of women opt not to report the crime given the stigma that goes with rape and the low probability that the perpetrators will actually be brought to justice.

It is also reported that revenue from the global consumer electronics industry is projected to reach a record-breaking 208 billion USD in 2014.  Furthermore, a closely-related business is also booming; in 2013 alone, armed rebels generated approximately 1 billion USD from minerals extracted and stolen from mines in conflict zones in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

As the consumer electronics market grows, so does the international demand for four minerals that are inextricably linked to sexual violence in conflict-affected regions; Gold, tungsten, tantalum and tin which power our cell phones, laptops, cameras, tablets and other consumer electronics.

Miltia groups in these war torn areas are strategically using rape and sexual violence as a tool to control populations and territory, to destroy families, decimate communities and lethally spread HIV/AIDS. This high level of instability contributes to the ongoing conflict, driving the demand for conflict minerals as well as the resulting proliferation of sexual violence.

I have profound respect for Apple and Intel, corporations who pioneered action in ethically sourcing for materials for their products. Once these two corporations realized that their products were linked to sexual violence, they worked diligently to begin eliminating conflict minerals from their supply chains and it is this commitment to human rights that has further enhanced the value of their brands.

These women and girls being subjected to sexual violence are our partners in commerce and development and we cannot advance the global development agenda without providing them with adequate safety and security.

As consumers, our purchasing decisions play a crucial part in protecting the lives of women and children in these conflict regions. We can consciously choose to purchase products from companies whose commitments to human rights are credible, clear and concise.

Not only this, we can also use our voices to amplify this dialogue. The African Union is cognizant that at the heart of Africa’s violent conflicts such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo, lies the problem of democratic governance deficits mainly manifested through poor social economic and political governance, inadequate democracy, poverty and growing inequality, poor service delivery and mismanagement of natural resources, lack of respect for the rule of law, abuse of human rights, corruption, and lack of space for popular political participation. This has greatly undermined Africa’s efforts to ensure long-term stability and economic progress for its peoples especially women and girls.

It is in this light that the organ is convening a Gender Pre-Forum consultation scheduled to take place from 6-7 October 2014 in Kigali, Rwanda. This forum will be an integral part of the High Level Dialogue to be held in late October and will focus on fostering a deeper understanding of the trends, challenges and opportunities for women in strengthening democratic governance towards silencing guns in Africa by 2020.

This dialogue is aimed at identifying practical initiatives and strategies by the Africa Governance Architecture framework for enhancing women inclusion and engagement on peace building in Africa. I encourage you to be a part of this dialogue using the hash tag #DGTrends.

Change is brought about by concerted efforts to deal with a problem even in the minutest of ways. The link between sexual violence and conflict minerals is clear; let your conscience as well be clear as you purchase your gadgets and foster this dialogue.

Musings of a people: Part II

“Creativity has nothing to do with any activity in particular — with painting, poetry, dancing, singing. It has nothing to do with anything in particular. Anything can be creative — you bring that quality to the activity. Activity itself is neither creative nor uncreative. You can paint in an uncreative way. You can sing in an uncreative way. You can clean the floor in a creative way. You can cook in a creative way. Creativity is the quality that you bring to the activity you are doing. It is an attitude, an inner approach — how you look at things. Creativity means loving whatsoever you do — enjoying, celebrating it, as a gift of God.” This is by far one of my most favourite quotes by Osho.

I must admit that sometimes I do get lost in Osho’s teachings, they sometimes sound a bit too idealistic in an increasingly capitalist and challenging world. He states that ambition kills creativity. That an ambitious man cannot love any activity for its own sake. ‘While he is painting he is looking ahead; he is thinking, `When am I going to get a Nobel Prize?` When he is writing a novel, he is looking ahead. He is always in the future — and a creative person is always in the present.’ We destroy creativity. Nobody is born uncreative, but we make ninety-nine percent of people uncreative.

I am indeed grateful that I got to meet two individuals who demonstrated this philosophy (if I may call it that) to me; I got to have a better understanding of what this creativity was, this lack of “ambition”, this attitude he speaks of.

Meet Eliud;


Eliud is a 21 year old finance and engineering student. This young man amazed me on all levels to say the least.

He and his friend Eric sell buckets near the 46 stage. They buy buckets from several different companies, clean, sterilize and sell them for a margin. The shop is piled with buckets and I of course got curious on their turnover.

