Friday, November 27, 2015

President Kenyatta, wife, Catholic Bishops curtain-raise Pope’s youth meet with ‘Mukangala’ dance.

When you have a Cardinal, dozens of Bishops, hundreds of priests and nuns in one place, you expect all things secular to go through the window. When you have politicians, as we have seen in the so-called prayer rallies, politics usually takes over. But Friday, at the Moi International Sports Centre, in Kasarani, we had His Holiness Pope Francis – and neither politics nor prayers took over, but song, dance and deep self-reflection.
The thousands of the young people who had heeded the call of the Catholic bishops in the country turned up at the stadium to have their date with Pope Francis on his maiden tour in the country. They sat on the terraces singing, cheering, and dancing.
As they awaited the Pope, a party mood engulfed the stadium.
"...the Bishops, in their black cassocks with pink band cinctures on their waists had no option but to dance away. And that they did, not simply swaying from side to side, but actually doing that shoulder-shaking dance, hands raised and stomping their feet."
Then when President Uhuru Kenyatta arrived at the venue, the cheering was louder. The ingenious ones in the crowd began the Mexican wave. They rose in turns, cheering and shouting with happy faces beaming on the giant screens positioned strategically all over the stadium.
These cheers rose with each crest and fell with each trough – even President Kenyatta and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, Cabinet Secretaries and governors joined in the cheering. The cheers would have looked disruptive were it not for the ingenuity of the Masters of Ceremony who decided to take over and command the wave. The spontaneity was lost. The allure was lost. Calm was restored.
Then, came a rare request. The MCs asked a Bishop to volunteer for a dance. They needed one, and the first hand that went up was that of Bishop Maurice Makumba of Nakuru Diocese. As he was picked from the dais, the other bishops joined him.
When they had all lined up, the huge speakers blared ‘Mukangala’ that hit-song by the late legend Jacob Luseno about a naughty houseboy who pretends to be the boss of the House, and even calls Roselida, her employer, his wife. Picture that!
With that song on the speakers, the Bishops, in their black cassocks with pink band cinctures on their waists had no option but to dance away. And that they did, not simply swaying from side to side, but actually doing that shoulder-shaking dance, hands raised and stomping their feet. 
The President was watching from his dais. Tempted, but resisting.
When the DJ switched the song to Kayamba Africa’s Mugithi, and the ‘Mugithi train’ was formed, the President, his wife, Cabinet secretaries,  and governors joined the dance floor in front of the dais reserved for Pope Francis.
The President went to the head of the queue, his wife followed, and then the governors and the CSs. They danced, stomping their feet rhythmically, and flailing their hands awkwardly, sometimes, just clapping away as they stomped their feet. It was a thrill to watch. Behind the State officers were youth from Don Bosco parish in tight blue jeans and white t-shirts, and behind these youth were the bishops, in black cassocks, and pink/purple cincture bands on their waists. They went forward, then backward, then side-ways, until the music stopped, then, they ran back to their seats.
On the terraces, the young people had come alive. They were cheering. Loudly. On the patch of grass that serves as the football pitch, where the choir, the orchestra and the Police Band had been placed, they had all formed their little distinct Mugithi trains and had fun dancing to the music.
The Pope still had not arrived, but he was almost arriving at the stadium.
Before the dancing, the crowd had been treated to plays from a youth group from Githurai and Mary Hill Girls. The choir had sang too.
The Pope arrived in the modest Honda car, hopped to the Pope Mobile and was driven into the stadium to a roaring welcome. He waved, smiled, and waved some more. He was seated when he got in, but as he got into the stadium, he found himself on his feet, the crowd wild with cheers, ululations and shouts. Miniature flags of the Holy See and of Kenya distributed by the organisers were waved in jubilation.
As the Pope Mobile approached the main dais, a group of cameramen attempted to go and get a great shot, but the hawk-eyed presidential security and the Pope’s security detail were keen and kept a decent perimeter around their prize.
He got to shake a few hands and was escorted to his seat. The little games ended.

Pope Francis to Kenyan youth: Shun corruption, tribalism and pray to defeat radicalisation

