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Monday, January 1st, 2018

 

Thousands left stranded after NTSA bans night travel

By NATION TEAM
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Hundreds of travellers were on Monday stranded as a transport hitch hit various parts of the country following Sunday’s ban on night bus travel by the National Transport and Safety Authority.

Bus companies and urban businesses — the latter which rely heavily on the labour stranded upcountry after the year-ender festivities — were left counting heavy losses as the shock directive took effect.

In various towns across the country, travellers who had made advance bookings were forced to spend cold nights inside stationary buses. Others were forced to return home and wait for the rush to ebb. Parents and students rushing back to school for the new term, which begins today, were the most affected.

The NTSA, whose decision has been termed as a futile and needlessly punitive knee-jerk reaction, said the ban, which restricts long-distance passenger service vehicles to travel between 6am and 7pm, was in response to the rising number of road accidents at night.

On Monday, NTSA director-general Francis Meja defended the ban as “well thought-out despite the inconveniences it had caused travellers and bus companies”.

“The decision was arrived at after careful consideration and discussions for public good and safety,” Mr Meja said in a statement.

But passenger service operators criticised the ban as retrogressive and ill-advised. Matatu Welfare Association (MWA) chairman Dickson Mbugua said it was a poorly thought-out unilateral decision that has no place in the 21st century.

“We are surprised that the agency could stoop that low,” said Mr Mbugua. “We think this is a unilateral decision that has no board blessings. Many PSV owners are struggling to repay their loans after a year distorted by politics, which has been costly to the business community. And how will those preparing to go back to school or places of work cope?”

The ban caused a major transport hitch in Western Kenya as hundreds of passengers spent the second day in the cold at bus stations.

In Kisumu, the town’s main bus park, which is usually crowded, had fewer vehicles by midday as most operators left early in the morning to beat the evening deadline by NTSA. The same happened in Kakamega town.

HIGHER FARES

Following the shortage of PSV vehicles, passengers paid significantly higher fares for the few available vehicles. For the 350 kilometres between Kisumu and Nairobi, buses charged between Sh2,000 and Sh2,800, up from the usual Sh1,000 to Sh1,500. Those doing the 800 kilometres to Mombasa paid Sh3,500, up from an average of Sh2,000.

Mr Milton Otieno, a father of three students in Nairobi, said he was not sure whether their journey to Nairobi would take off as the bus scheduled to ferry them had not arrived at the Kisumu station by 2pm Monday.

Stranded passengersStranded passengers at Trans line Classic stage in Kisii County wait for vehicles to take them back to the city on January 1, 2018. Many were affected by the night travel ban by the NTSA. PHOTO | BENSON MOMANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“We are stranded,” he said. “It is already past noon, which means we will have to wait until tomorrow morning to try our chances again.”

The Nation also established that buses bound for Mombasa from Kisumu are now spending the nights in Nairobi, Molo, Nakuru or Voi before resuming their journeys during the day.

At the OTC station in Nairobi, bus drivers and commuters told the Nation of a mad rush to beat the 7pm deadline on the road.

Mr Dominic Seme, who said he is a driver, said the ban could also be counter-productive as some drivers were speeding during the day to make round trips and cash in on the travel frenzy.

Ms Anne Moraa, a food vendor at the station, said customer traffic had significantly reduced as most bus drivers are unavailable.

In the North Rift, most PSV operators suspended transport operations as early as midday to avoid penalties by the state agency. In Eldoret, they took advantage of the ban to hike fare, with charges to Nakuru rising to Sh800, up from Sh300, sparking off protests from the public. A North Rift Sacco attendant said they would close their offices by late afternoon.

For some saccos, like North Rift Shuttles, bookings were exhausted early in the day, forcing passengers to look for other alternatives.

“We might be forced to stay much longer since most vehicles have been booked for the next three days due to the restricted travel limits,” said Ms Mary Mungai, a traveller.

West Pokot governor John Lonyangapuo and senator Samuel Poghisio asked the government to expand roads as a long-term solution to ease traffic jams and reduce accidents.

“Some of these roads have not been expanded for a long time yet the number of vehicle keeps on increasing,” said Prof Lonyangapuo.

PERISHABLE GOODS

In Nakuru, businesses dealing in perishable goods incurred heavy losses as a result of the ban as some of them transport their wares at night using PSVs. Mr Canan Mwangi said he incurred a loss of Sh10,000 after his cabbages decayed on the way from Bungoma to Nairobi after an overnight stop-over in Nakuru.

