Defining the terms of ‘Success’

Graduates dream big, but not for yourself …. As an applicant from one of the most deprived areas in Kenya, the clean sweep of As, a plethora of extra-curricular and volunteer activities, and the dual titles of democratically elected class reps and academically selected student made references laden with words like ‘struggle’ and ‘deprived’ the cherry on top of a successful application to Egerton University, aged 18. The first of my family to begin university, I was reared on the aspiration and ambition from Tom Mboya to PLO Lumumba—work hard enough, and you’ll get all the success you deserve.

Aspiration, ambition, success, dreams, career: words which at 18, held all the promise for a future waiting to be built.

Now, they stick in my throat like naive vulgarities, corrupted and shot through with the ‘me first’ culture of our society.

As a graduating student, I have seen hordes of friends and acquaintances turn from philanthropic visions to orient instead to the money-making machines of corporations and finance. Friends who opted into the facile and repetitive manoeuvrings of the grind, and out of the blueprints of dreams they had been daubing and drafting since childhood.

But to say that students should instead simply ‘follow their dreams’ is a miscalculated address to the struggle facing every graduate and young person today in our increasingly chaotic world, whether they’re renewing their contract at NYS , or working night shifts in service to afford creative pursuits.

To ‘follow your dreams’ is now a cliché of a cliché, rolling off the tongue like some overplayed radio hit. So easy to rally around, but what does it actually mean? What if those dreams bubbled to boiling point in the very primordial soup of capitalist hegemony, where the only clothes we can afford are made in sweat shops and the only food we can afford were plucked from the hands of an exploited farmer?

A world stagnant with inequality presents each of us with widely diverging access to ‘dreams’; while the system works impeccably smoothly for a few, the labyrinth of ‘opportunity’ is a blind navigation for most. We must divorce ourselves from the dangerous fable that hard work alone achieves dreams, and not the connections, identity or charisma we happen to luck into. ‘Following dreams’ is implicitly privileged.

More importantly, to pretend that the majority of us have complete agency in what we worship eludes the reality of our society, which chases a carrot of success defined by wealth and prestige, and where competition and inequality are the foundational blocks of aspiration. To counteract the gravitational pull of accoutrements of distinction is to reject a lifetime of cultured instinct. Very few have the privilege of recognising this myth, and even fewer have the capacity to actualise the necessary changes.

Even the phrase ‘follow your dreams’ positions the individual and the will for their own desires as sacrosanct, with no footnote on which dreams qualify, and who we can pass over to get there. Isn’t this exact ideology what got us in this mess in the first place, where a few self-serving people decide their dreams are worth the sacrifices of others?

The pathogenic combination of all three; inequality, capitalism and a voracious individualism; turns the innocently uttered advice to simply ‘follow your dreams’ into the signifier carrier of a deadly signified.

As a new student, I experienced this plot twist as the most gut-wrenching dupe. What path do you follow when they all seem steeped in the fallout of entrenched neoliberalism—even the alma mater which granted me so many opportunities funded me with fossil fuel investments.
Oscillating between disgust and awe at my teenage self’s thirst for recognition defined by someone else’s approval and someone else’s success, I worry for my wee brothers and the path they already gracefully tracing. When invited to address pupils at my old high school about ‘success’, I realise that I too am an accessory to the abhorrent myth that accolades and jobs are ends in themselves; the sum total of our value as human beings. And the fetishisation of stories such as mine, where an individual did in fact luck out, only serves to legitimise the inequality inherent in the system—they did it, so why can’t you? Try harder.

We need to radically restructure our society in order to remedy the gross injustice of children sentenced to inadequacy either because they will never have the system in the palm of their hand, or because they believe that the transcendental powers of ‘education’ will give them the dreams they so deserve. And we must begin today by actively stripping back our understanding of ‘success’, and reframing it as something we achieve together.

What if we told our children that wellbeing and happiness were worth aspiring to, or that love was the most valuable thing we have? Imagine a society where children aren’t faced with the abstract quotas teachers are increasingly forced to implement, and instead are nurtured by a recognition that grades are only one part of a healthy mind. And what if we really radicalised our maxims, and taught our children that their dreams should respond to the needs of our planet.

