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Archive for January 24th, 2010

British Government fights Kenyan claims of colonial torture in 1950s

Posted by Administrator on January 24, 2010

By Liam Creedon

THE government has applied to have claims by Kenyan victims of alleged British colonial torture thrown out of court.
The allegations relate to the Mau Mau rebellion, a Kenyan insurgency which took place in the 1950s against British colonial rule.

Leigh Day & Co solicitors, instructed by the Kenya Human Rights Commission to represent some of those who were allegedly tortured, said the government had applied to strike out the case.

The hearing is due to take place in the High Court in the spring.

Leigh Day lawyers said the government’s legal team would argue that the liabilities of the Kenyan colonial administration were passed on to the new Kenyan government at independence in 1963.

The implication is that the current Kenyan government is liable for the alleged torture committed by the colonial regime.

Martyn Day, senior partner at Leigh Day & Co, said: “It is deeply disappointing that the British government is refusing to deal with the substance of this case.

“Our concern is that many of these elderly victims will die while this arcane legal point is being argued in the courts.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The UK intends to fully defend these cases.”

Source: www.news.scottsman.com

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A Superwoman for Kenya, but American education is still waiting for Superman

Posted by Administrator on January 24, 2010

Sometimes two films set up an uncanny resonance with one another. I saw two documentaries back to back. One filled me with hope and the other washed me in despair. They were both about the education of primary school children.

“A Small Act” centers on the life story of Chris Mburu, who as a small boy living in a mud house in a Kenyan village had his primary and secondary education paid for by a Swedish woman. This cost her $15 a month. They had never met. He went on to the University of Nairobi, graduated from Harvard Law School, and is today a United Nations Human Rights Commissioner.

“Waiting for Superman” studies the failing American educational system. Oh, yes, it is failing. We spend more money per student than any other nation in the world, but the test scores of our students have fallen from near the top to near the bottom among developed nations. Our scientific and medical institutions employ so many Asians for a clear reason: They must be recruited. There are not enough qualified American students.
Both films are powerful. Seen together, they are devastating. They both end in the same way, with a competition among young students to allow them to continue their education.

In Kenya, they take a test. A high enough score will win them a scholarship from a foundation established by Chris Mburu. Without that, their families cannot afford education, and their life prospects will change.

In America, they hope to have their names chosen in a lottery. If they win, they will be accepted by a desirable magnet or charter school. Without that, they will have to attend the public schools available to them. Local educators agree about these schools: They are often bad schools, known within the school system itself as Dropout Factories. Students do not learn, their test scores drop year after year, only a very few find their way to the college level. This is a national phenomenon in the United States.

Both movies are blunt about the reasons some students succeed and others fail. It has nothing to do with their intelligence. In Kenya, it is a matter of poverty. Most families want their families to attend high school, seeing that as they key to success in life. There is no money. Recently, Kenya has been able to make primary education free.

In the United States, it is a matter of teaching. “Waiting for Superman” argues that the greatest enemies of American primary and secondary education are the teachers’ unions. Yes. This is not an anti-labor film. It was made by Davis Guggenheim, whose last documentary was Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” Among those at Sundance in support of it was Microsoft’s Bill Gates, who appears in it. Liberals.

There are countless dedicated public school teachers in our nation. Guggenheim made a doc in 1999 focusing on them. But educators and the teachers themselves acknowledge that schools have teachers who are not merely incompetent, but even refuse to teach. Protected by the tenure guarantees in their union contracts, they cannot be fired. In some schools, their rooms are referred to as Classrooms of Death. A student assigned it them will fail. Principals know this, and every year engage in something variously known as the Lemon Dance or the Turkey Trot, transferring bad teachers to other schools, and praying that the new teachers they get may be better.

Tenure is a sacred concept in higher education, attained after years and rigorous peer review. In primary and high schools, it comes automatically after as few as two years. Tenured teachers have a job for life. They cannot be fired for proven incompetence. The American Federation of Teachers and other unions fiercely protect their jobs.

The film focuses on Michelle Rhee, the reformer who became Chancellor of the public schools in the District of Columbia, which are the worst in the nation. She wanted to award bonuses to teachers who were producing better students. The unions stood firm: The pay scale remained fixed, and performance could not affect it. Rhee devised a rather brilliant plan and offered it to the teachers. They could (a) accept the current wages, which are capped in the mid-50s, or (b) vote for a plan in which teachers with better performance would earn as much as twice that much. Money itself, you see, is not the issue. Rhee’s plan was hailed as a masterstroke. How did the District’s teachers vote? The American Federation of Teachers refused to put the plan to a vote.

