Thoughts ahead of the 2016 State of the Nation Address, Kenya, 31 March 2016

This blog draws on the points made on Citizen #Cheche breakfast show, 30 March 

Part 1: https://youtu.be/XW76YtgIH-0 Part 2: http://goo.gl/J1IBhN Part 3: http://goo.gl/tYTxem

The President’s State of the Nation address is not just a constitutional requirement under Art. 132. It is a moment of accountability and call to national action. The power of the address flows less from the words. Any decent speech writer can find and use words like rebirth, renewal, transformation and hashtags like #TransformKE. The power come in our listening that the speaker is honest, sincere and committed to results. There has to be space therefore, also for a President to say we were wrong, we didn’t meet our own expectations and we will do better.

The 2014 and 2015 addresses are still present for the millions of Kenyans. 2014 addressed devolution, security (nyumba kumi/CCTV), reducing cost of living and the promise of the Youth Fund and National Youth Service. 2015 addressed the attainment of middle income status, an apology for historical injustices (TJRC report and a restoration of fund of Kshs60 billion), the cancer of corruption and the 179 names on the list of shame.

The 2016 address must revisit these policy choices and commitments. We have seen a Cabinet reshuffle, new laws enacted, asset seizures and pressure on law enforcement agencies to prosecute the corrupt. All this gives substance to the words of the President in 2015. Given that this happened after strong public demand for #FagiaKE, the public can draw satisfaction that their voice and agency has been heard. The establishment of specialised criminal courts to expedite the 350 cases before the courts is also very welcome.

Yet, the absence of convictions, continued appointment of public officers not based on merit, competitive appointment or the spirit of Integrity Chapter 6 and the reluctance to subject all Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries and Directors to life style audits is worrying. The staggering amounts lost to the tax-payer in the National Youth Service, Eurobond, Youth Fund and other scandals since his speech last year has left public servants and the public shocked.

Returning to the historical and I believe, heartfelt apology for human rights abuses, much has not happened. The Kshs 10 billion restoration fund is still not established and the TJRC report remains stuck in the National Assembly. Listening to human rights victims and survivors of injustice many of them women as far back as the sixties last week (#TruthJusticeDignityKE #WagallaMassacre), I am struck how such an important issue for national cohesion has been handled so ineffectively by the Office of State Law, Treasury and the National Assembly.

Looking forward, the President could address four issues that threaten our national values. They are inequalities, corruption (again), negative ethnicity (again) and the looming electoral crisis (new).

#TransformKE claims that we are the fastest growing economy and third best improved country for doing business. Our triumphalism that we have attained middle income country status needs to be tempered by the reality that we are using half chicken economics. A few people have four chickens and the majority none, so by average we all have half chickens. Growth is not shared.

The Mathare Legal Aid and Human Rights Awareness Advocacy speaks of unemployed youth who turn to crime dying in a hail of bullets by other criminals or the police within three years. They speak of homes that survive on a monthly rent of Kshs 1-2,000 shillings and Kshs 3,000 for food. They and their rural counterparts can be forgiven if they are growing increasingly impatient with these announcements.

When asked why the Tunisian revolution took place at a time that all the indicators pointed to a growing economy, the former Minister of Planning and Tourism once said, “Seems the people in the streets didn’t bother to read our analysis”. The President’s speech need to challenge this more rigorously than the Ministry of Planning and Devolution has done in the past.

Government statistics need to be challenged more. It is not that the economy is not growing or that infrastructure, maternal health access and other services are not improving. All this, thankfully is happening. It is that corruption threatens this growth directly. We may be improving the ease of doing business in the world, but we are only 34 countries ahead of Chad in this respect. Further, according to Price Waterhouse Coopers, we are now the 3rd most corrupt country.

The scale of recent scandals, the reluctance to appoint or dismiss people based on their integrity and the awkwardness of unlawful administrative actions struck down by courts have to be transformed if Kenya is to move forward. Here the President could communicate the principle of command responsibility across his administration. If it is proven that a senior official knew a crime was committed as was the case of the Kenya National Examinations Council, that official goes as well.

