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Saturday, 25 October 2014

THE DEATH OF THE TRIBE IN AFRICA



 I trace my lineage to the Bantu people who originally came from present day Niger Delta Basin. If I discount any reference to an Egyptian origin, I then share a similar history with millions of people around Africa, which is unfortunate since there is no sense of belonging that arises from this story.

Embu Dancers
Bushmen hunting

There is no Bantu culture that I know of. Maybe because it eroded long before the great migrations began centuries ago. What I know of is the tribal culture that I was born into. For this piece I wanted to investigate the idea of tribal identity since the human being is a social being that seeks to identify within a group of people.

When the word tribe is mentioned, a flood of archaic similes comes to mind. Mainly because the western culture that my generation has lactated on associates it with a bygone frozen past. You see men with spears, naked children, people living in caves and so forth. And guess what, people don't see a common human past, they see Africa, which is one of the last reference points for these mental pictures.

People will always strive to explain the world around them. And while the truth is always more available to those who fervently seek it, most people will settle for half-truths, mythology or plain misinformation. And this wasn’t limited to medieval Europe and their flat world. Today you and I walk around with beliefs, points of views and assertions about certain topics that are embarrassing at most. There is no one person who is a bastion of all knowledge.
 
The man with all the answers
When I was growing up my parents tried halfheartedly to inspire me to follow certain tribal rituals and learn a tribal language (my parents came from different tribes).  I believe it was a halfhearted attempt because my parents’ crop in the 80’s were educated, building careers and in certain instances living in communities that were not necessarily tribal due to rural-urban migration. The fortitude of the tribe to them had begun to lose its luster.

With the advent of economic migration, the “traditional” tribe as we knew it is slowly dying. Some tribes have already given up and many in my grandfather’s generation sigh hopelessly as they witness the destruction of tribal ties, rituals, culture and languages that took centuries to orient the identity of the tribe. Others have maintained a persistent wall of resistance like the Santhal,in India who marry within the tribe to maintain a tribal identity, and when there is evidence of cultural erosion, they result to violence to maintain some level of control and “sanity”. 

source: ledna.org Addis Ababa


Honor killing, rampant in the Middle East, North Africa and Western Asia, is a more severe form of violent reaction to the progressively eroding tribal culture that this part of the world has held to over centuries. It doesn't help when success is seen in the lives of people who are embracing capitalism and its associated western culture.

The Maasai of East Africa have managed to maintain their culture I believe partly due to the initiation process that young men go through together and their membership to an age-set for the entirety of their life. Another factor is their self-image, “Maasai reigned supreme, all powerful, confident of the status as God's chosen people, contemptuous of lesser beings. It is perhaps this very attitude which has kept them from entering the modem world" (Saibull1981:20).

Source: www.adamwoodhams.com Maasai men
Around the world this “healthy” self-image has allowed the Jewish nation to flourish in every sphere of society, Japan to advance through the 20th century to become highly industrialized and even 1930’s Germany to industrialize in preparation for a conquest of Europe.

But unlike the Jewish nation, which is at the forefront of the cultural movement, the Maasai are constantly under attack and their fortress wall is being rammed by the collective strength of global economic advancement.  The outlook by most indications is grim.

 As tribal elders, healers and so forth are coming to the end of their lives around the world, large amounts of knowledge locked up in their memories will spill into oblivion.  There is a treasure trove of knowledge in what humanity has used to survive for thousands of years that could potentially be lost in this single generation if it is not documented.  Knowledge in ecology that could save us in the future could be lost, flora and fauna that was used by healers that could potentially save humanity in the future, and so forth.

Language death is on the prowl and hundreds of languages are quickly dying around the world. It is estimated that by the end of the 21st century, 90% of languages will have died.  Is there benefit in homogeneity? Or will it stifle innovation and diversity? The Bible talks about a powerful people who collectively chose to achieve a goal, in building the Tower of Babel. Is this what we are going back to? Will this create world dominance and destroy any form of contrary thought.

