Easier to Call Home From Kenya

(June 22, 2016)

Travelling to the developing world always reminds me what Canadians take for granted is a luxury elsewhere.

Three weeks in Kenya reminded me clean water and the infrastructure to deliver it are a primary responsibility of government. Flickering lights and frequent blackouts make ensuring reliable electricity just as important.

I even found myself thinking fondly of stop signs, traffic lights and people directing traffic. In Nairobi, traffic is an organic flow of intuitive manoeuvring by instinct rather than by rule, slowed to a manageable pace only by volume, potholes and speed bumps. Traffic lights and traffic cops wreak havoc instead of imposing order, and I was happy to let someone else drive.

It is no surprise the developing world is developing. What we need to remember is the things — in our stop-lighted, well-watered and electrified world — we can learn from people who live in places such as Kenya.

Take cellphones. Here we fuss that MTS is being bought out by Ma Bell and so our rates will go up, though the network will not improve. I would be first in line to buy shares if only MTS (and Bell) could be taken over by Safaricom, Kenya’s main mobile telephone company.

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Local Politics Have Global Impact

(March 1, 2016)

NAIROBI, Kenya — Last year came to a close with two major international agreements — the Paris Climate Accord and the approval of the UN’s 2030 Development Agenda.

Both of these agreements need to be lived out on the ground, however. If we can’t find a way of implementing changes right where we live, these documents get added to a long list of failed attempts to make a difference.

As I write these words, the neighbourhood roosters have just crowed in Nairobi. I lived between two worlds recently, engaged in debate over composting in Winnipeg while participating in environmental meetings here.

It is a long way to travel, with a handful of people, to affect decisions about the future of the Earth we share — and light-years away from Winnipeg city hall.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is now responsible for the environmental mandate of the United Nations. We were meeting at UNEP headquarters to prepare for the second United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA-2) in May.

Back in Winnipeg, councillors deferred making a bad decision on composting — a victory of sorts for those who want to see changes made, but nothing to celebrate.

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When Elephants Fight

One of a small herd grazing near Keekorok, Kenya (July 2014)

One of a small herd grazing near Keekorok, Kenya (July 2014)

There is a Kenyan proverb that when the elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers.

Or the acacia trees. You can tell on the Maasai Mara when the elephants have been through an area. The bushes are uprooted, tree branches broken, dirt churned, all the inevitable consequences of elephants just being elephants as they pass through.

They don’t even have to fight to tear up the landscape.

You could say there is nothing personal. The elephants are just doing what they do. But the acacia trees, like the grass, would have another opinion if they could speak.

Around the world, democracy is a frail flower these days. While the theory about government of the people, by the people, for the people was crystal clear when it was declaimed 150 years ago, how it has been translated into practice since has varied widely.

Sometimes I wonder if the term “democracy” is worth using at all – certainly the old definitions seem to apply less every day.

The word itself has become a smokescreen for the politics of power, whether it comes out of the muzzle of a gun or (more deniably) out of the mouth of a bank account. The elephants tear up the landscape with impunity and it is the grass that suffers.

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