Sunday, November 6, 2016


"Be the Change You Want to See"
These words emanated from the following words by none other than Mahatma Gandhi. “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”
The advantage (or disadvantage depending on what you think of your life) about being 50 plus Joel EmisikoWacango Muguro Kimani as you continue to celebrate this phenomenal number, is that you have made many mistakes, some that cannot be undone and some that you can correct with the time you have remaining, of course unknown to us. The greatest thing is that you have had time of reflection to decide if you want to learn from the mistakes to ensure you never repeat them again but one thing is for sure - life is a learning experience if you open your mind to it, listen to constructive criticism and ignore nay sayers, but most importantly, the ultimate decision lies with you - do I want to make the rest of whatever I have left a time to regret or a time to look back and remember lessons learnt and mistakes never to be repeated again, or live with regrets all your life? Do I want to wake up and smell the roses keeping in mind that they have thorns but the sweet scent of these beautiful flowers surpasses the sting of the thorns as you pick a rose from your garden. One of the greatest lessons learnt is from this story: "Why you shouldn’t avoid making mistakes" But I still would not be afraid to make mistakes because I would learn from them as expressed here so rightfully -…/why-you-shouldnt-avoid-making-mis…/#
In the past two week as I always do during celebration of my many years on this earth, I have had time to reflect on the goings on in my country Kenya, in my life and specifically following an incident a week ago that did not turn out as expected and instead of working for the greater good of those it concerned did the complete opposite and left me asking - "was it worth it"?. The words of Mahatma Gandhi have continued to scream at me somewhere at the back of my mind and I have had time to ask myself - "was it really, really worth it? If given the chance, would I do it all over again? My answer is: "I would gauge the situation, the context, the geographical area, the sample population :-) the wider expected and unexpected implications and possibly look the other side like many of us do and do nothing about something or do something about it and live with the repercussions!."
Thank you Kevin Kariuki for that chat we had last evening, not only catching up on the past that started in Nakuru Day Secondary School some 45 plus years ago and post school, college, life, but some lessons you taught me in word and in deed that I had not thought about or thought through - it was phenomenal and trust me, one of those talks that will linger in my mind for a long time as I make several major decisions soon.
All said and done, life is a learning process and in the words of Hunter S. Thompson in "The Proud Highway: Saga of a Desperate Southern Gentleman I exclaim: “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming
"Wow! What a Ride!”

Saturday, November 5, 2016



When I read story below, a lesson from my father more than 20 years ago came to my mind....

When the Health 5Billion whatever it is called now shot up two weeks ago, I told a friend – if I was Uhuru Kenyatta, I would ensure that my close relatives play by the rules and they are not caught up in scandals that they might not necessarily be involved in but they are in there any way. Why, because these scandals or whatever they are called now can shame the family through anyone looking to link the him to anything that is not outright clear. They should therefore stay away from Government tenders and any other things that will bring questions later and make money from so many other things that do not involve direct government funds – Kenya is a country you can thrive in, even by learning how to sell anything and everything if you know how to! 

I told the friend that UK is covered by the Constitution to fight CORRUPTION & TRIBALISM within the confines of that great document and to let go anyone who does things contrary to the Constitution and saying “mnataka nifanye nini sasa” should never have come from his mouth because there is so much he can “fanya” without asking for a national referendum but that will trickle down to everyone positively including the "serikali saidia" mama or another one selling sukuma in Hola by the road side or some jua kali artisan in Gikomba or Kwale or Mandera - if you do things right, they will feel it wherever they are! 

Fast forward - How will history judge him? Let me leave that to history. 

Now, back to the conversation we were having with my friend -  I narrated to him how strict my father was when he was in a position of authority more than 20 years ago especially towards my brother Paul Njuguna and I. You could not get favors that had something to do with his job – nope – we watched as others ‘ate meat so to speak”.  It hurt then because I did not understand it very well but a few years later, I realised how important it was for him to have made that decision. 

When one day he was accused of all manner of things, I could swear he never did – (there were 17 accusations in all), I knew I was right - because I know what he did not allow us to access, what he did not let us touch because it was a conflict of interest. How did I know my late dad was innocent? Because many of his accusers have since either apologised to us as a family  (some before dad died), although not to the media they went to originally. Others  told us exactly what their role in the scandals were which led to dad’s untimely death so to speak due to heart ache. But we knew he was innocent too because before my mum passed on, many people involved in those 17 accusations had already either gone to ask for forgiveness or for prayers because of things they were undergoing and knew they had something to do with their lies against dad then. 

Yes, all along I knew my dad was not perfect but he was innocent on the 17 counts and to date, I still honor this great man of God (continue to rest in peace dad – your work was not in vain). 

