29 March 2015

Without Jesus, I am nothing; a profound story of a humble donkey

A friend and I spent several hours together working on a project in my small newly-created garden space.

While doing so, we discussed the familiar story of Palm Sunday:

Jesus headed to Jerusalem. When he got near the mountain called Olives, he sent off two of the disciples with instructions: “Go to the village across from you. As soon as you enter, you’ll find a donkey tethered, one that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it. If anyone asks, ‘What are you doing?’ say, ‘His Master needs him.’”

The two left and found it just as he said. As they were untying the donkey, its owners said, “What are you doing untying this animal?”

The disciples replied, “His Master needs him,” and they brought the donkey to Jesus.

Then, throwing their coats on the donkey's back, they helped Jesus get on. As he rode the donkey, the large crowd of people gave Jesus a grand welcome, throwing their coats on the street and waving palm branches. They joyfully sang and shouted, "Hosanna, hosanna!"

- - - - - - - - - -
After Dan and I had discussed the story, he asked me an interesting question -

Deb, did you ever wonder about that donkey the day after Palm Sunday?

When I responded that I hadn't, Dan shared a simple - but profound - version of what may have happened:
- - - - - - - - - -

The day after Palm Sunday the donkey was out in the field grazing with the other donkeys, just like any other ordinary day of its life. One of the other donkeys was perplexed and said to him,

“Yesterday you were being celebrated. And now today, you’re here just eating grass with the rest of us. Why is that? Why aren’t you being celebrated again today?”

The donkey humbly replied,
Oh, my donkey friend, you are very mistaken. Yesterday the crowd was celebrating Jesus! They weren't celebrating me. I was very privileged and honored to carry him, but you see ...
... without Jesus, I am nothing but an ordinary donkey! .

19 March 2015

In Kenya's news: Will peace talks finally silence the Kalashnikovs of Kenya’s north?

A Turkana woman shows a bullet hole in one of her cooking pans

As cattle rustlers in Northern Kenya trade their bows and arrows for guns and bullets, villages and schools lay desolate and abandoned in the wake of their destruction.

Boundaries between communities are a source of constant conflict.
Baringo South, Turkana East and Baringo North are dangerous hot spots.

Plagued by armed cattle rustling bandits and bitter border disputes between the Turkana and Pokot, peaceful co-existance has been nothing more than a distant dream for a long time.

Deserted homes, vandalised schools and anxious faces greet you when you arrive at Arabal in Baringo South Sub-County. Since  2005, Arabal - like many other areas in Baringo South, Turkana East and Baringo North counties - has not known peace. 

Cattle rustling has left trail of death and anguish and those who choose to remain live in constant fear of attacks from armed bandits from neighboring communities. Schools remain closed after parents fled the volatile areas with their children in tow.

Baringo County Governor Benjamin Cheboi and Baringo South MP Grace Kipchoim toured Mochongoi area in Baringo South last week after 400 goats and 200 cattle were stolen. Cheboi urged the government to address the perennial insecurity menace in the area as it has become a roadblock to development, stating, “Many residents are now on the verge of starvation after their livestock, which is their main source of livelihood, was stolen by armed raiders.”

The valley of death
The ragged terrain of the expansive Ng’elecha Valley with abundant pasture and water is a perfect for cattle grazing, but it is also an ideal place for bandits to launch attacks. The bandits are reported to have converted deserted schools in the area into homes and cows sheds. The attacks have triggered a mass exodus with more than 200 households fleeing from the area stricken by conflict. According to Kipchoim, more than 53 people have been killed and another 12,000 people displaced from their homes since 2005. 

“Go to the valley of death at your own risk. It is quite painful for the residents to see their livestock in the hands of bandits and be unable to do anything about it.” 
~ Chepsoi

In Kapedo, the dispute between Turkana and Baringo counties concerning where the troubled Kapedo falls  came to a  head. The senators came face to face with the hostilities between the Pokot and Turkana communities. The Turkana refused to share seats with the Pokot forcing the committee to hear the views of the two communities separately.

The irate Turkana demanded to be told why the Pokot arrived at the venue on a lorry if indeed they lived in the area. At one point, the Baringo meeting which was led by Governor Cheboi, senator Gideon Moi, and Tiaty MP Asman Kamama was disrupted after irate members of the Turkana stormed it chanting slogans that Kapedo was theirs and questioning what their ‘neighbors’ were doing in their territory. “This is our land and the Pokot are taking advantage of our hospitality to claim ownership. This is unacceptable,” said Mr. Munyes. 

According to Tiaty MP Asman Kamama, all maps from 1900s indicate that the land in dispute was in Baringo and that the Turkana wanted to dislodge the Pokot because the area is rich in resources. “We are not on the border but right inside our land,” said Mr Kamama. He said that the investors feared that the geothermal project, oil and gold discoveries in the area would go to waste if security remained elusive.

Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, the commitee chairman, said they will visit all areas under contention in the country to understand the underlying issues in the perennial conflicts which have led to loss of hundreds of lives and displacement of scores of others from their homes.

According Senator Moi, the disputed land has been in Baringo County since time immemorial.

He blamed the rise in conflict on the anticipation on greed fuelled by the newly available resources.

“The scramble is purely for resources, especially considering that Geothermal Development Company is set to roll out a 6 billion Kenya shillings (66 million USD) investment in the area,” said Mr. Moi.

[article by Wycliff Kipsang, 10 March 2015, Daily Nation]

17 March 2015

In Kenya's news: 15 tons of ivory are burned to discourage the illegal trade

The tusks will burn for five days, under armed surveillance, until only ashes.

Kenya incinerated 15 tons of elephant tusks last week in a symbolic gesture against the illicit ivory trade.

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta lowered a burning torch to a three-tiered pile of ivory tusks, sending flames and smoke swirling high into the air above Nairobi National Park.

Speaking at the event held on World Wildlife Day, Uhuru said the burning represents Kenya's commitment to stopping the ivory trade: “African countries are concerned about the scale and rate of the new threat to our endangered wildlife species. We are committed to combating the menace robustly and persistently until we dismantle the entire vile economy. Many of these tusks belonged to elephants which were wantonly slaughtered by criminals. We want future generations of Kenyans and the entire world to experience the majesty and beauty of these magnificent beasts. Poachers and their enablers will not have the last word."
Let’s get serious about wildlife crime. 
~ UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
Save The Elephants, a London-based wildlife conservation group, said 100,000 elephants were killed in Africa between 2010-2013. Elephants could go extinct by the middle of the century if the trend continues. Ivory trafficking has been driven mostly by demand from Asian consumers who use the material to make jewelry and ornaments. Ian Douglas Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, said research released by his organization showed that the price of elephant ivory has tripled in China since 2010.

The African elephant once ranged across most of the continent from the Mediterranean coast to the southern tip. It is thought there may have been as many as 3-5 million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s. In the 1970s, there were only 1.3 million elephants. That number is now down to 500,000, mostly due to poaching.
In Kenya, the population plummeted by 85% between 1973 and 1989. There are 37,000 elephants remaining in Kenya, according to data from Kenya Wildlife Service.

Kenya first burned 12 tons of its ivory stocks in 1989 under former president, Moi. Another public burn of five tons was held in 2011, by former president, Kibaki.

The public act of burning ivory is meant to send a message to the world about the value of wildlife. "We would like to tell the world to stop the trade in ivory because it is destroying our economy, our heritage, and our environment," said Paul Udoto, a spokesman for the Kenya Wildlife Service.

[information from voanews.com and aljazeera.com, 3 March 2015; also forbes.com, wikipedia.org, and panda.org]

12 March 2015

In Kenya's news: Record temperatures mark the hottest season in recent years

Temperatures in major towns in Kenya are some of the highest recorded in history, increasing the risk of violent winds and forest fires, the weatherman has said. Lodwar in Turkana County is currently the hottest place in the country, with temperatures peaking at 104° followed by Wajir at 102°.

In what meteorologists have described as the hottest season in recent years, some stations in Nairobi recorded temperatures as high as 93° [whereas the normal high for Nairobi is a pleasant 82°]. Other towns not typically known for being hot, such as Kakamega and Nakuru, recorded 93° and 88° respectively.

Kenya Meteorological Services Deputy Director Peter Ambenje said the high temperatures were a result of lack of cloud cover and delayed rains. “The rains have not come as predicted, so all the radiation that is normally filtered out by the clouds is hitting the earth,” he said.

"If the situation does not change soon, the heat could have disastrous consequences. Just recently, dust devils were sighted in Narok County. These could harm children’s eyes. The winds resulting from changes in air density could also lead to wild fires,” said Mr Ambenje.

Mr Ambenje also said Kenyans would have to wait longer than expected for relief, because the March rains will be delayed. In February, he had said counties in western, Nyanza, central and South Rift were likely to receive near normal or good rainfall by the second week of March. But as of March 10, not a single drop had fallen.

The weatherman had also predicted that Nairobi, central Kenya, Embu, Meru and Machakos would receive near normal rain while most counties in North Rift, Coast and Northeastern would have depressed rainfall.

Experts have painted a similarly grim picture for Africa after they predicted yesterday that the continent will experience severe food scarcity due to climate change.

Scientists and policy makers who are in Nairobi for a three-day conference said failing to pass the required policies to shield the continent from the effects of a warmer climate would result in a 50 per cent decline in crop yields by 2020, a 40-90 per cent reduction in pasture and new or more virulent diseases and pests.

[article by Jacqueline Kubania and Ngare Kariuki, 11 March 2015, Daily Nation]

26 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

24 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)]

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]