Thursday, 28 June 2012

Follow up: Cultural Sensitivity and fiddly bits.

Well, I had an interesting chat with some of my colleagues who took the time to read my blog. One person noted that it would be easy for a Kenyan, or probably any African, to find my comments on education insensitive or even offensive. On reading my post again, I can see why - saying that (a) there hasn't been significant institutions of higher learning in Africa until recently, and (b) that higher education is a mainstay for 'developed' countries is an indirect way of commenting on the 'primitiveness' of Africa. That is a very negative perception of African nations and African peoples. And it is not a perception I intend to feed into.

In fact, it is important to note that the idea of 'institutions of higher learning' are completely western conceptions as well - it takes certain subjects and professions as the 'yardstick' of societal progress. It does not, however, place any relevance or recognize the benefits of aspects of African culture that ARE well-developed and rich. And it does not recognize the kinds of institutions that are already present in the myriad cultures on this continent. It is the idea that, because a community/society does not have a 'courtroom', 'judges', or 'juries', that a legal system is not present. That would be historically false.

There has been positive developments on this issue. For example, the use of gacaca courts in Rwanda as a method of dealing with the huge number of cases surrounding the 1994 genocide was an example of using traditional dispute resolution mechanisms to obtain justice. But there will still be a disconnect, so long as people categorize institutions like gacaca courts as 'informal justice systems', which implies that they are on a lower tier of 'justice' that British or European systems. In Kenya, it is interesting to note that there are formal Khadi's Courts, which deal specifically with issues under Islamic Law (often to do with Marriage, Divorce, and succession issues). There is Constitutional recognition that Islamic Law is a separate legal system, and it makes room for that. This simultaneously creates an alternative legal stream for a class of people (muslims), as well as provides acknowledgement and recognition that Islamic Law is a 'legitimate' justice system.

I think that example applies to what I was saying about higher education in Africa - we can all agree that providing access to high quality education in Medicine, Engineering, and disciplines like that will benefit a society. What I didn't say, and should have said, is that we also need to recognize that providing higher education within a particular cultural framework is not only important, but necessary. There are no 'silver bullets' that will automatically fit for all African states. That's what I meant when I said that the 'solution' to the 'problem' of Africa will come from African people.

Give a woman a fish, and she'll eat for a day; teach her how to fish, and she'll eat for a lifetime; but if she goes ahead and builds a solar-powered organic free range chicken farm, don't force her to keep fishing.


In other news - the whole idea of 'primitiveness' had some interesting press in Kenya recently. Apparently, Korean Air created an advertisement for tourism in Kenya. They mentioned the safaris, the splendour, and they also said: "enjoy the...indigineous people full of primitive energy". Oops.

Well, Kenya has one of the fastest growing online cultures, and a favourite pastime of a lot of my friends and colleagues is using Twitter. #KenyansonTwitter, or #KOT is a highly active hashtag, full of banter, political discussions, and general Kenyan miscellanea.  Well, when they heard about this ad, they brought down the Big Stick of Twitter on Korean Air. If you search #primitiveenergy on Twitter, you will see thousands of comments and satires about this Korean Air gaffe. Some of them are hilarious. The avalanche of negative comments prompted Korean Air to pull the ad. In one day. Go Internet Solidarity!


Foreign Policy, in partnership with the Fund for Peace, have published the 2011 Failed States Index. I somewhat encourage you to check it out. But with a huge caveat - I think that it is absolute rubbish. Worse, it dramatizes some of the difficulties and crises around the world in an unforgivable way. See, for example, their 'Postcards from Hell' - yes, there are some areas of the world that are in dire straights, and yes, in some situations, people are enduring immense suffering. A picture may be worth 1,000 words, but it is irresponsible and mentally incompetent to think that a picture represents an entire country and its population. I can think of a few 'postcards from hell' from Canada that would portray Canadian life a little differently.

Maybe I need to read more deeply into the methodology, the factors and the overall impact of the study. Maybe the title 'failed state index' is just a bit of journalistic melodrama. Maybe. But the fact that Kenya ranks 16th on the list of the 60 'most failed' states, above places like Ethiopia (which just passed a law giving people a maximum 15 year prison sentence for using Skype, and jailed a reporter under its new anti-terrorism law), North Korea, Syria, and Israel/West Bank, makes me very dubious about the 'objectiveness' of this report. Under some of the factors contributing to its ranking, Kenya received an 8.9/10 (the higher the worse) under the heading 'Delegitimization of the State'. This being a year after passing a new Constitution, ongoing institutional reforms, and peace and stability since the 2008 post-election violence. Very interesting.

A failed state is a massive catastrophe - Somalia, #1 on the list, definitely exhibits many of the warning signs: unsupported centralized government, poverty, violence, mass movement of refugees, human-made catastrophes (famine), instability, poor economic development and major dependence on external interventions. Suggesting that Kenya is approaching a failed state status is a mystery to me. Areas of Kenya suffer from poverty and food insecurity. There is unrest in the areas near the Somalia border. There is corruption at many levels. But Kenya is the ICT leader in the region. It has a huge tourism industry. The new Constitution has led to many positive political and social developments. There is a long way to go, but I have to wonder: how did they get it so wrong?

Update: check out - Apparently the 2012 Index is out. Kenya is still 16th, which means that it scored WORSE, since South Sudan is now on the scene...

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