Saturday, January 19, 2019

Government needs to regulate mobile phone based lending.

Mobile phone based loans have extremely exorbitant interest rates and are exploiting Kenyans. Unfortunately they are mushrooming everyday (now more than 30!). Investors in such entities must also look at the social and psychological impact of their investments on the low income people and push for ethical business models. Many studies have shown that this exploitative behaviors lead to high indebtedness among the poor(often a cycle of a person borrowing to repay another loan before eventually being completely unable to borrow) which leads to negative long term effects including suicides, family breakups and increased poverty. Parliament must also provide equal regulations for all credit providers with consideration on impact on ordinary citizens.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Ethnicity in Kenya's politics- The Reality

As Kenyans go to a general election on August 8th, the voting patterns will mostly be along tribal lines- over 50 years after independence .

But why has this trend continued for too long?

Before independence, many Kenyans were united against a common enemy - the white British rule. The resistance movement against the colonial rule was experienced in various communities spread across the country.

When the British ended their rule in 1963, Jomo Kenyatta (from the populous Kikuyu tribe) and a few other freedom fighters were incarcerated at a prison in Lodwar. Jaramogi Odinga (from the Luo tribe) was given the mantle to be Kenya's first independent Prime Minister. He whoever refused to allow Jomo Kenyatta to lead.  Six months later, Kenya became a republic  and Jomo Kenyatta became Kenya's first president and Jaramogi became Vice President.

What followed set the trend to the problem of negative ethnicity and sense of entitlement that controls the political mindsets of the ruling mafia in Kenya. Kenya missed its first opportunity to create a progressive country where tribe did not matter.

Jomo Kenyatta quickly degenerated into a 'tribal king' - dishing out public resources to his friends and cronies. This started a dangerous trend of unequal distribution of public resources. His friends, cronies and himself soon became the 'economic mafia' that controlled Kenya's vast resources. The elites from many other tribes were forced to toe the line to disappear into political and economic oblivion.  The ruling Kikuyu elite mafia embarked on an exercise to instill a sense in their tribesmen that power belongs to them and the Luo and other tribes who opposed them were enemies and should not get into power. It was like an oath that is supposed to be passed on from generation to generation.

Jaramogi and a group of his allies dared to stand up to the regime then, and hence they were viewed as enemies of the kikuyu tribe, even though their differences with the ruling regime were mostly ideological.

Then came President Moi (from the Kalenjin tribe) after the death of Jomo Kenyatta. He perfected the art- accumulating resources for his family, friends and cronies. Most state corporations and agencies were turned into a 'Kelenjin corporations.'.  Moi however was clever to maintain person from other tribes as figure heads in critical government ministries- but they were his robots. Some of the senior officials in his government would walk into government controlled banks and take up huge loans and openly refuse to repay. During Moi's rule, he would get overwhelming votes from all other tribes except the Kikuyu tribe.  The negative ethnicity was continued and perfected.

Some who dared question were assassinated in cold blood. It was truly a mafia state. However, again Jaramogi  and other allies including allies from the Kikuyu tribe remained critics of the regime.

In 2002, President Mwai Kibaki  and Uhuru Kenyatta both from the Kikuyu tribe vied.  A euphoria swept through Kenya- a supposedly new dawn. Raila Odinga (Jaramogi's son) became his key campaigner and literally delivered the presidency to him.  Kibaki was elected even though, Uhuru, a 'Moi Project' was mostly voted for by the Kalenjin community. Apart from the Kalenjin, all other tribes voted overwhelmingly for Kibaki. No one cared that he was a Kikuyu.

After the elections, Kibaki and his cronies degenerated again into 'tribal kings' - his friends and cronies accumulating wealth at the expense of other people. Government jobs were mostly pegged on the tribe. Raila's side was sidelined despite having contributed immensely to Kibaki's win.
And just like that Kenya missed another opportunity to kill negative ethnicity.  It was perfect even more. It became worse since Kenyans were more informed and aware of what the regime was doing. Kibaki was credited for developing a few infrastructure projects, but he definitely disappointed many and failed miserably in killing negative ethnicity.

In the disputed 2007 elections, again Kibaki was voted in mostly by his Kikuyu tribesmen while Raila Odinga got votes from all other tribes apart from the Kikuyu tribe.  In 2013, again the Kikuyu tribesmen voted for their 'own' , Uhuru Kenyatta with support from the Kalenjin community.  Again, majority for people from other tribes continue to feel secluded from power, with apparent state jobs and resources favoring the two tribes in power- Kikuyu and Kalenjin.