Tower of Babel Rendition.

As far back as history notes political systems and such groupings have used the tribal sentiment to push their agenda across. In Africa, as in the rest of the world, leaders have been voted into power based on narrow tribal interests .

While globalization is changing these sentiments, I believe in the near future, the needs of a “traditional” tribe will not be as clear-cut as they were in the past.


The dynamics of a 21st century tribe, or what I call the ‘future tribe’ is one that is best explained by Seth Gordin . The Internet was supposed to homogenize the world by bringing us together, but with inter-connectivity, then comes the ability to ‘search’ (a powerful ability), connect and collaborate with people with similar interests.  And this is what social media is facilitating.  

The winning technology solution of the future is one which will connect people, affirm them and mimic the attributes and structures of a formidable existing traditional tribe despite ones location around the world. There is a lot that such solutions can learn from the Maasai and other tribes that have survived and even flourished despite globalization.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

CAN THERE BE EFFECTIVE WASTE MANAGEMENT IN AFRICA?



I live in Nairobi, one of the fastest growing cities in Africa. Nairobi has witnessed continual growth over the last 30 or so years. And it is still growing. One of its biggest concerns lies in waste management or more aptly put “how do we handle the garbage we churn?”

While the problem in Nairobi is not as dire as what you witness with Mexico City and its Poniente Landfill, or Lagos and it’s Lagos Dump, or the expanse of Delhi city,
I believe Nairobi would be in a similar dire strain if it had experienced the same explosive population growths that Lagos and the Indian cities have experienced due to rural-urban migration.
Lagos dump Courtesy George Esiri_Reuters

Bordo Poniente Landfill, Mexico Courtesy Yuri Cortez_Getty Images
There is a dividing line in the city, between the more affluent neighborhoods, which essentially pay private collection firms to take away their garbage to the only landfill in Nairobi, Dandora Dumping Site and poor neighborhoods that have not organized adequately to constantly collect their refuse and send it off. The common approach in these poor neighborhoods is for garbage to be dumped by the residents in unsavory highly pungent heaps beside roads and in open areas in close proximity to their houses.

Nairobi generates 15,000 tons of recoverable waste daily, of which only 850 tons ends at this landfill. With most of the waste unaccounted for, I perceive it ends up in the heaps I mentioned earlier or seeps into the soil and water systems. It is also imperative to note that this landfill was declared full more than a decade ago; despite this, it still continues to accept garbage unregulated.


The systemic lack of proper governance despite the presence of legal responsibility on the part of the Nairobi city county makes this situation even more appalling.


While the conventional definition of municipal solid waste does not include industrial, agricultural, medical and radioactive waste or sewage sludge, the average citizen in a poor neighborhood living near the landfill interacts with all these types of waste due to lack of regulation and adherence to legislation.

A century ago a “place of cool water”, Enkarre Nairobi, was settled. Nairobi River is now a dense-slow-moving sewage sludge traversing slums, medical institutions and factories that dump effluence into the river with general disregard.

There must be a solution to this problem, and I believe the citizenry in all other African countries desire the same.  I do appreciate that African cities are growing, and consumerism is rising exponentially, and while we have not reached the levels of waste experienced in North America and their Pacific trash vortex (estimated to be the size of Somalia/Texas).

Pacific Trash Vortex Courtesy of GreenPeace

There is a lot that can be learned from them in developing or innovating means of avoiding an environmental catastrophe. The Dandora Landfill generates thousands of health complications annually, including amputations, respiratory infections, cancer, and birth complications. The Landfill generates methane, which contributes to global warming, pollutes the soil and water systems.    

As we stand, the world is advancing in realizing that there has to be a cultural shift in how we perceive waste.  The waste hierarchy, a pyramid expressing the most favored to the least favored manner of handling waste is a European Union sponsored waste framework directive which has taken years to perfect.


