Weekly Roundup 8/1/15: Kenya gets a pat on the back, then a lecture, and the Internet roars about Cecil
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The news: In a landmark week, Barack Obama became the first sitting U.S. president to visit Kenya and he and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta on Saturday launched the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, the first time that event has been held in sub-Saharan Africa. “I wanted to be here because Africa is on the move,” Obama said. “This continent needs to be a future hub of global growth, not just African growth.” Then, while still in the country, Obama gave a mini-lecture to Kenya about human rights; specifically, he criticized the country’s record on gender equity and violence against gays and lesbians.
Our take: Obama’s messages felt accurate and necessary. The world should recognize that Kenya, and Africa at large, has moved beyond the days of handouts and slogans to become an entrepreneurial hotbed. But that doesn’t outweigh the fact that those who limit human rights ultimately have limited futures. – Kyle Poplin
4 huge ways Obama spoke up for women on his historic Kenya trip http://t.co/5KpiQ59Wk4
— HuffPost Impact (@HuffPostImpact) July 30, 2015
Is ‘Silicon Savannah’ over-hyped?
The news: Obama wasn’t the only bigwig to visit Kenya or opine on its future this week. To the surprise of some, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella celebrated the worldwide launch of Windows 10 in Nairobi – one of 13 global cities where the company held special launch events on Wednesday. Why? Perhaps because the company hopes to strengthen its foothold among the region’s growing mobile Internet market, and Nairobi has emerged as ground zero in the continent’s high-tech revolution.
Yet not everyone is sold on Kenya’s growing “Silicon Savannah” image. David Loew, a manager at Open Capital Advisors, a Nairobi-based advisory and investment firm, says the country’s tech scene has been “overblown in the international media.” The vast majority of the population, he says, is employed in low-level agricultural work, and the population is too small – and too poor – to be a viable consumer market for technology. What’s more, the country’s education system isn’t preparing graduates for the shifting needs of the labor market, and unemployment remains high. And a survey of 230 Kenyan startups found that 70 percent were not earning enough to maintain their expenses, and less than 9 percent got venture capital funding last year. In light of those challenges, Loew says, “There has been a little too much confidence in the ability of mobile phones to transform everything” – and it’s premature to expect Kenyan entrepreneurs to produce technologies on par with their counterparts in Silicon Valley.
Our take: OK, so it’s not yet Silicon Valley – but the fact that Nairobi is now mentioned in the same sentence is undeniably encouraging. Sure, challenges exist. But Kenya’s government is working to solve them – including through a $14 billion, 5,000-acre “tech city” that will serve as a learning and R&D resource for entrepreneurs and investors. A little hype (or even a lot) could be just what Kenya needs to attract more investment – which may be what its burgeoning tech scene needs most at the moment. – James Militzer
— Hillary Osellu (@IAmOsellu) July 31, 2015
Bishops make a bad move
The news: Roman Catholic bishops in Kenya urged citizens to boycott a mass polio vaccination campaign organized by the World Health Organization and UNICEF and scheduled to begin today. The bishops wondered if the vaccinations were safe and said the manufacturer didn’t provide information the bishops requested. Meanwhile, Kenya’s Ministry of Health defended the vaccine and reassured the public it was safe.
Our take: Just what global health needed (not), anti-vaxxers with the moral authority of the church behind them. Ending polio means immunizing every child, so no one’s left to spread it. That means the bishops’ ill-considered boycott could have dire consequences even if they prevent only one child from being immunized. They should be ashamed. – Kyle Poplin
— David J. Olson (@davidjolson) July 29, 2015
Bad will hunting
The news: While Africa’s growing high-tech entrepreneurs were inspiring optimism in some quarters, a more archaic element of its business scene was sparking outrage, as the entire Internet mobilized to express its disgust over the killing of Cecil, a beloved lion living in a well-known wildlife sanctuary in Zimbabwe. If you’ve somehow managed not to hear the story, it’s as bad as it sounds: An American dentist named Walter Palmer allegedly paid $50,000 to a big-game hunting company for a safari, during which he killed the lion after it was lured out of the sanctuary (illegally) with an animal carcass strapped to the hunters’ car.
Lion hunting is legal in Zimbabwe, with the appropriate permits – which Palmer and his guides insist they had. Zimbabwe’s government disputes this, and is seeking to extradite the dentist and bring him to justice, accusing him of having “a well-orchestrated agenda which would tarnish the image of Zimbabwe.” In the meantime, the Internet has delivered a mob justice of its own, mobilizing protests (and threats) that have shut down his dental practice and driven Palmer into hiding – while sparking a predictable round of online navel-gazing about the many things that should outrage us more than a dead lion.
Our take: In a world where many beloved species may be on the verge of mass extinction, it’s hard to mount any sort of defense of Palmer – or of the practice of big-game hunting. (Though this article makes a brave, and even somewhat convincing, attempt.) Yet the outrage on all sides seems both contrived and pointless. Here’s a suggestion: If Zimbabwe wants to keep its precious wildlife resources alive, how about ending the legal hunts, cracking down on illegal poaching, and following Kenya’s lead by turning its full attention to 21st century industries that aren’t based on killing off dwindling species? And if the online mob wants to make a real difference, why not lobby the government in the U.S. (which accounts for more than 60 percent of annual lion trophies) to list the animals as endangered and make importing these trophies illegal? That would do a lot more to save future lions than simply harassing a clueless dentist. – James Militzer
— ITV News (@itvnews) July 31, 2015