26 February 2015

In Kenya's news (an editorial and excerpts from a recent report): End perennial hunger

Once again Kenya is staring at a depressing scenario of hunger, with 1.6 million people unable to get a decent meal each day, according to the Ministry of Devolution and Planning.

Geographically, the hunger threat is looming over 23 out of the 47 counties. Even more worrying is that some of the counties perceived to be agriculturally high potential areas have fallen into the hunger trap.

Hunger goes with deprivations such as medical services, access to education, and other social entitlements. The main cause is lack of rains and there is no indication that things will improve soon.

The government has resorted to providing relief food, for which it has allocated 3 billion Kenya shillings (32 million US dollars). Whereas the intervention is timely, it is tragic that hunger should perennially stalk our land when we pride ourselves as an agricultural economy.

What this means is that the country is unable to feed its citizens five decades after independence yet it flaunts its success in putting up grandiose infrastructural projects.

The time has come when the country must transform agriculture and ensure food sufficiency to curb the perennial hunger, which dehumanizes and disenfranchises the citizens.
[Daily Nation editorial, 26 February 2015]
"The findings of a recent assessment estimate that at least 1.63 million people are acutely food insecure and will require immediate assistance over the next six months. Due to the famine, over 900 cases of cholera in lower parts of Kisii, Homa Bay, and Migori have been reported."
"In marginal agricultural areas, poor rainfall during the critical stage of crop development caused over 50 percent crop failure. In pastoral areas, normal pasture and water sources have been depleted and availability of milk has declined. In addition, livestock prices are on a downward trend and malnutrition problems are on the increase."
[Joint statement by national and country governments, allAfrica.com (23 February 2015)]

24 February 2015

God sat next to me on a matatu

We have to learn to make room for God, to give him elbow room. We calculate and estimate, and say this and that will happen, and we forget to make room for him to come in as he chooses. Would we be surprised if God came into our meeting in a way we had never looked for him to come? Do not look for him to come in any particular way, but do look for him. The great lesson to learn is that at any minute he may break in. Always be in a state of expectancy, and see that you leave room for God to come in as he likes.
~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest 

A matatu is a van or bus used for public transportation

It seemed like any other day. I was on a matatu to meet Masudi for lunch and take him to the doctor. At the Karen stage, when I was unexpectedly moved to a different matatu, I was glad to get one of the front seats. A minute or two later, the conductor seated an older white gentleman next to me. While I do see other whites on public transportation now and then, it isn’t very common.

As we headed down Ngong Road in the slow-moving traffic, I greeted him. Sitting much lower in the seat than me, he wore a khaki safari hat with the brim bent down to shade his eyes from the sun. He said he’s lived in Kenya for fifteen years and when I told him I’ve been here for thirteen, he lifted his head so he could look me straight in the eye.

With a sigh, he replied, “Hmm. It’s not easy living here, is it?” When he shared that sentiment, I immediately felt drawn to him.

I had been praying about an issue that had been on my mind lately. I hadn’t discussed it with friends, but was waiting to hear from God on the subject. However, I felt prompted to mention the subject to this guy, a complete stranger. As he again tilted up his head and turned to look me directly in the eye, his immediate response was exactly - precisely - what I needed to hear.

We sat next to each other for a half-hour, with him all-the-while rambling on and on with one wild story after another of his life. He’s 80 years old and refers to himself as an apostle of God - “I am Apostle Seth," he declared, "just like Apostle Paul in the Bible”.

Was he an angel sent from God? Or just an eccentric old man?

One thing I do know for an absolute fact: it was God’s voice sent directly to me. Over the span of a few weeks, God spoke the same exact message three times… from three very different sources!

As we continued down the road in the old, beat-up matatu, Seth kept up with his crazy stories. Several times, though, he would suddenly stop, interrupting himself, to emphatically repeat those same words... the very message I needed to hear.

We are apt to overlook this element of surprise, yet God never works in any other way. All of a sudden God meets us. There is no escape when our Lord speaks. He always comes with an arrestment of the understanding. Has the voice of God come to you directly? If it has, you cannot mistake the intimate insistence with which it has spoken to you.

~ Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest

19 February 2015

In Kenya's news (an opinion piece): How Kenya can stop the radicalisation of its young people

Young men arrested as terror suspects in Kenya

Radicalization of Kenyan youth is reaching alarming proportions. What is fretting us is the ability of Al-Shabaab to reach out to non-Somalis and non-Muslims and recruit them with ease. It is clear that Al-Shabaab is specifically targeting young people who are angry with the country. Al-Shabaab and other violent groups are exploiting our vulnerabilities to recruit the young people.

60% of Kenya’s population is under the age of 30
75% of Kenya’s out-of-school youth are unemployed

Our job market can only absorb one out of five graduates, meaning the educated youth have either to be self-employed, stay at home, or roam streets looking for dream jobs. And we are not even talking about those who drop out of primary and secondary schools. It’s understandable why some of them end up in the criminal world.

One obvious fact is that these violent groups are mainly composed of the unemployed or unemployable youth who were voluntarily or selectively recruited. They are frustrated, marginalized and alienated from mainstream society. Many feel their hopes and chances in life have been taken away from them. Misery and hardship are their way of life. 

Idle youth with no jobs

Deepening poverty ferments social discontent that turns our frustrated youth into a mass underclass vulnerable to radical ideas. Their misery and abject conditions are easily tapped into by Al-Shabaab and similar groups. It becomes very easy to mobilize these young people and send them to commit violent acts.

Terrorism and other heinous crimes committed in the country can also be seen as protests against society, an alternative means of survival and a form of employment. The youth are not only easy to recruit and train but also easy to indoctrinate with radical ideas. This could be attributed to social vulnerability as in absentee parents, erosion of social control, and high levels of delinquencies in families.

With broken and dysfunctional homes in urban slums where the state has practically withdrawn, terrorist and violent groups easily move in to fill the void and recruit the vulnerable youth.

Too many students are dropping out of school and cannot, therefore, find gainful employment. Universities and colleges are producing unmarketable and ill-trained graduates uncompetitive in the job market. Their curricula do not focus on the fundamentals of knowledge, skills, and values. The knowledge supposedly being imparted to students in tertiary institutions is irrelevant to our economic and social needs. Our educational institutions specialize in teaching students how to pass examinations but not how to productively survive in a primitive accumulative society like ours.

These schools, colleges and universities must change and imbue our young people with values of patriotism, train them in innovation, creativity and self-reliance. If that happens, their graduates would not be a burden to society and a danger to the nation.

Religion provides these youth with a shared identity which they use as a driver to seek justice or to redress many of their grievances. Their motivation is not revenge-seeking. Despite their poor backgrounds, they are not driven by greed. They have issues with the government policies - both domestic and foreign.

Evidence shows that radicalized Kenyan youth are driven by a complex matrix of ideology, identity and personal motivations like hate and prestige. The government has also contributed to the flourishing of youth grievances by abetting corruption and tribalism.

The government aggravates the problem when it criminalizes youth grievances. The use of heavy-handed approaches to silence the young people is easily exploited by groups like Al-Shabaab to recruit new members.

"Pwani si Kenya" (the coast is not Kenya)

Government responses to terrorism have inadvertently assisted these groups to indoctrinate and recruit the youth by portraying the state as an instrument of brutality targeting their identities. This provides an entry point for alienated and opportunistic elites to pursue their hidden agenda to be incorporated in government, gain political power or worse, to promote secession through chants like “Pwani si Kenya’’ (the coast is not Kenya).

State weakness and fragility also generates inequalities, mass social discontent and alienation, militarization of security agencies, extra-constitutional actions, deep identity divisions and inability to provide public services and goods.

As the state loses its capacity to provide public goods and services to most citizens, grievances increase and find avenues for articulation through outfits such as the Mombasa Republican Council. Our youth are driven by “righteous indignation” and anger displayed in their atrocious violent acts.

Schools and places of worship are used to radicalize and recruit the youth. The radicalization program includes inculcating the youth with outrage, resentment, defiance, subversion, and resistance. They are encouraged to use violence to express their dissatisfaction and frustration, exert their power, seek attention, search for recognition and identity and challenge or embarrass the government.

