DJ Bwakali

DJ Bwakali

Thursday, 26 March 2020 00:00

Love in the Time of Corona - Baby Raúl

Take a glance at this photo. You will notice that baby Raúl’s left hand is grabbing the white plastic frame of a plastic groceries holder. Now look at the photo more carefully. You will notice that he has his eyes set on something. Probably the onion that is visible in the photo. Or the tomatoes that are unseen because their ripe red color appeals to his baby senses. Whatever his eyes are set upon, he will grab it shortly and push it towards his lips. Now look behind baby Raúl’s little blue seat. Do you see that black water container? Take note of that.

Every time Baby Raúl grabs items or crawls on the floor, his palms come in contact with thousands of bacteria and viruses that hike a ride to his lips, eyes, ears or whichever part of the body those palms will land in the course of his baby adventures. Take note of this. Now lets move on the Emperor known as Public Health.

The emperor is naked. And it’s not a pretty sight. Not because of the wrinkles stretching across his body, because wrinkles are in fact the crown jewels of old age. Rather, the emperor’s naked body reveals fatal flaws that have been leading to death in Kenya long before Corona virus came calling. For too long, we have been indifferent to the sorry state of Kenya’s public health. Consequently, we have paid a heavy price.

As we wash our hands, we need to WASH, period. Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) is an antidote to disease and death. Here’s why.

If you dig into the mountain of data compiled by the Kenya Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), you will unearth a shocking statistic – In 2018, 1.4 million kids aged below five years suffered from diarrhea. For those aged above five years, running stomachs ravaged 1.5 million Kenyans. Tragically, many of the kids didn’t live to see another sunrise. They died.

We spend only 0.2 per cent of our GDP on sanitation. Consequently, our babies are dying from diarrhea. Almost half of the deaths of children aged below five are because of diarrhea. That’s crazy, right? Crazy and unacceptable. But in reality, we are the crazy ones for allowing WASH deficiencies to continue paving the way for viruses and bacteria to reign supreme.

Viruses are microscopic parasites, generally much smaller than bacteria.

A corona virus is 30,000 nucleotides long and nanometers wide. Say what? Let me repeat in plain English. It takes 800 of these viruses to fit into the width of a human hair. Talk of something so small having such a big impact on the world! Because they are so small, we can’t see them. But we can definitely feel their impact! Luckily, we have two allies that can help us to land a deadly blow on these viruses before they kill us – soap and water. But the only way of enlisting these two into our defense is through handwashing.

Baby Raúl is counting on us to wash our hands, his hands and Kenya’s hands through a revamped WASH strategy in the country. This means, among other things, ensuring that the water container behind baby Raúl’s chair is always full of water. Millions of Kenyans don't even have regular access to clean drinking water. For them, handwashing may appear like a luxury even though it's not. It's a matter of life and death.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020 00:00

Mida Creek's Three Little White Birds

The Mida Creek boardwalk was rickety, swaying from side to side as Alex and I walked over it. Although Alex was striding along, my walk was more like a shuffle of a drunk hippo. The boardwalk was lined with two sturdy ropes on either side. Although I was grabbing them tightly for my balance, it didn’t help that the planks of the boardwalk that I was walking on were not evenly spaced. Adding to the drama, the planks were enjoined on two thick wires that that kept swaying with every step. Every time my feet stepped gingerly onto a plank, it felt as if I would tumble into the shimmering ocean water beneath. Growing majestically from the water were hundreds of mangrove trees.

Alex was a good friend and a staff of A Rocha Kenya, the organisation that managed the boardwalk. He was guiding me along the boardwalk, dropping the names of birds and mangrove trees as if they were his children.

I could see my long shadow in the ocean waters, shyly following me as if it would rather remain behind and swim towards the mangroves. The combination of the mangrove leaves’ green color and the ocean water’s blue color was such a joy to behold that I stood in awe. 

After fifteen nerve-wracking minutes of hippo-walking on the narrow boardwalk, we arrived at the T-shaped end. Here, the planks were hammered into wood, not wire. The resultant stability was quite refreshing.

The entire creek was laid out bare before me. I leaned on the wooden railing and feasted on the incredible sights. What joy! On my left, the mangrove forest lined the entire shoreline. Bundles of fluffy clouds seemed to dangle quite low. If the mangroves could stretch, they would touch those clouds. On the right, was a wider swathe of the ocean. It unfolded like a blue Persian carpet. A dugout canoe stood immobile in the distance. There was nobody in it, making me wonder how it had gotten to the middle of the ocean in the first place. 

This final part of the boardwalk was an absolute haven of bliss. Jutting through the lower left railing were mangrove leaves that seemed to be basking on the dry boardwalk. Across the leaves, barely a meter away, was the shadow of the right railing. It left artistic patterns on the planks. I sat down here, leaned on the railings and gazed at the sprawling ocean. I imagined how centuries earlier, Portuguesse and Arabian ships had probably sailed in these very waters. Unfortunately, some of these ships ferried away slaves whose descendants now lived somewhere in South America or North America. They would never know the joy of sitting right in the middle of Mida Creek and whispering sweet nothings to the salty sea breeze.

