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Archive for December, 2011

Girl commits suicide over KCPE results

Posted by Administrator on December 30, 2011

A 14-year-old girl who performed dismally in this year’s Standard Eight national exams committed suicide after checking her results in Kericho County.

Relatives and neighbours said Mercy Chebet—who was a candidate at Ketitui Primary School—hanged herself after realising that she had scored 145 marks out of 500.

Mr Peter Bett, a resident of the deceased’s Ketitui Village, said the girl hanged herself using a lesso.

“She was in low spirits after checking her results,”  he said.

He said the girl had jokingly told the parent that she was going to commit suicide because of the poor results but the warning was not taken seriously.

The mother was shocked to find the body of her daughter dangling from the roof of the house and immediately raised alarm which attracted the villagers.

Telanet Location Chief John Too called on parents to counsel their children who performed dismally to avert such incidents.

Source: DAILY NATION

Posted in Kenya | 7 Comments »

Kenya recalls ‘faulty’ South Korean HIV kits

Posted by Administrator on December 29, 2011

There has been a sharp increase in the number of Kenyans who go for HIV tests

There has been a sharp increase in the number of Kenyans who go for HIV tests

Kenya has recalled one million HIV testing kits because of fears about their accuracy, a health official has said.

The WHO had raised an alert about the kit after finding half the test results could be wrong, said Shahnaz Sharif.

But there was no reason to panic as the South Korean-manufactured kit was one of several used to diagnose the HIV status of people, Dr Sharif said.

Kenya, like most of Africa, is trying to contain the HIV/Aids pandemic.

International aids charity Avert says HIV testing has increased sharply in the past decade in the East African state, following a government-backed campaign to create more awareness about the illness.

In 2000, Kenya had only three voluntary testing and counselling sites, but the number had risen to nearly 1,000 by 2007, it says.

‘Tie-breaker test’

Dr Sharif, Kenya’s director of Public Health and Sanitation, told the BBC’s Focus on Africa programme that the Standard Diagnostic Bioline (SDB) kit, manufactured by a South Korean company, had wrongly diagnosed people.

Continue reading the main story

“Start Quote

People are really worried and asking if it [faulty HIV testing kits] is going to affect them. The answer is no”

End Quote Dr Shahnaz Sharif Kenyan health official

“The discrepancy rate was about 50% and the WHO [World Health Organisation] has asked all countries to put on hold use of Bioline,” he said.

“About 50% of positives may have been reported as negative and 50% of negatives as positive.”

The WHO had detected the unreliability of SDB, which was widely used by countries in sub-Saharan Africa, Dr Sharif said.

But Kenyans should not be alarmed because the SDB test is one of three tests that health officials carry out on people to make sure their HIV status is correctly diagnosed, he said.

“People are really worried and asking if it is going to affect them. The answer is no,” Dr Sharif said, adding that a “tie-breaker” test was normally conducted if there were conflicting results.

More than one million Kenyans are HIV-positive.

Source: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-africa-16355462

Posted in Kenya | 1 Comment »

Kenyan diaspora can do more than just remit money

Posted by Administrator on December 29, 2011

Mr Walter Mong’are aka Nyambane, a comedian, with Kenyans in the US when he performed in Oakley, Kansas last September. Kenyans in the diaspora have various roles they could play in development. File

Mr Walter Mong’are aka Nyambane, a comedian, with Kenyans in the US when he performed in Oakley, Kansas last September. Kenyans in the diaspora have various roles they could play in development. File

As Kenyans prepare to go to polls in 2012, hopefuls for the high office have already started globe trotting to woo votes from diaspora who will for the first time vote under the new constitutional dispensation.

Political analysts say that Kenyans abroad estimated at more than three million with at least half of them eligible voters would significantly influence the outcome of the next General Election.

The diaspora community, though politically ignored in the past, plays various political and socio-economic roles in the country’s affairs. Other than participating in elections, sending remittances to their families and providing guidance and soft landing pads to immigrants and visitors, they could also boost local entrepreneurial activities.

It is estimated that more than 200 million people are living in a country other than theirs across the world. This translates to three per cent of the world’s population — a large number by all standards. If they were to form a nation, it would be the size of Nigeria and Kenya combined.