Courtesy of North West Region Waste Management Group: -Waste Hierarchy - Based on current wastage percentage

There are countries like Sweden who recycle more than 99% of their waste and send only 1% of their waste to landfills. And they are doing it profitably to a point where Sweden is now importing waste from other countries and converting it into marketable products like energy.


Sourced from Usitall presentation

Sourced from Usitall Presentation Sweden is doing far much better than Europe in how much of its resource goes to landfills

I perceive that we are way behind in Africa in terms of our collective appreciation of the waste hierarchy, where currently we see waste as something that needs to be thrown away. How we need to change is by looking at it as a valuable resource that can bring financial benefit.  Lagos has seen this sense.

Our lack of working systems could potentially be our strongest standpoint. While the Western world has mulled over different solutions and invested billions in landfills over decades we don't have any preconceived inhibitions on embracing the latest technologies.  That may help us covert waste to energy and other marketable products that can be resold to the citizenry and industry.

By changing public perceptions, we can essentially turn the waste hierarchy on its head and so do more of what is preferred and dispose far much less in landfills in a more environmentally friendly manner.

Courtesy of North West Region Waste Management Group: - An inverted more effective waste hierarchy system with least waste disposed
To a large extent this will help us to save our environment for future generations.

Part of this mindset requires political willpower, where adequate legislation is enacted and enforced, similar to what has happened in Sweden, where counties/municipalities bear the responsibility of collecting waste and in choosing how to handle this responsibility either by outsourcing or performing it internally.

To empower this legislation a levy or tax should be implemented to model certain behavior from institutions that produce waste be it factories, health, agricultural estates or homesteads.  The system should work in such a manner that there is incentive to reduce, reuse and recycle waste by these institutions. A lot can be learnt from the European Union  and Sweden.

Sweden Waste Statistics


This public service activity of collecting waste from households and industry should be done in such a way that waste is separated and sorted, which essentially makes the next step far much easier and cheaper to accomplish. Households and industries should either get tax-breaks or be paid for this work, mainly because at the end of the day, the waste will produce a marketable product that is sold.  

There should also be widespread and consistent awareness on how to sort and separate waste so that it can be effectively collected.

The next step involves processing activities consists of disassembly and sorting waste into specific waste flows.

Swedish Approach
Swedish Approach
Kenyan Approach

Kenyan Approach

The current situation, at Dandora landfill, is such that waste is sorted and separated at the landfill in unsanitary conditions with little or no protection. Despite this risk, the people working there see this as a source of income, and see any excursion to change the situation as an attack on the poor. In the future adequate sensitization and economic empowerment of the populations that live around the landfill in the slums of  Dandora, Korogocho and Babadogo, needs to be conducted. 

There are technologies that can perform this processing far more effectively with limited human intervention, but then again the question that begs to be answered is more to do with political willpower and the public sentiments around labor and its utilization in a developing country.

The final marketing activities bring out the results of the processing activities to the market economy in terms of energy or recycled material. I foresee energy companies like Kenya Power, taking over the landfill and converting biogas into energy that can power homesteads and industries.  I also believe the next landfill that is erected in Nairobi should function in a manner comparable to the best in the world, which only hold 1% of the waste being churned in the city.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

IS THERE HOPE FOR AFRICA’S VULNERABLE DIGITAL CITIZENS?





A few weeks ago I started investigating about the use of mass media in manipulating the tastes and perceptions of children.

This came right off the back of me delving into the power of propaganda and how the Third Reich indoctrinated German children to loath and hate Jews, and progressively take part innocently in their annihilation.The manner in which this was done begins with innocent symbolism and ends with psychological manipulation to achieve an evil objective.   

I wanted to find out how in the same vain social behavior in Africa can be manipulated today using the Internet to achieve the whims of organized institutions that have the resources to do so. 

Africa has the youngest population in the world. More than 50% of its population is below 20 years. More than ever before this age group is more educated and knows how to search for information online. 
It is telling when the most respected brands in Africa are MTN, Nokia, Coca-Cola and Samsung. In these brands you find the aspirations and the behavior of the continent, tied to more than 635million mobile subscribers.