Whoever, since independence, the unequal distribution of resources has not benefited majority of the tribes from where the President have come from. Only the few 'mafia' from this communities have continued to enjoy accumulation of wealth at the expense of other citizens.  

Clearly, other tribes have shown that they have no problem with the Kikuyu tribe and can support them. However, the Kikuyu have clearly resisted and shown that they can never support any other tribe. Majority have a sense of entitlement to power.  The problem of negative ethnicity if therefore often perpetuated by some elite 'Kikuyu mafia' who continue to instill the same in the generations that come. A good number of the people from the Kikuyu tribe have no problem with supporting persons from other tribes, whoever majority have been enslaved by a sense of fear that is instilled by the few elite 'mafia'.

What is surprising is that even some of my friends from the Kikuyu tribe who are well educated and respected in their professions both locally and internationally, still continue to perpetuate this unfortunate and blatant lie. Even more surprising is the very young people born recently in the 1990s and 2000s who continue to live by this far of other tribes- especially the Luo.  On the surface they think it is wrong, but deep down, it is like an oath that they cant go against.

Why do we need to end this?
 From Kibaki's government to the current Uhuru's government, many Kenyans have seen the focus on building infrastructure projects but fundamental underlying social, political and economic issues are sidelined.

History has shown that some countries that had some of the best infrastructure and high economic growth can be destroyed when underlying issues are not addressed.

The focus is on the hardware and not the software of the country. But we know that even the best hardware requires the best software in order to perform at its peak.

No wonder unlimited peace campaigns are bombarding TV and Radio stations at this electioneering period. That should not be the case if the software of the country is addressed effectively.

 So what can we do to end this?

We may spend a lot of money doing media campaigns against negative ethnicity, but the bottom line is this cannot work and solve the issue. We need a fundamental change in our politics and socioeconomic fabric.

Can we have a government that is seen to equitably distribute resources, including public appointments?

Can we have a new crop of politicians continously instill the sense of inclusivity in discharging public duty irrespective of tribe and race?

Can we  encourage inter-marriages between various tribes and races even if it means incentivizing it? 

AND most importantly.

Can we ever see a majority of the Kikuyu tribe supporting a candidate from any other tribe?

IF WE DO THIS, we shall in deed end negative ethnicity without any hypocritical media campaigns, and allow Kenyans to focus on issues in deciding their political leaders.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Why we must open up Africa

The African Development Bank just launched the Africa Visa Openness Report 2016, and it highlights a huge problem: as Africans, we cannot move easily between our countries.

On average, Africans need visas to travel to 55% of other African countries and can only get visas on arrival in 25% of other countries. This means they can only travel to 20% of the countries without a visa. Even though countries such as Seychelles, Mauritius, Rwanda, Ghana and Kenya have tried to reduce visa restrictions, other countries are not reciprocating.

This revelation is in sharp contrast to the African Union’s goal to introduce an African passport and abolish visa requirements for all African citizens in all African countries by 2018.

What is really appalling is that it is easier for Europeans or Americans to travel within Africa than for many Africans themselves. In 2015, holders of a United States of America passport, for example, could travel to 172 countries and territories visa-free or with visa on arrival, including at least 20 African countries.

Ultimately, the visa restrictions mean that African countries are losing out.
One of the benefits of free movement of people that visa restrictions inhibit is increased tourism. Tourism contributes to one in every 11 jobs and 9% of gross domestic product worldwide. With high youth unemployment, improved tourism could create thousands of jobs and help reduce inequality. More visitors mean more hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, and a growth in transport and entertainment sectors. The impact could be felt in both urban areas and rural areas.

Currently, according to the Africa Tourism Monitor report, while Africa accounts for about 15% of the world population, it receives only about 3% of world tourism receipts and 5% of tourist arrivals. The report further says that visa requirements imply missed economic opportunities for intra-regional trade, and the local service economy (such as cross-country medical services or education). Visa policies are among the most important governmental formalities negatively influencing international tourism.

