on sharing colours

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When I came across the shameful news of the raid on The Standard & KTN in Kenya last night (thx 4 sharing, IW), the first thing that came to my mind was 1933 and the infamous Book burning that destroyed a lot of intellectual property.
While some of you might consider this an overreaction to yesterday’s events, to me this just isn’t a government harassing the press and trying to cover up unpleasant stories, but a direct insult of telling people – the people – what to think.

We, the citizens of this world, are still intelligent enough to figure out what’s relevant and what’s not.

On a lighter note: did you know that the Kenyan and German flag share almost the same colours? I think that’s a nice coincidence :-)

a proposal…

Without any proper scientific proof at my hands right now, I would still like to focus your attention to an urgent problem that keeps on arising and needs to be tackled soon: Africa, I think, has become the landfill for the West. And East!

Remember China’s interest in various African countries? Not that they only exploit the continent of natural resources – in return the markets are flooded with cheap products that end up somewhere on a landfill. All these plastic items, be it useful buckets or just toys, eventually end up as rubbish and need to disposed of (one way products). Recycling is an option, yes, yet in most cases it’s a downcycling process (material quality deteriorates) and just a delay on its way to the landfill. In the end it’s still waste.
And of course it isn’t China only. I’ve just watched this youtube video of an NGO that helps schools in Uganda going online. Nice! However, to look at backgrounds – isn’t it that most of those computers are 2nd hand and thus disposed of to countries like Uganda?
Or Kenya: ever wondered why there are so many plastic bags flying around? People grew up with organic products, they were used to goat bones and maize/corncob that would eventually decompose over the years. And with those plastic bags and batteries? No one told them that those items are polluting the environment (ok, except for schools). And no one wants to be responsible. People applauded Dr. Wangari Maathai for winning the nobel peace prize but it seems they never really got the message – which I think is taking fate into your own hands and starting to change something without waiting for others. No wonder Kenyans are more into political discussions than in identifying leadership. Dito Germans, btw, and in many other countries. People, it seems to me, are more into living a pleasant life and securing their amenity values. Business and maximization of profits is valued these days – whereas commendable professions like teaching or serving jobs like in the civil service aren’t really honoured. But I digress…


waste on the streets in Nairobi, Kenya // instead of better waste management, wouldn’t it be better to avoid all this waste in the first place by using more intelligent products?

Please don’t get me wrong – capitalism per se isn’t that bad and mandatory for progress. Only, what we’ll need to have are sustainable, eco-effective products that won’t have any negative effect on the environment and that only become better the more we buy/consume/produce. And we’ll need to design them in such a way that we don’t need to depend on the intelligence of people/users.
E.g. if 9 out of 10 people care for the environment and only 1 of them continually ignores all product handling directions by let’s say throwing batteries into a river, all others have to suffer. And since there will ALWAYS be someone violating guidelines (we can not change anyones behaviour), we have to change the products themselves.

Look for solutions, not problems. (Dan Eldon)

I’m not the typical theoretician that tries to lament on problems, writes reports on various subjects and has many different IF/WHEN/THEN-solutions to a problem. What I want is action, and I want it soon.

To make a start, I would like to tell you about this product idea I may have been talking about before and which I choose to blog instead of keeping it in a drawer somewhere. Besides, some companies may already be thinking about it, so anyways, here you go:

While working on this sewage treatment plant some time ago, I came across a huge pile of Q-TIPS® (cotton swabs) in the sewage sludge. The cotton part of them would dissolve in the wastewater whereas the plastic stick in the middle would remain and end on the sludge landfill. Those plastic components also contributed to a lot of mechanical problems on the treatment plant by destroying various pumps and other intergrated machinery.
The first question that arises of course asks for the dumb users that throw cotton swabs (among other things) in their toilets. According to what I’ve encounterded a lot of people do that. Out of sight – out of their mind(s)?
Whatever. You can not change them.

