By Daniel Akech | December 6, 2013
Making a honest living in an environment as South Sudan has become very expensive in recent years and one finds it very hard to compete unless she is highly creative. The education there then must be designed in such a way as to produce creative citizens. The focus must shift from the current importance the South Sudanese society lays on ‘form’ rather than on ‘substance.’ The utility of a future literate citizen should not be calculated on the basis of the quantity of degrees she possesses but on what she can deliver. To achieve a notable progress, our education must produce creative scholars who will not only lay their eyes on becoming the next top politicians but aim on something much more prestigious than that – a good scientist among other useful apolitical careers. It is nothing more than a wishful thinking to hope that Terrence Tao will emerge out of our current classrooms. Someone has to do something. Academically promising students across South Sudan ought to be identified and pulled away from their present classrooms that offer them nothing more than a raw memorization and placed in a highly competitive setting where the boundaries of what they can learn are marked off by their desire to not want to go any further.
The preceding paragraph is a summary of a few words I shared on ‘what I would like to see happening’ at a local bible study group for men, on the last Saturday of October this year (2013). The men wanted to hear my travel stories associated with a project known as ‘Walking Buildings’ – aka Sudan Scholarship Foundation, which has offered high school scholarships to at least 325 refugee high school students out of Kakuma refugee camp and her adjacent neighborhoods where South Sudanese and Nuba people live in Kenya with ambiguous immigration statuses.
I told the story of the project and the windows of opportunities (outside of our scholarship) which had opened up to our former scholars upon graduating from high school. Such opportunities include various scholarships for university studies outside of Africa for those scholars with superior records. I enumerate a few success stories here not as a way of boasting about the project but rather to highlight an encouraging trend warranting the continuity of the project.
In 2010, 2011, 2012, our scholars have been going to Canada under WUSC scholarships in a group of up to 8 students each year.
Two have obtained scholarships to top universities in the USA while one is working on a masters degree at a prestigious university in the UK.
Within Africa, a few have gotten scholarships to top universities in East Africa from relatives or from other charitable South Sudanese.
Yet others, starting with a little more than nothing in their pockets, have moved to Juba after graduation and excelled in business to the point where they are now in positions of helping others.
Asked to explain how we obtain the fund to keep the project running, the group was surprised to learn that we do not raise fund for our project. We do not ask people to contribute to the project nor do we even try to tell anyone that if nothing is done there will be no future for South Sudan. We do not believe that we are changing South Sudan because that will be a false hope. I use real examples to explain why investing in a ‘walking building’ is the best one can do if one desires to help effectively.
One man, a familiar face pulled me aside at the end of my talk and asked me which is better: for him and his wife to move to Africa to help or for them to continue helping while staying in the USA?
The latter option is cheaper monetarily speaking but in order for one’s help to be effective one must have a trustworthy person (yes, such types exist in Africa but rare to find) at the other end to make sure the help reaches the targeted recipients. To sustain a westerner or a western oriented human being in Africa is a very costly endeavor – the UN does even pay them hardships allowances.
By Daniel Akech | September 4, 2013
The last several days have been useless, devoid of interesting events. But the second of September 2013 was an exception in a twisted way. I took a taxi ride to the airport to catch a Kenyan Airways plane for Juba. I had exactly two hours left until the plane leaves but I made it on time nevertheless.
On approaching the desk to check in, I was told that I have to have a yellow fever card in order for the airplane to take me to Juba or else the airline will be fined by the South Sudanese authorities for bringing me there without the required vaccination. I asked the supervisor if he seriously believes that an American would actually carry this yellow fever disease to South Sudan to which he carefully replied with ‘I am following the rules.’ He immediately suggested that I go to terminal 3 to get the vaccine.
I went to terminal 3 and was shown the desk that deals with vaccination issues. I approached a well-fed, massive human hugging the desk. I asked him if I could quickly get the vaccine. He looked at me and began to shake his head in a sorry-gesture, finally letting out ‘there is no vaccine.’ Why was he planted here then? I asked myself. Afraid that the plane might leave me behind, I apprised him of the urgency of the matter and he retorted with ‘the vaccine is not an emergency issue.’ Why did they have a clinic at the airport if it was not an emergency issue? Interestingly enough, the dude had only yellow cards hidden underneath the desk and no yellow fever vaccine! He leaned forward and whispered into my ears that I ought to ‘talk like a man.’ I knew this was a code for opening one’s wallet to bribe. I kept listening and he finally asked for 5k shillings, which I readily produced and poked in his direction. He produced a clean yellow card for me. I rushed back to check in but the boarding closed already. I went to the supervisor who then advised me that I rebook and pay 40% of the original price for the ticket as penalty fees but the biggest penalty was that all the flights to Juba in the next three days were all fully booked.