Ms Martha Njeri, who transports tomatoes from her farm in Eldoret to Matuu, lost Sh15,000-worth of produce too.

“I could not unpack the tomatoes as I had already sent them to the bus station, where they stayed overnight,” she said.

Bus companies and stranded passengers in Mombasa asked the NTSA to shift the ban to long-distance trucks, which they said are to be blame for the frequent accidents that have claimed more than 200 lives in the past month alone.  

“Hundreds of passengers had to spend the night at Mariakani,” said Coast Bus director Adil Ijaz. “Does this make sense?

KNEE-JERK ACTION

‘‘How do you let passengers leave Mombasa only to go and sleep at Mariakani? Other passengers from Malaba had to sleep in Kericho!”

Senate minority leader Moses Wetang’ula, in a tweet, called for disbandment of the authority. “NTSA must be disbanded,” he posted. “You can’t run a 24-hour economy by curtailing workers’ travel. The world is on the move.”

His counterpart in the National Assembly, Mr John Mbadi, also dismissed the night travel ban as a knee-jerk reaction that will not address the challenges on  Kenyan roads in the last few months.

“The ban is not a solution. It is more of an emotional outburst that worsens the situation,” Mr Mbadi told the Nation, noting that what is needed is an honest enforcement agency that will implement traffic rules to the letter and spirit of the law.

“The law exists, and what is required is the will to enforce it. NTSA must ensure that drivers are not intoxicated or overworked. But this is not possible because our enforcement system has collapsed.”

 Reporting by Victor Otieno, Winnie Atieno, Silas Apollo, Brenda Gamonde, Oscar Kakai, Linet Amuli  Stella Cherono, Collins Omulo and Ibrahim Oruko.


Five militants killed in KDF strike near border

By STELLA CHERONO
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Kenya Defence Forces soldiers on Sunday killed five suspected Al-Shabaab militants believed to have been involved in the attack on Ijara Police Station in Garissa.

KDF said a vehicle that had been taken away by the militants during the attack on the Ijara station on Saturday December 30 was destroyed after explosives it was carrying exploded during a gunfight that ensued between the soldiers and the militants.

The forces have been combing the vast Boni Forest in Lamu County for the terror gang believed to have hideouts there.

“The troops caught up with the Al-Shabaab terrorists as they tried to get to the Somali border. Five terrorists were killed while others fled with injuries,” KDF spokesman Colonel David Obonyo said, adding that the suspects fled to the general area of Sarira, some 25 kilometres  north of Baure.

Col Obonyo said a motorcycle also suspected to have been stolen in Ijara, 5 AK-47 rifles, 13 magazines with 370 rounds of ammunition, 2 grenades and bomb-making materials were also recovered.

The terrorist group, according to Col Obonyo, was using the police vehicle they seized from the National Police Service, to transport some materials in the area between Lamu and Garissa counties.

He appealed to the public to inform authorities of any strangers they come across seeking treatment for bullet wounds.

The Saturday dawn attack on the Ijara Police Station was reportedly conducted by more than 15 members of the terror group, who burnt it down before making away with the vehicle.

Col Obonyo assured the public that the operation against Al -Shabaab would continue until the terrorists were eliminated and the locals allowed to enjoy their peace.

TERROR GROUP

Security officials believe that members of the terror group have increasingly been infiltrating the Lakta Belt near Boni Forest as they flee increasing air strikes in Kolbiyo and part of Badana in Somalia.

The attack on Ijara was purportedly meant to revenge an airstrike conducted by KDF and troops drawn from the US Army two days earlier.

During the airstrike conducted in Bohadi in Gedo Region, 19 militants were killed and several injured.

More than 1,000 residents of Jima, Poromoko, Pandanguo, Kakathe, Maleli, Nyonmgoro and neighbouring areas in Witu division have been putting up at IDP camps set up at Katsaka Kairu and at the AIC Church in Witu since early July this year, after the attacks drove them from their homes.


Mohamed Salah named Arab player of the year

By AFP
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Liverpool and Egypt striker Mohamed Salah was named Arab Player of the Year for 2017 on Monday in a poll of around 100 sports journalists from several Arab countries.

Salah, 25, has been an instant success at Liverpool since joining from AS Roma, scoring 17 goals in the Premier League already and 23 in all competitions.

