Archive for: October 2012

Making Sense of our Development Agenda

Page 19 of the Star of Thursday, October 11th, carried a story on Water Hyacinth titled “Water hyacinth project threatened by court order”. This is apparently a donor funded project in its phase two under Lake Victoria Environmental Management Project (LVEMP).

LVEMP II is an eight-year US$254 million (Ksh. 2.1 billion) old regional project being implemented in the five East African Community partner states says the article. Objectives of the project include: improving “collaborative management of trans-boundary natural resources of Lake Victoria basin” as well as “reduce environmental stress in the targeted pollution hot-spots and selected degraded sub-catchment areas as a way of improving the livelihoods of communities who depend on the lake basin’s resources”.

One will hope that the project is supposed to physically remove water hyacinth from the lake to enable the people access the resources from the lake. However, in the past eight years the spread of this water menace has more than tripled and this is what prompted me we to re-examine the objectives as stated. If these objectives were to be re-stated in simplified English, the real meaning could be to help citizens of East Africa understand how to collaborate and manage their resources as well as reduce their stress. The project therefore has nothing to do with water hyacinth and hence the reason why the people are fighting over it.

If the donor language were to be simpler, they would have thought about project sustainability in which case we did not need all the resources that is at the disposal of the fighting citizens. In my view we needed only US$50 (US$10 million for each country) to set up an organic fertilizer factory. Hyacinth has been found to be a good ingredient for organic fertilizer. Just recently I wrote a blog how soil nutrients have been depleted in densely populated districts with excessive land sub-divisions. Studies also show productivity levels dropping significantly that our food security and safety is at its worst threat.

Further, chemical fertilizer may be poisoning our ground water and may be likely the cause of increased cancer cases in the region. There is greater urgency than ever before that we exploit every opportunity for developing organic fertilizer like hyacinth that would improve on productivity, ensure sustainable development and reduce its impact on our water resources. Our problems would only be solved by us and as such foreign interventions will not always be a universal remedy to our predicament.

Education and Our Future

Ken Robinson says that schools have killed creativity. From the recent Kenya Union of Teachers’ (KNUT) strike it was evident that we are lacking in creativity. Three weeks of strike threatened the effectiveness of the Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) like never before. Why is KNEC linked to KNUT?

In 2010 GCSE candidates took their exam towards the end June and the results were out by August. More than 700,000 students worldwide did mathematics and English while other subjects averaged more than 350,000 candidates. At the same time about 360,000 sat for the KCSE in the same year between October and November but the results came out at the end of February. In other words marking our exams took twice as much as it took the Pearson’s Group (a private entity) to mark GCSE.

GCSE exams are marked by retired teachers as well as other qualified people. It is a contract for which you are paid 800 pounds for the three to four weeks exercise. They heavily use IT to process the exams and some papers are marked by computers.

The company offers a variety of qualifications, including A Levels (GCEs), Edexel (which is one of England, Wales and Northern Ireland’s five main examination boards and the BTEC suit of examination qualifications. It also offers work-based learning qualifications – including BTEC Apprenticeships through Pearson Work Based Learning, awarding over 1.5 million certificates to students around the world every year.

Since we benchmark on everything, is it not time we started to benchmark on our education?

Taking Care of the Future – Part III (Open Data)

During lunch break from my meeting with HR&A on the 26th Sept, I met Prof. Beth Noveck of MIT to discuss issues relating to an upcoming conference on Open Data in November. In three minutes the prolific professor and former Obama advisor on technology had asked why we were in New York, what makes Kenya think it will be the best technology hub, why we want to build a tech city. She is driven by data and data is her life and the future in solving the many problems. I concurred with her and felt bad that we have not exploited what already is out there in the Open Data Portal.

At JFK, I picked Financial Times and was drawn to an article titled, “Chances of Survival are on the rise by Andrew Jack”, who argues significant advances have been made by scientist in the battle against the disease but victory remains elusive. Further he says “poor quality data – in identifying cases, registering outcomes from treatment and confirming deaths from cancer – means precise figures are difficult. Yet estimates from 2008 suggest that, at least 12 million people around the world contract the desease annually, 8 million die from it and nearly 30 million are living five years after diagnosis”.
This is precisely what I had been discussing with Prof. Noveck. How do we identify a problem as well as solution by utilizing technology? Can we for example create a mobile app for Cancer patients? Can the doctors be compelled to report the data to a central data bank? How about indigenous contribution to this knowledge? What is Africa’s future with respect to both food security as well as safety?