Another passenger, a human being in the form of a woman, who readily identified herself as a member of parliament, had it rougher. She missed her flight not on a yellow fever vaccination related issue. As it is customary for those humans, known as politicians, a bunch of fighters who fight with their tongues, the honorable MP staged a protest on her own behalf and on behalves of five others who too missed the flight. Without a speaker to yell for an order, the politician went on a rampage shooting with her tongue in every direction, trampling the floor with her feet for attention and hitting her lap with her hand and shouting, slitting throats with imperceptible insults. The airline supervisor and all of us just enjoyed the fantastic show. The event unearthed her ill– preparedness to hold the position she has. After all the shouts let to nowhere, she began to gather herself and went on to the sale office to rebook. She told us that she is definitely losing her job if she does not come to Juba tomorrow because the National Assembly will vote for a new speaker. In fact, she was actually running behind the schedule because the Sudan Tribune already aired the demolishing news that the election of the new speaker was already done.
The way the yellow fever thing works makes one to suspect that more can be learned on a closer investigation because this pattern of corruption looks familiar. The doctor came to the airport with no vaccine but with yellow fever cards and the airline personnel refuse passengers to fly to Juba unless they have the cards. Could this be a collaborative initiative between the doctor and the airline personnel? A similar pattern emerged a while back in Juba. Drivers of business cars were required to have certain placards, marked with red and white strips, dubbed a reflector, placed on the back of their cars. A business man brought a lot of these reflectors and the police went on a rampage to crack down on all the cars without reflectors and threatening them with heavy fines or get reflectors immediately and even showing the way on where to get them. Could it be possible that the business was done with collaboration from some police officers?
The other thing with the yellow fever thing is that it is a sort of a little pocket war between Kenya and South Sudan, the country many Kenyans continue to refer to as Sudan. The airport authorities of both countries are playing a game of milking each other’s citizens. A number of Kenyans have arrived at a terrifying conclusion that South Sudanese are very wealthy and aggressive and the way South Sudanese handle themselves does not help and especially some of their honorable members! On the other hand, a number of South Sudanese unfortunately view Kenyans as thieves. The yellow fever card is a business both sides have resorted to take advantage of travelers. If it is truly a health concern why don’t both countries offer it to all their citizens free of charge once and for all?
This morning, I tried to use another airline, called, the 540 but I was informed that I couldn’t fly to Juba without a South Sudanese visa despite the fact that I have been getting it at the airport all of the times I have traveled there in the last eight months. The plane left me again and I had to rebook. Equipped with a yellow fever card and a South Sudanese visa, I’m going to sleep now to catch a plane to Juba tomorrow at seven am.
By Daniel Akech | August 11, 2013
July 18th 2013
We just landed in Lodwar and boarded a taxi on alighting. After fueling the car, we hit the road for Loki via Kakuma. The cars have devoured the surface of the road and what remained looked very ugly – marked with numerous potholes filled with dog-tooth stones. The driver tried to beat the approaching darkness as well as to avoid bumping into potholes. He avoided neither. The result has been a bumpy ride at the dead of the night. The passengers laughed at me on noticing that I had fastened my seatbelt. One of them said that ‘from here to Loki one does not need a safety belt.’ I guess it is not because the road infrastructure does not demand it but simply because the enforcement of such rules is non-existence here as our eyes did not see a single policeman for the whole ride.
The other obstacle was the stream of water flowing at leg-deep and cutting across the road here and there. Although the current was weak it sowed fear in us whenever we watched the car dived its head into the stream to cross. It takes a lot of guts to drive on this road at night. Armed men could pop out and stop the car with a bullet or an on coming vehicle could collide with ours head on as the visibility of the road disappeared into the night and the headlights weren’t sufficient to keep off the darkness. The driver did even enjoy talking on the phone on numerous occasions; either he was crazy or I appeared to be untested in risk-taking. The sky and earth seemed to have clipped together as the darkness swallowed the entire surrounding. The car looked as though it was entering a dark endless tunnel.
Luckily we managed to arrive in Loki three hours after leaving Lodwar. We headed to a little dump of a hotel in Loki called the Sundbird. My room had two beds – one small one and one big one. I thought my company and I had to share the same room and so I chose the smaller of the two beds out of etiquette but I was told that the entire room is for myself. The wall looked dirty but the beds were neatly prepared.
After taking a shower and feasted on a hill of a chicken, washing it down with a coke, I returned to my room and slept like a log. The noise streaming in through the windows from the neighboring noisy Club near Makuti Lodge did not bother me much because I was so tired.
July 19th 2013
The morning broke in a din of noise from birds crowing to customers rushing out to line up to access water for morning routine. A jerrycan is used to draw water from the tank and then one uses it to wash one’s face – one customer at a time.
After morning routine, I asked my company for permission to allow me to go out for a walk. He took boxes to the airstrip for weighing. I took a walk towards South Sudan to a stream that usually carries water away from the dry Turkana District to South Sudan. I stopped there and watched men working on the new road, laying bricks. The local men began to drive their goats and cows to the grazing areas. It looked spectacular to watch each herder trying to separate his goats and cows from the other herds. For security reasons, every herder had a gun tottering on his shoulder.
One small boy about 10 or 11 years old came carrying a gun and driving his herd. An onlooker dressed in Somali attire pulled out his smart phone and wanted to take a photo but another Turkana man objected and shouted threatening to fight if the photo of the boy was taken. I kept my camera in my pocket for the entire time after learning the danger of taking pictures from this episode.
