Women fetch water at the site of a borehole in the Millennium Project Village of Dertu, Kenya. The Millennium Villages across Africa are part of a global anti-poverty initiative launched under the auspices of the UN in 2000. Picture: Khalil Senosi / AP
Women fetch water at the site of a borehole in the Millennium Project Village of Dertu, Kenya. The Millennium Villages across Africa are part of a global anti-poverty initiative launched under the auspices of the UN in 2000. Picture: Khalil Senosi / AP

Kenya is pinning huge hopes on its progressive 2010 constitution – substantially inspired by SA’s – to at last bring it that “Mandela moment” of real emancipation which has tantalisingly beckoned but then eluded the country so often, beginning with independence in 1963.

MP Hussein Abdikadir, who monitors the implementation of the constitution, surely speaks for most of his compatriots when he expresses the hope that his beloved constitution will effectively tackle Kenya’s endemic problems of tribalism and corruption.

The key to Kenya’s future development lies in the new constitution, says Finland’s ambassador to Kenya, Sofie From-Emmesberger.

She cites the recent success of Nairobi slum dwellers in persuading the courts to stop the owners of the land they live on from evicting them as this would have violated their constitutional right to “accessible and adequate” housing – borrowed almost verbatim from SA’s constitution.

Their next step is to persuade the court to give them the title deeds because they say the landlords acquired them corruptly. That would transform Nairobi’s notorious shanty townships, commentators believe.

Finland, a development partner of Kenya’s for nearly half a century, is throwing its weight behind those Kenyans wielding that little 14 x 10 x 2cm book against the daunting and entrenched forces of bureaucracy, corruption, tribalism, political violence and patriarchy ranged against it.

As deputy ambassador Eva Alarcon says, Finland is helping Kenyans, in government and in civil society, to implement the constitution “in letter and spirit”.

The constitution will face its greatest test next March when Kenyans go to the polls to elect a new president and a new parliament – another potential, though uncertain, “Mandela moment”.

Finland, with its long traditions of peacemaking, good governance, and championing of women’s rights, is supporting those Kenyans trying to ensure that the election is free, fair and peaceful – unlike the last one in 2007, which was stolen by the current president Mwai Kibaki, triggering political and tribal violence in which over 1 000 people died and women were disproportionately the victims.

Finland is helping Kenya draft a National Action Plan to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1 325 of 2000, which aims to end the targeting of women and girls in conflict and to give women an equal say in efforts to resolve conflicts.

As Elisabeth Rehn, Finland’s former defence minister and minister of equality affairs, said in Nairobi this month: “Women’s bodies have become the battlefield of conflict.”

Campaigners for women’s rights want Kenya’s plan in place soon to help protect women in next year’s election.

From-Emmesberger promises that if Finland wins a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council next month, it will focus its efforts on championing Resolution 1 325 and peace mediation.

The country’s long history of peacemaking is familiar in southern Africa, where Martti Ahtisaari – later to become Finland’s president – struggled doggedly in the late 1970s to try to negotiate independence for Namibia from apartheid SA.

Later still he helped end the civil war in Indonesia’s breakaway Aceh region.

Finland has also contributed about 50 000 peacekeepers to 30 countries in conflict. It also supports the efforts of Kenyan civil society to monitor the election next year to help ensure it is fair and peaceful.

These NGOs include Human Rights Defenders and the Institute for Education in Democracy.

Most Kenyans seem to echo the sentiment of Tourism Minister Danson Mwazo that the country learnt its lesson in 2007/8, so there will be no repeat of that violence.

The new constitution has also boosted their confidence, restoring their faith in the independence of the new electoral commission, created under the new constitution, and replacing the old one which was complicit in Kibaki’s theft of the 2007 election.

Dinah Kituyi of Human Rights Defenders acknowledges the improvements but is still wary. “We have a constitution without constitutionality,” she says, noting how members of parliament recently emasculated an integrity bill demanded by the constitution to oblige politicians and officials to declare their wealth.

She also frets that the government seemed unable to deal with recent outbreaks of regional political violence, fearing this bodes ill for next year’s poll.

The new constitution tries to tackle corruption and tribalism by devolving significant political and fiscal power from the national government to 47 new county governments, as Abdikadir points out.

But Kituyi and Peter Aling’o of the Institute for Education in Democracy contend that crooked politicians are just following the money by shifting their efforts from national to county government.

Apart from peacemaking, women’s equality and constitutional governance, Finland offers Kenya and Africa other skills, From-Emmesberger says, notably in information technology, and water and forestry management. Perhaps its most special contribution is in IT, which it is using to improve African health, education, farming and business development.

