As Nairobi hosts the 25th International Conference on Population Development (ICPD+25) from Tuesday to Thursday, we celebrate two milestones globally and particularly in Africa — the 50th anniversary of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) and 25 years of the annual conference.
It was in an African city, Cairo, that 179 governments adopted a revolutionary programme of action that called for women’s reproductive health and rights to take centre stage in national and global development efforts.
The resulting plan of action had the core message: “The full and equal participation of women in civil, cultural, economic, political and social life, at the national, regional and international levels, and the eradication of all forms of discrimination on grounds of sex”. It has been the steering document for UNFPA’s work.
A quarter of a century later, the ICPD is in another African city, Nairobi, to review and assess the progress made and also gird up to tackle the challenges that still remain.
The UNFPA’s mission is to deliver a world where every pregnancy is wanted, every childbirth safe and every young person’s potential fulfilled.
But while the destination is clear, the road to getting there is arduous and often full of obstacles, requiring an intimate understanding of people’s cultural mores and their fears and hopes. That requires a gentle touch, infinite patience and boundless stamina.
Africa’s population will increase from one billion in 2010 to 1.6 billion in 2030 and three billion in 2065, when there will be 531 million young people, or 30.2 per cent of the total.
I am a strong advocate of the demographic dividend and have great faith in our youth to use their originality and inventiveness to leapfrog into the 4th Industrial Revolution and usher in a new era of prosperity for the continent.
In 2016, I promoted a campaign, #PutYoungPeopleFirst, which has a reach of some 3.6 million youth on social media.
However, without an enabling environment, the demographic dividend could well turn into a demographic nightmare.
Most of the work by the UNFPA’s West and Central Africa Regional Office revolves around capturing the demographic dividend to kick-start the continent’s long-awaited economic boom.
It is, therefore, vital to change the discourse on population issues by linking demography to unmet social demands, the labour market, migration and, of course, instability.
Achieving the dividend could generate exceptional economic growth in Africa of $500 billion (Sh50 trillion) a year for 30 years, based on the Asian experience.
This unprecedented potential requires changes in the population structure, the empowerment of women and improvements to health and education.
The watchword is no longer birth control but voluntary family planning based on human rights, where individuals or couples choose the number of children they wish to have and when.
At national and continental level, coherent policies and investment in human capital are needed.
With strong international partnerships, African countries have all the resources to move the demographic dividend forward.
Again, family planning is no longer simply controlling the demographic growth of developing countries but also of social change.
Moving beyond family planning requires the empowerment of women as well as more comprehensive sexual and reproductive health measures and a massive effort to enrol girls in school.
If we can do this, virtuous circles of change are then set in motion, placing Africa in the driving seat.
However, good intentions are not enough; we must follow through with implementation.
Many countries have taken the responsibility of development in their own hands — through programmes that mirror the African Union’s Agenda 2063, among others.
But demographic forces cannot be halted; they can either be steered to a bright new future or they overwhelm us.
Let us build the future by addressing the pressing needs of the most vulnerable among us. The aim is to ensure that nothing will ever be the same again and that we leave no one behind.
Reforms that our education desperately needs to thrive
Last week’s column about the ‘Education Express’ raised some questions – and some eyebrows.
I made the case, obliquely, that our education system is in severe need of an overhaul.
It functions like an old-fashioned train service: it runs the same way it has for decades on end; it runs on fixed tracks, and not everyone makes it to the final station.
It was thus when I was a student, and it remains similarly archaic when a new generation is in schools and universities.
Many of you asked: so what is to be done? How can we fix this? Why isn’t someone doing it?
The answer is: the train keeps running in the same way because of entrenched interests. Those who benefit from this primitive way of running education are the ones who take over its running – and they have every interest in running it the same way.
It produced them, after all. Everyone likes to be a winner, and everyone claps for the rules that made them win.
This system won’t change from within. It needs disruptors who break it by introducing something better.
That opportunity now exists, with the advent of new technologies that can democratise education. But disruption only happens when someone wants it badly enough.
It will take guts and determination, on the part of educators, parents and children, to try something different.
Employers will also need to question what they really get when they ask for traditional certificates and grades.
To help inspire some of you, allow me to state some principles that could guide what the new education might look like.
The first principle is at the level of society: let everyone be entitled to a decent education. Everyone. Not an expensive education, not an elite education, just a good one.
Give everyone the essential tools with which to make the most of their lives. Stop throwing people off the train because they don’t have the money to continue.