On my way back, a little girl about 6 or 7 walked beside me rolling a container full of water by kicking it or pushing it. The coarse stones and thorns on the roadside caused the container to leak. The little girl rushed to get a paste of soil to mend the leakage. Life is utterly rough for the Turkana children in Loki. Loki is a city without a life of its own. It has been left by many organizations that actually made it famous. Like everything that depended on the war, the city’s life depended upon the Sudan civil war and soon that war ended the city began to die a slow death. There is no longer an airplane that comes to Loki from the other side of Kenya. The side of Kenya from Lodwar to Loki is virtually ignored by the government. Loki functions differently from the rest of places in Kenya. The sight of a civilian tottering an AK47 is a common sight in Loki. The food is dirt cheap here and so are places to lay one’s head but the risk is so high. Even South Sudanese can consider the place unsafe! The place called Link [pictured here] used to be a very busy place here in Loki. I heard that a South Sudanese business man was slain here a while back causing Sudanese traders to shift across the border into South Sudanese territory leaving the Link to wild thorny trees that have immediately made it into a frightening bush.
I am now setting my alarm for five in the morning. I will be at the airstrip by six in the morning, where a cargo plane, will take me to Yida Refugee Camp.
July 20th 2013
The daybreak found us at the airstrip waiting anxiously. After a suspicious stamping of passports for exit [because we had to pay roughly $40 each in order to exit, which is strange as far as the official laws of Kenya controlling visas are concerned], we were cleared to board.
As noted elsewhere, the system in Loki functions differently compare to other towns in Kenya. Whenever an opportunity avails itself, those employed by the authorities on meager salaries have to boost their salaries by creating their own rules, which they toughly enforced themselves. The authorities well aware that the weaknesses in the system are due to the government’s fault of neglecting the entire Turkana area, have to use silence as the tacit agreement with the local workers at places such as Loki to do whatever they wish provided their acts do not raise a lot of problems. If you do not comply with local people with keys to stamping your papers, you will lose a lot and especially for someone who will spend some times in Loki on a return trip, the risk of not complying now carries a high interest rate in the future. The lesson we learn is that in any place where one cannot rely on the intervention of the authorities, it is wise to flow along with the current to avoid unnecessarily risking a lot. We paid our ‘illegal exit fees’ and the person we paid money to, a young man with reddened teeth, could not even break the note we gave him and so we had to leave him the change and boarded; he was so happy that when I asked him to take our pictures with the pilot, he accepted with alacrity even though under normal circumstances the same person would warn us of the danger of such an act.
We sat at the tail of the plane because the cargo filled the entire plane except for a few seats at the back for two of us. The other passenger, whose job is to help unload the plane, did not even have a seat; he went to sleep on top of the cargo for the first one hour of the flight and when I awoke I saw him scrolling here and there; at one point he snatched off the exit sign on his back, which he fixed back easily, while trying to reach us because my company asked for water after our snacks invited an itching thirst. But seeing the exit sign hanging loose and number of parts supported with cardboards exposing other defects, an air of fear entered into me. [The plane was supposed to come back the next day to bring more cargo but it could not land here at Yida because its wheels failed to poke out. After circling without succeeding, the plane rerouted to Juba].
I went to sleep for at least an hour and a half. Then we approached Yida. The spectacular scenery combed with lush green vegetation hugged the plane. The grass huts with polythene bag roofs dotted the magnificent vegetation. We alighted. Children swamped the plane as we waited for the arrival of the education coordinator in the camp [Magati] to take care of the cargo and take me to the camp manager.
After unloading the plane, we took off for the office of the camp manager. The struggle for freedom must have feasted on him physically, as it is the case with a majority of the Nuba people who have been subjected to depend their physical and cultural existence under very trying circumstances, the camp manager might be actually younger than his age; he looked about fifty something. It was impossible to hear what he says not because of heavy accent, the doses of which he did not lack, but his voice was as weak as that of a radio whose batteries are running low. I had to change my seat to be closer. After introduction, we exchanged ideas about how to help in the areas of education here in the camp as well as back home in the mountains. Our ideas converged around the training of teachers for primary and secondary schools.
The education coordinator asked the camp manager if he knew of a place to keep me for the two days I will be here for. The camp manager suggested to check with some NGO’s compound to which we drove to. The education coordinator, who just came from Kauda, deposited a request for hosting a guest on his behalf. The watchman told us to wait while he takes the request to those in charge at the compound. A young man dressed in a short and a shirt emerged from the gate with arrogance written all over his face. He did not return the smiles generously given him by Mangati and his friend, Yusif, an engineer working in the camp. Speaking with arrogance not of a helper and instead of simply saying no, Conrad went straight and lectured my friends on their wrongs. ‘You do not bring a guest and then request for an accommodation. Besides, this compound is not a hotel. What is so special about this person; why should we accommodate him of all the 70 k refugees here etc.’ This admonition went on for a while, which made me groaned inside in a rage and my throat felt bitter not because Conrad was wrong in using his rights to reject anyone he so chooses from entering his compound but because of his lack of respect for his friends and the general disregard of people he is supposedly here to help. Adding to this discomfort, Conrad spewed out all that he could perhaps to make sure this was Mangati’s and Yusif’s last visit to him under the circumstances as in question, and then he walked off, leaving us standing. We shook our heads and took off and went to Yusif’s hut without saying much back to Conrad because he gave us little opportunity to do so.