This is not just about non-Africans visiting our continent. As the new generation of middle class is ushered into Africa, spending on holidays and shopping is increasing, but African countries may not fully benefit. Many of my friends opt to travel to Europe for holidays and shopping as opposed to other African countries. They cite as major reasons the ease of travelling in the Schengen area, which allows a visitor access to 26 countries within Europe, with one visa. Combined with the cost-effective and easy interconnectivity through rail, air and road transport, it is no surprise that Europe receives the highest number of tourists globally.

Businesses beyond tourism are affected, too. As an entrepreneur, when choosing a new country to venture into, I consider the openness and ease of doing business, with free movement of labor, goods and services as key indicators. I’m not alone. The ongoing integration in the East African community has seen many businesses that were initially based in one country expand into the others. For instance, a number of Kenyan based banks have expanded into Rwanda, Uganda and South Sudan because of the improved ease of doing business within the region.

According to the paper Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk? open borders could lead to a one-time boost in world gross domestic product by about 50-150%. Hence, African countries should strive to make the dreams of the founders of the then Organization of African unity (OAU) true by allowing Africans to move easily and encourage intra Africa trade and investments.

 Easier movement could also help the unemployment rates. I have often found European or Chinese ‘expatriates’ doing jobs that could be done by highly skilled Africans, some of whom lack opportunities in their home countries, if only they could more easily move between countries for work. Movement of people can also be a driver of technological change and a fresh source of entrepreneurs. Much innovation comes from the work of teams of people who have different perspectives and experiences. This can also make countries within Africa to be more attractive to foreign direct investment.

While some have argued that strict travel regulations, including visa requirements, are necessary for security purposes, there has been no direct link showing how free movement of people has perpetuated terrorism. President Paul Kagame of Rwanda has been on the forefront saying that a few bad elements should not be used to restrict millions of good citizens who want to travel for leisure or business.

Political executive editor of the Telegraph James Kirkup recently argued too that “Simply, all the border checks in the world will not keep us safe. Passport controls can’t stop the spread of ideas, and it is ideas, not people, that are the essence of the terrorism that has just killed so many in Paris and Beirut and Baghdad.”

I agree.

Ultimately, there are many more reasons to remove visa restrictions for Africans traveling in Africa than keeping them. I hope that by 2018, that truly is a reality.

The article was first published in Quartz Africa 

Monday, February 29, 2016

What is the link between Disasters, Climate change and Population Growth?


While it is easy to measure population growth, climate change has proved to be a more difficult concept. Globally, Asia and Africa are the regions that have been experiencing relatively fast population growth and they are the regions with the highest population of people living in poverty. The global population stands at 7.2 billion people by 2015, with annual growth rate of 1.18 between 2010 and 2015.  The most developed countries have 1251 million people with growth rate of 0.9 over the same period. However, poorer regions hold most of the world’s population, with less developed and least developed regions having 6098 million and 954 million people respectively. The annual growth rate of population between 2010 and 2015 is 1.36 and 2.38 in less developed and least developed regions respectively. While United States of America has annual population growth rate of 0.8 between 2010 and 2015, Kenya has 0.5 over the same period. (UNFPA, 2015)

Climate change is a large-scale, long-term shift in the planet's weather patterns or average temperatures. The average temperature of the planet's surface - has risen by 0.89 °C from 1901 to 2012. (United Kingdom’s Met Office, 2015). Climate change is caused by emission of Carbon Dioxide into the atmosphere, as a result of burning or use of fossil fuels. Developed countries are responsible for most of the carbon dioxide emitted while developing countries; particularly in Africa produce the least amount of carbon dioxide. The last United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) meeting in Paris, France in December 2015 agreed on the need to keep temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius but developed countries have been a hindrance to any legally binding agreement. (UNFCC, 2015). Climate change causes many disasters that cause deaths and diverse effects to humans including floods, droughts, tsunami, earth quakes others.

‘The tautology that greenhouse gas emissions depend on population and emission per person is too simple a way of thinking about greenhouse gas emissions. Greenhouse gas emissions depend on income, technology, demographic factors like household size, city size, population density in built up areas, institutional and economic factors like availability of public transport at reasonable cost and convenience, and a host of behavioral factors like people’s propensity to walk, bike, car pool or drive solo to work. ‘ (Cohen, June 2010).