Immigration has been happening over the decades at various rates. However, modern transport, communication technology and globalisation make it a force that could be harnessed to yield great economic benefits not possible in the past.

Although these people are not found in one area, fit to be called a market niche, they have certain elements that could be commercially exploited. For instance, consider an aspect of network of kinship and language that could facilitate cross-border business.

Chinese and Somalis are classic examples. It is estimated that there are more Chinese living outside China than the French in France. This has created a strong network that has boosted China’s international business.

These networks speed up the flow of information and trust that are key to entrepreneurial success. A Chinese resident in Kenya who spots an opportunity for a Chinese product may alert his kinsmen in Guangzhou or Hangzhou cities to source for the commodity for export to the local market.

Wherever they are around the world, they open a Chinese restaurant to cater not only for their own community but also the host residents who have a taste for Chinese dishes. This provides a stable overseas market for their home suppliers. But Kenyans in Chicago, US or Brussels, Belgium would most likely think only of sending remittance to their relatives. We are so happy to receive remittances that even the government proudly records as a source of forex inflow.

It is time we train our sights on this window of opportunity waiting to be exploited from our ties with our kin abroad, the remittance we receive is just a tip of the iceberg. We can get more.

In absence of strong laws in many countries and poor cultural knowledge coupled with hostility of some communities, it is easier to penetrate them through our kin abroad since they foster trust and loyalty. This is why so much foreign direct investment in China passes through the Chinese diaspora.

Migrants into rich countries such as Europe and the US should not just send us money. What we need more is the opportunity and ability to make money. Let us learn from the old saying that don’t give a hungry man fish but teach him how to fish. That way you make him independent and prosperous. Help local entrepreneurs penetrate market in your host country.

Many people see immigration as something negative, especially when it involves highly endowed people whether academically or financially moving to richer and better countries. That is why we talk of brain drain and capital outflow with nostalgia. But in today’s global economy we cannot change it. We need to harness its goodness to prosper.

Mr Kiunga is the author of Common Reasons why Start-Up Business Fails and What you can do About it and Challenges of Starting a Business.

Posted in Kenya | 3 Comments »

Somalis Fear End of US Remittances Will Empower Militants

Posted by Administrator on December 29, 2011

At the end of this week, citizens of Somalia will lose one of their biggest sources of money. That is when a U.S. bank cuts off cash transfers to the war-torn and famine-stricken country. Somalis in Nairobi say the move – intended to stop funding for Somali militants – will hurt ordinary people instead.

Nairobi’s Eastleigh neighborhood is a center of commerce for Kenya’s sizable Somali community.

Nicknamed “Little Mogadishu,” the streets are crowded with handcarts pulling cooking oil, men selling suit jackets and undershirts, and street vendors hawking a leafy narcotic known as khat.

The invisible force energizing much of this trade is a unique money transaction network, which allows the Somali diaspora to send money to family members and business partners back home.

But the so-called hawala network is about to lose a major lifeline, when a U.S. bank cuts off one of the only transfer services for Somalis in the United States.

Omar Haji, originally from Mogadishu, now lives in Eastleigh, and receives financial support from his family in the U.S. state of Minnesota.

He said that most people will see this action by the banks as an attack on Somali people rather than against al-Shabab.

He added that support for the militant group could actually grow, and businesses that typically receive money from abroad may turn to the relatively wealthy al-Shabab for financing.

The al-Qaida linked group has waged war against the country’s central government for years, and has funded itself by taxing citizens in areas under its control.

Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government has had some limited success driving the militants out of the capital Mogadishu in recent months. But Hassan Said Samantar, a minister of Galmudug State in central Somalia, said cutting off remittance flows could further destabilize the country.

“I find this move really very unfortunate for the Somali population at a time. Particularly at a time when Somalia is going forward with the roadmap and the security situation is improving and so on. Whenever Somalia is going forward it seems there are forces that push it back,” said Samantar.

The United States says Somali money transfer services handle up to $1.6 billion every year. And the international development agency Oxfam says about $100 million is sent directly from the United States.

Mohamed Ali Mohamud is a former Somali presidential candidate from Puntland. He now runs a borehole drilling company that operates in Somalia. He said the bigger money-wiring services have a very scant presence in Somalia and do not operate in al-Shabab controlled areas, leaving very few alternatives for cash transfers.

