Articles Tagged Life & Society

Apr 30, 2023
The power—and limitations—of role models

I want to tell you about a certain gentleman today. This person lived in a lower-middle-class estate back in the day, where there were many houses and children packed together, but little by way of recreational facilities for the kids. As a result, the children played mostly on the road—marking out “goals” with chalk to […]

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Apr 09, 2023
Nairobi’s unending rain dance: prayer without preparation

More than a decade ago, before Nairobi had governors, I wrote here that we need a governor that makes rain the blessing it is supposed to be, and not a curse. Many governors have come and gone, but the rain still beats us. I wrote then: “In this city, rain is anything but a blessing. […]

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Apr 02, 2023
Learning from street hustles

Last week I discussed the Netflix series Street Food Asia. The foodie in me loved looking at the origins and excellence of various dishes: chaat in India; tom yum in Thailand; jajan pasar in Indonesia; putu piring in Singapore. But the student of human endeavour in me was even more impressed. Street food, you see, […]

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Feb 19, 2023
This one virtue leads to all the others

It is a rare person who can enjoy a degree of success and still stay grounded. Many will start displaying an ugly braggadocio even after making modest progress in life. So what can we say about someone who gains it all—professional acclaim, fame and renown, material comfort, strong familial relationships—but stays humble? Many years ago, […]

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Feb 12, 2023
No, essential government deliverables are not “goodies”

For as long as I can remember, some Kenyan editors have insisted on calling essential government deliverables “goodies.” They are fond of telling us that some high-ranking functionary “announced goodies” for a particular region or group of citizens. What are these “goodies”? Oh, just things like feeder roads, port facilities, schools, clinics, and the like. […]

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Jan 01, 2023
The best advice helps its recipients to think for themselves

Sometimes knowledge arrives like a smack in the face. After understanding what you have just absorbed, nothing is quite the same again. This happened to me way back when I learned that no two human brains are alike; that they are in fact as unique as fingerprints. Each brain begins in a certain way, affected […]

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Dec 25, 2022
Let us learn to be good guests on this planet

How would you regard a guest in your home who trashed the place carelessly, tried to take it over, or generally made life very difficult for the original inhabitants? Human beings are guests, and planet Earth is our host. None of us is a long-term tenant; we are all on short-stay contracts. Barely any of […]

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Nov 13, 2022
What’s your net human worth?

Kenyans recently became fixated on the idea of net worth. Those nominated to join the new cabinet had to undergo something called vetting, and it seemed like the most interesting part of that process was the nominees’ declaration of their net worth. The cabinet in toto declared an eye-popping sum in excess of Sh. 15 […]

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Oct 23, 2022
The most valuable currencies of our lives

The financial world is fixated on foreign currencies right now. The current turmoil in international markets has led to a dollar appreciation against most leading currencies, leaving many wringing their hands in worry about all-time lows, as the euro, the pound, the yen and many others continue their steep plunge. A little history lesson for […]

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Oct 16, 2022
The comfort revolution has already happened

Soon after landing my first job located in London’s financial district, I found myself being indoctrinated in the dress codes of the day. Shoes, in particular, were a bugbear of the ruling classes. A gentleman, it seemed, had to be shod by a traditional British shoemaker, one that crafted traditionally handmade leather shoes. Brands like […]

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Oct 09, 2022
It’s the feelings, stupid

A lifetime of keen observation and participation has left me somewhat blasé about politicians and democracy, and so I am often dispassionate at election time. This (occasional) ability to be nonpartisan allows me to become a relatively neutral observer of the tumult and shenanigans of the polling season. When one is not unduly invested in […]

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Sep 11, 2022
The special joy of deserving your earnings

Dr Chao Mbogho is a trailblazer. She has a Ph.D in Computer Science, and is one of our leading researchers, educators, and mentors. She recently tweeted something that caught my eye: “Receiving money that you’ve worked for is such a nice feeling.” I thought immediately: Yes it is! And so many do not want to […]

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Aug 14, 2022
What makes humans stand out?

