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Saturday, 28 June 2014

HAVING WHAT YOU DON'T HAVE -THE AFRICAN CURSE: A TRIBUTE TO THOMAS SANKARA

 
Thomas Sankara - President Burkina Faso 1983 -1987
“No one can imagine the beauty of the view from anything witnessed in England. It had never been seen before by European eyes; but scenes so lovely must have been gazed upon by angels in their flight.” These are words David Livingstone spoke when he observed what was to later be named the Victoria Falls.

Africa is massive and magnificent, from the lush Serengeti teaming with wildlife, to the dense forests of the Congo, from the deserts of Namib, to the Papyrus of the Okavango Delta. The wonders that one sees in Africa are innumerate, uncountable and strangely unknown.

Three times more people visit the Eiffel tower in Paris annually than Victoria Falls on the border of Zimbabwe and Zambia. This is despite it being the largest waterfall in the world and it offering the largest sheet of falling water in the world. It is roughly twice the size of the Niagara Falls.

I could go on and on about the Nile, Lake Tanganyika, Mount Kenya, The Limpopo, the Table Mountains, the Sahara Desert, The Congo River and in most instances, I would be ill equipped to offer any advise on how to adequately and easily access these sites.
Victoria Falls

It is no wonder that the most visited tourists attractions in the world have a budget that rivals most African countries annual tourism budget. For example Central Park, New York City, which is featured in as many blockbuster romantic comedies, as can be remembered, has an annual budget of more than $ 38 million[i], more than the combined tourism budgets of countries like Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda, which truth be told have exponentially much more to offer than this wonderful park.

Africa has around 600 million hectares of uncultivated arable land, roughly 60 percent of the global total.[ii]

Most of the land under farming is cultivated using outdated technologies and techniques that perpetually produce low yield. More than 70% of the land depends on rain not irrigation. This is despite the changing weather patterns that we have become accustomed to across Africa.

The outcome is we have more people in Africa that are hungry, [iii]exactly one in four.

Another statistic of interest; more than 30% of the food produced around the world including Africa is wasted. That is enough food to alleviate hunger. The most prominent cause of food wastage in Africa is the immature transport and distribution system we have.  64% of Mango produced in Kenya is wastage due to poor storage and packaging. In Nigeria less than 1% of fruits are processed or exported, most of it is eaten raw or rots away.

South Africa is one of the world’s top exporters of citrus, lime and oranges to the Northern Hemisphere. It only consumes 9% of its produces and exports the rest, which allows the farmers to make billions of dollars annually.

South Africa fruit industry
Behind the success of South Africa is logistics.[iv] An efficient and up-to date South African railway system, use of Information Technology to enable the electronic processing of all documentation, advanced packaging standards, continual innovation in technology, products and methods and efficiency at South African ports through decongestion and a comprehensive shipping strategy, are some of the suggestion of making South African even more competitive.  

In this one paragraph is enough insight to ensure that the food issue in Africa is resolved resoundingly and for us not only to feed our continent but also to feed the whole world.   

If we don’t, exploitation will set into play. Multinationals have began to lease large tracts of land in Madagascar, Mozambique and Cameroon and they do maximize their profits at no benefit to the local populations.

The other sobering fact is that we have more than 52 cities in Africa that have more than 1 million environs.  Despite this the collective GDP of Africa is potentially equal to that of Brazil.

Brazil is currently experiencing wide spread upheaval as more than a million people took to the streets in the summer of 2013 demanding better public investment and improved public services on the onset of the World Cup 2014.

The inequality in the Brazilian society is such that it has more dollar billionaires than all other South American countries combined with high levels of corruption that cost Brazil more than $ 41 billion annually.

Africa sees the same problems, but due to the diverse borders that separate countries that were colonized by different western powers, an invisible boundary separates Francophone Africa from, Portuguese and Anglo Africa. And through this the loss due to lack of proper public investment, poor public services and corruption are astronomical by any standard.