“Western Union or Moneygram, or whatever, they don’t venture to go that area where those guys are controlling. But these Somali remittance [companies], they are taking risks. They make agreements with the local people there, for their safety, and then they make the remittances, immediately, without delay,” said Mohamud.

In addition, Western Union can charge a fee of up to 20 percent, while the hawala merchants charge between two and five percent.

Eastleigh businessman Mohamed Jamaa sells electronics, milk, biscuits and other small items that he imports from Somalia.

He said if the money is cut off at the source of the supply chain, it will immediately affect his business, and his ability to support his four sons who live at a refugee camp.

Jamaa said he gives the boys money to keep them occupied, but that if he can no longer support them, they may have no choice but to go back to Somalia and join al-Shabab.

The U.S. firm, Sunrise Community Banks, decided to shut down the money transfer service for fear it would be in violation of a U.S. counter-terrorism law if the money ended up in the wrong hands.

Somalia’s Prime Minister Abdiweli Mohamed Ali is urging the U.S. government to step in to help find another solution.

SOURCE: http://www.voanews.com/english/news/africa/east/Somalis-Fear-End-of-US-Remittances-Will-Empower-Militants-136312958.html

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Top Female Kenyan Scientist Reflects on Historic Research

Posted by Administrator on December 29, 2011

Amidst the videotaping, camera flashes, Tweeting and blogging, Dr Patricia Wamboi Njuguna awaited her turn at center stage at the Seattle forum. The only African woman in a team of 22 principal investigators on the Phase III trial of RTS,S, Njuguna couldn’t give in to jet-lag after 24 hours of travel through five time zones. She couldn’t afford to be nervous or hesitant. After all, she was representing not only the African scientists involved in this historic research, but all African scientists, of which women are a tiny minority.

And Njuguna also knew that after the pomp and ceremony of the Gates Foundation event, back home in Kenya, yet another a series of media interviews awaited her.

“It was such a hectic time. I spoke a lot more than I am used to,” Njuguna recalls, laughing. “The best part of it all was the response of the community in Kilifi whose children were enrolled in the study. People were very excited by those findings.”

And they should be. The October 18th announcement on the RTS,S vaccine candidate, produced by GlaxoSmithKline, found that it reduced the risk of clinical malaria by 56 percent, and severe malaria by 47 percent, in studies involving 6,000 children in 11 trial sites in Africa. The analysis was performed on data from children aged five to 17 months, during the 12 months after they received the vaccine.

Though researchers and global health officials quickly acknowledged that the data is just a milepost towards the ultimate goal of a licensed, effective vaccine, excitement about the data was palpable. The results were heralded in news outlets around the world, and many observers linked the research to the potential for many African nations to reach one of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals of reducing child mortality.

Njuguna, who headed the trial at the Kilifi, Kenya, site, spoke to AllAfrica.com about what sparked her interest in science and her role in the historic RTS,S project.

“My father was a plant breeder and director of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute in Thika. We lived within the center and often got to see him at work on papaya and Valencia oranges,” Njuguna said. “I always thought I would end up in agricultural research. But he advised me to try medicine instead.”

So after high school at Bishop Gatimu Ngandu girls in Karatina, Njuguna joined the University of Nairobi for undergraduate medical training in 1992. During her fifth year, Njuguna spent six weeks at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi.

“I did a small project supervised by Professor Charles Newton, which was my very first exposure to clinical research,” she said. “I found the process of research interesting, the exercise of attempting to answer scientific questions in this way, challenging.”

In 1999, Njuguna completed her medical training and began an internship at the Coast Provincial General Hospital before returning to a medical posting at Kilifi District Hospital. Eventually, she applied for a medical research officer position at KEMRI-Wellcome Trust-Kilifi in 2001, the same year she married a fellow research scientist at the unit, Sam Kinyanjui, the current director of training and capacity building for KWT-Kilifi. The next three years were spent doing both clinical studies and working on larger research projects. One of those projects involved assessing children for neurological impairments and performing brain CT scans on a select few.

