Monday, June 27, 2011


This Ethiopian little girl does not have a choice or a voice.
Opponents of female circumcision emphasize that the practice is detrimental to women's health and well-being. Some consider the practice a ritualized form of child abuse and violence against women, a violation of human rights.

Female circumcision, aka female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), is a relatively recent debate. The practice was hardly spoken of in Africa and little was known in the West until the 1950s and 1960s. At this time activists and medical practitioners tabled the health consequences of female circumcision to the World Health Organization (WHO) and United Nations. It was not until 1979 that any formal statement was made urging governments to eliminate the practice in their respective countries. The following decade, the widespread silence surrounding female circumcision was broken.

The WHO categories female circumcision into four major types:
Type I -      defined as partial or total removal of the clitoris (clitoridectomy) and/or the prepuce (clitorial hood.
Type II -     defined as partial or total removal of the clitoris and the labia minora, with or without excision of the labia majora.
Type III: Infibulation with excision - defined as narrowing of the vaginal orifice with creation of a covering seal by cutting and repositioning the labia minora and/or the labia majora, with or without excision of the clitoris (infibulation).
Type IV: Other types - defined as all other harmful procedures to the female genitalia for non-medical purposes, e.g., pricking, piercing, incising, scraping and cauterization. 

Female circumcision is an integral part of patriarchal societies where the male authority and control of female sexuality and fertility are givens.

Efforts to eliminate female circumcision have often been unsuccessful because opponents of the practices ignored to mention its social and economic context. They were out to bash the practice without seeking practical solutions. Many African women have perceived many of these efforts as condescending and derogatory toward their culture. It is offensive to those who believe in the practice to be "ordered" to stop it. They do not mind the good advise but they recent the tone and condescending arrogance of the West.

The strong reactions against depictions of cultures practicing female circumcision as savage, violent and abusive of women and children have led to new ways of approaching the issue. Some amiable approaches include community education, reaching out to community health workers and educating them on the harmful effects of female circumcision. Another approach used in Kenya by the Maendeleo Ya Wanawake organization, was working with communities to come up with alternative rites of passage (rituals). In Burkina Faso the director of a local theatre produced a play, based on the experience of his niece, on the consequences of female circumcision. The play was aimed particularly at men.

Most of the countries where female circumcision occurs have signed international treaties that condemn gender-based violence. Many have laws against female circumcision. Given the lack of enforcement of most laws against this practice, it unclear whether a purely legal approach is effective in itself.

Significant change is likely to take place only with improvements in the status of women in society.

Saturday, June 25, 2011


Traumatic experience

This is a painful topic to dwell on because of the horrific nature of the practice. Female circumcision (FC) is also referred to as female genital mutilation (FGM) in the West or now the politically correct term often used internationally is female genital cutting (FGC). None of these terms make the topic easier to discuss.
I have always preferred the term female circumcision because that is what I grew up knowing and it did not have a negative connotation or stigma attached to it. I understood the practice as a rite of passage for various ethnic groups including my own. I have members of my family who went through this "rite of passage" and it gave them status and a sense of authority within the community. 

So when I began attending international conferences or forums where the practice was labeled as female genital mutilation I was offended and appalled at the level of Western condescending ignorance and arrogance. I believed then and now that there is a better way to approach this debate than with the condemnation and rage it is often presented in.
Girls this young face this ordeal for the sake of family, culture or religion
As I researched and read biographies of girls like me who had undergone the "knife" the reality of the practice set in. Not all ceremonies were celebrations and for some girls circumcision came as early as less than two months old, like in Eritria; or six years like in Mali and almost 10 years in Egypt. The operation is generally carried out by a traditional birth attendant or an exciseuse, who is usually an elder village woman. These village women have little or no knowledge of human anatomy or medicine. Female circumcision can cause death or permanent health problems including severe pain.

Waris Dirie
Waris Dirie, a Somali woman who moved to London at the age of 14 years has written an account of her horrific experience at a young age. In her book she describes the constant pain whenever she urinated, and that the circumcision made urination a very slow process. She was in excruciating pain whenever she had her period because her body was unable to excrete the blood as fast as it needed.  She describes how she and her sisters used to dig a hole in the ground and bury themselves in it to help cope with their period pain.  Read some extracts of Waris Dirie's autobiography and circumcision experience here.

