Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Yangshan Sea-Port: An Inspiration for KPA?

We’ve got to hand it to the Chinese for boldness in setting development targets and the absolute self-confidence and innovativeness with which they go about meeting them. It is no surprise that they regularly put up world beating mega-structures which continue to move forward the frontiers of technology.

After Singapore and Hong Kong, the Shangai Port is the third largest in the world. But confronted with its diminishing capacity to handle the ever increasing volumes of cargo and coupled with competition from the other ports, the Chinese authorities decided to build Yangshan port out at sea that would raise Shanghai’s cargo handling capacity to 6.5billion tonnes and 22million TEU’s per year by 2020. (TEU=Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit or container)

Construction of the first phase of the project took four years between 2000 and 2004. This consisted of the Yangshan Deep-Sea Port proper, sitting on reclaimed land and connected to mainland Shanghai by the third largest bridge in the world, the 32.5Km Donghai Bridge. The sea-port has five berths with depths of up to 16metres, enough to accommodate the largest of container ships. The first phase alone handles 3million TEU’s a year and cost USD 2.5billion.

When fully completed in 2012, the port will have four phases in operation with 30 berths handling 15million TEU’s per year. A new city, Yangshan New City, will be built right next to the sea-port of Yangshan whose total cost is expected to reach USD 12billion.

The development of Yangshan sea-port is the kind of inspirational stuff that should spur our infrastructure managers with their humble ‘plans’ for our good old Mombasa Port. Making mission/vision statements about being the ‘premier port of choice for East and Central Africa by 2020’ are obviously a more pleasurable pastime than building one. With the kind of strange paralysis currently at the port of Mombasa, 2020 will still find us planning.

Seeing that Mombasa Port is unlikely to compete with Shangai in two lifetimes, wouldn’t we do better by asking the Chinese to set up shop at the port of Mombasa to expand its capacity rather than enticing them with EPZ plots in Changamwe?

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spank the Riotous Devil Out of the Brats!

At the rate of 10 riots a day over the last one month, indiscipline in our schools is clearly running out of hand and brings back to the spot light the ban on corporal punishment effected here in 2001. It is possible that the then touted alternative forms of instilling discipline in schools have been overwhelmed and that the negative consequences of withdrawing the cane far outweigh any goodness that may accrue from maintaining the ban.

At a world conference on education in Dakar in 2000, Kenya had been cited as one of the countries that “institutionalized violence and promoted child abuse by including corporal punishment in its statutes”. The Human Rights Watch had also just released a report on corporal punishment in Kenyan schools in which it painted a gloomy picture of child abuse saying that “Kenyan teachers were licensed to beat their students” and that “infliction of corporal punishment in Kenya is unchecked, widespread, arbitrary and often brutal”. The media, on the other hand, had joined in the anti-caning campaign by picking up incidents of abuse and putting them to daily limelight. Under this pressure, the government gave in and scrapped the laws governing corporal punishment in March 2001.

About 100 countries have banned corporal punishment in schools and at least 23 of them have gone ahead to outlaw it in homes too. Parents in these countries cannot spank, slap or otherwise use corporal punishment on children and anything that goes beyond the occasional smack would constitute a criminal offense. Needless to say, none of the 23 countries is from Africa even though the UN has targeted 2009 as the deadline by which a worldwide ban on corporal punishment will have been implemented, including in the home. The date is just around the corner and will likely pass without much ado in countries like the United States where corporal punishment is still legal in 23 of its states. And it has still not been prohibited in the other half of the countries in the world.

The crisis in our hands suggests that withdrawal of the cane from the arsenal of tools for instilling discipline in schools has spiraled down to this fiery state of lawlessness. A common thread running in the affected areas is that “our hands are tied”. The teachers seem to be watching helplessly where they should be stepping in with a steady cane to nip the unruliness in the bud. And where is the Human Rights Watch now as the fires rage, pupils die? Moved on to the next project.

One of the biggest disservices that HRW and kindred brethren have done to the discourse on school discipline has been to continually equate punishment to violence and abuse. The refusal to distinguish between abusive violence and corrective punishment suggests an inclination to self-serving propaganda rather than a desire to clarify issues. There is an obvious difference between an adult in authority punishing wrong doing and a person indiscriminately beating up another for the purpose of causing injury.
The critical issue to be addressed by our laws is how corporal punishment should be administered and not whether it should be used at all. The failure by authorities to supervise application of these laws is not good enough reason to scrap the law altogether. This ban is simply pandering to the questionable wishes of such groups as the HRW and assorted UN bodies without necessarily addressing the critical situation at hand. Is the current lawlessness and damage in schools worth the indulgence extended to these defiant children? The HRW may well argue that children have a right to deviance but aren’t such rights trampling on those of many well behaved kids who are entitled to an education in a safe environment?

