Tuesday, October 27, 2009

According to the Figures, Kenya Should be Heaven

A Catholic priest in Malindi, who must have been taking lessons on how to win friends and influence people, has blamed women for the recent marriage between two Kenyan men in London. He says that it is the fault of women that men are now resorting to same sex relationships because women have failed to provide what they should in marriage.

If it was the priest's intention to alienate at least half, though probably a lot more, of his church attendees, it sounds like he succeeded. Women in the church replied vocally, something I have never come across in a Catholic church. Catholic services usually consist of a priest expressing his opinions and his interpretations and an audience expressing nothing other than a few set responses that have been composed by priests and other church dignitaries.

Apparently, women have failed to provide the joy that marriage should bring; the gay people who result from this failure of women go against God's intentions of procreation. I wonder if priests' vow of chastity also goes against God's intentions, but I'm sure their are plenty of arguments as to why priests should be chaste. The Catholic church has always had quite a penchant for preaching about things that they know little about.

In a separate article, African bishops have called for more 'saints' in public life, condemning some Catholic leaders for their corruption and their betrayal of their own people. Oddly enough, they didn't condemn some of the Catholic leaders around the world who have been very closely connected with the Vatican, or various Christian leaders who have, through the course of history, been some of the most destructive people imaginable.

Most meetings I have attended here in Kenya either start or finish with a prayer. Most meals start or finish with a prayer. Most people introduce themselves by saying what tribe they come from and what their religion is. Many claim to be preachers or to be 'saved' (born again; I realise these are not all Catholics but the principles at stake are the same, also, many people have more than one religion) and make numerous references to their religious aspirations. Does this mean that Kenya is one of the most law abiding nations on earth? I don't think so.

The priest in Malindi calls for more prayer but I would call for some thought to be put into the intended connection between prayer and how people lead their lives and the putative connections between religious beliefs and day to day actions. This priest also talks about the vice and evil that children are exposed to. What about the behaviour of political, business and church leaders? Children are surrounded by people who advocate one type of behaviour and exhibit a quite different kind.

Are children here more influenced by two gay men who got married than they are by the politically instigated violence of two years ago or the constant pilfering by politicians and other leaders or the daily scenes of police and other officials collecting bribes or any other sorts of behaviour that occur all the time?

The Catholic church is not a democracy and doesn't appear to have a good grasp of the principles of democracy. The church does not appear to have experience or knowledge of marriage or sexuality. Most priests and church leaders (and political and business leaders) are men and they seem to understand little about the lives of half the population of the world. Yet these are the things that priests and other church leaders seem to feel the need to lecture people about.

In fact, priests and other church leaders don't lead the lives of ordinary people. They don't have to struggle the way most of their followers do. So it is quite unclear what relevance their pronouncements have to their followers, or if they have any relevance at all.

If the numbers of people attending churches was anything to go by, Kenya should be a very law abiding country with little gap between rich and poor. But the contrary is true. I'm not saying that widespread religious fervour causes corruption, poverty, violence or exploitation but I would like to know what the result of so much ostensible religious adherence is supposed to be. Sphere: Related Content

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Small Scale Food Production is Basic, Large Scale Production is Not

For months, politicians, journalists and other pundits have been saying that the El Nino rains are coming, it's just a matter of time and then everyone will be able to plant crops. Some areas have been waiting for years for good growing conditions and have been depending on food aid and other handouts to get by.

Well, in some areas, parts of the Rift Valley for example, the rains have started. It would seem to be a good time to start planting, except for one slight problem: there is a national shortage of seeds, especially maize seed, the country's staple food.

Some say the shortage of seeds is due to their being bought up by the government for cheap or free distribution, which hasn't yet happened. Whether that's true or not is unclear, but it's a bad time for uncertainty as the rains may not be adequate and may not last long.

Another article points out that food security is at its worst since 1989. The article, entitled 'Let's go back to the basics', advocates promotion of smallholder production units, arguing that peasant farmers, who are in the majority, need support. This article mentions approvingly the provision of free seeds and fertilizers, along with reduced dependence on rain fed agriculture and greater crop diversity.