While religion per se does not radicalize the youth, it constitutes a framework for interpreting their prevailing conditions and realities. It also provides justification of what is acceptable and allowed or what is forbidden and denigrated. Religious and ritualistic practices are usually used in recruiting, training, and deploying the youth into action. While some youth don fetishes and religious symbols, others invoke scriptures while carrying out attacks.

Unless we do away with conditions that alienate our youth, Al-Shabaab and other criminal groups will continue to recruit from our slums, streets, villages, schools, and dysfunctional homes.

[opinion piece by Professor Trevor Ng'ulia (security expert), 7 February 2015, Saturday Nation]

17 February 2015

In Kenya's news: Maasai women are at the center of a solar revolution

Notice the solar panel strapped onto the donkey.

As the sun sets on sleepy Sijiloni village in dry and vast Kajiado County, Naisenya Lankenua has just finished rounding up her family’s livestock for the long night ahead when she receives a phone call. At the other end of the line is a woman whose solar-powered lights have refused to work.

Visibility is poor as darkness has already set in, but Naisenya enters her manyatta to retrieve a small tool bag and a solar-powered torch (flashlight) before leaving to attend to the call.

At the home of Sankau Tonkei, Naisenya asks basic questions like how long the panel was in the sun and if the battery indicated it was charging during the day. Naisenya then gets out a tester to check whether the battery has enough charge.

“I don’t think this battery got charged at all,” she says. “Unless it is faulty, it appears it doesn’t have enough charge; that is why it cannot light up.”

She then replaces the battery with a spare one she carried along. This is what Tonkei’s home will use temporarily for the night before the problem with the faulty one is sorted the next day.

In Maasai culture, women own nothing, inherit nothing and live under the authority of men.  
But in this village and others surrounding it, they now own solar panels.

Across Kajiado, women’s groups are fostering the development of a solar revolution. With the assistance of Green Energy Africa, the women acquire solar lamps and sell them to fellow women.

Because of the high cost of purchasing a lamp ($25), group members act as guarantors to anyone who wants to purchase one. By virtue of being in a group the women also receive some training on installation, troubleshooting, and how to repair the lamps. 

The women market the solar lights, install them, teach people how to use them and some like Naisenya even pair them when they develop mechanical problems.

During the day to ensure maximum charging, the panels and batteries are strapped to donkeys. As they graze, the panels charge the batteries as the donkeys graze alongside other animals. At night, the batteries are unplugged and reconnected in the manyattas.

“Walking around with the panels also reduces the chances of theft because not so many people own them around here,” says Tonkei.

The people here say solar power is not only making life easier but helping to preserve the environment.

Kajiado, like other areas where the Maasai live, is semi-arid. The people rely on trees for almost everything like building their manyattas (homes) and enkang (homestead barrier) as well as cooking and lighting. And because the people predominantly practices pastoralism, it means each time a family moves more trees are cut down to build a new manyatta.

By 2013, Kenya's National Environmental Management Authority estimated that the tree cover of Kajiado had shrunk to just one per cent, a situation that contributes to low rainfall.

“It hasn’t rained for months now, and when there is drought it is the women who suffer the most because it means we have to walk further to look for pasture and fetch water,” says Tonkei.

Another woman who identifies herself as Siantamei says: “Smoke makes our children have chest and eye problems. So it is not just about low rainfall, but cutting down trees brings other problems.”

A report last year by the World Health Organization entitled Household Energy and Health said household smoke was responsible for 1.6 million deaths and 2.7 per cent of the global burden of disease.

Edwin Kinyatti, the founder of Green Energy, says the rate at which trees are being cut in Kajiado is alarming. “The people have one big resource which is the sun, but they are still looking for energy sources elsewhere which is leading to the overall degradation of the environment which is already degraded.”

[article by Vincent Achuka, 15 Feb 2015, Sunday Nation]

22 January 2015

Christmas road-trip: Hanging out in Kisumu

At an area on Lake Victoria known as Tilapia Beach (near downtown Kisumu), a person can  enjoy a meal of freshly-caught fish from one of numerous crudely built cafés or buy cheap trinkets from roaming hawkers. You can also have your car washed - right in the lake. I'm not so sure, though, about the environmental impact of driving the cars and even large trucks right into the water.