In the haste to comply with lobby group reports, it seems that no questions were asked to test the veracity of the data purporting to justify the ban. For instance the report by HRW, Spare the Child: Corporal Punishment in Kenya Schools, was compiled after a two week survey of 20 schools and 200 pupils. The survey team comprised of 5 HRW staff; three law students and one law lecturer, all from the US. The fifth was a lawyer to HRW children division. An elite team of spin doctors if you ask me. There is nothing in the report that even suggests an attempt to remedy the obvious bias of the entire set up by way of a third party review of their methodology. Strangely, they admit in the report that many of the Kenyans they talked to agreed that corporal punishment should not be severe as to cause injury and that only a few viewed it as a major source for concern. How then do they turn around to give blanket condemnation of caning in schools? Because, as they say in the report, “Kenyan Rights groups have now added corporal punishment to their advocacy agendas”. Somebody say funding! Amen.

Any group of propagandists can collect data to say pretty much what they want to hear. For instance, a pro-spanking lobby can quite easily collect the data from last months rioting to effectively consign the HRW report to the rubbish bin.

While giving advocacy groups due respect and attention, government should be careful not to use their programs as the sole force behind a haphazard tinkering with our laws. Many of the reports by these groups are a little more than subjective opinions and commentaries, not the sturdy stuff that ought to shape laws which can stand the test of time.

Related article; Down Memory Lane - How Were Your School Years?

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Voodoo Polls on Kenyan Television are Dangerous

These are results of an opinion poll conducted on the day Amos Kimunya invoked Raila’s name in his death wish. The opinion count was taken at a table where my three friends and I were enjoying an evening drink at our local. Clearly, the ‘poll’ was unscientific, unreliable, strongly biased and could not in any way represent the opinion of the public.

But it could very easily have been conducted by KTN or NTV who on the same day carried out polls phrased along similar lines of question. Indeed if they’d asked the same question and only the four of us participated, such may have been the broadcasted results. Though I doubt if they would have read out our accompanying comments on this one, as they sometimes gleefully do in celebration of ‘public’ vindication of editorial bias. In the scheme of political things, the above poll would obviously not be carried by KTN, seeing as they lean towards favorable coverage of the Right Honorable. NTV, after some soul searching, would probably do so but after rearranging it along the lines of “should Raila step aside?”

While the political bias of our broadcasters is clear and might even be professionally acceptable, I find the shameless exposition of their own prejudices by disguising them as public opinion to be unacceptable. Even dangerous. The pseudo-polls that have now become a permanent feature of the evening news on the major channels are manipulative and a distortion of incomplete information. I think it is reckless for the media houses to continue dishing out all manner of half-truths and even maligning individuals through false information and be able to avoid direct responsibility for it. They surely know that what they are conducting are not legitimate polls, so why do they persist?

Opinion polls are designed so as to indicate, predict or represent the opinions of the wider population. Unlike known scientific surveys, these prime-time polls are not supported by any statistical control tools to make them even a little credible. The poll questions, to start with, are so inherently biased as to make a mockery of the exercise. Probably because the media houses have a partisan interest in the result, they design questions that are so constrained as to elicit only results which justify their bias.

Some of the recent poll questions;

• Do you believe the Transparency International report?
• Do you believe the Kenya Police is the most corrupt institution in the country?
• Do you think the Cockar Commission of inquiry into the Grand Regency sale is really necessary?
• Is Narc-Kenya justified in rejecting calls to dissolve itself?
• Do you believe Kajwang’s defense?
• Has the PNU outlived its usefulness?

Striving for brevity is commendable, perhaps even necessary for the sake of focusing an issue. But these questions shamelessly lead you to predetermined points of view especially when you are asked to give a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the short span of an sms at news time. A little credibility would obviously be found if the participants were sizeable, let alone varied. But do they ever tell us how many people participate in these polls? “...the poll result is in…90 percent said Yes!” would acquire meaning if it wasn’t referring to four buddies sharing a Tusker at the corner pub.

How many people have read the TI report other than listening to a selective summary of its release? What was Kajwang’s defense other than the edited news clips from their reporters? Are we Narc-Kenya members? Are we PNU members? In short, these uncontrolled poll questions are stupid by themselves but useful in serving narrow and often disruptive political agenda. They are so quickly contrived with no pretense to even a little research or substantive knowledge but based on whim, innuendo and even rumor.

