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Saturday, December 1st, 2018


Rosemary Odinga: Hallmark of rare courage and fortitude


Rosemary Odinga’s public appearance on Tuesday marked the culmination of a heroic two-year struggle, and of a profound inner strength, against seemingly impossible medical and a multitude of other odds.

She has somehow managed to overcome the horrors of her wrenching ordeal to a point where she could do something this week that was unthinkable.

I personally know of no more compelling story like Rosemary’s, and her family’s, of prolonged fortitude and courage against what seemed an overwhelmingly negative prognosis.

It is a story that should be recited to provide strength to all those who face hopeless calamities and do not believe that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Her recovery to even this condition that we saw is a combination of factors; her own strength and the devotion of her father Raila Odinga, Mama Ida and sister Winnie and the family in general coming so soon after they had inconsolably lost their first-born Fidel in 2015.

Plus of course, there were Rosemary’s two loving girls, who always wanted to be by her side, the younger one not totally comprehending.

I am sure most Kenyans are praying that this recovery continues to a better conclusion than what Rosemary has so far achieved.

Among the most traumatising episodes the family lived through was the fear-filled race against time on a plane carrying a very ill Rosemary to an advanced medical facility in South Africa in February last year, with no certainty that the urgently-needed brain surgery could be performed in time.

One can only imagine how Raila and Mama Ida coped with the excruciating dread of that flight. Raila had of course put off his early March engagements in the US at that time, and once Rosemary was out of the woods, he flew to New York for a few days and then returned to South Africa to be with her again.

There was also another trip to a specialised medical facility in China that Raila and Ida took to obtain further treatment for Rosemary.

Despite their unspeakable anguish over her suffering in the last two years, the family was able to muster the enormous reserves of strength and will needed to see Rosemary through to where she is now.

But, of course, it was Rosemary’s own strength and determination that was the paramount game-changer.

In the two months I spent in Nairobi for the 2017 election, I saw her a few times at their Karen residence as she kept on making the heroic effort to do what was needed to undertake what was going to be a long, slow recovery. Her will to overcome remained.

It’s no less than a miracle that Rosemary was able this week to somehow recover enough determination to participate in a public event for something very dear to her heart; the well-being of women, specially those in Kibera. She provides an astounding example and role model to Kenyans and particularly women to emulate.

What a glorious and heart-wrenching moment of pride this must have been for the family and everyone who loves Rosemary. May God continue to strengthen her.

Salim Lone, New Jersey

Vaccinate to save lives

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The resurgence of measles, a viral infection and highly contagious disease, is a major setback in the steady progress made over the years in the improvement of public health.

Ironically, this is happening when there is an effective answer to this grave threat, which is the sustained vaccination especially of children.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has confirmed that there has been a significant increase not only in infections, but also in the number of deaths.

The increase in measles cases last year points to gaps in vaccination coverage.

Sadly, vaccination has been slowed down by misinformation, mistrust in immunisation and baseless claims made against the vaccine, discouraging some parents from taking their children for jabs.

In Kenya, there was the highly publicised opposition to vaccination by some religious leaders that threatened prevention.

Fortunately, there was a cogent reaction from the health authorities, with convincing explanations that there was no plot against any section of the population.

Between 2016 and last year, WHO says measles cases increased by 31 percent globally, and yet from 2000 to 2016, the incidence dropped by 83 percent, saving about 21 million lives, an 80 percent decline in mortality.

About 110,000 people died last year out of 173,000 cases, a jump of more than 30 percent from the previous year.

Measles is spread through contact with infected mucus and saliva. It can cause severe diarrhoea, pneumonia and vision loss and death.

Unfortunately, Kenya is also paying the price for the five-month nurses’ strike last year, which badly disrupted various vaccination programmes.

The country is staring at a crisis as thousands of children went without immunisation, and are at risk of contracting polio, pneumonia, TB, tetanus, measles, BCG and influenza.

The health authorities must come up with an emergency programme to step up vaccinations and save lives.

