DJ Bwakali

DJ Bwakali

You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.” Thomas Sankara

On December 21 1949, Marguerite Sankara, a young lady from the then Upper Volta gave birth to a calm baby boy. She named him Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara. For several years every day, he arose early in the morning and attended primary school in Gaoua, Southern Burkina Fasso. Upon completing, he proceeded to high school in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country's second largest city. Less than fifteen years later in 1983 when he was only 34, Thomas Sankara became the president of République de Haute-Volta (Upper Volta Republic).

One of the first things that he did was to change the country’s name to Burkina Faso. Roughly translated from the country’s Mossi and Dioula languages, Burkina Faso means, ‘land of the honest/upright/incorruptible people.’ In changing his country’s name, Robert Sankara made it clear that there would be zero corruption under his watch. Integrity and servant leadership would reign supreme. If only Africa’s current 54 Heads of State would follow suit, Africa wouldn’t have to keep scurrying to China and the West with a begging bowl in her hands.

After laying out a very clear integrity vision, Thomas Sankara refused to accept the norm of African presidency being synonymous with riches. He continued living the same simple life he had lived before he became president and demanded the same from his cabinet ministers. He was not just being sentimental when he said severally that ‘I want people to remember me as someone whose life has been helpful to humanity.’

How do you want to be remembered? However you want to be remembered, invest your heart and days into that. Don't allow anybody, especially politicians, to mess up with your purpose and mission.

After all is said and done, after the campaign rhetoric has disappeared with the sunset, after your President’s motorcade has sped by you with sirens blaring, after your parliamentarians have hurled words at each other, after you have frothed at the mouth in passionate defense of your preferred political leaders, are you better of? Is there more food on your table? More jobs for the youth? If the answer is no, then your politicians are serving their bellies, not addressing your worries.

These are the issues that Thomas Sankara sought to address. Disgusted by the presidential opulence that he found in place, he sold most of the government fleet of high-end Mercedes cars and made the Renault 5, which was the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time, the official service car of the ministers. Come to think of it, why do ministers and other high ranking government officials have to drive in fuel guzzlers that are bought by tax payers who often can’t afford to buy even a bicycle?! It is morally wrong, economically wrong and environmentally wrong for government officials to drive big cars when most of their people cannot even get small jobs or run small businesses.

Thomas Sankara also converted the army's provisioning store in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso's capital) into a state-owned supermarket that was open to everyone. This became Burkina Faso’s first ever supermarket. While State-run businesses rarely survive or flourish, the symbolism of this gesture was very powerful. A country’s resources should be accessible to all. Purchasing power is at the heart of this accessibility. There is something drastically wrong in a country where most of the people have no money to pay for most of the things they need.

‘I can hear the roar of women’s silence.’

When he said these words, Thomas Sankara was deeply concerned about the plight of women in his country. So he took action. Throughout his presidency, he promoted women’s rights with passion. Sankara's government included a large number of women. Improving women's status was one of his explicit goals, an unprecedented policy priority not just in West Africa but the world. His government banned female circumcision, condemned polygamy, and promoted contraception. The Burkinabé government was also the first African government to publicly recognize AIDS as a major threat to Africa.

President Sankara could strum the guitar with the same poignant melody with which he spoke. When he wasn’t plucking the warm guitar strings or chatting with the masses, he could be found on his motor bike rambling along the streets of Ouagadougou. This kept him in touch with the ordinary people and he was able to feel their pain; experience their struggles and behold their dreams.

Thomas refused to keep quiet in the midst of the injustice that was swarming around his country and continent. He loathed corruption with a passion, promoted reforestation and embraced policies that would enhance both education and health. Under his tenure, he oversaw the planting of ten million trees. This was long before Kenya’s Wangari Maathai popularized tree planting through the billion tree campaign and other similar campaigns.

There is a sentence in Burkina Faso’s anthem that fully captures a powerful tool that Africans can use to drive forward the continent.

Les engagés volontaires de la liberté et de la paix’.

This sentence is part of ‘Une seule Nuit’ the national anthem that was written by Thomas Sankara himself. It means, ‘the volunteers of liberty and peace.’

Volunteering entails taking the initiative and taking action. There are more than one billion people in Africa. If only 1% of these people initiate positive change across the continent, there will be an unstoppable wave of change. This wave will result in much more integrity, liberty, peace and prosperity.

On October 15, 1987 Thomas Sankara was killed with twelve other officials in a coup d'état that was organised by Blaise Compaoré, his former colleague.  

Most of the time, your biggest enemy is right there in your mirror. The person who stares at you when you look in the mirror can either build you or destroy you; pull you up or pull you down. This applies to African countries. They are often their own worst enemies. Even when external forces have been responsible for our downfall as Africans, it is often because they found collaborators right here in Africa. Take slavery for instance, it would never have thrived if a few greedy Africans had not been willing to sell of their fellow Africans. Even though slavery is largely annihilated, many of our African leaders continue to sell us off through pervasive corruption and incompetent governance.

Corruption continues to shackle Africans to poverty that runs deeper and wider than it did during the independence years of the 1960s. That’s why there is dire need for Les engagés volontaires de la liberté et de la paix. Volunteers of liberty and peace. Remember, liberty and peace cannot grow and thrive in a land of abject poverty and widespread joblessness.

One week before Thomas Sankara was killed, he said that, ‘while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.’ These words echoe the powerful message in the words of Victor Hugo, the nineteenth century French Poet, ‘No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.’

Here is one of the ideas whose time has come:

Real power belongs to the one billion Africans who stare back at Africa when she looks in the mirror. They have the power to vote for upright leaders; power to uproot war and plant peace; power to buy African products and build Africa’s economy; power to restore Africa’s degraded lands and ecosystems; power to be the change they want to see.

You, my fellow Africans, are so powerful. Use your power.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

You cannot carry out fundamental change without a certain amount of madness. In this case, it comes from nonconformity, the courage to turn your back on the old formulas, the courage to invent the future. It took the madmen of yesterday for us to be able to act with extreme clarity today. I want to be one of those madmen. We must dare to invent the future.” Thomas Sankara

On December 21 1949, Marguerite Sankara, a young lady from the then Upper Volta gave birth to a calm baby boy. She named him Thomas Isidore Noël Sankara. For several years every day, he arose early in the morning and attended primary school in Gaoua, Southern Burkina Fasso. Upon completing, he proceeded to high school in Bobo-Dioulasso, the country's second largest city. Less than fifteen years later in 1983 when he was only 34, Thomas Sankara became the president of République de Haute-Volta (Upper Volta Republic).

One of the first things that he did was to change the country’s name to Burkina Faso. Roughly translated from the country’s Mossi and Dioula languages, Burkina Faso means, ‘land of the honest/upright/incorruptible people.’ In changing his country’s name, Robert Sankara made it clear that there would be zero corruption under his watch. Integrity and servant leadership would reign supreme. If only Africa’s current 54 Heads of State would follow suit, Africa wouldn’t have to keep scurrying to China and the West with a begging bowl in her hands.

