Articles Tagged Life & Society

Dec 10, 2017
Which pain are you willing to embrace?

An alum of my leadership programme recommended an unusual book to me earlier in the year. Its title was a deterrent: it is called The Subtle Art Of Not Giving A ****. As this is a family newspaper, I won’t spell out the bleeped letters, but you get the gist. It’s a strange book. The […]

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Nov 12, 2017
Are you doing something, or just posing?

Grace Mungai, a reader of this column, sent me an impassioned email recently. She asked: why are we reducing important occupations or undertakings or positions to ‘brag words’ – things we pretend we are doing, rather than actually doing? Her practical analogy: you can read about, discuss or look at treadmills and rowing machines all […]

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Nov 05, 2017
The invisible issue haunting our elections

And so Kenyans trooped to vote again in a presidential election for the second time in three months. Or not. This election, held against the backdrop of a deeply divided country and the withdrawal of a key protagonist, ultimately yielded a turnout that was a record low. Because so many voting stations stayed empty for […]

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Oct 29, 2017
There are many kinds of silence. Try them

For many people, a silent person in their midst is a cause for concern. Why is he quiet? Why does she not say anything? What’s going on in that head? Why not just come out with it? Quiet people make them queasy. Or they dismiss the silent ones as having nothing meaningful to say. Perhaps […]

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Oct 22, 2017
Who taught you to hate?

Many of us seem to hate – not even dislike, but hate – whole groups of ‘others’. Who teaches us this? It’s an important question to consider. When I was a boy, some of my elders would fill my head with tales about Muslims. The horrific partition of the Indian subcontinent had occurred across the […]

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Sep 17, 2017
The madness of believing in charlatans

A rapist was found guilty. The rapist had supporters, though. Millions of them. A mob of thousands, upon hearing the court’s verdict, went on the rampage, attacking journalists, setting vehicles on fire, attacking train stations and government buildings. Dozens of people were killed in the mêlée. The army had to be called in to quell […]

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Sep 10, 2017
Amidst electoral uncertainty, what to do?

(Photo credit: Ciku Nyawira) When they said 2017 is an election “year” in Kenya, they meant it! As I write this, Kenya is in electoral limbo. The Supreme Court has ordered a fresh presidential election, declaring the August 8 poll null and void, after months and months of noisy and expensive electioneering. The electoral body […]

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Aug 20, 2017
We must move on from messiah leadership

Watching the aftermath of our recent general election, I was left pondering a phenomenon that appears after pretty every such event in these parts. Those who support the presidential candidate announced as the winner inevitably embark on celebrations. That’s perfectly understandable – everyone likes to be part of a winning team, after all. But for […]

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Aug 13, 2017
What comes first – your belief, or the facts?

Another disputed election. That’s a hat-trick now since 2007. At the time of writing this, I do not know who won the various poll races held in Kenya this week, because the official results are not out yet. But the airwaves and the cybersphere are full of competing narratives, conspiracy theories, accusations and allegations. The […]

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Aug 06, 2017
Waiting for an election-proof Kenya

Another general election looms. Because this is Kenya, that could mean some or all of the following: Heightened tension. Hate speech. Fake news. Reversion to tribal identity. Insults and counter-insults. Voter suppression. Gerrymandering. Rigging and counter-rigging. Anxiety and nervousness. Economic standstill. Ethnic displacement. And, if the worst happens, botched results followed by mayhem. Why are […]

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Jul 30, 2017
My 750th column: men, untie yourselves!

This is my 750th column on this page. Let’s commemorate by loosening up a little. I became self-employed in 2003, and I don’t think I’ve put on a tie ever since. Even when visiting boardrooms or delivering keynote addresses. Only once has someone objected. An antediluvian director in a leading board asked if I was […]

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Jul 09, 2017
A rich person just walked in. Clap, everyone

There’s one thing you can pretty much guarantee in Kenya: if a rich person walks into a room pretty much everyone there will fall over their feet trying to greet or be noticed by the personage. People are shameless about this. They slobber; they swoon; they hit new lows in obsequiousness. They make way for […]

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Jul 02, 2017
Where’s the outrage and where’s the learning?

Photo credit: ChiralJon/Flickr I began worrying about collapsing buildings in Nairobi more than a decade ago on this page. Over the years, I have written increasingly vociferous pieces warning that if shoddy building standards are not addressed, we will kill many more of our citizens. If consequences are not visited upon those who build badly, […]

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Jun 18, 2017
What’s behind all these shock election results?

