THE INTERNET BLIND SPOT- AFRICA.

THE INTERNET BLIND SPOT- AFRICA.

Is Africa Economically Stuck? It has been dubbed the continent of  wealth, yet one of poverty – a disturbing combination if you ask me. So what are we missing? The key to success has by far changed, and like a shape-shifter, it now bears a new identity – internet access. Africa needs to spot the difference. Here is the story for most Africans.

Growing up, there is a quote that has passed through almost every African in born, if not all. Especially in primary school, standing under the majestic flag of one’s country, tense and under all the pressure for the days ahead. Looking at the vast number of student bodies, standing in evenly spaced- neat rows, you would think we are building armies on  every Monday of all school days. A voice always preaching “Education is the Key to success”.

The key fits in the blind spot.

There are over 50,000 graduates in Kenya and about 190,000 in South Africa every year. Imagine these two countries represent the African continent. Now trace back the numbers to when many countries in Africa embraced education in their cultures. The numbers are staggering. Yet even with this access to formal education, the African economy is a slug. Maybe that is why the quote is all wrong and people like Kayambila Mpulamaska correct it by saying that education is instead the key for success. Either way, we need to refocus our attention.

Read more: Success Requires Positioning.

No disputes to the narrative, but it is only fair to give everyone the same shot at success. COVID-19 has proven that for education to work, we need to rethink what our priorities are. The internet sounded like a rich kid’s privilege up until learners all over the world had no option but to catch up with classes online. Africa was not left behind, or was it? The truth still stares us smack in the face, clear as day saying, “Huston, we have a problem.”

By the time I knew of browsers like Mozilla firefox, my view was that it was not for people like me and certainly not for schools like mine. Now, I read that a 10% increase in internet usage could increase international trade by 0.4-0.6% (a whole lot) in Africa. I can’t help but feel that something was withheld from me and is still owed to a lot other African children. As if this is not bad enough, the pandemic has revealed a gap in our ability to use technology to help save lives. Why? Our internet coverage is poor and inadequate to support systems like contact tracing effectively.

Contact tracing is a monitoring technology that follows up on a person daily and everyone they come across. It mostly makes use of an app on the phone but more important, connectivity or internet coverage. The underlining hurdle to usage of this tech is poor internet coverage. Also, the governments have no stable policies that protect you and I from security issues and most of those in rural areas have trouble accessing smart phones. These are the blind spots.

Here is some good news though, someone always cares. With organisations like Mozilla pushing for policies that address internet safety and accessibility and the discussion happening around it like the one on ‘ Privacy, Contact Tracing and COVID-19 in Africa’, by Africa Law Tech Association; this blind spot has become exposed and the glimpses of light are promising.

 

Success requires positioning.

Success Requires Positioning.

Success requires positioning, and in the words of Albert Einstein, “In the midst of every crisis lies great opportunity.” But when the COVID-19 crisis struck, the opportunity was as visible as a pin dropped in a haystack. The world was knocked off-balance. The health sector has certainly been the most affected, but the crisis has gone on to shock even the strongest economies. People we know have been laid off, some forced into unpaid leaves and the lucky ones got 50% salary cuts. At Thellesi, we were not to be spared as we were also thrown into disarray.

Closure of Office, and Mindset.

When on March 13th 2020 the Cabinet Secretary for health announced the 1st positively confirmed case of the virus in the country, we did not wait for a second warning. People’s health matters in no less ways than they matter themselves. We understood the risks we would be exposing our team to had we allowed them to continue commuting to work and going about their lives normally – as if the virus would decide to disregard them. So we advised them not to come to the office effective immediately as we monitored the situation. We also quickly sent out emails to all our clients informing them that we would be suspending business operations for 14 days, after which we would give them an update. Since Monday 16th March 2020, our office doors have remained closed.

Success requires positioning.

Everything, including our minds, simply closed.

For well over 3 weeks, our capability to operate efficiently was severely impeded. We were not closing new clients. The capacity of our company to continue fully paying its team now that no new business was coming in was diminishing. Even our ability to see a way out of these tough times was clouded. The disruption of routines we had developed over years caused us to recede into a lot of confusion and uncertainty. And understandably so.

You might also want to read: How to plan when the chips are down.

As the pandemic worsened and a return to ‘normalcy’ seemingly fading in the distance, dissolving away with it was team morale. It is our CEO who breathed new life into us. He reminded us that boredom inspires creativity. After about 3 weeks of staying home doing the same things in the same places with the same people, we began to wonder, “Could there be an opportunity for us to continue doing business even as the world was grinding into a near halt?” Our CEO inspired us to think critically about the choices we were making now. He insisted that we should allow that question to bother us, because if we found an answer, we would have unlocked new possibilities.

New Beginnings.