Do these young men make enough money off this? The answer is a resounding yes. Eliud and Eric discovered that the one item every household in Kawangware cannot do without is a bucket. This is not restricted to households alone but also to all business enterprises in the area. Buckets to store and transport goods; be it water, food, cement, sand, stones… buckets are essential in everyday activities. In fact the two constantly run out of supply due to the high demand.

One thing that came across strongly for me was Eliud’s excitement and entrepreneurial spirit. He loves what he does.

”How do you do this and attend school let alone juggle two degrees?’ I ask.  Eliud amidst a huge grin informs me that he does this business on a part time basis; over the weekends and school holidays. Majority of the time the shop is run by his two employees.

Eliud’s dream is to create a financial system that will assist others. He’s not quite sure on how he’ll do it but he knows he will. He’s passionate about using the ICT platform to solve society’s problems.

One challenge he witnesses on a daily basis is the need for people to access information, quality information to be specific; to know and capitalize on opportunities just as he did with buckets. He wishes that there were more centres that would expose youth to this.  He appreciates the fact that he’s the rare type, the ones whose favourite past time is reading.

“The worst thing you can ask a young person to do is read,” he says. Eliud intends to simplify and disseminate information to the masses, an initiative that he has already taken up with his friends. I see Eric nodding in agreement.

Is Eliud in the right profession to actualize this? Definitely. Finance+ engineering. World watch out for Eliud.

Meet George;


The 24 year old who runs his own cyber café, IT company and mpesa outlet. George came off as a very mature individual from the get go and it soon dawned on me why.

He is the guardian to his late sister’s son and is currently schooling him and most importantly, mentoring him. To be honest George was the first individual to mention the “mentorship” word. It was both refreshing and exciting to hold a different kind of conversation with this young man. Not the conventional “naomba serikali” kind of vibe.

The young man has a lot going on for him and I ask him on how he has been able to achieve this. George gives most credit to his late uncle, the man who mentored him.

He was orphaned at a very young age and for majority of his life, has been the parent and bread winner. He currently has custody of his nephew and three younger siblings.

We discuss several things with George, from aspects on how the government can improve its engagement with the youth to philosophies on life. So many high points but let me share a few here. George’s biggest worry for youth in Kawangware is their lack of vision and guidance.

“Given the opportunity youth can do great things, they just need guidance, they have the energy,” he states. “Some of them are so creative but due to bad company, it all goes in vain.” Ah there goes that creativity word again. George feels that there is abundance in talent; that it’s just the attitudes that need improvement. Osho’s quote comes to mind.

George is currently mentoring several young boys but wishes he could do more. The government could assist him in only one way he informs me; by acknowledging the hard work of young individuals. “Nothing big by the way, if even my local mp extended a handshake, that would be enough, that’s all I want my government to do for me,” he states. His reasoning behind this is that often times it’s the crooks and the ‘casanovas’ who have a large following in the area. “If hard work was appreciated even by a small gesture you’ll see several young people come out to harness their talents; a little goes a long way.”

George’s parting words are that we should all work from what we have to get what we want.

My take home was that selling buckets with zeal, vision and excitement is creative, disseminating and simplifying information for friends with passion is creative, mentoring with such heart is creative, Osho was not wrong in stating that the more creative one is, the more one will see transformation happening of its own accord.

Has the African Union done anything substantive for you? #DGTrends


I took this screenshot as I was ‘googling’ the African Union; was seeking to find out the public’s views on the organ and their work.


I aim to discuss the above specifically with regards to the dialogue that they intend to have in the near future on vulnerabilities and challenges of women in conflict and their role in building democratic governance in Africa. This dialogue will be an integral part of the Third Annul High Level Dialogue whose focus will be to explore ways on how democratic-developmental governance can be leveraged to silence Africa’s blazing guns by 2020.

Some of you may think that this topic is dis-interesting, and for others, simply none of your business. I would like to try and jog your memory.

A reminder on the emotions and thoughts that crossed your mind when you heard the news of the conflicts and heinous atrocities happening in CAR and Mali, when the girls from Chibok were abducted, when countless numbers of women were reported to have been raped and assaulted by AMISOM troops in Somalia, the stories within our borders of militia groups and troops raping and maiming our women and children. I would like you for a brief second to sit with those emotions and try and recollect the discomfort that sat at the pit of your stomach.