The issue of negative ethnicity stalks us still. Dr.David Ndii’s “It’s time to divorce” and the subsequent social media #ArrestNdii #Kikuyus discussions inform us that labelling and polarisation still frames the national question. While I believe most Kenyans believe in the unitary state and are enjoying the benefits of devolution, our individual safety and dignity is still subject to ethnic coalitions and not our constitution. We are not far enough from persecution and extermination ideologies.

The last issue we must address is the looming electoral crisis. We turn to the season that typically leads to intolerance, violence and the loss of 2% of our GDP without an acceptable IEBC as referee and Judiciary as arbiter. The increasing securitisation of media and civic spaces contribute to the precipice we lean over. The President could boldly step into this space and establish a mechanism for all the political parties, observer and election management bodies to agree ground rules for a fair, non-violent and meaningful election. The President could also signal the commencement of the Public Benefits Organisations Act 2013 and the value of independent, factual and investigative journalism. The abysmal turn out at the voter registration this month is a sign that the electorate is slowly turning away from the fundamental pillar of democracy, the ballot. What would be next?

The last word is to the President as he faces this constitutional moment. Two empowering quotes can help ground him. They are Andy Stanley’s “Leaders who don’t listen will eventually be surrounded by people who have nothing to say” and Elbert Hubbard’s “The proof of greatness lies in being able to endure criticism without resentment.” Leadership requires an inability to listen to all views and a recognition that power is not controlling everything in the republic. Ultimately the strength of the republic lies in its people speaking and acting to breathe life into the constitutional promises. The role of the Presidency is to respond swiftly, decisively and champion these constitutional promises. The four areas above would be places to start.

Categories: civic education, Democracy, human rights, Kenya, Kenyan constitution | Leave a comment

Reflections on turning 50: February 22, 2016

    Once I step over the word amazement, two words describe turning 50 on February 22; alive and self-expressed. I was born on February 22 1966 less than two kilometers from my current home. In between I have lived in London, Dar es Salaam, Harare, Washington DC and spent enough days in Addis to pay as much taxes as the locals. Six cities, three continents and back to Kilimani. The last five years alone seem like a couple of lifetimes. A new love and marriage, family, friends, career in the public interest, a community foundation and twitter.
    Five lessons stand out for me. In my twenties, I used to be told to “slow down, you will burn out”. I know now I am never going to burn out before I die but I can prioritise better. Focus on those things that have the greatest chance of transforming the issues that matter to me, the people in my life.
      Secondly, anything very important or really big I want to achieve is too big for me to create alone or in this lifetime. This informs my work with the Kilimani Project Foundation and my belief in my younger colleagues in the dawn of their careers.
    Thirdly, that while I may still struggle with confidence (this was the norm in the twenties), the biggest handicap at 50 is my ego. Most times my impatience with procrastination and endless consultations is actually my ego speaking. Having the wisdom to know when to interrupt others and when to just listen and know that even the endless conversations allow others to clarify their thoughts.
    Fourthly, even the deepest of disappointments can be handled. A few years ago, I was not shortlisted for public office. Dark and righteous thoughts emerged. “Not even shortlisted to 200 applicants?” and a few others too dark to be repeated. I breathed, gave myself 20 minutes to think dark thoughts and then asked, “OK, what do you want to do next?”. Light replaced darkness.
    Out of that came the Kenya Dialogues Project at the Society for International Development. The project is now a 200 million shilling campaigning force working nationally and across ten counties to protect our public schools, challenge corruption and discrimination and create Kenya in the image of our constitution. If we keep our faith ahead of our fears, our actions ahead of our ideas, disappointments and complaints have no power to rob us of life.
    Lastly, an increasingly predictable question these days, are you going to run for public office? As I look at Kenya through the lens of chapter 6, not all who are in public office act in the public interest. Too many have been claimed by the epidemic of corruption. My work in Kilimani and nationally is in the public interest. For now this suits me. My work is to bring the public interest back into the public offices that have forgotten their primary mandate. For unless those in public office recognise that public service is the privilege not the privileges that come with public office they are useless to the interests of the public.
    Lastly, I want to thank my wife, children, family, friends and even the strangers in my life. You have accompanied each and every one of the four decades of this path traveled so far.
    You are my life and I am grateful.
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Categories: Africa, Kenya, Kenyan constitution | 6 Comments

Six pillars for building better societies with women

Opening remarks to the Timeless Women’s Conference 2016, Nairobi 

I grew up in a pre-dominantly female household of sisters. All of us went to school, all us had household chores.