It was a wrong idea to try and cage myself inside a compound. Staying with refugees in their huts will allow me to taste their pains. It will be interesting to see how I will cope in a camp where every moving object speaks Arabic, the language of which my own hears are as useless as those of a deaf.
July 21st 2013
I enjoyed sleeping in an open sky surrounded by neighbors with better nourished souls and who are shielded from the ignorance of those who have it all, who are facing a lot of obstacles with immeasurable dignity.
In the afternoon,because of travel arrangements, I came back to Conrad to ask him to arrange to airlift me out of Yida. This time we got a chance to learn more about one another and he offered for me to come back to the compound giving the reason – ‘since I now know you’ and then he offered a seat on a plane bringing cargo over. I accepted to use his plane but did not accept to move back to the compound because it would look bad on me as far as the refugee family hosting me was concerned.
By Daniel Akech | July 15, 2013
It is earlier evening in Juba. My evening walk brought me to a local chess club. I decided to watch the game and intended to participate if given a chance but the bad weather imposed a brief interruption. The wind blew southward in fitful gusts, rattling against the walls of poorly erected buildings; it gathered endless brownish dust on the streets and sprayed us with it. The sky grew darker as it lowered over us. The rain immediately began to patter down. We dashed into a tiny vacated brick-walled and iron-roofed hut, used by this local chess club to store games.
One member of the chess club, who possessed an endless stock of abusive epithets, is a one-star general in the armed forces. Every good move he makes is accompanied by a bad phrase — ‘nhian be ciet thoor’, meaning the opponent is terrified as his testicles shrink to the size of a tiny insect.
Some members just show up not to play but to enjoy hearing fun jokes and nice conversations. In the Christian world, a person cannot live by bread alone. This is true in Juba where many young unemployed citizens have taken refuge in games.
When I first arrived in Juba five months ago I was led to believe that these young men who play dominoes, chess, and cards were a bunch of lazy free-loaders who hate to work. My close interaction with some of them proved me wrong. I went to a coffee shop called Le Bistro near the New Sudan Palace one morning. On my way to the bathroom located outside the building, I bumped into a familiar face – a club member who is known for his quietness, who only speaks when he utters checkmate. He sat outdoors under the protection of a tent with a red folder in front of him and a pen clipped to his shirt’s pocket. I approached him and greeted him and he greeted me back. We played thrice before – I lost the first time and we drew the second round and on a different day I won. I invited him to join me inside. Over coffee we chatted. He told me his story. He graduated from high school in Wau and has applied and got accepted into Rumbek University but the school hasn’t opened for over a year now. He tried to look for a job but his applications has been turned down numerous times and sometimes he does not even hear from the employers. He pointed at the foreign young men serving us coffee and he said such a job as being a server in a restaurant does not require a lot of training and one can learn it on the job but our people rarely bother to look for us. Achien had built a house back in his hometown which he rents out for $80 US dollars a month and this is the money he uses to sustain him while in Juba waiting for the University of Rumbek to open or until he finds a job here in Juba. Sometimes the money from his house is not enough and the chess players come to his rescue not his family members. He told me that South Sudanese love each other and one only hears of tribalism from the upper class of our society.
By Daniel Akech | May 4, 2013
In recent years, the mass of facts concerning the suffering masses from distant or adjacent lands get to us in minutes through mass media. Whether it is because of the increased level of awareness or some other reasons, more and more people commit themselves to humanistic vocations, which brings them face to face with a mass of breathing skeletons living in mud-walled and polythene bags-roofed huts in refugee camps, where children out of no fault of their own are condemned to perpetual physical and mental starvation.
In American university campuses and possibly in other countries, not uncommon is the sight of juniors and seniors organizing events to ‘change the world’ right after graduation. Other organizations outside of campuses, too driven by humanitarian impulses, are committed to this call of duty.
Only a few organizations in this business of ‘saving the world’ from all the evils – illiteracy, hunger, violent conflict, unclean water, etc have recognized that such a dream is almost unrealizable. The reasons are many.
Let’s start off by asking a naive first question. Is the charity intended to make the giver feels happy or is it about the beneficiaries? How does one decide? Not by reading the organization’s catchy mission and vision statements because whatever the mission and vision statements of an organization, it is possible to find many organizations failing to fulfill their goals at least as judged by the intended beneficiaries.
The failure of an organization to attain the goal often results when it denies itself the freedom to adapt to circumstances. The failure to adapt to realities on the grounds is the sure way of deciding on the first question we asked earlier.
An organization may have the right to decide how to help but it must carry out a thorough research of the operation zone. It is likely that previous humanitarian workers might have operated in the zone or in a nearby one and might have failed and withdrew back. There is no reason anyone repeating a failed experiment should expect a completely different result. In Juba South Sudan there are over 80 international organizations on humanistic vocations. Some have erected new buildings for clinics and schools in the villages. Today’s article on the Economist.com explains the hopelessness of investing in still buildings as opposed to walking buildings:
“New blue and white school buildings and a vocational training centre have risen amid tilled fields. Yet such progress amounts to less than it seems, says Charles Sebit, the local priest. Villagers are too poor to buy fuel for the generator powering the water pump when bad weather thwarts solar power. Nor can they afford the school fees from which teachers’ salaries are paid. In any case, the mostly illiterate parents prefer to send their children to the fields or marry them off, hoping for a dowry paid in cattle. Many classrooms are never used.”