In fact the Corruption Perception index[v] published by Transparency International which placed Brazil at a modest 69 ranking out of 178 countries. Places countries like Somalia, South Sudan, Libya, Chad, Angola, Guinea Bissau, Democratic republic of Congo and Equitorial Guinea at the bottom of their ranking. Please note that some of these are the wealthiest countries in the world in terms of mineral resources; Somalia included. UNDP estimates that corruption costs Africa $148 billion annually.

Africa has one of the youngest populations in the world, with more than 200 million between the ages of 15 – 24. This could potentially be an asset or a risk to the individual African countries.[vi] Employment has to be created, and adequate employment to ensure that as more youth are educated, they are not idle or stuck in a desperate position where they have no source of income.

The situation in Nigeria where a recruitment drive by the Nigeria Immigration Service, turned tragic due to the high unemployment rate in the country and the desperation by the populace to find willful employment is something that could potentially be a reality across Africa.     

Is there any linkage between that and the discord in Northern Nigeria, the deep-rooted nature in which Boko Haram seems to be growing, or the situation in Somalia with Al-Shabaab, the Mungiki in Kenya or the Julius Malema thought pattern in South Africa?

Does it have any linkage to the high crime rates in South Africa?

Only time will tell, but if governments don’t collectively handle this situations proactively, we may be sitting on a time bomb, and with the interconnected nature of the global economy, there is no longer room for a pacifist stance by any country in the world that could offer a solution.

In conclusion, I would like to mention that most of the African governments do know the current situation afflicting them. But there is need to look East, at the decisive steps that countries like South Korea, Malaysia and Singapore took to change their situations as opposed to listening to the lopsided democratic speech of the Western world that have taken centuries to go through French revolutions, American Civil wars and two world wars to arrive at an ill effective European Union and deeply divided Republican and Democrat state, which are both highly wasteful and ready to grind to a halt at any moment.  

Africa we need to arise and determine our own future, we can borrow from the East, like Japan and China did from the West in the 19th and 20th Century after a long period of Isolation, for us its after a long period of exploitation.

Africa are you courageous enough to stop the curse or are you content in languishing in this cesspool of mediocrity? To achieve this we may need more Thomas Sankaras[vii] in every sphere of our economy, people who are fearless, uncompromising in their principles and honorable.


“It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.”
Thomas Sankara



[i] http://www.centralparknyc.org/about/about-cpc/2013-annual-report.html
[ii] http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/africa/lions_on_the_move
[iii] http://www.worldhunger.org/articles/Learn/world%20hunger%20facts%202002.htm
[iv] http://www.postharvestinnovation.org.za/projects-2/scrutinising-south-african-fresh-fruit-export-logistics/
[v] http://www.transparency.org/cpi2013/results
[vi] http://www.africaneconomicoutlook.org/theme/youth_employment/
[vii] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Sankara

Friday, 27 June 2014

DO YOU AGREE YOU ARE A BIGOT?


Tarquinius Superbus makes himself King
The reign of Lucius Tarquinius Superbus, the seventh and last King of Rome, was marked by his pride, arrogance and greed.  His reign can only be measured by the level of tyranny he inflicted on his citizenry. He ruled through fear. Conducting arbitrary trials where he put to death, banished or fined those he suspected or disliked. He rose to power through the assassination of his father-in-law and siblings.  To gain wealth he attacked and plundered wealthier surrounding cities. This is not to discredit his political wizardry which allowed him to expand Rome’s sphere of influence upon which the greater Roman Empire used as a stepping stone to world dominance. His decline is all the more relevant because due to his excesses and his innate need to retain power he created enemies with the ruling aristocracy who deposed his family from Rome and created a republic.

We live in a time where society acclaims self importance, arrogance, vanity, conceit, narcissism, egotism and snobbishness. You only have to look at the intersection between the “Haves” and the “Have nots” to realize that as humans it is innate to want to see one-self as important, as belonging to a group of elite.

Adolf Hitler understood this very well. And used it successfully by rousing the Aryan race factor to bring about an elitist mindset among the German people. This deception worked successfully due to the great losses the German nation had faced after the Great depression of 1929 and the collective disillusionment that afflicted the nation. Hitler touched their hearts, and they gave him their minds. While economic and military advancement was essential and paramount, the subjugation  of other lower races was deemed appropriate through expulsion, starvation and extermination.