These deaths in police hands are unacceptable

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The re-emergence of deaths of suspected criminals in the hands of the police is worrying. It signals descent into lawlessness.

The role of the police is to enforce law and order — with the use of lethal force as a last resort.

Their mandate is to seize suspected criminals, conduct investigations on their activities and prosecute the cases in a court of law, which is the entity with the constitutional mandate to impose punishment.

However, as we have been reporting lately, there is a consistent pattern in which police take the law into their own hands and instead of arresting and charging suspects in court, resort to killing.

Many families have come out to voice the pain they have been subjected to as their loved ones have been killed on suspicion of being criminals.

Yesterday, for example, we reported numerous cases of youngsters, most of them aged below 25, who have been killed by police who portray them as hardcore criminals but without providing concrete evidence.

Even if they were hardcore criminals, the law protects everyone. Nobody should be executed just on suspicion and without proper interrogation of the facts by a court of law.

All that amounts to a travesty of justice. That is not acceptable in a country that subscribes to human rights protection. Indeed, the right to life is sacrosanct and can never be negotiated.


What is troubling is that extrajudicial killings are pervasive. The matter has been discussed in the past but no permanent solution has been found.

It is a serious human rights issue that cannot be wished away so easily as some of those in authority would want us to.

Police officers have rules that guide how they ought to handle suspects. They can use force or guns but only on those who have proved unruly and even then, not to kill.

But we have trigger-happy police officers who shoot to kill even when their lives are not in danger. That is clear misuse of powers, which must be condemned by all and a solution found.

We are cognisant of the level of insecurity across the country. Some criminals are quite dangerous. But there are legal provisions of handling them.

The National Police Service and the Independent Policing Oversight Authority must rein in rogue police officers hell-bent on shooting and killing civilians under the guise of law enforcement.

We call for an end to extrajudicial killings, which have no place in a civilised society.

I'll run over anyone in my way, warns William Ruto

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Deputy President William Ruto, a man a heartbeat away from the top seat, yesterday fired salvos at opposition leaders he accused of undermining him as succession politics takes centre stage just a year after the General Election.

Mr Ruto, who has often restrained himself from directly attacking opposition chief Raila Odinga since the March 9 handshake with President Uhuru Kenyatta, came out guns blazing on Saturday.

“I will run over whoever will stand on my way,” Mr Ruto said in Tharaka Nithi.

He later added, “If you try to stop the government’s work, I will deal with you. Jubilee’s priority is construction of roads, ensuring electricity connection, among others. Other things will follow at the right time,” the politician said, clearly out to downplay the significance of the statement that also warned the opposition against attempts to divide the ruling party.


Mr Ruto also repeated a statement he made earlier in the week that he was the President’s only principal assistant— or mtu wa mkono — and others should not claim the role, a remark seemingly aimed at Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka who had declared himself Mr Kenyatta’s “errand boy”.

To keen observers. Mr Ruto fired a clear warning shot in the remarks at Kathaka in Kirinyaga County.

His frustrations are further compounded by incessant reports that taking over from President Kenyatta no longer had the previously assumed guarantee, hence the need to give a warning that he is no pushover.

Mr Ruto seemed to have had a change of heart after what some of his supporters think is the coming together of the country’s “dynasties” to frustrate his succession ambitions.


The Deputy President accused the opposition of stoking divisions in government, which could pass as a reference to the strengthening bond between Mr Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. Mr Ruto’s allies, such as majority leaders in parliament Aden Duale and Kipchumba Murkomen, have in the past accused Mr Odinga of driving a wedge between the Jubilee chiefs.

While he is on record as saying he supports the handshake, Mr Ruto’s handlers hold that he will not support any arrangement threatening the Jubilee succession plan.

In making the statements, the choice of Tharaka Nithi and Kirinyaga, in Mr Kenyatta’s backyard, could not have been better for a man who is keen not to directly antagonise his boss whose support base he hopes to inherit in 2022.