Ugandan girl being circumcised
Despite all these risks and others the practice is still an integral part of many cultures and their ethnic identity and for some a religious obligation.

There are various reasons given for FC. In many communities they probably do not even know or question the reason for the practice. In other communities it is the social pressure to conform and not be labeled as a social misfit. Social pressure is a great motivator because it many cases it determines if your daughter is qualified to be married as well as determining the bride price. Circumcision is also the tool used to ensure premarital virginity and marital fidelity. This is a necessary part of raising a girl properly, and a way to prepare her for adulthood and marriage.

Next - forms of FC/FGM/C and consequences... Part II

Friday, June 24, 2011


Satoshi Kanazawa
Dr. Satoshi Kanazawa caused an uproar last month when he published what he claimed to be a "scientific study" proving that women of African descent are less attractive than other women. The blog article in Psychology Today, May 15, 2011, was immediately removed with no explanation or apology from its editor-in-chief, Kaja Perina. Ms. Perina issued a statement one week later apologizing and taking responsibility for having the article on their magazine. The magazine later expanded on their apology saying that they would take steps to prevent similar content in the future and dismiss Kanazawa from his position. Though the post was removed from the site you can read it here.

Satoshi, an Evolutionary Biologist and professor at the London School of Economics, is well known for his controversial and offensive pseudoscientific shock-jockery. He, however, continues to teach at a respected university, was posting on the blog of a reputable mainstream publication and still serves on the editorial board of the Journal of Social, Evolutionary and Cultural Psychology.

Dr. Kanazawa's arrogance and overt bigotry was nurtured by these institutions that continued to give him a platform. This latest post pushed too far and there was a concerted outcry around the world expressed via the social networks and other media. Psychology Today removed the post late Sunday night and by Monday morning, May 16, 2011, the University of London Union Senate, the largest student organization in London (representing 120,000 students), unanimously called for Kanazawa's dismissal. The reasons stated for this call for dismissal include flawed research and unscientific bigotry.

I can give my own research-based reasons as to why this "study" is clearly not objective but I choose to counter Satoshi's bigoted theory with the following physically "subjective" photos of attractive women of African descent.

Attractiveness is subjective not objective!

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Somali women in the US
Somali women in the US have worked hard to break the stereotypes and cultural norms by working to support their families.  For many of these women, owning their own businesses gives them the financial independence they did not have in their home country. In Somalia, men are the breadwinners particularly in the Muslim households, while the women keep house and take care of the children.

The roles change once these families come to the United States and the women set up shop bringing home paychecks.

Many of these families have migrated to the US to escape the civil war in Somalia. The American Community Survey estimated a little over 100,000 Somalis lived in the US in 2009. Almost 30,000 living in Minnesota, although other sources suggest as high as 60,000.

According to the US Census Bureau, the median household income for Somalis is among the lowest, with 51 percent living in poverty. The efforts of Somali women within their communities is changing this statistic. They are not only changing the cultural dynamics of the Somali home but they are also contributing to the community at large, highlighting the importance of the role of women in society.

Male reaction/response to these changes are varied. Some have accepted and are assisting the women in their business enterprises. Others have been unable to adapt bringing on the foreign concept of separation and divorce.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011


Asha Hagi Elmi
Asha is one of those unique women who decided that she could not wait for the rest of the world to come help stabilize her country of Somalia.

Somalia has suffered through years of conflict between clans, lawlessness, failed peace talks and a current transitional government fighting for control.  However, through it all, Asha Elmi maintains that Somalis must take responsibility and the first steps to invest in their future.  

Her mission is restoring order and creating a stable government in Somalia.  She is a member of Somalia's transitional parliament and heads the first and only clan made up of women. It is considered the sixth clan since there are five major clans in Somalia.

The uniqueness of her clan is that the women are from the different Somali clans that fight for dominance. It crossed the clan lines. Asha understood the effects of conflict between clans because like many Somalis she married outside her clan. Neither her birth or married clan accepted her. She says she realized that the only full identity she had, was her womanhood identity. The road to peace has been long and dangerous of this mother of four.

Voiceless women need to be heard
In 1992 Asha Hagi and her husband founded Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC) while living in Nairobi, Kenya. The purpose of the organization was to advocate for equal rights for women in politics. This was and continues to be a difficult endeavor considering Somalia is a muslim country and in particular women are considered second class citizens.

