Daily Archives: February 19, 2018

Without City Jobs, Tech-savvy Kenyan Youth Head Back to Farm

When Francis Njoroge graduated with an engineering degree in Nairobi, he expected to earn a six-figure salary. Instead he found himself working as an electrician on a three-month contract, for 20,000 Kenyan shillings (about $200) per month.

Realizing permanent and well-paid jobs were hard to come by in the Kenyan capital, he decided to move back to his parents’ farm in Kimandi, a village about 150km away, and start his own business planting and selling tree seedlings.

“My parents are tea and maize farmers and always managed to pay our school fees,” Njoroge told the Thomson Foundation, walking around the farm in dark blue overalls.

“So I thought rather than be frustrated in my job or not even have one, why not go into something I know will bring me money?”

Njoroge is not alone. Kenya has the highest rate of youth joblessness in East Africa, according to the World Bank, with nearly one in five young people who are eligible for work not finding jobs.

Poor job prospects and low pay in cities are pushing thousands of unemployed young people to return home and take up farming, said David Mugambi, a lecturer at Chuka University in central Kenya.

“Young people are increasingly realizing that farming can pay off,” he explained.

Njoroge used his savings to buy seeds from the Kenya Forestry Research Institute after realizing there was a shortage of seedlings among local farmers.

“At first I was making 7,000 shillings ($70) a month by selling tree seedlings to a community organization,” he added.

“Three years later, I now earn more than 10 times that amount.”

Tech-savvy youth

Kenyan youth are not only turning to farming, they are bringing their digital skills with them to rural areas, according to Mugambi.

“For example, tech-savvy youth are very good at using mobile apps that tell them when to plant or what fertilizers to use,” he said.

Knowing very little about tree seedlings, Njoroge joined a WhatsApp group of 30 fellow farmers to learn about issues like growing conditions and fertilizers.

“I take pictures of my produce, upload them to WhatsApp with a price tag, and then take calls from interested buyers,” he explained.

Like Njoroge, Phillip Muriithi, a teaching graduate from Kenyatta University, left Nairobi to return to his parents’ farm about 200km northeast of the city, and now grow tomatoes and cabbages.

“I wanted to become a high school teacher but without a job or income I felt like a balloon drifting to nowhere,” he told the Thomson Foundation, standing in the middle of a field of green tomatoes in Mitunguu, central Kenya.

“Living in the city was so expensive,” he added. “But with farming I was assured of food, a small income, and didn’t have to pay rent.”

Muriithi also uses his mobile to keep a record of costs, fertilizers and profit, and to market his produce on WhatsApp groups.

“My phone allows me to reach a wider audience than if I were travelling to the market it’s just made farming a lot easier,” he added.

More funds and support

The Kenyan government is trying to promote entrepreneurship among young people by improving their access to credit, said Mugambi.

The Uwezo fund, for example, provides youth with grants and interest-free loans of up to 500,000 shillings (about $5,000) to set up their own business.

But more investment is needed to make farming attractive to a wider range of young people, Mugambi added.

“Many youth still see returning home as a failure and farming as a lowly affair,” he said.

Njoroge agrees, saying his friends tried to discourage him from going into farming, which they saw as the preserve of “older, uneducated folk.”

Some regret making the switch to farming. Mary Wanjiku, a teaching graduate from Chuka University, who went home to grow tomatoes and onions, said her experience turned into a “nightmare.”

“The little capital I had got used up in buying fertilizers, manure and seeds, and I nearly lost my entire tomato harvest to an attack by bacteria wilt,” she said, adding that she now sells second-hand clothes instead.

Muriithi’s advice is to “start small” to minimize any disappointment.

“I was really scared of failing so started with only a small chunk of land for the first two years,” he said. “But now my father is convinced of my success, he lets me use most of his eight-acre piece of land.”

Source: Voice of America

Nigeria Convicts 205 Boko Haram Suspects in Mass Trials

More than 200 people have been convicted in Nigeria on charges related to their involvement with militant Islamist group Boko Haram, the justice ministry said Monday.

The convictions of 205 people in mass trials mark the conclusion of the second stage of the country’s biggest legal challenge to Boko Haram, which began an insurgency in 2009 aimed at creating an Islamic state in northeastern Nigeria.

“Most of them were convicted for professing to belong to the terrorist group, [or] concealing information about the group which they knew or believe to be of material assistance that could lead to the arrest, prosecution or conviction of Boko Haram members,” the justice ministry said in a statement.

Jail terms ranged from three to 60 years, said the ministry.

It also said a total of 526 people allegedly affiliated with Boko Haram had been released for rehabilitation during the second stage, and said 73 cases had been adjourned.

More than 20,000 people have been killed and two million forced to flee their homes since the insurgency began.

Humanitarian groups have criticized the Nigerian authorities’ handling of some of those detained for infringing on the suspects’ rights.

Some whose cases were heard last week at a detention center in central Nigeria had been held without trial since 2010, according to the justice ministry, which added that some had been released for lack of evidence against them.

In October, the ministry said 45 people suspected of Boko Haram links had been convicted and jailed. A further 468 suspects were discharged and 28 suspects were remanded for trial in Abuja or Minna.

Source: Voice of America

Buhari: Nigeria to Sell Assets Seized in Anti-graft Probes to Boost Treasury

Nigeria will sell all assets seized by the government in anti-graft probes and use the funds to bolster the treasury, President Muhammadu Buhari said on Monday.

Nigerian state coffers have in past years been ransacked by government officials and their associates, and corruption is prevalent throughout society. Buhari was elected in 2015 in part on a promise to rid the country of graft.

