Archive for August, 2006

The argument of compensation is a misguided farce
August 28, 2006                      By Al Kags

As I do every Sunday, I read Prof. Ali Mazrui’s column in the Sunday Standard but having read this Sunday’s edition, I realise that he has brought to the fore my consternation with Africa on the basis of it progression from a subservient state to a successful one.

In his very well written article, the Chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture says, I’m sure correctly that the west has benefited immensely from both Africa’s labour and natural resources throughout the Agricultural revolution and the Industrial revolution. Quite correctly, he cites the conflicts waged in Africa and around the world by Africans that have propelled western countries like France and Portugal to the modern successes today.

He wonders, “Should reparations to Africa be based only on the benefits that the west derived from the imperatives of labour, territory and extraction across generations?”


But the reality of the situation is that it will not happen and Africa (and African Americans) must get off their laurels and move on. For how long will Africa look back at its past and complain, making great political arguments and great cases for compensation while the West moves on and makes a success of itself? For how long will Africa trudge into the future looking back at what was?

And by the way, speaking of compensation, I remember just the other day when the emotive story was told of the people in northern Kenya who were maimed and hurt by mines that had carelessly been left behind by the British army. Many lost their limbs and kin and a case was made in a british court for them to be compensated. This was done. They won millions of pounds and we all saw a victory against the old colonialist and patted each other in the back.

Today, those people are wallowing back in poverty, having drunk themselves silly, bought TVs and other sophisticated electronic gadgets that they could not use.  Their children are yet again, struggling to go to school and in the last famine, they suffered hunger and malnutrition and lack of water. Yet again, they have their hands outstretched for the government, someone, to help.

I wonder if compensation in that light makes sense. Money without knowledge is a waste, wouldn’t you agree?

The story of compensation is a tired one, I fear and Africa simply must remove its face from upon its hand and start competing.

We missed out on the best of Agricultural revolution (even though we are still in it to a large extent) and we definitely missed out on the industrial revolution. That ship has sailed and that we must accept. Incoming is the information revolution and therein lies our opportunity to win.

Strategy is about winning and Africa needs to become strategic.  Now.

My suggestion is that Africa takes stock of its capacity as at now and use it to its advantage to win.  As a minor example, I choose to take Kenya’s northern frontier and the treatment of its people and territory by Kenya.

Fact: Northern Kenya is unlikely to become lush green farmlands in our generation

Fact: The reason that not much investment has been made in northern Kenya since independence is a simple return on investment argument. For as long as Kenya defines its opportunities mainly along the lines of agriculture and tourism, Northern Kenya cannot be a major investment because it has comparatively little to offer in terms of Return on investment.

Fact: the territory in northern Kenya has not been efficiently used at any level. Nomadism and pastoralism are not now, nor will they be viable propellants to Kenya’s success.

So what to do? I suggest that we use the northern territory of Kenya to win along the lines of trade and technology. If we make that strategic decision, it will immediately make sense to invest in roads to the north, fibre optic cable network grids in the north and an airport.  It will make sense for Kenya to make Wajir, for example a Free Trade zone and Garissa, Hola and Lamu EPZ zones.

This will in turn give me and many other young professionals the impetus to move up north and decongest the city and surrounding towns as well as open up the rest of the country.

A bold action such as this one, well executed has the potential of making Kenya (remember, it is an example that can be replicated in many other ways in other countries of the continent), a real player on the world scene. Can it be done? Yes.

By the way, Professor Mazrui, frankly, I believe the reason that Algeria is still in the doldrums while the Fifth Republic of France prospers is not France’s problem. It is Algeria’s. They and other African countries struggle with instability not because of the West, but because of their own greed. Look at Zimbabwe and recognize. The west is just an easy excuse.



I saw this message on Mashada – – and I thought about it for long before I could respond. What do you think? Nini hii?

When Rodgers Rop turned to Christopher Cheboich, Francis Kiprop and Mbarak Hussein, to hurry up and catch up and take the memorable photo finish at the 2002 Boston marathon, winning more than 20 seconds ahead of the rest, every Kenyan, who watched it, including myself, felt like a winner.

In the pub where I was watching the marathon, a whole pack of people smiled wistfully as Rop turned and beckoned to his compadres to catch up and when they finished, ever so spectacularly, the room exploded in hugs and high fives, the likes of which it warms my heart to remember. Many of those high fives were between strangers.

At that point, as we jubilantly patted each other in the back for our boys’ win, the fact that we were broke faded into the background, that fees needed to be paid and mothers taken to hospital tomorrow and jobs to be found urgently and rent to be paid and the government screwing up left and right… all of it faded into the background and to the fore came the oneness that joined us together.

When Dr. Alfred Ng’ang’a Mutua launched the “Najivunia kuwa Mkenya” campaign, I read a lot of derogatory stuff about it. I read that it was plastic and lacked in merit. I read an explanation from him of the rationale behind the campaign and that made sense too. Just as did Barrack Muluka, Macharia Gaitho’s and Kwendo Opanga’s arguments – which were mainly linked to the fact that the government leaves quite a bit to be desired and that Kenya is no Utopia.

