World Cup 2010-Africa's historical opportunity  

Posted by J. Muneza M'vunganyi

The World Cup 2010 is upon us! exclaimed one of my friends on the continent. It will be the first time that Africa hosts the popular tournament. The level of excitement is unparalleled by any event ever held on the continent. However questions still linger in the minds of many people as to the preparedness of South Africa the host country. We feel a collective responsibility in portraying a positive image about Africa. South Africa successfully hosted the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and the Cricket World Cup in 2003. Both events were well organised and there is hope that things are bound to go as well. However we can't ignore multiple strikes by stadium workers and other hitches that have brought to question the preparedness of South Africa. This will also be a much bigger event compared to the Rugby World Cup.

The challenges building trade and transportation links Africa  

Posted by J. Muneza M'vunganyi

On this week's Upfront we talked about the need for increased regional integration,cross-border trade and transportation networks in Africa. Even though this would require the mobilisation of vast resources, both within and outside the region, the investment in the right infrastructure and policies is a necessary step to development. Many African countries have already started opening up borders and encouraging their people to explore opportunities and markets within their economic trade blocs. In East Africa, the recently revived East African Community has welcomed new members like Rwanda and Burundi. However,despite the good intentions, there are still political hitches like poor policies to promote trade and infrastructural bottlenecks like poor road networks etc. Africa's enormous potential and vast resources have not been effectively exploited. There is a need to develop more strategic partnerships among countries,regional blocs, mobilize technical and financial support from international aid and development agencies like the World Bank, African Development Bank etc.

In Southern Africa alone, data shows that with more than 186 million people and a combined GNP of US$178 billion. The potential to develop a consumer base for regional goods is limitless. The combined imports of the SADC region excluding South Africa amount to an estimated US$20 billion. Imagine if half of these imports were from other African countries. A local demand fulfilled by a local supply,that is the paradigm we need to be moving towards creating.
On the show i spoke to Julius Rotich the Deputy secretary general of the East African community, his organization is working on creating a network where goods and services can move smoothly within the community. However this will not be easy given the financial challenges that they face. Most importantly it will be imperative to address the issue of archaic policies that hinder the movement of goods from one country to another.
Bob Gatera,the general manager of Balton told me that he was encouraged by the new policy that allow borders to remain open for 24 hours. It has cut down on the amount of time goods took to move from Mombasa to Kigali. There is an issue of corruption that still needs to be addressed. This won't be easy given the different attitudes and response mechanisms in various countries.

Attitudes towards depression in Africa.  

Posted by J. Muneza M'vunganyi

Depression is a complex issue that can physically manifest itself in many ways. It is like some say an equal opportunity attacker i.e regardless of social class,gender,education etc. In Africa like in many parts of the world,the challenges of dealing with depression start with being able to diagnose it. Given the poor state of our health facilities, it is possible that many cases of depression go undetected. Another interesting dynamic regarding depression as a medical condition is that in Africa,we tend to view in a mystical sense.Epidemiologically the notion widely held that depression doesn't occur in Africa has now been dispelled by many studies on the topic. Still,there is a tendency to look at depressed people as 'possessed' by the spirits,cursed or that they are just channeling an angry ancestor. Our response has therefore been limited by this view that we have no power to treat depressed people; because some high power is responsible for the condition.

Depression is indeed a serious medical condition with a variety of symptoms. Emotional symptoms can include sadness, loss of interest in things you once enjoyed, feelings of guilt or worthlessness, restlessness, and trouble concentrating or making decisions. Physical symptoms can include fatigue, lack of energy, and changes in weight or sleep patterns. Additional symptoms of depression may include vague aches and pains, irritability, anxiety, and thoughts of death or suicide.

Science advances many theories about the cause of depression. One common theory is that depression is caused by an imbalance of naturally occurring substances in the brain and spinal cord.But it can also be caused by someone's social conditions, relationship problems etc. Because of the type of stigma in many African communities, thousands suffer in silence with depression.They fear that by admitting their condition,they will be victims of the different social stereotypes related to the myth of depression. The shame and fear to seek help makes their problem more severe and harder to deal with.
On the show we spoke to many young people who have experienced some form of depression. The causes ranged from pressures of school,social lives,finances etc. Many agreed that it is not easy for them to express how they are feeling to their friends or parents.

There needs to be a shift in African's attitudes towards issue of depression. This needs to start from our homes to medical professionals where an awareness and capacity can be encouraged through government efforts to talk about the issue. Stigma and stereotypes will continue to hinder and true efforts at evaluating and managing individuals with mental illness.

Here is information on depression.

Technology and Innovation in Africa  

Posted by J. Muneza M'vunganyi

This week on Upfront we discussed Africa's need to develop and harness its own technologies. Most of the technologies and innovations that we consume are imported from the west. So what happened to Africa's power to innovate?

Our societies survived for thousands of years using local home grown technologies to hunt,farm and for other purposes that sustained them. However it seems as though we stopped innovating at some point in the last century.Our communities now depend on technology that was created by western innovators. From the most important technological invention of our generation--the computer,which has been called this century's printing press. The computer has irrevocably changed the course of history in virtually every field--business, politics, education, religion and so on. The Electronic Digital Computer was invented in 1942 by Iowa State physicist John V. Atanasoff after "an evening of scotch and 100 mph rides." His back-of-napkin design resulted in a hulking 700-pound, desk-sized contraption.
The computer revolution led to the superhighway of information-with the birth of the World Wide Web.The world was granted digital visas to travel through cyberspace. This and numerous inventions from the western world have dwarfed African's abilities to innovate. So what happened? How is it that we have not invented a technology that is universally consumed?

