Building better, resilient and safer cities: the Happiness Index

Instruction in youth is like engraving in stones-Berber proverb, North Africa.

Growing up in the urban cities of Mombasa and Nairobi, I thought to a large extent that better livelihoods equated to access to food, education, clean water, good health, clothes and shelter for all with the underlying factor being money. The basic needs as we know them; however there’s more to it. Today, I have come to learn and appreciate certain aspects of life that are easily overlooked; one of them being the happiness index.

The world is slowly shifting public policy from being a mere representation of cold numbers to a more candid reflection of the well being of its citizens. It no longer is about calculating GDP and economic statistics alone,  there is more to life and economic indicators by themselves are a poor representation of a people; people in essence do not eat nor dance with GDP. The happiness index reflects citizens’ actual living conditions and quality of life and inculcates social indicators; the extent to which countries deliver long, happy, sustainable lives for the people that live in them.

Are you smiling more often today? If so can you pin point the ingredients that have cooked this feel good factor?

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Statistics indicate that urban cities are home to a large number of youth in the African continent and these numbers continue to grow by the day. This brings new issues to the forefront of economic, political and human development both in a positive and negative light. The increase in numbers has inadvertently raised the challenge of addressing inequality caused by rising unemployment which has further exacerbated insecurity in many urban settings. This rapid urbanization is a ticking time bomb if wide arrays of issues are left unabated.

Estimations show that by the year 2050, 7 in 10 people will be urban dwellers and that 60% of all urban dwellers are expected to be under the age of 18 by 2030.

Naturally, before you can fix something you’ve got to analyze and quantify it and urbanization in and of itself requires a reintroduction of lasting solutions which among them includes bringing youth on board as partners to find legitimate and inclusive ways to enhance the sustainability and quality of life for all people living in cities; ultimately supporting the realization of sustainable urbanization and decent housing for all as espoused in UN-HABITAT’s mandate.

Youth, especially those living in informal settlements will tell you that among their most prized possessions are open spaces which bring them together with their friends and family. Some of these spaces measure 40×20 metres, others much smaller. These spaces are utilized for sporting activities such as football and volleyball which are quite popular or for community barazas to discuss issues affecting the larger society which creates a sense of belonging.

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(Pic courtesy of theguardian.com)

“Life can be quite tough, a sense of belonging gives us sanity,” one of the youth in Mathare tells me. Some people have argued that a stronger sense of community and culture often gives them a naturally more upbeat and cheerful outlook on the world, some argue that it doesn’t. The evidence is blatant nonetheless.

These public spaces are not only venues for recreation and social interaction, but are also critical for innovation and entrepreneurship which supports economic development. These dynamics are well known however why is it that we still do not create these spaces especially in informal settlements? In today’s world, any space means money and this economic opportunity means more concrete jungles. Accessing these open spaces in informal settlements where even an acute space originally planned for a toilet will be exchanged for habitation is indeed a dirty fight for the youth.

The team at UN-HABITAT is working diligently with grass root organizations, local and national governments to actualize these public spaces. Such like organizations in Kenya are Sisi ni Amani, One Stop Youth Resource Centre, Kibera Soweto Resource Centre which are located in Mathare and Kibera respectively and the Kimisagara One Stop Youth employment and productive centre in Rwanda among many others. Their collaborative efforts have transformed garbage and burnt spaces into environmental, health and recreational centres where youth especially those from informal settlements are interacting with one another and with youth serving agencies. The groups work hand in hand with the larger community gaining their buy in and support in the projects which has made it community owned and sustainable.

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(Dance group at the Kimisagara centre. Pic courtesy of http://www.nyc.gov.rw)

“We are happier, more active, more united.You’d be surprised what an open space can do,” Kaka, coordinator of the Mathare Environmental slum soccer initiative.