This brings us back to the question; has the AU done anything for you? Or can it do anything for you? “Definitely not,” most of us would say.

It is unfortunate that this is the same organ whose troops have been reported to rape and assault women and children during and post conflict; the very citizens it’s mandated to protect. With some reports reading as follows,

‘The AU soldiers, relying on Somali intermediaries,have used a range of tactics, including humanitarian aid,to coerce vulnerable women and girls into sexual activity, girls as young as 12.’

So how then do they intend to address this issue? One may ask.

Often times most people think that the AU is an old boys club whose members meet in Addis from time to time, sit, talk and watch clouds pass by. I for one, tended to think that up till the moment that I decided it was high time I clothed myself with some information.

This is the same body that supposedly plays a critical role in championing for my rights, heck I needed to know what they were up to. This is how I came to learn about the African Governance Architecture framework within the African Union Commission; a platform that aims to make the African Union a people driven organization vis-à-vis what it was before to many of us, an old boys club. To understand the AU better kindly have a look here

The AU established the African Governance Architecture (AGA) as the overall continental framework for promoting, nurturing, strengthening and consolidating democracy and governance in Africa. It seeks to achieve these objectives through among other initiatives facilitating constructive dialogue among Member States, African Union Organs, institutions, Regional Economic Communities, African citizens, civil society and other stakeholders on emerging trends, threats, challenges and opportunities on democratic governance and human rights in Africa.

To understand better the AU’s vision in achieving gender equality and participation of women in strengthening democracy and peace building in Africa, we need to familiarize ourselves somewhat with the legal and policy framework.

So… in an effort to provide durable solutions to the pngoing conflicts in Africa and ensure participation of women in building democratic governance and peace, the AU has adopted various norms, institutions and strategies. These include:

  • the African Shared Values instruments especially the Constitutive Act
  • the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights
  • the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance
  • the Protocol to the  African  Charter  for  Human  and  Peoples’  Rights  on  the  Rights  of  Women  in Africa
  • The AU Gender Policy (2009)

Other specific strategies include the five year Gender Peace and Security Programme (GPSP) Strategy that is designed to serve as a framework for the work of the AUC in gender equality and women empowerment in the areas of prevention, participation, protection, capacity building and knowledge management.

Other relevant global instruments that guide the work of the AU in this regard include the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which states in Article 7, that state parties are obliged to take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in public life.

The Beijing Declaration on Women takes this further by linking women’s participation in political processes to transparency and accountability in governance and sustainable development.

In addition, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 addresses the inordinate impact of war on women, the pivotal role women should and do play in  conflict management, conflict resolution and sustainable peace.

These policy documents and instruments emphasize the need for enhanced women’s participation in governance and development processes to ensure strong democratic and governance institutions/systems. They further recognize that women’s equal participation is essential to bringing about peace, stability and development on the continent, which are at the core of the AU’s agenda.

I hope that this post has been a little informative in laying the foundation in understanding what the AU does with regards to women in democratization and the peace building process.

Let’s keep discussing these issues using the hash tag #dgtrends as we continue to stay abreast with the AU’s work whist at the same time making an informed decision on whether it does or does not work for us. Stay posted. . .

That crippling word “apathy” >> Addressing challenges of Women in Conflict #dgtrends

“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel


(Pic Courtesy of UN Photo/Louise Gubb )

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her revolutionary talk ‘we should all be feminists’ stated that a feminist is a man or woman who admits to the existing problem of gender paradigms and commits to fixing it.

In kick starting discussions on the vulnerabilities and challenges of women in conflict and their role in building democratic governance, I wish to begin with that crippling word known as ‘apathy.’

It’s no secret that talks on gender roles and equality are weighty with people holding widely divergent views. We live in the 21st century yet this discussion is becoming increasingly heated and in the case of Africa, worrying. With wars and conflict flaring in different parts of the region, it has become evident that crimes against women and children are escalating as strategic weapons.

The 69th session of the United Nations General Assembly begins this week providing a unique and great opportunity for gender equality issues to be discussed. This is through dialogues on the post 2015 agenda and the Sustainable Development Goals with various stakeholders devoting themselves to ensuring that gender equality issues are fully reflected in the dialogues and debates, that they receive strong visibility, actionable commitment and implementation.