I closed my eyes and opened my mouth wide so that I could literally taste that delicious breeze. Oh God. I whispered silently as I opened my eyes to see three little white birds - probably little egrets - landing gently on the wooden railing of the boardwalk. I smiled at them and they chirped merrily.

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I never thought that I would leap from bed one morning right into the arms of the year 2020. Yet that is exactly what happened that bright, first morning of this unique ‘double 20 year.’

Twenty years ago during the dawn of the new millennium in the year 2000, my mind had never wrapped itself around the reality of 2020, which seemed to be far off on the horizon at the time. Yet here we are, in the bosom of 2020.

I shared the final lunch of the year with Lenny and Sunil, the young couple that has now been sailing in the ocean of marriage for a year. As I caught up with Lenny who had just returned from Hungary for holiday, Sunil stirred a pot of divine beef gravy as she sneaked in and out of my conversation with her husband.

“Traveling opens one’s mind,” he said as he forked a piece of meat on his plate and thrust it into his mouth. He told me about a professor of his who had challenged him to think harder. The Hungarian professor had a habit of looking into his eyes and posing provoking questions like the real origin of Christmas day and why many African countries wallow in poverty despite the religious strength of citizens of those countries.

Such is the deep conversation that accompanied every bite that we took. Almost one hour later, empty plates were dispatched to the kitchenette adjacent to the living room then we sank deeper into this conversation for the entire afternoon and early evening. Then I drove home and switched off my phone. I always love to cross into a new year alone, in the deep embrace of silence.

Just like that, we are twenty years deep into a new millennium. People like my friend and little sister Glory, who were born at the stroke of the new millennium, are now twenty years old. Adults. People like me, who were born when the seventies were screeching to a halt, are now on the right side of forty. Time is flying much faster than the Kenya Airways Boeing 787-8 - Dreamliner jet. But where exactly is time flying towards? What drives time? Answers to these two questions may not be crystal clear, but one thing is certain - we should all be the focused drivers of our time, not just passengers. We should steer our days towards our goals, not just sit there and see where our days will lead us to.

Leo Tolstoy, the bearded nineteenth century Russian writer once said that, “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” This means that time is a warrior that can fight either for or against you. In November 2019, I flew on a Kenya Airways dreamliner from Johannesburg to Nairobi. Our Pilot was Captain Kimani. He flew the 118 tonne bird (the weight of 80 cars) to Nairobi, not Dakar or Dubai. When you are the captain of your time who knows where you are going, time will fight for you, not against you.

More than two hundred years ago, Benjamin Franklin, one of the founding fathers of USA declared that, “Time is money.” This means that wasting time puts you in the same category with a bank robber. In the US, Kirk Radke a private equity and corporate lawyer charges clients 1,250 US Dollars per hour. Think about that the next time you waste a whole hour. But more than money, your hour is your life so when you waste it, you are literally wasting your life. Don’t waste your life in 2020.

Theophrastus the ancient Greek philosopher declared that, “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” We may not all have much money but as long as we are alive, we all have time, which makes us equal. Life hands us all twenty four hours in a day. How we spend those hours is what differs. Eliud Kipchoge, the greatest marathoner of all time, spends many of those hours running in the dusty, scenic paths of the Great Rift Valley. No wonder he is the greatest long distance runner of all time. Jimmi Hendrix often spent more than twelve hours practicing the guitar. No wonder he was the greatest guitarist of all time. Invest your twenty-four hours wisely and consistently. That investment will lead you gradually to greatness in whatever you are investing that time in.

Stephen R. Covey the famous American author elaborated further, “the key is in not spending time, but in investing it.”

Bwak the Bantu Poet, put it plainly, “yesterday is gone, it’s no more. Tomorrow will come, it’s not yet. All you have is now. Give it your all.”

2020 is here and it’s all we have because 2019 is gone and 2021 is not yet here. Let us use 2020 as our very own dreamliner jet that we shall fly into realization of our dreams. May God help us to do so.

African countries don’t buy products from each other as much as they should be doing. A new economic pan-Africanism should rise like a bright sun whose light cannot be stopped.

On May 8th 1996, Thabo Mbeki, the then Deputy President of South Africa, gave one of the most memorable speeches on pan-Africanism.

He began his speech by unfolding his fingers, casting an intense look at his audience and declaring three simple and powerful words, “I am an African.” He paused, allowing applause to flow through the room like the Zambezi River, then continued, “I owe my being to the hills and the valleys, the mountains and the glades, the rivers, the deserts, the trees, the flowers, the seas and the ever-changing seasons that define the face of our native land.”

The then President Nelson Mandela, the one man that the entire continent looks at as their very own, was looking on like a proud father As Thabo Mbeki uttered those words. I am an African. I am also an African. My passport may recognize me as a Kenyan but my genes recognize me as an African.