Three broken bridges shaped my feminism as a man. Abrupt and unintentional teenage relationships with girls that left them very angry and me frustrated. A society in which power and priviledge leaves women and girls at danger from violence and rape. A continent in which women do 3-4 times more work than men and earn 30% less.

Since 1989, I have chosen to work alongside women to transform the world around me. From being a member of the Kenyan Mothers in Action in the 1990s to the Pan African women’s rights coalitions in Africa, the Solidarity for African Women’s Rights coalition in the 2000s and Kilimani Mums in 2014.

I have been single less than 2 years in the last thirty six years, married twice and parented a couple of super girls. Yet my journey into my masculinity and the transformation of gender injustice is far from complete.

Africa is deeply unequal. According to the UN Women, 89% Women still in non-formal sector and over-represented in unpaid work. Women still earn 30% than men. Yet, this inequality is not inevitable. Rights based policies and strategies and investment could transform all of this in a life-time.

Our homes and workspaces are deeply in need of new bridges of solidarity if we are to transform societies that layer power and privilege based on our gender. These bridges can easily be built on just six pillars;

  1. Equal pay for equal work
  2. Anti-harassment policies and practices
  3. Child friendly working environment
  4. Affirmative procurement for women owned businesses
  5. Career progression plans that target young people and especially young women
  6. Get out of the way

The UN Women 2015 report is a great overview and call to action

http://progress.unwomen.org/en/2015/pdf/SUMMARY.pdf …

Photo from MyDressMyChoice campaign: Ruth Knaust speaking to the movement (RIP)

Categories: Africa, civic education, Democracy, gender | Leave a comment

My Promise

zafaraniphotography 1 close up
TODAY, IN MY HOME TOWN AND IN THE PRESENCE OF OUR CLOSEST FAMILY AND FRIENDS
I IRŨNGŨ HOUGHTON CHOOSE YOU ROBYN T EMERSON FREE OF ANY CONSIDERATION OR COMPARISON,
TO BE MY COMPANION, LOVER AND WIFE
TO LOVE AND ROMANCE YOU,
TO SHARE ALL THAT I AM AND HAVE.
TOGETHER WE SHALL CREATE A FAMILY, A CITY AND A WORLD
OF LAUGHTER, LEARNING AND COMPASSION
I COMMIT TO LET GO OF ALL THAT COULD COME BETWEEN US
ACCEPT THIS RING, MY HAND AND HEART IN MARRIAGE ALWAYS
19.12.15
Categories: Uncategorized | 7 Comments

Tribute to Elijah Agevi, RIP

Transition December 4 2015
From Irũngũ Houghton on behalf of the Kilimani Project Foundation
and Society for International Development
 
I met Elijah first in 1995. I was then a member of the NGO Council Executive Committee, he led the Shelter Forum, one of the Council networks. I last met him two weeks before he passed away. He was finding a way to stop public land grabs and wanted to hear our progress on protecting public primary and secondary schools.
 
Elijah’s strength was his ability to move between sectors, across spaces and bridge different communities. His life informs a vision of all Kenyans as planners, citizens actively dreaming, designing and building liveable towns for all. 
 
His vision was far ahead of us but a consistent theme in most first class cities  including those seeking ‘fair share’ housing plan (Miami Valley, Ohio ) or to provide dedicated land exclusively for open green public squares (Philadelphia). Here and elsewhere, community-devised and community-funded initiatives are part of long-term sustainability plans. Planning is not done to people but with people. Elijah believed in a future in which we all would be urban planners. In this understanding, I too am a planner.
 
Elijah was also an activist. He had a passion for the right to shelter and beautiful and safe public spaces. In an Africa, where ½ of Africa’s urban population live in peoples settlements, urban inequality is the 2nd highest globally with young men and women are 3 times more likely to be unemployed, we all need to be like Elijah.
 