After laying out a very clear integrity vision, Thomas Sankara refused to accept the norm of African presidency being synonymous with riches. He continued living the same simple life he had lived before he became president and demanded the same from his cabinet ministers. He was not just being sentimental when he said severally that ‘I want people to remember me as someone whose life has been helpful to humanity.’

How do you want to be remembered? However you want to be remembered, invest your heart and days into that. Don't allow anybody, especially politicians, to mess up with your purpose and mission.

After all is said and done, after the campaign rhetoric has disappeared with the sunset, after your President’s motorcade has sped by you with sirens blaring, after your parliamentarians have hurled words at each other, after you have frothed at the mouth in passionate defense of your preferred political leaders, are you better of? Is there more food on your table? More jobs for the youth? If the answer is no, then your politicians are serving their bellies, not addressing your worries.

These are the issues that Thomas Sankara sought to address. Disgusted by the presidential opulence that he found in place, he sold most of the government fleet of high-end Mercedes cars and made the Renault 5, which was the cheapest car sold in Burkina Faso at that time, the official service car of the ministers. Come to think of it, why do ministers and other high ranking government officials have to drive in fuel guzzlers that are bought by tax payers who often can’t afford to buy even a bicycle?! It is morally wrong, economically wrong and environmentally wrong for government officials to drive big cars when most of their people cannot even get small jobs or run small businesses.

Thomas Sankara also converted the army's provisioning store in Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso's capital) into a state-owned supermarket that was open to everyone. This became Burkina Faso’s first ever supermarket. While State-run businesses rarely survive or flourish, the symbolism of this gesture was very powerful. A country’s resources should be accessible to all. Purchasing power is at the heart of this accessibility. There is something drastically wrong in a country where most of the people have no money to pay for most of the things they need.

‘I can hear the roar of women’s silence.’

When he said these words, Thomas Sankara was deeply concerned about the plight of women in his country. So he took action. Throughout his presidency, he promoted women’s rights with passion. Sankara's government included a large number of women. Improving women's status was one of his explicit goals, an unprecedented policy priority not just in West Africa but the world. His government banned female circumcision, condemned polygamy, and promoted contraception. The Burkinabé government was also the first African government to publicly recognize AIDS as a major threat to Africa.

President Sankara could strum the guitar with the same poignant melody with which he spoke. When he wasn’t plucking the warm guitar strings or chatting with the masses, he could be found on his motor bike rambling along the streets of Ouagadougou. This kept him in touch with the ordinary people and he was able to feel their pain; experience their struggles and behold their dreams.

Thomas refused to keep quiet in the midst of the injustice that was swarming around his country and continent. He loathed corruption with a passion, promoted reforestation and embraced policies that would enhance both education and health. Under his tenure, he oversaw the planting of ten million trees. This was long before Kenya’s Wangari Maathai popularized tree planting through the billion tree campaign and other similar campaigns.

There is a sentence in Burkina Faso’s anthem that fully captures a powerful tool that Africans can use to drive forward the continent.

Les engagés volontaires de la liberté et de la paix’.

This sentence is part of ‘Une seule Nuit’ the national anthem that was written by Thomas Sankara himself. It means, ‘the volunteers of liberty and peace.’

Volunteering entails taking the initiative and taking action. There are more than one billion people in Africa. If only 1% of these people initiate positive change across the continent, there will be an unstoppable wave of change. This wave will result in much more integrity, liberty, peace and prosperity.

On October 15, 1987 Thomas Sankara was killed with twelve other officials in a coup d'état that was organised by Blaise Compaoré, his former colleague.  

Most of the time, your biggest enemy is right there in your mirror. The person who stares at you when you look in the mirror can either build you or destroy you; pull you up or pull you down. This applies to African countries. They are often their own worst enemies. Even when external forces have been responsible for our downfall as Africans, it is often because they found collaborators right here in Africa. Take slavery for instance, it would never have thrived if a few greedy Africans had not been willing to sell of their fellow Africans. Even though slavery is largely annihilated, many of our African leaders continue to sell us off through pervasive corruption and incompetent governance.

Corruption continues to shackle Africans to poverty that runs deeper and wider than it did during the independence years of the 1960s. That’s why there is dire need for Les engagés volontaires de la liberté et de la paix. Volunteers of liberty and peace. Remember, liberty and peace cannot grow and thrive in a land of abject poverty and widespread joblessness.

One week before Thomas Sankara was killed, he said that, ‘while revolutionaries as individuals can be murdered, you cannot kill ideas.’ These words echoe the powerful message in the words of Victor Hugo, the nineteenth century French Poet, ‘No force on earth can stop an idea whose time has come.’

Here is one of the ideas whose time has come:

Real power belongs to the one billion Africans who stare back at Africa when she looks in the mirror. They have the power to vote for upright leaders; power to uproot war and plant peace; power to buy African products and build Africa’s economy; power to restore Africa’s degraded lands and ecosystems; power to be the change they want to see.

You, my fellow Africans, are so powerful. Use your power.

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These words by King T'Challa, the Black Panther, will always resound in my mind and resonate in my heart:

“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We can not. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”

On Friday August 28th, Chadwick Boseman, the 43-year old actor who brought Black Panther to life breathed his last. He died from colon cancer, which he fought gallantly for four years. This means that he was fighting cancer even as he acted in the iconic Black Panther movie. What a fighter, not just on screen but in real life. Especially in real life.

Asante sana Chadwick for the life that you lived. Asante sana for Black Panther. You inspired people across the world, especially black people.  

In our own lives, may we stop watching from the shadows and step into the centre stage, where dreams are realized..  

chadwick boseman 1

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Monday, 24 August 2020 00:00

Grace is Making Things Happen

“Sorry your name is not here.” The beefy security officer at the United Nations Office at Nairobi (UNON) entrance told Luwedde Juliet Grace.

“But I was invited officially,” Grace protested, wondering what to do.

She had travelled by bus for fifteen hours, all the way from Kampala to Nairobi, eager to attend her first ever United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA). This was her first time in Kenya.

“Next please,” the security official shouted. There was a long queue of delegates waiting for security clearance before they could be allowed to enter UNON’s Nairobi premises.  

Grace didn’t even have the phone number of the UN person that she had been corresponding with. So she sent an email from her phone, notifying her contact that she was at the entrance, unable to get in. Fortunately, the matter was speedily resolved, enabling her to match into the vast, lush compound.

As she walked in between the dozens of flags that line the long pathway to UNON’s main entrance hallway, she thought about the many hurdles that she had to overcome to just gigiri flagsbe there. For starters, she didn’t belong to an accredited organization, a requirement for UNEA delegates. Secondly, she wasn’t given any financial support for her transport and accommodation. So she fundraised from friends and made arrangements to stay with a relative while in Nairobi.

Any of these hurdles could have caused her to take a U-turn. But she has learned to use stumbling blocks as stepping stones.

This was the 3rd ever meeting of the UN Environment Assembly (UNEA 3). According to UNEP, UNEA is the world’s highest-level decision-making body on the environment, with a universal membership of all 193 Member States. It meets biennially in Nairobi, Kenya, to set priorities for global environmental policies and develop international environmental law.