In 2000 the Sixth Clan secured 25 assembly seats (10% of the Transitional National Government). For the first time in Somali history women officially had a voice. Asha Hagi called it a "total revolution". 

After several more peace talks and a reconciliation retreat, Asha made history by being the first woman to sign a peace accord in Somali on January 29, 2004. The women also made another significant gain as their role in government increased to 12 percent of parliament's seats.

In 2005, Asha's name was included in the list of "1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize". Unfortunately her name also topped the warlords' hit list. She has refused to let this terrifying designation deter her. She continues to fight for a restored and stable Somalia.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011


Women in Somalia are coping with very serious trauma each day of their lives. The Somali society has been deeply affected by decades of war.  This is evidenced frequently in the emotional nature of their discussions concerning their country.

However, this has not incapacitated the women who are very much involved in the humanitarian sphere. The Somali Women's Agenda (SWA) represents nearly 200,000 women in Somalia and the diaspora. A core group meets regularly, traveling from the USA, Canada and Europe to join members living in East Africa. They tread carefully around political issues in Somalia to protect members still living in the country. Although the group does not engage with Shabaab (a terrorist group) or other extremists, the women find themselves with unique advantages of being able to reach perpetrators of violence and ideologues through their influential roles as mothers and wives.

The aim of SWA is to promote the role of women in politics and peace processes. A few of their members have managed to secure elected positions in the local and federal government. The group strongly advocated for women to be represented in the commission reviewing Somalia's new draft constitution and succeed in getting seven women on the 30-male dominated commission. Two of the women were members of SWA.

It has had to take women standing up in conflict areas to demand a seat on the peace-commissions, draft-constitution commissions and even peace discussion, in order to get things done.  In Liberia the women forced the men to finalize and complete a peace treaty negotiation by locking them in the meeting room. They then spearheaded the election of the first woman president in Liberia.

We see the same demands for a voice from women in Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Somalia is no exception even though there is no immediate sight of peace or stability in that country. The women are rallying together to have a voice in the political forums and assemblies.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Stoning of Iranian Women

Soraya Manutchehri, 35, was stoned to death for being an "inconvenient wife".  She refused to grant her husband a divorce even though he made it clear he did not love her or want her. He desperately wanted to marry the 14 year-old daughter of a jailed doctor. She also rejected the Mullah's offer to be his lover in exchange for protection and monetary support for herself and her two daughters. Soraya was stoned on   August 15, 1986. 

The Stoning of Soraya M. is a 2008 American film adapted from French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam's 1990 book La Femme Lapidée. The film is based on the true story as narrated by Zahra, Soraya's Aunt.

Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani
Recently, Sakineh Ashtiani, a 42 year-old former kindergarten teacher, gained international attention for a conviction of adultery and accompanying sentence of death by stoning.

This Iranian woman has been imprisoned since 2006 and is under a death sentence. An international campaign to overturn her sentence was started by her children through letter published by Mission Free Iran. Their continued campaign fueled world wide protests on July 2010 in Rome, London and Washington D.C. Calls to stop her execution came from leading human rights group and high-profile celebrities and heads of state.

On July 31, 2010, Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, proposed to Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to send Mrs. Ashtiani to Brazil where she would be granted asylum. This proposal was summarily dismissed with the suggestion that Lula had "not received enough information about the case". Hillary Clinton, on August 10, 2010, urged Iran to respect the fundamental freedoms of its citizens referring to Sakineh Ashetiani's case.

Iranian authorities recently, January 2011, said it is possible that the original sentence to be stoned could be dropped but offered no comment on whether she could be hanged. Her life hangs in the balance as she waits in an Iranian jail.

These are among the few stories that make it out into the mainstream media. There are many women who continue to suffer the fate of Soraya and Sakineh. A woman in the city of Arak who was stoned on August 10, 1994. According to the ruling of the mullah, her husband and two children were forced to attend the execution. In the city of Qom, a woman who was being stoned, on October 1989, managed to pull herself out of the hole, only to be forced back into it and stoned to death.