This city, country and continent that I live in is therefore, is too important to leave to planners. I will honor Elijah’s vision.
 
I was happy to hear UN Habitat will honor him posthumously and the County of Nairobi Government will name a street or a public space in his honor.
 
Go well Elijah. The people’s settlements, NGO and Government offices that you know so well shall remember you fondly.
 
For more on Elijah Agevi, see https://goo.gl/r573iE
Categories: Africa, civic education, Kenya, Millennium Development Goals, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Closing remarks at the launch of the SID Policy Brief “Why Corruption prevails and what can be done to eliminate it” December 25, 2015

The @SIDKDP policy brief can be downloaded here Why corruption prevails and what can be done to eliminate it http://bit.ly/1NOsBOA

It is not the absence of laws, agencies and policies that Kenya misses. What we miss is the moral imagination that adopts the humility to recognise not all is well and the audacity to declare a new course of action. Every time it shows up, we are left inspired and ready to act.

The true cost of corruption and impunity is not millions and billions of shillings, it is the helplessness we learn when our leaders, agencies and we do not take action in the public interest.

On June 26, 14 organisations made 12 recommendations to the Presidential Taskforce on laws related to corruption. http:// goo.gl/AdGHeC 11 of those recommendations have now been adopted in the report presented to the President. There is much that we can support in the AG’s Taskforce report http://goo.gl/qLTAV2

On November 5, ten organisations including TI-Kenya, CRECO, Mzalendo, Africog, Inuka, KCA, ICJ, SID ACAC and the Devolution Forum advised the President to sack Cabinet Secretaries and reshuffle the Cabinet, review procurement processes and press for company transparency. We also called for lifestyle audits. We gave the President 30 days. http://goo.gl/1bxN8B

17 days later on November 23 and yesterday with the refreshing of the cabinet, three of the four proposals had been taken up by the President. https://goo.gl/nGzPE8

The important lesson here is that the state listens. It may take long, it may not be recognised, but we have voice and when we act we have influence. This is the essence of democratic governance.

We may not be invited to State House to meet the Pope today. We may not be recognised in the state commendations for 2015. This may not be important right now. The only questions are whether

* We have kept the faith of integrity lived and expressed by Pope Francis?
* Have we spoken and acted in the spirit of the constitution?
* Have we acted with humility in the public interest?

Nothing else matters.

On December 9, we move to Central Park, join us in the park or any other space to talk to Kenyans on what actions can they take to #KataaHiyo and build #IntegrityKE

Ends.

Categories: Campaigning, civic education, Democracy, Kenyan constitution, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Reflecting on owning a home in Kilimani

Robyn Emerson and Irũngũ Houghton were interviewed by Nancy Muthoni of the KTN Property Show, Sunday 2nd November 2015. Below is the interview. To watch the clip view start at 34:54 https://youtu.be/y5_4C-NfxC0?t=2094

How did you start the journey to home ownership?

Irũngũ Houghton: This is the second house I have owned. I sold a house in Runda to come live in Kilimani. I found Runda very exclusive and wanted a home closer to the city. I liked the feel of Kilimani.
Robyn Emerson: I owned my first home at age 20 in Austin. It is always to pay a mortgage than pay someone else’s.

What strategies did you take to own a home?

Irũngũ Houghton: I studied which banks had the best fixed rates. Unfortunately, the bank I was with then didnt have the best rate so I shifted banks. I stayed there for four years. A couple of years later after selling the Runda house, I looked around again and changed banks for the second time. When shopping for a mortgage important to look beyond your personal bank.
Robyn Emerson: Identifying the home comes first, affordability, needs, securing a down payment through my savings and a family loan, educating myself on mortgage financing,

What challenges have you encountered?