In the racially intolerant atmosphere of  1968, a day after the fatal shooting of Martin Luther King, Jane Elliot devised a controversial exercise to show the ills of discrimination, she separated her Third grade class into a blue-eyed group and a brown-eyed group.[i] And gave them a slew of rules and reasons why either of them were better for a duration of time, what followed were moments of discrimination from either group when it was stated they had an attribute that made them better.

In a world of more than 7 billion souls, where racial discrimination is no longer an accepted norm, where the richest seven countries in the world have a running agenda of alleviating extreme poverty, and where FIFA punishes racial discrimination in football, you would think discrimination based on the assumption that one belongs to an elite group would be a thing of the past.
But you only have to look at an offshoot of this behavior that exists at the edge of public scrutiny and away from legal reprimand.

STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images

History has proved this statement right “ every period of economic downturn also led to a rise in  discrimination, racism and xenophobia”. South Africa, Italy and Britain offer fine examples for discrimination against minorities in the aftermath of the financial crisis of 2008. 

Discrimination gone unchecked is genocide. The Rwandan genocide was ethnic, the holocaust was racial, the Armenian genocide was religious[ii]

A micro observation of this behavior can be seen in countries like Kenya,  where tribal allegiance seems to trounce the need to overturn a common enemy of poverty, corruption and increased marginalization. 

As human beings we seem to fall into a state of disillusionment when we can’t attack and resolve the poor state of our economies, when abject poverty or unemployment looms like a large torrential cloud before us. We thus sell our hearts to anyone who offers us a better option, a light at the end of this dark tunnel we are in.

   

Politicians with their sweet tongues, and their out of this world promises seem to offer an alternative that is better than our current mediocrity. We thus sell our hearts to the highest bidder and in the process shut down our minds, hoping for the best. 

When we are told we are better than another group, we agree. When we are told someone else has taken what is rightfully ours, we agree. When the person tells you to hate your enemy, you agree. When you are told to act against your enemy, you agree. As we do all these things, we are still human.
But we have not really changed our situation have we? 

Am I wrong to call us all bigots?

Whether in 1937 as a German discriminating against a Jew or a gypsy. The European colonial powers in their reference of the subdued African countries in pre and post colonial economic slavery. The Sunni and Shiites in the Middle East in religious factional animosity. The Italian concerned about the number of Africans crossing the Mediterranean. Or Kenyans as they look at Somalis taking over Nairobi economically while abject poverty afflicts millions across their country.

Do you agree or disagree?



[i] http://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/lesson-of-a-lifetime-72754306/?c=y&page=1
[ii] https://filipspagnoli.files.wordpress.com/2009/05/financial-crisis-recession-and-anti-semitism.gif?w=354&h=410

Friday, 20 June 2014

A STORY OF TERRORISM, 'FUTEBOL' AND THE INVISIBLE GORILLA


Terrorism has existed for many centuries and while it has morphed over time it fundamentally strives to achieve the same purpose; to instill fear and terror.

Flavius Josephus the 1st Century Romano-Jewish historian and scholar wrote about the Sicarii, an extremist splinter group of the Jewish Zealots who were agitating to expel the occupying Romans from Judea. Their weapon of choice was a small dagger, which was concealed in cloaks, and used effectively in public gatherings against Romans and their sympathizers. The perpetrator would then filter away in the crown to avoid detection.

The execution of Marie Antoinette. Artist unknown.
The French revolution is remembered for the democratic and liberal stance it introduced to the world. But during its prime, the “reign of terror” was extreme. A brand of justice that involved summary execution by guillotine was meted out indiscriminately and openly by the Jacobin Club; a political party that supported having a constitution.
The insensitivity of the ruling class to the social inequality and extreme poverty experienced by the French population are some of the reasons given by scholars to why the public embraced the radical tone that the revolution took.