He also helped Egypt to qualify for this year’s World Cup finals in Russia.

Syrian winger Omar Khribin, who plays for Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia, came second and another Syrian player, Omar Al-Soma, of Saudi side Al Ahli, was third.

Salah is also favourite to win the African Player of the Year title which will be announced in the Ghanaian capital Accra on Thursday.


Kenyans face bleak year after poor maize, wheat harvests

By BARNABAS BII
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By STANLEY KIMUGE
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The country is staring at a food shortage following declined maize and wheat production in the North Rift region – the country’s grain basket this season caused by disease outbreaks and erratic weather.

The Agriculture ministry estimates a 20 per cent drop in maize yields – 32 million 90kg bags down from 37.1 million bags – setting the stage for acute shortage of the commodity this year.

Maize production in Uasin Gishu County dropped by 25 per cent from 4.4 million to 3.7 million bags in 2017 due to an outbreak of the fall armyworm, head smut disease and sustained drought during planting period.

Similarly, wheat yields plummeted to 430,000 bags from 466,000 bags in 2016 with agriculture experts warning that the shortfall in the harvest of the two source of staple food will impact negatively on most households.

“The anticipated shortage of the cereals will push the prices beyond the reach of most households forcing the government to sustain the food subsidy programme,” said Mr Jackson Lagat, an agricultural economist.

ARMY WORMS

Trans Nzoia County, a high maize production region, harvested 4.7 million bags of maize down from five million bags in 2016 and the yield is expected to decline further as a result of fall army worms.

 “The outbreak of fall army worms led to increased cost of production and low yield while heavy rains during harvest period resulted in rotting of the crop,” said Mr Joseph Cheboi, Uasin Gishu County Director of Agriculture.

The pests destroyed several hectares of the crop in Kitale, Bungoma, Kakamega, Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia, Busia, Nandi, Kericho, Baringo and Nakuru counties.

According to Agriculture Cabinet Secretary Willy Bett the country is expected to experience maize shortage this year.

“The annual maize yield could drop by 20-25 per cent which will further complicate the already unsteady food security situation,” said Mr Bett.

UPROOT CROP

Most farmers in the North Rift region had not recovered from the outbreak of Maize Lethal Necrosis disease that had earlier ravaged parts of the country, forcing some of the growers to uproot the crop. A farmer in Trans Nzoia County, Mr Edward Kiru, whose maize was invaded by the fall armyworms said the yields were cut by half.

“In the previous season, I had harvested 30 bags per acre. But due to the armyworm invasion, I only harvested 15 bags per acre. There are a number of pesticides which I’m not sure if they are effective or not. We want the government to assure us of proper pesticides for the armyworms before the next planting season,” he said.

Mr Maurice Chepkonga, a  farmer from Moiben in Uasin Gishu County, had to contend with a poor harvest, thanks to the armyworm infestation and depressed rains in the first six months of last year.

Mr Chepkonga said from his 25 acres, his harvest went down to about five bags per acre from 25 bags in the previous season.

FOOD SECURITY

Most maize farmers in the North Rift region have reduced acreage under maize resulting in decline in food production.

Agriculture experts in the region on Monday said the change of land use from agricultural to commercial was threating food security as the government moves to bolster its strategic grain reserves.

Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organisation deputy director-general, Dr Felister Makini, said the State agency remained underfunded. This hampers efforts to fight the fall armyworms as scientists research biological means to contain it.

“This is a serious pest and funding has been an issue yet we have not undertaken serious research. There are inadequate funds to conduct research to get the best solutions to the control the pest,” he said.


Back to school for fresh term full of changes

By FAITH NYAMAI
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Schools open on Tuesday in what will be a defining year in the education sector as the government  rolls out several new programmes aimed at streamlining education system in the country.

The several experiments lined up by the Ministry  have received criticism from various education stakeholders, but their success or failure are to be determined once all measures have been put in place.

Key determinants in the implementation of the various programs are the government’s readiness in availing funds and support from the education sector.

The new curriculum, the opening of day wings in selected boarding schools, the mass transfer of school heads and other teachers, and the rolling out of the National Health Insurance Fund (NHIF) policy for secondary school students are among initiatives that the Ministry will be grappling to implement.

 The provision of free text books for form one students by the government and also the 100 percent transition are also among the experiments that the ministry will be testing.

