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Month: January 2019

Leadership: What’s age got to with it?

One of the recurring issues on Malawi’s political scene, at least from 2014 is the issue of youth leadership. Youthful Atupele Muluzi contested on this agenda in 2014 elections and finished a distant fourth in an election won by the oldest candidate on the ballot, Peter Mutharika. Eventually Muluzi betrayed his own “youth agenda” and joined the Mutharika government.

Muluzi says he joined Mutharika’s government because he thinks he could save Malawians better while in the government and not outside it. Yet, those who follow Malawi politics closely will tell you that Atupele Muluzi could have gone into the alliance so that the Peter Mutharika’s government could not bother his father, Bakili the same way Bingu wa Mutharika did. Bakili Muluzi, a former State President is answering corruption charges amount to MK1.7 billion while in power and he has been in and out of the courts for the past 12 years or so.

It is an alliance of convenience, based more on personal reasons than an urge to serve Malawians better, like Atupele would want us believe; the Muluzis want to ensure that they are left alone while Mutharika gets the additional numbers he needs to increase the number of MPs who would vote with his party in parliament—you can call it a gentlemen’s agreement.

It was easy for Atupele to abandon the “youth agenda” because it was not as personal to him as the above case. Also, important is the fact that the “youth agenda” had no any ideological leaning – it was just a tactic to attract the youth vote who still make the majority of the electorate in Malawi.

Four years on, the issue of youth leadership is back into the public discourse. This time more pronounced by those advocating for the country’s Vice President, Saulosi Chilima to contest as a president. Chilima has declared his interest to contest, albeit with some conditions, including “transparent” nomination process. He says he doesn’t want to impose himself in the issue. Chilima talks about some of the serious ills affecting the development of Malawi, including corruption and nepotism. Chilima’s diagnosis is correct if not obvious for most Malawians. He talks of transformational leadership and meritocracy in public appointments and recruitment.

Curiously, Chilima seems unwilling to comment on the fact that those propping up his candidacy are a group of recycled politicians frustrated elsewhere because they were left out of top positions. As argued before, this smacks of the same corruption that Chilima is denouncing. Interestingly, the beginnings of Chilima Movement out of the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) was mainly on the grounds that at 45 years old he was much younger and energetic, unlike 78 years Peter Mutharika who is leading the party into the 2019 elections.

In his interview with Zodiak Broadcasting Station, Chilima revoked the often used argument that Malawi’s first post-colonial cabinet was dominated by young men and women in their 20s and 30s. It is true, and rather than just being in the cabinet it was also the youthful politicians the likes of Orton Chirwa, Masauko Chipembere, Yatuta and Dunduzu Chisiza and Rose Chibambo etc. who did most the ground work for the independence of this country. They were young, inspired, and dedicated to the freedom of this country.

Yet, the example as used by Chilima and many other contemporary politicians desperate to score political points tends to be ahistorical and lacking in context. Those young politicians in the first cabinet were ideologically driven – they were not just leaders for their own sake. The Cabinet Crisis of 1964 happened because those youthful politicians differed with Kamuzu Banda on ideological grounds – not scramble for a leadership position, as it is the case today.

In their 2010 journal paper on “Cabinet Crisis and its Legacy of Perpetual Regression of Trust Among Contemporary Malawi politics”, Happy Kayuni and Richard Tambulasi of Chancellor College, University of Malawi observed that there were five reasons why the Cabinet Crisis happened. The youthful politicians were against the following:

The adoption of Skinner Report, which approved reduced remuneration for civil servants; The delay in Africanisation; The continuation of diplomatic links with the racist regimes of Portuguese Mozambique and apartheid South Africa; The introduction of three pence hospital charges and Reluctance to accept aid from, and forge links with, communist China.

These young leaders were concerned about the ideological direction the country was taking. Ideology is crucial in politics because it gives direction to those leading the society. These young leaders stood by their ideologies and many of them paid with their lives, others with their freedom and livelihoods, including that of their families and loved ones.

This is inspirational, more so given the tribulations Malawi is going through today and it is not surprising that aspiring young leaders would want to associate with this group. Yet, today we do not have young leaders of such ilk. Today folks are quick to use the sixties group of as an example of themselves but they are not.

Chilima is still part of the government he is criticising; he can’t resign because that may affect his lucrative retirement package of a Vice President. He knows he cannot be fired because his position is constitutionally protected. Likewise, Atupele Muluzi abandoned his “youth agenda” when it no longer suited his personal interests. Today he is a part of a failing government he would most likely contest against in 2019, yet he won’t resign as a cabinet minister in Mutharika’s government

Is Tech in Nigeria ‘Bougie’?