Decades of research and test data indicate that the primary factor determining a school performance is not its budget, physical plant, curriculum, its student population or the income level of its district. It is teaching. The most powerful opponents to better teaching are the teachers’ unions. I am a lifelong supporter of unions. But “Waiting for Superman” makes this an inescapable conclusion.

What about the teaching in Kenya? Teachers are by definition an elite, having somehow fought through the system and emerged as college graduates. The schools we see are not physically impressive; the one focused on in the film is a very basic brick structure with no amenities and crowded classrooms with simple board benches and desks. A gym? Don’t make me laugh.

Education focuses on reading (in English) and math, with some history and geography. The students are impressed by their ability to be in school at all. Their parents sacrifice to send them; child labor could add to the family income. At the end of primary school, they take tests to qualify for secondary education if they can afford it. The film shows some of the questions. Many American high school graduates might not be able to answer them. Our schools push students through the system who are be functionally illiterate.

The fact is that the next African or Indian taxi driver you meet has quite possibly benefitted from a better education than the average American high school graduate. A great many of them, who had the enterprise and determination to immigrate here, are college graduates. I have noticed during two years of taking cabs that an African or Indian taxi driver will invariably have the radio tuned to NPR. Now I understand why. Let’s face it. NPR is the only radio source in America that intelligently considers national and world issues in depth.

The films both tell extraordinary stories. “A Simple Act” show Chris Mburu seeking the name of the anonymous Swedish woman who “made my life possible.” She is Hilde Back. Chris in gratitude started a foundation named the Hilde Back Foundation, to fund scholarships for poor village children. He had never met her. She is now 85 years old, a German Jew who was sent to Sweden as a child. Her family died in the Holocaust. She never married, has lived in the same apartment for 35 years, was a school-teacher.

She is flown to Kenya, serenaded by the choir from Mburu’s village, feasted, thanked, gowned in traditional robes. She says that her $15 was an insignificant sum to her, but she kept it up because she thought even a small act was worth performing. After the screening of “A Small Act” at Sundance, in the most extraordinary surprise I’ve seen here, the film’s director, Jennifer Arnold, introduced Chris Mburu and Hilde Back. She is a tiny woman, but robust and filled with energy.

She was asked if, since she never had children, she thought of Chris as a son. We see in the film that they stay in close touch. “But I have had children,” she replied. “I was a teacher. I had many, many children.” She was the kind of teacher who makes a difference, not the warden in a Classroom of Death. 

Also with Arnold, Back and Mburu was his younger cousin, Jane Muigai. She plays a major role in the film. Chris jokes that she has been following him all his life: “I went to high school. She went to high school. I attended the University of Nairobi. She attended the University of Nairobi. I graduated from Harvard Law School. She graduated from Harvard Law School. I went to work with the United Nations. She went to work for the United Nations.” 

Looking at these two confident professionals, we remember the village they grew up in, and the mud house of Chris’s family. In the film, we follow three students who hope to win high scores and continue in school. One says she would miss her family at a boarding school, but would enjoy being able to study by electric light. In this village the students study by the light of a single oil flame. 

Contrast that, as “Waiting for Superman” does, with the schools in wealthy suburbs that have pools, tennis courts, physicals education facilities, extensive sports programs, closed-circuit TV stations, parking for student cars, and so on. The statistics find no relationship between such luxurious schools and test scores. A sprawling Los Angeles high school campus is contrasted with a charter school in an industrial area where more than 90 percent of the student are accepted to colleges. The same is true of Chicago’s Providence St. Mel’s, drawing its students the very poorest part of Chicago’s West Side.

Both of these docs will be opening, and I will review them separately. Just let me draw a few depressing conclusions.

“Waiting for Superman” makes a compelling case for the apparent fact that American students from all ethnic and income groups are not receiving competitive educations. Yes, I know there are good schools and heroic teachers. But look at the statistics. I know little about math, but I learned enough to win a state scholarship. About reading and writing I know more, and it’s my observation that today’s high school graduates are underserved. The studies isolate a primary reason for that: Bad teaching, in systems that protect bad teachers and therefore discourage good ones.