The curse of tribalism, the ghost of corruption and the threat of radical teachings yesterday formed the topic of Pope Francis’ talk with thousands of young people in Nairobi.
The Holy Father dropped the religious red tape, turned to his mothertongue, Spanish, and through a translator, engaged thousands of eager Kenyan youth in a heart-to-heart talk at a packed Moi International Sports Centre, in Nairobi’s  Kasarani neighbourhood.
The global head of the Catholic Church confessed that “even in the Vatican there are cases of corruption” and lamented that it was something that disturbed him every day. But his mission yesterday morning was to inspire a change in attitude among the thousands of young people in Kenya whose role models made their money through dubious means.
“Corruption is something that eats the inside. Like sugar, it is sweet. We like it. It is easy… you end up taking so much sugar that you become diabetic or the country ends up being diabetic. Each time we accept a bribe and put it into our pockets, we destroy our hearts, our lives and our country. Please, don’t accept the taste of that sugar called corruption,” said Pope Francis.
He didn’t spend his time quoting the scriptures or speaking cryptically. Instead he gave real life examples, such as that of a young civil servant who was told by his boss that the job was to do that which puts lots of money in the pocket, and not to render services to change lives.
“Corruption takes away our joy; it takes away our peace. Corrupt people don’t live in peace,” he said.
Then, he spoke about a funeral of a corrupt person, who according to a woman Pope Francis spoke to, told him that the man had stolen so much that the coffin couldn’t close because of so much loot that the fraud wanted to be buried with.
 “What you rob through corruption will stay here and someone else will use it. But also, and I ask you to keep this in your hearts, what will remain behind is the lack of good you could have done, but didn’t… corruption is not a path to life, it is a path to death!” said the Holy Father.
The cheers erupted in the stadium. If it was a football match, the crescendo of the shouts was equal to that which follows the scoring of a winning goal.

Pope Francis had sat at the main dais patiently taking notes using a black pen as Linet Wambui, a 24-year-old  Library and Information Science finalist at Kenyatta University, joined Emmanuel Mango Mwonga 22-year-old fashion designer at Eastleigh Shopping Mall gave him the story of Kenya and the problems of the youth.
Linet had complained about tribalism.
“Does God have favourites? Why should the tribe of origin define us?” posed Linet.
To the Pontiff’s right in a separate tent, sat President Uhuru Kenyatta; the First Lady Margaret Kenyatta; Cabinet Secretaries, governors, and other government officials; while to another tent to his left sat the country’s bishops.
But for Linet, that cream of authority of the State and the Church did not stop her from telling the Pope what the problems of the youth in the country were.
She continued: “Sometimes, to get service in this country, one must pay an extra charge!”
You could hear a pin drop as the university student railed about the effect of corruption on ambitious but broke youth, and on poor families.  Even President Kenyatta was leaning forward, his hands clasped on his left knee. Quiet.
Emmanuel too tore into politicians for the incitement of the youth to violence. “They are being taught to hurt their neighbours … and to maim strangers,” he said.
He also complained about the obstructive policies  and drug abuse.  He said  “academic pressure” that makes those who fail in class, believe that they have failed in life was also a problem for the young people.
“If you fail, you lose and you keep losing. If you pass, the obstacles keep growing!” said Emmanuel, from Ekalakala Parish in Machakos Diocese.
When the Pope rose to speak, it is the words of these young people that struck a chord in his heart. He came with a message of hope.
“Life is full of difficulties, but there are different ways of looking at these things: Do you look at it as something that disturbs you or do you see it as an opportunity? Is it a path to destruction or a path to build yourself, your society and your country?” he posed. “You all have the capacity to choose. Do you want t overcome the challenges or be overcome by them?”
The Pontiff looked at the cheering thousands on the terraces at the 60,000 -seat stadium and spoke his heart out and asked the young people to pray and dialogue to defeat tribalism.
“If you don’t dialogue and listen to each other, then you will have divisions… because tribalism is like a worm that grows in society,” the global head of the Catholic Church said, before he asked every person in the stadium to hold hands as a sign of unity.
With Linet to his right, Emmanuel to his left and the dozen youth all hands clasped to the next persons, the Pope emphasized the message of unity. When the hands came down, he smiled and gave a handshake to the young people on the main dais, and he could be heard over the public address system saying “No tribalism!” with a fatherly chuckle.
On corruption, the Pope was emphatic that the young people had to take the lead in saying ‘No’ to extortion, bribery and all life shortcuts in the journey to worshiping money and riches. He blamed a rotten international system that puts money and wealth ahead of humanity for spawning the corrupt practices, but added that people must begin sowing humanity.
“Ask Jesus, pray to the Lord so that He can give you strength to fight tribalism; the courage not to allow yourself to be corrupted and offer your joy to others" -Pope Francis
To deal with radicalization, where people are recruited to become suicide bombers, the Pontiff said the lack of jobs, education, the “unjust international system” and lack of family love could be to blame, but with prayer, and good policies the country will succeed.
“Pray, and pray incessantly. God is much stronger than any recruitment campaign to radicalize people. Speak with tenderness, compassion, love and patience!” the Pontiff said.