In the course of the week, Grace attended the inaugural Young Champions of the Earth awards ceremony. She watched in fascination as Mariana from Burkina Faso was awarded as Earth Champion of the Africa region - Her project, “JACIGREEN", offered an innovative eco-solution to the problem of water hyacinth; Ecuadorian biologist Liliana Jaramillo Pazmiño scooped the top award in the Latin America and Carribean region for her project that was using native plants to make green roofs in Quito, Ecuador. Grace was immensely inspired by these young ladies and the other young champions from other regions of the world. If they can do it, so can I. She told herself.

Interestingly, it was because of this award that Grace was at UNEA. A few months earlier, she had submitted her application for the award. Unfortunately, she wasn’t even among the finalists. However, she found an opportunity in the rejection email that UNEP sent her.

Beneath the official email was information about UNEP’s 2017 UNEA. She decided to get in touch with the contact in the email about participating in UNEA. This triggered regular communication that culminated in her presence at UNEA.

This conference enabled her to commence a close professional interaction with UNEP. She was able to meet Damaris, the UNEP Staff in charge of Youth in UNEP’s Africa Office; Jorge, UNEP’s Director and Secretary of Governing Bodies, plus other key UNEP officials. This high-level global meeting planted the seeds for her ambition to work in the environmental policy space.

But even as she networked on the international scene, Grace’s livelihoods journey remained bumpy. She was yet to land a well-paying job, a fact that bothered her parents. Her father made it his business to try and get a job for his daughter. One day after a phone call with his sister in Dubai, these efforts bore fruit.

“Grace!” Grace’s father called from the living room.

She was in the kitchen, preparing matoke and groundnuts, her favorite meal.

“Come quickly!” her father repeated excitedly. She could tell that he had some very important news for her.

He was seated in his usual seat at the corner of the living room.

“I have just talked with your aunt in Dubai,” he said, a big smile on his face, “she has found a job for you!”

Grace broke into a smile, even bigger than her dad’s. Visions of western union instantly flooded her mind. She imagined how every month, her mother would go to Western Union to collect cash that Grace would have sent from Dubai. That would be totally amazing! She could feel her heart fill with joy.

Her father rubbed his hands together, his eyes exuding happiness.

“The job is for a maid but what matters is that you will earn your own money.”

Had she heard correctly? A maid?!! Really dad!

“A maid?” she asked, her eyes narrowing.

She instantly declined the offer, much to her father’s displeasure.

Instead of joining the bandwagon of the thousands of Africans who migrate to the Gulf States every year for domestic jobs, she buried herself deeper into a new part-time job that she had found at Media Challenge Initiative.

Karl Kraus the Australian writer and journalists once joked that, ‘a journalist is a person whose skill is improved by a deadline; the more time he has, the worse he writes.’

He captured the high-pressure nature of journalism. That’s why the Media Challenge Initiative is committed to build the next generation of journalists in Africa through training, mentorship and experiential peer-to-peer learning.

One of the young journalists who partook in Media Challenge Initiative’s training was Daniel Ayebare. One of the monthly residential training sessions, he rubbed his hands on his forehead in deep concentration.

That training followed a 360 degrees approach that trains young journalists with all-round media skills. Also at the training were several other aspiring journalists. By the time the training concluded, Daniel had gained critical journalism knowledge that included: beat reporting; how to use a smartphone as a media tool; how to edit a print story and how to take great photos. In addition, he was linked up with an experienced journalist who became his mentor. Because of this connection, Daniel ended up at NBS Television, a Ugandan TV Station. After that, he started working full-time at Nile Post, an independent online news portal.

It is because of people like Daniel that Grace enjoys working part time with the Media Challenge Initiative. It is very gratifying to be part of an initiative that ignites a lasting spark in young journalists like Daniel.

Daniel’s strides along the journalism pathway have been so steady that his mentor has now given him his own mentor.  The mentee has become a mentor.

Grace Luwedde 4As she celebrates the progress of young journalists like Daniel, Grace remains committed to her own career growth. Like millions of other youth in Africa, she is actively job-hunting. It’s not about searching for greener pastures, but rather, expanding her horizons.

Apart from a CV with rich experience, she has an ace in her arsenal – her initiative. Ever since she became a teenager, she has nurtured the habit of making things happen, instead of waiting for them to happen.

Her goal is to find a job in the Environmental Policy and Research Space. Because of UNEA, she already knows what high-level policy making tastes like. She loved that taste and is keen on translating it into a daily feast through a job in the sector.

One of the casualties of this high stakes pursuance of her dreams is her love life. On the face of it, it seems as if the plate of her life is so full that there is no time for someone’s son to wander into her heart. Although she is conscious of this fact, she doesn’t wake up every morning wondering if today is the day that she will meet the love of her life. Rather, when her eyes flick open at dawn, she wonders whether ‘today is the day that I will venture into the next big thing.’ For her, love happens when it happens, but big things in one’s career must be made to happen. They don’t just happen.

In January 2019, Grace started working in a Public Relations firm. It is testament to her ability to crack opportunities open that she was able to find a job in a sector in which she had no professional qualifications.

Because life is often a trade-off, she had to miss the 2019 UNEA because of her new job. Although this new job lasted less than a year, she was able to cut her teeth in public relations. She learnt how to craft powerful messages that resonate with the public. This is a skill she intends to use in environmental messaging.

 “I have grown,” she says, “I need new challenges.”

If she has her way, which has a knocking of having, those new challenges will be in the environmental policy and research sphere.

She wants to tap into her writing skill to transform dry policy papers into sizzling documents that can be consumed by the masses. Her dream employer is either the United Nations Environment Programme or the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). True to nature, she hasn’t waited for UNCCCD to advertise for jobs. Rather, she has seized the available UNCCCD opportunities for civil society players. She is the interim Facilitator for the Global Youth Caucus on Desertification and Land (https://www.desertification-youth-caucus.org/).

Grace has been drawn to UNCCCD because of a firm belief in the power of land to make a difference in Africa’s food security and prosperity. Not only can land be used optimally to feed Africa and leave a surplus for export, it is also one of the largest carbon sinks in the world.

Grace recently came across a speech by Ibrahim Thiaw, the UNCCCD Executive Secretary. The speech had been delivered during the opening session of UNCCCD’s fourteenth Conference of Parties (COP 14). Because of her affinity to UNCCCD, she begun devouring the speech as if it was a suspense novel. Some words jumped from the screen into her heart.

“Restoring 350 million hectares of degraded land by 2030 could generate US$9 trillion in ecosystem services and sequester up to 26 gigatons of greenhouse gases.”

Hmm... Grace thought and made a mental note to dig deeper into exactly how land restoration sequesters greenhouse gases. That night before drifting to sleep, she fantasized about undertaking comprehensive research about land degradation in Uganda, then zeroing in on how policies can hasten restoration of that land. Later that night after she slept, she dreamt that she was part of a project that restored large swathes of land in Karamoja region, north east of Uganda. The following morning, this dream lingered on in her mind.

In this journey of life, we all need people who keep us grounded even as they inspire us to fly high like eagles. For Grace, Hamba Richard is one of those people. She met him when she joined Teens Uganda at the age of thirteen. At that time, she had just been thrust into the turbulent ocean of puberty and was lucky to find both purpose and responsible fun activities at Teens Uganda.