Irũngũ Houghton: Interest rates are daunting, no wonder there is only 22,000 mortgages in a country of 43 million. We need to make this available to all by bringing this down to a single digit. Decent and adequate housing is a basic right but without a radical restructuring of the housing industry this will remain an uncashable cheque not just for those in Kilimani but Eastleigh, Kariobangi and Kibera as well.
Robyn Emerson: Kilimani is rapidly changing, our neighbor’s 1/2 acre and single dwelling house just got sold and a 40 unit apartment bloc is underway. Managing the construction within the bylaws of not working over the weekend etc has been a major challenge. Staying knowledgeable of County bylaws and policies is a challenge for most of us home-owners. Another of our neighbors has built a chicken and chips restaurant in his garden and the doors open onto a major road without consulting on change of use. He continues to resist the County’s attempts to stop him.

What would you say are your home’s best features?

Irũngũ Houghton: I like the intimacy of a medium size house. Love the way the sun floods the sitting room in the afternoons. I love the rapport we have with our neighbors. Over the last five years we have become quite close. Recently, we climbed Mt Kilimanjaro with them.
Robyn Emerson: I love the driveway. It is an unexpected beauty behind the gate. It is welcoming to come home to. I love the garden, love the birds that come to visit. Location is critical.

What would you say is the beauty of owning a house?

Irũngũ Houghton: Freedom to change the look and feel, upgrade the plumbing etc Invested in opening up walls, the mazeras wall, the french doors to the garden, the kitchen table, creation of a bigger room downstairs. Finding the right contractor, overseeing the changes, value for money
Robyn Emerson: Equity and also the opportunity to leverage the equity to invest in other properties or hand down a property of value

What is your advice to aspiring home owners?

Irũngũ Houghton: Look around, look around and look around some more. I looked at 40 houses before I settled on this one. Be bold. I looked at several homes across Westlands, Kileleshwa and Kilimani, only to find a house on the road I was already living on and made an offer within 24 hours
Robyn Emerson: Patience and have enough finances to buy and live comfortably after you have bought the house. Keep saving. Investigate the building projections in your area. Know your rights and responsibilities as a home-owner

Do you have a parting shot?

Irũngũ Houghton: Homes are enlivened by the wider community. After Robyn, I and some residents formed the Kilimani Project Foundation a new possibility of relatedness opened up for us. This is not just a home for us, but a community of dynamic and interesting people. We continue to volunteer in this and other communities. Rent or buy a home and then go build a community.

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Statement at the funeral service of Alex Madaga, Saturday 24th October 2015

IH speaking at funeralfamily and funeral  nation funeral coverage

 

The statement was on behalf of the Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID)

The Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID) expresses its deepest condolences to the widow, son and community of Alex Madaga today in Isitsi village, Vihiga County.

Alex should not have died in this way. His death is both tragic and an injustice. Was his death meaningless though? Can we find sense in what has happened? His death has not been meaningless. Today we honour the power of one. If it had not been for Alex Madaga, the Council of Governors would not have committed to upgrade most of the county hospitals. Members of Parliament would have been pressed to accelerate and pass the Health Bill 2014 currently in Parliament. Nairobi Governor Dr. Evans Kidero would not have ordered his County Government to launch investigations into public and private hospitals that do not admit emergency patients. He would not have threatened not to renew their licenses if they do not have a policy of emergency care. For all this we can thank Alex Madaga for. I ask McDonald to never forget this. His father’s death has had a national impact and he can be proud of this.

Today we can also honour also others with the power of one. Cousin Oliver Esemere who called Nation journalist Eunice Kilonzo who woke up the nation. We can honour Brian Odhiambo, the para-medic who accompanied Alex on a journey that could have taken him from Nairobi to Mombasa and back.

We will continue to keep Alex’s widow Jesca and son McDonald in our thoughts and plans. We will follow up with the various actions being taken including the Senate enquiry, the Medical Practitioners and Dentists Board investigation and the CORD legal case. We were very glad that the Medical Board confirmed the widow’s allegation that the Coptic Hospital and Kenyatta National Hospital were negligent and hence had a case to answer.

Lastly, we call on our Members of Parliament to consider the Health Bill the Madaga Bill and hasten it’s passing through National Assembly. Many other Kenyans have died and will still die without the legal protection it offers. The Health NGO’s Network (HENNET), Kenya Legal and Ethical Issues Network on HIV and AIDS (KELIN) and the Society for International Development (SID) expresses its deepest condolences to the widow, son and community of Alex Madaga today in Isitsi village, Vihiga County.