 An edited version of this article was published in The Standard on Saturday on November 28, 2015.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Laughter galore as Kikwete’s flawless Kiswahili washes off on Kenyan House Speakers

Tanzania's President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete shakes hands with the Speaker of Kenya's Senate Ekwee Ethuro (in blue robes) as the Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi looks on. (PHOTO/STATEHOUSEKENYA FACEBOOK PAGE)

Kenyan lawmakers cornered Tanzania’s President Jakaya Kikwete and demanded an address in Kiswahili. The MPs who had sat quietly listening to the visiting Head of State address the House in English, pushed for a Kiswahili address from their guest, and being an easy man, Kikwete obliged.
The Tanzanian President’s aide promptly handed his boss a sheaf of papers with the Kiswahili version of the speech, and it is in there that the deep secrets, hitherto known to only a few people were poured out to the whole country in a speech beamed live on Kenya’s public broadcaster.
The Kiswahili delivered in a conversational tone, with the ease of a brother talking to a brother, Kikwete explained why, to Tanzanians, Kenya is a very important partner not just in trade and infrastructure, but also in creating employment.
He said the ties between the two countries, especially with the trade and the investments was key, and will not be severed under whatever circumstances, because any other way, will condemn Tanzania to poverty.
“Labda tupate mtu mpumbavu sana, wa ajabu sana… (unless we get a very stupid person),” said Kikwete, drawing laughter from the Kenyan lawmakers as they recalled former Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki who was liberal with the word ‘pumbavu’.
“Every smart leader will look for market for their country,” said the Tanzanian Head of State.
He said Kenya’s investments in Tanzania had employed 56,000 people who were “now able to marry or get married and live well with their spouses”.
The MPs laughed.
Besides, Kikwete revealed how he shuttled from State House to Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s office in the heat of the mediation efforts after the 2007-08 post-election violence. While insisting that he didn’t wait to be “invited”, Kikwete said he chose to come to Kenya to help his “relatives” heal and stop killing each other.
“When I came here, Kibaki told me two things, don’t leave and tell Kofi Annan not to leave. He also told me to stay around until everything was done. The person who brought the information was (former Minister of Foreign Affairs Moses) Wetang’ula,” said Kikwete.
The whole House erupted in laughter, and Wetang’ula, now a senator and a leading light in the opposition, watched with a wide smile on his face.
Kikwete got the joke. He chuckled.
 “That’s how democracy works!” he told Wetang’ula.
Then he joked that when Wetang’ula told him to stay, he wondered if there was enough room for two Presidents in Kenya at the time.
“I also had a country to run! But I stayed anyway” he said.
“I met Kibaki and Raila, we spoke; I shuttled from one side with a message to the other and back again, until we reached a consensus. We got a deal, we came out, they signed the deal, and a new Kenya was born.  What happened back then was bad, it should be a lesson so that it doesn’t happen again in future,” said Kikwete.
When he was done, Senate Speaker Ekwee Ethuro and National Assembly’s Justin Muturi, who had earlier addressed the House in English, all decided to address in Kiswahili, much to the delight of the MPs.
Ethuro said he had met “a teacher of Kiswahili” in the Tanzanian President, and he was now a “student” and as the House roared in laughter, Muturi had to step in with ‘Nidhamu! Nidhamu!” for ‘Order! Order!’ but that too sent MPs into stitches.
In the end the House was adjourned for 30 minutes to allow Kikwete to leave and the MPs to resume their sittings in their respective Houses.

An abridged version of this story was published in The Standard on October 7, Page 3. Here's the link to that version: 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

LONG READ: The YALI Experience in 3,200 Words

There are lessons you are inadvertently taught when you are a 35-year-old being forced to sit in the same class with an 18-year-old. Imagine someone who is half your age, with less of life experiences sitting by your side, being taught the things you should have learned eighteen years ago.
You feel a little jealous that you were not told these things early enough; that some people are just lucky. But you also feel hopeful that a young generation is being made to learn about better ideals of leadership, and what a good society should look like. It is also somewhat shameful that you haven’t really done a lot to ‘change lives’, and in a country with a life expectancy of 61 years such as Kenya, you take a silent vow – the things you tell your heart and your mind and your conscience— to use the remaining part of your life to change the world. Your world.
But when you sit in that class with an open mind, to learn not just from the lecturers but also from your colleagues, both the ones on the fringes of the ‘youth’ bracket and the ones in their teens, you learn a lot.  As Q told James Bond in that hit movie Skyfall, ‘Age is no guarantee of efficiency.’ And well, for the old ones, James had a response, ‘And youth is no guarantee of innovation.’
So what do you learn, you learn not to be defensive. You learn to ‘seek first to understand, and then be understood’. You learn something about, and this Sandra (she of Empire International) had a way of saying it, ‘lift up your hands as if you are blocking your face, then breath, now bring down your guard’. Someone else called it being ‘proactive’. If you notice, we are very big on Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
US President Barack Obama, that self-styled Kenyan-American, had to do something for the late global icon Nelson Mandela. He wants to mould leaders in Africa, get people with the brains, the will and the conscience to build a better community. So, he came up with this thing called Young African Leaders Initiative. It is something between a bootcamp and a university. In East and Central Africa, they have a Regional Learning Centre to cater for 14 countries set up at the Kenyatta University main campus in Nairobi. Those 14 countries are Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, Rwanda, Central Africa Republic, Somalia, Ethiopia, Djibouti, South Sudan, Sudan, Congo (Brazzaville) and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
There’s a certain kind of motivation people get when they listen to the stories that people tell, okay, let me say they share, without expectation of say, any help or adoration or even praise. If you are interested in the narrative, it is mind-blowing! Everyone has a struggle, but at the end of the day, they all come out smiling.