Back to what dad did to me that pained me then. I had taken a loan of Ksh120,000 to do two things – buy a small car and the rest, buy a plot in Kahawa. The car, a small Suzuki 4 by 4 was being sold by his employer at a throw away price. Its a car I had ridden in many times and I knew it was just what I needed at the time. So, I went to dad and told him I had ready cash to buy it. These were his words: “My daughter, I will never preach water and drink wine. I don’t ever want someone one day to have proof that I had a conflict of interest and sold a car to my daughter instead of letting others have a chance at it just because I can. I live by what I preach.” And with that, the Suzuki was gone and I think it was bought by a colleague of his for even cheaper, I believe but not to his daughter. It was the second time he had refused me to buy something from his employer - that was it - I never asked again - lesson was learnt!

What am I saying? It is very easy to let things spiral into chaos as you watch because you do not want to get involved or to look the other side when you should not but it takes a leader, any leader from an OCS, a kanju askari to an MCA to the top and back down to whoever - to tell his family and others around/close to him/her – “No – you will not do this in my time – find something else to do”.  Or “No, you have done a wrong thing -  you are on your own on this” – like Kagame did with his brother. 

Many years later, we will remember that you as a leader led by example – that you did not preach water and drank wine.  

Who are our closest friends and confidants? In position of authority – who are our advisers – have we asked God to surround us with people who will not lead us astray but will help us make credible, morally right decisions personally and for leaders, nationally? 

If you open your mind to learning eternally, you will keep doing things, learning from your mistakes, not repeating them and moving on to do the next big thing. 

I remember something I had always heard but never knew who had said it until I went to Harvard Kennedy School of Government and realised it was JFK for whom the School was named after that said: " Ask not what your country can do for you -- ask what you can do for your country.""

Let me pen off with words again that have been attributed to Mahatma Gandhi's “Be the Change You Want to See”. Whereas the actual words he said were the following, they still mean the same. : “We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi

Mr President and all of us Kenyans, #Nihayotu!

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Eventful birdwatching at Omeya golf estate
News - Environment | 2016-10-27

WILD MIX ... Writer Wanja Njuguna with other bird watchers at Omeya.

• Wanja Njuguna

MEMBERS of the Namibia Bird Club marked the first birdwatching event at the vast Omeya Golf and Residential Estate, 30 kilometres from Windhoek on the way to Rehoboth on 23 October.
The event was held courtesy of Omeya resident and Field Guides Association of Southern Africa (FGASA) Namibia director, Armin Junkuhn, who is a also a lecturer at a local university.

It provided not only a taste of the exclusive property that is surrounded by mountains that boast amongst others, the wild mixed with modernity, plenty of water from an underground natural reservoir hence its name Omeya, which means water in Oshiwambo, but also an 18-hole golf course. 

When completed, Omeya is expected to boost tourism in Namibia due to the surrounding Auas mountains that provide hiking trails, nature walks, hunting and other camping experiences as well as a four-star hotel that will have conferencing facilities, a children's park, outdoor concerts, and a train stop for those who wish to travel by rail.

Despite the hot and sunny weather that rose to 33 degrees centigrade by midday, the birdwatchers were not disappointed to discover what Omeya had in store for them. 

To ensure they sighted as many avifauna as possible, they broke into two groups moving in different directions of the estate's uninhabited areas as well as some of the golf course holes and later met at the end of the walk to compare notes. 

In the barely two-hour early morning walk, more than 50 birds had been sighted, a few more than the 47 listed in the Omeya Development bird booklet made available to the birdwatchers at the start of the walk. 

Namibia is home to 714 plus bird species of different categories and according to Avibase, the world's bird database and other sources, these include two endemic ones (unique to a geographical area), 14 near endemic, one introduced by humans, 35 rare or accidental while 27 species are globally threatened. 

The birds which were sighted flying, perched on top of the variety of acacia/camel thorn trees or moving in the thickets included a mixture of birds of prey such as Whalberg's Eagle (Aquila wahlbergi) Falconidae (unlike hawks, kites and eagles, kill with their beaks instead of talons) such as Rock Kestrel, the common Burchell's Starling and one of Africa's most beautiful birds, the African hoopoe. 

Others were Damara red-billed and Southern Yellow-billed hornbills, Acacia pied barbet, African cuckoo (found in woodlands or acacia type savannah that is typical of Omeya and among 15 species found in Namibia of the 138 found worldwide), Grey-backed camaroptera, Ashy tit, Ant eating chat, lots of southern masked weavers, Fork-tailed drongo, African popit, African Palm Swift (which is among nine found in Namibia of the 98 found worldwide), Rock and laughing doves, Kalahari scrub robin, Brubru and many others. 