The handshake in March has since snowballed into what Mr Ruto’s camp views with suspicion as a huge movement, bringing together the Kenyattas, the Odingas, the Mois and Mr Musyoka.

But responding to Mr Ruto’s remarks, Mr Junet Mohamed, a close ally of Mr Odinga and Minority Whip in the National Assembly, accused him of shadow boxing.

“He is busy creating imaginary enemies before going ahead to fight them. His is a fight between Ruto the man and Ruto the shadow. We are not in government; do not plan to join it, but support a course we believe is for the good of the country,” the lawmaker from Suna East said.

Early in the week, Mr Ruto said he was the only one mandated by law to be “Mr Kenyatta’s errand boy.” He appeared to be reacting to Mr Musyoka’s remarks about being ready to work for the President.

“If anything goes wrong with the work of the President or the Jubilee Party, the first person that would be asked would be me, the one who took an oath to be Mr Kenyatta’s assistant. Did you see anyone else take oath at Kasarani to be Uhuru’s assistant?” the DP asked.

The DP has in the past one week been under fire from his bastion after MPs led by Joshua Kutuny accused him of having a hand in the woes of maize farmers in the Rift Valley.

Additional reporting by Grace Gitau and Alex Njeru

Wind power to solve high power costs

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Many countries are fast adopting technologies and enacting policies that promote harnessing of wind energy on a utility scale.

The first known use was in 5000BC when people used sails to navigate River Nile. Persians had already been using windmills for 400 years by 900AD to pump water and grind grain.

The Dutch were responsible for many refinements of the windmill, primarily for pumping excess water off land that was flooded.

As early as 1390, they had connected the mill to a multi-storey tower, with separate floors devoted to grinding grain, removing chaff, storing grain and living quarters for the wind smith and his family.

Its popularity spread to the point that there were 10,000 windmills in England. But perfecting the windmill’s efficiency took almost 500 years.


By then, applications ranged from sawmilling timber to processing spices, tobacco, cocoa, paints and dyes. The windmill was further refined in the late 19th century in the US; some designs from that period are still in use today. Heavy, inefficient wooden blades were replaced by lighter, faster steel blades around 1870.

Over the next century, more than six million small windmills were erected in the US to aid in watering livestock and supplying homes with water during the development of the West.

Today, people are realising that wind power can serve as an alternative to fossil fuel-generated electricity. Wind power is now the world’s fastest growing energy source and has also become one of the most rapidly expanding industries. Offshore wind has the potential to deliver substantial quantities of energy at a price that is cheaper than most of the other renewable energies, as wind speeds are generally higher offshore than on land.


As of 1999, global wind energy capacity topped 10,000 megawatts, which is approximately 16 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity. If the predicted strides are made in the near future, wind power could be one of our main sources of electricity.

While we’ve been harvesting energy from wind for several decades, it is only in the last few years — as the world has become more concerned about global climate change — that we’ve witnessed increased installation of wind turbines. In 2010, installed global wind capacity reached 197 gigawatts (GW) and produced about 2.5% of the world’s electricity.

The technology advancement to harness power from wind energy would help in cost reductions in generation.

Wind energy poses a unique opportunity for Kenya to directly leapfrog the path taken by industrialised countries, to renewable sources of energy. In Kenya, there is an installed capacity of 5.1MW wind farm operated by KenGen at the Ngong site near Nairobi.


In spite of high wind potential assessed by Wind force in a study, for various reasons such as insufficient wind resource data, lack of financial resources, inadequate infrastructure and extent of grid, wind energy development on a utility scale could not take place.

Unlike other forms of electrical generation where fuel is shipped to a processing plant, wind energy generates electricity at the source of fuel, which is free.

Wind is a native fuel that does not need to be mined or transported, taking two expensive costs out of long-term energy expenses.

The writer is a Corporate Communications Officer at Kenya Electricity Transmission Company.

electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear power can fluctuate greatly due to highly variable mining and transportation costs. Wind can help buffer these costs because the price of fuel is fixed and free.


To amend these issues and to attract investments in wind power development, the Ministry of Energy has embarked on initiatives to attract investments through appropriate policy mechanisms under PPP frameworks.

With funding from the World Bank — the ministry commenced a wind monitoring programme in 2011-12 and the analysis of the data across the country is encouraging. According to a report by Wind Sector Prospectus-Kenya, vast tracts of land have been identified with rich wind energy resource potential, especially in northern and eastern Kenya.

The Wind Resource Assessment shows the country is bestowed with immense potential and certain models of wind turbines such as Vestas — V100 and GE — GE103 have been assessed by Wind force to have a Capacity Utilization Factor (CUF) or Plant Load Factor (PLF) generation potential of 40 per cent or more at sites in Marsabit and Turkana counties which would lead to attractive equity returns for investors.


Since wind power is proportional to the cubic wind speed, it is crucial to have detailed knowledge of the site-specific wind characteristics. Even small errors in estimation of wind speed can have large effects on the energy yield, but also lead to poor choices for turbine and site. An average wind speed is not sufficient.

Wind energy can diversify economies of rural communities, adding to the tax base and providing new types of income. Wind turbines can add a new source of property taxes in rural areas that otherwise have a hard time attracting new industry.


Unlike other forms of electrical generation where fuel is shipped to a processing plant, wind energy generates electricity at the source of fuel, which is free. Wind is a native fuel that does not need to be mined or transported, taking two expensive costs out of long-term energy expenses.

The price of electricity from fossil fuels and nuclear power can fluctuate greatly due to highly variable mining and transportation costs. Wind can help buffer these costs because the price of fuel is fixed and free.

-The writer is a Corporate Communications Officer at Kenya Electricity Transmission Company

Generating the will to win is more important than gathering trophy CVs

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I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve sat in boardrooms and heard the assembled say they are engaged in a “war for talent.”

The gist is as follows: talented people drive results. We must have the best talent in this company. Top talent is scarce. Top talent commands top remuneration. Ergo, we must pay more to get the best people in. Otherwise we will lose this war.

There is a flaw in there somewhere. Can you see it? Seth Godin pointed it out many years ago. In one of his pithy blog posts, he wrote:

“Plenty of recruiters and those in HR like to talk about engaging in a war for talent, but to be truthful…it’s not really a search for talent. It’s a search for attitude.”

What is “talent?” It usually refers to some sort of natural, innate aptitude. Something that you are born with, or something that you perhaps acquire due to fortuitous circumstances such as being born to affluent parents and attending the best schools.


In modern management-speak, talent seems to have morphed into referring to the unusual skills that drive business performance.

And it is true, great people are a very necessary ingredient of business success. That’s not the flaw in the argument. The fallacy is to think that greatness comes from degrees, certificates, knowledge and years of experience.

When we engage in this “war for talent” what do we actually do? Engage recruiters and head-hunters to find the talent for us. We create role profiles and job descriptions and screening criteria that spell out how many degrees we need; how many years of industry experience and how many of those in a senior role; and how much evidence of strong results achieved in comparable roles elsewhere.

In other words we buy into the argument that the talent exists “out there” and we need to have it “in here,” whatever it costs. Otherwise we will fail.

But Seth pointed out:

“There are a few jobs where straight up skills are all we ask for. Perhaps in the first violinist in a string quartet. But in fact, even there, what actually separates winners from losers isn’t talent, it’s attitude. And yes, we ought to be having a war for attitude.”

So yes, let’s fight. But let’s fight to have these things in our organisations: ethics, beliefs, convictions, standards, determination, curiosity, responsibility. Those are attitudes worth having. And that’s where the game is won or lost, not in accumulating trophy CVs.

Seth continued:

“An organisation filled with honest, motivated, connected, eager, learning, experimenting, ethical and driven people will always defeat the one that merely has talent. Every time.”


So it will. So why do we try to spend so much time and money looking for talent, and so little trying to develop attitude?

Because the latter is difficult. It requires that magic thing called leadership. It needs managers who understand that game-changing corporations are not defined merely by resumes and dry capability statements; they are created in the simmering cauldron of human desire and search for meaning.