55Dazzling Maasai Sandals from KenyaIt makes sense that Thabo Mbeki used natural resources to emphasize his African being.  Indeed, transboundary natural resources are scattered all over Africa. These resources transcend boundaries, and are not restricted by them. Think of Zambezi River, Africa’s fourth longest river. It begins its epic journey in the wetlands of Mwinilunga District of north-western Zambia. Before its journey ends in the Indian Ocean, the Zambezi powers through Zimbabwe, Angola, Namibia, Botswana and Mozambique.

In 2018 and 2019, I had a first-hand experience of Africa’s border-defying transboundary resources and immense pan-African potential.  During this period, I was the Coordinating Lead Author of a historic United Nations Environment Programme’s Youth Publication known as Global Environment Outlook (GEO-6) for Youth, Africa: A Wealth of Green Opportunities. You can download the book in the link below:


More than one hundred young African writers, photographers and reviewers from at least thirty African countries contributed to this Publication.

This experience of producing this Publication proved that it is possible for Africans to follow the example of the Zambezi plus other great African rivers and unify efforts across borders. Our national borders should only exist in maps, not in our minds. After all, we are all Africans.

In 2005 when I was still in my twenties, I was consumed by a desire to be part of the solution, not the problem. That year, I founded Sasafrica Productions, a company whose vision was to ‘unveil Africa.’ Together with a team of nearly 30 staff and associates, we wanted to showcase to the world and to fellow Africans the beauty of Africa. We did these through short films acted by young talented actors from Kibera, Nairobi’s biggest slum. In later years, Sasafrica Productions integrated other media into its African storytelling quest. We began helping clients to use audio, poetry, short stories, book writing and strategic communications in their storytelling. Being a writer myself, I even travelled to Nigeria for three months to research on and write a book about one of the early founders of the Young Women Christian Association in Nigeria.

I later travelled to nearly twenty African countries, which left me with a much deeper appreciation of Africa’s common heritage and shared future. It is because of this that in 2017, I founded Sasafrica.Shop, an E-commerce website that prides itself as Africa’s first ever online marketplace for African products. The goal is to ensure the extensive sale of African products on the global market and within Africa.

I am convinced that for our shared African future to be much brighter, we need to trade a lot more with each other. It is a shame that many African countries trade more with their former colonial masters than with fellow African countries. Although Africa produces far fewer industrialized goods than the West, we are overflowing with millions of cultural, ornamental, fashion and agricultural products that we can sell to each other. Such are the products that Sasafrica.Shop is showcasing, thus opening a regional and global market for the greatly talented craftsmen and craftswomen who make them.

If it is made in Africa; if it depicts the soul of Africa; if it oozes the passion of Africans; if it is handcrafted by talented African hands; you will find it at Sasafrica.Shop. A good example of high quality African products that are becoming popular across the continent are the Kenyan produced Maasai Sandals, also known as Swahili sandals. These sandals are a fusion of real leather and elaborately handwoven beadwork. They are mostly made in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and Malindi, a coastal city. Through Sasafrica.Shop, we have been able to sell these sandals to USA, Canada, United Kingdom, Germany and other European countries. Ironically, it initially proved difficult to sell the sandals to fellow African countries due to the high air shipping charges.

Fortunately, earlier this year, we discovered parcel delivery trucks and vans that travel all the way from Kenya to South Africa. Drivers of these trucks and vans are the unsung Ankara Jeans Rucksack 5Ankara Rucksack from Kenyaheroes of trade within Africa.  They endure long days and nights on the road, cumbersome border agents and unpredictable weather, to deliver goods to countries in eastern and southern Africa. Because their charges are quite affordable, it has now become possible for us to ship maasai sandals, Ankara bags, Rwandan uduseke basket, brass jewelry and other African products to countries like Zambia, Malawi, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa. Our goal is for great African products from those Southern African countries to also take full advantage of the East African market.  The more these products reach a wider market on the continent, the more the people who are on the value chain of their production will benefit economically.

Although the distance between Nairobi, Kenya and Windhoek, Namibia, is 4,000 kilometers, this shouldn’t stop entrepreneurs from the two countries from trading with each other. We are therefore making it possible for traders in Namibia to buy Kenyan products like the maasai sandals, then sell them within Namibia. In the same vein, even Namibians who just want to buy and use them without necessarily selling them, should be able to do so at the click of a button. Either way, distance between African countries should not be a barrier for trade between people from those countries.

Time is ripe for economic pan-Africanism to take root and flourish. Thankfully, African policy makers are finally catching up with African traders who have been trading across borders for centuries. The African Continental Free Trade Area Agreement (AfCFTA) is committing African countries to remove tariffs on 90 percent of goods. Our presidents should prioritize the operationalizing of this historic agreement so that Africans can trade freely. If that happens, Africa’s market of over 1 billion consumers and a total GDP of over $3 trillion will turn Africa into the largest free trade area in the world!

We are therefore going to begin highlighting which African countries have operationalized AfCFTA, and which ones are dragging their feet.

But we are not going to just sit and wait for policy makers. Instead, we choose to follow the example of Zambezi River and ensure that amazing African products can flow all the way from Eastern Africa to Southern Africa. More than that, awesome African products from each of the continent’s 54 countries should be able to be sold freely and easily all across the continent.