“As I was working with children all the time, I realized that I needed to have a good grasp of pediatrics. So I abandoned my dream of being a radiologist, which would have suited work/life balance as a woman, and went back to the University of Nairobi to pursue a Masters degree in pediatrics,” Njuguna said.

“While I undertook my post-graduate training between 2003 and 2006, my husband was in the UK on a training fellowship conducting laboratory-based research in malaria immunology,” she said. “We were both determined to acquire a certain level of training and expertise before starting a family. We wanted to be able to raise our children together.”

When her training was finished, Njuguna was employed as a safety physician for the Phase II RTS,S malaria vaccine study. “I was in charge of surveillance for safety of study participants during this trial,” she said. “Every ailment, whether it was perceived to be vaccine-related or not, was recorded so that an analysis would be conducted to determine the safety profile of the vaccine.”

That Phase II trial, conducted between 2007 to 2008, was the landmark study were the RTS,S vaccine was shown to have a 53-percent protective effect against malaria. That meant the vaccine could qualify to proceed into the all-important Phase III trial stage, which would involve more children-and much higher stakes.

In 2009, Njuguna was asked to head the Phase III RTS,S malaria vaccine trial in Kilifi. “It was a daunting task, as double the number of children were recruited into the Phase III trial, compared to the trial we had just completed,” Njuguna said. “We also had to set up different systems to run the trial. We have recruited 904 study participants, and to do this, 60 people are employed to work on the project. Training the varying teams was very labor intensive, especially since I also had my firstborn child around this time. However, once the teams were up and running, my work has been mainly managerial duties.”

The research also yielded a massive investment in infrastructure. When the Phase II study was conducted in Junju and Pingilikani, the dispensary facilities were refurbished. With the Phase III trial, three new sites were selected: Ganze, Dida and Madamani. Government health facilities in these areas were extended and water tanks put in place, thanks to funding from the Malaria Clinical Trials Alliance. This funding also allowed for installation of a digital X-ray facility at the Kilifi District Hospital.

Although all these inputs are primarily for the study participants, the whole community and hospital benefits from their presence.

“Another benefit to the community is that we offer basic life support training to all the clinical staff in the health facilities were we work, a skill that will remain in the community long after we are gone,” Njuguna said. “While the study is going on, we work very closely with staff at these facilities. We provide assistance with difficult cases, share drugs during stock-outs and assist in transport of services to the facility. We have ended up having a very good relationship with our study community, the staff at the health facilities and the district health management team.”

In Kilifi, recruitment of children aged five to 17 months old was complete by August 2009 when the vaccinations began. Three doses were administered, and then data collected on the cases of clinical malaria among vaccinated children compared to those who were not. After a year, the data was analyzed and these were the results announced at the Malaria Forum.

By 2015, the global malaria research and public health community seems certain that the studies will yield a vaccine that will provide 50 percent protection against severe malaria. It will also be possible to tell whether the vaccine provides long-term protection as each child in the phase III trial will have been followed up for a period of at least 30 months.

The global public health community is also eagerly awaiting the results of the trials that recruited children six-12 weeks old for the three-dose RTS,S malaria vaccine. This data is the most precious, as it will yield information about whether the malaria vaccine can be used with maximum benefit in the EPI system.

But because the current vaccine candidate only gives about 50 percent protection at best, the scientific community is not resting. Malaria vaccine trials in Africa will continue until a vaccine with at least 80 percent efficacy is developed. GSK together with a company called Crucell are already working on creating a second-generation RTS,S vaccine that improves on the current vaccine. Even now, trials for other malaria vaccine candidates are underway on the continent.

In Kilifi, another colleague, Dr. Caroline Ogwang, has just completed data collection for a Phase I trial of a malaria vaccine candidate developed by a group at Oxford University. Through the African Malaria Network Trust (Amanet), another malaria vaccine candidate, GMZ-2 is undergoing Phase II field trials.

In the meantime, Njuguna may be over her jetlag, but her enthusiasm about the RTS,S is still going strong.

She said, “The road ahead is both challenging and exciting. So far collaborations within Africa are working very well and we have a lot to look forward to.”

SOURCE: http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/201112272824.html

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Top marks for girls who sat after accident…with video

Posted by Administrator on December 29, 2011

On the evening of July 29, a group of girls were involved in an accident just months before they sat for their KCPE examinations.