The history of Afghanistan, Pakistan and Somalia are similar in that each of these countries has a rich history that goes back to antiquity. What further solidifies their similarity is the manner in which wars have been fought over centuries to assume control of the territories that they now occupy. Over time the injustice perpetrated against their populace, by there own people and external parties has found an outlet through the AlShabaab, Al-Qaeda and Taliban militant groups, who sell a brand of terror to the rest of the world.
Afghans playing Buzkashi on horseback

Why is it when we talk of terrorism the first image that springs to mind is of an Islamist extremist?  Is it a case of a region that has seen extreme affliction by the super powers of this world in the search for natural resources? Are they really the face of worldwide terrorism or are they the most publicized and most well exported terrorists?

According to the Global Terrorism Index, which ranks 158 countries according to the impact of terrorism, at the very top you will find Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Somalia, which have been ravished by suicide bombing and extrajudicial killings.

In an era where innocent people have died in the tens of thousands in Congo, Somalia, South Sudan and Mexico, the collective global mind has become lazy to the atrocities that have been perpetrated over years, and have focused on the recent media frenzy in Iraq, Crimea and Syria. Our collective intuition has effectively become blind to atrocities that are not well documented in the world media.

The Invisible Gorilla, was based on an experiment done by Harvard Professors, Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simon, to reveal the numerous times our intuitions can deceive us. A video was shown of a group of six people, who passed basketballs around, the viewer was asked to silently count the number of times the ball was passed.  At a certain point a Gorilla strolls into the middle of the action, faces the camera and thumps its chest, and then leaves, spending nine seconds on screen. Only half of those who watched the video saw the Gorilla, the other half completely missed it. What else do we miss out?
The Invisible Gorilla

The “general law of least effort” applies to cognitive as well as physical exertion. The law asserts that if there are several ways of achieving the same goal, people will eventually gravitate to the least demanding action.

The reason why more than 100 million people watch every match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil is because we are collectively looking for the least demanding action to occupy our minds away from the drudgery of our lives and the situations that afflict us on a daily basis. And also because we have given the TV station free reign to get into a season where nothing else makes sensible news like the happenings of Brazil. Be it the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), which is overrunning Iraq or the war in Ukraine, we have simply chosen to allow a few to define our collective futures.

In conclusion, with the recent Mpeketoni attack where more than 60 innocent people lost their lives to terrorists, I pray that the Kenyan collective mind will be seared long enough for tangible and resolute action to be taken by the government. For I know when we stop asking questions things go back to the way they used to be. And the invisible Gorilla thumps its chest in front of our very eyes once again.
 

Friday, 13 June 2014

THE KENYAN HEALTH SYSTEM A PATCHWORK OF THEORIES, OBSERVATIONS AND CORRUPT PRACTICES.


 A few weeks ago I took my wife and my newborn daughter to a private health center. As we patiently waited to be attended a nagging question began to froth in my mind. Why am I here? Unfortunately it was not one of those self-discovery questions that cause you to understand the meaning of life. But rather I started asking why heath care was so expensive and inaccessible in Kenya, and not just here but across Africa. I wanted to know what has been our undoing, what missteps did we take and is the situation solvable.

This article seeks to ask and answer questions around this quagmire

Van-Leeuwenhoek father of microbiology 
Health care as we know it is not a recent invention, as far back as 437 BC the King of Sri Lanka had hospitals around his kingdom to care for the sick. Health care had a strong allegiance to religion and in most archeological findings it is common to unearth medical artifacts lying side by side with religious totems. What this symbolizes is the great mystery that was healing and health care for many centuries. Humanity has fumbled for many eons in the search for health. As far back as 300 years ago amputations were a norm because microbiology had not become acceptable. Medical practice then was steeped in shamanism and the occult.

In fact the exponential rise of population around the world lies squarely at the doors of a renaissance of human knowledge. A quick succession of industrial, information and knowledge eras have brought about astronomical medical advances. The only problem with these advances it seems is that the wave of change in medical practices has not rippled across the world. While access to health care is universal in some developed countries, in others 16th century shamanism and sorcery serve as health care solutions. The disparity could never be greater. 