Judging by his wobbly legs, this little one must have been only a day or two old.

Hannah and I enjoyed a stroll around Impala Sanctuary. It has many caged animals, but Vervet monkeys (above) and Impala antelope (below) roam freely.

A nice close-up of this leopard, who had just been fed a chunk of raw meat for lunch.

When we attended church at Calvary Chapel, Dave (far right), was asked by Charlie to illustrate a point in the sermon.

Enjoying a cool chocolate milkshake, on a hot day, at Al-Noor Café.

We watched a beautiful sunset at Kiboko Bay on our last day of the trip.

All photos except the last one were taken by my friend, Hannah.

21 January 2015

Christmas road-trip: Hiking at Ndere Island

Dave and Hannah

Ndere Island (1.5 square miles) is in Winam Gulf of Lake Victoria, 25 miles west of Kisumu. It's covered with savannah grass and forest. Since 1986, when it was gazetted as a national park, it's been uninhabited. Ndere means "meeting place" in Dholuo, the local language. As you can see in the top photo, there were many smaller islands within view.

My American missionary friend, Dave, joined Hannah and I on a very enjoyable outing at the island. We spent several hours hiking and exploring.

We watched this herd of zebra quite a bit, as they grazed and ran across the tall grass.

Such stunning views every direction! These are the majestic Homa Hills.

We took a short boat ride from the mainland to the island, alighting and boarding at Director's and Kingfisher Jetties

The head plume indicates this Little Egret is breeding.

Except for the top photo; all other photos were taken by my friend, Hannah.

20 January 2015

Christmas road-trip: A boat ride on Lake Victoria and fun at Dunga Beach

Hannah and I spent three and a half days at Kisumu, much of which was on or around Lake Victoria. I was happy to see there was much less Water Hyacinth on the lake than previous times I was there. It had become quite a nuisance for many years, blocking fishing and commuting boats.

Lake Victoria is the largest tropical lake in the world. Measured by surface area, it's the second largest body of fresh water, second only to Lake Superior in the United States. Beside Kenya (at only 6%), its shoreline is also shared by Uganda (45%) and Tanzania (49%). It's one of the sources of the River Nile.

The photo above and the following five are from a very enjoyable two-hour boat ride we started at sunrise.

Early in the morning, the lake was as smooth as glass.                                                                                                         Overnight fishermen are resting in their boat until Dunga Beach opens for business at 9am.

We saw many small boats with fishermen.

Pied Kingfishers are known for hovering over lakes before diving for fish.

Hammerkops build huge nests up to four feet wide and with up to 10,000 sticks.

African Fish Eagle - Females can weigh up to 8 pounds, males 5.5 pounds.

After our boat ride, we spent several hours at Dunga Beach.

The overnight fishermen come in at 9am with their catch of Omena and Tilapia. Ready to greet them is a throng of female fishmongers, ready to bargain hard to fill their plastic basins full of fish. Once they've made their purchase, they disperse to various neighborhoods or fish markets to sell them - thus earning their daily bread. It was quite a fascinating scene to watch! Later in the afternoon, the day fishermen come in with their catch of Nile Perch and a different group of women come to buy from them.

One of the many fishmongers

As the fishermen approach the shore, they drop their sails and row the last bit.

Yellow-Billed Storks can reach over 40 inches in height.

We had lunch at one of the restaurants at Dunga Beach. This is the comical remains of Hannah's Nile Perch.

All photos were taken by my friend, Hannah

19 January 2015

Christmas road-trip: Kerio View Hotel and paragliders

Hannah and I enjoyed a wonderful 10-day road trip over Christmas. It was a mix of ministry (as seen in the previous two posts) and pleasure. Christmas Day found us at Kerio View Hotel just outside of Iten, Kenya (near Eldoret). It was a first-time visit for both of us and we loved it! The view is absolutely stunning and the food was delicious.

Coincidentally there were about a dozen German para-gliders enjoying their sport.

Baglefect Weaver

Such an incredible view of Kerio Valley, part of the Great Rift Valley

Village several hundred feet below us

Iten is the home and training ground of many of the world's top marathoners.

All photos were taken by my friend, Hannah.