At Sasafrica.Shop, we are committed to ensure that this happens sooner rather than later.

David John Bwakali, Sasafrica CEO

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Whatsapp Number: +254732979318

Sunday, 22 December 2019 00:00

Finding Freedom in a Turkana Desert

The white goat next to me was looking at me with sympathy. Am serious. Its hollow eyes were staring down at me with a clear 'poor guy' look.

I was sitting cross legged, leaning on the rough metallic walls of the truck. In the center of the truck were nearly thirty goats that were being transported from one remote Turkana village to another even more remote village. I was on my way to Kaikor to lay the groundwork of a work camp for international volunteers. Together with me was Samuel, the then Director of Kenya Voluntary Development Association, where I was volunteering at the time.

My pale eyes were struggling to stay open. I raised my dusty right hand and placed it on my equally dusty forehead. It was almost as if it was in an open air oven. My fever was sky high. All my joints felt as if someone was hammering them into pain with every passing minute. It didn't help matters that the truck had to make its own road as it roared on. There was no road or even footpath, so we were just romping along the wide, cracked and angry desert terrain. It was by far the bumpiest ride that I had ever experienced in the twenty-two years of my life.

Strangely, even though I was under the attack of malaria and sitting on the truck’s hot, dusty floor next to anxious, bleating goats, I felt free. Where else can you sit cross-legged next to an army of goats? Here, there was no etiquette to adhere to. I could just be myself. It is no wonder that Samuel my colleague was actually sleeping in the midst of the bumpy ride and bleating goats. His balding head was resting on his arms that were in turn resting on his knees. Every bump would throw his head an inch higher, so it was as if he kept nodding in his sleep. At one point, a large black goat with sharp horns approached him and surveyed him, wondering who could afford to sleep in such circumstances!

After a ten-hour ride from Lodwar, we finally arrived in Kaikor village, the venue of the forthcoming work camp. It had taken us ten hours to cover a distance of 160 kilometers! This was by far the slowest, yet most exciting road trip that I had ever taken.

Every bone in my body creaked as I stood up and descended from the truck. When I set foot into Turkana for the first time ever, I felt free. It was dusk and in the far distance, as far as my pale brown eyes could see, there was nothing but rocks, sand and the occasional thorn tree. I felt like taking a walk into this inviting desert and spending the night under a thorn tree. But all I could do at that time was to slither into a traditional mud-walled Turkana house and attempt to sleep in the midst of my malaria.

My head disappeared into a thin, bare mattress that was soon absorbing liters of my sweat. The only sound I could hear was the whistling nighttime breeze that was surprisingly cold.

The following morning, I did what I had wanted to do the previous evening. Despite my aching joints, I trudged towards a thorn tree that I could see in the distance. I was wearing akala, the open sandals that are made from car tyre. My sleeveless green top was still spotless but I knew that it would be quite dusty within minutes. Although it was only 9AM, the sun was blazing, the heat stifling. It didn't help that my fever was still high and I hadn't taken any medicine because the nearby Kaikor clinic had run out of malaria drugs.

Sweating profusely, partly because of the fever and partly because of the heat, I leaned on a lanky thorn tree and looked around me. Rocks. Small, rocks and big rocks. They dotted the sea of sand that was everywhere. It felt as if I could walk for months and see nothing but the rocks and sand. There would be no television to steal my attention and no internet to devour my time. I would be free from all mechanical things and just lie in the bosom of nature.

I would even be free from time itself.

I bent low and picked a small smooth stone. I knew that scattered for hundreds of kilometers all around me were such small stones. Some of them were smooth like a baby’s skin while others were rough with pimples all around them. I scooped two such rough stones and squeezed them into the palm of my right hand. It felt as if they were squeezing me back. At that moment, it was just me, two small rough stones, a thorn tree and the embrace of a desert.

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Saturday, 21 December 2019 00:00

Hibiscus and Honey Vibes

“Make sure you try bissap, a unique soft drink that they make from hibiscus flower.” I told my friend Retha. She was in Senegal for a meeting and I had taken it upon myself to give her tips since I had also visited Senegal earlier.

“I already drank it last night and it was so nice.” She said, and I envied her. Although the last time I drank hibiscus was more than ten years earlier during my sole visit to Senegal, I still had fresh memories of its lusty sweetness.

“You know, we have hibiscus tea in Kenya,” Retha said, interrupting my memories.


“Yes, you can find it in Naivas.”

One hour later, I was at Naivas, hunting for hibiscus tea.

DakarWith my Fulani Malaika in Dakar, SenegalHibiscus became a household name in my mind after I read Chimamanda Adichie’s ‘Purple Hibiscus.’ I enjoyed the book even though I don’t remember much of it. More importantly, the book introduced me to Chimamanda and I have remained a loyal fan since then.

