Madam President you won’t snub Africa, will you?

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President Park Geun-hye.

  1. * Edited version published by The Seoul Times on February 8th, 2013.

Dear Madam President. Receive my heartfelt felicitations for seollal, the lunar new year. If it is in order, allow me to commend you on your election.

Now to my point. Madam President, it seems to me that you’re commencing your executive journey on the right footing. I mean you are now the safeguarding vital links with your key political and trade allies globally. Indeed Beijing and Washington remain dominant in the contemporary geopolitical realm. Others like Tokyo, Pyongyang and EU’s main office (Brussels) are undeniably significant depending on the attitude they bear toward you and your country.

But Madam President, I wish to plead for Africa. This time, let’s forget the ‘begging bowl’ images of 80s and 90s. I want to proclaim to you that Africa is rising, and seriously so.

Admittedly, the West tried doling out aid for decades but look where Africa stood – stuck in a socio-political and economic quagmire. But that was then. So what has changed? I say the attitude; purely the attitude, Madam Read the rest of this entry »

Korea’s college entry exams and the ‘inconsolable’ desire

 Edited version published in Joongang Ilbo (http://mengnews.joinsmsn.com/view.aspx?gCat=010&aId=2944395)

Last week, over 600,000 Korean students sat an exam that seemingly determines their destiny in life. To most of them, the college entry exam is also a postern to their critical goal of entering Seoul National University, Korea University or Yonsei University. The three institutions are commonly christened as SKY. And they know quite well, that credentials from the “sky” comfortably land graduates plum jobs with big companies or the government. The three institutions are considered the academic cream of Korea.

There is nothing wrong with education that assures one a stable, happy future; after all, it is every parent’s dream to see their children prosper in all aspects. However, observers have termed the College Scholastic Ability Test or CSAT in Korea as either a national obsession or radically esteemed.

On the day of the nine hour exam, the country literally changes. All flight landings and take-offs at the airports are put on hold while the arriving international aircrafts are ordered to circle at altitudes above 10,000 feet for some while. Motorists are also asked to lower their speed and to avoid honking near the test locations during the listening comprehension assessment. In fact, traffic is usually banned from within 200 meters of the test centers until the exam is over.

At the periphery, parents, friends and school juniors of test-takers gather to wish their loved ones success. Some parents would be praying outside the exam centers. In the recent past a mother reportedly vowed to bow 3,000 times, kneeling down with her forehead touching a red cushion perhaps to invoke luck to her beloved son. Most schools will also give a day off to students who are not sitting the exam.

But beyond the facade lies fundamental question that many parents and educationists raise regarding Read the rest of this entry »

The young and unsatisfied? My wonder on smoking and cosmetics in Korea

By Millicent Omollo and B. Kamary, Edited version Published in The Seoul Times – Nov. 3, 2011
 

Puffing off the smoke

Sitting at a roof balcony as I wait for my next lecture to begin, one by one they streamed in, each pulling out a cigarette. Before I knew it I was seated amongst teens – all puffing off streams of smoke into the otherwise blue skies. I have seen similar scenes before, but today’s scenario sends my mind into a wonderland; yes, I simply wondered why.

Don’t mistake me, I have nothing to do with smokers yet I am always irked by smoking itself. Would it be fair to say I detest smoking but not smokers? Yes, I love smokers but hate smoking and I am yet to know why smoking is such an attractive addiction particularly to teens. But as they say, opinion is free and facts sacred. My sentiments on the subjects are likewise freely given and freely to be taken.  Back home in Africa where I was born and raised, a cigarette advert comes along with quite a stern warning: “harmful to your health!” Who doesn’t know that? I have a friend, a medical doctor but a chain smoker, who spares no chance to warn his sons against smoking. “You better do as I say and not as I do,” he would often rumble.

Hey, did you know they now say cancer is a deadlier than HiV/Aids? I think this is where most of us would pause to care. Possibly pharmaceutical companies are better ready themselves to fund a scientist who will be genius enough to discover cure for cancer. And at rate we are Read the rest of this entry »

Wangari Maathai: Audacious Woman of Her Time

Also published in The Seoul Times, Oct. 4, 2011 and The Korea Times, Oct 2, 2011

Sometime in January, 1999, I came face to face with quite a frightening sight in Nairobi. I was just about to cross the road when a speeding anti-riot police truck swerved past followed by a jeep full of policemen with wooden clubs. Panic raged high prompting women to grab their children and flee. Some shops were shut instantaneously. Were it not for my school uniform, a distinctive red shirt and blue pair of shorts, I would not have been allowed into a matatu, public transport van, heading East. I was a high school sophomore.

Inside the van grape vine was churning from every other tongue but the theme was, “Wangari was in the forest planting trees”. You see, I knew Wangari Maathai from my Boy Scout training on environmental conservation, but it took me longer to comprehend why one can be clobbered for planting trees. The television’s chilling images later in the evening and newspaper pictures the following morning are still fresh in my memory – unsettling.

This woman never quit. Sooner than later Wangari Maathai was back in the forest or Uhuru park either attempting to plant trees or dodging tear gas from the authorities. Today Uhuru Park is scenic and Karura Forest where she was beaten by hired guards as the police watched is mostly saved from the hands of land grabbers.

The woman was also unbowed; a fitting title she gave to her biography Read the rest of this entry »

Zambia: Slow but sure, a new sunrise is going up

Also published in The Seoul Times. September 29, 2011

By Patriciah Njambi & Benson Kamary

A new political sunrise in sub-Saharan Africa is seemingly licking away outdated regimes and leaving an aroma of democracy. But this is not to say that democracy is the redeemer of Africa. Not yet. Like any other political system impacted by a corrupted world, democracy can be abused, and seriously so. Even in the West where democracy is hailed as an assuring pragmatic system, it has severally been turned into the ‘tyranny of the majority’ with persecuting claws on the minority and their feeble voice.

Well, at least in the savannah land, the ‘jasmine revolution’ of a kind has just arrived if the recent polls in Zambia are anything to count on.  But unlike the mass action and street battles witnessed in the Arabic Northern regions, sub-Saharan Africa is getting new governments with a reduced violence. Optimistically, minimal or no Read the rest of this entry »

Should Korea rethink nuclear energy?

Edited version published in Joongang Daily, March 30, 2011: http://joongangdaily.joins.com/article/view.asp?aid=2934146

A recent revelation that Korea’s nuclear reactors broke down 89 times over the past 10 years due to malfunctions warrants a reflection over the country’s ambitious pursuit for nuclear energy. Korea, always dubbed as an economic model for developing nations, is also the world’s fifth largest nuclear power producer and the second-largest in Asia after Japan. It operates 21 nuclear reactors which provide about 40 percent of the national power supply.

While there are undeniable benefits of nuclear energy in providing the capacity of electricity needed for homes, institutions and industries, the cost and safety concerns involved in nuclear energy production is undoubtedly colossal and Read the rest of this entry »

Education could be at the altar of our perilous assumptions

Edited version published by The Precious News, Kenya
There is a dangerous lie out there that educational processes are neutral – as serving to the intellectual knack in a child. It is a lie because even religious education or Sunday school activities may serve to the detriment of a child’s understanding of God’s world.

The undetected myth of educational neutrality widely bought by many contemporary parents including Christians, has led to the prevailing passive concern for their children’s source of instruction. To believe that education is merely informative is an error since education of any form, including casual educative contents from say the television, is a product of philosophical assumptions – righteous or wicked. Read the rest of this entry »

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