However, the article goes on to advocate the encouragement of private sector led agricultural development projects by giving government support to them, too. The naive reader may think that 'private sector led' means that the private sector provides some of the capital needed, rather than expecting the government to foot the bill. However, it doesn't mean this. Rather, the government is always keen to use public money to fund 'private' ventures, which often belong to the government or members of the government anyway.

Then the article does a complete about face and states that 'the only way out is to abandon food production at smallholder level for subsistence to commercial profitable businesses', with the country committing itself to a technology-led agriculture. This is the opposite to going 'back to basics'.

People need food. If the majority of farmers are smallholders then they need to grow the food, for themselves and for others. Food produced by large scale operators will not be affordable to smallholders or to others who get by on some form of subsistence. Putting public money into the private sector will only enrich those who least need it at the expense of those who are now suffering. Going back to basics means supporting people who support themselves and others, that means small farmers, the ones who feed most of the country. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 19, 2009

Reducing Fossil Fuel Dependence Is A Must, Not An Alternative

Untold millions of dollars have been spent in recent years prospecting for oil in Kenya. Nothing commercially viable has been found yet, but this hasn't prevented the search from continuing. In the next few weeks the search will intensify in Isiolo in Kenya's Eastern Province.

It's disappointing that leaders in Kenya don't seem to be aware of the pitfalls of depending on fossil fuel energy, considering they are experiencing some of those pitfalls right now. Emergency energy generation to make up for the shortfall from hydroelectric power is very expensive. The ongoing, widespread drought in Kenya means that the country is resorting to emergency energy more and more.

But it has long been recognised that developing countries will feel the effects of climate change the most. As use of fossil fuels contributes to climate change, are the Kenyan politicians and business people with their snouts in the oil trough not able to see the connection between this and greater use of oil?

If even a fraction of the tens of millions of dollars spent on fossil fuel prospecting could be spent on renewable, sustainable and clean energy sources, Kenya could be able to supply all its own energy needs by now. But, egged on by foreign interests, they are frittering away this timely opportunity.

The country has, like many African countries, abundant solar energy potential. They also have vast, mostly untapped geothermal potential. Some areas get enough wind at certain times of the year to produce huge amounts of electricity. And there are, doubtless, many other alternatives to depending on high carbon emission fossil fuels.

Leaving aside the environmental issues, energy minister Kiraitu Murungi has said that oil exploration has been associated with "dictatorship, imperialism, exploitation, neglect of agriculture, marginalisation and civil strife on the [African] continent". But Murungi needn't worry so much about these issues. Kenyans have experienced them all at some time and are experiencing many of them right now.

As for the possibility that discovering oil in Isiolo or anywhere else in Kenya will relieve poverty, I don't see anyone being fooled into believing this. But now is a good time to reduce dependence on fossil fuels, not increase usage. Now is also a good time to explore the alternatives. Perhaps now is the only time. Sphere: Related Content

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Thirsty? Hungry? Sick? Try an E-book.

If you go to schools in Kenya or Tanzania, most schools, anyhow, you will see very sparsely furnished classrooms. Simple desks, often no electricity and nothing that requires electricity, some textbooks and copy books, not too many, children, of course, and sometimes even some teachers. So, if you were to write home about the experience, you may express surprise at the lack of teachers and books.

But if you're the prime minister of Tanzania, Mizengo Pinda, you may report that what the children really need is e-books. He advocates the use of e-books, not because children presently lack books, but to cut down on the use of paper and save the environment. In a country where many people lack safe water supplies, electricity and adequate food and nutrition, the leader of the government recommends e-books. And this perceptive man wants work on this to start immediately.

Schools urgently need teachers and teaching materials. Children need to be enabled to go to school as many can't, for various reasons. In Kenya, where there is 'free' primary education, so many things have to be paid for, meetings, desks, uniforms, exams, books; primary schooling is anything but free. Children and their families do, indeed, need electricity and access to technology, but without more basic things, like food and water, they will never be able to do anything with the technology.