Moses (uganda), Ambrose (Kenya), Mashangao (DRC) and Eden (Ethiopia) during a seminar on Desigh Thinking at the YALI RLC EA at the Kenyatta University Main Campus in Nairobi (PHOTO/Ambrose Njeru's Facebook profile).

I met Iongwa Mashangao, a businessman from the DRC. A man who started 50 pieces of solar equipment or lanterns to light up his home and then his village in 2010, is now lighting up the whole of DRC. He began the business when he was a student in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.
“I began with 50 pieces, then 100, then 2,000,” Mashangao told me as we sipped our beverage at break time in between the YALI lessons– him black tea with lemon; me, hot chocolate black.
For some reason, there’s a Kenyan, who handled the business for the US-based solar company. He saw the orders to DRC increasing. He went there, met Mashangao in a hotel lobby in Kinshasa.
“We met, we talked. He told me he can help me bring a whole container. I told him I couldn’t afford a whole container because I only had USD80,000 in the bank. He told me we should send him the amount and he will send us the container. It was a risk. We were meeting for the first time. He was a foreigner, yet we were supposed to trust him with all our savings. We told him we can repay the amount from the container in three months,” Mashangao told me about his leap of faith.
He sent the money. Then waited. The Kenyan boss did his part of the bargain and now Mashangao moves just over 30,000 pieces every three months, with annual returns of USD200,000. When he was here in Nairobi, he actually went to visit the Kenyan boss and his family!
I kept thinking: If he hadn’t trusted; if he didn’t take that leap of faith … clearly the universe responded to his desire and fulfilled it (Ha! I read that in Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich). Now he even offers credit to his countrymen, and they pay at their own time. He is offering a solution to the community. Empowering people – he has employed over 40 people, those are 40 families depending on the business. Imagine that kind of responsibility!
If you listen to Mashangao, he has that jovial jocular personality, always happy, serious and organized. And easy. He was actually running his business while in Nairobi, checking the reports every night after an exhausting day. I just wanted to sleep after the dinner. I last sat in a day-long class 13 years ago! We are almost the same age, so really, I have no excuse.
I asked Mashangao what he would change if he was to do it all over again.
“I won’t do it alone. I should have started with a large group so that as we move up, more are empowered,” he told me.
If Mashangao was to write you an email, he will end it ‘Blessings. Mashangao’. So, yes, I do feel blessed to have that kind of inspiration. And he has a knack for calling people “Great young leader!”  Did I mention he is easy-going?

Geoffrey Omondi
Now Geoffrey is a soft-spoken guy. We met on the corridors shortly after I had introduced myself as a Kenyan journalist working for the Standard Media Group Limited, the publishers of Kenya’s oldest newspaper. Geoffrey was looking for my colleague John Oywa. I have never met Oywa, because when he was the Bureau Chief in Kisumu, I was still working for the Nation Media Group. When I joined the Standard Group two years ago, he was no longer there. So, Geoffrey asked about him, and said he wanted to “thank him!” I knew right there, there was a story. I am a little gifted when it comes to reading people, so, I listened.
Geoffrey speaks in a soft whisper-ish voice. Even when he is shouting (let me say, projecting his voice to speak to a group of people) the timbre is still soft. So, you are forced to shut up and listen. It is a story of a clever young man going through life on the benevolence of friends and neighbours and relatives. It was not all rosy sometimes – for instance, he was forced to hawk in Nakuru at one point for long periods, just to make ends meet; was kicked out of a home of his guardian for some reason.
But a great relative saw the potential in him, helped him, took him to school, he worked hard, set records that still stand to this day, and now as a graduate, he is out here changing the world. Geoffrey’s story is so personal, you have to hear him share it, look at the seriousness in his eyes, and the pain, laughter and the emotions as he recalls the memories. And Geoffrey, if you read this, John is now a boss at Homa Bay County!

Aldarich Freeman Luboya
See how Aldarich commands the attention in the room. 