Source: thebftonline.com african-youth
Youth unemployment is a big problem in Africa and it is potentially destabilizing in a continent where power is concentrated in the hands of a few extractive institutions.

Extractive institutions desire control to be placed in the hands of a few. Internet access on the other hand through affordable mobile phones and connectivity, is disruptive and defeats censorship. It transfers certain instruments of power to the masses.

In Africa most censorship is done on print, radio and television with these forms of media being directly controlled or monitored by the government of the day.  Eritrea, Equatorial Guinea and North Sudan are extreme cases, with Eritrea being termed as the least connected country in the world today.

If I look at the Internet; sidestep the political disruption, innovation and creativity that it brings and focus on oversight. The question in my mind is what oversight is in place to monitor different vested individuals, groups, multinationals and foreign governments that are competing for the attention of this malleable age group in Africa.

Fact: African countries either lack the technical capability or sensibility to consider this an issue.

Don't get me wrong there is merit in stating that mobile phones and Internet access can transform how we advance as a continent that has the least developed basic infrastructure in terms of roads, power and sanitation. The potential is astounding; from how we apply what we learn on a daily basis, to how millions of innovative, intelligent Africans are becoming a force to recon with in any global conversation. 
A number of times Kenyans On Twitter  #KOT (and there are more than 23 million Kenyans on the internet) have made American media personalities recant and apologize for their uninformed statements.

But after all is said and done, what vexes me is the negative and harmful online activity that African countries are ill equipped to tackle or combat against.

They include bullying and harassment, identity theft and online abuse (such as children seeing harmful and illegal content, or being exposed to grooming for sexual purposes or the production, distribution and collection of child abuse material).  

Not to be ignored also is the addictive nature of the Internet. When a child (any person below 18) discovers that there is nothing in the physical world to hold their attention or inspire them to be part of an inclusive system. And they choose to develop a preoccupation with the Internet as a means to escape a mundane and boring life.


Learning in to use laptops

What this opens up is a Pandora’s box where ideological manipulation can also take shape. It should not shock anyone that the brand of terrorism sponsored by Al-Qaida is spreading around the world at the speed of the Internet. It is not wrong to state that most of the young people in Africa are disillusioned, in need of a sense of purpose and want to belong to a community. If they don't get this from the societies they live in they will be open to the simplicity of the Al-Qaida message and the popularity of its brand in this Technicolor stage where “David” fights “Goliath” in unconventional warfare.

What we also need to realize is that the multinationals of this world have realized that Africa is no longer a ‘dark ‘continent. The potentiality of it being a market for goods and services is now old news. If you doubt this kindly read this McKinsey report .

Is Africa open to being manipulated by international brands? The answer is potentially yes. Coca-Cola has done a wonderful job in aligning itself with a vibrant advancing Africa, and this touches on our collective psyche, as most of us believe that the future is bright for our continent.

Man uses tablet in AfricaCom, Africa largest ICT conference
Whether an advert is presented to us subliminally in the movies that we pirate across the continent, or persistently during prime time news. We are part of the international set of eyes that are now recipients of marketing strategies set around the world to sell products.

The result of such manipulative advertising is an inherent desire to acquire things. You name it; from shoes to the clothes we see our favorite footballer endorsing we are invariably being primed to buy. Consumerism is on the prowl.

I believe there is need to have strong consumer protection legislation in most African countries, which is geared towards protecting our children. The legislation should be maintained and sustained devoid of corrupt practices. Outright manipulation by multinationals should be frowned upon and penalized. There is a broad range of activity happening across Africa to this end.
 
There is a lot that still needs to be done by public and private institutions, individuals and groups in Africa to protect our children while they are online. The African Child Online Protection is one such initiative that seeks to tackle children online security. From their website one is able to appreciate relevant guidelines that can be adopted by different stakeholders including parents, educators, industry and policy makers. My hope is that we become sensitive to the needs of these vulnerable digital citizens.