The stoning of women is one of the more untamed, uncivilized and revealed aspects of the mullah's rule in Iran. It is unfortunately carried out under the name of Islam.
These women need a voice. We need to speak out on their behalf.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The First Grader — A MUST SEE

The First Grader is based on the true story of Kimani Maruge who was given a belated chance to go to school at the age of 84 years. Mr. Maruge, who attended Kapkenduiywo Primary School in Eldoret, Kenya, said he had been prompted to enroll in school when the Kenyan government announced universal and free education in 2003. He started first grade on January 12, 2004, one year after the announcement.

The movie opened in screens around the country this spring - May 2011. 

His enrollment caused a stir in the country as people questioned the usefulness of education to a 84 year old farmer. But Maruge's determination to go to school was not dampened by the naysayers. His expressed desire for going to school was so that he could count the pension salary he received from the government and read the Bible for himself.

Kimani Maruge in Class
This retired member of the Mau Mau independence movement attended school with children who were perhaps the ages of his great-grand children. Wearing a blue blazer, shorts and long socks, Mr. Maruge, known to all as "Mzee", would walk a distance of 4 kilometers (2.5 miles) with his walking stick. “It is hard. There is no one to help me walk. I go alone. But the urge to learn keep me going,” Mr Maruge once told

He was an outstanding pupil brilliant in Math, English and Swahili. He also provided informal history lessons retrieved from his personal experience.

Mzee with his classmates
Life changed dramatically for "Mzee" during the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya. Eldoret, the town where Mr. Maruge lived and went to school, was one of the towns that experienced the most unrestrained violence. Maruge's property was stolen during this time and he contemplated quitting school. In early 2008 he lived in a refugee camp where most "internally displaced people (IDP's)" lived because of fear and/or because their homes had been destroyed in the violence.

He relocated to Nairobi in June 2008 and was forced to withdraw from school. However, still determined to continue with his education, he enrolled once again into grade 6 at the Marura primary school, on June 10, 2008, in the Kariobangi area of Nairobi.

He inspired learners and campaigners for education around the world, with his determination, and words on education, “Liberty is Learning”.

August 14, 2009, Kimani Nganga Maruge passed away at the tender age of 90. He was only two years shy of completing primary school.

This inspirational man will be remembered as the world's oldest student. But he has also left a legacy, a sense of hope and determination for those who dream and aspire for their destiny. Do not give up your hope. Dreams die when fear grows larger than your faith.

Destiny Demands Diligence!

Go watch this movie and be inspired!

World's Oldest First Grader

In 2003, the Kibaki government of Kenya abolished school fees for primary school level. Everyone welcomed this positive move by the government including 84 year old Kimani Maruge.

Kimani, a former Mau Mau freedom fighter, never had a chance to go to school during his younger years. He was in the forest fighting the British colonial government for Kenya's independence.  By the time Kenya attained its independence in 1963, Mr. Maruge was a family man.
Kimani Maruge
He, however, never lost his desire to go to school. His goal was to go to school to learn how to read so that he could read his Bible. Mr. Maruge was very secure in who he was and was determined to get what he had always dreamed of. He sat in class with children who were as young as his great-grand children. He humbly participated and did not dominate in the class. In 2005 Maruge, who was a model student, was elected head boy of his school. In September of the same year he boarded a plane for the first time in his life, and headed to the United Nations in New York, with the Global Campaign for Education. The purpose of his trip was to urge world leaders to fulfill their promise of free education for all. Maruge delivered the "Send My Friend to School" messages from over 5 million campaigners, and spoke to officials about the importance of education.

Where there is a will there is a way, so the saying goes. Mr. Maruge found a way to learn how to read the day he made the choice to go back to school. He also aspired to see the world, and he got a taste of that in a first class sort of way. He holds the Guinness World Record for being the oldest person to start primary school.

More on Kimani Maruge next blog...

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Polygamy - Good Economic Sense? Part II

Masai woman feeding her child while on her way
In almost every culture that practices polygyny (the practice of having more than one wife), good economic sense is the argument used to justify this form of union. The traditional explanation that carries into the 21 century is that a wealthy man can marry more than one wife because he is able to provide for all the wives and their children. He takes care of their food, shelter, clothing, assets, and education for the children. It is supposed to be a sign of prestige and honor for the man who then commands respect in the community.

This is evident in the case of the heads of state who are able to marry more than one wife.

In turn, there is a reciprocal economic advantage for the man. As he provides the necessary conditions for his family, they in turn provide the needed labor for his farms, cattle and businesses. His labor costs are at a minimum because the wives and children are the labor force.