Ends.

The statement was carried partially by The Star http://goo.gl/GPYrXq

The funeral was covered by the following media houses

K24 coverage on Alex Madaga’s funeral: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=10-LR6ZIWuw

http://ntv.nation.co.ke/news/national/-/2725528/2929148/-/x8qsl9z/-/index.html

https://citizentv.co.ke/news/alex-madaga-laid-to-rest-103979/

 

Should you wish to give to the family contribute via Mobile Money visit http://bit.ly/1NTEbND

 

Categories: civic education, Finance for Development, human rights | 1 Comment

Issues impeding whistle-blowing in Kenya

Organised by Transparency International Kenya, over 70 men and women attended a half day public discussion on improving whistle-blower laws and protection mechanisms. In response to four questions, 70 people indicated they have a persistent complaint about corruption, 40 have gossiped about a colleague, 20 have reported a colleague to the relevant authority and only person has ever secured the successful prosecution of someone who has abused their office. The rapid survey reflects the extent of the problem facing Kenya. Too few of us are actively building a culture that underpins new progressive laws and policies.

In the context of gross impunity and grand corruption, whistle-blowing is the highest expression of active citizenship. It is the boldest demonstration of the spirit of Article 1 that vests all power in the sovereignty of people.

While laws and policies and mechanisms are critical and TI-Kenya have some critical recommendations in this regard, the greatest challenge lies in decisively shifting the behaviour of you and me.

The first fundamental step has to be to care enough about even the issues that indirectly affect us. Bribery, substandard public services, hate speech, domestic violence next door, abuse of public resources, exclusion of those in need. The second is to give up the language of being a tell-tale, a snitch, betrayer familiar since childhood. Are we loyal to our relatives, colleagues and ethnic group at the expense of being loyal to a core set of values and behaviour that works.

Whistle-blowing is not personal, it is not an attack on the person being reported on, it is a commitment to integrity, rule of law and a culture that works for all. We can all name ten corrupt public and state officers, but it is more difficult to name ten whistle-blowers? We have to find ways of honoring them.

Much of the thinking around whistleblowing surrounds making disclosure easier and safer. This is great. We also need to create a proactive push around that encourages (to enable courage) citizens within public service and the public. Proactive policies and mechanisms that incentivise this. How do we honour head-teachers that block school land-grabs, users that demonstrate that basic service provision sabotage is designed for private profit, NGOs that press for the PBO Act, journalists that expose high and low abuse of office, state officials that agree to be investigated by independent bodies?

We need to think more about the informal spaces. The greatest impact of corruption is felt among the poor, marginalised and the “mahustlers” who suffer continually from the lack of quality public services, protection of their property and assets and autocratic harassment. They suffer the invisible injustices.

While legal reform is a pre-condition, the promotion of whistle-blowing as a national culture is the surest way of eliminating corruption. How could we encourage our children, families, friends and colleagues to take action?

Ends.

For some excellent resources on whistle-blowing, see three policy briefs on building comprehensive laws, confidential and effective systems for whistle-blower protection www.tikenya.org

Categories: Africa, Finance for Development | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

Kilimanjaro: A place to shine

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Eight weeks back, a dear neighbor Dorothy confided that hiking Mt Kilimanjaro was on a bucket list of things to do before she turned 50. Never one to pass up a challenge, my family agreed to join her family. Last weekend, seven of us left the comfort of our Nairobi sofa sets and hiked the length of the Machame route to the Summit. In doing so, we smashed all pre-conceptions of our capabilities and learnt a little about the beauty and promise of our East African region.

Team Kili Kili, we called ourselves. The first Kili was for Kilimani, the Nairobi neighborhood we live in. The second was for the rooftop of Africa. We were mostly Kenyan, adults and children ranging from 15 to 50 years old at various levels of physical fitness. Over the next 60 hours of hiking, we were to see few other East Africans and no families.