In the same spirit, the African Union Commission through the African Governance Architecture framework will be having discussions on the vulnerabilities and challenges of women in conflict situations and their role in building democratic governance. This is a discussion gearing towards the High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance to be held in October this year aimed at silencing the guns in Africa by 2020. The year 2015 will also see the African Union dedicate the AU’s summit theme to be “the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development towards African’s Agenda 2063.”

These dialogues and commitments are a major milestone in enhancing women’s rights. However, I would like to diverge a bit and highlight some statistics on the vulnerabilities of women in conflict brought to light by Amnesty International amongst others.

That regardless of the international protocols mandating governments to protect civilians, women continue to be targeted for rape and other violence. For instance, despite having one of the largest peacekeeping forces in the world, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has continued to play host to targeted rape campaigns by armed groups vying for control of mineral-rich turf.At the moment the country stands as having the highest number of reported rape cases in the continent.

That despite demonstrated value of women as peace-builders from Liberia to Northern Ireland, to Uganda and Sudan, women are largely excluded from formal peace processes. Only 1 in 13 participants in peace negotiations since 1992 has been women. Women have served as only 6% of negotiators to formalized peace talks and are not appointed as chief mediators in UN-brokered talks. Lack of women’s participation often means crimes against women go unaddressed and peace agreements do not ultimately reflect popular needs.

It has also been proven that women add value to measures that prevent conflict. They can be critical sources of intelligence, such as locations of weapons stores or plans for insurgent attacks. Yet global conflict prevention efforts still fail to adequately incorporate this resource: only slightly more than 3% of total military personnel in peacekeeping operations are women. Similarly, only 13 of 34 peacekeeping and political missions have gender advisors, compromising mission ability to incorporate a gender perspective in prevention efforts.

If these statistics are anything to go by, then indeed we have a lot of mileage to cover in tackling this issue. How then do we do this together?

To begin with, gender equality is not just a women’s issue but a rights issue. I was pleased to see the #HeForShe campaign that recently called on men to stand for gender equality. If you have not already, kindly visit the website here

As such, we need to critically challenge ourselves on the roles we’re playing in enhancing this dialogue and on how we’re keeping our governments accountable. We need to acquaint ourselves with the Maputo protocol which is single-handedly our greatest achievement in formidably progressing women’s rights on the continent. However ratification and implementation of the same is not enough as seen in the statistics above.

Today is the 161st day since girls from Chibok were kidnapped. It amazes me how quick we are to forget our girls. As my friend Omojuwa stated, “If we do go silent on this issue, we will be as responsible for whatever happens to them as those who abducted them and as the government that has seemingly abdicated its responsibility to rescue the girls.”

Let’s keep these conversations alive and increasingly put pressure on our governments to keep our brothers and sisters accountable in ensuring that they bring back those girls, that they do everything in their power to protect their citizens, that they set up working mechanisms to curb the use of crimes against women and children as strategic tools of war.

I invite you to be a part of this discussion using the hashtag #dgtrends to speak up on the challenges women and children are facing in conflict, their role in democratic governance and the possible solutions. We are in an era where online activism plays a crucial role in enhancing good governance; let’s keep tweeting, pinning, sharing.

Of course this is not enough, let us also use the God given talents we have to give this topic the weight it deserves as our governments continue to play their part. Sing from the rooftops if you must, use your art, use your camera, tell stories, but let’s keep this conversation alive and not let apathy strip us of our existence.

Musings of a people: Part II

Meet Marion, (29 years old) proud owner and founder of Ros Hair School & Beauty Salon.


I met Marion in the late afternoon on my way to 46 after having spoken to my three friends near the Congo stage (revert to part I). I was pleasantly surprised that she agreed to speak to me seeing as over 10 ladies had refused. I wasn’t quite sure on why but one thing was for sure, I was beginning to feel frustrated. Majority flatly said no with no reason while others smiled sheepishly without saying anything for about a minute or two. I prodded further but this was followed by more silence; awkward smiling and silence…That was my cue to move on.

At first Marion was a bit wary of my intentions, which is expected, but in no time she had gladly opened up and had even asked me to take several pictures of her up until she was satisfied I had captured her “good side.”