Aldarich was my Congolese room-mate. When I got into the room, he was not there. But I saw his name tag, and I went out to look for ‘Freeman’ (Ha, who remembers Django Unchained, the Movie?). I wanted to see this guy, who, perhaps out of serendipity, the YALI RLC had decided should be my room-mate. I saw him at the reception cocktail, said hi, but I did not tell him he was my room-mate. I then went to the hostel. He came minutes later, knocked the room and I blurted out. ‘Freeman!’
He introduced himself as Aldarich. I insisted I will call him Freeman.  He is a free, nicely wild, happy-go-lucky spirit. He is optimistic and realistic. He works at his own pace, does his own things when he wants to, and does not follow the rules (he actually confessed that in the personality test class). It was so interesting to have such a personality and to work in a bank –naturally a place of rules and standards.
“You know something? I am the compliance officer!” He told me when I asked. Everyone burst out laughing.
Aldarich is the kind of guy who asked me to do him a presidential favour which shall remain unmentionable for now. I just didn’t know how to react to that. But every morning, he kept asking and I didn’t have a new answer. Then it occurred to me, why don’t I flip the coin and ask the same of him –something like, ask him to connect me to his President, Joseph Kabila.
In that tiny room of ours, with the annoying mosquitos, little mattresses and narrow beds – you roll once, you are on the edge!—Aldarich gave me perspectives in life that I have never had.
Take this day for instance. I found him glued on the analogue (CRT!) TV watching KTN’s Jeff Koinange Live watching a debate on some controversial sugar importation deal that Kenya had made with Uganda.
A Ugandan David Matsanga, was on set with a Kenyan senator, Dr Boni Khalwale. They were sitting next to each other. Follow that link in the preceding paragraph to catch the sitting arrangement. And it was so heated.
“That man is a Ugandan? On a Kenyan TV? Arguing with a Kenyan senator? About Ugandan sugar? No no no no! Not in my country,” Aldarich said shaking his head and wagging his finger. It was in that staccato manner, you could see the bewilderment written all over his face. He was seated on the edge of his bed, watching keenly.
For some reason, he got confused. He thought, the Kenyan senator who was sitting in the middle, was the anchor. I told him, no. The anchor was on the other side.
“And they abuse each other like that? (The Kenyan senator had told the burly Matsanga something about his “arse”)” Weh weh weh weh!” He shook his head again and buried his head in his palms. It was all unbelievable.
Aldarich wants to be the President of DRC some day. When he speaks about what he thinks is wrong with his country, you would think it is the last place he would want to go to. But he loves the place. He was just annoyed that his country’s passport doesn’t carry geopolitical weight in the world; he was upset, for instance, that everyone in Africa is going mushy about the development miracle in Rwanda without really talking about the DRC.
“DRC is the land of the possible,” he said it in French, and I had to decipher. 
“You might think I am mad about my country. No, I really love it! I wouldn’t wish to be anywhere else. We want to bring the world to Congo. When I become President, you will be in my government!” he told me. 
He was dead serious.
 He told me the stories I have read about Mobutu Seseseko, Laurent Kabila and Patrice Lumumba. It was fascinating listening to a Congolese tell the stories with the national nuances, the gossip and context.
He baptized me ‘Kulutu’ which he and Jean Marc Mercy told me means ‘big brother’. Aldarich speaks his mind, goes for what he wants, and he is very practical. He has watched ‘Scandal’ / ‘Fixer’ and once joked that there are women who can make one President, and there are those who can keep one President. He once told Valerie that she was “presidential”, and whispered to me that another lady was like Olivia (the Scandal superstar). He actually agreed with Cate Nyambura that marriage is a “strategic partnership”.
Aldarich is the kind of fella who can talk all night about politics and Congolese music and history. I would fall asleep listening to him, and when I stirred in my sleep, I would get him hunched over his computer doing some work. He turned in at around two in the morning every day. And whenever I went for my hour-long morning jog at 5.30am, I’d come back and find him still asleep. Then at a quarter to seven, he’d jump up, take a shower, dress up and go.
The craziest thing he asked me for was a compilation of Kenyan Catholic songs. I promised him that when he came back, I will give it to him.

Heidi Mumia
Heidi collected currencies from nearly all the countries. Here is a picture she took.

When I saw the name Heidi, I knew there and then that she was a person I wanted to meet. The name ‘Mumia’ pointed out to me that she was from Mumias. I come from there. And I learned that her home is less than a kilometre from my late mother’s home. But that’s not why I was interested in meeting her. She is what my Chemistry teacher called a ‘catalyst’. I heard her referring to people as “enablers”. Heidi works for the public sector, and I have never seen so much energy and focus and dreams in a public official as I saw in Heidi. The last time I saw it was when Joseph Kinyua, the President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Chief of Staff was the permanent secretary at The National Treasury or when a good friend (I love keeping him anonymous) made that masterplan for the Parliament of Kenya.
Here was Heidi speaking about dreams of the youth and the country as if her life depended on it – she works in Kwale County, that is 14 hours on the road from her home! She is my age (sorry Heidi) and that passion metastasizing in the public sector can make wonders for this country.
And Heidi loves to cook. She confessed that before 27 strangers – 54 eyeballs in the Public Management Class! I thought it was the same story for Mary Oyoo, the student economist, but if I remember correctly, Mary said “I love food!” If you look at Mary, you wouldn’t guess, thanks to her fantastic metabolism!
I could tell stories about every participant I met. All the eighty participants from the 14 countries have their stories, fantastic stories. I could tell that Shallon from Uganda was passionate and focused about order. She works in Parliament, itself a House of rules and procedure. And she is an editor, so, well, we hate crap! But telling that story will make this blog a novel.
I could also whisper to Wigdan Seed, the chemical engineer from Sudan that in one of the conversations with Mehret Okubay, the law student from Ethiopia, she actually called you a “genius”, and when you, Wigdan (I still know how to pronounce your name) stuck to those wooden planks that second day and forced us to see that we need to be courteous, I figured Mehret had already learned a thing or two about you.  You taught us a lesson that day Wigdan. I can’t forget.
I have stories to tell about everyone. There’s Abel, the Ethiopian. A lecturer. A funny guy. I heard people saying you were a Chevening scholar, well, that sums it up. And you can sing Munaye Munaye, well, you made me laugh. 