The Loreto Msongari pupils in Standard Seven and Eight were on the Meru-Nanyuki highway, returning to their hostels in Nairobi’s Lavington area after a weekend trip.

Three of the pupils died, while 16 others had critical injuries.

Six of the injured pupils underwent arm amputations. One girl had her two arms amputated, while another had her eye removed.

Still, 35 of the 71 pupils who were involved in the accident were part of the 776,214 candidates who sat the 2011 KCPE exams.

Problems faced

On Thursday, the pupils looked back at the accident, the problems they faced as they sat their exams, and the aspirations they hold after they received their results.

Three of the pupils said that they did not perform as they expected, but expressed satisfaction with the results “given the circumstances”.

Their parents and teachers said the pupils had taken a positive attitude and performed “beyond expectations”, given the traumatic experience they had to go through during the examination period.

“Since I had to spend a month and two weeks in hospital, it was difficult catching up with the rest of the students and I had little time to revise.

“But due to the support of my family and other students, I have managed to get good marks,” Sandra Wambui, 14, told the Nation.

Sandra who had her left hand removed after the accident scored 422 marks, eight points short of what she had scored in her mock exams. Her father, John Gitau, said they were satisfied with her results given the difficulties she had to face.

“She took the loss of her hand positively and accepted her new way of life. She did not take it as a disability and she is always trying to do things for herself. So far, from how she has handled herself, I do not see her going down in performance as she moves to high school,” Mr Gitau said.

Sandra, who is preparing to join the secondary division of the school, said the amputated arm will not block her from becoming a paediatrician, she added.

Like Sandra, 13-year-old Joy Mvatie is preparing to move on to Loreto Msongari Secondary and was also happy with her performance.

Joy, who lost her right arm in the accident, scored 340, She believes she could have done better. Her favourite subjects are sciences and languages.

“I had to skip revision and classes because of the numerous surgeries I had to undergo, but I thank God for the marks I got. If this (accident) had not happened, probably I would have done better,” Joy told the Nation at her school on Thursday.

Her classmate Joyce Wairimu expressed disappointment over her performance, but said that it was the “best given the circumstances”.

Joyce suffered from a broken arm, which is still bandaged, but noted that this would not stop her from achieving her dreams.

“Sometimes it is stressing even with the basic chores such as wearing clothes or shoes, but with the support of family and friends, life has become easier,” Joyce who hopes to join Aga Khan School said.

Her mother, Ms Hellen Maina, said that her daughter’s positive attitude had helped her achieve the 338 marks she scored and hopes for a brighter future.

Loreto Msongari headmistress Sister Pauline Macharia said the 35 students had performed well, but not as they had always done.

“They only studied for two terms and had to overcome the trauma resulting from the accident.

During the accident, the Loreto Convent Msongari bus veered off the road and hit a stationary bus at Subuiga black spot.

The school in November hosted a Christmas Fair and Family Fun Day to raise funds for the dozens of injured pupils.

Due to the limited capacity in Kenya for functional prosthetic fittings, reconstructive care, doctors want treatment abroad.

Source: http://www.nation.co.ke/News/Top+marks+for+girls+who+sat+after+accident++/-/1056/1297316/-/view/printVersion/-/asctl7z/-/index.html

Posted in Kenya | 3 Comments »

Rejoicing for his life and Legacy- Justin H. Osinde

Posted by Administrator on December 28, 2011

Posted in Diaspora News, Obituaries | Comments Off on Rejoicing for his life and Legacy- Justin H. Osinde

Great wedding cons: The Pearl of Africa leads the way in the region

Posted by Administrator on December 28, 2011

I  have always been fascinated by what you might call the “asymmetrical con”.

That is the con in which no one is killed, injured, or gets unjustly cheated. It is one reason I love the TV drama, Leverage.

The big powerful people engage in grand corruption. The “small” men and women engage in cons.

Thus, the state of a country’s con industry is quite revealing about how the society is evolving.

I am in good old Uganda; the fair nation Winston Churchill called “the Pearl of Africa”.

I was talking to people who are good watchers of the country’s ways. We got round to chatting about a popular East African subject — the ever-growing excesses of our weddings.