Dancing was a popular activity at the Organization. But because dancing wasn’t her forte, she delved into the other programs like reproductive health and environmental issues. In that sense, Teens Uganda introduced her to two issues that have become cornerstones of her life – environmental conservation and volunteerism.

For Grace, volunteerism is a powerful tool for both self-improvement and for making things happen. She concurs with the words of Bwak the Bantu poet that, ‘volunteerism places initiative firmly into your hands.’ This then allows you to take the initiative and take firm steps towards achieving your goal.

That’s why when she finished her O-Levels in 2014, Grace volunteered full time at Teens Uganda. This gave her an opportunity to use her time constructively as she mentored teenagers who were also searching for purpose just as she had years earlier.

Two years later in 2016, she again volunteered full time, this time at ProInterns, which fancies itself as Uganda’s #1 internship platform.  This gave Grace a chance to play a part in paving the way for promising students to stride into their preferred careers through relevant internships.

Grace Luwedde 3One year after that in 2017, it was time for Grace herself to become an intern. One afternoon, she had some rare downtime on her hands, so she decided to pay Facebook a visit. While she was reading the latest updates from her friends, she stumbled on a link of a tour firm known as Great Lakes Safaris Limited. She followed the link and found herself devouring exciting posts about Uganda’s many tourism destinations.

I would like to visit some of these places, Grace thought. And as she had learnt to do in her life, she decided to move this thought into action. She contacted Amos Wekesa, the mercurial founder of the Tour Firm. He was a public figure that she had seen on TV severally.

Although internship at the renowned tour firm was usually a preserve of university graduates, Grace managed to talk her way into an internship in the Firm’s HR department. As James Allen the British writer said, ‘the world steps aside for the man who knows where he is going.’

It wasn’t easy for Grace to commute to the Firm’s offices because they were a two-hour drive from her parents’ home. But she soldiered on. Through the internship, she was able to learn much more about Uganda’s amazing tourism destinations and visit some of those places. She also observed Amos Wekesa from up-close and learned how he had become such an iconic tourism leader in Uganda. This experience helped her in her work during this same period as a project coordinator at Vijjana Safaris, an initiative for improving community tourism and education.

The following year in 2018, Grace took yet another leap of volunteerism.

She volunteered at 40 Days Over 40 Smiles Foundation. This is a Kampala based independent, youth-led, charity organisation that helps ‘vulnerable children and communities to access quality, all-round education support and entrepreneurial training aimed at self-sustainability.’

While volunteering there, Grace was immersed into the innocent, beautiful world of children. Every day, she would go to teach Primary Two (Grade Two/Standard Two) students. Few things in the world can beat the sight of kids’ outstretched hands as they eagerly seek to answer a question that you have asked them. They are so hopeful, so immersed in the moment. Ah, how Grace enjoyed spending quality time with those kids.

Do you now see why the benefits of volunteerism can be intangible and priceless?

One afternoon in June 2018, a fellow volunteer at 40 Days Over 40 Smiles shared with Grace information about a writing opportunity at UNEP. After perusing the information, Grace felt that it was exactly what she needed, as it would make her a published contributing author. But before one could be considered for the writing task, one had to submit their CV and bio.

The problem with this requirement was that Grace had never written her bio and wasn’t even sure what that was. She approached Esther Kalenzi the 40 Days Over 40 Smiles Founder, for advice. Esther guided her and edited her bio three times. These 88 words were the result of that painstaking process:

My name is Luwedde Juliet Grace, an environment enthusiast who is passionate about conservation and tourism. I am the team leader of Vijjana Safaris. This is an ecologically motivated social enterprise which aims to engage young people to innovate and create opportunities which support eco-systems’ sustainability and livelihoods. I have experience writing about the environment and extensive knowledge working with communities plus I am an active member/ participant of the UNEP-MGCY.

I am a multi-passionate individual actively working towards the development of a career as an accomplished Environmentalist.

On July 3rd 2018, Grace emailed this bio to David Bwakali, the Coordinating Lead Author of UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook for Youth, Africa Publication.

Thanks to this meticulous preparation and Grace’s experience in ecotourism, she was given an opportunity to write about the role of ecotourism in enhancing the livelihoods of Ugandan youth. That’s how she became a published contributing author of a UNEP Publication.

Grace has achieved all this despite not having a university degree. Although she passed her final High School examinations with flying colors, she didn’t proceed to University due to financial constraints. While she is keen on pursuing higher education in 2021, she vowed after High School that she wouldn’t allow lack of a degree to hold her back from scaling greater heights.

Grace hails from a royal clan of the Buganda tribe. As such, she is a princess by birth but a high achiever by choice. And she is just getting started.

As she listens to Isaiah Katumwa, the great Ugandan saxophonist create musical magic, Grace closes her eyes and sighs.   

I will use the power of the pen to create my own magic in the environmental policy and research arena. She vows.

To her fellow African youth, she has one message, ‘chase after your passion. Don’t tire. Just keep chasing it until you grab a hold of it.’

You can reach Grace on her email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Grace Luwedde 5

Saturday, 22 August 2020 00:00

Is God Green?

Since those joyous days of my childhood when every game unlocked the gates of heaven for me, I have been to church many, many, many times. I can remember sermons on repentance when I was reminded to repent or face damnation. I repented. Or sermons on prosperity when I was told by smiling pastors in sparkling suits to plant seeds of offering if I wanted to reap new cars and great jobs. I planted.

But I don’t recall ever listening to sermons on the environment and how I should adhere to the principles of sustainability. I therefore didn’t wake up in the morning thinking about the earth and how I should play a role in replenishing it. Neither did I go to sleep at night wondering if I had spent the day in a way that was good for the earth.

It wasn’t until my mid twenties when I started working at the United Nations Environment Programme that the green gospel finally hit me so hard that I fell hopelessly in love with the environment. I suddenly started looking at trees and rivers differently. I started wondering why Nairobi River was so dirty yet it was no less of a river than River Firatsi, the crystal clear river in my village. This river had been the centre of my childhood.

During holidays, I bathed in this river every single day and unsuccessfully tried to swim in it. The singing, whistling river was such a big part of my life that I didn’t regard it as an external entity needing my conservation touch. If anyone had polluted it, it would have felt like pollution of my very life.  

I thought about this precious river when I was writing the introduction of UNEP’s Africa Environment Outlook for Youth book. River Firatsi’s memories caused me to write the following, “Africa is big and beautiful. It is the second largest region in the world, accounting for 20 per cent of the world's landmass. This vast land is clothed in rich biodiversity, colossal forests, beautiful climates, and amazing coasts, ravishing rivers, green land and a host of other environmental beauties.”

River Firatsi was indeed a ravishing river.

Later that Sunday when I sat in Church at the International Christian Centre, I found myself wondering about Africa’s ravishing rivers, colossal forests and amazing coasts.

Ron Sommers was the pastor of the International Christian Centre Church where I was a member at the time. He had a kind face and an extensive white beard that made him look like a younger brother to Father Christmas. His son Jon was just a year older than me and a friend, as was Amy his older sister. Because I knew the family, Pastor Ron’s sermons always had a personal touch to them and I usually enjoyed them immensely.

