Monthly Archives: November 2015

AFRICA SHOULD BE A COUNTRY.

We welcome the opposition of the world, because we are determined to see the battle through.
Africa’s battle-cry is not yet heard -Marcus Garvey.

American politician Sarah Palin was the butt of every joke a few years ago when it was claimed that she asked if South Africa was part of the ‘African country’.

While in Ethiopia earlier this year, US President Barack Obama delivered a speech referred to by the Whitehouse as ‘Remarks by President Obama to the People of Africa’.

These, despite what is believed to consistent messaging that ‘Africa is not a country’ but a continent of 54 diverse, real, and culturally different countries with distinct markets. Smart marketers now know that a ‘one size fits all’ campaign will never work in ‘Africa’. How a product is marketed in South Africa for instance, will not necessarily work Rwanda. Ask SAB Miller, or Nandos or Iway Africa.

But Africa’s firmly drawn borders are perhaps the continent’s largest undoing.

Africa should be a country, after all, weren’t its’ borders drawn up at the Berlin Conference in 1885?

This article, however, is not about a continent with one president or one currency as illusionarily envisaged by Kwame Nkruma, Robert Sobukwe or Muammar Gaddafi. It isn’t about flung Cape Townians dancing off-beat to Lingala tunes from the Congo. It is about what is now becoming a powerful case for Africa to digest global matters facing the continent as a single entity, with a collective voice, a common African position.

The call for a united Africa is not about the utopian one dream, one aspiration, one challenge, and one solution for all.

When South Sudan is facing civil strife, Africa is not in war. A corrupt Kenya isn’t a Corrupt Africa. Criminals terrorising Johannesburg do not cross borders. But we have accepted that the troubles of South Europe are isolated, that Russia is the bully, France the sickman and Italy the schizophrenic patient of Europe without tarring the whole continent with the same brush. We accept India is not China, South Korea is not North Korea, Singapore is not Indonesia. But they are all in Asia.

The sad stereotypical irony is that Africa’s perceived oneness can be paradoxically beneficial and crippling. The advantages are the regional building blocs. In 2007, Thabo Mbeki reminded Gaddafi, who was obsessed about the United State of Africa and himself as president, that you cannot start from the roof. Mbeki told Ghanaian students that regional economic blocs should be strengthened first. In fact, when Africa was at its strongest before the Western plunder, was buttressed by powerful kingdoms at regional level

The formation and strengthening of trade blocks such as the East Africa Community (EAC), The Common Markets for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) is a good start for the continent. These power blocs are already breaking borders, negotiating trade agreements, positioning markets and developing infrastructure. A case in point is the Standard Gauge Railway of East Africa, a multi-billion dollar world-class rail project that is in essence a product of the EAC. It is said the sheer size and projected impact to trade of the SGR will lift Kenya’s GDP by 1.5%.

Africa’s fragmented markets do not give big business sleepless nights. But a market of a billion people; will definitely attract the largest corporates in the world, – This is how a poor China [not a continent though] transformed itself into the workshop of the world, and India – under Narend Modi – is trying to position itself as an alternative market.

The world’s ignorant perception of Africa continues to hurt its efforts. Africa’s lack of deliberate marketing efforts and brand positioning continues to cast it as the ‘dark’ continent. The African Union on its part has been lethargic in telling Africa’s new story.

There are currently only fifteen African countries involved in civil war or experiencing post-war conflict. But the world’s image of Africa is a hotbed of war and crime. This image has lasted for almost two centuries even though almost the entire Europe was ravaged by war hardly 60 years ago.

A recent protest letter by angry Africans to the producers of CBS’s 60 Minutes on Africa, a show that partly covered the Ebola crisis accused the media house of being skewed in its coverage by interviewing very few Africans, instead preferring to speak to foreigners. That is, often, how Africa’s story is told. The letter in part said:

‘In a series of recent segments from the continent, 60 Minutes has managed, quite extraordinarily, to render people of black African ancestry voiceless and all but invisible.’

When Ebola broke, even the safari lodges perched deep in the East African savannah suffered. Hotels in South Africa thousands of Kilometers away were also hit hard by cancellations.

The world reported on Ebola as an African epidemic, the Economist called it ‘ The ignorance epidemic’. The World Bank reported ‘cumulative losses of more than US$500 million across the (African) region in 2015, outside the three directly affected countries…losses could be closer to the higher end of the estimate at US$6 billion’. By the way, tap water in Johannesburg is more drinkable than in Paris.

Everyday, Africa wakes up to a reminder that the continent needs collectively defend its interests and actively create new perceptions.

With new oil, coal and other natural resource finds, perhaps money can buy respect.

But Africa will need to earn its place on the table by reinforcing Africa’s new position as the fastest growing continent. But growth alone is worthless unless it’s translated into plucking out millions out of poverty and narrowing inequality gap.

