Perspectives from Africa,
engagement from Finland

Understanding Africa

Representing Africans


Fireworks at Kansalaistori Square, Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Fireworks in Helsinki, to celebrate a century of Finnish independence (Photo: Finland 100)

Finland in Africa - an innovative partnership for a sustainable future

Initiated, sponsored and funded by Finland, journalists from Africa, Finland and the UK came together at a week-long media workshop in Nairobi in September 2012, for an entirely new experience when it comes to such events. The group hailed from Finland, Swaziland, Nigeria, South Africa, Namibia, Ethiopia, Sudan, United Kingdom, Tanzania and Kenya, representing different Media houses. The Nairobi workshop began on 9 September under the theme 'Deepening know-how for a sustainable future'.

The Foreign Ministry of Finland had invited the group, along with other journalists from Africa, the US and the UK, to attend a similar workshop in Helsinki a year before this, in September 2011, under the theme 'Working Together for a Sustainable Future'. The idea then came, that sustainability should first start from sustaining the group in an effort to harmonize their understandings, discover new opportunities of cooperation and coordination in promoting creative development ideas. One wonders whether to expect other African countries or regional organisations to get people together to exchange ideas and to move collectively for the best of our people. The group members discovered that sustainability dictated further efforts, and that the more they could work together, the more they might reach a common ground to build on. Following their growing desire to do so, they started to exchange ideas which culminated in Nairobi's workshop, as well as seeking to consolidate the workshop as an annual event.

On Sunday, 9 september 2012, at the beginning of this second workshop, group members greeted each other in Nairobi just like old friends from early school days, catching up on news and inquiring about those who were yet to arrive.

Sunday brought some good concern, but ultimately news. Following the breakfast in the Southern Sun Mayfair hotel, Bheki Makhubu, Editor-in-Chief of The Nation Newspaper of Swaziland and a group member, had been delayed. Bheki was supposed to arrive with Robin Tyson, the university lecturer of media studies at the University of Namibia. Since their arrival on Saturday, the group members continued to question Bheki’s absence. To each of the group members, an absence of each was mattered. Fortunately, Bheki arrived on time to start with the rest of the group.
It was Sunday afternoon when the official programme kicked off, under the guidance of Emma Andersson of the Embassy of Finland in Nairobi. The group took a bus tour at Nairobi National Park. Emma did a great job - preparing the workshop, organising all its phases.Finland meets Africa in Nairobi
Ms Seija Kinni-Huttunen and Ms Outi Einola-Head, both of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs, were the real engineers of the Helsinki workshop - and, moreover, played the vital role in consolidating the idea, so that it could become a model project in bringing people together.

The performance of Seija, Outi and Emma, and the hospitality of the ambassador, tell a story of a great success for Finland's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in choosing the right people. With people like Seija, Outi, Sofie, and Emma - and the Finnish journalists in the group, Petri and Heikki - Finland should be proud of setting the example of who should represent his nation, and how it should be done. Established in 1946, the National Park is located approximately seven kilometres south of the centre of Nairobi, and it offered us the cance to observe closely the rich diversity of the wildlife there. Although there were small baboons, zebras, ostriches, giraffes, to various species of gazelle, the most remarkable for the group was an individual lioness, resting on a termite hill.

“It is really the crowned queen”, a group member commented on seeing the lioness. The scattered small ponds suggested that the shortage of water may pose a big threat for the Park, and I thought of the impact of global climate change. Creative ideas for supplying the park with water from any source is a must.

On day Two, Monday, 10 september 2012 - the second day of the programme - the group was to test a practical example of adopting the theme, 'Deepening know-how for a sustainable future' - at the iHub (Innovation Hub) in Nairobi. iHub is a place where young people active in mobile communications and technology, including software programming and development, research, investment, and starting businesses, can meet. At iHub, people can get information and exchange ideas, and create social networks. Here, new businesses are born. And here, they can find one of the world’s five mLabs. The Nairobi iHub and mLab also use M-Farm – a mobile phone application developed by AkiraChix. iHub is one example of Kenya’s current ICT boom, which has global enterprises increasingly interested in the country. ML Nokia has just expanded its research centre in Nairobi.

Finland, the World Bank Information for Development Programme (infoDev) and Nokia initiated the 'Creating Sustainable Businesses in the Knowledge Economy' (CSBKE) programme in March 2010, with financing in four departments: KEO, ALI, ASA, and IT. The three-year programme budget totals €14.6 million. The programme aims at making the ICT sector of developing countries more effective, and at using ICT to improve the competitiveness of small-scale agricultural enterprises. The goal is to create a basis for sustainable economic growth and the creation of new jobs. The programme operates in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia.

