Seoul Nuclear Security Summit: An open letter to leaders

Dear world leaders and delegates. Receive my Spring-time salutations. First, my sincere apologies for I will not be attending the summit. That should not bother you since I was actually not invited to the high level meeting.

By the way welcome to Korea. I am not a native of this land of the morning calm, but trust me I have been here long enough to show you how to use a pair chopsticks or do a taekwondo double kick. I assume that you’ve been inside Sangchoonjae in the Blue House where tradition and nature harmoniously subsist near a city. Therein, they must have served you with Kimchi and some makkolli. Koreans are cordial.

Secondly, I belong to the layman’s cluster and their wisdom that wonders why you, ladies and gentlemen, seem to have been making fires and now convincing the world to help think of a fire extinguisher. Okay, I will put it in a context. Sirs and madams, some of your nations’ passion for nuclear technology, for weapon or energy, supersedes any known safety capabilities. That makes me a worried chap.

You know what? If I came to the summit, I mean if I were really invited (jokes aside), I would first meet with the Japanese visitors in those extra meetings – What do you call them again? Aha, ‘side Read the rest of this entry »

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

 Edited version published in Joongang Ilbo (

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 »

Why the world should back Kenya’s mission in Somalia

Published in The Seoul Times Oct. 27, 2011; and The Korea Times Nov. 4th, 2011

Prior to the 2010 G20 Seoul Summit, I was privileged to be a delegate of the Y-20 Summit, a university students’ version of the larger G-20. In one of my submissions as a representative of Africa, I robustly raised the issue of security in the Horn of Africa. The submission was taken rather reluctantly by fellow ‘world leaders’ as many of them were acutely engrossed in the economic recovery strategies following a global economic crisis. In overall though, the young minds adequately deliberated terrorism as a key global concern.

The issue of insecurity and instability in the Horn of Africa, Somalia in particular, remains sensitive, complex and its impact real. It is a problem that can no longer be wished away neither can it be approached with panic. Kenya, arguably Somalia’s most significant neighbor, is currently in an offensive military action against Alshabaab, a militia group inside Somalia and often linked to al-Qaida. Apparently, a question of whether or not the Kenya’s military action within Somalia is justified has floated across local and international media channels. By all means, that is a genuine query to ask.

Some analysts have been quick to point out that Kenya has had interest, economic or political, to invade Somali with instances of her high alerts issued between 2006 and 2010. The recent incursion is seen, therefore, as an execution of the said interest rather than a response to the recent tourists’ abductions by what Kenya authorities believe was conducted by the Alshabaab. This school of thought however raises a Read the rest of this entry »

Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes Community

By Shane Hipps (

Our Nomadic Existence: How Electronic Culture Shapes CommunityI remember flinching for the dashboard as if that was going to help. The car was careening toward a snake-like elbow in the track. I glanced at the driver expecting him to slam on the brakes and save us from catastrophe. He looked almost bored; I think he may have even yawned. The car glided smoothly in and out of the turn as if it had prepared its whole life for that moment. As he accelerated out of the curve, the driver apologized for not going faster. Apparently, if you’re not wearing a helmet — and I wasn’t — drivers are only allowed to take the track at 70 percent speed. This was part of my “research” for the new account I had been assigned — Porsche Cars North America. At the time, I was working for an ad agency. The people at Porsche had taken us to a racetrack to develop an appreciation for their product. Apart from nearly soiling my drawers, it worked.

My role as an account planner in advertising was to serve as a kind of consumer anthropologist. Basically, I was to keep my finger on the pulse of what consumers influenced and what they were influenced by. There were no rules for this task, no formal training, no manual — just raw intuition, ingenuity, and a dose of insanity. As a result, I go Read the rest of this entry »

Korea can still attract more foreign investors

Also Published in the Korea Times (Oct. 14, 2011), The Seoul Times (Oct 13. 2011) and Joongang Daily (Oct. 17, 2011)

The current global economic turbulence offers Korea another opportunity to test its economic resilience in time of trouble. In 2008 the country’s quick recovery from a global financial crisis and robust reaction to the aftermath of the recent US credit rating downgrade has been extraordinary.  Historically, Korea has been termed as an economic and developmental model to many nations owing to the short span of time it overcame poverty and desolation of war to  emerge as one of the economic tigers in Asia.

But even with such a noteworthy report card, Korea’s real economic strength and potential still remain feebly known to the world. This can be attributed to the fact that Korea has been a closed society for decades compared to such countries as Japan or China. Though there have been significant effort to market Korea to the world market through such committees as the Presidential Council on National Competitiveness and Presidential Council on Nation Branding, more can be done to make Korea more attractive particularly to foreign investors. Read the rest of this entry »

I quit, but let my people think!

A reflection on Kenya by Paul Kihiro. First published in Jambo Kenya Korea, 2011 Fall Edition. Republished with permission.
As Ravi Zacharias, an India-born Christian apologist, like teaching in his program called, “Let My People Think,” and from whom I borrowed the title of this article, so I say to my fellow Kenyans. It has been a short journey of three years since I came to Korea. In 2009 Koreans looked very strange people and theirs was a very awkward language and a peculiar culture. Oh, and the food! It messed me up. That was three years ago. Now I can eat any Korea dish. Of course there are those which I like most. Now I look forward to quit and go back to Kenya by winter. I am quitting by I have gathered enough to take back home and I hope I am not alone. I just hope!

Besides the books that have helped raise my worldview to another level of global interaction with ideas from various minds, the people I met here have helped me shape my next phase of life. My leadership at KCK Busan County as the chairman since its inception in 2010, and, at Kosin University as the leader of the international community, has given me an international outlook of life. This will remain etched in my life; the Busan Global Gathering, Changwon Arirang Festival, Kosin University Food Festival and culture night, among others. And having handed-over the mantle recently I now ponder.

I appreciate the hardworking individuals like His Excellency the Ambassador Ngovi Kitau. He has a sharp mind and knows what he is doing. He is one person among few leaders of our land who have impressed my heart with understanding and vision. He challenged us at a Busan dinner and kindled the fire now ablaze among the Busan community. He is man of substance and his leadership should be emulated by all who know him. Thanks to him again for opening up the embassy to all Kenyans and making it our office of interaction with each other. I really respect this man.

No doubt the KCK national office has been working very hard lately. Read the rest of this entry »

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