During the 2016 Communication Technology Retreat in Ibadan, I queued up to withdraw some money from the only ATM in the vicinity. The wait felt lengthy as the man withdrawing money fidgeted in front of the ATM for close to 10 minutes. Already impatient, the lady in front of me questioned the man and discovered he couldn’t operate the ATM. Understanding his predicament, she translated and walked him though the steps needed to withdraw money.

In that moment, I realized I took the ability to withdraw money from an ATM for granted. Operating an ATM required a basic grasp of the English language, which quite a number of Nigerian citizens do not possess. (Don’t ask me how I know. I’m not NBS)

Here we were at this conference discussing smart cities and futuristic public technologies and right outside the hall, a Nigerian struggled to operate a decade-old machine. The tech was there, but there was a clear barrier to entry – education. If a portion of our population cannot access technology, its impact remains limited. Hence the question — does tech in Nigeria improve lives collectively or is tech limited to making the lives of the middle class Nigerians more convenient?

Different answers exist depending on what one defines as tech, but I’ve chosen to base my model of exclusion on Nigeria’s mobile and internet penetration. Nigeria has a population of 178 million, 152 million active telecom subscribers, and since people have multiple lines, and 97 million Internet users. Take out those who have access to such ICT resources, but can barely use these devices, you’re left with roughly half of what we started with. We’re left with a large portion of our population excluded from the access to technology or its benefits – not including multiplier effects of technology.

The numbers do not indict tech, instead they highlight the absence of other factors that attenuate the reach of tech. Other infrastructural and socioeconomic indicators have to improve concurrently for tech to be inclusive and effective.

Tech is limited in effectiveness if people can’t read, face difficulties opening bank accounts, or lack access to electricity. Hence, when internet bank transfer gets better, social media interaction burgeons, e-commerce websites spring up…such progress all remains so exclusionary to the majority of Nigerians. A number of issues on the commercial and administrative levels arise due to such exclusion.

How do tech startups scale within the domestic market that is limited to the meagre middle/upper classes? Oh, did I forget they also have to compete with foreign services/products for these same classes? The market is much smaller than it seems.

How can one possibly wish to digitise the majority of government processes when the majority of the people lack the ability to use the technology needed to access electronic content? Heck, a number of public sector servants can’t even use their email.

From a productivity angle, technology’s effectiveness is also limited to ability. In Economics, an additional unit of any input has a marginal effect on output. A student switching from paper to a laptop marginally changes her level of productivity. However, this margin differs from person to person. While a student limits herself to checking Linda Ikeji on her laptop, another student teaches herself to code with the same device. Clearly, the productive value of tech is derived not only from the functionality of the device, but from the ability — and initiative — of the user. Raising this ability requires cross-sectional elements.

The effectiveness of tech is influenced by a couple of other exogenous and endogenous factors. If you wish to grow the market and make tech more inclusive, productive and impactful, tackling these factors is key. Focus on the cross-sections: education, health care, roads, and electricity. Without these, most people will be isolated from tech and its full effectiveness will remain limited to we ‘bougies’. Given tech’s potential to spur development and improve the lives of many, such a future sound unappealing.

ALC: Announcing Google Africa Scholarships with the Andela Learning Community

Today, Google announced a partnership with Andela and Udacity to provide 15,000 “single-course” scholarships and 500 nanodegree scholarships to aspiring developers in Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa. The investment, which will power the growth of the Andela Learning Community, affirms Google’s commitment to developing communities of talent across Africa. We couldn’t be more thrilled to partner with them on our mission to unlock human potential at scale.

We launched the Andela Learning Community in January of 2017, in partnership with Google and Udacity, to provide aspiring technologists with the tools to become globally competitive software developers. Together, we realized that we could combine Andela’s learning science and community building with the curriculum that Udacity and Google had already developed to tackle the technical skills gap on the continent.

The success has been astounding. Through ALC 1.0 and 2.0, we’ve supported 6,000+ learners, built 8,000+ apps, hosted 300+ in-person meetups, certified 70+ Android developers, and connected 90+ graduates with career opportunities.

Some stats from the Andela Learning Community 1.0 and 2.0 with Google

By far the most exciting result is the completion rate. In MOOCs, one of the biggest challenges is getting people who begin their learning to actually complete the course. The industry standard for a successful completion rate is around 5–10%. Throughout ALC 1.0 and 2.0, we’ve consistently seen over 50% completion rate.

How? By building communities where learners feel a deep sense of belonging. We have built and empowered a dedicated network of 100+ volunteers across Nigeria and Kenya that we call Learning Community Ambassadors (LCAs). The LCAs consist of regional program assistants, meetup facilitators, and community mentors who provide in-person and online support to all learners. Together with the entire ALC network, we’ve proven that the sense of belonging to a community is much more than an ancillary benefit — in fact, it’s responsible for success rates that are 10x higher than average.