Population and Disasters

‘In the first eight months of 2015, the world has seen more than 120 climate related disasters. Fourteen of the 15 hottest years since record keeping began over 130 years ago have been since 2000’.  (World Bank Climate Change Overview, October 2015)

Analyzing one year alone cannot give a correct impression whether the likelihood of environmental disaster is linked to high population growth.  However, data from several years shows a link between the two with overall rise in world population resulting in more disasters such as earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, droughts and floods.

According to the 2015 state of the world population report, the likelihood of being displaced by a disaster today is 60 per cent higher than it was four decades ago. Over the last 20 years, there have been an average of 340 disasters per year, affecting 200 million people annually, taking an average of 67,500 lives a year. In absolute numbers, the United States and China recorded the most natural disasters between 1994 and 2014, due mainly to their size, varied landmasses and high population densities. Among the continents, Asia bore the brunt of disasters, with 3.3 billion people affected in China and India alone.  (UNFPA, 2015). This is in line with proponents of the New Malthusian view on population growth and resources since the increase of global population over last 20 years has resulted in more damage to the environment. 

However, proponents of social view argue that population growth is merely a symptom and in fact increase in income and access to social services will make people more resilient to changes in the environment. According to the same report, the average number of people affected due to disasters over the last 20 years has actually fallen from one in 23 between 1994 and 2003, to about one in 39 between 2004 and 2014. (UNFPA, 2015).  The poverty level reduced from 1958 million people living below $1.90 a day in 1990 to 902 million people in 2012 (World bank data).  As the world poverty levels went down, the number of people affected due to disasters reduced , which could be due to better infrastructure and access to better social amenities.

Income and climate change

 Even though population growth and climate change are related, they affect people differently according to their income levels.  The poor, who are mostly in the global south, suffer more when disasters occur.

An editorial in Guardian in 2008 argued that,  ‘The UK has around 60 million people; but the average British citizen creates nearly 10 times more carbon dioxide emissions than the average Indian, and 166 times more than the typical Ethiopian. So the best way to deal with climate change is not for Ethiopia to curb its (runaway) population growth, but for the British and others in the west to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.’

The Centre for Research on Epidemiology of Disasters’ data also shows how income levels impact disaster death tolls. On average, more than three times as many people died per disaster in low-income countries (332 deaths) than in high-income ones (105 deaths).  The drought situation in California in United States since 2015 has caused any potential deaths of children but the drought situation in Somalia has caused is feared to cause deaths of 50,000 children. (BBC News, 2016).

Most of the rich countries have experienced slow or even negative population growth over the last decade but remain the highest polluters of the environment. ‘Capitalism is the underlying cause of the extraordinarily high rate of resource use, mismanagement of both renewable and nonrenewable resources, and pollution of the earth. Any proposed “solution”—from birth control in poor countries to technological fixes to buying green to so-called “green capitalism” and so on—that ignores this reality cannot make significant headway in dealing with these critical problems facing the earth and its people’. (Magdoff, 2013).

The rich countries produce more waste and green house gases such as carbon dioxide due to high consumption levels. Most of the world’s energy supply is from fossil fuels, which are harmful to the environment. A 2012 International Energy Agency report indicates high income countries consume half of the global energy but only have 15% of the world’s population but low income countries except China consume 13.4% of global energy but have 40% of the world’s population.

I argue that low-income countries can avoid the dirty energies and leap frog into cleaner energies even in spite of the rising energy needs as a result of increasing populations; just like the telecommunication sector.

However, other experts, such as Professor Hans Rosling in his talk “Don't Panic - The Truth About Population”, think low income countries should be left to explore their energy resources with the hope of spurring faster economic growth, but the focus should be on high income countries to invest in cleaner energies and also contribute financial resources, to the poor countries to enable them develop adaptive capacity.  This is in line with the perspective fronted by the Global Commons Institute – contraction and convergence framework.

Rich countries need to do more to cut their emissions. For instance, Germany, which is experiencing negative population growth, has been in the forefront of putting its lignite-fired coal power plants offline. (Ronsberg, 2015)


It is clear that most of the countries with low population growth have been the biggest contributors to climate change that has contributed to environment related disasters. However, these countries still hold the power in achieving any meaningful international agreements but have been reluctant. The impact of ecological damage has been felt more in poor countries that have high population growth rates. I believe that poor countries should be united in in demanding more financial resources from the high polluting rich countries, and invest the resources in new clean energies for their own future.