Those who can generate a widespread will to win have a far better chance of cracking success than mere recruiters and gatherers do.

And here was Seth’s conclusion:

“The best news is that attitude is a choice, and it’s available to all. You can probably win the war for attitude with the people you’ve already got.”

Aha. This war is fought inside, not outside. It is fought in the corridors and meeting rooms and cubicles of the enterprise, not in its recruitment and PR budgets.

Those who know how to get the best out of people, who know how to enrol them in missions, who know how to teach them loyalty and patience and grit – those are the real generals of this war. And that’s actually what you should be doing, deep inside your organisation: creating causes and the enthusiastic armies of willing workers who will fight for those causes.

But nah, sounds too tough, so let’s just go back to boardroom games and all pay ourselves more and all be disloyal and jump ship at the first sign of higher remuneration elsewhere. It’s a much easier life.

You can gather yourself the best résumés and credentials in the business, and you won’t go anywhere much. But combining a bit of knowledge with a lot of leadership and a lot of attitude? Now you’ll be talking.

Sunny Bindra’s new book, The Bigger Deal, is now on sale.

Is there an ‘epidemic’ of teenage pregnancies?

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Kenyans are now seized of a new conversation, this time on the “rise” in teenage pregnancies. The media has increased focus on pregnancies among minors, especially around the recently concluded primary and secondary school examinations. Government officials and other public figures are all lining up to provide solutions, with some being based on conventional wisdom, others based on personal experience, and all of them having little truth or practical usefulness.

We have seen senior government officials saying those responsible for teenage pregnancies should be hanged or jailed for life.

Others have suggested that the men responsible be castrated and treated as outcasts. We have even seen others linking teenage pregnancies to pornography on the Internet and on television, and thereby calling for the censoring or control of access to pornography as a way of reducing teenage pregnancies.


We must first begin by deconstructing the idea that teenage pregnancies are necessarily on the rise. Pregnancy statistics will indicate that the reproductive age for women is conventionally considered to be between 15 and 40 or 45.

The most fertile period for a woman would be between the ages of 15 and 25 and, therefore, it shouldn’t surprise us if many girls and women in that age group became pregnant. Since we as a country decided that we do not want our children getting pregnant, we must put certain policies and laws in place to prevent it.

Killing or castrating the men responsible does very little to deal with it.

The key issue is that we need to delay sexual debut for our boys and girls, and ensure that those that have early sexual activity do not get pregnant and put their own lives at risk.


The aim of the policy should be to ensure that our girls do not start their reproductive life so early that they jeopardise their physical, psychological and social health.

To address this problem we must come up with interventions that achieve that goal.

Banning pornography or killing men and boys will not necessarily reduce teenage pregnancy, but will have far wider social ramifications.

The reasons young girls are getting pregnant before the age of 18 are many and varied, and include instances in this country where early marriage is still encouraged and condoned in some places. Girls as young as 10 to 15 years are engaged to men the age of their grandparents. Even more relevant in “urban” settings, young girls and boys experiment with sexuality and some end up getting pregnant. Understanding these dynamics would help reduce the rate of teenage pregnancies.

What has been proved to work are measures that ensure that girls go to school and make marriage decisions later in their lives, without the pressure of being engaged to older men before they are even out of primary school. Sex education in schools and other social settings (including religious institutions and youth gatherings) is also a useful way to begin helping young boys and girls to understand the ramifications of their sexual choices and behaviours, hopefully resulting in behaviour change and reducing unwanted pregnancies among our youth.

Teenage pregnancy is an old phenomenon requiring innovative methods to address. Knee-jerk reactions going as far as closing down the Internet will not prevent them.

Atwoli is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Dean, Moi University School of Medicine; [email protected]

Women should reject tokenism, demand what belongs to them

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Recent events and debates inside and outside the National Assembly regarding the fulfilment of the two-thirds constitutional gender requirement have once again proved that in all political arrangements and contestations, power is taken, not given.