Aspire to global equality. Ambitiously fight for your communities. Achieve the dream of being loved and loving another wholly and relentlessly. Opt out of their definitions of ‘success’ and opt in to being alive and human and free. And struggle every day to reject the insult that you are only as important as the career you choose to pursue. You are more than the conglomerate parts of your CV, but there’s a big old world waiting to be fixed, and it’s time we put that first.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Death = Freedom

Death = Freedom
“But life isn’t hard to manage when you’ve nothing to lose.” – Ernest Hemingway
Fearing death is instinctive. While fear of death stems from a variety of causes, there are a few common themes: fear of the after-life; fear of leaving behind loved ones; unattained goals; fear of not experiencing enough; and fear of not leaving behind a legacy. Most people don’t regularly think about their death; everyone knows it’s going to happen but it’s not imminent. Nevertheless, people are concerned with how they will be viewed once they leave this earth. The truth is that unless you are part of the .01% of people whose legacies will (maybe) live on forever, you will eventually be forgotten. Your name and everything you have accomplished in your life will be lost. Instead of feeling fear, I find this truth incredibly liberating.

Living my life based on others’ expectations is something I frequently think about. By nature of having grown up in a Village, and having graduated from a prestigious prep-school and a selective liberal college, I have been surrounded by extreme competiveness my whole life. Whether it was conscious or subconscious, my peers and I were driven by others’ expectations. Expectations engrained so deeply, that they didn’t seem like a choice. In fact, where I was raised, the expectations were higher than most people could imagine. The acceptable career paths: doctor, lawyer, professor, finance, maybe entrepreneur. As I started to think about the limits of my life, I realized that eventually no one will remember my relatively dubious accomplishments, and the whole ethos seemed absurd.

Think about how short your life is. You can’t drink legally (in Kenau) until you’re 18. Your brain doesn’t stop maturing until you’re in your late late-20s/early-30s. You start losing energy and cognitive function well before your 70s. The cliché, “life is short,” is incredibly appropriate. An individual’s lifespan is a minute fraction in just HUMAN history alone. If you consider the histories of the earth and universe, our lives begin to seem increasingly short and insignificant. Your life most likely won’t mean anything 150 years from now. Your great, great grandchildren probably won’t even know your name.

Oddly enough I find these thoughts comforting. This realization is what I needed to validate my desire to live day by day. As long as your bases are covered both monetarily and socially (i.e. you can afford to feed and shelter yourself and have at least a few true friends) then you have every right to do whatever makes you happy. Each day HAS to be enjoyed. The average person sleeps eight hours a day; this results in 33% of each day and 9,582 days of your life being spent unconscious. I stopped caring what other people think. I stopped obsessing over the idea of finding a career. The best result: I started taking the steps necessary to enjoy each and every day. By realizing that on the Earth’s history scale my death was imminent, I was able to enjoy another cliché: the little things. I was relieved of the burden of trying to “make something of myself.” I stopped viewing life as a series of milestones.

Life is too short to be wasted, yet so many people do just that. And the sad thing is people don’t even realize it. Fighting against this social programming is incredibly difficult. Some people think the solution is to stop caring what other people think, but I don’t think that that is possible or productive. I think the only way to truly live the life you want is to realize that nothing you do is that important. Nothing you do is worth crippling stress and nothing you have or haven’t done is worth crippling regret. You owe it to yourself to enjoy what little time you have in this universe. Don’t spend it doing something you hate, don’t spend it around people who you can’t tolerate or don’t tolerate you, and don’t take anything too seriously.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

How corruption is stifling Africa’s growth

Once again, the Corruption Perceptions Index results are not fundamentally different from previous years: the majority of African countries still have a score of less than 50 per cent, which in our view depicts a situation of endemic corruption.

In a continent with high level of economic growth rates (compared to many parts of the world), the persistence of widespread corruption is one of the factors inhibiting the transformation of the economic growth into development dividends for all citizens, preventing them from enjoying improved livelihoods and living conditions.

It should be a matter of global concern that while citizens in Africa are confronted with corruption to access poor basic services, illicit financial flows from Africa are quickly draining the continent and depriving African countries of resources for investment and development. Currently, illicit financial flows from Africa exceed combined inflows from official development assistance. The UN Economic Commission for Africa estimates that the annual outflow of illicit finance through trade mispricing alone stands at about US$60 billion, having grown at a real rate of 32.5 per cent in the decade between 2000 and 2009. This estimate stands higher than outflows from other developing regions. Illicit financial flows are a serious threat to Africa’s economic growth and development. This situation needs to stop and it is a global responsibility to stop it.