Why is this the case?

Western imperialism became an export with the advent of the industrial revolution. Part of that brand was the health care system of the “races of highest social efficiency”. This was propagated across Africa with the same vain as the building of infrastructure e.g. roads, railroads and other innovations. What was lacking in these advances was a manual for the natives on how to sustain or surpass these innovations over time. This is why despite the freedom cry that rose over the mid 20th century across the colonized world, rot and rust is what remained after the Western powers had left. Systems that were maintained with German efficiency or English policing failed soon after.

Many developing countries have aped the western world health care systems, as ascribed after independence. What this has meant is that health care for the populace of developing countries has faired in the same vain as the economic fortunes of these countries.

It takes a concerted effort by the leadership of a country to decide on whether despite the economic situation of the country health care is a priority. And in most instances the proof is not in the money the country puts into the health care system, but rather the efficiency, quality and effectiveness.

While Bloomberg ranking of the most efficient health care by country for 2013, placed Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan at the top of the list. There is need to look at a third world country to find answers to what can be done to use less to achieve more in health care in Africa.  Ecuador ranked 20th and Cuba ranked 28th would be ideal for this article. 

Ecuador a “third-world country” adopted a new constitution in 2008 that mandated universal health care to all its citizens. With this came a four-fold increase in their budget for social security health care, construction of hospitals and clinics across the country, and doubling of doctors under the system. The icing on the cake for the citizenry was all would access this for $70 a month. Given the state of the economy and low levels of unemployment, Ecuadorians have a high confidence in their health system.

To understand Cuba on the other hand, you have to go back to 1950s and grasp how Fidel Castro came into power. And progressively how vilified Cuba became to its super power neighbor. Fidel Castro took charge of a country that was the playground of American capitalists who holidayed in its plush hotels. There were adverse inequalities between the White and Black. Between city and countryside. Corruption was rife. Fidel turned the capitalist state into a socialist state and emphasized social projects to improve Cuba’s standards of living, often to the detriment of economic development. Health care was nationalized and expanded.
Castro’s innovative investment in education and health care has since allowed the country to offer one of the best health care systems in the world to its citizenry cheaply. Over time it has exported its medical staff as a foreign exchange earner to other countries extensively, and also recently has become a haven for medical tourists from across the globe. Simply stated Cuba has been able to achieve a lot despite insurmountable odds.

So what can we borrow from this as Africa?

The first element we have to propose is how do you reduce waste, and one only have to look at the American system, to identify that a lot is wasted on “over-treatment, creation of illnesses, exposure to contagion through over-hospitalization, disease-focused instead of prevention-focused research, and making the poor sicker by refusing them treatment”[i].
Cuba's health care system
Photo by Sarah van Gelder
The Cuba preposition is to have a doctor-nurse team living in the neighborhood they serve. This This produces not just a professional adequate for providing healthcare but also a well-rounded, valuable member of the local community[ii].
allows the doctor to know their patients well. To cap this Cuba has the highest doctor to patient ratios in the world. This community integration approach has allowed a holistic training for medical students who learn about local cultures, indigenous medicines and effective community relations in practical conditions.



There is need to also have a concerted effort in improving infrastructure it is noted in the first 6 months of office Fidel Castro had build 600 miles of roads, $ 300 million was spent on water and sanitation schemes, 800 houses were constructed every month and more classrooms were opened in 30 months than the previous 30 years.

There is simply no way African countries can move ahead without a targeted and concerted effort devoid of corruption and greed. The sooner we realize this the sooner millions will begin to benefit from the little that is on the table.

African countries have to borrow a leaf from Cuba, and fully focus on health care, infrastructure and education in their budgets and not give pedestrian focus on these matters. Leaders like Fidel Castro, Lee Kuan Yew and Park Chung-hee may not necessarily have been democratic to their citizenry, but they brought change that was lauded across the world.