Two new developments in Ugandan weddings grabbed my attention. For a long time, many wedding couples would open their presents, only to find empty boxes.

Some would be stuffed with newspapers, others with stones. This development puzzled Uganda’s marriage trade for a long time.

Recently, the mystery was solved. Turns out it was the wedding reception crashers doing it.

They figured out that no matter how determined the wedding committee was to keep the party crashers away, there was one type of person who would never be stopped at the gate: The one who came bearing a big “present” wrapped in expensive-looking paper (note the operative word here is “expensive-looking”, it doesn’t have to be expensive).

However, because it is very easy to detect that someone is carrying an empty box, they stuff it.

A few stones making noise can sound like expensive China that has been badly packed.

So you pick an empty box from the supermarket, buy a cheap gift wrap, borrow some cellotape, grab old newspapers, and you have a fail-proof ticket into the most exclusive wedding.

Then, in Uganda, betrothal (better known as introduction) ceremonies are big affairs. And they just keep getting bigger.

Matters have reached a point where introduction parties have “delegations” numbering over 1,000.

Not surprisingly, they have become the place where the groom must make his most dramatic impression.

As happens with these things, the reputation of the groom is as important as that of the future in-laws.

Many families want the world to know that their daughter is marrying “somebody”, a law-abiding voter with a well-paying job and prestigious address.

As a result, a con has developed in Uganda that draws grooms into conspiracies with their future in-laws.

At these introduction ceremonies, the groom will look for the right moment to blow away the folks who have assembled.

After getting the nod that he can have the girl, he does his thing. If he is fabulously wealthy, he will unleash a house as a present to his future in-laws. But if he is one step below that in the food chain, a second-hand car will do.

So he will conspire with his future wife and mother-in-law and stage a car give-away. He will go to a showroom, borrow a car for half a day, and take it to the introduction ceremony.

There, at the appropriate moment, the announcement will be made that the car is a gift to the prospective mother-in-law for bearing such a wonderful daughter.

There will be ululations all around, but it is all fake. However, the purpose will have been fulfilled.

Both the bride-to-be and her parents look good because they are getting a serious son-in-law; and the groom-to-be also shines because he gives the impression he is a man of means.

With the ceremony done, the car goes back to the showroom. So what story does the mother-in-law tell if asked about the car?

Simple. She can say she sold it because at her age, she didn’t want to blow away her pension maintaining a vehicle.

We have not yet reached the “post-industrial” society level of countries like Japan.

I am told that in Japan, because many families scatter and it is almost impossible to get them together again for something like a marriage ceremony, fellows rent fake brothers, sisters, relatives and friends to fill the family chair at weddings.

When I look around the East African Community, the race for this kind of ultimate wedding con of the future is really between two countries — Kenya and Uganda.

SOURCE: http://www.nation.co.ke/blogs/Great+wedding+cons/-/445642/1296618/-/view/asBlogPost/-/7yyfaaz/-/index.html

Posted in Analysis and Opinion | 2 Comments »

US-based Kenyans doubt if they will vote

Posted by Administrator on December 28, 2011

Kenyans living in the US on March 9, 2011 participate in a peaceful demonstration outside the UN headquarters as Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka argued for deferral of the post-election violence cases. Photo/COURTESY

Kenyans living in the US on March 9, 2011 participate in a peaceful demonstration outside the UN headquarters as Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka argued for deferral of the post-election violence cases. Photo/COURTESY

By ANTONY KARANJA in Dallas, Texas, USA

Kenyans in the US are becoming sceptical about their chances of voting in the 2012 General Election.

They accuse the Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission of not doing enough to ensure they take part.

A US-based group, the Kenya Diaspora Vote, is launching a petition on Thursday to gather online signatures seeking assurances from the Kenyan government that they are not denied their constitutional right to vote.

Mr Peter Kerre, who is spearheading the push, said the aim is to call on the government to avoid implementing measures that will curtail a free and fair process.

He said the petition can be found on http://www.gopetition.com/petitions/kenya-diaspora-right-to-vote.html.