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(The slum soccer initiative by Mathare Environmental youth, Sisi ni Amani and One Stop Youth Resource Centre)

Shining Hope

It was exactly a year ago, January 2014, when I first came to know of Kennedy Odede, a fellow Kenyan like myself who was causing ripples across the world and for all the right reasons. Unfortunately, it wasn’t through local channels that I had come to know of him but through a gripping piece that he had written for the New York Times which had highlighted on the intrinsic link between terrorism and urban poverty. He had laid the facts bare, the article was true and indeed  uncomfortable. Many a times we do want to judge and furtively give our opinionated views on this perdition known as terrorism without wanting to constructively discuss or tackle its root causes and exacerbating agents. To read more on the article kindly see it here http://www.nytimes.com/2014/01/09/opinion/terrorisms-fertile-ground.html?_r=0

Nonetheless, I am not writing to judge but to tell a story.

At four years of age, young Kennedy Odede had grown to know and understand that he was poor, that his family was poor, extended family as well as his late family. He was old enough to absorb the environment surrounding him and at six years when of age to walk around, he took to the streets to sell peanuts. Maybe it was by his own volition I thought to begin with,  but no, it was because of the fact that he needed to make some extra money for the family. His mother worked odd jobs to make ends meet for him and his siblings.

Growing up in Kibera slums however, the city streets and lights offered an added sense of adventure and excitement to young Kennedy. This was not to last and growing resentment took over. As he sold his peanuts to people in cars or to walking pedestrians, Kennedy began to realize the glaring disparity between his home in Kibera and the lifestyles of these people. The big cars, the clean clothes, the good shoes, it was all too painful. “I hate rich people,” the little boy said amidst throwing whatever he had with him at the cars. On several occasions, feeling jaded and exhausted from the day’s work, Kennedy headed home only to find the house fully occupied by neighbours’ kids who had come to partake of their already small portioned meals. “Mum, these neighbours have to go, I am hungry, we are all hungry, how do we even begin to share,” young Kennedy ranted in between short breaths. But his mum was deaf to this and with each passing day she reminded him that it was only through sharing, through humanity that one keeps hope alive.

At the tender age of ten, Kennedy was a homeless boy roaming the streets of Nairobi. The pain had become too much to bear and so he decided to run away from home. At the age of fifteen, ‘luck’ befell him and he got a job at a factory where he made Ksh 100 ($ 1. 2) a day after 10 hours of labour. It was also then that he had begun to read on Martin Luther King Jr. “Each day I cried and cried. This could not be life. Was I born to live this way? Is poverty bound to flow through my veins till I die? Is it genetic? My grand dad was a poor fisherman, his father too…this just cannot be life.”

Fast forward to 2015 and I am seated across this gentleman known as Kennedy. He tells me about the countless number of friends that he lost along this journey called life. The pain is palpable and I could see it through his eyes as he spoke fondly of them. Some committed suicide, while others were killed by the police. “It was crazy, I was crazy. I had lost all hope, I was violent. “

“It was on one of these long days after working at the factory that I began to question myself and question God. Flooded with tears, I told him that he could not bring me into this world to know such hard living. Hard pressed against the wall I could only bounce back. So I decided to buy a football from that day’s earning and called my friends together. I told them that there had to be more to life. Some thought I was mad but this football brought us together. I told them that we had to transform the society by ourselves,” Kennedy narrates. His words ring true and remind me of Victor Frankl’s words in his revolutionary book, ‘Man’s search for meaning’ where he writes of his experiences in the Nazi gas camps. He states that man when questioning his existence should not ask what he expects from life but what life expects from him.

Today Kennedy is a success story, he is one of the leading social entrepreneurs in the world and has transformed Kibera and Mathare through the organization that he started back then at fifteen years of age, ‘Shining Hope for Communities.’ A community based and owned organization that is anchored on providing quality education, health care, water and sanitation and economic empowerment to society. Today the organization is serving over 70,000 people.

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(Large water tank serving the community with clean water)

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(The kids enjoying their Saturday morning watching Sesame street while the young adults indulge in some leisure reading at one of the Shofco Libraries)

What was most inspiring to see was the love for wellness of society amongst the staff members and community. During the post election violence that rocked Kenya in 2007-8, the community armed with pangas and machetes stood watch over the organization’s building and projects to protect them from vandalism. “It is there work, they take so much pride in it,” Kennedy says amidst a big smile across his face.