UNFPA (2015) State of the World report. [Online] Available at

Guardian (2008) ‘An old misconception’, 25 July [Online]. Available at (Accessed 15 May 2013

World Bank (2014) - Turn Down the Heat : Confronting the New Climate Normal. Available at

Population and Climate Change – Joel E. Cohen , June 2010 . Available at

World Bank –Poverty and Equity data [Online]. Available at

BBC News, 2016 [Online]. Available at

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), December, 2015. Available at

Fred Magdoff -Global Resource Depletion, Vol. 64, Issue 08, January 2013. Available at

Andrea Rönsberg-The end of lignite coal for power in Germany – October 2015, [Online]. Available at

Thursday, May 21, 2015

SA govt must face court for xenophobic violence, migration policy

The article first appeared in the Thought Leaders blog of the Mail & Guardian 

The South African government will soon be in the country’s high court because petitioners from countries like Nigeria, Malawi and Zambia are displeased by the spate of xenophobic attacks and murders of migrants from their countries. These attacks and deaths have also sparked the #WeAreAfrica hashtag on social media, a 30 000 person march in Johannesburg, and a May Day march by the international civil-rights group Neo-Black Movement of Africa.

Since the end of apartheid and South Africa’s rise in regional power, there has been an increase in migration from other African countries. Similar to immigrants in other parts of the world, including some European countries, they have not always been welcomed in South Africa. In 2008 there were a series of attacks that included the death of 60 people. The attacks were blamed on high unemployment, high crime, corruption and inept foreign policy. Not much has changed.

In March, President Jacob Zuma’s son Edward claimed foreigners were “taking over the country” and raised the possibility of a coup. At a rally in late March, Goodwill Zwelithini, king of the Zulu nation, reportedly told supporters, “We urge all foreigners to pack their bags and leave”. Coupled with that, ANC secretary general Gwede Mantashe recently suggested that all undocumented migrants would have to be moved to refugee camps for processing before they are let into the country.

Of course, these attacks are just the extreme of ongoing discrimination in the country, something I have felt first-hand as a Kenyan visiting, even though I am not a migrant. I have travelled in many parts of the world, but even though I have faced discrimination in other countries, my experiences in South Africa remain some of the most unforgettable. They have ranged from being denied entrance to restaurants, to being denied luxury items I wished to purchase at shops. The discrimination has come from both white and black South Africans, leaving me with a sense of belonging nowhere.
One of the most blatant experiences I had was when I was harassed at an airport in Johannesburg and bluntly told by a black South African immigration official that I was going to take opportunities from his people and they didn’t want me there. But I was only in the country to attend a conference for a few days!

In a country where many of the foreigners are educated and skilled, discrimination and physical attacks against them threatens the fabric and long-term growth of the country. A report from the Migration Policy Institute found that “immigration unambiguously improves employment, productivity, and income,” especially when an economy is growing. In South Africa, a study found that at the national level, employment is not negatively impacted by immigration.

When we look at other countries, immigrants have helped economies, from the US to Botswana.
Arguably, the US has continued to dominate the world economy for years due to immigration. Immigrants started 28% of all new US businesses in 2011, employing one in 10 US workers. They represent 18% of small business owners and are more likely than those born in the US to start a small business. Forty percent of Fortune 500 companies and 60% of America’s top 25 tech companies were founded by first or second-generation immigrants. Of course, like South Africa, there are some who resist immigrants to the US and want to treat them poorly or keep them out. But overall, policies are in place to help legal immigrants and their positive impact on the economy cannot be denied.

Closer to South Africa, Botswana’s gross domestic product consistently increased and averaged 6.1% annually between 1966 to 1995 when it turned from a migrant-sending country to a migrant-receiving country. Earlier on, Botswana was ranked among the world’s 20 poorest countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme. Botswana’s rapid economic growth in the 1970s required labour and expertise, and the government implemented an open migration policy where foreign nationals were recruited from across the continent. Foreign workers were offered competitive salaries, subsidised housing, cars, health insurance and free education for expatriate children. As the number of legal non-nationals increased from 10 861 in 1971 to 60 716 by 2001, an all-inclusive economy was being built.

Of course South Africa’s unique history means it’s not perfectly comparable to these countries and the government needs to do more to create economic opportunities for native South Africans, as the Rwandan government did after the genocide. Their government prioritised creating economic opportunities for them and the number of businesses started by Rwandese citizens has significantly increased. That tactic could work in South Africa too, as long as it does not further separate migrants and devalue their worth.