In the author’s village, the construction of a school began in 2007 and up to now there is no secondary school operating in it. There are so many instances pointing against erecting buildings without means for operating them and yet local South Sudanese abroad continue to come home with foreigners on humanitarian vocations to change their country by erecting buildings in what amounts to merely ‘importing the sceneries of the developed countries here’ forgetting that, it is not the building of stones that matter for these people, what matters is the creation of a building that walks this is attainable at a low cost. When you invest your money to educate just one person you are automatically guaranteed of one thing: her life will never be the same. Rather than striving to change the world, it is much more practical to strive to change the life of one refugee child suffering from hunger of mind. I believe that education has the power to change a person.
By Daniel Akech | January 29, 2013
The plane landed in Juba. Although every object at the airport is encrusted in brown dust, the airport’s infrastructure has shown some improvements [more building structures have been added]. The lines for custom controls have shrunk, which means that the number of visitors has reduced. Perhaps the strong odor from the airport’s missionary era toilets repels visitors! Speaking of first impressions, such an image makes everything else stink in that city because fishy smells live longer in our conscience. It doesn’t cost much to rid the airport of this mess but there are other messes, which are much more pressing and one of such pressing concerns is the lack of oil’s revenues – when the oil does not flow everything else remains static.
Columns of smokes, poking the limpid sky, hanged over Juba. The ashes carried to the sky by the smoke rained down on Juba adding more dust to already dust-shocked atmosphere. The smokes originated miles away from Juba – from a world entirely unaffected by the current economic crises induced by the oil raw between the two Sudans. Such is a world of cattle keepers who traveled hundreds of miles away from their ancestral land in search for better pastures. Cattle keepers start fires as a way for improving grazing fields.
This morning a young boy [he looked about 12 but he considered himself a man] came to the house where I stayed from a cattle camp located three days away footing from Juba. His lower teeth are pulled out. White as fresh milk, his upper teeth are beautifully arranged. With beautiful teeth and a baby’s face, he smiled away the poverty of his travel arrangement. This boy trekked in the forest alone with no money in his pocket, no cell phone, he did not know any address in Juba [he was told of two or three relatives of his who live in Juba but he did not know them nor where they reside]. Juba is only an intermediate stop in his journey to his ancestral home. He is heading home to collect more cows, recently acquired by his family through her sister’s marriage, to bring to his cattle hearth – he will drive cows in the jungle amidst growing fears sowed by armed cattle raiders who have planted themselves in the virgin jungles of this nascent nation. For his dress, he had on a jalabiya and he trampled the earth with tough sandals made of a car’s tire. He carried a stick and a twigg for brushing his teeth. He dragged a lot of problems on his heels but he did not even think about any of them: getting lost, hunger, you name them. He is no your ordinary boy; his reasoning pattern is interesting. He shrugged off all his fears induced by his poor travel plan with lines such as: the only way to go without food for three days and do not die is to not think of hunger — if you do not think of hunger then you are not acknowledging its existence and then you wouldn’t die of it because it doesn’t exist! It is a survival of the strong-willed in the jungles.
At first his hosts [learned and semi-learned] began to lecture him about the importance of education. He counter-lectured his hosts about the importance of the life life itself has chosen him for – to protect, care, or sacrifice himself for his animals as his means for fighting for that better future. He spoke at greater length of the beauty of life in cattle camp. When we asked him why he did not sell one cow to pay for his trip. He smiled at us [we are ignorant fools] and said that he tried to do so but each one of the cows he wanted to sell was too beautiful to be sold for money. These precious animals can only be given up when one gets married.
This boy is not easy to convince to enroll in school. After pressing him hard on this matter, he knew how to shut me down: if you find me someone to look after my cows, I will give your idea of going to school a second thought. It is absurd to think that this boy should give up his cows and goes off to school. Such a thought is fruitless because cows have high economic value [a citizen with 50 cows does not need any help from the government other than perhaps the protection of his animals]. It would be nice if this boy could keep contact with his cows while acquiring education. It is hard to convince ignorant [or uneducated] people to accept to give up what they have in exchange for that great thing whose benefits will be ripped in the future. It is relatively rare to bump into a family that happily sells healthy and productive cows to pay for school fees of it children. A good boarding high school in Kenya can cost per year upto three healthy cows. Since the parents, who though possess numerous cows, rarely contribute to the education of their children [our fellow citizens], the educated ought to do something. A country cannot leave to foreign hands the important task of educating her citizens. Programs that offer scholarships cannot educate the whole country. The country ought to look into other ways. It is a grossteque error to believe that a learning environment ought to be surrounded by coffee shops or that learning ought to take place in very expensive buildings. There is nothing wrong with taking citizens to school but our country has more citizens who can only be educated if a school is taken to them rather than them being taken to a school. One does take a school to a people not by building an expensive school but by opening a mobile school in the open sky at a cattle camp or fish camp! The cattle keepers and fishermen will secure education in their own environment. If the goal of education is to adapt a human to her times, then an education carried out in such an environment will be the most practical education. There is a danger in implementing such a scheme: insecurity. Cattle camps are susceptible to attacks from cattle raiders. But in any war [if it is a real one] death is an acceptible possibility. The struggle against illiteracy is no less than a serious war of liberation from any other form of oppression. A change cannot be obtained by those who don’t want to die. A team of committed citizens equipped with education and patriotic hearts can start to implement mobile education in the least education-friendly environments such as cattle and fish camps. If such a thing proves useful and practical then the government will be forced to provide extra protection.
