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Friday, December 11, 2009

The Boy Child

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the harshest and most difficult places to live in – if you get to live. Life, especially for the poor in most parts of the region is marked by an unending struggle to see through diseases, conflict, poverty, forced labour, rape and other quandaries from birth, through childhood, adulthood and even death.

In fact, the journey of a child, born of a poverty-stricken parent starts from the mother’s womb. While some women have to flee conflict-infested areas, many others have to labour and sweat just to find something to feed on.

According to the 2009 report by United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on average, each day around 1,500 women die from complications related to pregnancy and childbirth, most of them in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. Statistics for child survival are even dimmer as in its 2006 child survival report, UNICEF reported that the under-five mortality rate for sub-Saharan Africa was 160 per 1,000 live births, meaning that roughly 1 in every 6 children failed to reach their fifth birthday. This totals to approximately 10.5 million children under 5 years of age estimated to die every year in the world, of course the bigger percentage being from Sub-Saharan Africa.

To many of the surviving children, life never gets any better as they come to live in a sub-Saharan region grappling with a plethora of challenges from economic to social, political to climatic. A region so dire and where the poor inherit poverty from their poorer parents and plunge even deeper, where education is many a times a luxury, disease an indispensible enemy, and insipid life an inevitable scenario.

If not looked after, the situation for these children catapult from bad to worse before degenerating into a case of desperate situations calling for desperate measures.

Many find themselves braving the pungent smell and sickening sight of garbage as they sort trash and desperately scramble with flies and fungi for leftovers in dumpsites. Some, like those in nomadic places in Northern Kenya and Ethiopia, famed for cattle rustling, are “lucky” enough to know how to hold guns and riffles as early as 10-years of age. Some others become the subject of abuse, being forced into child labour with a meager or no pay, while some others, out of abject poverty and utter helplessness get absorbed into crime and grime, abusing drugs and alcohol and engaging in activities like illicit brewing.

As they grow into adulthood, most of them die while the youth blood is still running in their veins. Others become masterminds of the crime business committing crime after another, getting beatings after beatings and their lives wearing out and deteriorating by every minute count.

Some move from one correctional facility after another, before eventually ending locked up behind bars where life never changes for the better. It is sometimes in these dingy settlings stained with zero amenities to many, sexually transmitted diseases and hardcore criminals that many of them meet their death.

The life of an African boy child can only be described as desperate, unsavory, distressing, nondescript and perhaps non-existent.

What kind of a life is it if the world “struggle” is engraved in you from your mother’s womb to your grave?

And That's the Steifmastertake!

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Obama Earned and Deserved the Nobel!!

Why the brouhaha about whether President Barack Obama deserved to win the Nobel Peace prize? Yes, we all know he is the President of the United States of America, the superpower, the world's economic epitome and the most powerful nation with the biggest arsenal and intelligence in the battle field.

Such titles and artillery come with responsibility. And isn't Barack a responsible dude? Just ask her elegant, mercurial, fashion-genic, 5 feet 11 inches tall wife and White House-mate Michelle.

But just who says one should not win a peace prize if you have all the arsenal at you disposal?

Hasn't Barack Obama demonstrated time and again, in words and action, that he possesses such an ability to dream and the tenacity to make these dreams come true? Isn't sending more troops to Afghanistan to bring peace, tranquility and stability not a stab at a dream that the world would want to see come true? Is it an impossible job? And just what makes it impossible? The apathy, egotistic and  self-doubt of critics determined to see themselves on the telly as they cast a dim shadow on an ambitious but highly achievable initiative?

How many living individuals can boast of having such ability to aspire to inspire and achieve it?

Here is a guy who united one of the world's ethnically diverse and multi-cultural states with a total population of about 400 million people, from Hispanics to Blacks, from the Whites to Christians, from Muslims to Protestants, he made them all feel equal.

The foundations of such bonding are still very much intact, and Americans, I believe, are feeling more American than never before. And if they are not, perhaps they never will.

And isn't that feel-good factor spread across the world.

Who in this 21st Century doubts that the presence of Barack Obama right there at the helm of international diplomacy and politics has brought a renewed sense of enthusiasm within the confines, nooks and crannies of this world? Doesn't the world feel much safer right now than when George W. Bush was fighting a losing battle with Osama Bin Laden and an unnecessary combat with Saddam Hussein? Hasn't he been mentioned among the elites and compared to John F. Kennedy, Nobel winners Martin Luther King Jnr. and Theodore Roosevelt among other people who made America and the world a better place to live in?

And just who doesn't listen when he transforms his charm into words. Don't we all wanna listen? Doesn't critics like journalists listen to him with a notebook and pen sitting at the table? Not even his political nemesis McCain and Republicans, nor perhaps his greatest challenge to giving an inkling that terrorism can be halted, Bin Laden, can deny that Obama's charisma and modest personality wins him friends more than antagonists.

Obama has earned the Nobel Peace Prize and deserves even more besides.

When the 1.87m tall, flappy-eared, handsome-faced, skinny, calm, compassionate, stoic, etc etc American born of Kenyan father won the elections in 2008 -- rather easily I should say -- the adrenaline, oolala mood and "Yes We Can" belief that rushed across the veins and minds of people, from the swashing breeze in the Seychelles Islands to the scorching heat in Qatar, from the opulent streets in Pulau Tong, Singapore to the poor neighbourhoods in Kibera, from the stilt-built Makoko slums in Nigeria to the thick banana plantations in Bugangaizi Uganda was unprecedented, welcoming and highly uplifting.