There is a growing awareness of the importance of transparency, participation and accountability for sustainable development gains. As negotiations for Sustainable Development Goals draw to a conclusion, African leaders and citizens should mobilise to ensure a global consensus for a goal on effective, transparent and inclusive institutions. In Africa, now more than ever before, governments, companies and citizens should work together to ensure Africa’s development is premised on real transparency, accountability and participation.

This article is published in collaboration with Transparency International. Publication does not imply endorsement of views by the World Economic Forum.

Author: Chantal Uwimana is Regional Director for Africa and the Middle East at Transparency International.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Kethi Kilonzo’s Emotional Appeal To Uhuru on Father’s Day

Your Excellency, your father and mine (may their Souls rest in peace), lived in different times, but had many things in common. Self made. Witty. Courageous. Outspoken. More than capable minds. Street smart. Fearless leadership.
My father was born in a small village four years before the emergency in 1952. His early childhood education was financed from the sale of home grown vegetables by my grandmother who had absolutely no formal education or informal training.

You probably recall that at his funeral, which was conducted 50 years after Kenya’s independence, your predecessor, His Excellency retired President Mwai Kibaki, joked about the long and winding dusty roads to my father’s rural home. You were also surprised by those roads and promised their construction. A simple village boy with a big brain and heart, he rose to become a king maker. As an advocate he commanded fear, respect and envy in equal measure. He tagged quietly and closely the ear of your mentor, His Excellency retired President Moi, for many years.

Your predecessor also sought his advice and keenly observed it. He was wealthy, powerful and fiercely popular. Against all expectations, since he only spent approximately Sh1.3 million for his campaign, he was elected the first Senator of Makueni County. He therefore died as part of the Government you now head. On April 26, 2013, neither power, nor wealth, government nor family could save him. The pathologists have concluded that he met his death as a result of a toxin that catastrophically stopped his blood clotting mechanism. Realising that his time had come, he probably instinctively staggered to his bathroom in his pyjamas and vomited his entire last meal undigested.

His last action was to stagger back to his bed. When the stem of his brain started bleeding the organs of his body shut down one after the other. No one knows how long he lay paralysed as every single organ in his body, including his skin bled out. He could not call for help. He could not reach for his phone that was on his bedside table, only half a metre away.

Many days after his death, as his body lay cold and motionless on the table of the morgue, while the doctors readied themselves for the post-mortem, the bleeding continued. Because of the posthumous bleeding, the opening of his head for the harvesting of his brain and other tissues for testing, my father was unrecognisable after his post-mortem.

Like Humpty Dumpty he could not quite be put back together again. There could be no public viewing of his body. His swollen dark and disfigured head and face haunts my days and nights. The toxicology report from London could not identify the toxin as the samples that were airlifted to London from Nairobi after the post-mortem had been opened. Those are the same samples that necessitated his posthumous disfigurement. Two years and two months have now passed, yet the tragedy continues.

The court case for the succession of the properties he tirelessly toiled for will start before those behind his death, and those behind the opening of the post-mortem samples, face justice. If the murder of a Senator, a billionaire, a national leader, and a man with networks across the globe, can go unheeded, what happens to the families of men and women murdered in their villages? If the police can’t find and stop local killers, how can they match Al-Shabaab? It is not too late to right these wrongs. It is not too late to wield the full force and fury of the law against those who dared lay their hands on a distinguished lawmaker. It is not too late to stand on the right side of history.

Courtesy of Standard

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

This is A Letter To You

I’ve not any of an idea how to write a love letter, but someone had asked me to write one, so I’m writing one. She’s given me a particular topic to focus on, but I’ve never really lost a lover before so not a sliver will I be able to feel what she had felt or is feeling.

I’m not writing this letter to anyone in particular. Although God knows I just might have a person in mind, but that person doesn’t count as someone who deserves a letter–I’ve written so many words about you already. You need not any more. But nevertheless, here is a letter I’m writing completely out of sympathy. A presentation of how I think love could and would be. A hopeful cluster of words from someone who’s never been in love before.

Dear you,

As you are now, you might be living a very normal day in your life. Or maybe not. Maybe you’re into something drastic I won’t ever be aware of, but hello. You might have read the title. And you might have noticed that it’s spot on. Yes, you, I am writing a love letter. And it is for you.

Truth be told, I’ve not any idea as to what I should say to you. For all I know, I could be saying all the wrong things. I could be embarrassing myself already. But the hell gives a damn about what the world thinks about this. I’m writing this to talk about you. To talk to you. Call this cliché–I won’t give a damn about it either. It’s not cliché; it’s honest.