While public opinion is unlikely to be sensibly gauged by such polls, they could have a bandwagon effect which unnecessarily whips up emotions and entrenches animosities particularly amongst our gullible folks.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Importance of Being Amos Kimunya

The impudence of this man Kimunya is so deeply ingrained that it has blinded him to the leadership opportunity offered by the step-aside debacle. In a few strokes of disingenuous insolence, he has managed to soil an otherwise impeccable CV that many a young man would aspire for. In a few short years, he has morphed from a potential generational icon to a foolish man who “has no business serving the people of Kenya”.

All of Kimunya’s supposed education is worth charcoal if he cannot see the charges against him as a simple and straightforward test of integrity that he can so easily overcome. It is primitive politics to fighting like a cornered robber who whips out a gun to engage cops in a shoot-out because they’d “…rather die than…” The leadership ethics of the modern era require a simple act of ‘stepping aside’ until such charges are resolved one way or another. This should be particularly easy for Kimunya if, as he says, his hands are clean. Intransigence just for the sake of being “mwanaume” will only serve to alienate him from the very people whose support he requires for a meaningful career in politics.

After he clears his name, he might want to consider serving out the rest of his parliamentary term away from the limelight. I think he has terribly let down a lot of people who have faith in the capacity of Kenya’s young people to bring about positive change on the national stage.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

KBC, KTN and NTV plodding along

Although our national broadcasters enjoy a unique position to shape and regulate a constructive growth agenda for the country, they have instead chosen to beat the laidback path of rote reporting and spectatorship. Despite enormous material and human resources backed by a long standing national audience, the big three are not exhibiting innovativeness in managing public opinion with the vast powers in their hands. It is a sad measure of their inadequacies that many citizens still have to rely on the likes of BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera for analyses and objective perspectives of local events.

Given the imminent entrenchment and expansion of ICT infrastructure in the region, our traditional media houses are facing a slide to oblivion as alternative media for information are embraced. With rapid growth of the blogosphere and social networks, the likes of KBC, KTN and NTV will in the near future have to snap out of their slovenly complacence and fight for relevance. News and entertainment is now being exchanged at the speed of thought from anywhere to everywhere and they might just find themselves with little to serve to a tiny audience. Not even Mke Nyumbani will be spared with the oncoming onslaught.

And whom will they blame? The usual suspects; media ownership, regulation and censorship. These have long been used as excuses to fall back on whenever challenged to redress their arrested development and are no longer convincing. The truth is likely to be that in these media houses is to be found widespread incompetence and sheer spinelessness. Consequently, when these maladies are manifested in our country’s leadership, the media houses find themselves weak-kneed and in cuddly company, unable to midwife change.

Every other day, our leaders grace the studios of these broadcasters for all manner of talk shows presumably to expound on and be held accountable for many aspects of the national agenda. Invariably, the steering by the supposedly learned hosts is pathetically ineffectual leading to unfocused verbiage so as to reduce the encounters to absolute wastage of time, energy and emotions. In the end, presenter, guest(s) and viewers are worse off for wear and issues get muddled up or fuzzy at best.

I still remember when Michael Oyier of KTN hosted Police Commissioner Ali last year at the peak of the Mungiki menace. He literally broke a sweat and his mouth dried up as he struggled through the intimidation of the army man’s presence. Ali never got to answer any question as he brushed Oyier off with “… what you should be asking me is… “. By the end of the show Oyier must just have been relieved to go home, shower and sleep. To hell with Mungiki.

On the other hand, Julie Gichuru at NTV makes it her business to ask redundant questions and then proceed to answer them. “Honorable Raila, how do you propose to deal with the traffic congestion in the city? Are you planning to build by-passes, get rid of round-abouts and even construct fly-overs? Or even re-locate government offices from the CBD? Tell us.” Or in a live call to a colleague at a fire scene, she goes, “Allan, you are at the scene of the fire right now. Is there fire and smoke? And what is the mood of the people there? Are they sad?”

Then comes along Ali Maanzu with the ten-minute interviews after news, three of which he spends introducing the subject and the guest, then spends the other three trying to make live call-in connections and four minutes rushing a guest like Francis Atwoli through labour laws. It is the same with Nimrod Taabu chasing guests through his ten-minute Mahuluki photo-op.

I have no idea what sort of media training these folks undergo but I can say for sure that they are doing a pretty useless job on air. Why invite a guest to speak on a wide range of issues when you cannot allocate time for discussion? Why not restrict your sessions to particular items instead of wandering about? Is the management of discussion panels such a daunting task?

The national broadcasters are squandering a long held position as crucial elements in our progress. The bell is tolling and they may soon be timed out.