Marion opened her business in 2009 after having acquired training from La Belle Beauty School. She immediately knew that she wanted to open her own and luckily for her, had the capital to do so after having saved for months on end. At Ros School, Marion runs a salon and school concurrently. She charges 3000 Kenya Shillings a month and states that business is good but could be better.


One of her challenges is tuition fees not being paid on time to which she waves off as a small hiccup. What came as a surprise was that her biggest challenge is witnessing girls dropping out of training in large numbers.

“Majority of them show a lot of interest and passion at the beginning but somehow it wavers along the way,” she informs me. “In fact pass by the bar across the street you will see them.” I look at my watch, its 3 p.m in the afternoon.

I then ask her to give some insight into this state of affairs and background history on how she was able to escape it. Did her family support her? Did she have a mentor to guide her along the way? What made her stick it through? Did she have any children?

‘My friend, no one got me here but Me, Myself and I.” ….”and God,” Marion says. “I would never ask any of these women to be mentors let alone mine; all they know how to do is sit idle gossiping and drinking,” as she points across the street.

This statement triggered the observation I had made earlier of the many children playing by the road, of which she affirms my train of thought. She informs me that boredom and reckless drinking is what brought about this, that these ladies did not see the need for being active mothers or developing themselves. Their greatest pride was in preparing their husbands (boyfriends) meals on time.

They say that women face the holy trinity of fear, fear of being a bad wife (girlfriend), a bad mother and lastly a bad professional. I say them in this particular order with reason; this is the order in which society has placed women’s priorities; 50 shades of submission.

Reality is that both men and women are not taking responsibility for their children. Majority of the fathers are between 15-35 years and the girls are of the same age, or even slightly younger. These are the same fathers and mothers who grew up with absent parents and mentors.

So if these girls and boys are in the bars not working who then is taking care of these children? Marion informs me that it is their mothers. I am perturbed; won’t these children born by these very young ones repeat the same cycle in a few years to come?

It doesn’t escape me that I had already begun on an unequal footing with the ladies. Apart from my host Eva, Marion alone had agreed to speak to me up until that moment. Nevertheless 85% of the men had agreed.

Marion has consciously decided to train any girl who shows potential, with or without charging a fee because to her, the numbers of women in the professional sphere are dwindling by the minute. I commend her on this because it’s individuals like her who are doing something to break this cycle.

Does Marion need a mentor as she does this? I believe so. She is currently mentoring others and as she progresses to new heights and greater achievements, she needs a person or people to guide her on it all. She will one day be a professional, a mother and a wife all at once as she states (this is in no particular order) with increasingly more young girls looking up to her and trying to emulate her. This is the ripple effect I believe mentor-ship has.

Warren Buffet once said that he accredits his wealth not to his skills but to the fact that he competed with only half of the population. The gender discussions that we are having, are they enough? Are we addressing pertinent issues? Are we doing anything in our own capacities to contribute to gender and development? Are we mentoring the girl child and the boy child? Are you mentoring anyone at the moment? So many questions to which I would love to hear your views below.

I celebrate the progress that we have made in increasing the number of spaces for women at the table; women issues and development have come a long way. Why then is society still regressing on these issues in the 21st century?

Sitting at the table in itself is not enough without having a voice. As a learned lady once put it, you may be seated at the table without realizing you are on the menu. I encourage you all to play your part in empowering that voice.

Is Pan-Africanism a child waiting to be born or is it an old man that has gone? #dgtrends

You can not be a Lizard in your village and expect to be a Crocodile overseas- Nigerian proverb.

African Youth I celebrate and salute you for your diversity, your energy, your enthusiasm and eagerness for change and your appreciation of the enormous task ahead of you; the task to transform and unite this continent.

This week I attended the African Union youth consultation to the Third High Level Dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance. The theme being ‘Silencing the guns in Africa’ which is in direct response to the 50th Anniversary Solemn Declaration adopted by the 21st Ordinary Session of the Assembly of Heads of State and Government on 26th May 2013 to end all wars in Africa by 2020.

 To be honest I wasn’t quite sure on my expectations. These dialogues happen all the time; we draft beautiful and lofty resolutions but hardly ever come up with tangible and impactful implementation. Why the gap? Why the inconsistency?