Health vs Economic Sense:
Traditional sexual practices including polygyny in Africa have been identified as factors that have escalated the rampant spread of HIV/AIDS. Swaziland recently surpassed Botswana as the country with the world's highest known prevalence rate. Swaziland is a small country with a population of a little above one million people and yet 40% of the population suffers from the disease.

The African leaders, including King Mswati III, recognize that HIV/AIDS is an epidemic that is biting into their national budgets. Although there is this recognition, it has not stopped the national and community leaders from continuing the practice of polygyny.

In 2008, King Mswati III ordered that all young girls under the age of 18 should stop having sex for the  next five years to prevent the spread of AIDS. However, the King either forgot he had put up this sex ban or just ignored it for he went ahead and married a 16 year old teenager.

Education vs Economic Sense:
The economic argument for polygyny fails in the cases of Masai girls as young as 10 years old whose education is cut short in order to marry a man four to six times there age as the umpteenth wife. Low literacy levels of a country curtail its economic growth.

It would make more economic sense if girls were given the same opportunities to pursue their education to the highest levels. Their wealth of knowledge benefits communities and countries. This is a documented fact.

The economic argument for polygamy/polygyny made sense in the yester-years when economic wealth was measured at a community level and everyone made a living from the land. Today, the world is different. There many opportunities for women to build wealth and live well without having to depend  on some wealthy old man.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Polygamy - Good Economic Sense? Part I

Zuma with one of his wives
President Zuma dancing at one of his weddings
In many African countries, polygamy is legally practiced, accepted and embraced. A number of heads of state openly practice polygamy. 

President Zuma with his wives

For instance, President Jacob Zuma of South Africa (aka JZ) has been married five times and has 20 children. President Zuma considers himself a traditionalist and makes no apologies for practicing polygamy.

Reed Dance
King Mswati III of Swaziland, one of the last remaining absolute monarchs in the world has 14 wives and 23 children. This 43 year old monarch has been known to select his wives from the Reed Dances which primarily have nothing to do with him. The Reed Dance is a traditional ceremony for Swazi maidens to pay tribute to the Queen Mother by bringing tall reeds used to build windbreaks around the Queen Mother's residence. Although King Mswati III gets a lot of flack for his many wives, he does not hold a flame to his father King Sobhuza II who had 70 wives, 210 children and at the time of his death in 1982, over 1000 grand children.

Queen Nothando Dube
An embarrassing scandal broke out in last year when the 22 year old Queen Nothando Dube, considered one of the most beautiful of Mswati's wives, was caught having an affair with the Minister of Justice. She is now under 24-hour surveillance for the rest of her life.

Masai women
In Eastern Africa polygamy is also embraced and seems also to be growing not only among the Masai, who still maintain every aspect of their traditional culture but even among the so called elite. The Kenyan President, Kibaki, denied having two wives which angered many Kenyans and particularly the Gikuyu elders who know the second wife and were present at the traditional wedding ceremony. Kibaki was looking to please his Western counterparts who would not conceive of an LSE Alumni practicing polygamy.

Arguments for Polygamy:
There are various arguments given for this form of marital practice. They range from trying to accommodate a gender imbalance, where there are more females than males due to natural and un-natural causes, to economic benefits for the women. One recent argument that is being used as a justification by Christian religious leaders is that some of God's finest men (e.g. Moses, David, Solomon) were polygamists. These "men of God" are their role models!

In Southern Africa elders also use polygamy to warn young men that they could lose out on love if they do not behave. "In order to win a girl, you must be a good boy," said one elder. "Responsible young men become responsible husbands".

I do not see how this is an argument for polygamy, but there you have it.

The gender imbalance has been refuted as holding no water and is considered archaic.

Next segment we look at the economic argument. For the most part is makes some sense. Look out for the next posting.

Vote Polygamy

Wife No 12 Caught in bed...

Bare-Breasted Virgins...


Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Emerging Economies and Post American Supremacy


The USA is losing its dominance as a super power and issues are now being discussed within the context of post American supremacy. Brazil, Russia and China (BRAC) are the countries that are posing a real threat to the USA in terms of economic and even defense supremacy. Companies are establishing their businesses in these four and other emerging economies leaving America in wanting.