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(The Kibera School for Girls play area)

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One particular individual who struck me on one of my visits to Shofco (Shining Hope for Communities) is Paul (name changed) who focuses on assisting families that are dealing with sexual and gender based violence. His story is both heart-wrenching and inspiring at the same time. Paul was a cab driver who worked long hours especially during the night shift when his four year old daughter was raped by a neighbour. It was then that he decided to sensitize and empower the community on these issues and joined Shofco.

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(Kennedy Odede)

This brings me to my kind appeal to you; we do not need to know pain nor humble beginnings to change the world. It’s okay to just be and to give of our gifts and time to better society. Our founding fathers fought for liberation, it is now our time to propel transformation. It no longer is about politics as we know it where several individuals suffer delusions of grandeur, but about the grassroots and the roles that we are playing there. I would love to hear more on your amazing stories as well as share them. In a world that is facing the ubiquity of suffering with heartbreaking news sprawled across our screens on a daily basis; it’s all too easy to fall into the bottomless pit of hopelessness. We do have the ability to transcend this predicament and influence in a different way, African youth tell me your story nwmaina2015@gmail.com

An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.Martin Luther King, Jr.

2014 Quotes from Africa’s leading economic drivers

2014 was fraught with economic challenges for several  countries in Africa, especially with the oil escapade, naira devaluation, Ebola and other socio-economic challenges. Regardless of these, 2014 was a great year for businesses.

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(Pic courtesy of eclusiveafrica.net)

The year witnessed big mergers and acquisitions across the continent, multiple oil finds in East Africa, global franchises expanding in Africa and new ones joining the African business train. The continent’s richest man, Aliko Dangote, continued his industrialization plan of sub-Saharan Africa, and fellow countryman Tony Elumelu pursuing an entrepreneurial Africa; the Africapitalism proponent set up a $100,000,000 entrepreneurship fund. These business leaders and Africa’s growing entrepreneurs were at the forefront of the continent’s success in 2014.

Ventures Africa takes a look at the year, culling out some of the top quotes from business leaders that epitomizes the success and growth recorded in 2014.

“I enjoy myself a lot but I derive more joy in working. I believe in hard work and one of my business success secrets is hard work. It’s hard to see a youth that will go to bed by 2am and wake up by 5am. I don’t rest until I achieve something.” – Aliko Dangote

“I built a conglomerate and emerged the richest black man in the world in 2008 but it didn’t happen overnight. It took me thirty years to get to where I am today. Youths of today aspire to be like me but they want to achieve it overnight. It’s not going to work. To build a successful business, you must start small and dream big. In the journey of entrepreneurship, tenacity of purpose is supreme.” – Aliko Dangote

“If you don’t have ambition, you shouldn’t be alive”. – Aliko Dangote

“Mobile phone technology can help to bring financial services to the 80 percent of African women who do not have a bank account and bolster the growth of the world’s poorest continent. It’s not just about empowering women, it’s about economic growth. Unless we can make access to finance easier for women in their businesses, we will be missing out on a significant portion of growth within our economies”. – Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

“We are growing, but not creating enough jobs. That is a very big challenge.” – NgoziOkonjoIweala

“Sometimes, when people think of Nigeria, they think of oil. But we have far more than oil. The non-oil sector is even growing far more”. –Nwanze Okidegbe

“Let us focus like a laser beam on the quality of growth and that growth needs to create the jobs for our rural people and our urban people.” -NgoziOkonjo-Iweala

“As you already know, to succeed as a woman in a world largely dominated by men which we live in today requires extra effort, dedication and perseverance to attain. – Jennifer Obayuwana

“I am confident that Egypt is positioned to achieve exceptional economic growth in the years to come, attracting direct investments in key sectors which continue to offer substantial investment opportunities.” – NaseefSawiris

“The Nigerian market is huge. If you can get it right in Nigeria, you don’t even need to go anywhere […] Just in Africa there is a huge market without us now even going out to Europe, specifically England, UK, Paris, those fashion capitals.” – DeolaSagoe

“There is so much beauty in Africa and it’s definitely a one sided story what you see on your television screens especially in the west.” – AkosuaAfriyie-Kumi of AAKS

“Africa is regarded by many developed economies as one of the final remaining frontier markets with significant opportunities … and the GCC countries are very aware of this.” – RassemZok, CEO, Standard Bank Plc

“Political instability is something you have to work around; it is better if it is not there, but it does not rule out opportunities. You have to study a country, see how you can mitigate risk.” – RassemZok

“Leadership style is what differentiates between a business thriving, sinking, or soaring.” – OnyecheTifase, MD/CEO Siemens Nigeriabusinesses

Article crossposted from Ventures-Africa.com

The kind of Leaders this Continent needs

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A beggar had been sitting by the side of the road for over thirty years. One day a stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?’ “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?” asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with gold.

I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside yourself.

Excerpt from the Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle

‘I often meet the real leaders of Africa (Youth) searching for external transformational leadership. Essentially they are looking for themselves.’ – Brian Tamuka Kagoro

Mombasa youth through David’s eyes Part I

“Look at him. You just take a long hard look at him. IMG_20141022_101300 Please tell me if these people are lazy. It is 5.20 a.m. They were here before you even came. What you’re seeing him doing is collecting feed to catch fish. The tide is also about to come so he is preparing for it in advance. I know these boys; it is as if they are my sons. Some of them are my neighbours, some of them I never see again but they still are like my sons. I have watched them from different places in Mombasa for over 28 years. Yes, I have worked in Mombasa for over 28 years. Do you believe me? (chuckles) I have done all manner of jobs but I’m most proud as a security guard. I have worn this uniform for a longer period than you’ve probably existed in this world. You look very young but I will not ask you your age.  I hear it is bad manners to do so. (chuckles) I started here in the early 80’s. Things were great. Tourism was booming. Mombasa was the it place in the whole East African coast, actually in Africa. It was the same in the 90’s but I cannot say it’s the same today. (silence) I am earning the least I have ever earned in my life, but I am grateful. I still have a job. I can’t say it’s the same for some of my friends, actually most of them. They are so bitter with life. Do you blame them? (silence) So these boys, you’d like to know more about them? Well, these boys right now are one the most hardworking individuals I know. Everyone says that Mombasa youth are lazy. Do people in the urban cities even wake at these ungodly hours to go to work? Let alone to do a traditional economic activity such as fishing? Why label what you do not know? You end up belittling those who still have a bit of fire in them. You honestly do. Despite all hardship and short comings, they are still here before dawn to fend for themselves. Make no mistake though, they still do engage in illegal activities. You do know that drugs are rampant here. It’s a shame. They have destroyed our youth. Majority are high at least at some point in the day. Call it escapism and opportunists making a killing. These children probably dropped out of school in class 4-8 or at the most in their second year in high school. People say they are lazy because now there is free primary education but that is not the case. The funds available are Kshs 3000 ( USD 34) and one needs Kshs 7000 (USD 78). Yes one many say that they can work to offset the balance but there are other things that take priority, food and shelter. The basic needs. Those are more of a priority. School comes as an afterthought yet it is the one thing that could remove them from abject poverty. But there is another problem. There are those who have gone to school but have still not gotten a shot at their silver lining. There are no jobs. Am sure you can now see why I say that these boys out here fishing are hardworking. They know that people cannot do without food and even despite them earning very little, they are still here. They then take the fish to the factory in Old Town then to marikiti. They live a day at a time. It’s worse today though, they cannot bank on the tourism industry to make some extra money. There are no tourists. We need each other to face this menace, we need our security back. Can we have a national dialogue about this?”

Of art, sports, serenades and youth empowerment #Senegal

Beautiful does not begin to describe Dakar, Senegal’s capital city.  I feel like the word beautiful actually does it some injustice; perhaps magnificently beautiful is more befitting. When the flight captain went on to tell us that we were 10 minutes away from descending into Leopold Sedar Senghor airport, I let out a not so quiet shrill “I know!” Excitement had clearly overtaken me. The view of the waves, the peninsula, the swaying palm trees and the clean coastline were all breathtaking to say the least.

After an 11 hour flight transiting through Benin and Mali, we had finally arrived in Dakar.

Reason for being in this magnificent city was the Third High level dialogue on Democracy, Human Rights and Governance that was being convened by the Africa Governance Architecture platform within the Department of Political Affairs of the African Union Commission.