Most contributors to the show acknowledged that governments in Africa do little in promoting and encouraging local technologies by supporting our inventors and innovators.Research institutions that once functioned as the hub of local innovators have seriously been degraded. Much of Africa's exports come from Agricultural produce,yet there is little to show in terms of technological advancement in a sector that employs over half of the population.
I recently met William Kamkwamba from Malawi. He is a young uneducated boy who at the age of just 14, he had built his own wind generator.It begs the question,is this the generation that will spur African innovation? How do we get governments to commit to promoting local technologies?

The benefits of regular exercise and physical activity  

Posted by J. Muneza M'vunganyi

On this week's show we looked at some of the benefits of putting in a little time each week to exercise or work out.Regular exercise and physical activity are extremely important and beneficial for long-term health and well-being.Exercise is also a great stress reliever. Regardless of age or sex,exercise is a cheap source of mental stress and strain.
The Mayo Clinic (one of the best hospitals in the world),recommends physical activity as way to stimulate brain chemicals. They say that working out leaves you feeling happier and more relaxed. Not to mention that you'll also look better and feel better when you exercise regularly, which can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem. Regular physical activity can even help prevent depression.
Very often we get caught up in the cycle of our busy lives that we don't set time aside to exercise. Many people blame their busy schedules at work or school. But we all know that you can only pull that off for so long before the effects start catching up with you.

We are all guilty of putting off exercising because of just plain laziness. You just don't feel like you have the mental and physical energy and so you postpone a gym session or jogging with friends. To many people,the only motivation to exercise is so that they can show off their bodies. Now i have no problem with that,we all like to look good. However if that is the sole reason you exercise,you are missing the point,because exercise's primary reason should be to stay healthy mentally and physically. I say mentally because some of those that exercise 'just to look good'often have deeper underlying image issues,and that is a whole other subject we will explore in another show.

So for those who like to blame your busy schedules,here is some advice on how to get back on the exercise train. Remember that you don't need to set aside major chunks of time for working out. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk during your lunch break. Do jumping jacks during commercials. Better yet, turn off the TV and take a brisk walk. Dedicated workouts are great, but physical activity you accumulate throughout the day helps you burn calories!

Disagreements--Can we agree to disagree?  

Posted by J. Muneza M'vunganyi

On this episode of Upfront,we explored ways to deal with differing opinions. Many times in our personal and professional lives we encounter ideas and opinions that we don't find agreeable. The way we handle ourselves and others matters because it shows how open we are to different points of view. First of all, it is wrong to think that your ideas or opinions are always right. If you are that type of person,then you have more issues than you think.
First of all it is important to remember that we have to respect those that we don't share the same opinions with. In being passionate about our opinions,we can close our minds to the fact that the other person has a valid point. That denies us the opportunity to learn something new sometimes helpful. We should also have the courage to disagree with those that are in places of power and authority. Most importantly,when we hit that stalemate,lets agree to disagree!

Hurdles in business start ups for young African enterpreneurs  

Posted by J. Muneza M'vunganyi

The current global financial crisis has affected many sectors of African economies.Since governments are often the biggest employers the millions that depend on it for work have also been affected.African governments usually have to subsidize their budgets with foreign aid. Now that much of that aid has dwindled as a result of the global crisis, many governments have either laid off people or can't afford to pay their employees. There has also been a hiring freeze--no new employees added to their payrolls. That means that the thousands of graduates or young people who were bound to join the workforce are left on the streets wondering what to do next.

Since much of our education in Africa is grounded in theoretical pedagogy,the skills gained after twenty years education to look for employment in the public sector,many of these young people never explore the option of creating their own jobs. There is a lack of that spirit of entrepreneurship.It is not ingrained in them that such an option exists. So not only are the youth not prepared,the socio-economic impediments are often insurmountable.

On the show this week we looked at some of the issues and hurdles involved in starting a business in Africa. Many of the young people we spoke to said that they don't have the necessary security required by banks to give as collateral for them to secure a start-up loan.
However we can't be stuck in that skewed paradigm,so we wanted to come up with some ideas based on young entrepreneurs who have successfully broken into the private sector with business ideas that have not required those big bank loans. It is about the right ideas,vision,management,customers,products etc. One of the people who broke this cycle writes that the first question you can ask yourself is how to get off the ground in your entrepreneurship bid. Ian Mvula provides a roadmap to starting your business in Africa:

He says that if you are the type that waits for the government or some donor agency to give you free grants and handouts, then you are on the wrong thought pattern. He warns against that 'the disillusionment of lack of free handouts that block the unleashing of your potential,' With or without the financial backing, 'just take the plunge.'

Change your perception and rid the misconception of entrepreneurship. There is a tendency to ridicule entrepreneurs especially beginners. In African countries, business starters are variously demeaned with titles like "briefcase businessmen" "jua kali artisans" and "wheeler-dealers", among others. But do you know that those simple individuals who started many successful corporations in the US did so with a single idea in a briefcase? What you need to remember is that entrepreneurship is about making money and having fun doing so.

Be creative. Do not go into a business venture just because someone else seems to be doing well in that type of business. Innovating, differentiating and finding something unique are the buzz words here. After you have identified a viable and creative concept, you can now start writing and planning your business strategy.

With all that good advice Ian has been able to build the first private public payphone (card operated) business in Southern Africa, the first cyber cafe, and several other ventures.