A tremendous task faces South Sudan: to adapt all her citizens to the age in which they live, which requires shaping the minds of youth. In order to achieve progress in this direction one would have to change the present circumstances of life in the country and one sure way of doing so is through education but one needs to be already armed with good education to see that such a change is needed. In order to see the importance of education one has to be already educated! In a country where literacy rate is far too low, a few will have to do so much.
By Daniel Akech | January 15, 2013
Day broke on Nairobi in the wildest of excitements. Signs of anxiety for the upcoming elections are seen everywhere in the city: young men, holding Daily Nation and the Standard newspapers, form circles in the corridors of major buildings at the heart of Nairobi to debate about candidates’ probabilities. A roaring crowd stormed the Freedom Park this morning to register its support for a presidential aspirant whose name means freedom. As though he would, with his bare hands, rip poverty off the heels of the poor masses who dragged themselves to the park to hear him speak, Uhuru Kenyatta tipped the microphone towards his mouth and emptied into it a mouth full with poor man’s poisons also known as promises.
While such promises rolling out from the lips of politicians on Kenya’s future for posterity have become familiar songs, the faces that sing such promises haven’t changed since independence because one’s political future in Kenya, like in many other less developed countries, is biologically determined [crudely put: sexually transmitted]. Subsequently, getting into the echelon of politics here is a sure way of ensuring a bright future for one’s descendants and as such it is a matter of life or death, which is one reason elections are violent proned in this part of the world.
Two serious contenders in this March’s elections are Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. The duo’s fathers: Jomo Kenyatta and Oginga Odinga briefly served together as president and vice-president respectively at the birth of modern Kenya but the working relation grew coarse leading to Mr. Odinga leaving the government to Mr. Kenyatta and became the opposition leader, which remained his lifetime post. These two founding fathers of modern Kenya spent the better parts of their political lives fighting against each other [with nearly the same vigor with which they fought to attain freedom for their people], which culminated in the arrest of Mr.Odinga at the dead of the sixties at an event which turned violent [11 lives lost in a town called Kisumu] and where the duo exchanged imperceptible insults. The death of Mr. Kenyatta opened the gates of prison for Mr.Odinga but not much of political strength was left in him to carry him to the mountain top.
Add to the ancient political wounds the tribal factor and it is not hard to imagine the hot air that will fill the air comes March. The son of the Luo’s important chief Jaramogi Oginga Odinga boasts nearly 100 percent backing from his tribemen. In Kibera, a slum in Nairobi populated primarily by Luos, Kenyans like to joke that newsreaders only scan pages of the Daily Nation or the Standard for Mr. Odinga’s utterances and whenever Mr. Odinga’s picture graces the front page the number of papers bought rises [the paper should print a separate edition for this neighborhood]. Politics here has little to do with where one stands on issues, it has a lot to do with which tribe a candidate comes from, which gives unfair advantage to the numerically strong tribes and it is the numerical strength of the Kikuyus that the son of the ‘old man’ Jomo Kenyatta counts on. A tribal backing of a particular politician oftentimes degenerates into a blind support. The Luo tribe has annointed Raila Odinga and no matter how small the probability of him winning they cannot accept another Luo as a replacement. Perhaps I should share a joke about the recently created constitution of Kenya that illustrates this point. Kenyan politicians split between those opposed to changes introduced in the Constitution and those supporting those changes. The public was asked to read the Constitution in order to properly measure public opinion. When this reading exercise reached the Luo men in Kibera, they refused to read the document and instead demanded to know whether the son of Jaramogi, Raila Odinga, has read the document and if so then whatever his position would too be their positions. Similarly, there are other Kikuyu politicians who are vying for presidency but Uhuru Kenyatta is the only one given the blessing of the Kikuyu tribe despite the fact that Peter Keneth is in a much better position to be president. Tribal men like to operate with a minimal quanity of reasoning whenever it suits their desired aim and politicians know this well and they exploit it to the fullest at a time when they are desperate [the closing of the polls are such desperate times].