Did you know that the first tree seedlings were first planted in Kenya in 1903 by GWL Caine? But it took more than two decades for tea to be grown commercially for the first time in 1926. During these first four decades of the 20th century, most Kenyans took neither tea, nor sugar. Breakfasts mostly consisted of millet or sorghum porridge with tubers like cassava and arrowroots serving as accompaniments. Although coffee had first been planted in Kenya almost a decade before tea at Bura, Taita hills in 1893, it was also not a common feature during Kenyan breakfast meals.

Like most Kenyans, I have consumed hundreds of liters of tea. My mama drinks tea not just in the mornings, but also at night after dinner. Without fail. She seems to have passed on those genes to me, because I was in the habit of doing that until I learned that all that sugar I was dumping into my body wasn’t going to do me much good.

Talking of sugar, my papa vaguely remembers the period in the late1940S when sugar was introduced to our village. Until then, people were happily drinking porridge with zero sugar. Occasionally, they would use honey to sweeten it. This immensely healthy sugarless life was the norm all across Kenya and Africa.

It may not be possible to turn back the hand of time and return to the pre-sugar period, but we can definitely popularize honey. That will channel some billions away from the sugar sector to the honey sector, which will drastically lift the livelihoods of thousands of people on honey-rich places like Baringo in Kenya’s Great Rift Valley. Just as important, the health of millions will receive a major boost.

While we are at it, let us also consume more hibiscus beverages because they are healthier than tea or coffee. It might taste strange at first, but trust me, you will get used. Just as you will get used to the natural sweetness of honey as opposed to the processed sweetness of sugar. Okay honey? 

Saturday, 07 December 2019 00:00

Kissing the Ground in Karura Forest

I am on fire today. My running pants are tucked into black socks, which makes me look really goofy. I started tucking in two months ago after the lower edges of my trouser became occasionally entangled in my bike’s pedals while I was cycling. The first time this happened, I almost fell of the bike which left my heart racing faster than it had during cycling.

I am not on fire today because of this tucked in look. Rather, am on fire because I am cycling on a new route. I feel like am the first person ever on this route, which puts me in the same league with Christopher Columbus, who discovered America even though American Indians had lived there for centuries.

I didn’t even know that this cycling trail existed until fifteen minutes earlier. Although I was going up a rather steep hill, I was still on my bike determined to keep going for as long as I could. On my right was a dense thicket and a smattering of trees. On my left was a wall beyond which was a residential estate. A few meters ahead of me, I saw a rocky patch of the footpath.

My legs are also on fire now. And not the fire of enthusiasm that was still coursing through my veins because of this cycling trail’s discovery. No, my legs are on fire because for nearly one hundred meters, I have been cycling up the hill. It feels as if I am totally spent, with every energy reserve in my body almost gone. But I can’t stop now. I have to soldier on until am done with this ascent.

Should I get off and walk along that rocky patch though? Just the rocky patch then I continue cycling. Nope. That would mean that I didn’t cycle for the entire uphill stretch without getting off the bike. Then I would not be able to brag to her. As these thoughts race through my mind, I step harder on the pedals. Harder, but not faster. This is when I reach the rocky patch. Harder. Thump! One moment I was high, up on the bike. The next minute I was low down, kissing the ground after my bike skid on the smooth rock and fell. Pain instantly bit every inch of my body.

Bwak the Bantu poet once said of ego, ‘like thunder, it is constantly striking the hearts of men.’ Ego struck me even when I was right in the midst of pain and I shot to my feet instantly. I couldn’t imagine cyclists or joggers finding both me and my bike lying on the ground.

Are you ok? Is there anything we can do? Did you trip or something? It happened to me too.

Such are the comments that I want to avoid completely. So as soon am on my feet, I also lift the bike upright, on the edge of the trail. At that point I feel the pain slicing through my left knee so I sit on a rock besides the bike. If someone comes along at this time, they will think that am just taking a short break, not recovering from a heavy fall.

It occurred to me during those few seconds that was down on the ground that in life, we fall many times and often decide to remain down for extended periods of time. What we should do is to stand up, dust ourselves, learn from our mistakes and keep living.

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Friday, 06 December 2019 00:00

Running 10k with Eliud in Mind

‘I will walk for most of the 12 kilometers and just run a little bit here and there. That’s because I have not run for the last one week since I was suffering from malaria. I finished my medication - Dihydroartemisinin+Piperaquine (P-Alaxin) two days ago and I feel fine now.’

These thoughts were running through my mind as I fist-bumped Kim the security guard and stepped out of the main gate of our court. The cold was biting so hard that I wondered if it had been sent.

I walked at an average speed along the dirt road, turned right to another dirt road and then onto the tarmac. ‘I think I should run a bit.’ So I started running at a slow jog. My Nike running shoes  began making a staccato sound as they hit the tarmac. My 88 kilos were unhappy about this transition from walking to running but I shut down their protest.

‘I will run for a couple of minutes until the first junction on rhino road.’ But when I reached the said junction, I decided to continue running. My legs felt strong, and my heart wasn’t thumping, thanks to the slow speed. ‘I should probably run until Kifaru Primary School, then start walking from there.’