Further, South Africa could benefit from a clearer immigration policy, and one that also works to de-racialise the labour force. I stand with the countries petitioning the South African government as they use the court system to try to force better policies and protections for immigrants. We are all brothers and sisters and we can complement each other’s skills and expertise to build a truly united and prosperous Africa, where each person feels secure and has access to basic needs and services.

 Evans Wadongo is a Kenyan engineer, the co-founder of GreenWize Energy Ltd, the executive director and founder of SDFA-Kenya, and one of CNN’s top 10 heroes of 2010. He is also a 2014 Aspen Institute New Voices fellow.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

State of the World: Reflections on my Birthday

As I usher a new year into my life, I am both happy and optimistic of the future but also saddened by current state of affairs in many parts of the world.

As I reflect back to my childhood days, I am very optimistic about the future. When I was growing up in rural western Kenya, my village had mixed fortunes- there was no electricity and many people used kerosene for lighting, my school did not have enough classrooms and we sat on a dusty floor or under a tree in my earlier years of schooling, many people lived in mud grass thatched houses, health facilities were far away, early marriages were rampant, the village was inhabited mostly by people from one clan, very few had television sets, but, many youth were engaged in economic activities, many households owned larger pieces of land, many families had plenty to eat, the main tarmac road was in a good state. Today, the village remains with mixed fortunes- electricity in now in the local market and passes the main road even through many people nearby are not connected, most schools have brick wall classes, health centers are nearby even though they are ill equipped with few personnel and medicines, more young people are joining college, early marriages have reduced, more people are living in permanent houses or semi-permanent houses (iron sheet roof and mud walls), the village has mixed ethnic tribes. However, many people in the village remain poor, many people do not have access to adequate food, land has been sub divided into small unproductive parcels,  girls are still dropping out of school, main tarmac road is in bad state, and many youth are idle and unemployed.

In Kenya, a lot of of positive progress has been happening. This week the World Bank forecast Kenya's Gross Domestic Product to grow by over 6% this year, major roads are being constructed, airports are being expanded, Kenya enacted a progressive constitution that guarantees human rights and attempts to build institutions of governance, devolution of resources into counties is happening, free primary education that enhanced enrollment, rapid growth of telecommunications sector, a steady rise in the securities and bonds market, continued growth in profits for major corporates, and overall increase in the middle class. However, I am continually brought to tears with many negatives that shouldn't be happening 52 years after independence. Some parts of Kenya, especially Northern Kenya, have been neglected for years- almost every week people are killed in these areas and the government is doing nothing. Unemployment is at its all time high. Cities are unplanned, with indecent housing, and emergency of more slums. Nairobi, one of the fastest growing cities in the world experiences huge traffic jams and does not have efficient mass public transport system. Poverty remains rampant throughout the country - various sources including government data indicate that over 40% of the population cannot afford basic needs. A few days ago, the government announced that over 1.4 million people face starvation. Many public health facilities remain in dilapidated state without modern equipment and enough personnel. Education sector is in a crisis- public schools don't have enough teachers, middle level colleges are vanishing, many universities channel out half baked graduates mostly in humanities, universities do not carry out enough research, teachers and university professors are under paid, and the curriculum and testing methods are outdated. Affordable housing remains an issue with few people owning homes. Tourism has stagnated due to insecurity. Leadership is being auctioned to the highest bidder. Impunity is usual- 'the big fish' can do anything and get away with it, but ordinary citizens are victimized even for the smallest of mistakes. Mega corruption has become a norm and a never healing disease. Institutions that can investigate corruption are all in shambles- the police, Parliament, Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission are all facing corruption related questions. From Goldenberg, to Anglo-leasing, to Triton Scandal, to Hustler's Jet, to Chicken gate, to Rubbergate, all we hear is the the president promising action. Those who do good are never recognized but those who steal public funds are worshiped and rewarded. Kenya is on the brink of greatness, if only our leadership can be be transparent and focused, and young people are supported to develop and enhance great ideas. 