But this particularly Sunday, I was distracted. Those words from the introduction that I had written kept dancing in my mind, “colossal forests, beautiful climates, and amazing coasts, ravishing rivers, green land…”

If God created this beautiful environment, then why is it that we talk about it so little in Church?

Is God green? I wondered.

In other words, is the environment and its conservation rooted in God, just as holiness is? As is my habit, I pushed this question to the back of my mind until later.

With this issue of God and the environment safely tucked away to the back-room of my mind, I launched myself even deeper into environmental activism. When my UNEP project on African youth was wrapped up, my final act was to launch the Africa Youth Environment Network, that I hoped would unify African youth in taking care of the environment and empowering themselves economically in the process.

AYICC launchAYICC Launch at UNEP Headquarters, NairobiI also teamed up with Togo’s Sena Alouka and several other young green visionaries as we founded and launched the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC) in Nairobi, in 2006. At about the same time, I founded the Solid Waste Action by Youth (SWAY). As if not content with these initiatives, I went ahead and teamed up with Akpezi Ogbuigwe, my charismatic mentor at UNEP to birth the Sustainability Generation which we hoped would be an umbrella for green youth initiatives not just in Africa but globally.

What was pushing me into all this green activism was not the Bible but just a strong ethical belief that a better world was only possible through a greener world.

But one morning when I was feeding birds outside my balcony thanks to my then girlfriend’s passion for birds, that question that I had pushed to the back of my mind stormed back to the front, “Is God green?”

Is God the ultimate environmentalist and does He require us all to follow suit?

Who is an environmentalist? Wangari Maathai, who was catapulted to global fame by her Nobel Peace Prize, was arguably Africa’s best-known environmentalist.

The Oxford dictionary defines an environmentalist as “a person who is concerned about protecting the environment.”

However, the problem with seeking to define the environment and by extension an environmentalist through narrow linguistic and scientific lens is that it reduces the environment to a thematic pursuit in the same league with say, actuarial science or banking.

For me, the environment is everything that is made by God as opposed to man. Which actually answers my question of whether God is green. He cannot create the environment and not be concerned for that very environment. Along this vein, an environmentalist is simply someone who nurtures nature and cares for others. For example, conserving rivers should go hand in hand with empowering communities that live alongside these rivers.

Further to this, even those things that are made by man like cars and clothes can be made through the sustainable blueprint that underpins the environment. Sustainability is therefore not just the right thing to do, it is the Godly thing to do.

Back to the stuff that is made by God, the list is endless – forests, oceans, crops, rivers, clouds, fish, lions, elephants plus of course, humanity itself. This means then, that you andsplendorThe sheer splendor of God's creation I as human beings are part of the environment and should not treat it as just another academic or fringe pursuit.

Is God green? Yes. But don’t just take my word for it. Read for yourself.

‘Genesis 2:15 – And the Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to tend and guard and keep it.’ God requires us to tend, guard and keep nature. Not to exploit and mess it up. The entire creation story is centred on nature. The conservation of nature that is inherent in this creation story should leap from the pages of scripture into our livelihoods and lifestyles.

‘Numbers 33:34 – And you shall not defile the land in which you live, in the midst of which I dwell..’ That pretty much speaks for itself.

‘Deuteronomy7 22:6 – If a bird’s nest should chance to be before you in the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother bird is sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother bird with the young.’ Again, this speaks for itself.

Jesus taught the golden commandment, ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself.’ One holistic way of doing this is to take care of the very earth upon which your neighbour depends on for sustenance.

The Holy Qur’an is also totally clear on environmentalism. Since I am no expert on the Holy Qur’an, I dug up a book known as ‘The Holy Qur’an and the Environment.’ It is published by the Jordan-based Institute for Islamic Thought. As I sipped Rwandan coffee and read the book, some words jumped out of it like a Maasai Mara gazelle and lodged themselves into my mind:

“Unto God belong the East and the West. So wherever ye turn, there is the face of God.” (Al-Baqara, 2:15).

The book went on to further explain this verse, ‘This natural world was created by Him, for His purpose and that in itself confers upon the natural environment a sacredness which must be recognised by all believers. This, then, means that all believers must have the utmost care and respect towards nature.” In 96 pages, the book does a beautiful job of explaining to Muslims why taking care of the environment is a divine duty.

Most of the world’s seven billion people are either Christians or Muslims. If they all listen to the unquestionable words in their respective Holy Books, this world would be a much greener and better place.

Is God green? Yes. He created green and made it clear to us that we should keep it green.

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I last met Wangari Maathai on the evening of July 26 2010 during the screening of her autobiographical movie, ‘Taking Root, the Vision of Wangari Maathai.’ The screening was at the Alliance Francaise auditorium.

We watched as the film vindicated Martin Luther King Jnr’s words that ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.’ As one of the pioneers of the environmental movement not just in Kenya but indeed globally, she achieved environmental justice and in the process social justice. The film laid out this case vividly and convincingly.

The film starts with a serene establishing shot of Mt. Kenya as Wangari Maathai is heard saying that, ‘for generations, that mountain was the inspiration of our people. Everything good came out of the mountain. The rains, the clouds, the fog.’

The images shift to a massive tree followed by a clear stream as Wangari Maathai’s voice-over continues, ‘I grew up in the countryside and as a small young girl, there was a huge tree that was near our homestead, and next to our tree was a stream. My mother told me, do not collect firewood from the fig tree by the stream.’

Her familiar face finally comes on the screen as she continues, ‘I said why? And she said because that tree is the tree of God.’

The film ends with images of villagers hoisting tree seedlings; fully grown indigenous trees with a mountain in the background Wangari’s voice-over during her epic acceptance speech when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, ‘the challenge as I stand here today, is to restore this home for the tadpoles and give back to the children a world of beauty and wonder.’ 

I was the moderator of the post-movie discussion so as soon as the screening ended, I went forward and ushered Wangari Maathai to the stage. She shook my hand and said in her gentle but firm manner, ‘people must not forget where we came from.’

Indeed, when we forget where we came from, we take for granted where we are and lower the bar of where we can be.

For almost an hour, I sat proudly next to her and watched as she engaged both the audience and panelists with her trademark vigor. It was such a refreshing and reinvigorating experience as we collectively walked down memory lane and dissected what that great daughter of Africa had been through.

Although her life is over, her dream of sustainability lives on. Hers was a life that changed democratic space in Kenya and entrenched environmental sustainability into the very heart of global discourse and action.

She achieved so many ground-breaking things during the 71 years of her life. She was the first woman to earn a PHD in East and Central Africa. She started the Green Belt Movement and spoke out about the central role of environment in the society when barely anyone in the world was doing so. But even back then in the seventies, she understood that you cannot separate the earth that we depend on from the world that we live in. Hence she championed both environmental and democratic initiatives.

In 2004, the world at last caught up with her when she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Finally, the world formally acknowledged what she had known all along – that the earth and the world are intertwined. That environmental sustainability must walk hand in hand with social and economic progress. That the environment is a key pillar of peace.