As miscalculations go, this one was epic. Theresa May, prime minister of Britain, had no need to go back to the electorate. She had a decent majority in parliament and a whopping lead in the opinion polls. Misguidedly, she called a snap election. Now she has no majority, has lost the confidence of her party, […]

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Apr 30, 2017
Losing your temper often is easy, and pointless

I was revisiting Seth Godin’s graceful little book Graceful the other day, and came across this: “The guy in front of me in line (maybe he was in front of you, once, too) has every right to be upset with the clerk. She’s not making it easy for him to buy his ticket, and after […]

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Apr 09, 2017
Your life, with robots

Let’s continue our examination of robotics, begun here last week. Donald Trump wants to bring basic jobs back to America. He thinks assembly-line workers, coal-miners etc should be Americans. His grand idea seems to be that the jobs will come back by slapping tariffs on foreign products coming into the country. If only he’d ever […]

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Apr 02, 2017
It’s time to start preparing for the robots

This column periodically takes a look at the future of different industries. Over the past year or so we have peered at what lies ahead for the car and taxi industry, television, banking and insurance, amongst others. For the next two weeks, let’s consider an industry that’s going to play a considerable role in all […]

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Mar 19, 2017
We can’t let trust disappear from our lives

The other day I was caught in the usual Nairobi traffic jam, in a taxi with a driver I did not know. We heard an ambulance siren blaring behind us, and most cars in the gridlocked queue began making way by climbing onto the pavement. But not everyone did this. To my surprise, even my […]

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Feb 26, 2017
Who’s the most important person in the game?

Two football teams run out onto the field and take their positions. Who is the most important person on the pitch? Is it one team’s star striker going for a record number of goals? Is it the other team’s veteran midfield general? Or is it that agile new goalkeeper, widely expected to be one of […]

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Jan 08, 2017
Things improve if the consequences are real and personal

A lifetime of observing people and societies has taught me one thing: people only behave if the consequences of their actions are visited upon them, personally. Why do Nairobi nightclub owners continue to bombard their neighbours in residential areas with music played at insane decibel levels? Because their own children are not studying for their […]

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Jan 01, 2017
How many books will you read in 2017?

A year ago I wrote here that it is possible to read 50 books in a year. Provided you love and value books, that is. I put it down as a challenge to bibliophiles, ardent or lapsed, to raise their game. Having thrown down the gauntlet, I found myself accelerating. At the year-end, I clocked […]

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Dec 18, 2016
Societal failure looks like this

It’s an interesting photograph. In the middle there is a sparkling new Rolls Royce parked in a city street; clearly, the owner is doing very well. But wait, to the left there seems to be an open drain running alongside the glittering car. And to the right of the limousine a very young child is […]

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Dec 11, 2016
The pleasure of just doing your job well

The other day, and much to my surprise, I came across a public servant who seemed to take enormous pride in just doing his job well. In Kenya. If you’ve picked yourself up from the floor, let me continue. I encountered a thorny issue, and contacted the relevant government department to try and sort it […]

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Nov 20, 2016
What did the Trump ascendancy reveal?

Donald Trump is now the world’s most powerful man, put there willingly by the world’s most successful nation. There were people who saw this coming, but I wasn’t one of them. I did not believe that a majority of voters would install this man as their leader. Consider what has just happened. Americans have voted […]

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Nov 06, 2016
Universal basic income – could it actually work?

Predictably, my column last week brought on a storm of responses. I wrote then that we might soon all be considering universal basic income (UBI) a possible response to a changing world. We might think it appropriate to give every person in the country an income to cover essential needs – without linking that income […]

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Oct 30, 2016
Will we be paying people to do nothing?

What would you say if I told you we might soon be giving every adult a basic income – whether they work or not? You would think I’ve finally flipped and lost my marbles after coming close to doing so many times in the past, yes? Well, allow me to explain a little further before […]

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Oct 23, 2016
Nature is our mother, and we must honour her

Nairobi in October is a sight to behold. It is as though a giant hand descends from the heavens wielding an artist’s brush, and paints vast swathes of the city a beautifully subtle shade of purple. I am referring, of course, to the fact that we have so many Jacaranda trees in our city. They […]

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Oct 09, 2016
You can’t resist an idea when its time comes

Two years ago I wrote on this page about Uber, the taxi-hailing app that has taken the world by storm. At the time, Uber had not entered these shores. It did so shortly after, and as predicted, overran the local taxi industry. One year ago I wrote that it was time to start thinking about […]

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