And Addis, the quiet Ethiopian economist whom we share a personality (MBTI) with and a group project on art and development. Then there’s Eden, also an Ethiopian. The three of them plus Mehret Dubale, Mehret the lawyer and Geda told me that raw meat was the best thing ever! I still can’t figure it out.
Mehret (the doctor) and Gelila (this girl can laugh out loudly!) no more trips to the salon to look for a hair dresser who can deal with Ethiopian hair.
Emmanuel, the soil scientist from Uganda with all the passion in the world for the welfare of farmers, I was glad to meet him. He told me about Cassava species, about rice and banana farming. He, like Shallon, have this easy-going strictness about them. It is their personality. ISFJ! And oh, Emmanuel also looked at the menu, looked at the rice – little broken seeds—and mentioned “In Uganda, this is low grade, if you buy it, it is the cheapest in the market!” We still ate it, there was nothing else to eat (Ugali came by quite late in the day).
And about the menu, you know, when you have to eat the same kind of food for lunch and dinner, and the same menu for breakfast every day for three weeks, you take a vow to reject some meals. It just happens. I know I am not alone, there’s Azza over there in Khartoum who hasn’t touched rice ever since she left Nairobi, I can’t stand bread.
Ashraf from Sudan was our King of selfies. A nice kind of guy, jolly. Next time, I think we will remind the restaurant to label the food.
And Ismael, the professor from Djibouti, who made me take him all the way to the city centre. That day we were with William from Congo Brazzavile. There was a humility in the way these guys, people with families, their own homes, had to go back to tiny hostel rooms with room-mates they have never met, enduring night-long snoring – oh dear!—every day for three weeks! The humility of it all was quite a lesson.
Cate Miano, the law student from Kenya with a vision to empower girls to read through the Pitch a Dream initiative. Young people with vision. They want to change lives.
Idrissa Juma from Tanzania, another young lawyer with dreams for his community. And Alida, a psychologist with twins (Ha, Alida, I can’t forget!) Faith, she of the ‘love clap’ and Lionel, he of ‘transforming the world, changing lives’! And Shadrack and Simon, the champions of Sustainable Development Goals. And Valerie, the advocate of the blind.And our resident photographer Dolin from DRC, plus Robert the designer-entrepreneur, and Stanley the entrepreneur.
Bill from South Sudan and Queen (yes, that’s a real person’s name), had this quiet persona about them. They sit in a room full of people, and just listen. But when they talk, you understand that they have super brains in between their ears. I haven’t forgotten looking up their country-mate Margaret Chang’ and finding out that Google’s top results had Chinese people. I actually began calling her Chinese.
And Kaberia who wants to be a Member of County Assembly in Embu, plus his party leader Ambrose (the governor) and Carolyne Chege who came number two in the last elections in a ward in kajiado. The drive of these aspiring politicians, their thought process and everything about them was amazing.
There were so many people, I forget some. But I have written this with a smile and a chuckle. If you read it without smiling, I apologise for wasting your time. If you read it with a smile and got a lesson or two, I am glad.

All said, at YALI EA RLC you learn to survive, to run like a gazelle being pursued by a cheetah because your life depends on getting away, or to run like that cheetah because your life, actually, your meal depends on it. They teach you to be eagles. They teach you that there’s more than enough to go around. They teach you to change the world. They teach you to be leaders.
Have Razzmatazz!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

30 gems from Prof Olive Mugenda to the YALI participants

YALI invited the Vice Chancellor of Kenyatta University,Prof Olive Mugenda to give one of those motivation/inspiration talks. She is, they said, a transformational leader. The good professor came and gave a talk titled “Systems Theory and Transformational Leadership: Building blocks for sustainable performance”
It was, in a nutshell, the story of her life, intertwined with the story of Kenyatta University.

Here are 30 things she said. Read, get your lesson, smile and move on. Is it ever that serious? Well, let's see....