Some time ago I caught a lot of flak for suggesting that if you think “Transformers 2” is one of the best films of all time, you are “not sufficiently involved.” I have no quarrel with anyone who likes the film. But if you think it’s a great film, you have not been prepared to evaluate and compare works of art, and to examine your own opinions.

I know some of my old classmates hang round here from time to time, and I dare to make this statement: An eighth grade graduate of the St. Mary’s Grade School of my youth knew more than a typical high school student does today. A typical graduate of the Urbana High School of my youth knew more than many college graduates do today. Anyone who grades essays at the college level today observes that many of their students are semi-literate.

The fact is, American education is failing. Even in a bad economy there are good jobs in Silicon Valley. Bill Gates says it’s not so must that he wants to recruit Indians as that he has to. The fault can be laid at the feet of bad teachers and their unions. That’s a conclusion I suspect good teachers would be the first to agree with.

Trailer for “A Small Act”

Davis Guggenheim of “Waiting for Superman”

Story By Roger Ebert

 on January 24, 2010 4:05 PM

Source: Chicago Sun-Times

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CIA chief in secret visit to Kenya

Posted by Administrator on January 24, 2010

By Cyrus Ombati

Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director Leon Edward Panetta made a secret visit to Kenya at the weekend where he is believed to have delivered President Barack Obama’s message on governance and terrorism to the Government.

Mr Panetta arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Thursday evening and left last evening.

We could not confirm reports that he met President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga.

Interestingly, Panetta arrived the same day Jamaican cleric Abdullah Al-Faisal left the country.

Senior Government officials declined to comment on the visit terming it “very sensitive”.

Sources, however, said the director’s visit had much to do with the spread and rebuilding of al-Qaeda militants in Somalia.

Panetta also met with senior National Security Intelligence Service (NSIS) officials led by Director General Michael Gichangi and a few police officers at his hotel in Nairobi.

Our sources said the CIA boss wanted to ask the country’s leadership to be tougher on terrorism matters and especially al-Qaeda, who America believes are rebuilding fast in the Horn of Africa. This followed reports that al-Qaeda fighters have begun arriving in Somalia to carry out a war against the State seen by Islamists to be supported by the West.

Security experts say some 200 foreign jihadists have arrived from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, India, and even the US, who serve as military trainers and experts in explosives.

Global jihad

The foreign jihadists are staying on to transform the nationalist fight into a global jihad, and their ideology was seen in a rash of recent suicide bomb attacks on AU peacekeepers and even a university graduation ceremony on December 3 last year, in Mogadishu.

Experts say this was a sign that foreign jihadists have taken over leadership of Somalia’s largest Islamist militia, al Shabaab.

FBI Director Robert Mueller had earlier on told the Senate in the US that al-Qaeda and its offshoots were spreading and rebuilding. He said the US dismantled much of al-Qaeda’s infrastructure in Afghanistan, but the terror network and its associated groups were rebuilding in Pakistan, Yemen, and the Horn of Africa.

Mr Mueller was testifying at a Senate hearing last week in the wake of the Christmas bomb attack attempt on a Detroit-bound airliner.

The CIA is also taking heat for the foiled attack, with US officials saying the Nigerian accused of trying to detonate explosives aboard a US-bound airliner, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, received training from an al-Qaeda affiliate in Yemen.

President Obama has ordered urgent action at security and intelligence agencies to fix flaws exposed by the narrowly averted attack, saying spy agencies did not properly “connect and understand” information that could have uncovered the plot during its planning stages.

FBI has so far circulated a new digitally enhanced and retouched photo of the most wanted al-Qaeda operative in East Africa, Fazul Abduallah Mohammed.

Fazul is the commander of al-Qaeda in Somalia.

-The East African Standard

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Kenya on alert over militia scare

Posted by Administrator on January 24, 2010

Muslims with a mask carry a flag during a demonstration at Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque on January 15. Picture: File

Muslims with a mask carry a flag during a demonstration at Nairobi’s Jamia Mosque on January 15. Picture: File


Kenyan security agencies are concerned about reports that increasing numbers of Al-Shabaab militants are entering the country.

Last week, police arrested over 2,000 people in a swoop on illegal foreigners from Somalia, an undisclosed number of whom are believed to be members of the Somali Islamist militia.

The move came after claims from top government officials that Al-Shabaab elements or their sympathisers took part in the January 15 demonstrations in Nairobi in which Muslim youth clashed with the police over the planned deportation of Jamaican preacher Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal.