In most African countries, the story is the same as Kenya, economies are growing fast, but majority of populations remain poor. The African Union (A.U.) has attempted to remain relevant over the past several years even though it is still heavily funded by non African states. African governments have pledged to increase funding to agriculture, have invested in education and research through Pan African University, have spearheaded peace and reconciliation efforts in countries such as Ivory Coast, Central African Republic, Sudan, Madagascar among others. Regional bodies such as East African Cooperation are moving towards integrating trade, infrastructure and investment opportunities. Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have successfully fought Ebola over the past few months. African leaders under A.U. have united to discuss issues such as International criminal Court but have failed to allow free movement of goods and people, promote trade between African countries and develop actionable plans to reduce the high youth unemployment in almost all African countries. In South Africa, over 20 years after independence, the economic divide remains extremely high, unemployment is a major problem, despite vast mineral resources and the threat of racism and xenophobia remains. Ghana has experienced stead rise in social economic status but is facing high inflation that is threatening to collapse the nation's fabric. Rwanda has been an example to several countries but there is growing uncertainty over President Kagame's exit. Angola is among the most expensive countries in the world with high end properties and lifestyle but majority of its population remains in low income levels. Boko Haram and Al Shabab remain major threats to any meaningful development and A.U. has done little to help the situation. I remain hopefully that Africa is headed to the right direction, but it will depend entirely on new progressive leadership  and more pressure from citizens towards there leaders.

On a global stage, the financial meltdown meant more focus to emerging economies while climate change is threatening to disrupt many positive developments. Europe has been recovering steadily under leadership of countries such as Germany but challenges of lack of meaningful employment remains high. Turkey is emerging as a major player in the political and economic affairs in the region due to its economic growth and its location. China, India and few other Asian countries continue to experience growth even though poverty remains a problem. China is poised to be the biggest economy in the world soon but remains with the most poor people. Air pollution in major Chinese cities is at an all time high but China is committing to invest more in greener technologies. Mexico has seen a steady increase in income levels for the middle class and number of drug related deaths has decreased. In Brazil, the fast growth that saw millions of people move from poverty to middle class in the past decade has slowed down. Argentina is emerging as another major player in South American region due to its steady social economic growth in the past few years. The United States has seen economic recovery under President Obama, but has seen increased focus on racial discrimination, and greater economic inequality. The strong emergence of ISIL is a major global problem- and in my view it is poised to be the replacement of Al Qaeda. Just recently, Boko Haram pledged to work with ISIL. Thousands of people have been killed in Syria due to a mismanaged attempt to change political and economic status. The conflict between Israel and Palestine remains far from over- Israel continues to occupy Palestinian land, even as Hamas and other armed groups continue to shell rockets to Israel people. A two state solution is the only viable answer. The United Nations still gives more priority to its major funders. The UN security council should be reconstituted and have permanent members with veto powers from all continents. I am excited that, with technology and access to information, millennials will continue to break down boundaries, collaborate and create new exciting opportunities across the world.

On a personal level, I am grateful for the support and belief I continue to receive from people around the world, my family and my friends. I am always humbled that I can travel in many new places around the world and I meet people who welcome me with open arms. In deed I have learned that resilience and hard-work, even in the midst of criticism are crucial to help you focus on the bigger goals you set for yourself. As I continue to take take risks, and dive into paths that seem unknown to many, I have learned that, ' a fan will always cheer, advice and criticize, but may never be a good player himself or herself ' . I accept both wins and defeats with both arms.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Digital TV Migration -Don't punish the poor to watch basic TV!

Late last week, the highest court in Kenya, the Supreme Court, delivered a ruling that allowed the Communications Authority of Kenya (CAK) to implement the switch off of the analogue broadcasting frequencies and migrate to digital platform. 

Prior to the ruling, Kenyans have witnessed a tough tussle between three leading Television stations in Kenya - NTV, KTN, and Citizen- and the Communications Authority of Kenya over migration of broadcast signals from analogue to digital platform. Kenya, like other members of the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), is required to migrate to the digital broadcasting by end June 2015.

So why all the fuss over digital broadcasting? 

Many will agree with me that there are immense benefits of the migration including freeing more frequencies that can be used in rolling out other telecommunications infrastructure (multichanneling is possible as one frequency can transmit several channels), and allowing more variety of content for Television viewers.  Also, the quality of the pictures and the sound in digital broadcasting is much better than in analogue broadcasting. In the last few months, a number of new local Television stations have come up as a result of the digital platform, even though many lack quality programming and professionalism, it is a step in the right direction.