  1. "When I was here many many years ago, this place was like a desert…The first thing I did was make it green. Have you seen the beautiful green hedges? When we first planted, the students would uproot them, but I'd tell my people to go and plant them again… now if you try to uproot them, the students won’t allow it. They love it! 
  2. "In a university like KU, even if I didn't transform it, life would go on.  I'd come to the office, sign the vouchers, do the administrative work and life will go on the way it is happening in other universities
  3. "All these governors are getting money and they are being told to do development and bring transformation…. If you are fighting all the time (in the counties), if you are not creative nothing will happen”
  4. "There is no way you are going to be a good leader if you are not visionary... you must have the ability to articulate and implement that vision... you must get that buy-in of the vision.
  5. "Doing the same things everyday will not deliver new results.
  6. "Take risks which are manageable, but always have a Plan B
  7. "You have to learn not to listen to some of these things (distractions, negative vibes), or else your vision will be derailed. The best thing is to focus on your vision as long as you are doing it right.
  8. "We bought a hotel at the Coast, 129 rooms, when we go there for meetings, we all stay at one place...within three years, we had cleared the loan....
  9. "Believe in people, build their capacity, be firm.
  10. "There are some of us who want to be in a little corner, to do their own things and succeed. Learn to work in a team. It is more valuable.
  11. "I have been offered Sh60 million...(When she rejected it, the giver of the kickback was so shocked that Prof Mugenda had to do a little therapy) I have to manage the shock so that they leave the office not feeling dejected. You have to be value driven. If you make that mistake (and take the money), how will you tell the people below you to stop being corrupt?
  12. "When you have a negative attitude, nobody wants to be with you!
  13. "I'd rather have a person who has 100 per cent good attitude and 80 per cent hard work, than one who is a good performer with a very negative attitude. Attitude is everything! Remember the cheese story!
  14. "Keep improving your skills. I did my MBA when I was a VC. In Arusha. I couldn't do it here because they'd probably give me a C.” (Laughter)
  15. "Communicate a clear sense of urgency that motivates the necessary attention and learning. Don't delay things. Let people know that we are not here forever.”
  16. "I don't like watching wildlife, they get caught all the time and they get eaten. I must win, I must do it right and I must do it now.
  17. "Who would have thought that a university can build a mall? I have been told 'why are you building a mall instead of classrooms?' But that mall, even in a hundred years, it will keep bringing income to this University.
  18. "I want to get American and Indian doctors to come work in our hospital and our students to go to those countries and succeed... it is about partnerships...I have 121 partnerships."
  19. "You must sacrifice your sleep a bit. Even at my age. I put two hours of KU work before I come to work. Because there is always a queue at the office, people waiting for me and I can’t tell them to go away, I have to serve them. I can't tell them to go and come back later.
  20. "Think about the little things you can do which will not cost money… the low-hanging fruits."
  21. "The plan in 2005 when we were doing the strategic plan was to have 45,000 students in 2015, we now have 71,000. Isn't that Transformational? "
  22. "We buy a lot of these things directly from the manufacturer.”(Cement, Steel, and construction equipment. Actually, she said the National Construction Authority has given KU a license similar to the one given to the Chinese contractors!)
  23. "When I was building the library, some people asked me, ‘why you are putting escalators, stairs and lifts. Just put one!’ I said, I don't want our students to go abroad and see escalators at the airport for the first time…."
  24. "If you have a good idea, don't keep quiet.
  25. "I have not seen a challenge of people disrespecting me because I am a woman.
  26. "In 2009, I almost resigned...there's a lot of politics in these universities. There is someone who said KU should be investigated. He said 'where are they getting the money for all these buildings'? I said, they should be asking those who are not building where they are taking the money they are getting! "
  27. "There are people who never smile. Life is not like that. Smile. Be happy. Do your work. If people came to the office, and I was annoyed, would people care. They just want services delivered. They don't care about your personal life".
  28. "When I was here as the student, I didn't know I will be the VC. I just worked hard. So, work hard. Have a vision. Follow your dream. Things will work out.
  29. "Get people who can support you, people who can say the truth. Be strategic. Be a politician.
  30. "Unless I am out of the country or I am very busy, I rarely turn down the opportunity to mentor young people... before I leave the university, next year I will be writing a teach many more”

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Decisions...Results. Choices...Consequences. Lessons.