While Internal Security Minister, Prof George Saitoti has categorically stated that Al-Shabaab sympathisers took part in the demonstration, his Immigration counterpart Otieno Kajwang’ said the government was still unsure because all manner of people from Somalia are crossing into Kenya through its porous borders.

Prof Saitoti also announced that security agencies had foiled several terror attacks, but was not clear whether these threats came from Al-Shabaab or other terror groups.

Sources in Mogadishu said while many Al-Shabaab youth have entered Kenya, some were being sent by their parents to avoid being forcibly recruited into the militia group or being forced into marriage to Al-Shabaab members. The Immigration Ministry is registering those who cross over to Kenya and deporting those without proper documents.

But there are questions over whether the government swoop was directed at the right targets. Sources said there are two hotels in Nairobi’s eastern suburb of Eastleigh where Al-Shabaab sympathisers hold meetings, but these were not raided.

Instead, the police raided areas inhabited mostly by either Transitional Federal Government MPs or refugees who have fled from Al-Shabaab.

For instance, Barakat Hotel, where the Somali MPs are known to reside whenever they are visiting Kenya was raided and over a dozen of them arrested. Among those arrested was Major Muhammed Mur Galal, a former military officer in the Siad Barre government who is the brainchild behind the As Sunnah Al Jamaah, a militia group that has been fighting alongside the TFG against al-Shabaab.

As Sunnah Al Jamaah took up arms against al-Shabaab in late 2008 to protect the country’s long-held Sufi traditions and moderate religious views.

Also arrested was a former foreign minister, Ismail Mohammed, who is on the Al-Shabaab wanted list for allegedly organising the Ethiopian intervention in Somalia towards the end of 2006.

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Are you an entrepreneur or a business-person?

Posted by Administrator on January 24, 2010

The term business-person and entrepreneur are sometimes used interchangeably although they mean different things

An entrepreneur is a person who conceptualizes, initiates and materialize a business process which is entirely unique and original. In other words an entrepreneur is someone who starts a business from a fresh idea and makes it work or applies an existing idea differently.

Merriam-Webster defines an “entrepreneur as a person who organizes and manages any enterprise, especially a business, usually with considerable initiative and risk.” The key words here are initiative and risk.

A business-person on the other had is someone who start a business on an existing market platform laid by the entrepreneurs. In this context entrepreneurs are business people but not all business people are entrepreneurs.

Being an entrepreneur is a difficult task. You have to discover your way through the market and get your brand or the product established. A businessman needs to be smart and invest in an established brand at the right time to make money.

How can a business-person become an entrepreneur? By injecting freshness, uniqueness and creativity in their business.

This is because it is easier to survive tough times as an entrepreneur than as a business-person. In entrepreneurship, there is less competition because products on offer are unique and easily differentiated. You have probably heard the classic idiom, “Don’t re-invent the wheel.” Personally I believe this idiom is fundamentally flawed and grossly mis-applied in dozens of situations. 

It says that if something works, it should not be changed.

Nonetheless, almost all situations, the wheel is never perfect and there are better designs, better ways of doing something. In this case it makes sense to re-invent the wheel. As Mark Twain once said, “Even if you are on the right path, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” In late 1990s Barclays Bank introduced unsecured loans, a very unique product at a time when many banks were dealing with high rates of loan defaults and non-performing secured loans.

Other banks decided to adapt a wait-and-see approach on this ‘weird idea’ . I was personally amazed when a whole sales team from the bank invaded my office with forms ready to give anyone money without collateral.

New ways

It took almost half a decade before other banks realised there was money to be made by giving unsecured loans. What is more, the security they held so dearly did not guarantee repayment. By then Barclays had grown tremendously, establishing itself within the unsecured loans niche where it has remained unchallenged.

Another example is Equity Bank. Although it existed as a micro-finance institution for close to 20 years, it only attracted national and global attention in the late 1990s.

During that time Kenya was experiencing its worst post-independence financial crisis in the banking industry with most institutions closing their countryside branches. To make profit, they had to charge customers very high ledger fees and raise the minimum account balance.

But Equity amazed both its competitors and customers. As relatively new establishment without financial expertise and muscle, it started opening branches in the very places where the big banks where shutting down. In total defiance of logic, the bank waived ledger fees and set up almost negligible minimum operating balances. Once again, the rest of the industry adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

After redefining the banking rules and succeeding, other banks followed suit. It did not invent banking, but invented new ways of dealing with customers and new services that suited the mass market. Equity lived up to its slogan, “The Listening Caring Financial Partner”, moving from business to entrepreneurship.