They say the speed at which a person runs depends on what is chasing after them. Taking salary cuts, unpaid leaves or being laid off were not options we wanted to consider. No one wants to consider such options. So, we agreed that it was important for us to resume work, albeit at home. We began to implement a few things that have gone a long way into restoring our morale and productiveness: –

  1. Every team member was advised to create a workspace at home where they will operate from. The space is to be treated with the respect a workstation deserves.
  2. With a workspace set, we started doing daily team meetings at 8AM. Everyone is expected to attend these meetings either in official or casual wear as one may please. Pajamas are highly discouraged as they do not represent the decency of a workstation.
  3. We reactivated activities we had put on hold and found ways of working on them even while staying home.
  4. It was also important for us to identify opportunities for our clients and write proposals. We are glad that many of these have gone through – meaning we continue to be in business.
  5. We reinforced our discipline in the use of project management tools like Asana for self reporting and project tracking.

Success requires positioning. Had we not decided to snap out of worry for things we have no control of, we would not be as busy as we are now, and we probably would have been pushed to close business. We are happy that our team is still intact, our full salaries are still intact and our office is still intact. It takes getting bored of the status quo to challenge it. Do not allow yourself to wait for the pandemic to end, it might take a long while. Evolve. Ask yourself: if this went on for 18 more months, would you still have your salary to meet my needs.

Two young people in a relationship holding hands.

The COVID-19 Effect On Youth Sexuality.

This past week has been an interesting one for us. We have learnt phrases such as “kunyonga monkey” which means to masturbate or to “take matters into your own hands” and

just another dead cockroach.

Just another dead cockroach.

kifo cha mende/cockroach style” which means the missionary sex position. But we were not out there looking to build our suggestive vocabulary – we were having conversations with young people in Nairobi as to how they have been coping with the COVID-19 pandemic.

 

We note that at the backdrop of rising positive COVID-19 cases in the country, our young people are continuously defying directives issued by health officials to stay home and exercise social distancing. They are still meeting up, hosting parties and even going on road trips claiming that with majority of people at home, roads are clearer and smoother to test the speed limits of their cars. We also saw the case where of a senior Red Cross official, worried that her child would be locked out in the curfew, dispatched an ambulance to go and collect her and her friends at a party, where they had been drinking.

Such reckless behaviour does nothing to help the situation we are already in. We are caught right in the middle of a pandemic that no one knows how and when exactly it will end. What we know however, is that it will not last forever. The only difference between us prevailing over this virus and it prevailing over us is our behaviour. Unfortunately, not much praise can be given to our habits.

Youth are living up to their reputation of being young and restless. But perhaps before we put a label on them, perhaps we should ask, why are the youth not heeding to advice?

In pursuit of an answer and our passion to understand people’s behaviour, we have been organising several online meetings with youth in Nairobi to hear what challenges they have been facing in the wake of COVID-19.

On sex and reproductive health, we have learnt that there’s been an increase in sexual activity. One of the participants said, “I have not had as much sex in my life as I have had in the last 5 weeks- I’m not even sure my coil will hold.” Sex has become not just a coping mechanism but also a pass time activity for many. Those who do not have their partners near have taken to masturbation because as they said, “it is safer than to risk getting someone’s daughter pregnant.”

We found that partners have coupled up (are living together) to weather the storm. Others are still visiting each other during off curfew hours and rushing home back home just before 7PM. “I live alone,” said one of the girls, “My boyfriend knows I live alone. I cannot tell him not to come despite fear that he might contract the virus on his way to my house and bring it to me. Otherwise he will feel like I am rejecting him or he will start feeling insecure.”

This poses a great challenge, not just in the spread if the virus but also in the spread of other sexually transmitted infections such as HIV. We noted considerable doubts as regards to the effectiveness of contraception methods. The issue was that “these things backfire” and when they do, catastrophe! Even though its scares them, abortion seems to be the only way they trust.

There are doubts as to the effectiveness of contraception methods.

There are doubts as to the effectiveness of contraception methods.

Our hearts were broken to hear that some on most informal settlements, girls are lacking sanitary towels. It is tragic to imagine the tremendous discomfort that these girls must be going through. With most of them having already lost their jobs, the little money they have is used up in food because “utabuy food ama pads? (What would you buy, food or pads?).

In our view, we see a reproductive crisis in the next 9 months and along with it, more challenges such as increased stress, anxiety and even suicide levels. Early and unwanted pregnancies are likely to lead to school dropouts as gender based violence escalates. The demand for contraption methods is going to be high, as well as cases of abortion.

Similar read: https://pov.thellesi.co.ke/strategy-is-not-a-buzzword/

There is need for the government and civil society organisations to understand these challenges so as to accurately address them.

We still don’t have all the answers. We continue to hold weekly online discussions with various focus groups so that we can understand why our young people are not staying home and how we can help them address the challenges they face now and after the pandemic.

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