In March, Mr Kerre organised a protest against Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka’s visit to the UN to request the Security Council for a deferral of the International Criminal Court cases facing the Ocampo Six. (READ: Kenyans in US protest over Kalonzo shuttle)

(SEE IN PICTURES: Kenyans in US protest)

In a related development, two Kenyan lawyers in the US said a recent trip by the IEBC only heightened fears.

Mr Henry Ongeri of Minnesota and Ms Regina Njogu of Washington DC said they were concerned at the slow pace at which a framework to allow the Diaspora to vote was being laid out.

Mr Ongeri said a proposal that Kenyans could vote at the embassy in Washington DC and at consulates in New York and California was akin to disenfranchisement.

“The proposal would be expensive for Kenyans not residing near the embassy and consulates,” Mr Ongeri said.

“Kenyans back home only have to walk a short distance to the polling station,” he said.

He said Kenyans living in the many parts of the US could spend $800 (Sh68,000) each on airfare, accommodation, food and lost income if they were to travel to vote.

Mr Kerre and Mr Ongeri also rejected a proposal that ambassadors be appointed returning officers, saying they are political appointees.

“There are tens of thousands of us here. The government can choose voting officers among us,” Mr Kerre said.

Ms Njogu complained about the “snail’s pace at which the IEBC is moving.”

“The short time we have remaining to the elections will not be sufficient to ensure Kenyans who have acquired foreign citizenship will have their applications to regain their Kenyan citizenship adjudicated on time,” Ms Njogu said.

Source: http://www.nation.co.ke/News/politics/US+based+Kenyans+doubt+if+they+will+vote+/-/1064/1296748/-/vhtm70z/-/index.html

Posted in Diaspora News | 1 Comment »

Silent exodus from an overstretched city

Posted by Administrator on December 28, 2011

A truck ferrying household furniture snakes its way up the road to Landless Estate, off Garissa Road in Thika. A couple of residents conversing on the roadside do not even look up, the scene perhaps too familiar as the fast-developing suburb continues to draw more and more people from near and far. In the truck is Kevin Aluga, who is moving houses to Thika from Ongata Rongai, a suburb on the other end of Nairobi.

“The city has grown increasingly inhabitable,” says Aluga. “The cost of living in the city has spiralled out of the reach of the average worker over the past few years.”

Aluga is an accountant with a Westlands-based international firm and he attends evening classes at Mt Kenya University (MKU), which has campuses around the country. He has now organised with his employers to be reporting for work earlier and leaving before the traffic builds up in Nairobi to be at MKU Thika campus by 7pm.

“It is much easier to plan my time while in Thika than in Nairobi as movement is much more predictable,” he says, but his choice of Thika as a residence has other motivations as well. The rent for his two-bedroom house in Rongai was adjusted three times in three years from Sh7,500 to Sh15,000, the landlord all the time citing market rates. Security is also a major concern in most parts of Nairobi and public utilities like water and electricity have been intermittent at best.

“When you add that to the fact that I had to sit in traffic, sometimes for three hours, to make what should be a 25-minute drive, you see why I moved.”

Daniel Ojijo, chairman of the Mentor Group that owns such leading real estate brands like Villa Care and Homes Kenya, says Nairobi is paying the price for its unsustainable growth that has seen the availability and quality of housing seriously stretched. This has pushed prices for homes through the roof and pushed people to suburban towns.

“When you look at the scenario closely you see a combination of challenges for the city dweller,” says Ojijo, pointing at deteriorating public services and poor planning as other reasons why Nairobi has suddenly become very unattractive.

“Estates like South C and Buru Buru have been very badly planned and the term ‘concrete jungle’ is what comes to mind when you think of them. But when you look at the upcoming developments in the outskirts of the city, say, Jacaranda Estate, you realise the developer has factored in open spaces and greenery in the plan, making them very habitable.”

It all comes down to price, Ojijo adds, pointing to the high land prices in Nairobi as the reason every developer wants to maximise the use of space.

And staying on money, a house in the city commands a much higher purchase or rental value compared to other emerging areas.

“It would cost you up to three times more to live in Kileleshwa than it would in Athi River. The class and the services cannot compare, but economic realities have forced people to downgrade their preferences.”

And, adds Ojijo, there is also the issue of modernity, which these satellite towns have as opposed to the ageing Nairobi. By ‘modernity’ he is speaking of the appealing architectural approaches that have seen investors develop all-inclusive communities that offer shopping centres, clinics and schools in one centralised settlement, developments that would be difficult in Nairobi owing to the cost of land.