The USA will continue to be a power to reckon with in some areas but it is no longer the dominant power in the world.  This is the cycle of "supreme-power life", is it not? History is repeating itself. The United Kingdom ceased to be "Great Britain", Germany, in humbling defeat, let go of this title as well. So the USA is simply going through the scheduled timeline cycle. This economic upheaval was the blow sealing its fate.

The question remains, how are countries preparing themselves for this post American supremacy cycle that is now beginning - in particular countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia?

Watch this interview of Fareed Zakaria with Charlie Rose as he gives insight to what the world may look like in the near future, when America is no longer a super power.

Fareed Zakaria's interview with Charlie Rose

Monday, June 13, 2011

Susan Mashibe - Young Tanzanian Executive

Map of Tanzania
Ms. Mashibe grew up in the small town of Kigoma on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, the second largest fresh water lake and the second deepest lake in the world. Susan is the first African woman to be certified as a pilot and engine engineer. She is the founder and executive director of TanJet, an international Fixed Base operations service and the first of its kind in Tanzania. TanJet has transformed the way business aviation operates in Eastern Africa, thanks to Susan Mashibe's vision for the region and her passion of aircrafts.

In an interview with Charlie Rose, Ms. Mashibe recounted how her passion for aircrafts developed. This love for planes came from a place of desperation when she watched her parents leave on a plane to Dar-es-Salaam leaving her under the care of her grandmother. This was a traumatizing moment for Susan, who was four years at the time. She was deeply hurt but did not cry. As the plane took off all she could think about was, "If I could fly that airplane, they couldn't leave me behind again".

Susan Mashibe

Susan completed her flying school studies at Western Michigan University. Her goal was to become a triple 7 pilot - Captain, for Delta Airlines. However, the events of September 11, 2001 changed the course of her life when she found that she could not get a job as a non-US citizen in an industry where the demand exceeded supply. She returned to her home country, Tanzania and decided to redefine herself. She was over qualified for any aviation job in Tanzania yet found an untapped market within the industry. She began her own company, applying her specialized skills as an aircraft engineer for corporate jets.

In May 2011, Susan joined a small group of young executives for a mentoring program sponsored by Fortune 500 and the State Department. Susan was paired with Marissa Mayer, VP of Product Management for Google and the company's first female engineer. Together (TanJet and Google) they hope to digitally map Tanzania businesses so as to get them online.

Click to see the interview with Charlie Rose

It is fantastic to see what Tanzanian women can achieve today whether in politics, business or education. They inspire younger women who have big dreams and are role models for future women leaders. It would be great to see these successful women motivate and assist women and youth in Africa to pursue education to the highest levels and fulfill their visions of the future.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Female Tanzanian Executive - Susan Mashibe

Executive Director and founder of TanJet

Susan Mashibe was honored by the World Economic Forum as a 2011 Young Global Leader (YGL). This honor is bestowed every year by the forum, recognizing up to 200 outstanding young leaders from around the world for among other things their professional accomplishments. 

Susan is the executive director and founder of TanJet, an international Fixed Base operation service and the first of its kind in Tanzania. TanJet provides logistical support for corporate, diplomatic and private Jets. Her clients include Heads of State, Monarchs, Fortune 500 executives, celebrities, and military flights. It is probably the first woman-owned international company of its kind in Eastern Africa.

Ms. Mashibe also runs another company, Kilimanjaro Aviation Logistic Center, that process landing and overflight clearances for private jets throughout the African continent. She is currently developing aircraft maintenance and repairs services at Kilimanjaro to provide modern and safe scheduled maintenance services for general and corporate aviation within the region. This is a much needed service and she has captured the niche in the market of aviation.

Coat of Arms
Ms. Mashibe was born and grew up in Tanzania. Tanzania is the largest country in East Africa but has always been overshadowed by her two northern neighbors, Kenya and Uganda. It is the only country that embraced and implemented Swahili as a national and official language. Under the leadership of the late President, Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, Tanzania has largely been ignored by the West because of it rejected the Western approach of capitalism and took on African Socialism (Ujamaa). Ujamaa was and continues to be erroneously associated with the western understanding of socialism/communism. 

Therefore, as its neighbors, Kenya and Uganda, received favorable attention, sadly Tanzania was ignored even though it is the third largest producer of gold after South Africa and Ghana. The impact continues to be felt throughout their economy particularly in health and education. While Kenyans and Ugandans boast high literacy rates, Tanzania's is estimated to be 72%. Although education is compulsory for seven years until the age of 15 years, most children drop out before they are 15 years and some do not attend at all. As of 2006, 87.2% of children who started primary school were likely to reach grade 5.