What I CAN do, or try at least, is changing the products they are using. I thought of re-designing those Q-TIPS®/cotton swabs in such a way that the plastic stick will be substituted by a material that is made of (corn) starch, chitosan, plant fibres or other biomaterials. This biological material could then dissolve in the wastewater or decompose on the landfill after use and people could continue throwing their waste into the sewage system without harming the environment that much.

I think some companies are already doing r&d on these products and it will only be a matter of time until customers are informed enough to ask for more and more sustainable products. The different approach, though, is that this shouldn’t be only focused on those that can afford to buy “good” products – the African continent with it’s still traditional and comprehensible view of nature and biological cycles should play a leading role in these (not so new) new technologies and I think it’s about time for more and more companies to start focusing on this instead of just copying various technologies/industries from the West.

This might just be small idea for progress, but at least it’s a start, or? What do you think?

Harambee, harambee, tuimbe pamoja…

"A German woman who is organising a fund-raising for a children’s home in Nairobi is frustrated about the lack of support from Kenyans. A friend of hers says the would-be benefactor has not found any Kenyan living in Germany, who is willing to volunteer his or her services for a few hours. Some have even asked to be paid a little something but the German finds this rather callous…" (source: The Cutting Edge, by Watchman, Daily Nation, Kenyan Newspaper)

Similar to Afromusing’s challenge earlier this week, in which she asks all keyboard/pyama/blogging activists out there if they could imagine donating US$ 5 for a tree planting project, I would like to ask the esteemed readers of my blog if they could imagine donating some of their income for social projects like a children’s home.

In fact, I was just chatting with Irena about this issue and she told me about the agony of organizing a fundraising evening in the US  that just generated US$ 10 for a good project whereas ppl were spending 50 bucks each on food & entertainment during that evening.
Sorry, but that’s just so sick.

Hence, the provoking allegation that I would like to make and on which I would like YOU to comment on is that there are a lot people out there – no matter what nationality – that don’t give a damn about others. And it’s not only that they don’t care, it’s also that they seem to think that OTHERS might be responsible for the fate of street/abandoned children, the environment,  politics / etc..
Charity begins at home? For them it ends at home.

And what’s with all those over-funded non profit organizations that have some money to share? What kind of overhead expenses are generated by local NGOs? Where are the jobless volunteers that would jump on the boat to work as trustworthy representatives?
So many questions…
And yet I am afraid that all this once again ends up in the same way it often happens: people are just talking all day long and nothing happens the moment REAL ACTION is required. It’s so easy to rant about these issues, but it’s hard to deal with bureaucraZy and other obstacles that prevent e.g. NGOs from working efficiently. While there are some officials that understand that most NGOs are doing a good job and need to be supported, others are just using the system for another rip-off. And the people? They leave it to the government a.k.a. corrupted civil service networks. Again, this attitude of surrendering responsibility  to others which just drives me nuts!
Wangari Maathai, I think, wasn’t only awarded the nobel peace prize for planting trees, raising awareness for environmental issues or because the nobel committee wanted to send a signal. I think she got that prize mainly because she kept on fighting and never gave up.
I wish some of her spirit could have an effect on the Blue Band/PS2/mobile phone Generation worldwide – the kids of this next generation who prefer being entertained by the media and trade in any quest to have a postive change on this world for an easy, hassle-free lifestyle that doesn’t include taking care of others. And it is us – me, you, everyone – we need to teach them and live good values.

Yani, I take it that those who have access to the internet and take their time to read blogs might think in a similar way and do not need any further briefing on this matter. However, since there are still so many ignorants out there, let’s make a start and generate some awareness. It might not change much, but we need to start somewhere at least.

n.b.: the interesting observation is that charity seems to be much more common with the poor.

back from hiatus

A small round-up of thoughts that have been coming up during my recent visit to Bavaria where I’ve tried to fix Mbuzimoja’s laptop. Problem was that she had left the recovery cds in EAK and now try to imagine how difficult it can be to install an OS like WinXP on a laptop with all these small driver issues like missing USB (!) support and even service packs not bringing the required change. Alternative OS like (K)Ubuntu or Knoppix weren’t an option, but in the end, it all worked out and in terms of IT-related convenience, I can now safely send her back home.