I don’t know where and how I’ll start. Nobody knows about this, but I could spend all my hours just with the thought of you in my mind. I could spend all hours of me being awake talking about you. I’ve spent weeks and months trying to get rid of the thought of you, but all of it vanishes when you pass by. I then get flooded by more feelings I thought I had started to successfully drive away.

You are a goddamned puzzle that’s composed of tiny pieces scattered across the places you step your feet on. I could stare you down and try to figure you out, but I will never be able to find those pieces you left on your wake. And then I’m left to attempt to achieve something impossible. Whether you believe this or not, the thought of these words occurred when I remembered you walking past me whilst I read a few days ago. I don’t know what’s it within you, but words spring out of my head like music even just in the most normal of things as long as you’re the one doing them. And that’s insane. Because little do I know about you. I hope I didn’t. I hope I knew more about you.

You are the sky. I could be anywhere and I’d still see you there. Just, just there. Tattooed into my mind like the words from my favorite songs. Like the phrases and expressions my classmates loved to say so much and are on the verge being adapted by me in my daily language. I don’t want you. I don’t want to be thinking of you. I don’t want you to be a part of my daily language. And yet here I am. Getting all clammy, dramatic, wordy, and eloquent because of you.

You are ridiculous. Please tell me you never once tried stealing a glance towards my direction. Please tell me you paid me no attention ever. Because I hate it. I hate it when you glance over my direction. I hate it when you swivel your head towards where I just might be. I hate it because I want you so so badly to be looking straight at me-straight into my eyes. My eyes that just might possibly be drilling holes into your head because of how hard I’d stare at you when you’re near.

I hate you. A lot. I hate that you’re everywhere in my head. I hate that even though I don’t want to, I still keep on trying to figure you out. I hate that you manage to make me feel funny when you’re within my vicinity.

I know this is hopeless. Impossible, even. But I really hope you know me. I really hope I know you. Because maybe, hopefully maybe, when I know of you, I’d start forgetting about you. Hopefully, I’d stop seeing you the way I do now. Hopefully, I start to hate you.

Here’s to hoping. I hope you have a good life.



Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

For Those Of Us Missing A Dad On Father’s Day

I’m giving you a virtual hug or whatever is a comfort to you, even if it’s just a temporary one.
I know, just as you do, there is no quick fix to this feeling. I can’t string together the perfect collection of words to make it better or easier. If I could, I’d be doing it always. I’d be traveling the world helping grieving children feel a little less hollow. But I don’t. Frankly, I’m not sure such a thing even exists.

All I know to say is you aren’t alone, as isolated as you may feel. Someone else out there is missing a father. Someone else out there was hating this day because of what it does to you.

It reminds you.

These days have a way of sneaking up. The milestones.The aching hole that, most days, you can convince yourself isn’t there. You’re okay, just strolling along, laughing at a GIF on twitter or texting your best friend about that weird thing someone said on whatsApp. Everything is fine. It’s just another day.

Until it isn’t.

Until the calendar tells you.

Until Facebook shows you photos of everyone celebrating.

Until Instagram reminds you of your inability to take a new photo with him.

Until Father’s Day Groupon emails taunt you with great deals on gifts you don’t need.

These moments will find you at the most unexpected times. You were singing to some Jason Derulo song just seconds ago, really emphasizing the DERULOoOooO part, and then it’s here. And your throat tightens. Your tear ducts seem to say, “Hey! just letting you know I’m here and ready for action.”

Maybe you lost your father to death. Maybe you never knew your father to begin with. Maybe father has just never been part of your vocabulary. Whatever the reason this day hurts for you – I’m with you. And other people are too. The day will be over and you will continue on. That doesn’t mean it won’t hurt. It’s a fallacy to say time heals all wounds.

It doesn’t.

What it does is teach us how to move forward with scars. It teaches us how to hurt and continue surviving. Because there will be unbelievable moments of sorrow. But guess what? There will also be happiness. There will be memories or things that have you laughing, not crying.

But today sucks. And I can’t sugarcoat it.

But I’m with you.

And if you’re lucky enough to have a dad (whatever definition you choose), hug them. Tell them you love them. Because life is unpredictable and something as benign as a Groupon email with the headline “Perfect Gifts For Your Dad” might make you cry into your coffee cup.