Put enough trains on for everyone. And accept that this is an investment worth making, as a collective.
The second principle concerns the pedagogy. Why do we teach the way we do? Think about it: in classrooms and lecture halls, why are all students taught a subject as though they need to master all its intricacies, as though the point is to know it well enough to teach it?
Professors teach as though to seek out future professors. Those who can’t hack it then suffer poor grades.
But how much of what is being taught is of relevance to the many, not just the gifted few? Where are the life skills, the practical competencies, the know-how to actually apply to the average life?
A more enlightened way of teaching would be to understand the diversity of the classroom and create tailored experiences for everyone.
We would understand the innate wiring of each individual, and create learning experiences accordingly. Everyone would be able to go deep on what interests them the most; and get enough from everything else to gain an essential rounding.
If we thought about education as being for all, we would provide options away from the standard university degree and would give those options equal priority.
The final principle concerns measurement and grading. Having been graded all our lives, it seems obvious to us that this is necessary and inevitable. But is it?
What do those numbers actually measure, and why do we allow them to mark out our lives?
We have to stop the brutal categorisation of humans into ‘bright’ and ‘thick’ based on antiquated thinking from a century ago.
The public examinations system is all about filtering, not about actual testing.
In short: let’s equip children for real life. And let real life be their test.
Picture this. Children not coming to school until later in life, so that they can enjoy their childhoods. No mandatory standardised testing.
No Darwinian competition in the schoolroom. Shorter school days, and very little homework. An emphasis on learning rather than passing.
Many professional paths and options. Lifelong learning. It’s too utopian, right? It would fail, right? Think Finland (and a handful of other countries), and you will see that much of this is already being done, with great success.
There are excellent teachers in the system who’d love to change it – but are cornered by parents’ and employers’ demands for high grades.
To make it happen everywhere, more of those who rode the old train successfully need to see it for what it is: outmoded and cruel.
And they need to look back and see all the talent left behind. Then we will start innovating and reforming, piece by piece.
How women are excluded from digital world
On the face of it, the world is divided in half, men and women.
But if you scratch the surface of the digital world, you notice a world steeped in favour of men; a world often blind to women.
Before you sneeze at this article as another feminist rant, let’s review a few suggestive examples.
The fastest growing online “language” is emoji. Emojis are used by 90 per cent of the online population. Women use Emojis more frequently and heavily than men.
Until 2016 however, the world of emoji was oddly male. Emojis represented faces of men, ignoring the other half of the world.
A smartphone has become a swiss army knife of sorts in business and social. Therefore, it should be designed with all users in mind.
But that’s not always the case. A woman’s handspan — or the size of the hand — is on average smaller than that of a man.
Many of the new feature-rich smartphones are too big for a woman’s hand but fit comfortably on an average man’s hand.
The handsets are designed with a man’s average handspan in mind and assume that women will somehow figure out a way to cope with the gadget.
As the argument goes, women can buy phones that fit their handspan. Not quite. The smaller versions of smartphones have inferior specifications compared to their larger counterparts.
Besides, phones are ideally meant to be carried in pockets of our clothes, but large phones can’t fit into usually small pockets on most women’s clothes.
Women have handbags in which they can keep the too-big-to-hold phones. But designing handbag-friendly phones rather than pocket-friendly ones beat the purpose of creating apps that passively track one’s health.
Smartphones have apps for tracking blood pressure, pulse rate and physical exercises — how would a phone track these if it is in a handbag?
Men have a leg up; they can keep their phones in the pocket and get these data passively tracked as they go about their businesses. Many women can’t.
Think about wearable devices such as fit bits for tracking physical exercise and other health indicators.
A study of 12 of the most common fitness monitors found that they underestimated steps taken during housework by up to 74 per cent. They also miscalculated calories burned during housework by 34 per cent.
In her book Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, Caroline Criado Perez notes that these errors arise because digital solutions are often not tested in the women-dominated environment.
The solutions are presented as gender-neutral, but in fact, they are blind to domains dominated by women.
These examples may look like small issues, but in a world awash in technology, these are concerns worth addressing.
We need to involve both men and women – from the design to the deployment of tech solutions.
Because if we don’t, we will be entrenching and amplifying biases that are already too prevalent.
Elsewhere, MPs don’t represent clients in court
Sometime this year, the courts had to deal with the issue of legislators who are advocates also appearing in court for a client in a case against the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The client sought to stop her arraignment on allegations of corruption.