But when I reached Kifaru Primary school, my legs were still feeling good. In fact, I was now seeing Eliud Kipchoge in my mind. I could see him swinging his arm above his chest as he ran along Vienna's Prater Park. I saw his sleeveless white top and the Nike Pro Arm Sleeves and swung my own sleeves-less arms happily.

There was a time not too long ago when I used to detest the arm swing of my running style - I swing my arm in the upper body, not the lower body and for some reason, I thought that wasn’t cool. Then one morning, again not too long ago, I was browsing through YouTube when I came across Kipchoge’s Berlin marathon, the one he broke the world record. I noticed that his arm swing was also in the upper part of his torso, just like me. Great! So now I have embraced my running style fully.

‘I will run until Mama Lucy Hospital, then I can walk from there.’ But after running past the matatu stage in Umoja 2 where colorful matatus were queuing as if in a wedding reception, my feet were still feeling strong, my heart rate still manageable. When I hit the Usain stretch and continued running comfortably, another thought flowed into my mind. ‘I can actually run all the way to Komarock and back home, without slowing down to walk!’ And so I decided to act on this thought. I decided that for the first time in more than a year, I would run at least 10k without stopping or slowing down to walk. 10k is one quarter of a marathon, and I had last run such a distance without stopping back in 2017, when my running was at its peak.

It’s funny how a victory won in the mind can materialize into an actual victory outside the mind. Ordinarily, running the entire Kangundo Road stretch from the Mama Lucy junction is a big breakthrough. But this morning, because my mind had already hooked itself to running the entire 12k from Tena to Komarock and back, I felt like I was just gliding along. I made it. I ran the entire 12k without stopping. Yet this was after a one-week absence from running and two days after recovering from malaria. Of course my speed of 7.39 mins/km was quite slow, but hey, it’s one step at a time.

As Bwak the Bantu poet wrote, ‘one small step forward gets you closer to your destination.’

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Thursday, 05 December 2019 00:00

Running with Kadzo

Think of your favorite gospel musician.

Is it the timeless Don Moen, whose soothing voice has filled many living rooms and churches over the last few decades?

Or is it Travis Greene whose song, ‘He made a Way’ has become a contemporary classic? Or maybe the Hillsong worship team, whose live songs can leave you feeling like you are literally rising to heaven?

For me, it will always be Keith Green, whose CDs, purchased more than ten years ago at South Africa’s O.R Tambo International Airport, are among my most prized possessions. His song, ‘I make my life a prayer to you,’ brought tears to my eyes on numerous occasions. He was an insanely talented pianist who would bang his fingers into the piano keys as if they were drums. He would do that even as he sang with such gusto that it felt as if he was pouring his entire life into every song. He tragically died in a plane crash at only 28 years.

One day, the name Sunil Kadzo Hamisi may just be among the list of your favorite gospel musicians. This 27-year-old lady from Malindi is a cousin-friend of mine and currently one of the worship team members at Nairobi Chapel. I have been a fan of her music for more than a decade. Yes, that’s how long she has been singing.

On 12th October, 2019, the same day that Eliud Kipchoge became the first human to run the marathon in less than two hours, I ran with her in Karura Forest. Well, more accurately, I cycled for ten kilometers alone then walked with her for six kilometers. She did run for the final sixth kilomter, but boy was she tired! What matters though is that she took the first step towards either running or walking regularly. As Bwak the Bantu poet always says, ‘even one small step forward takes you closer to your destination.’

sunil karuraShe was even singing to the bike!When we were commencing our cycling-walking-running, we came across a wedding procession right there in the forest. The bride was resplendent in a flowing white gown. She looked like an angel in the trees and I silently prayed that the beauty of this moment would spill over into her marriage. These days, too many beautiful weddings end up in ugly marriages.

“Does this wedding procession remind you of your own wedding?” I asked Sunil. Her wedding had been almost one year earlier in Malindi.

“The wedding dress does,” she said with nostalgia.

Thankfully, her marriage to Lenny has remained incomparably more beautiful than the wedding. As it should be.

What causes the dance of a marriage to stop? When the music of love goes silent.

But what exactly do we mean by the ‘music of love?’ Food for thought. Sometimes this music is exultant, lifting you off your feet into each other’s’ arms. Sometimes, it’s serene like a mountain stream, filling you with a peace that leaves your hearts smiling. But other times, it seems to disappear altogether, causing the dance to stop. Why? How can you find that music again? This anonymous quote sheds some insights into this, ‘Do what you did in the beginning of a relationship and there won’t be an end.’

Back to literal music, I am listening to Keith Green’s, ‘Oh Lord you are beautiful’ as I write this. His piano skills were epic, only second to his overflowing passion for God.

Am thinking that the music never departs from the river of passion. So we have to dive back into this river if we want to recapture the music.

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All eyes were on the two young people as they filed to the front of Olive Convention Centre’s main auditorium. Their eyes were bright despite the dull Durban weather. Something great was about to happen and they were at its very centre. 

Delegates from the length and breadth of Africa shuffled in their seats, curious about this book that was about to be launched. Seated in the front rows were the environment Ministers who had made it for this seventeenth regular session of the Africa Ministerial Conference in the Environment (AMCEN).