It goes without saying that Kenya, like most of the world, remains a highly patriarchal society where societal systems and structures – be they cultural, religious, political and even economic – naturally favour men, putting women in a situation where they have to work almost twice as hard as men for them to even be heard, leave alone have access to certain opportunities, some of which come easily to their male counterparts.

In fact, there remains areas in society where women aren’t allowed to serve – like the priesthood – and little may change anytime in the near future.


In the African context, much as there exists matriarchal societies where women are the traditional heads of the family, for the most part, women are considered second-tier citizens, still not entitled to an inheritance in most instances despite the existence of legal regimes supporting their right to property.

Of course over time, painful and slow progress has been made to bridge the gender gap as societies realised they can no longer do business as usual.

But despite this, there still remains a long way to go before anyone can sit pretty and celebrate equality between the two genders.

The absurdity of the whole situation is that in most societies, women make up half or more of the population, making one wonder why one half of a society’s population should be treated as lesser beings.

Coming back to Kenya, it is evident that women, who by all means have a legitimate claim in demanding their fair share in leadership on the moral and legal fronts, have once again been taken on a wild goose chase, being given mixed signals by the powers that be – especially by party leaders of parliamentary parties – as to whether the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill 2018, which sought to provide a legislative framework to ensure no single gender occupies more than two-thirds of parliamentary slots, would be supported to pass through the House.


Recent history has shown that when President Uhuru Kenyatta and his opposition counterpart Raila Odinga wish to jointly push anything through Parliament, they have always succeeded, whether by hook or crook. They have previously whipped members of their parties into supporting all manner of bills, and whenever such campaigns didn’t show promise thanks to MPs rebelling, they have then resorted to near arm-twisting antics, and have had their way in the end.

Of course Parliament needs to operate independently without external influence and interference, but the point to be made is that the actions or inaction of both Uhuru and Raila in this regard – in their failure or reluctance to marshal their troops through their respective Parliamentary Group caucuses – points to either their lack of commitment or enthusiasm in supporting the political empowerment of Kenyan women.


The fundamental question – especially raised by critics of the bill – is the sort of propositions the piece of legislation put forward.

There has been passionate debate on the suitability of the need to increase parliamentary seats so as to accommodate more women, an idea that has been shot down by cries for the need to bring down the wage bill.

Those who support the proposal argue that compared with overall government expenditure, this will not be too much to ask for.

As things stand, it appears no matter how many times the bill will be reintroduced in the House, whether with new propositions or not – this having been the second attempt to pass it – there will remain serious opposition towards it, informed by a complex mixture of factors, including myths, stereotypes and the application of double standards against women.

A number of male MPs claimed they wouldn’t support the bill because their constituents didn’t believe women needed to be granted an easy ride to power – that they needed to compete just like their male counterparts – while others derided the whole effort by invoking the condescending argument that the extra slots would be used to reward girlfriends and the likes.

At this juncture, with little or no light at the end of the tunnel, Kenyan women must resort to realpolitik, with the understanding that power respects power in the same way capital respects capital.

With their numbers, and with a sizeable group of them in strategic leadership positions, including governors, they must light fires under the bellies of their political parties, to make the point that they are not seeking tokenism, but are in fact demanding what it rightfully theirs.

We shouldn’t be cavalier with patients’ health information

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When you walk to a health provider’s clinic, you open up your life and tell all to a health worker trusting that the information you share will be kept confidential.

You expect that the privileged information will be insulated from prying eyes. Some of this information is so personal that if it spilled into the public, it could cause you irredeemable damage.

Here is the sobering fact: Healthcare breaches are especially serious because personal data can, in some cases, mean the difference between life and death.

For example, in the hands of cybercriminals, that information could cause medications to become mixed up – or people might fail to get treatment.

Sadly, health information of millions of people in Africa is handled in cavalier ways. For example, many health workers exchange information about their patients using their unsecured mobile phones. The same phones they use for other day to day activities.