The Nobel prize win for Obama may have had many asking why. Could these people have asked the same had he been given the award immediately after trouncing McCain and many doubters in the 2008 election? And yes, he has added over 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. So What? Is this a self-centered move? Isn't the motive driven at restoring order in a failed state and giving the Afghans at least some hope of a better future?

The US President was chosen for the prize "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples." I wonder if strengthening diplomacy and bringing cooperation between peoples is not the same thing he wants to achieve in Afghanistan.

And by the way, just how many people still believe that Barack didn't deserve the honour of the Nobel after his speech? I guess some critics are busy googl-ing for his speech. After all, the man is too eloquent for life.

And I share in the words of Thorbjørn Jagland, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, "We congratulate this year's Laureate, President Barack H. Obama, on what he has already achieved, and wish him every possible success in his continuing efforts for a more peaceful world. May you receive the help you truly deserve!"

Your Majesties, Mr. Presidents, Your Royal Highnesses, ladies and gentlemen, and all the critics,  Barack H. Obama deserved Nobel Laureate. Even Alfred Nobel knows it!

And That's the Steifmastertake!

Friday, December 4, 2009

The Dilemma of a Pristine Forest Block - Mau’s Dilemma

It’s one of Kenya’s most important water towers. But now, it is on the brink of collapse, so are the many rivers and livelihood that it supports. This is the dilemma of the sprawling Mau forest, a once pristine forest block now shrinking into charcoal and timber as logging companies and illegal settlers chop off its trees.

Besides being the largest indigenous forest block in East Africa, Mau is also Kenya’s largest water catchment area. Many rivers originate from the forest, including Ewaso Ng’iro, Njoro River, Sondu River and the famous crocodile-infested Mara River. These rivers feed the fish-reliable Lake Victoria, the flamingo friendly Lake Nakuru and the salty Lake Natron et all.

This circus just but gives a glimpse of the enormous lease of life this montane of indigenous forest supports. However, over the years, the forest has been suffering the full wrath of human encroachment, as it has become the unfortunate subject of illegal land allocations resulting in unprecedented wanton destruction.

The forest has traditionally been occupied by the hunter-gatherer Ogiek community whose lifestyles are relatively sustainable. However, immigration from other communities has meant that Mau’s incalculable ecosystem has been stretched to unmanageable limits. Powerful individuals within government ranks are among the people owning large chunks of the forest cover. The allocations, which started in 1996 with the intention of resettling the Ogiek community and families displaced in ethnic clashes only served as the beginning of the destruction of a vital resource.

More than 60,000 hectares of forest cover was destroyed and thousands of trees are still being felled, never mind that an environmental disaster in Kenya is looming and reduced rainfall has been witnessed over the last three years.

Intensive farming, timber sawing and charcoal burning are the order of the day in the Mau, while illegal sale of the forest land by unscrupulous persons is the genesis of the problem. In 2005, the government took action against further destruction of the bird-life, game-life and human-life supporting forest, only to be tied by a court ruling baring any further action against the encroachers.

And now, Kenya is facing a water crisis. And as it does so, the country which relies on the resource for electricity generation, fishing, farming and other agricultural activities is literally sitting on tenterhooks as its leadership tries to strike a delicate balance of saving a rain forest and remaining relevant in the political arena. The latter seems to be edging the former as little, if not nothing is being done to conserve the water tower.

The big Multinational companies are having a field day logging down the trees in the presence of government forestry officials. Meanwhile the rivers are dying, Lake Baringo being a fine example of the effects as it is all dried up with hundreds of crocodiles in it.

For along time the Ogiek community has put on a struggle to protect the Mau forest, using their own traditional knowledge in general management to conserve their forests and biodiversity but all this has been harbored by the government’s efforts to evict them from the land. Suddenly the Ogiek have found themselves squatters of the land and they are actually feeling the effects of deforestation, of which they have denied claims that they are the ones who do the illegal logging blaming forestry officials and government of carrying out the unregulated, uncontrolled harvest of both timber and non timber products with little regard for replanting or regeneration.

The Ogiek can no longer feed on honey, while the bees which survive well in indigenous trees are all gone. The Shamba system by the government has caused all this destruction together with multinational companies which continue the indiscriminate destruction of tress.

Even the bamboo plant which stores water during the wet season and then distributes it to the rest of the plantation during the dry season which goes to the water catchment areas has not survived the onslaught.

The worst causes of water loss in the water catchment areas and also climate change is the replanting of the exotic trees that have been replanted mostly at the edges of the water towers. The exotic trees project is a sham since they take up most of the water and do not release any water to the atmosphere.

The exotica trees are reported to take up all the water and release none.

The destruction of the forest, scientists say, is reducing humidity and rainfall and increasing erosion, all of which are having a cascading impact on East African rivers and lakes, the region’s renowned game parks and farming and threatening the supply of drinking water for millions of people.

Kenya’s tourism is also taking a hit as witnessed by the reduced enthusiasm on the migration of the wildebeest, a world wonder. Loses are also most likely to be witnessed in the energy, horticulture and tea farming sectors, all of which play a vital role in the GDP growth of East Africa’s biggest,economy.

The Kenyan government must take decisive action to protect the country’s wetland areas, irrespective of the political stakes involved. Playing politics in such a vital resource will in the long term adversely affect her citizens, wildlife, rivers, lakes, agriculture and eventually, the economy.

But is there anyone listening? I doubt.

And That's the Steifmastertake!