Dad, it’s been that long and it still stings like I got the phone call yesterday. Thank you for providing me with some of the happiest moments of my life which I Never had the opportunity of celebrating . As terrified as I am that I will forget the sound of your voice, I will never forget the comfort your presence granted me. You were safety and warmth. You were everything I hope and try to be. Thank you for showing me the true definition of fatherhood, love, and humanity. I love you.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

I Have a Dream About Africa

The following is a guest submission by Phumlani M. UMajozi

When Martin Luther King Jr. made the famous I have a dream speech in 1963, he spoke of a country where people will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. Like MLK, I too have a dream. Mine is about the continent Africa.

There is a sense of exasperation amongst many Africans today. They feel that for centuries, their continent has been looked down upon, disrespected by many around the world. I do not only see this exasperation on social networks, but also on my interactions with many people I know.
I have felt the same way too, at times. But instead of spewing vitriol against those who I believe undermine us; I have rather chosen to try and be analytical – ask myself why do they undermine this continent?

The reason we’re in this situation is partly because the post-Cold War Africa never upheld and protected human rights. I refer to the post-Cold War era because before the end of the ideological wrangle, the then global powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, were contributors to the political chaos and squabbles that plagued Africa at the time. Countries like Democratic Republic of Congo (Congo D.R.), then Zaire and Angola became the battleground between Moscow and Washington.
In the mission of repressing communism, the West financed and buttressed anti-communism movements and regimes; no matter their records on human rights. The Soviet Union would counter Americans with similar acts – which further destabilized these countries. This was true not only in Africa, also in Asia and Latin America.

What Africa should do now in the post-Cold War era – which is not being done – is to choose individual freedom – liberty. My dream is that most Africans will one day realize that individual liberty leads to lasting prosperity. And that it is that individual liberty that will change people’s perceptions about Africa.
As long as our governments defy the rule of law and tolerate leaders like Omar al-Bashir of Sudan, who is suspected of mass murder, as the South African government did recently, this continent will remain tainted. This man abhors individual freedom and liberty and has ruled his destitute country since 1989. Yet he remains tolerated and is welcomed around the continent.

Despots who oversee gross human rights abuses in their countries walk on red carpets on state visits. If we continue with these actions, how is the world going to respect us?

Africa’s guaranty of individual liberty will produce a free market that will bolster economic growth and help reduce the grinding poverty that afflicts us all. It is my dream that Africans will realize that the free-market economic system – that is impossible without individual liberty – is the solution to socioeconomic problems we face today. African countries like Congo D.R., Chad, Zimbabwe, Central African Republic, and many others, rank way at the bottom of the 2015 Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom – which measures the degree of economic freedom in the world’s nations. These countries I have mentioned are categorized as “Repressed” in the index.

The Global Finance Magazine lists them among the poorest in the world; Congo D.R. tops the list with the Gross Domestic Product (based on purchasing power parity) of less than $500.00.

The freest countries in the index – Hong Kong, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland are among the richest in the world – with the Gross Domestic Product (based on purchasing power parity) of more than $44 000.00. When human freedom and liberty is largely respected and protected – people prosper. This then means Africa must undertake the necessary reforms in order to reach this level of prosperity.

What we also need to remember, is that it is impossible to uphold individual liberty, preserve the free market economic system, without the effective and efficient rule of law. This is why the mission of the Free Market Foundation – which I am part of – is to “promote and foster an open society, the rule of law, personal liberty, and economic and press freedom as fundamental components of its advocacy of human rights and democracy based on classical liberal principles.”

My dream is that Africans will one day realize the importance of the rule of law.
In many of these African countries that rank at the bottom of the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom, the rule of law and governance is nonexistent – where it does exist, the power-hungry politicians have hijacked it in order to advance their political ambitions.

We need the functioning rule of law to punish those who violate human freedom – for example murderers, rapists and fraudsters.
It is sad to always hear that hundreds of African migrants die in the Mediterranean trying to cross into Europe. They take the risk in desperation – in search of better economic opportunities. They are running away from their continent that is plagued by dictatorship and poverty – where individual freedom doesn’t exist. My dream is that one day; they will not see the need to take this deadly risk. That will only happen in a prosperous Africa.

These are my dreams about Africa – and I must say, they are far from being comprehensive. But at least they do paint a picture of what kind of Africa I want to see in years to come.

I hope that they will come true one day. But, as I have preached many, many times, it’s us Africans who should take the first step in right direction

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment