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.

Follow me on twitter @evanswadongo