And if Pinda is concerned about the destruction of the environment, he could also revoke logging licenses and control the huge mining operations that contaminate vast tracts of land. He could stop the foreign 'investors' from buying up most of the country's arable land to grow crops for biofuels and for food that's destined for foreign countries, while Tanzanians starve.

Of course, there are lots of people trying to persuade developing countries to buy into Information and Communication Technologies (ICT), it's in their interest to sell overpriced goods to people, regardless of whether they need them or not. But Pinda needs to address more urgent issues, such as water and food security, before investing in high(ly inappropriate) technology. Sphere: Related Content

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Kenyans Need to Stand Up to the Bullies on the Road

Despite all the talk about greater policing of the roads, there is little evidence of it when travelling around Kenya at the moment. There are police every few kilometres but that doesn't stop drivers and touts from taking on too many passengers, driving like maniacs and driving vehicles that are clearly not fit to be used on the road. Many public service vehicles are only fit to be dumped. It would probably be a risk even to reuse the parts.

Several times last month, all public transport in the centre of Nakuru was held there for 'inspections'. Matatus are regularly stopped and police sometimes tick off passengers for not wearing seat belts, etc. Often they can't wear seat belts because the vehicle has been overfilled. But when a matatu licensed to carry 14 has up to 20 or more passengers, the police are likely to wave them on. There are vehicles that have only some lights, or no lights, there are some with bent axles and many other serious problems that could, and often do, result in accidents, injuries and deaths.

AllAfrica.com has a story about the two major road traffic accidents last weekend, which killed 'at least' 20 people. Both accidents are said to have been caused by defects, specifically, defective brakes. If all the many traffic police are just going to wave on obviously defective vehicles and do little but bully the odd passenger who looks like an easy target, this is not what I would call a 'crackdown' on the roads.

And people here would need to play a part in changing the way road users treat pedestrians and public transport users. People wait at the side of the road for cars to pass even where they have the right to cross, they stop every time a car blows the horn as if they have no rights. They allow road users to treat them as second class citizens. And they allow public transport drivers and staff to treat them as if they were receiving some kind of generous favour.

I have rarely heard passengers complaining when drivers and touts overfill matatus and get people to double up on seats. Yet, the passengers' lives are being put in danger. As long as people behave as if they are indebted to matatu providers they will continue to be treated this way. They need to protest, at least a little. Matatu owners are desperate for the business, they need to remember who the customer is and who has the upper hand. Sphere: Related Content

Monday, October 5, 2009

A Problem Masquerading as a Solution

Defenders of genetically modified organisms (GMO) never tire of trying to find new ways to trick people into buying their destructive products. If it's not famine, it's drought resistance, increased yield, higher nutritional value and who knows what else. But these defenders don't bother to mention the downsides of all these 'advantages'. Why should we believe that some of the wealthiest, greediest multinationals in the world would want to benefit the poorest and most vulnerable?

For instance, in the article linked to above, we are told that cassava can be modified to resist a serious virus that destroys crops on a huge scale. What is not mentioned is that most of these viruses only affect crops grown on a very large scale. And GMO versions of crops are only feasible when grown on a large scale.

What these idiot defenders fail to get into their thick skulls is that most farmers in developing countries are small scale. They farm a few acres at the most. GMOs have not been shown to be scalable. On the contrary, the 'results' achieved have mostly been in carefully controlled conditions and the techniques are for large scale, industrial production. Small farmers cannot afford to buy overpriced seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and herbicides. And when their land has been contaminated and rendered completely unproductive, they cannot afford to buy new land. These are just a few 'improvements' that GMOs don't include.

GM companies may, like drug pushers, get farmers hooked on their products with 'free' seeds and other materials. But this will be in expectation of huge returns and farmers will have no way of getting out of the vicious circle they will end up in. Just think of those nice people at Nestle, whose endeavours to get mothers using baby milk formula result in countless deaths every year. Once normal crops have been replaced by genetically modified monocultures, the land will be contaminated for an indefinite period. Levels of biodiversity will be reduced irreversibly.

It's nauseating to hear these claims about how good GMOs are for people in developing countries. They are the people likely to suffer most. GM companies certainly seem to believe in poisoning the earth from the grassroots up. Sphere: Related Content