At 10PM on September 25th, Wangari Maathai’s green and life-changing journey came to an end. The world is a better place because of this journey. We must follow her footsteps and practice what we preach. Our own lives must continue changing our world not just through talk, but through action.

And we must also become lions so that we can elect leaders who are lions like her. Although she is the first female president that Kenya never had, she should be an inspiration to the first female president that Kenya will have. She should inspire you to make your own history in your life. You can do that by making every day an opportunity to take a few more steps towards your dream destination. Remember, your dreams are not in some far-off place in the future, they are right there in your heart and mind, just waiting for you to realize them, one step at a time, one day at a time.

This article is an excerpt from my upcoming book, 'Vote of Confidence'

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Wednesday, 19 August 2020 00:00

Riding into the Depths and Heights of Love

“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.” Albert Einstein

Grace’s soapy hands reached for one of the two glasses that she was about to wash. She grasped it then gasped when it slipped right through her fingers. Her attempt to rescue it only hastened its descent. A second later, it shattered into a million pieces. A broken glass.

A few days later, Grace saw her cycling dreams also fall with a resounding thud and shatter. She had been saving for a couple of months to buy a bike and start cycling to work. Then tragedy struck. Muchilwa, a beloved mutual friend of Grace and her then fiancé Pius was hit by a car while cycling along Naivasha Road in Nairobi. He was such a great guy. Gone too soon.

"You have to shelve that plan of cycling to work." Pius told her.

So she diverted the bike funds to other projects. She forgot about cycling to work and cycling as a whole. That was in 2014.

Five years later in 2019, her big brother Bwak bought a bike and started cycling consistently in Karura forest. At first, he cycled for only five kilometers, then 10, then 15, then 25. Then 50 kilometers. Before buying that bike, he didn't even know how to cycle. She used to tease him that he was the forty-year old cycling virgin. Now he was pedalling away like Usain Bolt on two wheels.

“2 wheels + 2 legs = fitness + utter relaxation + sheer joy.” He would tell her. She loved this equation. It reminded her not just of her earlier cycling dreams, but also of her childhood, when she learned to cycle at the age of ten.

Back then, Grace’s main motivation for cycling was so that she could run mama’s errands on a bike. Her mama is an amazing no-nonsense lady.

During holidays when Grace was in the village together with her siblings, her mama would give them all a myriad of daily duties: delivering milk to a dairy distributor that was five kilometers away; fetching water from the river; ferrying twenty kilos of maize to the posho mill for grinding; tilling grumpy, unresponsive land; and many more.

Some of these errands could be run more efficiently with a bike, which is what her brother Jemo and other male cousins used to do. Grace decided that if they could do it, so could she. Her grit pushed her push her short legs all the way to the pedals of a black mamba bike as she learnt how to cycle. Within days, she was also running errands on a bike, the tenacious black mamba, known in Europe and US as Roadster. This bike should receive a Nobel prize for the significant role it has played in rural Africa!

“2 wheels + 2 legs = fitness + utter relaxation + sheer joy.” her brother Bwak told her again in her living room, his wide grin splashed all over his face. He seemed happier about his new-found cycling passion than the rice and beef stew that she had prepared for him. 

“You should meet Ben, the guy I bought my bike from!” he said as he added more beef stew, “he is so passionate about bikes and cycling! He is one of those rare people who is literally earning a decent living from his passion.”

Grace Cycling 3Grace and Her Bike which she named, 'Diamond'That’s the moment Grace decided to buy a bike. But since she never, ever buys anything that hasn't passed through the rigorous conveyor belt of her budget, she decided that she would buy the bike from her Mhasibu sacco dividends, which were due months later. That’s how in April 2020, her dividends came with the tag ‘bike’ attached to them. She then trooped to Ben’s bike place with her husband Pius and bought a bike. She named it Diamond. That way, a girl’s best friend would be a diamond on two wheels.

When Grace rode that bike for the first time the following day, memories of Muchilwa flooded her mind. He was such a great guy. A lover of the outdoors and of people. Gone too soon.

She felt that cycling was also a way of honoring him plus all the thousands of cyclists who ride along Kenya’s roads, tracks and rugged pathways. How she wished that all Kenyan roads especially in Nairobi would have clearly designated cycling lanes. How awesome that would be! President Kenyatta, there is still time to make this part of your legacy...

Two months later, Pius also got his bike from Ben. Something interesting happened after that.

Pius and Grace started cycling together every Saturday, all the way from Muthiga their home to Ndunyu in Dagoretti. There is a section along this route that consists of four steep hills.

The second time when they went for their joint rides was so exhilarating and emotional forGrace Cycling Grace. She was riding down the second hill when she started reflecting on her life. Those sweet childhood memories of running errands on a bike; her days in Buru Buru 1 Primary school where her precious papa taught her Music; those fun-filled teenage years at St. George’s Girls’ Secondary School in Nairobi; her young-adult days at Strathmore where she studied accounts; hiking Mt. Kenya to celebrate her 30th birthday; her wedding to Pius when she had said I do. All these memories trickled into her mind as she pedaled away, up and down those four hills.

As she rode up the final hill, the smiling face of her one-year old baby Adde O.K descended into her mind, as if straight from heaven. Tears started streaming down Grace’s face. That boy was her life. Her very heartbeat. Her dream come true. Her everything. The tears streaming down her face were an overflow of the deep gratitude in her heart. Gratitude to God for holding her hand as she rode through the bumps, valleys, hills and highways of life.

On the third joint ride a week later, Grace and Pius alighted from their bikes at one point to cool off and buy sugarcane from a jovial lady who sold them by the dusty roadside. They realized that this sugarcane was a natural energizer! Besides, the break gave them time to talk about their marriage, their dreams, their kids, the twists and turns of their lives. And so the sugarcane break became a highlight of their rides. Interestingly, those  conversations were relaxing and nourishing, not dry and bitter.

It’s almost impossible to snipe at your spouse when you have just finished panting across four steep hills and are about to repeat that all over again on the ride back! At that sugarcane point, you are celebrating a recent triumph over the hills and anticipating an imminent conquest of those same hills. Your immediate goals are so focused that they leave no room for trivialities to sneak into your mind.

After the sugarcane break, they both mount their bikes and resume the ride. She feels safe with him riding with her. He feels happy when he looks up and sees her two wheels churning in front of him although he doesn’t like how she waves at every cyclist! But that’s his wife. If she could, she would greet every human being that she meets every day.

This couple knows that joint recreational activities create sparks of love and replenish relationships.   

As they ride down the fourth hill, on the ride back home, Grace looks back at her husband and flashes her 1000-watt smile. He smiles back. Their eyes interlock for a moment. Their four wheels witness a moment of intense love that leaves their marriage a little more nourished.

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Monday, 17 August 2020 00:00

Her Chicken Gave Her Strength to Fly

The petite bird, a cinnamon-chested bee-eater, had remained perched on the Elgon Teak tree’s lower branch. It had been there for days. Not normal for a bird. Because birds belong to the sky. God gave them wings to soar high, in the company of a sweet breeze that belongs only to them and the few airplanes that intrude their space.