I was both relieved and challenged by this forum. This dialogue was different. Not because we discussed key thematic topics such as youth, power and politics for sustainable peace or the engagement strategy for youth in the Africa Governance Structure within the African Union framework, or even the role of young people in fostering accountable, responsive and effective governance in Africa. All these have been discussed time and again on various platforms. What sparked my interest is simply the fact that young African leaders from over 40 countries across the continent shared one ideology; pan African consciousness; an African renaissance brought about by consciously depicting our identities and charting our destinies. What do I mean by this? And why is this so important in silencing the guns?

Majority of us are aware of the dire need to address the conflicts on our continent; to silence the guns that have been blazing and bleeding our continent dry. Our leaders have envisioned this by the year 2020, quite a brave and ambitious declaration if you ask me and even for most, an unrealistic one.

We have read numerous reports that state that majority of Africans are poor and living below the poverty line, that corrupt government officials are robbing us of our resources and that leaders are thriving off this very conflicts and riding the wave of the poorly told African narrative. This is true to a very large extent but I beg to differ with one thought. Africans are not poor and this ideology is artificial.

The intellectual, brilliant and clear sighted Brian Kagoro, rightly put it, we need an emergence of self confident, self believing African individuals who are ready to steer and propel this continent forward and this begins by creating identities built on consciousness. Kwame Nkrumah consistently reiterated the fact that political independence is not independence in its entirety. Independence begins in the mind.

We fight over resources, we face challenges in rising insecurity, and we have a youth demographic that is bursting at the seams. It is these youth who are picking these guns, youth who are frustrated and experiencing numerous challenges on this resource rich continent.

Pan africanism is not about disowning our brothers fighting and focusing on our growth individually. Nor is it a reserve for intellectuals. Pan africanism is about accepting our challenges and moving forward together regardless of our diversity, an inclusive and collective effort in developing this continent to one of peace and prosperity.

As Mr. Kagoro stated, “The true emancipation of African youth lies in this consciousness that our humanity, our freedom and our justice is indivisible.” This involves inclusiveness and tolerating one other at our weakest moments; and that moment being right now with wars sweeping across the continent. A great example of this inclusiveness and toleration that I speak of is Malcolm X, the revolutionary young man who changed black history. Did you know that this man had attempted to straighten his hair and bleach his skin? Had society decided to shun this man based on this temporary moment of weakness, black history would not be what it is today.

Pan Africanism is about you and I consciously shedding light on this continent by telling our own stories, by helping each other arrive at this consciousness in ways we know best. If a photographer, let not the gun but the camera shoot.

Many times as youth we do feel the need to critic and involve ourselves in the immature politics of hurling insults at our governments. We want to be ‘big’ without even peering through the window to know let alone concern ourselves with what our neighbor is doing or facing. Focusing solely on our economic progression without realizing it is our very regression. Let us resist the temptation to be important before our time and not put title and class before humanity.

If you develop yourself consciously I consider you pan African, if you help even just one other person arrive at this consciousness, I consider you too to be pan African. As Brian Kagoro put it, “In a world bound by such dark clouds of conflict, violence and bitterness, no one light suffices to dispel evil. Light many lights of peace, love and joint prosperity.”

Musings of a people: Part I


Kawangware, a buzzing slum just a few 100 metres from up town Lavington residential area is the location for my first field visit where I intend to interact with the youth.

Perhaps my reason for choosing the location is its close proximity, easy accessibility and more importantly, it is an area that houses thousands of youth in Nairobi. For purposes of this visit, I identified youth as persons between 18-30.

I take a 46 matatu (public service vehicle) and alight at a terminal called Kanugaga where I am then escorted to the house that I will be staying at by my good friend Phanice who resides in the area. We pass several people and I can’t help but notice how vibrant the place is. There are a couple of boys by the corner seated in three saloon cars, doors open with loud music playing. I ask her what they’re up to and she informs me that they are driving instructors who give lessons throughout the day. They were currently waiting for customers. Curious as to the price, I ask and find out they charge Ksh 100 for every half kilometer or so. The boys seem to be enjoying the music, the day and basically their job as they bop their heads to the beat.

We arrive at the house which I am told is located in 56 where I meet my two gracious hosts, Eva and Tossi. Eva is a beautiful 25 year old  girl who has just completed her undergraduate degree in Medical Lab while her brother Tossi, is 24  years and in his third year studying Finance and Economics. The house is made of stone and is a single room approximately 20 by 10 metres. The house is simply decorated, with a single bed, a mattress folded on the floor, TV, coffee table and two sofa sets. The sitting area and bedroom are separated by a bed sheet.