One of the recent trend in African politics can best be described as thus: play first and then agree on the rules afterwards. Examples of such a dangerous game abounds. Here is how it goes: no candidate concedes to the other — accusations of rigged results get tossed in the air and at the end of the day to stop the tribes from finishing each other, a coalition government is formed [they accept to play but reject to lose]. Two bitter enemies [rivals] are brought together to build a country but instead they work hard to tear each other apart. Such coalition governments do not have serious oppositions, which removes the need for accountability and fear of losing upcoming elections. A coalition government creates a confused bureaucratic quagmire, leading the government to inaction on important matters. One hopes that the upcoming elections do not give birth to yet another coalition government. The violence from last election is still fresh and some politicians accussed of aiding the spread of violence are among the aspirants [Uhuru Kenyatta and his running mate top the list]. But if a wanted man by the ICC [the International Criminal Court --- I am providing the meaning of this acronym for my American readers because every person in Africa knows what this stands for] is free enough to stand for the highest office attain at the polls in a country, then what message do people perceive?
Glowing in lights kindled by their fathers, well-fed in a country where hundreds cannot escape from the degradation’s of poverty and the torments of hunger, educated away from home in an era when the word abroad and heaven were synonymous, drowning in riches, Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta picked up their political fight where their fathers left off. A word of warning is in order: when two bulls fight it is the grass that suffers as they say here in Africa but let’s hope also that human reason will triumph over tribal instinct.
By Daniel Akech | January 14, 2013
Evening drew on, the plane lowered its head as it approached Dubai’s colorful airport. Looking down the window above the Arabian skies, the well-lid streets of Dubai gives the city a magnificent look. A gigantic roundabout looked like a heart with all the roads cutting through it appearing like arteries.
One cannot imagine a good economy without good roads to ease the flow of goods. It is no less than madness to expect, under the present circumstances, such a city to crop up in Africa much less in South Sudan. But a huge chunk of human’s activities consists of borrowing what is pleasant or not from others. After the communist party took over in China, its then Chairman Mao Zedong, blown away by the advancement of England, resolved to make the entire China look like England in 15 years! Mao came up with all sorts of revolutions: The Great Leap Forward, Cultural Revolution, among others. Mao’s plans failed because the conditions then were different but others after him succeeded in making China into what it is today.
Instead of dreaming and drawing up plans on how to borrow what is good from other countries, some South Sudanese leaders will simply silent any talk on development by shrugging it off with this hopeless denial “Dubai was not built overnight.” True but with thinking as thus, it is quite possible to forecast with some accuracy the shape of things to come for South Sudan, a nation betrayed by her own sons and daughters. Some of the leaders are simply sweeping along with a complacent, selfish conception of life: they raided the treasury and stole nearly 4 billion dollars of the total revenue generated from the oil wells and starched it away for themselves. This brutalization of this virgin nation does not end here – the stolen money is thrown away on useless things, some of which are so embarrassing to mention. The WFP [that organization that feeds Africans as though they do not have hands to work on their own] more than the local leaders worries about the starving people in South Sudan; in the past few weeks, the WFP donated 35 million dollars to South Sudan to shield new arrivals from hunger. An unbounded craving for material wealth blessed by unworthy adoration of those who have accumulated it even through criminal actions is responsible for the stealing of highest order such as the one mentioned above and it has reversed the economic gears of that nascent country. With the oil wells shut down for several months now, there is nothing in the public account to steal but foreign investors with interest in the new country have mines planted in their ways and many of them are flying away for their own financial survival. An investor who stops at an office requesting to be allowed to start a business, which may help provide jobs for local citizens, is asked “what is in it for me?” by someone in charge. Some leaders would even go on their own way to demand that in order for them to allow for such an investment in their soil they ask that a certain percentage of the total amount a foreign company will make be given to them [this has nothing to do with taxes] and I am told also that the percentage that they asked for is not 2 or 3 they go for 10% or 20%. What has encouraged this is that some people have asked for such in the past and they succeeded in striking it rich in the shortest time possible.
The building of any nation ought to be done by the local people but South Sudan was given away for adoption at birth. A high-ranking member of the SPLM reached a similar conclusion when he left his heart and soul in the microphone on a Sunday service while sharing his hopelessness on the state of affairs in the new country: “our country is snatched off of our hands by foreign workers.” Any keen observer will notice, with no difficulty, that all the manual laborers are foreigners from neighing countries: fuel stations in Juba are operated by Somalis, the banks are mostly operated by Kenyans, transportation industry is controlled by Ugandan [rightfully so because the only modern road built by Americans joins Uganda with Juba], and Ethiopians [and their cousins/arch enemies] control water supplies, hotels and restaurants – from top managements down to front desks.
Some cultural views in South Sudan have contributed to this problem. This can hardly be changed so easily and perhaps education is the only way out because a people so certain of the superiority of their own way of living cannot simply be convinced through verbal appeals to the contrary. Mr. Goto who came to Taiwan as a colonial administrator after Japan took control of Taiwan tried something along this line but I do not know if he succeeded. He refused to create any laws for Taiwanese [who then did not care to measure their consumption of opium] until he understood the reason for their existence. Let’s assume that the South Sudanese do not have the necessary skills to do such jobs, then the government ought to come up with a plan on how to correct this in the next few years. All the youth with high school diploma can be rounded up and taken to vocational schools to learn the necessary skills to work in any of the mentioned sectors. Then upon their return, they can easily get plucked in to work and then slowly foreign workers can be scaled down by replacing them with local skilled workers and a country can be gotten back into the hands of the local people in this manner and thereby reducing the present heightened hopelessness among the youth. It would be careless and uncivilized to incite the local people against foreigners who are working inside South Sudan, which seems to be the trajectory some politicians are determined to trace.