“All mismanaged and misappropriated national assets recovered will be sold off and proceeds paid to the treasury for the benefit of the country,” he said, according to a statement from his spokesman.

The presidency statement did not say when the sales would happen, nor provide further details.

Very few officials from Buhari’s administration have so far been prosecuted despite frequent allegations against them.

Notable exceptions were his sacking last October of Nigeria’s most senior civil servant, Babachir Lawal, and the former head of the National Intelligence Agency for alleged involvement in corruption.

Source: Voice of America

South African Opposition Slams New President in Maiden Speech

South Africa’s opposition has harshly criticized new President Cyril Ramaphosa’s first State of the Nation Address, questioning whether the new president has a concrete plan to address the nation’s many challenges.

A day after taking office to replace the unpopular Jacob Zuma, Ramaphosa’s address on Friday outlined big ambitions and challenged South Africans to follow in the steps of their greatest leader.

“Together we are going to make history in our country,” he said to a parliament that, for the most part, warmly welcomed his appearance Friday. “We have done it before.We have done it before and we can do it again bonded by our common love for our country, resolute in our determination to overcome the challenges that lie ahead and convinced that by working together we will build the fair and just, and decent society to which Nelson Mandela dedicated his life.”

But Monday’s parliament session gave the opposition an opportunity to poke holes in his vision, which they did.

The state of the nation address is a comprehensive round-up of almost every aspect of government work, and 40 speakers from the ruling African National Congress and the opposition debated the finer points for much, much longer than the original 90-minute speech.

Ramaphosa’s every position was dissected and questioned — from public safety to education to healthcare to the ANC’s proposal expropriate farmland without compensation.

The main opposition Democratic Alliance also challenged Ramaphosa’s pledge to wipe out corruption after Zuma’s nine-year run that was riddled with serious, mounting corruption allegations. Critics of Zuma and the ANC have long maintained that Zuma did not act alone in allegedly squandering tens of millions of dollars’ in government funds.

DA leader Mmusi Maimane challenged Ramaphosa to make good on his promises with concrete action.

“Now I know this is hard, because the president has to dish out patronage to many people,” he said. “But Mr. President, let me perhaps ask you to start removing ministers who have already shown themselves to be compromised? Show South Africa you are really serious about fighting corruption in your party and fire Bathabile Dlamini, Faith Muthambi, Mosebenzi Zwane, Malusi Gigaba, Des van Rooyen, David Mahlobo, Lynne Brown and Mr. Seven-Thousand-Rands-Per-Night Bongani Bongo out of your cabinet.”

All of those officials have been implicated in corruption scandals or allegations of corruption.

Too vague?

And that, the opposition maintained, was the weakest point of Ramaphosa’s speech. He promised sweeping changes and more summits, conferences and working groups than observers could count — but little in the way of specifics.

That was not lost on the sharp-tongued leader of the far-left Economic Freedom Fighters, Julius Malema.

“President, we are saying to you, you are doing all of this because you know that you will be a president for 12 months,” he said. “You are effectively saying to South Africa, there is nothing I can do in the next 12 months, because I will be looking for plans from commissions, and after 12 months you will be gone,” said Malema.

Ramaphosa has just over a year to implement whatever changes he can, while also trying to steer his party — and himself — to victory in next year’s national polls.

While the first few days on the job have seen little real change in the way of policy, Ramaphosa will have a chance to refute the criticisms on Tuesday, when he appears in parliament to address and refute points raised in Monday’s debate.

That may show whether Ramaphosa is willing to do something his combative predecessor did not do with his political opponents: talk things out.

Source: Voice of America

Pope Backs Down After Defending Nigerian Bishop Rejected by Locals

A Nigerian bishop whom Pope Francis had fiercely defended has resigned after a five-year, sometimes violent, standoff with rebel priests and faithful who rejected him as an ethnic outsider, the Vatican said on Monday.

The case of the Vatican versus the people of the diocese of Ahiara in southwestern Nigeria had become a rare battle of wills that tested the power of papal authority and could set a precedent for future appointments.

A Vatican statement said the pope had accepted the resignation of Peter Ebere Okpaleke as bishop of the diocese of Ahiara. It said the position had been declared vacant and that a papal administrator would run it for the time being.

Many priests and faithful had refused to swear allegiance to Okpaleke because he is not from Mbaise, a heavily Catholic area in southwestern Nigeria made up of an amalgam of indigenous clans connected by intermarriage.

Okpaleke was appointed bishop by then-pope Benedict in 2012, but the protests prevented him from ever taking over the diocese. His installation ceremony took place in another area of Nigeria because the doors of the Ahiara cathedral were locked so the bishop could not enter.

The situation came to a head last June when Francis demanded that all priests in the diocese write him a letter within 30 days pledging their obedience to and accepting Okpaleke as their bishop because he was appointed by a pope.

Those who did not write such a letter would face suspension from the priesthood, the pope told them at the time. Francis also demanded that the rebellious priests write a letter of apology to Okpaleke.

Fides, the Vatican’s missionary news agency, on Monday published excerpts from Okpaleke’s resignation letter, saying he had not been able to take possession of diocese or even live within its territory because of continuing “violent reaction and resistance.

Fides said some 200 priests had written to the pope promising their obedience. But many had also told the pontiff that they had “psychological difficulty in collaborating with the bishop after years of conflict.”

The agency, which is controlled by the Vatican, said the rebellious priests should “reflect on the grave damage inflicted on the Church” through their “unreasonable actions opposing a bishop legitimately appointed by the Supreme Pontiff.”

In his resignation letter, Okpaleke said remaining bishop in would not be beneficial to the Church.

Source: Voice of America