The United States was first to broadcast multichannel digital television signals by satellite in 1994, and since then this form of television service has been expanding. In Europe, multichannel digital television of a similar type has been broadcast since 1996.  In the field of digital terrestrial broadcasting, a television service based on the DTV (Digital TV ) system and including high-definition television (HDTV) has been operating in the United States since November 1998. In Europe, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) began a multichannel service for standard television slightly earlier in September 1998 using the European system, called Digital Video Broadcasting Terrestrial (DVB-T). The DVB-T system is what has been adopted in Kenya and many other African countries.

The cost

Television sets with inbuilt ability to receive digital terrestrial signals are not popular partly due to the cost-they cost approximately over 40% higher than the normal TVs. Even in many developed countries, TV consumers rely on set top boxes that are connected to the TV sets to enjoy their favorite television content. In Kenya, price of a DVB-T set top box ranges from approximately KES 3000 ($32) to KES 5000 ($55). Even though the government has argued that many TV owners can afford this cost, the devil lies in the details.

Lack of adequate public awareness

Several privately owned TV service providers took advantage of the lack of awareness to sell to Kenyans set top boxes that required a subscription service in order to watch any content. On paper, CAK has said that all providers should broadcast Free to Air (FTA) content from local stations for free, this is not the case in reality. ZUKU, StarTimes, and GOTV have been selling set top boxes that require consumers to pay in order to access basic TV. A good number Kenyans who were lured of the benefits of digital broadcasting and threatened with the deadlines set by the CAK, rushed to buy set top boxes from service providers, only to realize that they cannot access local stations without paying monthly subscription fees. To my knowledge, Bamba TV is among the few providers that has openly stated that it will not charge any fees for its consumers to access TV content.

For some Kenyans, spending any more cash monthly in order to view their favorite TV content is a luxury which they cannot afford.

Why basic TV should be free

There is a saying that 'pictures don't lie and you can forget words but not pictures'.

As I was growing up in a rural village in Kenya, TV was indeed a luxury and many people could not afford even the cheapest TV sets in the market. As a child, my siblings and I could only sneak out of our home to the nearby local market to watch our favorite teams play in the football World Cup. The feeling of watching the occasional football games on a small 14-inch Black & White television set, in a dark crowded room will forever remain alive in me and many other people. While I was in high school, my parents purchased the famous 'GreatWall' black & white television set. This opened a whole new dimension for me, I could relate the things I read in newspapers and in books to the pictures I could see on TV. I could watch what was going on in different parts of the world and relate to my own experiences. It sparked a whole new imagination- a desire to grow up and travel the world, to meet great people, to learn from other countries and create solutions that can be applied in my own community, desire to one day live a decent life with access to running water, proper lighting, decent housing etc, and a vision to contribute in improving governance and leadership in my country Kenya and in Africa. 

Access to information is a basic right. Informed citizens can make better choices with their own lives and also elect better leaders. Liberalization of the media and enhancing freedom of expression has played a big role in the democratization and social-economic development of Kenya and many other countries in the world. People who do not have access to the internet rely solely on mass media to access information. Through television, Kenyans have been inspired to do greater things, they have watched their favorite athletes; which has enhanced a sense of national pride, and seen the ugly faces behind corruption, and bad leadership. TV has played a big role in educating Kenyans on agriculture and healthcare eg some rural farmers are able to learn better farming practices through Citizen TV's Shamba-Shape Up program. Investigative programs such as Mohammed Ali's 'Jicho Pevu' have been instrumental in igniting public debate that is necessary in developing the country.


Digital migration is important and mandatory and any country cannot afford to be left behind. CAK should have done better in creating public awareness so that consumers can be aware of which kind of set top box they are buying. On the other hand, the three media houses (NTV, KTN and Citizen) should have been in the forefront of educating the public and provide their own set top boxes to consumers before the deadline set by CAK. They are crying foul too late when they had the time and the advantage of huge market from the on set.

More importantly now, government of Kenya, through Communications Authority (CAK) should enforce rules where all TV service providers MUST air local FTA content for free. This should apply to both terrestrial and satellite providers including ZUKU, StarTimes, GoTV, DSTV among others. This will ensure anybody who has any type of set top box from any provider to still enjoy their favorite local stations including the three (NTV, KTN, Citizen) without paying any monthly fee.

Let us not deny poor Kenyans their right to access information even as we implement the much needed digital migration.

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