The opening of schools and the implementation of the programmes  comes in the wake of a two-and -half months vacation – the longest ever in the country.

The third term was affected by a prolonged electioneering that culminated in repeat presidential elections on October last year.

Parents and guardians, who spoke to the Nation, welcomed the re-opening of schools.

Parents conduct early shopping for their children in Kakamega townParents conduct early shopping for their children in Kakamega town on New Year’s eve, ahead of the re-opening of schools across the country this morning. PHOTO | ISAAC WALE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

“The children have been on a very long holiday and they need to go back to school as soon as possible,” said Ms Susan Macharia, a parent.

School heads and their deputies who have been transferred from their old stations started reporting to their new stations on Monday, ahead of Tuesday’s re-opening.

This is despite the Kenya National Union of Teachers (Knut) having opposed the transfer of teachers terming the move as ill-advised and against the international standards of teaching practices.

 Speaking to the Nation, Knut secretary general Wilson Sossion insisted that the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) cannot destabilise teachers by transferring them to other counties away from their home in the name of enhancing national cohesion.

“You cannot move teachers to cure wounds that have been caused by politicians,” he said.

Mr Sossion said mass transfer of teachers must be guided by international standards that encourages teachers to work near their homes, as they are able to mobilise the community to pursue education than a teacher from a different community.

According to TSC chief executive Nancy Macharia, head teachers and deputies who have overstayed in their  station for more than nine years are the ones who have been transfer letters. Newly employed teachers are also being posted away from their home counties.

Daniel Oluko decorates school boxes as a parent (left), buys one at the Jua Kali Sheds in Eldoret town last weekDaniel Oluko decorates school boxes as a parent (left), buys one at the Jua Kali Sheds in Eldoret town last week. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

The move, according to TSC is made to enhance national cohesion and bring unity among communities.

About 557 school principals and their deputies have been transferred to new stations.

DEFY DIRECTIVE

Two cases are already pending in court and Knut has been directing the teachers to ignore the transfers.

However, the Kenya Primary school Head Teachers Association ( Kepsha) chairman Shem Ndolo has supported the transfers, and said teachers should not defy government’s directives.

Both the Knut and Kuppet  have threatened to call for a countrywide strike over the mass transfers if they are not revoked.

On the provision of free text books, the Ministry is planning to give books approved by the Kenya Institute of Curriculum Development (KICD) to all  students joining Form One this year.

Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, says the textbooks have been procured in conjunction with publishers.

The ministry is expected to flag off the distribution of the books on Thursday.

They bear a special mark on the front cover indicating they are not for sale.

 On the rolling out of the NHIF cards for secondary school students, NHIF board member Akelo Misori on Saturday said fund was ready to roll out the program.

The 19 national schools selected by the ministry for the rolling out of the day wing are also preparing to take in students for the first time in the education sector.

 However the move has been criticized by a section of parents who feel it might lead to indiscipline in schools as teachers might not be able to control the day scholars.


Look at the bigger picture of KCSE results

By ANDREW RASUGU RIECHI

There is a craze for marks, grades and certificates at the basic and middle levels of education, culminating in very high social demand for university degrees. Consequently, one is tempted to describe our education system as an examination system!

No wonder, cheating in national exams had become a norm. It is sad that this had gone on for a very long time with little or no consistent efforts made to curb the vice, which makes some of the outputs of the system suspect.

The teaching and learning processes mostly focus on exam results and not the outcomes — to the extent that majority of learners complete different education cycles without the necessary knowledge, skills and appropriate attitudes, the three ingredients of human capital that drive economies.

Due to the inappropriate investments, Kenya’s economy was fast resembling India of the 1970s, when it was aptly described as having a “Diploma Disease” — too many unemployable degree holders.

QUALITY INSTRUCTION

I am keenly aware that a few schools and institutions of higher learning with quality instruction and rigorous assessment are producing school leavers and graduates who are globally competitive.

The government’s efforts to streamline the management of exams as a first step to bringing about the much-needed order to the seriously ailing education sector is laudable.

We should commend the bold steps being taken by Education Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i, his ministry’s staff and related agencies in consultation with relevant line ministries in stopping exam cheating. Another bold move is the government’s implementation of a key recommendation of a report of a taskforce chaired by Prof Douglas Odhiambo in 2011-2013 to align education to the Constitution and Kenya Vision 2030 by introducing a competency-based curriculum.