Who were the Neanderthals, and what happened to them? Homo neanderthalensis were a group of archaic humans. They emerged on Earth perhaps 400,000 years ago, and inhabited Europe and Asia. They were the archetypal “cavemen”—hunters and scavengers who nonetheless had a culture, and advanced stone technology, and lasted 100,000 years. Then we arrived, modern Homo […]

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Jul 10, 2022
Why doubt is a powerful tool for enlightenment

Are you riddled with doubt? That’s great. So am I. Albert Camus, famous French author, Nobel laureate, and renowned public intellectual, was also plagued by doubt. In his words: “I do not know what I am looking for, I name it cautiously, I take back what I have said, I repeat myself, I advance, and […]

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Jun 26, 2022
It’s time to rethink the definition of VIP

This world is crazy about the VIP. Just saying the three letters causes a reaction: a hushed reverence for the creature in question—the Very Important Person. The term itself is believed to have originated in the Second World War, and was coined by military personnel to refer to high-ranking officers. It made sense to differentiate […]

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Jun 19, 2022
Why the extreme election drama, Kenya?

I have witnessed more Kenyan general elections than I care to remember. Every time I think I am numb to the experience, I am jolted again. In most countries, elections are a necessary, episodic event to facilitate leadership transitions. They are quiet, well-run, uninteresting affairs. Even if governments change dramatically, the life of the citizenry […]

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Jun 05, 2022
My 1000th column: the ride so far

Today marks my 1000th column on this page. That’s quite a ride.  I still recall my first few columns in early 2003. I had finally left paid employment, and was ready to let my opinions rip, without fear or favour. I was uncertain of my focus, though, and tentative in my approach. With encouragement from […]

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May 29, 2022
How to reclaim this lost power in our lives

The renowned American social reformer Frederick Douglass was once travelling on a train, and was asked to move to the baggage car because of his race. A white supporter was mortified by this. He said: “I am sorry, Mr Douglass, that you have been degraded in this manner.” The response by the great abolitionist is […]

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May 01, 2022
This footballing moment reminded us of our shared humanity

A rare moment of magic occurred at a football match recently. During the English Premier League game between old rivals Liverpool FC and Manchester United last week, Liverpool’s fans broke out in applause during the seventh minute of the game. Why? To condole Cristiano Ronaldo, whose shirt number is, famously, seven. The player had sadly […]

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Apr 24, 2022
They know what’s best for me. Or do they?

You’re a student sitting for your public examinations, one of many such sets you have endured in your short life. Recently, someone asked you a question about a subject you completed two years prior. You received a top grade in that subject—yet you can remember little about it and cannot answer the question. You briefly […]

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Apr 10, 2022
Never forget: war is horror

“The sad thing is that the people who orchestrate these wars feel no personal repercussions. They have never seen combat, have never lain under a bed wondering if the sound of the screaming missile overhead is the last thing they will hear. But they happily despatch their troops to do these monstrous things on their […]

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Apr 03, 2022
How to live, even though living is futile

To gaze upwards while standing on the silver sands of our coastline at night is to experience awe. Where humankind’s light pollution is low, the universe above comes into sharp focus; the dark expanse reveals its glittering jewels to our eyes. We can glimpse the incalculable distances; we catch a glimmer of how impossibly vast […]

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Mar 13, 2022
If fascists are left unchecked, they will undo us

I never really paid much attention to fascism when I was younger. The notorious fascists of the early 20th century led the human race into a catastrophic world war before being finally vanquished. Given the consequences, I thought we were done with that part of our history. I thought we had all learned our lesson […]

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Feb 27, 2022
The forgotten teaching method: culture

Hidden in Seth Godin’s book The Practice was a profound observation about how we learn things. Allow me to paraphrase the lesson today. Seth observed that if you study kids of Indian origin in US cities, you may not find a huge liking for things like tandoori chicken or shrimp vindaloo. Yet, kids with the […]

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Feb 13, 2022
What’s your legacy going to be?

There comes an age when some us start to think about our legacy: What we will leave behind; what we stood for in our lives. This is because we are consciously or unconsciously aware of our impermanence as humans. We know we are here briefly and then we are gone. Some of us are desperate […]

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Jan 09, 2022
Three reflections from Desmond Tutu

Desmond Tutu is no more. You will by now have read plenty about this storied African’s manifold achievements. The always smiling Archbishop was a man of courage, wisdom—and much irreverent humour. Allow me to share three of his insights that have stayed with me over the years. The first is this very cheeky observation, coming […]

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Jan 02, 2022
Three life lessons for 2022

A new year is a good time to take stock. What’s been happening, what have we learned, what should we change? What should end, and what should commence? These past two years have been highly unusual for pretty much everyone. We have all lived through a global pandemic, a first for most of us. We […]

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Dec 05, 2021
How best to honour those who depart

Death stalks the human. We live, and then we die. We all know this, and yet we don’t. It is a deeply uncomfortable truth, this fact of our impending nullification. We see it, but we don’t wish to. Indeed we live most of our lives in denial of the full stop to come. We lose […]

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