Being of around the same age we immediately start talking and instantly create a rapport. I am grateful to the two for agreeing to host me and to sharing their insight on life growing up in Kawangware.  Both of them have grown up in the area all their lives besides the few years that they spent in high school in shaggz (up country). I soon find out that the two were raised single handedly by their mother who has been working as a house help in the nearby suburb Kileleshwa. Tossi tells me that she is his role model and he aspires to be as hard working as her. This is clearly evident as she has schooled her children to university level and is still currently schooling their younger brother. ‘Very admirable,’ I say.

I am hopeful to tour as much as possible and so we begin our rounds. Tossi has a couple of friends who I get to speak with, of whom I will speak of in another post. Disappointingly, I was able to converse with only two ladies in my two day stay.

As we walk around I am bemused by the number of small children playing on the streets. Another striking thing is the amount of food being sold by the roadside. People really do like to eat around here I think to myself. Eva tells me that it is the one business that residents in Kawangware are a keen to as customers are there on a constant. I find out that food is actually sold as from 4 am when people are heading out to work till 11 pm in the night. One of the favourites is githeri, (a mixture of maize and beans) which is packed in small paper bags (ready to go githeri). Another is chapattis, mandazis, and a lot of meat and vegetables. Looking at the prices I realize that food is very affordable in the area. Chapattis for instance are sold at Ksh 10 and a githeri bag at Ksh 10 as well. Sukuma wiki ( Kale) that can feed two goes for Ksh 5.

One of the issues that arose for me was food security in itself, the job market and the correlation between the two. It’s quite evident that the food prices are relatively low to enhance competitiveness seeing as every two or so metres are food vendors. The upside is that majority of the households in Kawangware are able to feed themselves, however does this business allow room for growth? This grapples me. One of the food vendors informs me that this is a business that he has done for eight years, it pays his bills and feeds his children, he is content with life. Eva alerts me that I will meet several others who share his sentiments; further, that it is very few individuals who have been able to grow their businesses let alone diversify and venture into others.

With limited access to capital how then do these individuals diversify? Does lack of ambition come into play? There being strength in numbers, are these individuals part of chamas (Informal cooperatives)? How can they deal with undercutting from a business perspective? Questions that I hope to answer by the end of my stay.

I meet Ramadhani (27 years), Issah (28years) and Willy (27 years), three young men who sell shoes next to the Congo terminal. I introduce myself and tell them that I’m a youth on an inquisitive journey to understand better youth issues. They agree to spare some time to share their life stories and insight with me. For such a forthright approach, it came as a surprise as to how welcoming they were. Willy stuffs a ‘gunia’ (sack) with paper bags for me to sit on.

I get to learn that the three of them have lived in Kawangware for an average of 10 years. Ramadhani begins and tells me that he is a proud father of three girls and loving husband to what he deems the luckiest girl in the world. He is a devoted Muslim and believer in humanity. He tells me that he is happiest when he sees his friends flourish in their businesses and happy; a philosophy that he lives by.

Issah tells me that reality tells him he’s a hustler but his heart and mind tell him he is an artist. I then ask him on when he last painted to which he informs me approximately three months ago. He wishes that he could have more avenues to showcase his work because then, he will be living in a better neighbourhood. “My work is great!” he muses.

As for Willy he is a very quiet young man and nods in agreement to his friends’ sentiments without directly responding to anything I ask. I throw him off guard and ask him to talk to me as if it were Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya seated right next to him in the middle of the street on a ‘gunia’. The young man beams and chuckles. “Well in that case,” he says, “I would definitely ask you for some money, and not in the sense that you think.” “For a long time coming we have wanted to expand this business and to sell shoes in other spots but capital is limiting.” “I would also ask you to make it more accessible for us to get credit; I have no land, I have no property, what I do have is my able hands and mind to do business.”

I inquire on the various projects and funds that have been set up by government to facilitate with this to which he laughs. “Even those have their owners,” he says. Willy explains that even with well intended government facilitation, there is inadequate transparency; only a select few have access to these funds let alone information on them.

They tell me that they are grateful to Allah each day because it is him who has enabled them to never sleep hungry. Ramadhani tells me that even with 100 Kenya Shillings his girls sleep on a full stomach and are happy. I thank them for their time and proceed on…


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