The programme’s central and most innovative component is the mobile applications laboratory (mLab) - a concept created by the CSBKE programme, which makes use of Finland’s know-how and expertise. The mLabs work as regional development centres for innovation and entrepreneurship in ICT. Another important component of CSBKE is the founding of business 'incubators'. The programme also organises seminars and conferences. CSBKE’s flagship conference in the summer of 2011 - the 'Global Forum' in Helsinki, the Finnish capital - brought together top experts in innovative development and ICT entrepreneurship.

Lake Victoria, and a message to Khartoum

“Khartoum is not so far,” I cheered before the session hosted by OSIENALA (Friends of Lake Victoria). “I am sure that a message from here to Khartoum may not need any advanced means. Just imagine that the same water is currently heading to the White Nile.”

On the third day of the workshop - Tuesday, 11 september 2012 - the venue was the eastern shore of Lake Victoria in Kisumu, a port city in western Kenya at 1,131 m (3,711 ft). It is the third largest city in Kenya, the principal city of western Kenya, the immediate former capital of Nyanza Province and the headquarters of Kisumu County. It is the largest city in Nyanza region and the second most important city after Kampala in the greater Lake Victoria basin.

It was an amazing city.

OSIENALA was established in 1992 as a national non-governmental organisation (NGO), with its head office in Kisumu. It started as a membership organisation, run by local communities whose livelihoods are substantiated by the resources of Lake Victoria and its environs.

OSIENALA has provided a forum for addressing various environmental problems facing Lake Victoria. Its role is to create awareness locally and internationally about the problems facing Lake Victoria while at the same time creating structures that would support local communities to become responsible custodian of their environment and the lake. OSIENALA endeavours to strengthen capacities within the communities for sound management, optimisation of resource utilisation and improvement of the social and economic status in the region.

The ecological health of Lake Victoria has been affected profoundly as a result of a rapidly growing population, clearance of natural vegetation along the shores, a booming fish-export industry, the introduction of several exotic plant and animal species, the disappearance of about 50 per cent of its fish species - it had 400 species of Cichlids - and prolific growth of algae. Pollution of Lake Victoria is mainly due to discharge of raw sewage into the lake, dumping of domestic and industrial waste, and fertiliser and chemicals from farMs Raw sewage decomposes more cleanly in soil, and should be directed back to the ground rather into a drinking-water source.

The Lake Victoria basin is one of the most densely populated rural areas in the world. Its shores are dotted with cities and towns - including Kisumu, Kisii, and Homa Bay in Kenya; Kampala, Jinja, and Entebbe in Uganda; and Bukoba, Mwanza and Msoma in Tanzania. These cities and towns also are home to many factories that discharge their waste directly into the lake and its influent rivers. These urban areas also discharge raw sewage into the river, increasing its eutrophication that in turn is helping to sustain the invasive water hyacinth.

The infestation of Lake Victoria with water hyacinth dates back to 1984 - when it was first spotted in River Kagera, which empties its water into the Lake. Since then, water hyacinth has been synonymous with the lake. Like the Kagera River, the lake is today chocked with Hyacinth. Scientifically referred to as Eichoirnia Crassippes, water hyacinth multiplies to cover more than 50 hectares of a water body within two weeks. This rapid growth is enhanced by massive disposal of industrial and sewages waste in the lake.

Over the years, OSIENALA has repositioned and restructured its services to allow it to engage in regional management and conservation of Lake Victoria resources. OSIENALA works in partnership with other organisations both within the Lake Victoria basin and internationally. In addition, OSIENALA enjoys co-operation and support from several government departments, NGOs, and regional and international agencies. Addressing the group of journalists, the Head of OSIENALA highlighted the challenges facing the lake and their efforts on various fronts to address those challenges. Following the briefing, the group sailed across the lake in two boats. It was easy to observe the rapid growth of water hyacinth.

Prior to the OSIENALA visit, on Tuesday morning we had been briefed about the condition and history of the lake by the Executive Secretary of the Lake Victoria Basin Commission (LVBC), Dr Canisius Kabungo of the Republic of Rwanda, who joined the Commission on 1 June 2011. Lake Victoria Basin Commission is a specialised institution of the East African Community (EAC) that is responsible for coordinating the sustainable development agenda of the Lake Victoria Basin.

With a surface area of 68,800 square kilometres (26,600 sq mi), Lake Victoria is Africa’s largest lake by area, and it is the largest tropical lake in the world. Lake Victoria is the world's second largest freshwater lake by surface area; only Lake Superior in North America is larger. In terms of its volume, Lake Victoria is the world's ninth largest continental lake, and it contains about 2,750 cubic kilometres (2.2 billion cubic-feet) of water.Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria receives most of its water from direct precipitation or from thousands of small streams. The largest stream flowing into this lake is the Kagera River, the mouth of which lies on the lake's western shore. Two rivers leave the lake - the White Nile (known as the "Victoria Nile" as it leaves the lake) flows out at Jinja, Uganda, on the lake's north shore; and the Katonga River flows out at Lukaya on the western shore, connecting the lake to Lake George.