Kofi Annan, in July’s edition of The Africa Report called on Africans to approach the December 2015 talks on a new global climate treaty with a single voice, ‘to speak as one, in clear narrative that should reflect the ‘African position”.

The journey has begun. The recent signing of the free trade area by 26 countries across the SADC, EAC and COMESA promises to unite the trade zones into a single new zone by 2017. That’s a market of almost half a million people, strength in numbers is perhaps Africa’s strength, hence; ‘Africa should be a country’.

As the Suthu Proverb goes “A divided pride [of lions] can be defeated by a wounded buffalo.

#POPEINKENYA and other short stories

“My concern is not whether God is on our side; my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.” Abraham Lincoln.

The Alitalia ‘Shepherd one’ plane carrying Pope Francis touched down JKIA at 4.30pm Wednesday, half an hour earlier than expected. His itinerary on the ground perfectly in sync with the programme sent to us. Bang on time and so intricately flawless. The organiser’s ability to ensure his meetings were done with such timeliness is everything ‘African time’ is not about.

I am part of the news team handing coverage of the pope’s arrival, and it has been one of the most interesting events I’ve had to cover. As a financial journalist I have never pictured myself having conversations on TV about the Nuncio, the Nunciature and liturgical vestments such as the Chasuble with a former Swiss Guard and a Reverend father. I brag, because I have packed up more vocabulary in two days than I have in perhaps the last few months. The Catholic faith does come with some incredible jargon.

The pope’s visit comes with a heightened sense of spirituality. Conversations I steered in studio attempted to draw parallels between religion and government, and the role of religion in shaping a country’s path. It was interesting to see Kenyans talking to us on twitter and directly to studio say it was a great time for the country’s leadership as well as ordinary Kenyans to reflect on their roles in creating an environment that fosters peace and unity.

Pope Francis, a man deeply and evidently passionate about youth and family appealed to Kenyans to “Go back home and love your family, if you want to change the world’. How apt, for a generation where the family unit is transitioning to gadget driven relationships, where “Whatsapp’ groups are replacing long dreamy phone calls and coffee dates, E-cakes and E-chocolates are replacing birthday dinners and are killing the art of conversation, which was usually refined over tea and biscuits in our homely homes.

The Holy Father pleaded with Kenyan youth to embrace the tenets of African traditions, which are built firmly on respect and a strong community. The simplicity of the family unit however might not do enough justice to the ability of that small unit to create and foster strong values that last a lifetime. The take home for that was that we must start at the Nucleus if we must change this country. Our children must have integrity and ethics embedded into their DNA if this country is serious about fighting corruption, because it perhaps will take a generational change to hit the reset button.

I also immensely enjoyed conversations about inter-religious dialogue, in which the Pope referred to as a necessity and not a luxury against the backdrop of heightened terrorist attacks across the globe in recent times. It is a conversation that must be deliberately up-scaled to also contain the rise of ethnic profiling which could easily teeter into Xenophobia.

The tone that Pope Francis set at the beginning of his Papacy was consistent in visit in Kenya, as issues on Climate Change, Youth and Poverty were high up in his agenda. The challenge however is whether the Pope’s message will dry up as soon as he takes his Alitalia flight back and when the rains stop pounding. Will Kenya’s now spiritually awakened leaders live up to the prayers of the pope and Kenyans? Human nature dictates that Utopia is a wonderful place to live.

OTHER STORIES:

“Pray for me” said President Uhuru Kenyatta to the Pope. I believe it will be a couple of prayer filled days as the religious community in the country will join the pope in praying for him. He and his government badly need a miracle. I will say a prayer for UK as well, I am embarrassed to say that I have never prayed for him, but that’s done now.

Fox News jumped right into the fire after the station aired a news report about the Pope headed into ‘ War-Torn Africa’. Kenyans on twitter, not a group that gets easily bullied once again took the time to put them in their place the ‘#someonetellCNN’ way’. I love Kenyans!

Drum rolls please!! Quite an impressive list of new appointees to state Departments was announced this week. Former Googler Joe Mucheru was appointed Cabinet Secretary of ICT, Former head of Equity Investment Bank Wilson Nyakeira, all of 33 years old was appointed P.S, some interesting names there like Fatuma Hirsi formerly of Nation media Group, Paul Mwangi, former advisor to Kagame on Infrastructure, Zeinab Hussein, Former McKinsey Africa lead & Patrick Mwangi from the World Bank. Someone deserves a bubbly!

Moses Kuria is also spending the weekend in the cells (or is it Karen Hospital), such timing! Missed the pope and the rain, but I see messages circulating online that he has decided against running in Gatundu in 2017. Politics, My friend, in the words of Groucho Marx “ is the art of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies.”