Fast forward to when we were leaving the airport; some of us, me included, began to comment on the beauty of the Senegalese, not to mention their lean body sizes. “Hmmm… interesting,” I thought to myself.

As we drove into the city, I couldn’t help but notice and feel the vibe of the place. The place is bustling and yet despite the high temperatures in the late afternoon, several people were jogging by the road, others trading in the market squares and others seemingly enjoying after work catch up conversations.

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The most astounding thing crossed my field of vision; young children were wrestling in a sandy pitch alongside the road, with several others cheering on in excitement. I am not quite sure on why this struck me, but allow me to carry on.

The children’s smiles and laughter are still so vivid and next to them was a football pitch with what looked like slightly older boys playing. It’s safe to say that all were deeply engrossed in their games oblivious to their surroundings.

Continuing with the bus ride to our destinations, it dawned on me that we had past neither 2 nor 3 football/wrestling pitches but an estimated 7. “Phenomenal,” I thought to myself. The Senegalese government had made a conscious effort to allocate spaces for sports activities.

To be honest, I couldn’t keep track of the number of runners that we had passed. Some were in groups, others by themselves. Across the city, they could easily have been in the hundreds. “Goodness, does everyone run here?” asked one of my colleagues. Her question had indeed confirmed my train of thought.                           IMAG5376_1

Allow me to fast forward again to my first morning in Dakar. This is the view that I had. Beautiful isn’t it?

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But another thing aside from this had struck me; I could see dozens of people in the ocean doing some sort of exercise.

“This people really do like to work out,” I thought to myself again and brushed off.

At the end of the two day meeting, colleagues and I decided to enjoy a good meal out in the town, it being a Friday night and all. I am in fact grateful to one of them for insisting that we do so by the beach. We had somewhat accustomed to the place and it was no surprise seeing some people running by the beach while others lifting weights at 9 pm in the night.

Having enjoyed our beautifully cooked meal and being burnt out from fatigue, I left my colleagues to catch a good night cap.

What happened after is what I’d like to call the true meaning of missing out. My colleague and good friend Nerima narrated to me on how they had been serenaded as they took a stroll by the beach. Her narration is as follows.

“So this guy snuck up on us and started beating his drum which of course startled us, I think I actually jumped. At first I was thinking…hmm what is this? Then it started to dawn on us on what he was doing and we started clapping and supporting him. It made me smile, I was so happy.”

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Be it in Goree island, which is known for its rich history dating back to the slave trade era; or the very streets of Dakar; one is bound to see both the young and the old carrying their Koras (traditional string instruments) around with them or strumming away either in solitude or to an indulged crowd.

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(A young man playing his kora by the pier in Goree Island)

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(A young man crossing a street in Dakar, holding in hand his Kora)

As we drove to the port to catch a ferry to Goree Island, once again, one could not help but notice all the high quality sports amenities that had been set up along the coastline. Be it basketball courts, hockey pitches or soccer pitches. It was remarkable.

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(The basketball courts)

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(Children’s play area)

This then begs the question; is it any wonder that Senegal is one of the most stable countries in Africa?

The AU high level dialogue that had been convened was a forum whose aim was to escalate actions being taken to silence the guns that are ravaging and hampering progress on our continent. These are wars whose main perpetrators and victims are the youth. I can’t think of a better place to illustrate the magnitude of what good investments in young people’s energy and passion can do. Whether jobless or otherwise, there is something about sports that allows one, especially the young, to release frustrations, be good managers of their time, build a culture of teamwork as well as be peaceful ambassadors.

From the young man who serenaded my colleagues on the beach due to the freedom of expression, or the freedom to just authentically be; to the young boys wrestling in the sandy pitches, it is evident that all have been brought together by a cultural thread of oneness be it in sport or art. This underscores the importance of creating a positive identity among ones people. The Senegalese know not which ethnic tribe they are playing a sport with nor serenading to. All they know is that they do enjoy doing this with their friends in a healthy manner. This reminds me so much of the Ubuntu philosophy which states that I am because we are. Let us all try and emulate the noble example that is  Senegal.

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(Dakar sunrise)

Own your space #DGTrends

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