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Each of us had people or causes we were making the climb for. They ranged from the freedom for Palestinians and peace in Syria to our mothers and ourselves. I walked for my late father who had attempted to climb the mountain in the eighties. He, my mother and sister had to turn back after a bout of mountain sickness. As the climb got tough, having reasons bigger than ourselves became important. If the reason was only oneself, it was increasingly easier to give up. For me, it would be giving up on completing the journey my father started. There is a broader life lesson here.

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The challenge of the mountain started in Nairobi. What clothes and equipment did we need? Done properly, the investment per person could easily be Kshs 40,000 (US$400) for materials you may never use again. Could we rent the equipment and buy the clothes cheaply. Nairobi has a few outdoor shops but by far the most popular and economically friendly is Toi Market off Ngong road. Here, our neighbor Joy, was able to get all they needed at a third of the costs in the Malls. Friends quickly came to the rescue. Great, but my question still remains, why can’t Kenyans rent most of the stuff? Moshi does have a few rental shops but it seems there is a business opportunity for a rental shop in Kenya. Until then, Tanzania will still dictate access and the ease of domestic tourists from the region.

The five day climb to the 5,895 meter summit was easily the most physically demanding exercise we have ever done. 60 hours of hiking over 52 kilometers across four ecological zones mostly upward but also down into beautiful valleys. We climbed between 8 and 15 kilometers each day and slept in four tented camps. Each of the camps had 200 to 500 hikers from all over the world. Their size and organization reminded me of some of the refugee camps elsewhere in the region. Yet unlike refugees, we had chosen to be there. Unlike them, wrapped very carefully in plastic ziploc bags were our national identity documents that allowed us to go back to our homes if it got too difficult.

Mentally, I found myself preparing for team meltdowns and personal tantrums. How could I manage them? How could I bring out the best in the group? Each of us grasped for oxygen that dwindled with every step from Barafu camp to the Summit. Mark risked hypothermia every time he lay down on a rock. Nyambura struggled to overcome mountain sickness. Robyn kept muttering, “Exactly why are we here?” My 16 year old son Cuba demonstrated the reason for his name by displaying a personal resilience and purpose that still inspires me to this moment.

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With every step, I knew the team meltdowns and personal tantrums grew near, but they never happened. In the process I stumbled across an unexpected but important insight. Pre-judgements about others capacities have no reality outside the corners of our heads. While I spent time assessing and weighing each of us, each of them just got on with what was needed at every stage. No drama, just actions inside of their intention to summit, and then, all seven of us summited.

2015 Kilimanijaro

Kilimanjaro is epic in many kinds of ways. The myth of Kaiser Wilhelm demanding Kilimanjaro from Queen Victoria. The call by Mwalimu Julius Nyerere to light a torch on Kilimanjaro to signal hope for the total freedom of Africa from colonial rule. The fact that 25,000 people from seven continents attempt to climb it each year but only 66% ascend to the Summit. The fact that it is the highest point in Africa. All this, informs its majesty.

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Foreign and domestic tourists also earn Tanzania upwards of US$50 million annually. Personally, the first time the porters sung the song “Jambo bwana, habari gani, karibu Kilimanjaro” I cringed inwardly. I cringed not because I have a problem with the tourism industry that has spawned this, but that hospitality falls short of the understanding and friendship that is possible on Kilimanjaro.

Rather than serving those of us that climb this mountain, the thousands of guides and porters own this mountain. Whether they have come from Nairobi, Singida, Arusha or Moshi like our guides Dickson, Nuru and Albert, Kilimanjaro belongs to them. As their temporary guests, we owe it to them to mobilise leaders and citizens to act and stem global warming. Should we succeed, our children and theirs in turn, will have the opportunity to also stand on the snow rooftop of Africa and see one of the wonders of the world.

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For those of you yet to climb the mountain the local Wachagga people call Kibo (snow) and in Swahili “ngara” (to shine), we went literally from the couch to the mountain. Not for the fainthearted perhaps, but then again I don’t know what you are capable of. Do you?

2015 Kilimanijaro-001

Thanks to The East African for carrying the story in full on 14th September

Kili EA article

@irunguhoughton

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