One morning, God in His wisdom decided to cut the branch that the petite bird had embraced as its home. As the bird was gazing up at the majestic Elgon Teak’s upper branches, it felt a tremor in the branch, then a violent jolt as the branch broke loose and tumbled to the ground.

Ah! The bird exclaimed. What’s happening?! It flapped its wings and flew into the musky forest atmosphere. As the branch hit the moist ground with a thud, the bird flew higher with a whir. Ah! It exclaimed again.

My wings had disappeared into my comfort zone! The bird thought, happy that it was now back into the skies where it belonged.

Liz - Mama Joshua to her neighbors in Tala, or Nashibe to her siblings and parents - had remained perched on a branch for many years. A Hotel Management graduate of Utalii College, she had worked in some of Kenya’s top hotels for more than a decade. Then a little virus in Wuhan found its way to Kenya and to all the four corners of the globe. This little virus halted travel and grounded planes, bringing Liz’s five-star hotel to its knees.

Go home until we call you. The hotel’s management told all staff, Liz among them.

So she went to her adopted home of  Tala, where her husband Mike and her together with their three kids have been living in their farm for almost one year. Unaccustomed to sleeping past 5AM and spending weekdays at home, she had too much time on her hands. She dove into Netflix and swam there for hours. Then one cold morning, a few days into this forced leave, she told herself that, ‘mama didn’t raise me to spend my days doing nothing.’

Although they still had plenty of space in their one-acre compound, she didn’t want to do crop farming because two months earlier in January, the soil had dumped her. That had hurt. In January 2020, urged on by a brand new year, she had decided to follow her husband’s farming footsteps. Although he is not a full-time farmer, the soil fills his heart with joy unspeakable. In fact, one might argue that the half-acre garden in their compound gives him as much ecstasy as the bedroom.

I will buy kales seedlings and plant them. Liz had decided back in January. She went to Kenol in Muranga and bought five-thousand shillings worth of seedlings. The following day, the seedlings had found a home, next to some African Leafy Vegetables that her husband had planted a month earlier. 

The kale seedlings were green and lush. For two nights in a row, she dreamt that they would flourish and fetch her good money. But the rain had other ideas. Although it was January, the rains descended on most of Kenya with fury. It washed away her kale.

Nope. Crop farming is not my cup of tea. Liz sighed.

Should I buy a dairy cow?

For years, this had been a dream of hers. A friesian cow that would live in a corner of the compound, in its own well-stocked shed. Every morning and evening, it would gift them with dozens of liters of milk.

Oh my! She would exclaim as she closed her eyes and imagined the ocean of milk that would be hers to loll and roll in.

Nope. The friesian cow was out of question. It would take too long to give her a return on investments. Besides there wasn’t a reliable place in Tala to sell massive amounts of milk.

Crop farming? Nope. Friesian cow? Nope. What then?

IMG 20200726 WA0008Mr. JacksonSometimes, the answer is right under your nose. For Liz, the answer was Jackson and Sofia. Her husband had bought this cockerel and hen on December 7th 2019. She remembers this day because it was the first birthday of her precious nephew Adde Ochami.

Poultry farming! Liz’s famous brown eyes had lit up. She would do poultry farming.   

Within a week, Mzee Muoki their neighbor had a constructed a poultry shed for her. It became the new home for Jackson and Sofia, the two kienyeji (indigenous) birds that had previously slept in the kitchen.

Now that the two birds had a vastly bigger home, Liz decided that they needed company and bought Angela, a third kienyeji hen. Liz swears that the day Angela strutted into the new poultry shed for the first time, Jackson had completely ignored Sofia. Men!

The three birds were soon joined by two-month old chicks that she bought from neighbors. Thirty in total.

Then death began plucking those chicks, one by one. Just like that, they would drop dead. Only half of them survived. That’s when she decided to start buying one-day old chicks as opposed to two-month old chicks. At two months, they probably came with all manner of diseases.

But where could she get hardy one-day chicks that could face life with grit and determination? How could she ensure that they were pure kienyeji breeds? So many questions!

But for several weeks, these questions were overshadowed by an all-consuming question - would she be laid off by her employer. That Five-Star hotel that she had worked in for five years.

The answer to that big question came via a phone call from Human Resource.

“We are sorry Liz,” the HR lady had said, “you are among those who will be let go.”

Although she had been expecting this, it stung like a bee on steroids. After all, 5 years of her life - that would be 60 months, 240 weeks - had been invested into this glitzy, world-class hotel at Upper Hill. She had spent almost twice as many hours with her colleagues than her husband and her own kids Joshua, Aby and Gabriel. Those colleagues in her department plus many others in other departments, were like family. Her second family. And now, that family had been torn asunder by corona virus.

Actually, there was another way to look at it. She realized that God had broken the branch that she had been perching on. Just like the petite bird on the Elgon Teak tree, she could now fly. Which is exactly what she is doing now.

Jackson, Sofia and Angela are still pecking away their days at her farm. Together with them are 150 other hens, and counting. Many of them are from the sasso breed. It is a duo purpose breed which can be used for both eggs and meat.

These 150+ chicken sleep in three poultry sheds like one big happy family. In the morning, they are free to roam the large compound, pecking and flirting as they wish.

IMG 20200817 WA0018A Big Happy Family

Liz now has an incubator that will be spitting out dozens of chicks every 21 days, so her poultry family is poised to grow bigger and bigger.

Her many poultry questions were initially answered through the numerous poultry Facebook groups that she joined. But these days, they are mostly answered by Warren Wabuko, a young University Student from Nakuru who guides kienyeji poultry farmers. His goal is to transform their poultry stumbles into confident strides.

Despite his tender age, Warren is an experienced and passionate expert poultry farmer who has tapped into digital platforms to galvanize informed kienyeji poultry farming. Liz has plugged into this poultry fellowship and is not looking back.

“I want my chicks to eventually fly around the world,” Liz says, her brown eyes bristling with determination, “I want to eventually sell thousands of my chicken to a global market.”

Jackson cackles in agreement then runs after Sofia.

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Sunday, 16 August 2020 00:00

Waves of Health, Relaxation and Jobs

I kept going. The butterfly stroke was even sweeter and smoother in the Indian Ocean as compared to a swimming pool. The ocean breeze was penetrating through my brown eyes into my mind, stilling it. Peace of mind. The two-feet waves were carrying me gently, as if I was a fluffy feather, not an 80-kilo man who had just devoured buffet breakfast with passion and urgency.It was the first day of a marine ecosystem conference that I was attending and I had decided to squeeze in a swim before the plenary session.

I kept going, without a care in the world. After almost twenty minutes, a particularly high wave reminded me that I wasn't a marine mammal, jolting my mind back to earth. I suddenly realized that I must have swam rather deep into the ocean. A quick glance behind me proved that indeed, I had wandered too far. The Indian Ocean Beach Resort that I was staying in had become so small that I could barely see the people on the beach. My instincts pressed on the panic button but my mind reminded them that panic doesn’t mix well with ocean waves. So I took a U-turn engaged a higher swimming gear and started racing back to the shoreline.  

The ocean has a unique ability to trigger utter relaxation that erases time and distance.