Aminetou, one of the two youth, was resplendent in the melahfa, Mauritania’s national dress. Her colleague Victor from Kenya was attired in a dark suit and a bright bow tie. They took their seats at a high table that was waiting for them on the stage. Within a minute, they were joined by Tribute, Yusuf and Marc from South Africa, Egypt and Cameroon respectively.

The Global Environment Outlook for Youth, Africa Publication was about to be launched. This historic Book had been co-authored by the five youth on stage together with nine other Lead Authors and nearly one hundred contributing authors from across Africa. To ensure that its quality was world-class, it had been reviewed by 12 young environmental experts, also drawn from each of Africa’s six sub-regions.

Seated with the five Lead Authors on stage was Cecilia, the Head of UNEP’s Office in South Africa and Damaris, the Focal Point for Youth and Gender in UNEP’s Africa Office. She is the one who had ably steered the process. Next to her was her colleague David Ombisi, then His Excellency Lee White, Gabon’s Environment Minister and outgoing AMCEN president.

After everyone had settled into their seats, Dr Juliette Biao Koudenoukpo, the Director of UNEP’s Africa Office began giving her speech. She was bedecked in a dark suit, with a colorful scarf wrapped around her neck.

Dr Juliet 2Dr Juliet addressing delegates during the Launch“One of the biggest challenges that Africa is facing today is unemployment.” She paused as she glanced up at the numerous Environment Ministers from across Africa who were listening to her.

“One third of our 420 million youth aged 15 to 35 are unemployed. The UN Environment has responded to this challenge by producing the Sixth Global Environment Outlook for Youth. This Publication unveils a wealth of opportunities that young Africans can tap into to create green jobs for themselves.”

I smiled, as my mind traveled back to nearly two years earlier when I had been enlisted as a consultant Coordinating Lead Author of the process that birthed this Publication being launched. Apart from coordinating the content production, I was also given matching orders to find the authors who would pen the content. Two Lead Authors for each of the seven chapters and dozens of contributing authors.

 The first Authors meeting had taken place in Cairo from 13 - 14 March 2018. In attendance was Brian from Kenya and Tribute from South Africa, together with Nuran, Yusuf, Mayar and Islam from Egypt.It was a small team with a big vision. For two days, this team huddled in a Cairo hotel for hours as we meticulously laid down the framework for the Publication that we were envisioning. We resolved that we would come up with a visually appealing, scientifically accurate Publication that would be authored by young people from across Africa. The twin objectives of this Book would be: to equip African youth with practical knowledge for unleashing green jobs and to showcase innovative sustainable youth initiatives.

For weeks after this Cairo meeting, the clarion call for authors went out by word of mouth, on whatsapp groups, on Facebook, via Twitter and other social media platforms. Well-established youth initiatives like the Young Africans Leadership Initiative (YALI) also played a key role in widely disseminating the call-for-authors.

In subsequent months, there was a groundswell of articles from all over the continent. Somewhere in Nigeria, as the Okada (public motorbikes) sped by, 28-year old Ayobami from Oyo State sat down typed a ‘youth action’ article whose first draft was 1,050 words. The second draft was 1,206 words. This article was part of Chapter 1: Youth-led Green Solutions. Joining Ayobami in adding their voice to this chapter were writers from Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya, Somalia, Mauritius and Zimbabwe. The co-Lead Authors for the Chapter were Olumide Idowu, a hyper-active environmental activist and social media supremo from Nigeria and Sidique Gawusu an engineer from Ghana who was pursuing his PhD in PhD in Power Engineering and Engineering Thermophysics. Rounding up the trio of Chapter 1 Lead Authors was Victor Mugo who identifies himself as a ‘young farmer in a suit.’ He is an actuarial scientist and the Country Coordinator of the Climate Smart Agriculture Youth Network (CSAYN).

112Aminetou Bilal, Co-Lead Author of Chapter 2 addressing delegatesSomewhere in South Africa, as pap the staple maize meal consumed widely in the country was cooked and served, Buntu a 22-year old graduate of Walter Sisulu University penned an article entitled, ‘How youth can tap into the economic rewards of off-grid electricity.’ The article’s first draft was 921 words. Based on my editorial input, the second draft was 1,317 words. This article was one of those submitted for Chapter 2: A Breath of Fresh Air. Other articles were submitted from Nigeria, Kenya, Burkina Faso and Egypt. Steering this chapter were two Lead Authors: Miyoba Buumba, a young environmental educator who had graduated from the University of Zambia and Aminetou Bilal, one of Mauritania’s most active environmental activists. She founded Selfie Mbalite, an organisation that actively tackles the menace of solid waste. She was also an African Union Youth Envoy serving on the Youth Advisory Council.