1. Been mentioning this issue before, but securing intellectual property and the amount of time and energy it requires to get a product on the market over here in Germany is just horrible. There’s this good friend of mine who recently moved to Taiwan for good – yet alone for this reason of "getting things done", e.g. to develop ideas and to get them out as ready-to-buy products. I might consult him over an idea I had.
I think this barrier is one of the reasons why some great product ideas are still sleeping in drawers somewhere and not yet marketed. Stupid! I only hope that some wise chinese engineers are already checking out websites like shouldexist.org for useful input…

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2. The West is so modularized. It seems we’re living in a world of pictograms that indirectly give us instructions on what we’re allowed to do. The matrix, this special frame society has put on itself can be seen everywhere and without these small, but yet elementary guidelines, chaos and anarchy would rule. True?
I shot this pic on the train last night and wondered how passengers would react if someone just comes and applies some totally irrelevant and moronic stickers instead. Would they be left flabbergasted or are they already used to this frame so that they would sort out things for themselves? And could you imagine ppl in Nairobi slums like Kibera to put up sign post with pictograms to organize e.g. water and sanitation issues? Would they need it? And would there be anyone feeling responsible for it?

3. Is there any place (on the inet) where we can find templates or images of the old BlueBand Logo? As Msanii_XL mentioned earlier in the comments section, this would really make up for a stylish Jamhuriwear. I need to get this on a t-shirt!

4. I will need to work on the spam-filters of my mailboxes. 244 emails on my uhuru.de account out of which only ~10% were private emails is just too much for five days…

5. Kudos to The Mathare Youth Sports Association (MYSA) whose website I’ve only recently discovered via an article in a Deutsche Bahn magazine. What an interesting project!
On the other hand, it seems, Kenya is only interesting to them once the stories cover the following subjects: a)slums/hunger/drought/aids/etc., b) tourism and c) kenyan athletes. Please, there’s much more news from Kenya that could be interesting for the rest of the world.
Meanwhile, Riemer-san has send me this picture (thx!!) of a proud Philip Boit as shown in a german newspaper the other day:
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6. Had the chance to eventually see "Darwin’s Nightmare" and "The Constant Gardener" over the weekend. The Constant Gardener….well….nice camera work (~City of God-style) and good to see hear they used some nice Ayub Ogada tunes on the soundtrack (and not only once!). Sawa!

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As for Hubert Saupert‘s "Darwin’s Nightmare" (review), the portrait of this man, an askari/watchman on a fish-reeeesaaaaach (research) compound, left me completly astonished. Yet alone for the constant mentioning of this man (with his extreme facial expression most prolly due to HIV related diseases), I think Saupert deserves an extra prize.
This man has left a lasting impression on me and you just have to see for yourself how he speaks – closing one eye, turning the head to the side and putting on this serious Bwana Bunduki (C.I.D.) expression on his face. A picture of a man that has seen everything, and although he praises war activities as a way to bring prosperity and economic stability to the region, you would like to hug him for just being as unique as he is. Saupert, I think, felt similar and resourcefully used this man’s explanations to avoid any direct voice-over(ing).
This documentary contains so many small details that already speak for themselves and those who feel the silent moments and stills the camera catches also don’t need any further explanations.
What a great piece of documentary which clearly deserves 10+ out of 10 points!

7. Trigon-Film, this swiss-based independent film foundation which also provided me with Sarasin’s documentary on Boubacar Traoré last year, mentioned the release of "Congo River – Beyond Darkness" in their newsletter. I will need to get my hands on a copy soon! Interesting to note that they’ve used Lokua Kanza as the soundtrack music – an artist who has only recently been touring the continent and even performed at the French Cultural Centre in Nairobi.