The first week at YALI just flew past. I remember that first day on a sunny Monday morning when the tears rolled down the cheeks of Mark McCord as he shared his personal story about taking responsibility for decisions he made years ago. I don’t know how he felt, because I have never made a decision that directly led to the death of someone I worked with.
I am a journalist, so inadvertently, I may write stories that get people killed or fired or haunted. But it has never been that personal, like Mark’s guard when Mark was a bigshot of some company in Jalalabad in Afghanistan, and he watched as an IED planted on a road blew out his guard. His friend. His colleague.
After Mark’s tears, there was this game about the basic things that you need to know about people; about their families. Farah called it Bingo. I didn’t know its name, but you should have seen how an Ethiopian like Addis who speaks Amharic back home and English when he is abroad, got easily acquainted with Idrissa from Tanzania whose primary language is Kiswahili, and the secondary language is English.
Or when Ismael from Djibouti was having this conversation with a security guard from Kenya, and somehow, Mbusih, the celebrity reggae radio presenter featured into the conversation. Mbusih speaks Sheng’.
You learn fast. You adapt fast.
They teach you about leadership; about being proactive; about vision, mission, goals and legacy; about putting first things first; about thinking “win-win”; about seeking first to understand, and then to be understood… it is a long list, but if you can get your hands on a computer or phone with internet, then you can go here for a peak into what we learned in the first week.
Of course there was team building where we had to sweat, run around, think, argue, disagree, agree, laugh, dance some more, and most of all learn, that life requires teamwork. 
Sandra, Bush, Jami and Chege taught us that you have to negotiate, cut deals, make promises, keep those promises and move on to achieve your goals.

 YALI Cohort 2 Participants 
Though we have a tea break – there’s coffee and chocolate; the only problem is that the menu for lunch and dinner remains largely the same, with rice, irish potatoes, sweet potatoes, chicken, beef, goat meat, pasta … I missed Ugali; Eden missed Injera; and Abel missed “raw meat”.
Now about raw meat, well, Abel, the tall smart Ethiopian told me today – on the second day of the second week— that he loves raw meat. I was with Hector, our El Salvadoran lecturer from the Arizona State University.
I was shocked. But Abel said: “All Ethiopians think that if someone can’t eat raw meat, then they are crazy. I also think the same.”
I agree I can be mad, but really, how does raw beef, with blood and lymph dripping, get into your mouth? How do you chew it? I was in disbelief. I know Saul, he of Mogotio, ate fresh raw liver and intestines of a goat back in campus. But here was Abel, with the backing of Addis and Mehret insisting that raw beef was a delicacy!
“It was actually palace food!” Addis told me.
The big lesson I take from the first week is the need to plan your time. I know I am organised. Thorough. And I get terribly upset when someone doesn’t keep time. But I was taught to “carry my own weather”. I hope to try.
Week two is here. It is the first day of a new month. Two days already gone by. Let me see what I can get from it.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

YALI Cohort 2 Chronicles: The French connection

When you are a Kenyan who speaks three languages –English, Kiswahili and Luhya (my mothertongue), it is not funny when providence thinks it apt to match you with a Burundian. That’s what happened when David Kamau,@TheRealKamauD, said we should pair up and introduce each other to the rest of the YALI clan.
I ended up with Njari Jean (read John, because I can’t figure out how to make it sound like John when it is written). Now Njari is a guy who heads Yowli (it actually rhymes with YALI) but it stands for Young Women Knowledge and Leadership Institute. And I had to speak the little French that I had learnt overnight from my roommate Freeman Luboya.
That is what YALI does to you… they throw you in some unfamiliar territory in front of 81 strangers – 162 eyeballs—and they expect you to dance on that stage flawlessly.
Let’s just say, I tried. Because after the exercise, Pascal walked up to me and spoke to me in French, then Lingala, and when he saw I was just staring, he actually checked my tag and profusely apologized.
“I thought you were Congolese,” he said.
Then Caroline, looked at me, and walked over to my table where Addis, Idriss and I were having some banter about politics, economics and law.
She asked: “Are you from Burundi?”
I said “No, I am Kenyan”.

Unbelievably, she doubted my citizenry and told me that I’d pass for a Burundian national. It seems there’s no escaping this French thing!

YALI Cohort 2 Chronicles: ‘Figure it out’

What does a journalist do in the middle of entrepreneurs, budding activists, organisers, and aspiring politicians, okay, should I say leaders? How does a journalist get in? How did you get in? These are the questions people were asking me, and like everyone else, I had a template response: I applied, I was accepted, so here I am.
Some did not understand why I’d be here to study public management! Well, here’s the short answer: I cover politicians. I think I know politics. I also think I know baloney. Plus I think I know a little bit about legislation and public policy. I just want to know, why we tend to have very good politicians, but a hopeless development record. A hopeless government. That’s it.
I was approached by people who asked me what “column” I wrote. I didn't have an answer. If you were me, well,  you can’t do anything but explain that you do news, analyses and features, and that you don’t have a column. That’s until a fearless participant walks to you and asks for space to write a column in your newspaper. And when you tell the participant that columnists are engaged differently and that whatever they send might end up in the Letters Page or the Opinion-Editorial, you will be startled, the way I was when I was told: “You figure it out!”

They are teaching people here to think outside the box. Mark actually took an empty box, stood inside – a grown old man in a suit standing inside a box—then jumped out, took the box, tore it into pieces and threw the pieces away. No limits, he said. So, about that column, I need to find the box…to tear it.

Great minds think alike!