Preparations for stopping the cheating started in early 2016, when Dr Matiang’i was moved to the education docket.

EXAM MALPRACTICES

Kenyans were used to persistent exam malpractices. With the cheating and shenanigans during and after marking, they  never got to know the true results.

That only about 11 per cent of the 2017 KCSE candidates will join Kenyan universities is a result of proactive measures to streamline the education sector.

In the past, many KCSE candidates scored undeserved As and other attractive grades. The consequences are dire when some of them end up in sensitive careers such as medicine. It is gratifying to know that the 2016 and 2017 candidates got their true scores.

Two, the results confirm research findings, especially the annual learning assessments by Uwezo Kenya, whose reports Are Our Children Learning? have since 2009 demonstrated that students in Kenyan schools are not learning properly. This has gone on for a long time with little done to address it.

Three, rather than agitate for cancellation of the results, stakeholders should call for in-depth investigations into the results, the findings of which would form a basis for future policy frameworks to improve the quality of education.

Four, Dr Matiangi’s bold steps confirm that, with determination, focus and relentless efforts, challenges that are seriously threatening the fabric of the Kenyan society can be surmounted. These include corruption, inefficiency, low productivity and littering.

Let us not lose sight of the bigger picture of the desirable and tortuous journey that has just started to resuscitate the ailing education sector, which has been a serious joke happening as Kenyans watched.

Without shaking up the sector, it will be far from generating knowledge, skills and appropriate attitudes, which are the key outcomes of an effective education.

Dr Riechi (PhD), a policy analyst, is a senior lecturer in economics of education at the University of Nairobi’s School of Education. [email protected] 


Uhuru and Raila must start talking

By NKWAZI MHANGO
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Now that the repeat presidential election is over and the winner sworn into office, Kenya needs to go back to normalcy.

However, this cannot be actualised without two major actors — namely; President Uhuru Kenyatta and his nemesis, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga — opening up for serious business of hemming fences and redressing Kenya from the self-inflicted wounds their dynastic differences and political struggle have inflicted on the country and Kenyan society.

I don’t aim at being the devil’s advocate. Again, looking at the imbroglio-cum-impasse that Kenya has been in for a long time now, methinks the duo needs to look at the situation broadly and boldly but not narrowly as it was when they were running for office.

For a long time, the two have been involved in the ‘dialogue of the deaf’ — something that is seemingly exacerbating the problem.

While they have maintained a sort of denialism resulting from toxic and tribal politics, their cohorts and majordomos kept on making things harder.

ELECTION RE-RUN

The situation became even worse after the election re-run.

Thus, nobody can tell exactly what will happen regarding the closure of the crevices being on tenterhooks. The two need to come together and engage in dialogue since there is no way the malady can heal itself without their constructive and positive interventions.

Currently, Odinga is obsessed with being sworn in as the “people’s president” — as if President Kenyatta is not the president of the people.

This struggle does not do Kenya any good. There is time and season for everything. Elections are over. The duo must bury the hatchet and let Kenya move forward as a nation.

It is important for the two to start thinking about Kenya and not their personal power and glory. They must seriously and realistically consider and look at a suffering Kenya.

Evidently, the economy is dangerously tanking. Many business people have already registered their discomfort with it. The society is deeply divided along ethnic lines, not to mention political klutziness that the country has found itself in.

For the two to understand and underscore the important roles they have to play, they should step into the shoes of other Kenyans who lost their loved ones, those whose businesses are cascading, those whose lives have been dangerously turned upside down, those whose hopes have been dashed and the like simply because the two are at it tussling with each other for just elusive and temporal power.

Looking at their flinty stances, without wising up Kenya stands to pointlessly lose a great deal.

For instance, Odinga has commuted his coalition into a movement, meaning that his cause has not been achieved. Talking about the movement, Odinga was quoted as saying “this is basically going to be involved in civil disobedience, civil resistance, not an armed resistance”.

But for how long, and won’t such measures negatively affect Kenya by exacerbating the already worsening situation?

Nobody can easily tell. However, it is easy to foretell how the situation will be. Considering the deaths and loss of property already witnessed, the situation is likely to be spooky and surreal shall the two stick to their guns.

It does not make sense for Kenya to be held to ransom simply because two protagonists are living in a state of denial simply because they are not directly affected by the goings-on. They need to be realistic. There cannot be a winner if the country remains divided.