I was pleasantly surprised to read in Sunday Nation an article by a Nation Correspondent in Arusha. Why Africa food crisis persists? Here every data you need to solve the problem was given and I must commend the writer since he effectively used data to drive the point home. He says “one of the reasons for low yields has been the high rate of soil nutrient depletion”. This is the outcome of excessive land subdivision. Citing a report from Alliance for Green Africa headed by Kofi Annan and co founded by Bill and Melinda Gates, the report says Africa uses only 8Kg of fertilizer per hectare when it needs to use at least 50Kgs for the same. Currently, Africa uses less than 3% of global fertilizer and if we doubled that to 6%, plus better seed, we can improve crop production by 50%. We need these data available in all formats if indeed we want to change Africa. How do we get this message to the ordinary farmer?
I mentioned to Prof. Noveck that I am carefully analyzing the issue of Agriculture in Africa because it comes with greater opportunities. But we need to tackle what our role should be in creating a modern Africa. Who precipitates change? We have more than 70% of African referred to as farmers when in fact we know that in as much as small holder farmers contribute to 80% of the consumption, only less than 10% are what you can call farmers. The rest are under employed hangers on in rural Africa continuously undermining productivity and their activities are not sustainable.
Our discussion later drifted into what Universities are doing to prepare for massive change that is on the horizon. This is where we feature poorly. While some of the leading Universities have changed significantly their courses, we have not. We still offer yesterday programs and we are not able to manage knowledge properly. We need for example to have a course in history for everything. History of technology, history of cancer, history of agriculture in Kenya and so on. What this would do is to force us to begin to understand our past that will inform our future.
Sometime back I read Prof. H.W.O Okoth-Ogendo’s paper, The perils of Land tenure reform: a case of Kenya that extensively draws from R.J.M Swynnetorn Report 1954.  The report first proposed privatization of land in order to improve on agricultural productivity. Prior to 1954, land tenure was communal. This is where our land disease started and has spread on to Zimbabwe. How do we reverse the acquired culture and move people to rural urban cities or communal settlement? How can we build on the Maasai land tenure practices?
It will be a mockery of our intellectual capital if we continue to slide in both food security and safety. We have the knowledge but we are looking to elsewhere to sort our problems. If we do not deal with the food situation comprehensively, then none of us will be safe in the days to come.
Action: Let us crowd source the solutions and ways we can take this debate to rural Kenya. I started this in selected districts. Initially I thought they would call me a mad man but I have four invitations from different groups in different parts of the country to discuss and propose the way forward.
Perhaps we need to draw the job description of the 1. County Representative, 2. The Member of Parliament (MP), 3. The Senator, 4. The Governor and 5. The President in order to articulate these problems. I can bet a million shillings that the county representative does not know that it is his/her responsibility to ensure utilities are available in their locality. Check with Ongata Rongai, Kitengela and other fast growing peri urban centers, the representative does not even know where to start. This is the problem. Any member of Parliament will tell you that most of the legislatures hardly know any piece of legislation that goes through Parliament. We need to draw a performance contract with all legislatures, at least an exam on all the legislations that they have passed. The Governor, watching the Kiambu Debate on NTV, only God will help them before they end up in jail (Except for Nyoro and to some extent Kabogo, they are incoherent in explaining such problems as Mungiki menace and creating jobs for youth). 
The people of Kenya must precipitate change.

Taking Care of the Future – Part II

On the 25 and 26th we had meetings with HR&A. These meetings were an eye opener for me since I got the insight of the American construction industry. While HR&A wanted to fully understand their mandate and also present some of the initial works, they also were making proposals on the way forward before ground breaking late October/early November. They used 3D printing to develop the Pavilion model. We were curious and wanted to know more.
In one of their works, the Barclays Centre in New York City, everything was done with the use of technology. Each part that went into building the massive center was bar coded and placed exactly how the model was developed on the computer. The roof material which had decra-like material had all the pieces barcoded 3D printed and placed where it was meant to be. There are no estimates. If you have built in Kenya you know what this method would do to efficiencies in building. There was no “Mzee Mabati haikutosha”. This is precision building. 

This new technology is changing and will change the world as we know it. In the past nine of my speeches I have mentioned eight times but nobody ever bothered to fully understand what it is and how we can leverage on this. The technology defies the rule of economies of scale. It is precisely like any printer where the cost of one copy remains the same till the last copy. This means even a small scale producer can be as efficient as a large scale producer. It means when you build, you go to a small scale producer and print the number of “Mabatis” you need including angle cuts that is usually the bulk of our waste in construction.

The printer works with a new software code in different prints. This is where we shall need millions of software coders for different jobs. In building a house you need floor and roof tiles, ceiling, timber, cement, etc. Each of the material would need a new software code.  I asked the consultants to make a presentation to one of the Universities when they come towards the end of the month. Architects, quantity surveyors, Civil Engineers must get themselves acquainted with the technology before they find themselves irrelevant.
Action: We must get Universities adopting these new technologies now. Already we are working with Dr. Gachigi at University of Nairobi to get to do something tangible before Private Sector jumps in. We are desperately trying to raise Ksh. 15 million to buy a 3D printer for a research project in circuitry. This is what will translate to jobs both in software and manufacture of many items. We could start this project with as little as Ksh. 4 million. If you feel we can get together and raise the amount, please say it. The bureaucracy in Government will take far too long to raise the funds.
If you want to know more about 3D printing sometimes referred to additive manufacturing or computer assisted design, there is a comprehensive coverage of it in one of the past Economist. You can start with Wikipedia.

Last part of the series “Taking Care of the Future” coming up in a few days.


Get Adobe Flash player Plugin by wordpress themes