The first birds to be spotted by the different groups during the early morning walk were the African hoopoe also known as Upupa Africana and the Burchell's starling. 

The African hoopoe which is distributed widely across southern Africa is not known to be sociable and is often found alone or with a partner. It is easily spotted by its distinctive crown on the head and a contrast of white and black on its back, wings and tail. 

There were many African hoopoes spotted during the walk, the first time this writer has seen so many in one spot.

Despite its 'introvert' behaviour, the African hoopoe is said to be at peace breeding anywhere according to Gudrun Middendorff, chairperson of the Namibia Bird Club.

“The interesting thing about this bird is that it can breed anywhere – in a box, on the ground and wherever it feels like,” she explained, adding that they ensure there is a lot of their droppings around that keeps predators at bay. 

To add to the rich bird sightings, there were a few animals for the birdwatchers too...a pair of warthogs, plenty of lechwe antelopes, a Damara dik-dik and a yellow mongoose to name a few. 

The management has ensured that they have several water holes and salt pans. Some surprises for the day included the groundscraper thrush (gevlekte lyster) which is more often than not found on the ground but on this day, it was perched on a tree where it remained for a long time. Meeting only one guinea fowl, the red-billed spurfowl despite many guinea fowl feathers lying around was another surprise. 

As the walk wound up, it was exciting to be rewarded with a golden-tailed woodpecker perched high up on a tree unmoved by the excited but tired group of birdwatchers that discussed it for a while before moving on to the host's residence.

Omeya is definitely living up to its name – wilderness and modernity mixed where animals, birds and residents can thrive undisturbed in natural environments yet provide a tranquil home away from the hustle and bustle of the city.

Friday, July 29, 2016

An old gem dug up from somewhere....

The Leader
NOLS Gave Me A Second Life

By Wanja Njuguna
Reprinted from The Leader, Fall 2001, Vol. 17, No. 1
It was two a.m. We had set camp at Simba Turn, not too far away from the Gregory Glacier on our way to the top of Mt Kenya. My feet were freezing, my bladder was full, and I was sure I had heard something like the roar of a lion and I was not about to take a chance of being eaten alive. I held on to my almost bursting bladder but soon I knew I could not do it any more. I was sleeping in the far end of the tent with four others and everyone else was in dreamland. I decided to get clever - I quietly unzipped a bit of the tent at the bottom, felt the grass and the rest is history.
This was an act (as much as I was ashamed of) that I was to repeat thanks to my cowardly soul and the stories of what lions, leopards, hyenas and buffaloes are capable of doing to a human being. But that was at the beginning of the NOLS Semester in . By the end of the first week, I had gained enough courage to move on through the forest in spite of the roars, hauls and mooohs of the animals.
I had known about NOLS for a long time, but it was not until Muhia Karianjahi, a NOLS employee, told me what the courses entailed that I wanted to attend. I wanted to go like yesterday, but in Kenya the process of getting enlisted is rather long as one has to get sponsorship first. Few people in Kenya can afford the $7,000 required for the course, especially since environmental courses are not as well appreciated here as in the U.S. I was working as a senior prison officer, and the long leave that I had been accumulating in anticipation of a NOLS course had to be approved. I also needed a reliable person to take care of my house. I had another reason for wanting to get away from my daily life - I wanted a change in my life, my job, my college life (I was pursuing an MA in journalism then), and my personal life.
I finally got my chance. On June 4, 1994, I joined 28 other students, including one more from Kenya and set sail. I had never been in a large group of much younger people - I was 31 then and the oldest student in the group turned 21 when we were up the mountains. It was to be a challenging experience but one that I am proud to have been a part of.
We were divided into two groups and our first part of the course was to take us up to the third highest peak on Mt Kenya. Pt. Lenana is 16,355 ft. and from there we would go to the furthest end of the Kenyan coast - Kiwaiyu and its surrounding islands - and then to Nguruman in the Masai Mara game reserve. The other group followed in the opposite direction but were to meet us at the Mara a few days before our graduation in Nairobi.
Looking back at my NOLS course, I realize that it was the most difficult thing I had done in my entire 31 years. I had thought that my military training after working in the prisons was tough, but it was nothing compared to the first part of the course. We were traveling in freezing conditions where my feet were permanently wet, learning how to climb over boulders in preparation for climbing up the mountains, learning how to take a dump (that was tough) and survive without a shower for almost four weeks, and how to leave the environment clean.
The next part, which involved lessons in diving on the Coast, was also very significant to me. I had never anticipated being able to see the underworld without being thrown out by some boat that had capsized. I had never thought such beauty existed under water.
In the final part of the course, going through the Masai Mara, which I had done previously in the safety of a four-wheel drive vehicle, was a lesson in courage. I had always imagined that out of the vehicle you were dead meat but not so - we were not armed and never were.
I never knew how important NOLS was to become until after graduation on August 7. I could not believe the courage I had to get up those mountains, and it was only later, when I started making decisions I previously found difficult, that I realized where my guts had come from.
Suddenly, everything fell into place. I went back to my office at the prisons having made a number of decisions. In Kenya, government jobs until recently have been the most secure ones but it was easier for me to make a decision to leave after my experience at NOLS. I resigned a year later after working for the government for 13 years and decided to go into full- time journalism. But that didn't happen until after 13 months with the UN Habitat as a security officer.
NOLS was the beginning of my real life, one full of challenges that I was able to tackle - unlike previously when I avoided the difficult parts. The most gutful and rewarding of my experiences after NOLS was when I decided to enter a competition that I previously was scared of. In 1999, I entered for the first time our African Pulitzer, the CNN African Journalist of the Year competition. I gathered that no one would know that I had entered the competition, even if I didn't win any of the 11 different categories. But I cannot explain my shock at not only beating more than 1,100 entrants and winning the General News Print category, but also the overall award when it was announced last March. This is the most prestigious competition in Africa, and what excited me most is that I won the award on my entry on a very critical issue in Kenya - domestic violence, a major women's killer. According to the judges, what was unique about my story was that I had not featured the common Kenyan woman but the rare women leaders who many do not expect undergo such abuse, including a former member of the Kenyan cabinet and others.
For a print journalist (the award was shared for the first time with a broadcast journalist), the award included a cash award of about $10,000, five weeks training at Time magazine in London, attending CNN World Report in Atlanta, a lap top, a cell phone and numerous other prizes. I did all this while in my last stages of my first pregnancy. The award gave me a challenge to pursue a doctoral program on `Women as Peace Builders,' which I hope to do next year either in the U.S. or Britain.
I cannot imagine that other NOLS graduates around the world have not been positively affected by their course. Any time I face a challenge, I always look back to NOLS and tell myself, `if I did it then, what's this challenge to me now?