And thanks to such precarious limbo, many opportunistic elements will cash in and take advantage of the logjam. We have already heard of the clamour for secession and other provocative propositions that cannot — and will not — help Kenya.

ECONOMIC SLUMP

President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga need to constructively engage each other in order to avoid giving Kenya’s enemies ammunition to finish it off, especially at this moment it is facing Al-Shabaab in neighbouring Somalia, not to mention the economic slump.

Should the duo keep on hardening their positions, Kenyans should consider taking lawful steps in order to force them to talk, as it is to the citizens that Kenya actually belongs.

 Mr Mhango is a Canada-based Tanzanian author, peace and conflict scholar an alumnus of UDSM (Tanzania) and Universities of Winnipeg and Manitoba, Canada. [email protected] 


Capacity building an integral lever for successful devolution

The 2017-2022 regime of governors face higher expectations from Kenyans seeing as criticism of the former crop for poor service delivery culminated in many of them being overwhelmingly voted out.

It then becomes imperative to undertake an end-of-term evaluation to determine the extent of implementation of the first cycle County Integrated Development Plans (CIDPs) and address the challenges that have bedevilled devolution since its inception in 2013 so that the strategic issues emanating therefrom are addressed.

Capacity building of the counties, therefore, becomes a key area in 2018. It should also be of interest and focus for complimentary support by the national government, for obvious reasons.

First, improved capacity at the county level will enhance the policy, planning, budgeting and programme execution continuum at the county level.

This would not only improve absorption of development funds but also enable the counties to conform to the fiscal responsibility principles spelt out in the Constitution and the 2012 Public Finance Management Act to ensure that at least 30 per cent of their budgetary allocation goes into development and not more than 35 per cent into salaries.

Capacity building would also improve the quality of the CIDPs, the core policy blueprints that guide development at the county level. That would translate to more effective functional strategic plans and annual work plans which guide the day-to-day operations of the county government departments, hence better service delivery.

It will also lead to better county policies and laws, hence improved utilisation of local resources and service delivery. Further, it will not only strengthen accountability and fiscal discipline but also enhance own-source revenue collection and management and improved asset management.

OPPORTUNITIES

What, then, are the opportunities for counties in terms of capacity building that they need to exploit?

First is to appreciate that they have a mix of public servants. The first category is the public servants that they inherited from the national government and, relatively, have some good level of skills and understanding of government operations. However, they still need to be capacity-enhanced to adopt the best practices for county governments.

The other is staff employed by the county governments upon inception in 2013. We know that most of these were largely employed based on county regional dynamics, clannism, nepotism and other non-professional considerations — mainly to reward political supporters. They, therefore, require greater training support.

Considering the responsibilities of county governments, capacity building programmes need to be tailor-made to address specific gaps identified through formal needs assessments.

However, there are some cross-cutting capacity building areas that would be applicable to all counties.

Most significantly, the counties need to undertake demand-driven training programmes based on the mandate and core business of the county governments that is adequately informed by their respective areas of comparative advantage as opposed to supply-driven ones based on personal staff desire.

In effect, the counties should undertake staff development programmes arising from a comprehensive training needs assessment (TNA) that is effectively-aligned to the CIDPs and the corresponding functional strategic plans.

The county governments should also undertake periodic training impact assessment to justify the funds utilised on training during the preceding activity period so that any future training is purely informed by value-proposition.


WHO classifies obsession with video games as ‘mental illness’

By AGGREY OMBOKI
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Are you constantly playing video games and whenever you step away from this, your fingers are itching to get back? You could have a mental disorder.

Obsession with video games has now been classified as a mental disorder by the World Health Organisation.

According to a draft of WHO’s upcoming 11th International Compendium of Diseases (ICD), playing video games obsessively might lead to a diagnosis of a mental health disorder in 2018.

WHO includes “gaming disorder” in its list of mental health conditions, making it an official diagnosis that can be used by doctors and other health specialists. Kenyan doctors could soon be diagnosing the condition in a country boasting of a growing youthful population with a rapidly advancing digital culture that includes mobile phone gaming.

It is the first time that the list has included an entry on gaming, placing it in the same category as disorders related to drugs, alcohol and gambling.

The UN body defines gaming disorder as a “persistent or recurrent behaviour pattern of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning”.

WHO says the disorder is characterised by “impaired control” with increasing priority given to gaming.