The prosecution argued that the issues in that case had been the subject of inquiries by a Senate Committee in which the advocates also sat as members.
The court ruled that no prejudice would be suffered by the prosecution on account of the advocates acting for the client seeking to stop the intended prosecution.
The same issue arose when two serving senators appeared as part of the defence counsel in the trial of the Governor of Nairobi.
Though the issue of whether serving senators could represent an accused person was never raised in court, it remained in the minds of many.
The argument then was that because the principal mandate of the Senate under the Constitution is to oversee the implementation of devolution and provide oversight over county governments, the senators risked compromising their respective obligations of objectivity should the issue of the county government and the accused governor end up in the senate for deliberation.
While the President expressed concern over this tendency of serving legislators also working as defence counsel for persons charged with offences or as litigants in court during his address to the nation on Jamhuri Day, he is not the only president concerned about this issue.
Decades ago in the United States of America, a statesman, and later president, contended with this issue in very personal terms.
While serving as a member of Congress, the sixth president of the United States, John Quincy Adams, turned down an offer to argue a case for a client in the Supreme Court.
He said: “It occurs to me that this double capacity of a counsellor in courts of law and a member of a legislative body affords opportunity and temptation for contingent fees of a very questionable moral purity.”
At that time, John Quincy Adams’s position was on outlier because this was fairly common, and renowned lawyers of the day such as David Webster often acted as attorney for a bank which had interest in congressional action while also sitting in the Senate.
President Uhuru Kenyatta’s discomfort with this was therefore not new.
It probably comes from the understanding of the legislators’ role as fiduciaries of public interest and more specifically as delegates of their constituents in whose best interests the legislators should always act.
In this sense, therefore, an elected legislator’s relationship with the citizenry is similar to that of a lawyer and his client.
The objection against a lawyer who is also a legislator acting for another party in court is one that could create two levels of clientele for the lawyer-legislator and result in an actual conflict of interest.
The easiest example that President John Quincy Adams tried to illustrate was where a lawyer represents a client whose instructions are to take issue with legislation passed by the body in which the lawyer serves.
More complicated could be the fact that the client’s instructions may require the lawyer to take a view on the legality or constitutionality of a legislation whose formation the lawyer was party to as a legislator.
In this scenario, the lawyerlegislator could find himself unable to honestly fulfil his respective fiduciary duties to the electorate on one hand and the paying client on the other.
But legislators who continue to represent clients in court while holding legislative office have often responded that such a situation is an undue concern in the minds of their electors.
They argue that the voters, in selecting a lawyer in active litigation practice, make the choice with this in mind and in the belief that the professional commitments would not unduly affect their effective representation by the lawyer.
But in Kenya, this concern even had greater challenge because the Constitution gives a specific right to counsel of a person’s choice subject to availability of and willingness of the advocate to represent that client.
The defenders of this argue that the Constitution is oblivious to the conflict of interest challenge or at the very least thinks that the right to counsel of choice supersedes the danger that the conflict may bring into the matter.
This danger of conflict of interest is not only based on the actions of a legislator representing a client in court.
The more obvious and dangerous one is where a legislator acts for client who also has an interest in particular legislation. In the United States, attention has been given to this matter at several levels.
The first was to create laws that prohibit or regulate lobbying by public officials on behalf of clients.
The other is simply by the creation of criminal laws to punish such improper actions. Congress in the USA has made this difficult for members of the legislature (House of representatives and the Senate) to engage in law through appearance as litigation advocates in court.
The Senate has specifically prohibited any senator from practicing law except as a sole practitioner and on non-official time.
This is meant to prevent the practice by which serving legislators leverage their influence to attract work for their law practices through the firms’ partnerships.
This is intended to prevent members of congress from selling their names to add lustre to their law practices while still in service of the legislature.
Bar associations have also taken up these issues. An example of action taken against attorneys leveraging of public office by the professional associations is in the case of the American Bar Association, whose canons of Professional Ethics contain guidelines that prohibit a law firm from representing any client before a legislative committee if a member of that legislative body is a partner in the firm.
In Kenya, no law expressly prohibits legislators from acting for any party in court as a client. There is thus need for a larger public debate on conflict of interest of legislators and what its limits should be.
The appearance of the lawyer-legislator in court on behalf of a client is seldom in the client’s best interest.
But it benefits the lawmaker as it makes him or her even more attractive to those clients intent on obtaining a lawyer with more than just professional acuity to the case.
The writer is Head of Legal, Nation Media Group PLC
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