My Mama Mboga (Vegetable Vendor) has very hard Palms!

Photo by Etty Fidele on Unsplash

Of Course!!! My Mama Mboga has very rough and coarse palms. She spends most of her time sourcing vegetables from the market(before most of us in the Kenyan “middle” class are awake) and 3/4 of her time “value adding” them by cutting them up for dozens of customers.

The rewards from a good day are for the most part — Kenyan Shillings (50 -200/=) or 0.5 $–2.0$ dollars - in sales, out of a day of back breaking and “palm hardening work.”

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Well, Kenyans such and me and you — who love their ( Ugali and Sukuma ) — our de facto staple food!!! are guilty for her hard palms. I will however, save the guilt tripping for another day…………

This article is not about the texture of the hands of these hardworking African women, but rather a reflection on the laziness of our African intellectuals.

Indulge with me as i take you back to 1995.

Steve Jobs in an interview with Robert Cringely talks about what drove him:

In this rare interview he mentioned an article he read in the Scientific American. The article measured the speed of locomotion of various species of animals in the planet.

It measured how many kilo-calories per kilometer these animals used during locomotion?

Humans were measured too.

The condor won !! (For the Kenyans think of it like a crow/vulture or Kigogo — those from Central Kenya), It was the most efficient. Humankind came in with an unimpressive showing about a third of the way down the list 🤔. You can read the whole interview here.

But somebody there had the brilliance to test a human riding a bicycle.

We blew away the condor. Off the charts.

Wait what! With as simple a tool like a bicycle we would move from the last quarter of these species to defeat the winner with a huge margin?

The writer, riding a bicycle in 2012 in the jungles of Uganda 🤣

The bicycle is an analogy for how many challenges in the human experience can be greatly reduced by deploying tools to our daily lives. Today we have a plethora of tools that exist including the most groundbreaking of all — Information Technology and the Internet. Certainly these tools have made work easier for a section of mankind — but hundreds of millions in Africa still grapple with basic challenges solved decades ago in other areas of the world.

Who is tasked with pulling the millions out of these basic challenges? Proposing “bicycle” solutions? — the African intellectual!

Back to Kenya, Kenya boasts some of Africa’s most educated and knowledgeable populace owing to its robust education system. A Kenyan knows more about the world and general facts about random places than the average American(consider this statement as a Masters thesis suggestion to test my sweeping hypothesis!). You get the point though!

If not, my point is, we have no lack of educated individuals in Kenya and in extension Africa. Infact, our intellectuals are scattered all over the globe — from Harvard to the Chinese Academy of Sciences(— where yours truly dropped out!)

However the contribution of African intellectuals to their home countries even on the most of innovations are negligible if not non-existent. Infact, since our education systems are designed as if to produce factory workers for the 18th century, we produce a strong pool of fact regurgitating zombies. These zombies dominate our governments, institutions and even clog our entertainment spots.

FYI — Fact regurgitation is no longer useful since the advent of computer storage and memory. Infact a 0.5$, 128 Mb memory stick can easily store all the facts that you memorized in your school’s lifetime and leave enough space for your photos and music.

In the age of Google and Wikipedia, the need to store facts is completely obliterated. Yet we still spend billions of Kenya’s(and in extension Africa’s) scarce resources to educate young people who do not know any better on these outdated learning methods.(The reality is not different in other parts of the developing and even developed world).

The ability to analyze problems and develop cost effective local solutions is lacking, and a bother to the African intellectual. Why bother myself with mundane problems when i can earn my fat salary locally or off western elite institutions in high positions without worrying too much about the skeletons in my village?

With the exception of a few notable intellectuals including the late Wangari Maathai, Prof. Calestous Juma and Dr. Bitange Ndemo (i am sure many more do exist but you get the point!

This was infact my dilemma, whereas i had rose to the echelons of academia by being a scientist destined for the world — i felt i had betrayed my continent.

The society including my grandmother who had sacrificed to have me educated were slowly losing me to the towers of academia. I was studying complicated algorithms to decipher molecular elements of the tiniest iota in DNA for purely esoteric reasons, whereas my fellow villagers continued to ferry basic commodities such as water on their backs.

This i thought was unacceptable, In the age of Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence and the BlockChain it was unacceptable that my fellow Africans were still struggling with the most mundane of tasks. All this while i learned more and more about nothing in my glorified and ‘prestigious’ PhD.

In the spring of 2016, i left my well paying fellowship, packed my belongings and relocated to Africa to focus on automation and the use of computers to make work easier through my company Magnum.

I am doing my own little part in this revolution but i cannot do it alone! I am not even a drop in this ocean! We need more concerted efforts by Africa’s brilliant brains in the continent, and beyond!

It should eat into the marrow of our conscience that while we boast as African intellectuals of great academic achievements — The hardworking Mama Mbogas who are our grand mothers, mothers and even sisters continue to struggle with mundane tasks and earn meagerly despite their great effort and dedication, they still lack the tools to unlock their potential due to our reluctance, laziness and indifference.

Mama Mboga’s palms cannot continue to be this scarred, bloody and hard — Our ivory towers of Universities and intellectuals need to develop a simple machine that can automate and scale her work!!!

Then and maybe then her palms will be a little soft!