“A gated community is a promise of a new experience. There are new people to meet, new cultures to experience and the distinction of living with people who share your station in life.”

Aluga, on the other hand, brings forth a new reason why moving north of the city to the famed industrial town is such a timely decision for most people: the new superhighway. Expected to be commissioned by March 2012, the road will ease traffic flow between Nairobi and other outlying areas in the general direction of Thika.

“It is not even complete yet and driving on this road is already an everyday marvel,” he says, adding that, as a motoring enthusiast, he would rather drive a longer distance and do it in 30 minutes than be sitting in traffic for two hours to cover the 10 kilometres or so to Rongai from the Nairobi.

“Thika could be physically further away than Rongai, but with this road, it has become much closer, with the 50 or so kilometres from Thika to Muthaiga now just a 25-minute cruise within the speed limit. Once they finish with the Muthaiga-to-Moi Avenue interconnection, driving to the city centre from Thika will become far much easier.”

The exodus to Thika has, however, not been all rosy, with the town now home its own traffic jams during peak hours. It is also an unenviable task trying to get parking space on a weekday in Thika town, but Sophie Ngina, a businesswoman, will not be complaining about any of that.

“I would consider these new difficulties as teething pains, every progressive town has to deal with such problems,” she says. “Thika has largely been welcoming people with a serious purchasing power who are big consumers of local products and services, leading to a marked growth of the Thika economy.”

Ngina points at the invasion by banks, insurance companies, supermarkets and other big businesses as the best pointer you will get that immigration is a good thing.

Prof Joseph Kieya, head of the Public Sector Development at the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis (KIPPRA), a socio-economic think tank, believes such movement of people is laudable from the economic perspective, but worries over its impact on agriculture.

Prof Kieya sees towns as far flung as Kenol in Murang’a County in the North, Machakos in the East, Kajiado in the South and Kiambu and Limuru to the West as some of the major winners from a decline of the attractiveness of Nairobi as both a business and residential base.

“Nairobi has since independence been on a rapid expansion of a largely unsustainable nature,” he says. One result of that has been a difficult traffic situation in Nairobi that has seen the city ranked one of the most difficult cities to drive in by an IBM Survey. That has come at a big cost to the economy, says Prof Kieya.

“These traffic jams cost our economy billions of shillings every year as people who should otherwise be involved in progressive economic activity are unnecessarily held up. It’s the same with goods and services that cannot reach their markets in good time. Decentralising some of Nairobi’s activities to other towns can relieve pressure on the city as people access services away from the city centre.”

The Achilles Heel of this expansion has been the conversion of rich agricultural land to residential areas, a development that is hardly sustainable, according to economists.

“Clearing coffee farms in Kiambu and Thika counties to develop real estate projects is a major mistake, especially when you consider that areas around Mlolongo and Kajiado have little agricultural worth. We should be careful as policy makers not to encourage settlement in such areas.”

Gerishon Ikiara, a leading economist and a former permanent secretary, concurs, arguing that Nairobi losing out to other regions is not a bad thing.

“A decade or so ago, Nairobi commanded about 70 per cent of the national Gross Domestic Product. That has now dropped substantially, and that is a positive sign that economic decentralisation programmes of the last eight years or so have been successful.”

Ikiara also expects the counties envisaged in the new constitution to further aid the development of areas outside of Nairobi. The city will have to rediscover itself in a new identity as, presently, most people would wish to leave if they could help it, adds Ikiara.

Moving the government from Nairobi to a different town could be a good idea, adds Ikiara, although present economic realities will stand in the way of Kenya following Nigeria and Brazil in shifting the seat of government to deal with congestion.

As for people moving out of Nairobi, Ikiara says that is a good example of a progressive society that is able to make big choices.

“Let our people go to Naivasha, to Machakos and to Thika. Let them settle there and help improve the local economies. It’s a very positive development,” he sums it up.

Source: http://www.nation.co.ke/Features/DN2/Silent+exodus+from+an+overstretched+city/-/957860/1296592/-/item/1/-/10gn5c6z/-/index.html

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