Susan on the TanJet Falcon
This is why it is so amazing to see a young woman like Ms. Mashibe who has excelled not only nationally but on a regional, continental and international level. It is stories such as these that bring a sense of hope and realization that success is not dependent on government support and policy - as is perceived in Africa. If only more such stories would find their way into the mainstream news media in the West. 


Wednesday, June 1, 2011


KONZA where Africa's silicon Savannah begins!

This is the slogan for the marketing video of this small Kenyan town south of Nairobi that is about to be transformed into a "new African City". Kenya, now publicly considered as one of the new high growth economies, is marketing itself as the new technology hub in Africa.  Konza is envisioned to be a 2,000 hectare technology city that is modern, inclusive and sustainable.

It is projected that in the next two decades Kenya will be a middle-income country with a sizeable middle class with robust retail, industry and technology centers. This is all thanks to the submarine cables and fiber optic networks. The government is using this platform to attract new investors, particularly ICT investors. The projected GDP growth-goal is 10%.

The development blue print spearheading this process is the VISION 2030 manifesto which is geared to transform employment markets, improve the infrastructure as well as build institutions.

Masai Mara Lions

Kenya, well known for its wildlife safaris, the Masai and its cash crops (coffee, tea etc) experienced rapid growth in the first few years of this century but it slumped in 2008/2009 following the volatile 2007 presidential elections. Projected 2011 GDP growth is expected to be 5% which is unacceptable for an economy with a young, fast-urbanizing population.

Masai Moran

The Economist ran a series last month called Petri-dish economies. These are economies that exemplify global trends. Kenya was featured as one of those economies that is revving up the pace. Kenya, unlike most African nations, does not have natural wealth like minerals or oil for export. It is clear that the economy cannot be sustained by its agricultural exports and the tourist market is not dependable. So far, growth gains have come from macroeconomic stability and deregulation but the government's macroeconomic policies have been shaky and inflation has accelerated. In the meantime, the budget deficit is running above 6% of GDP. These factors stagnate economic growth and so the idea of a export-led manufacturing economy was developed and embraced by the leaders. Kenya has the right geography to adopt this East Asian economic model. The country has a coastal location with a quick sea route to Europe as well as reasonable proximity to India and other fast-growing Asian markets. Thus VISION 2030.

Sunset in the Savannah

Vision 2030 is the governments strategic development plan that sees the country becoming a manufacturing hub. Although there has been some success, the country has poor infrastructure especially at the port in Mombasa. The power supply is unreliable, corruption is rife and labor costs relative to productivity is quite high.  This is no surprise to any Kenyan or entrepreneur living in the country.

The more promising short-term route is regional trade integration. Kenya continues to boast the biggest economy in the East African Community (EAC) - which is a trading bloc.  The EAC has a market of 130 m people and a combined GDP of more that $70 billion. Trade between its members is tariff-free and labor mobility is imminent. 45% of Kenya's trade is now with other African countries and that share is growing fast. But again, infrastructure and red tape are a curse.

The manufacturing share of the economy will stagnate until there is suitable and reliable infrastructure. However, one area of the economy that has been soaring is the service industry led by information and communications technology. It has been growing at a rate of 20% a year! This is largely because of the impressive mobile-money revolution, a technology that has not taken root in the Western economies yet. Kenya has one of the highest rates of mobile-phone penetration and dominated by M-PESA, by far the largest network of mobile-phone-based money transfer. According to the World Bank, Kenyans transferred $7 billion, the equivalent of 20% of GDP, via their mobile phones in 2010.

Mobile Banking in Kenya
The Konza plan has been made possible because of the recent arrival of submarine cables and the fiber optic network that has seen a collapse in the price and increase in the speed of data connectivity. All manner of services are now flourishing from independent television stations to one of the region's biggest call-centers. This move towards a service economy is reshaping Kenya's whole economy. One big question is whether that will be enough.

I also wonder how successful this Konza plan will be in the midst of a culture of rampant corruption and greed. There is a need for a new breed of visionary leadership that can steer this country into a middle to high income economy. Is this truly feasible?