By Daniel Akech | January 3, 2013
It poured heavily here in Kiamunyi on the Christmas Eve. The mountain of garbage, sowed on the road side between Nakuru town and Kiamunyi, began to waste away-sending a flood of stagnant water in all directions with pieces of nasty objects floating on it, which demonstrates a total lack of preparation for a rainy day. The smell from the garbage grew so strong that it could impair one’s ability to smell;-) The garbage threatens the health of many poor souls who live around it; I am temporarily living at the foot of the garbage. The authorities’ only cure for this problem is to burn down the garbage! That exposes the poverty of reasoning, which isn’t an uncommon sight here in our Africa [aka Sub-Saharan]. A village should not seek to rush to urbanization if it is not willing to tackle the problems that will be induced by urbanization. One of the reasons a human differs from a mere animal is that the former creates some of her own problems and needs depending on times in which she lives. For this reason, the prime objective of education should be to adapt a human to live in her times so as to meet the ever changing needs.
By Daniel Akech | December 30, 2012
Shivering in the gripping cold of the rainy day, we placed our heads in our hands while seated and prayed for a departed brother who traded his precious life for a mighty cause -political freedom of his people. This brother went by the name of Deng e Mathiang. I met him a while back here in Nakuru. Deng left behind his wealth [cattle] and joined the rebels in Ethiopia in 1984. He trained in Ethiopia and took to the frontline with the rank of a corporal. Despite his lack of written skills, he quickly learned the basics of heavy machines and became so successful that he was put in charge of one useful artillery. His recent deployment was at Doleib.
George Athor a former rebel leader who after falling out with the present regime in South Sudan leaped into the bushes and formed a small rebel. George Athor once attacked the government post where Deng e Mathiang was posted, the soldiers were caught unprepared and they were quickly flashed out but Deng who had a habit of just shooting until running out of bullets dug his knees into the earth and went on a one versus many defensive. Encouraged by the noise of Deng’s machine, the leader of the post ordered the soldiers to return and Deng was found there fighting by himself and the attacking rebels were defeated. Such bravery and commitment aren’t rewarded appropriately in this side of the world.
Deng after joining the rebels did not have a plan to get married. His parents concerned about him dying without a child [the saddest event in Deng's tribe, which ought to be reversed by asking one of the relatives to marry a woman in the deceased person's name], proposed a girl for him and the parents arranged everything and took the girl to Deng in the fighting fields. The arranged marriage did not last long because Deng was committed more to his duties and the woman left. They had three children and two of whom live with Deng’s brother while Deng’s wife left with one. When Deng reunited with two of his children here in Nakuru [ a boy and a girl], I attended the reunion event. After handshakes, Deng asked me “Would you capture me with your camera?” To which I nodded with a yes but he said we will do it later. His language was superior. He spoke poetically and everything he said was a fantastic joke! His brain was pregnant with beautiful stories of war. He told us once that his artillery unit engaged the enemy in Upper Nile. After winning the war they felt so hungry and when they finally arrived at a nearby town, they stopped at a restaurant and asked the woman in charge to calculate the cost of everything in the restaurant. Deng told the woman that they will give her a cow for they did not have enough money. He sent someone to go and get a cow. The cow was brought pinned down by a peg in front of the restaurant and the soldiers were given everything in the restaurant to eat. “I ordered my men to fill their pockets with leftovers of Kesira [ the Sudanese version of the Ethiopian's Enjera]” Deng told the gathering adding that “one never knew of the schedule of the next meal.” He had the sharpest of memory! He recalled almost every event and being very unpolitical he would tell all kinds of stories. At his reunion with his children nearly everyone urged him to quit the army pointing out the unjust system. After hours of listening to people, he did not have much to say but to shrugged it all off with “This is my life and I won’t trade it for anything else.”
Deng e Mathiang died a few weeks ago at the army post at Doleib. He fell sick and died on the same day. He fought for over twenty years, starting at the rank of corporal and died at the rank of corporal! No appreciation and no promotion, and yet the man died making jokes and very unconcerned about the unjust treatment his uneducated colleagues faced after the civil war. His colleague who spoke yesterday at Deng’s memorial service did not hide his sadness:
We fought the war together for over 20 years and perhaps the uneducated contributed the larger share but now after the war our paychecks are the slimmest, we are the slimmest, none of the uneducated soldiers has ever been to a hospital for a medical check up and with the exception of a body-guard, none of us [the illiterate soldiers] has ever sat in an airplane. We signed up to die for the land and those who have already met their death while fighting are the luckiest because it is shameful that I have to introduce myself over and over—the country should have done this on my behalf by giving me some medal or a batch. It is painful for us to learn that we are forgotten.
A flood of tears rolled down the cheeks of many who heard this speech and many other lamentations from former soldiers. It is such a sad tragedy. Hopefully, the country will educate the children of such soldiers. Gladly, among the recent 40 newly recruited Sudan Scholars, one of the students is one of Deng e Mathiang’s two children. But such a news came a little too late for Deng. May his soul rest in peace.
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