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Secret aid worker: 'It's time to talk about the dark side of development comms'

 It’s expected that communications professionals will use their contacts to get their organisation as much coverage as possible, but where do you draw the line? Photograph: Moof/Getty Images/Cultura RF
“Think outside the box,” I was told by my manager back in the US, when I asked them how on earth they expected me to promote a programme that was clearly failing. 
I come from a small country in Asia. I have been working at this development organisation as a communications person for several years. It has not been quite the journey I’d expected but, unlike my other colleagues, I get to write about the community, interact with them and get their stories out – that has been my biggest pleasure so far.
Running a development programme educating citizens about their rights is not easy in a country fraught with political instability but writing about it is even harder when the programme is battling to get off the ground. I struggle for good stories. 
The problem is perhaps me rather than the organisation. Like many communications professionals, I come from a journalistic background, but despite several years of being immersed in the PR world, I can’t quite get beyond the idea that most of the outreach projects we run are essentially propaganda, with little weight to them.
In this job, telling it as it is, writing what you see is not good enough. A capacity-building workshop or a report can’t just be called that, it should have several glorifying adjectives and a social media campaign.
Worse though is the feeling that much of what I’m asked to do by my superiors is ethically questionable. In a previous job with another big aid organisation, I was asked to make up quotes to “enhance” beneficiary case studies. When I refused, the programme officer acted surprised and told me: “It’s fine, I know what that person would say.” 
It’s also expected that communications professionals will use their contacts to get their organisation as much coverage as possible, but where do you draw the line? I don’t think it’s OK to call in personal favours to get out positive stories about a programme that isn’t delivering what it promised the community it would. My boss disagrees.
The international community is too focused on using gimmicks in outreach campaigns rather than considering who their audience is and what they want. I was recently asked to design an outreach campaign to educate the local community we work in about the work we do. So keeping in mind the low literacy rate of our audience and the limited access they have to online and print media, I designed a communcations campaign accordingly. However, that was considered old and outdated.
For my organisation, the use of new technology such as apps and social media held priority over the local regional media, even though I explained much of these were inaccessible to the people we were trying to reach. Too often people think that if a country has access to the internet and mobile phones, every one has access. They don’t consider the cost of mobile data, the literacy rate, or if the locals would even use their devices the same way as in the US and Europe.
Instead, we are told to shape our communication strategy around the coolest buzzwords making the rounds in the US or Europe. All because one person back at headquarters, who has no idea of what goes on in the more rural districts of this country, says so. There is little understanding that projects need to be tailored to each community, rather than just replicated on a grand scale.
While discussing my frustrations with other colleagues, I found out the reality of working in development comms was the same pretty much everywhere in the aid world. If the design of an outreach programme isn’t the problem, the focus of the communication concentrates too much on one person rather than the issue it is meant to be highlighting, or on the gimmicks, drawing attention to meaningless events with celebrities rather than grassroots outreach activities promoting behaviour change vital for the programme’s success. 
Often the programming team don’t think we know how to do our jobs either. With the best intentions, they want to squish each and every detail of their work into one story. They do not understand that the readers don’t care much about the technicalities of the programme. If they did, they would read the project documents and progress reports. 
Ultimately, I’ve learned that in the aid world, the visibility of a project based on its results, its intent and scope of work holds no value compared with the visibility of the department responsible for the project, or for the career progression of the few within a huge organisation.
Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here are instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.
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Secret aid worker: buzzwords are killing development