The youth voice had also erupted from Niger where Houira, a young woman with a Masters in Environmental Management. She had invested hours into an epic 1,900 word article on climate smart agriculture for youth in Niger. This article was submitted to Chapter 3: Restoring Our Land. When I first read Houira’s article on 21st July 2018, I was in awe at her powerful insights that were grounded in deep research. I told myself that if the future of Africa was in the hands of people like Houira, then better days were indeed ahead. She had been introduced into the process by Awovi Komassi, the co-Lead Author for the land Chapter. She was a young environmental lawyer from Togo. Her Masters was in Environmental Management and Policy. Her co-Lead Author was Dr. Marc Anselme Kamga, a land specialist from Cameroon. This chapter also had article submissions from Ghana, Cameroon, South Africa, Kenya, Mauritania, Malawi, Benin, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. African youth had a clear message - Africa’s land must be a strong foundation for sustainable livelihoods. 

Hot on the heels of Houira’s climate smart agriculture article was the longest article of them all - an 11,286 word masterpiece by Sarah Nyawira from Kenya. It was about blue economy opportunities for youth and was submitted to Chapter 4: Our Water, Our Life Force. Sarah poured her soul and mind into that article and wrote it for weeks. Alongside the article were several others from Ethiopia, Sudan, Tunisia, Mauritius, Tanzania, Rwanda, Zambia, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt. This water chapter was flowing with diversity. It was ably led by Dr. Islam Al Zayed from Egypt and Muhammad Khalifa from Sudan.

My mind switched back from this walk down memory lane to the stage where the five Lead Authors were seated. Tribute Mboweni from South Africa was listening intently to the speech. Her white blouse was buttoned all the way to the collar. Together with Brian Waswala from Kenya, she had been the co-Lead Author of Chapter 5: Our Invaluable Biodiversity.

On July 3rd 2018 at 10.55AM, I had been right in the middle of researching for a book on ‘Adventure, Love and Travel’ when an email from the Republic of Congo landed in my inbox. It was from William Iwandza, a thirty-year old Congolese and was entitled, ‘how Congolese youth can conserve forests and benefit from them economically.’ Also streaming in for this chapter were other articles from Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Zimbabwe, Swaziland and South Africa. Scattered in these articles were powerful insights on biodiversity and the green economy.

The auditorium was dead silent as delegates hanged on to every word that Dr. Koudenoukpo was saying. I felt little rivers of inspiration crawling up my spine. Through the book being launched, Africa was going to listen to the powerful voice of its young people. One of these voices had come from Elizabeth Lukas from Namibia. On 28th June 2018, she had emailed me an article on ‘bridging the divide between young scholars and the environment.’ This article was submitted to Chapter 6: Youth Potential and Green Policies. The very first sentence of her article took my breath away, ‘To cherish what remains of the earth and to foster its renewal is our only legitimate hope for survival.’ What a powerful way to begin an article on a rather abstract topic of environmental policy! This quote was from the 2003 Book of Wendell Berry, ‘The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays of Wendell Berry.’ Other contributing authors for the Chapter were drawn from Nigeria, Kenya, Namibia, Malawi and Sierra Leone. They all added their voice to the vital issue of youth potential and green policies. The Chapter’s Lead Author was Uvicka Bristol from Seychelles. She was working with the James Michel Blue Economy Research Institute (BERI). 

My mind raced back from Seychelles to Durban. I dipped my right hand into my beloved black rucksack and fished out the hard copy of the GEO for Youth Book that was being feted at that very moment. I smiled at the Cover which bore the map of a greenish Africa surrounded by silhouettes of young people. This stunning cover together with the rest of the book’s layout and design had been done by Mohab from Egypt. This guy is literally dripping with artistic talent!

For Chapter 7: A Positive Outlook, African youth had unveiled the future that they envisioned. They did this through a series of letters from the future (2063) to their 21-year old selves. In her letter, Edith Uwineza, a 27-year old artist from Rwanda had memorably written that, ‘I have a lot more to tell you, but am just about to leave my house in Kigali for the 7PM train to Bamako, Mali. Find below a painting that will give you an idea about the Africa of 2063.’ The painting was of four women walking across Africa as the sun rose. She had envisioned a future where sustainable transport across Africa was the norm. Other contributing authors for this chapter were from Ghana, Zambia, Nigeria and Zimbabwe. They were superbly led by Yusuf Younis from Egypt. Apart from being Chapter 7’s Lead Author, he was also part of an excellent editorial team that was led by Mayar Sabet, one of Africa’s finest editors. She has an uncanny habit of digging deep into a mountain of words and creating textual gems. Incidentally, she was also the editor of the Africa Environmental Outlook for Youth Publication back in 2005! Consistency and professionalism are ingrained in her DNA.

My mind returned to Olive Convention Center’s auditorium, to Dr. Koudenoukpo’s speech. “I would like to extend my gratitude to these young Africans who have spent almost two years working on this Publication. They have clearly articulated the strong correlation between a thriving green economy and decent jobs.”

Alas, the youth of Africa had indeed provided this articulation. It was now up to them, together with their communities and leaders, to create the green jobs whose footprints could be found in every page of the book.

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125DJ Bwakali (Kenya), Aminetou (Mauritania), Victor (Kenya) and Marc (Cameroon) Celebrating after the launch

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