In public hospitals and in poorly resourced private clinics, the computerised systems on which patient information is captured often has very few safeguards to protect the information.

Pay attention to this: multiple health workers use same password to log into health systems that contain patients’ privileged information.

Sometimes the password is placed conspicuously in the offices for staff and anyone else to see and use it to access patients’ information. In a field prone to cyber threats, this practice runs counter to the need for secure systems.

World over, health information systems are hotbeds for cyberattacks. Troves of mined health data are as good as gold for cybercriminals as these can easily be used for identity theft and other schemes, resale in the black market, and even for blackmail.


These are not imagined theories. One study shows that hundreds of data breaches happen almost daily in Africa’s health ecosystem. But these breaches go unreported precisely because there is no law requiring individuals and organizations to report them to the affected patients or to authorities.

Lack of hard-edged computer systems professionals in the health sector compounds the problem. The sector lacks resources to attract and keep the top-notch well-armed technology wizards who can keep up with cyber security assaults.

Besides, there are no clear data security and privacy guidelines to direct health workers on how to keep patients data safe from intruders.


This relaxed approach to management of sensitive health data should concern patients and health providers alike.

In countries such as the UK, the healthcare sector is viewed as critical national infrastructure, alongside the water, electricity and transport networks. African countries should follow suit.

This week, Kenya Health Informatics Association will host Africa’s health informatics conference in Nairobi. Hopefully, this forum can show the way on how to entrench, scale up and turbocharge efforts to better management of patient information.

Reforms loom in AU as the world awaits Madagascar, DR Congo polls

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Tshisekedi and 20 others will face Josep Kabila’s handpicked successor Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary on December 23

As the last month of 2018 begins, a raft of African Union reforms is on course even as elections loom in troubled Madagascar and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The reforms were articulated during the 11th Extraordinary Session of the AU Summit that ended two weeks ago.

The changes are the handiwork of a team under outgoing AU chairman and Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who for the past two years has served as the chairperson of the AU Reforms Committee.

While focusing on institutional reform of the AU, the committee came up with several propositions, some aimed at strengthening peace and security responses on the continent.

Kagame is expected to hand over the AU chairmanship to Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in January.


Among developments during the summit was the approval of the mandate of the newly constituted AU Development Agency.

The proposed changes at the AU will come amid anxiety regarding landmark presidential elections in Madagascar and the DR Congo later in the month.

The polls will mark the climax of a dramatic season in the African electoral calendar, with results that are difficult to predict.

The December 19 Madagascar rerun comes after neither candidate won the 50 per cent of votes required for a first-round victory.

Two former presidents — Andry Rajoelina and Marc Ravalomanana — face off in the rerun.

Rajoelina was in power until 2014, having ousted Ravalomanana, who ruled from 2002 to 2009.

Ironically though, as a result of international pressure aimed at pre-empting a repeat of the violence that shook the island in 2009, Rajoelina, 44, and Ravalomanana, 68, were banned from running in the 2013 election.


They were, however, lucky this time, recording credible performances during the first round early last month.

According to the final results, Rajoelina garnered 39.23 per cent of the ballots cast while Ravalomanana had 35.35 per cent.

The DR Congo election will be on December 23. The country has never had a peaceful power transition since independence in 1960.

In all, 21 candidates are registered to run in the race to replace Joseph Kabila, 47, whose second and final elected term ended nearly two years ago, but who has remained in office thanks to a caretaker clause in the law.

Among the leading candidates will be Felix Tshisekedi, the 55-year-old son of Etienne Tshisekedi, who before his death was the face of the opposition.


Tshisekedi and the other candidates will be facing Kabila’s handpicked successor, Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary.

The AU Development Agency, which will be based in South Africa, will coordinate priority regional projects.

It is also expected to advance knowledge-based advisory support, undertake resource mobilisation and serve as Africa’s technical interface with development stakeholders.

Sadly, the positive changes are coming amid revelations of rampant sexual harassment of women at the AU Commission. Clearly, the union also has housekeeping challenges.