But the day that Rop and his friends won that marathon got me thinking. Being brave is not not being afraid, it is being afraid and facing your fears regardless. Being patriotic is not failing to see what is wrong with Kenya and speaking up about it, it is doing so and also giving credit where it is due and counting our blessing regardless.

Reading the articles by Muluka and Gaitho and others, I get the sense that the problem is more the messenger than the message. I hear the voice of David Makali, one of my mentors, who would hold that there is nothing to celebrate and so this whole campaign is premature at best.

Muluka says, “But more significantly, this kind of publicity stunt occasions resentment, even among generally apolitical people.” Apolitical people? Kenyans are very political and this is why one his chief reasons for dismissing the najivunia campaign is political.

But more importantly, he quotes Achebe who says, “A patriot is a person who loves his country. He is not a person who says he loves his country. He is not even a person who shouts or swears or recites or sings that he loves his country. He is one who cares deeply about his country and all its people.”

Now this is true, only, if I really do love my country and care about it and its people, may I not also shout it from the rooftops?

Macharia explains how it is that the problem with the campign is the messenger and not the message. Good ol’ Alfred is the official public communicator serving the government of the day and therefore the tone of the campaign equates the love of Kenya with support for Narc/ Narc Kenya.

I’ll tell you why I will have a sticker on my bumper that says “najivunia kuwa Mkenya”, regardless of who makes it.

Because despite the fact that I am not happy with many aspects of Kenya and I know that there is a lot to that needs to get done, I see the glass as half full, where Kenya is concerned. The message, “I am proud to be Kenyan” has nothing to do with the government, it has everything to do with my relationship with the country I was born in and whose citizenship I choose to keep.

No, Mr. Muluka, you are right. “Mutua (and I) should know that patriotism is not about putting useless stickers on bumpers” but the fact that I am patriotic and bursting with pride of the simple fact that I am and feel Kenyan, is reason enough for me to want someone else to know and hopefully, we will learn to be more positive.

Say it. I am proud to be Kenyan. Say it again. How do you feel?

By the way, in advertising, that’s called assertive marketing. Say I am a winner enough time and you will act, speak and play as one. Say I am proud to be Kenyan enough, and the glass will look positive despite the politics and economic divides etc.
There’s tangible advantages to that too. We stand up more straight, because we know we are a proud people. We walk taller as a result. and everyone else wants to be part of our pride… and so investment flows in, and tourism flows in and we get incomes and we stand taller…

Barrack Muluka is dismissive of Mutua as a Nyayo kid who “in the 1980s, Mutua was a boy, drinking Nyayo school milk and ingratiatingly singing ‘Tawala Kenya, tawala’ in mass choirs. Hindsight cannot help him appreciate the extent of resentment borne out of sycophancy at public expense.”

I am a Nyayo kid too. I drank Nyayo milk too. But I did feel the effects of the sycophancy and fear of the eighties. I’m the one who couldn’t find a job in the nineties, after all. And that resentment? Its a bitter pill that is beyond its time. Spit it out and move on.

Keep it simple. You are proud to be Kenyan. Just say it. On your web site, on the signature of your email, on your car’s bumper, on your window pane, on your wall. Say it. Feel it. Act with it.

It was time. She was alone. She has lived well.

Her dress is long and white
Her dreadlocks are long and tied.

The light slowly comes on and she knows he’s here
The time to dance has come.
She’s ready. Her skin is glowing and her spirit is willing
She smells nice today, she feels good today

He has looked her in the eye
The look serene and full of life
His dress matches hers, white and flowing
He’s here to take her, all of her

The music comes on in the background
Is it a piano or is a harp
Who are they that chorus behind it
Ooooooooh, ooooooooo, oooooooh,

And her spirit rises to its full height

And she gets into bed
Onto her back she lay as he watches her every move
And positions herself so he can see all of her
His eyes burn into her very soul
Her joy increases by the minute
As her anticipation rises and rises and rises

She hears a small voice say,
In every colour there’s the light
In every stone sleeps a crystal
Remember the shame when he used to say
Man is the dream of the dolphin,
Her spirit starts to dance

Slowly, he walks to the bed
He gently takes her hand
All the while, his eyes are with her
Her skin is prickly
The goose bumps are rising
Its time to dance
Its time to dance
Its time to dance

And so they dance
Towards the light they sway and swing
Their rhythm is at one
The souls are together
Towards the light

Closer and closer they dance
Their eyes are together all this time
Closer and closer they dance
Their rhythm cannot be broken
The music fills their hearts and souls and mind

And the light bursts into its brightest brightness
It envelopes her soul and spirit
And with him she continues dancing
And he has taken her, all of her

The light fades and the room is dim once more
Her body is still positioned on her back as it was before
No sign of the Great Dance that has taken place
But she is not there

She is off dancing in the land of the bright lights
She is gone.

Her body is there
But she is gone with him
She is gone to dance with him..