In his book, Diary of a Mad Businessman, Delano White writes, “Business innovations generally start within small businesses. The greatest innovations are not thought up in corporate boardrooms. They originated in dorm rooms, working lofts and basements. Creativity drives business and our society. Without the initiative taken daily by ground business owners, society would be at a standstill.”

What we need to improve our economy and our lives is more entrepreneurs and fewer business-people.

This article is derived from The Art of Entrepreneurship by Murori Kiunga.


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Swaying to a different beat at Nairobi’s classical evenings club

Posted by Administrator on January 24, 2010

Classical music singers entertain fans at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

Classical music singers entertain fans at the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.

The crowd is paying special attention as a buzz of expectancy spreads through the auditorium. It is 8pm on a Thursday night at the Nairobi National Museum’s Louis Leakey Auditorium. The turnout is big.

This is the classical evenings club, which takes place every second Thursday of the month.

The performer who has the audience hanging on her soprano is Elizabeth Njoroge, a classical musician and the director of Art of Music — an outfit that promotes classical music in Nairobi. Her enthusiastic reception at the classical evenings club is a token of how the genre is slowly building a fan base and taking its place in mainstream entertainment in Nairobi.

The classical evenings club was started in August 2008 in conjunction with the Kenya Conservatoire of Music Orchestra. Ms Njoroge, who organises the event with sponsorship from Safaricom, said it is based on the Cup-a–Jazz club that ran once a month at the former Numetro, now Silverbird stores.

“The basic idea was to give classical music lovers a regular platform to perform, something they’ve never had before, as well as to give classical music fans an opportunity to just come out and listen to the music,” she said. The performances are usually free of charge and guests also can perform.

Performers are drawn from all walks of life — young, old, vocalists, instrumentalists, professionals and students.

“The idea is to encourage live performance. I am getting more people inquiring if they can perform and I’m usually booked up way in advance, which is great,” said Ms Njoroge, who is a vocalist.

The performers choose what they are good at and the repertoire is made as wide as possible to encompass all ages. “I have noticed that the audience tend to prefer vocal ensembles more than instrumentalists. But we like to keep the balance as instrumentalists are very skilled musicians and it is important to appreciate their talent and hard work too,” said Ms Njoroge.

East Africa in general is known for its emerging young musicians in the local genres of genge, kapuka and bongo music. And the popularity of hip-hop in the region cuts across most of the urban youth.

But classical music is making inroads among the young and the not so young, a population that istis mostly spotted at hip-hop concerts.

Killion Aguro, 22, attended the classical music session in January for the first time. He is an ardent footballer in his neighbourhood of Githurai, in the outskirts of Nairobi. But Aguro — like many other youths a fan of local genge musician Jua Cali —has found a new love: Classical music.

After the performance he said: “I enjoyed it. It is relaxing and I was so impressed by the way the piano was played and the sweet voice of the singer.”

Brian Sempele, a fourth year engineering student at the University of Nairobi, is a keen classical music fan and attends the sessions frequently.
For others like Paul Nduati, who studies medicine at the University of Nairobi it is a forum to practise what he loves. He learnt to play the piano as a child and said the sessions help him “not to be a closed circuit thinker.”

These performances are not just entertaining, but also offer moral lessons. In one of the sessions I attended, the theme was love and lamentation. The music revolved around the story of a sad chambermaid wishing for the moments when her husband once loved her.

“The song I am about to sing is about a man who has lost his true love and has given up all hope. It is a song of heartbreak and loneliness,” said Earl Vennum, a performer, during one of the classical evenings.

Alfred Mugambi has been attending the sessions since inception 17 months ago. He believes classical music is organised and harmonised as opposed to other genres. He first learnt of the classical evenings club on Facebook, and has never looked back. “Classical music is smooth and peaceful. It is a work of genius and I believe a child who grows up listening to classical music has greater mental capability.”

Each classical session is impressive in a different way and I wish there was more of this,” said Mugambi.

Not many in the audience know the songs, but a majority like 22-year-old Liz Siya fall n love with the classical pieces.

In fact, Vennum once told the audience in jest: “You have been such a good audience listening to songs you don’t know, let me play you songs you know.”

He strummed on his guitar the tunes of Bob Marley’s Redemption Song and the audience sang along.

 -The East African




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