“Gaming disorder is characterised by a pattern of persistent or recurrent digital or video gaming behaviour which may be online or offline, manifested by impaired control over gaming onset, frequency, intensity, duration, termination and context. It may also be displayed by increasing priority given to gaming to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other life interests and daily activities. The disorder is also characterised by continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences,” says the document.

WHO says the disorder needs at least six months of observed symptoms before medical professionals can make a diagnosis.

“Video game playing, either online or offline, must be normally evident over a period of at least 12 months for this diagnosis to be made, according to the beta draft guidance. However, if symptoms are severe and all requirements are met, healthcare professionals may include people who have been playing for shorter periods of time,” the draft reads.

WHO media spokesman Gregory Hartl said the new classification on gaming disorder “includes only a clinical description and not prevention and treatment options”.

WHO’s comprehensive list is intended to make it easier for scientists to share and compare health information between hospitals, regions and countries.

It also enables healthcare workers to compare data in the same location over different time periods. Additionally, public health experts use the list to track the number of deaths and diseases.

The International Compendium of Diseases is the WHO’s version of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association which only includes mental disorders. In contrast to DSM, ICD lists both mental and physical disorders.


Trade blocs, not secession, will help poorer regions to develop

By BETTY M. GACHIRE
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The latter part of last year was dominated by talk on secession, which is not likely to go away soon as its advocates still allege marginalisation.

The proponents of secession claimed it would cure alleged marginalisation, which they said contributed to their regions’ underdevelopment. What has not been clear is if, indeed, secession would actually solve the problem of underdevelopment.

At the formation of the United Nations in 1945, there were about 76 independent countries. Today, there are almost 200 nations. The disintegration of the former USSR opened the floodgates for secession. It has also promoted a discussion on the economic viability of secession and if the size of a country matters.

One of the leading economic analysts on this topic is Joseph Schumpeter.

He states the benefits of a larger country as, first, the lower per capita costs for public goods such as infrastructure, security, healthcare and education. This is because when you have many taxpayers the costs will be shared among a larger group, therefore reducing the individual costs.

This is particularly an important point to ponder because the regions that are said to be marginalised and underdeveloped have been depending on the tax redistribution from the national government to the county or from the richer to the poorer regions.

This is why poorer regions would want to form larger countries to include the richer regions while the latter may prefer independence so as to avoid sharing resources.

Poorer regions need to ponder on the expenses of forming a new government as the inability to invest in public goods can only lead to more underdevelopment.

A second issue to consider is that a larger country (in terms of population and national product) is less subject to foreign aggression.

AGGRESSION

This is because, with a larger population, there is capacity to form a military for its defence and its sheer size alone can detract aggression.

Thirdly, the size of the country affects the size of their markets. A larger market increases productivity and economies of scale. This is the reason why, globally, many countries are partnering within their geographical regions to form regional trading blocs.

The formation of regional trading blocs has become an important way of protecting countries’ trade and particularly helping poorer regions to integrate and come out of economic recession faster than if they were alone.

This is why the Kenyan government has been working hard to ensure the success of the East African Community (EAC) because all the region’s countries will reap better trade benefits if they worked as a single common market as opposed to individually.

GLOBAL MARKET

This is crucial for African countries that are the last to industrialise and will face stiff competition in the global market. They must, therefore, take advantage of their internal market for economies of scale and promote efficiency of their products regionally before expanding to the global market.

However, the disadvantage of a big country is that ethnic diversity increases and, therefore, more individuals and regions will be dissatisfied with the central government.

It is for this very reason that our Constitution allows for devolution, which would “recognise the right of communities to manage their own development, promote their own interests…while fostering national unity by recognising diversity” (Article 174).

Given that there are more benefits in maintaining Kenya’s territorial integrity, those calling for secession need to capitalise on devolution to strengthen their regional economic policies so as to get the benefits of size while promoting their economic interests.

However, the right for communities to promote their own interests does not mean a misinterpretation of the County Government Act as Kiambu County has done. Article 65 (1) and (2) of the County Government Act sets out the requirements for hiring in counties.

The provision for 70 per cent of workers to be from the dominant ethnic community is only meant for county government jobs and not any other within the counties. However, hiring must be done considering merit, fair competition and representation of the diversity of the county as the overriding factors.

Secession or balkanisation is not in Kenya’s economic interest and those agitating for it are only doing so for their own political mileage.