Peer learning ongoing at an ALC meetup, led by the Learning Community Facilitators/Mentors

The same principle accounts for the early results we’ve seen in the first ALC with Microsoft, and it’s why we’re confident that we’ll be able to achieve similarly high completion rates by partnering with any global technology company committed to driving the same impact.

Andela is a network of lifelong learners. We believe in building people up and creating inclusive communities. Today, we support 10,000 learners across the continent. Soon, through partnerships with Google, Udacity, and others, we will reach 100,000.

Today’s announcement is a big step toward achieving that goal. We’re thrilled that Google is doubling down on their investment in Africa’s tech ecosystems and honored to be working alongside them and Udacity to prove why investing in people is the best investment you can make.

The Modernization of Africa

The Modernization of Africa – Joshua

With a current population of more than a billion people and a growth rate of about two and a half percent per annum, Africa is going to experience tremendous booms over the coming decades. By 2050, there will be 2.5 billion people living on the continent, and after 50 more years it will go up to 4.4 billion. So, by 2050 about 26% of the world’s population will reside in Africa and by the year 2100 it will contain 39% of the total.

To help cope with this tremendous increase, the countries of Africa need to form alliances with each other to start putting in futuristic infrastructure throughout the continent. They need more schools to train local citizens, thereby better empowering them to succeed. Like any other place in the world, independent innovation is going to be the key to modernizing Africa. This means local governments need to be restructured on better electoral systems. So, Africans need to have zero tolerance for improper governance. They need grassroots efforts to guarantee human rights.

Africa contains huge percentages of the global reserves of precious metals like magnesium and platinum, but so many people live in extreme poverty. This vast repository should transfer into the health and wealth of the people, but it doesn’t. Furthermore, farmland is becoming an increasingly rarer global commodity, but more than a quarter of all the fertile soil in the world is found in Africa. In reality, the continent has so much arable land that it should be exporting tons of food, however many areas are unused so countries end up needing to import vast quantities of edible goods, instead. This is a terrible waste of resources.

Foreign invested large-scale farming could help deal with this, but it’s not really the best solution. Although this would provide jobs to natives and allow for roads to be built and electricity to be harnessed, the problem is that it would make local populations dependent on foreign capital. Plus, vast mono-crop plantations cause tremendous harm to the planet, and the profits from things like palm oil don’t even really benefit local populations.

Food insecure countries don’t need overseas companies coming in and taking things over in vicious land grabs. There is a tremendously high demand for locally produced food that needs to be met. Plus, there are a number of exportable products throughout Africa — like cocoa, as well as sheep and goats. Everything is just being mismanaged, so very few people gain anything from all of this.

Granted, Africa’s food challenges are highly complex. They’re also very different from one country to the next. Nigeria, Ethiopia, Somalia, and all of the other African nations each need locally tailored solutions to their own locally specific problems. Although, the continents relentless growth means that it also needs to foster shared prosperity in order to flourish. This is quite a dilemma.

Inadequate infrastructure, erratic border policies, and weak input markets make it nearly impossible for the vast majority of countries in Africa to successfully modernize. They need enhanced irrigation and diverse crop varieties, but have no way of acquiring these things. This is terribly unfortunate because something like poor grain quality impacts every facet of daily life. So, the overall goal is to get lower production and transport costs on higher yields throughout the continent.

In addition to this, rampant deforestation is negatively impacting the lives of native hunter-gatherers more and more. So, to offset this, urban jungles need to be built to house these displaced communities. Strong public and private partnerships need to be made in order for this to occur. Simply put, there needs to be massive investment in the agribusiness sector to make more food locally available and to boost exports.

To make matters worse, along with widespread malnutrition, the growing threat of climate change will also negatively affect more and more people in Africa as time goes on. So, urban planning in the underdeveloped continent needs to move away from the concept of coastal living to prepare for the coming climate change inundations by setting up inland megacities. There needs to be massive investments in basic amenities like providing water to everyone by installing more plumbing.

By having better means of irrigation as well as access to electricity through renewable sources, Africans will experience quality of life increases unlike anything they have ever known before. Of course, this is going to require a great deal of commitment from the UN and the World Bank, as well as a number of other groups. Luckily, Africa’s workforce is developing faster than any other continent, so they will also be able to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, in many ways. If all goes well, by the turn of the century Africa will be completely new, with the fastest growing economies and the strongest middle class on the planet. That’s why we can’t afford to get this wrong. Africa simply has to modernize. The fate of the world depends on it.

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