In conclusion, while I would like to visit a local hospital or clinic and get the best healthcare comparable to Cuba or Malaysia or Singapore, I realize that I need to gravitate towards leaders that are visionary who desire that my country takes leaps forward in development. That is not an easy pill to swallow, given the great leap forward geared projects ascribed by these countries were autocratic. But then again there is no greatness that was not achieved without pain.




[i] Why Is Cuba's Health Care System the Best Model for Poor Countries?
by Don Fitz

[ii] http://www.global-politics.co.uk/issue9/hanna/

Saturday, 7 June 2014

IS BRAND DIFFERENTIATION RELEVANT IN EAST AFRICA


 
The elixir of eternal youth is a potent desire for many brands. Being able to say “we just turned 10 years as a brand despite being around the block for a century or two” is something most companies dream about.  Companies like Kongō Gumia a construction company in Japan that existed for 1400 years and Beretta the firearm multinational founded in 1526 have a sense of elegance.

But to last this long, most of them had to be flexible and stay relevant. While Kongō Gumia had to sell coffins during World War II to stay operational, Beretta had to expand vigorously and research its clients’ needs consistently in this conflict-riddled world.          

Does the longevity of your company attest to the fact that your brand is different and relevant?

The answer is not necessarily favorable. To stay relevant a brand has to be interesting. Seth Gordin talks about the purple cow experience. If for example you were driving through the Nandi highlands and noticed Friesian cows you would think them interesting if they are not your natural occurrence. But after coming upon many more cows your interest would slowly wane to a trickle until of course you come upon a purple cow, which no one has ever laid eyes on.  

In life people are looking for something interesting away from their rather dull lives. But how does one stand out in a market where everyone seems to be peddling the same product? How can one make the mundane interesting?

The Young and the Restless is an American soap opera, which has been broadcasting from 1973 with syndication worldwide, it has been the # 1 daytime drama in America since 1989.  How has it managed this? It has done this through many twists and turns and an ability to keep its clientele at the edge of their collective seats. It lets them relate and engage with the content on display. They “own” the brand and customize it to their own divergent thought process.

Being different is not relevant if it is not interesting.

For most organizations it calls for them to uproot their very DNA to strive to be interesting because at the very core of being interesting is the word “risk”. Taking risks involves change, being flexible and discarding old perceptions. New ideas require one to engage the client extensively and continuously to relate with their aspirations.



Being able to say you are unique and different in a market means you have to be offering something that is needed by your clientele. Something that no one else offers or is able to offer in the long haul., to the benefit of the client. The key word here is benefit not features. Learn to focus on what will benefit your client. 

The Blue Ocean Strategy developed by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne looks to give a unique identity to a business, so that in the end they play within a clear blue ocean, away from the bloodied red ocean of cutthroat competition. Where companies are busy fighting for smaller and smaller margins, dwindling shelf space and visibility in the marketplace.

Seth Gordin stated that one needed to be remarkable, target a few early adopters, create a product they would love, let them be the evangelizers of the product and let them market it to the larger market.  The value of the group is not related to its size but rather its influence. For example an early adopter of your product who in most cases is a trend setter will slowly influence larger groups of people in the market, who only buy what they remember and know, as opposed to something different, to embrace your product.

To take Seth Gordin’s approach calls for one to think that taking risks is the only safe way you can get people to notice and embrace you product.

Do you want to stand apart from your competitors, as a provider for value to your clients?

Then reconstruct your market boundary like Cirque du Soleil, who blend opera and ballet with circus or SouthWest Airlines who offer flexibility of bus travel at the speed of air travel using secondary airports.
Offer what is termed as value innovation by creating value for the buyer, the company, and its employees, thereby opening up new and uncontested market spaces.

By definition, value innovation is about making the competition irrelevant by changing the playing field of strategy.  The company’s strategy must create and raise value for the market, while concurrently reducing or eliminating features or services that are less valued by the current or future market.

In conclusion, East Africa is ripe for value innovation, be it in transportation, financial services, energy, education and so forth. What we just have to do is ensure that we create blue oceans in the process instead of diving headlong into murky uninspired red oceans. 

Written for Management Magazine East Africa June 2014 issue