According to Richard Shuster a clinical psychologist, ‘staring at the ocean actually changes our brain waves’ frequency and puts us into a mild meditative state.’ Staring at the traffic jam or those concrete walls outside your office doesn’t have a similar effect. That ebb and flow of waves also relaxes our brain. No wonder I kept going for more than a kilometre without realizing it.

The gentle roar of the waves is like a balm trickling into the mind and leaving in its trail a soothing effect. The sight of those waves, dancing to the tune of the breeze, reflected the sunset’s sleepy rays, pours into you yet another balm that goes straight to the heart.

But at night, these waves wear a different personality altogether. Just ask twenty-four year old Fauz from Kiunga, the northern-most part of Kenya’s coast.

Many people know the roar of a lion but few have heard of, or listened to the raucous roar of a night-time ocean wave. It is unrelenting. Think of a sneeze that keeps on coming. That’s how that roar sounds and feels like. It is scary. Think back to that lion, charging at you for seven straight hours. Non-stop. Like a train whose brakes have failed. That is how the waves behave during most nights when Fauz is out fishing.

Indian Ocean has been Fauz's constant companion for the two decades he has been in this world. But unlike domestic and international tourists who only know the serenity of the Ocean’s shallow waters, Fauz knows the roaring, raging side of the deep ocean.

WhatsApp Image 20160721 2Tonight, he is back in the deeps, together with three other fishermen. He sits at the front of the boat, eyes alert hands tugging at the net. A wave roars and slams into the boat, sending it to its crest where it lingers for a few moments before plunging back for several metres. All this time, Fauz continues holding the net tightly. He can feel the fish fill it. This fills his young heart with joy so loud that it dims the waves’ roar.

Unfortunately, the artisanal, small scale fishery that most fishermen at the coast engage in shall never roar economically. They are doomed to the uncertainities of artisanal fishery. If they only they could venture into the truly deeper waters, they would discover the Ocean's generosity. But they can't plough into those deep waters because it takes a deep sea fishing vessel to do so.

Thankfully, they may just be able to do so soon. World Bank has given the Kenya Government a concessional loan worth Ksh10 billion (US$93.65m) to promote investment and good governance in the fisheries sector. A substantial chunk of these funds will be used to move 13,000 small scale fishers from artisanal, shallow water fishing to the deeper, more generous waters.

Young fishers like Fauz deserve to earn a decent livelihood from the ocean whose waves they ride fearlessly and tirelessly. Lets help them to go to the deeps and smile all the way to the bank.

Indeed, that roar of waves, shouldn’t just soothe the mind or excite the heart, it should also create thousands of jobs.

In the words of Bwak the Bantu Poet, ‘those who ride a wave consistently soar to a better place.’ A better place where peace of mind and jobs reigns supreme. Lets find that place and unlock the blue economy that lives there.

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Saturday, 15 August 2020 00:00

The Trees of Health and Joy

That Silver Oak tree in Karura Forest was partly responsible for my brand new weight of 82 kilos. Just five months earlier in February 2020, my weight had ballooned back to 95 kilos, causing me to resemble a buffalo. A balding buffalo.

One morning in late February, I had walked into my home office to continue writing my latest book, ‘The Fallen Tree.’ After sitting at my desk, I glanced up at the king-size mirror on one of the walls and it revealed a stranger. For a few moments, I wondered how that fat guy in the mirror had sneaked into my office! Then I realized with both amusement and a sinking feeling that the fat guy was me. I was no longer the toned leopard that I had become less than a year earlier but had instead metamorphosed into a buffalo. I wasn’t a hippo yet, but I was sprinting towards that direction.

Funny how kilos sneak into our bodies through innocent grams. Before you know it, you are one kilo heavier, then ten kilos heavier. The horizontal growth keeps surging on. That’s what had happened to me. After losing seventeen kilos two years earlier from an all-time high of 99 kilos in 2015 to 82 kilos in 2017, I had somehow slid back to 95 kilos. In early March when the coronavirus pandemic flooded into Kenya and shut down the country, I decided that I would use this national hibernation to get back into shape. The choice was clear – Leopard or hippo.

Karura Forest was going to be a major enabler of this resolution. Its earthen trails, whistling shrubs and waving trees created a serene atmosphere that was perfect for revamped cycling. And so I dusted Moja, my bike, oiled it and started 40-kilometer long weekly cycling sessions in Karura and 12-kilometer long morning runs three times a week. I also gave up dinner completely and replaced sugar with honey. Should you choose to revamp your workout and diet, start small and be consistent.

Thank you. I whispered to the Silver Oak tree. Because of you and the hundreds of other trees in this 2,570 acre Karura Forest, I have been drawn to cycle here regularly. And that is one of the reasons why the buffalo has slowly but gradually walked away from my body. The leopard is now clawing back. Oh, the sweet agility of a leopard. It doesn’t lumber from side to side like a buffalo, it strides, moving like an eagle on ground.

Do you want to lose weight, replenish your energy, refresh your spirit, reset your mind or to simply keep fit? Just fall in love with nature. Go for long walks in the forest and hike the hills. Climb Mt Longonot, Mt Kenya or any hill that will trees of joy 3challenge your legs. Kiss the 5AM breeze through morning runs or morning walks. If you are not into running like my sister Nashibe, grab a jembe, walk to the farm and plant some food. Plant amaranth (mchicha) or any of those deeply nutritious African leafy vegetables. Just plant your heart’s desire, then weed, tend to the farm and harvest. Kiss the soil and it will reward you, not just with fresh food, but also a fresh body. That’s what my brother Mpasua did. His weight had also climbed into the 90s. Then he dove back into farming, the love of his life. Now he is 78 kilos.

But whether you farm, run, walk or cycle; whatever the vigorous physical activity you will embrace, watch what you eat.

Don’t starve yourself, just go slow on oil, starch and processed sugar. These three are Siamese twins with grams. They will sneak into your body extra grams. No need to stuff yourself with two plates of white rice when one can do. And you don’t have to fill that one plate to the brim; rice will not cease to exist tomorrow. In the words of Bwak the Bantu poet, ‘food portions are the magic potion of weight control.’ So for the Luhyas in the house, there is no scriptural requirement for you to devour ugali that is bigger than your fist. At least not daily!

To all of us, it is not inscribed into our DNA that ‘thou shall dine on bread every morning.’ There are one hundred different ways to cook much healthier, more delicious breakfast options of sweet potatoes, cassava, arrowroots, yams and such natural carbs.

If you are like me and are deeply in love with bread, mahamri or any of their wheat siblings, you can always reward yourselves with such sizzling delights over the weekend! That’s what I do, so weekend is a great time to visit.

There are those who believe like my friend Mulhat that ‘maisha ni fupi, kula utakacho!’ Life is short so eat whatever you want! Indeed, nobody should put a barrier in front of your tongue. But just remember that physically speaking you are exactly what you eat. Mentally, you are what you think.

You are ultimately the steward of your life, so steer it well because God entrusted it to you. Your body is a major part of that life. Actually, your body is the physical vessel of your life. So make your body the best possible version of your body. But have fun as you do so!

The Silver Oak, Nile Tulip and all other trees out there can help you to replenish your body. Nature is your natural ally. Embrace it and don’t let go. 

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