International development professionals love their buzzwords. Empowerment. Agency. Community-based. Human-centred. Equal partnership. Grassroots.
I work for an NGO in sub-Saharan Africa that uses all of these words on its beautifully designed website, full of high-resolution photos of smiling African babies. We are all about “empowering the community” with a battle cry of “Healthcare for everyone!” We take every chance we can find to let you know that we, like apparently no other humans on earth, believe that health is a human right.
When I was offered the chance to work here, all I knew about the organisation was what was written on its website. I was impressed. A small NGO with high quality graphics? Smiling babies? Empowerment? Sold. They spouted all the words I had learned about community-based development in class, so they had to be doing things correctly, right?
Wrong. Oh, so so wrong. Here’s what I have found.
We talk about empowerment, yet our patients and our staff members, many of whom are beneficiaries of the organisation themselves, have zero input into how decisions are made. In fact, many of our lowest-paid employees are expected to use their own salaries to pay for work-related costs, leaving them effectively with no salary at the end of the month.
We talk about agency, and yet our board of directors is 100% white. Not one person of colour or from the beneficiary country.
We talk about grassroots development, and yet many of our programmes are defined by the whims of American “experts” thousands of miles away.
We talk about equal partnership, yet the local government offers few to no resources to our health programmes. What motivation will they ever have to provide these necessary services to their own population when foreigners are continuing to provide it for them?
As a person of colour, I cannot help but see how my parents must have felt in the post-colonial country they grew up in. People who do not look like you, who do not come from your socioeconomic background, who do not share any of your life experiences are the same ones who are making decisions for your people. And it’s difficult to question these practices when you know you are receiving services that would otherwise be unavailable. I know I am part of the problem.
We Americans continue to make decisions, citing positive feedback and eternal gratefulness from African beneficiaries as justification for not involving them in the decision-making process. They’re happy having access to the healthcare we gave them, so why take the time to involve them in decisions that directly concern their lives?
Empowerment and agency and human-centricity have come to seem like euphemistic ways to get donors to feel like they are not engaging in neo-colonial practices by defining and determining the presence of healthcare for populations worlds away from their own.
To address this issue, we know we should be actively searching out local leaders in the community, hiring should be more diverse, and foreigners should be taking the role of support staff, not local. So why don’t foreign NGOs make these changes, when they know that they should? Crude pragmatism is the most often used excuse. “We’ll have an American in this role now, but eventually, we’ll hire local staff.” Or perhaps, “We’re doing our best, and it was just too difficult to find anyone else who could do this job.” Or, as all NGOs state, “We did not have enough funding.”
However, practices such as seeking out diversity and being intentional about the role of foreign staff often does not require additional resources. It does, however, require a commitment to critical reflection and to a constant, rigorous analysis of whether practice is truly reflecting the intention of the buzzword. And “doing our best” cannot be good enough when the future of communities and countries are at stake. Yes, perhaps it will take longer to train local staff to do the jobs young Americans can do with their fancy university degrees, but it is the responsibility of organisations who have taken on this work to do it correctly, or at the very least, in the way they say they are doing.
Sure, formalised colonialism is over. But now we have to make sure we aren’t implementing an even more insidious, neo-colonial system that gives white, rich people around the world the power to make decisions for countries that are not their own.
Do you have a secret aid worker story you’d like to tell? You can contact us confidentially at – please put “Secret aid worker” in the subject line. If you’d like to encrypt your email to us, here’s instructions on how to set up a PGP mail client and our public PGP key.
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