Finland’s most global brand, Nokia, launched its MoMaths pilot programme in SA, where it is now delivering, by cellphone, maths lessons – including innovative exercises, tests and games, tutoring and peer-to-peer support – to about 40 000 Grade 10 and 11 pupils in about 200 schools.

The cellphone medium so familiar to teenagers has overcome much of their psychological resistance to maths and turned it into something of a game as pupils exchange material with their friends, says the programme’s director, Riitta Vänskä. In 2010 MoMaths boosted their maths scores by a significant 14 percent, and she believes that figure has risen since 2010 as 8 000 pupils did 2.5 million extra exercises on their phones last year.

Next month MoMaths is expanding to include informal pupils, and next year it will roll out to Tanzania, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and maybe Uganda.

Vänskä is thrilled that Tanzania wants to go national with the programme immediately, whereas in SA the pilot project seems to have paused at the level of some provinces, evidently because of a lack of national resources to provide the accompanying teacher training.

From-Emmesberger observes that Africa is increasingly being viewed as a centre for IT innovation, especially in cellphones, which leapfrog Africa over its poor landline phone infrastructure. Kenya is in the vanguard, with 74 cellphones for every 100 people, beating the African average of 65 per 100.

Kenya’s exports of technology-related services have mushroomed from just $16 million in 2002 to $360m in 2010, according to The Economist, making Nairobi the continent’s “Silicon Savannah”.

Kenya’s main cellphone provider, Safaricom, has pioneered payments by cellphone – and vastly extended banking to the previously unbanked – through its M-Pesa offshoot.

Finland is also supporting one of the initiatives that has contributed to this local IT boom, Nairobi’s iHub, an incubator where geeks gather to exchange ideas and get training to launch IT start-up companies. It grew from Ushahidi, an NGO that used cellphones to alert Kenyans to the 2008 post-election violence.

Manager Rachel Gichinga says about 40 IT companies have started at iHub, and that the concept is spreading across Africa.

John Kieti, head of mLab, iHub’s sister company dedicated to developing cellphone entrepreneurs, makes clear it’s a hard school. Its 23 graduates in July this year had to take their business ideas to the market and get financial support before mLab would pass them.

He says his biggest problem is not teaching IT skills, but inculcating entrepreneurship. “Most universities are teaching students to be employees, not entrepreneurs,” he says.

As “the land of a thousand lakes” – actually about 190 000 of them – Finland is naturally disposed towards water management. And so it imparts that expertise in its development help, including in Africa.

In Kenya, From-Emmesberger notes, Finland is still well known for the water pipelines it built many years ago in the less-developed west of the country, most of which are still working.

And her government is supporting the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC) – comprising the five governments of the East African Community (EAC) countries – whose task is to manage Africa’s largest lake for sustainable development.

As the LVBC’s executive secretary, Canisius Kanangire, made clear at the organisation’s headquarters at Kisumu on the lake’s Kenyan shore, the commission has the politically difficult task of balancing the many competing interests threatening the lake, including over-fishing, pollution, over-tapping for hydroelectric power stations and infestation by the ubiquitous alien water hyacinth floating plant.

The rapidly falling water level over the past decade has emerged as perhaps the greatest threat to the lake. Apart from leaving docks high and dry, it is also threatening the lake’s ecosystem.

Kanangire says the LVBC found that the main cause of the water loss is that too much water is being drained off for hydro-electric plants. The EAC countries are drafting a new policy to address this.

Though he navigates diplomatically around the issue, other officials say the main problem is that Uganda dug a second channel alongside its first one to power a new hydroelectric power station.

Finland even-handedly also supports an NGO called Osienala – the Friends of the Lake – which is often sharply critical of the LVBC and disagrees with it fundamentally on how to tackle the problem of the water hyacinth. Left unchecked, the weed will cover the whole lake by 2015, clogging up shipping entirely and destroying the lake’s ecosystem.

Osienala’s director, Obiero Ong’ang’a, says the weed can be managed by manual removal and biological control, with a beetle from the hyacinth’s home in Brazil that destroys it. But the LVBC’s Isaac Ngugi says the only way to eradicate the weed is through a “blitzkrieg” that would remove most of it by mechanical excavators mounted on barges. This would be costly, but Ngugi says it’s about to begin. Osienala scoffs that the blitzkrieg won’t work as the mechanical excavators will just broadcast the weed’s seeds and so help it spread.

* Peter Fabricius was a guest of the Finnish government on a visit to study its development efforts in Kenya last month.

Independent Foreign Service