Lake Victoria occupies a shallow depression in Africa and has a maximum depth of 84 m (276 ft) and an average depth of 40 m (130 ft).

Since the 1900s, Lake Victoria's ferries have been an important means of transport between Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. The main ports on the lake are Kisumu, Mwanza, Bukoba, Entebbe, Port Bell and Jinja.

Such a detailed review for Lake Victoria dictated by the fact that it is within the direct interest of about 11 African nations whether the members of the Lake basin or the Nile basin communities. To that extent, cooperating and coordination between all stakeholders is a must.

The green promise of Eldoret and Kaptebee

On the fourth day of this media workshop across Kenya - Wednesday, 12 september 2012 - Kaptebee offered an example of the World Food Programme (WFP) Purchase for Progress (P4P) initiative, and the feasibility of its replication globally. My question here was to WFP Sudan, and whether they have are making any efforts or plans to adopt the P4P in Sudan. Should Sudanese and Finnish Foreign Ministers Upgrade their diplomatic ties, it would be in the interest of their peoples to see such efforts.

While heading to Eldoret by bus, one could note a gradual change in the topography of the area ranging from the mountainous shores of the Lake to the green plains growing wider the closer we were to the town. Maize cultivation was dominant and preparations for harvesting the crop were going on. Some groups of cattle were roaming the grain rich grazing lands. With plenty of water resources and the fertile green plains, Eldoret could be one of the regions to improve agricultural productivity to benefit the rural poor, achieve food security, not only for Kenya but the region. Fruit trees were also plentiful.

Though the road linking Kisumu with Eldoret is considered a highway, it is a narrow and bumpy one, and could only let two vehicles to pass. There is significant rainfall, and both sides of the roads were muddy as some scattered cattle were grazing around.

Eldoret is a town in western Kenya and the administrative centre of Uasin Gishu District of Rift Valley Province. Lying south of the Cherangani Hills, the local elevation varies from about 2,100 metres above sea level at the airport to more than 2,700 metres in nearby areas (7,000–9,000 feet). The population was 193,830 in 1999, according to the census, and it is currently the fastest-growing town in Kenya, and the fifth largest in Kenya.

The name 'Eldoret' is based on the Maasai word 'eldore', meaning 'stony river', because the bed of the nearby Sosiani River is very stony.

Here we have a model partnership of academics, universities and the executive public sector,all connected by the common ground of altruism and dedication. Addressing the group in a morning session, Dr Sylvester Kimaiyo, the programme Manager for the Academic Model Providing Access to Healthcare (AMPATH), explained the roots of the idea and how it has developed. Dr Kimaiyo is charged with the daily running of AMPATH, but he also lectures at Moi University and does rounds in the main hospital. AMPATH is Moi University, Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital and a consortium of North American academic health centers led by Indiana University working in partnership with the Government of Kenya.

Since 2005, AMPATH has worked in conjunction with WFP to provide food support to food insecure households. In 2009, WFP initiated Purchase for Progress (P4P), a five-year pilot project linking small scale farmers to market. Through P4P, WFP is buying cereals and pulses from farmer organisations and small scale traders, so that small-scale farmers can have improved access to markets and increased production and incomes.

Since 2001 AMPATH has provided comprehensive treatment and care to People living with HIV. It is one of the largest providers of antiretroviral treatment (ART) in Sub-saharan Africa, and engages in a multidisciplinary approach to care. Given that HIV is multifaceted - bearing a social, economic and cultural impact - AMPATH seeks to engage different strategies to mitigate the adverse impact of HIV on families.

On Wednesday afternoon, we left Eldoret for Kaptebee. It was rainy, with high temperatures and relatively high humidity. At our destination, we were to examine a model partnership between the WFP, AMPATH and the Kenyan government, as represented by the nation's Ministry of Agriculture. Access to Kaptebee was by unpaved road, which was muddy, bumpy and potholed. Even our four-wheel drive vehicles could hardly pass it. The narrow road is lined with farms and small villages. Though simple, the World Food Program’s P4P initiative - 'Purchase for Progress' - seemed to be smart and feasible, and it seemed possible to replicate it globally. In Kenya, it aims at raising the farmer’s skills through practicable training methods in agricultural and harvest techniques, storage of the crops, working together and marketing.

Accompanied by representatives from the WFP and the Kenyan ministry of agriculture, finally we reached Kaptebee. The spectacular welcoming from the group, the smiling optimistic faces and the heaps of crops bags, could easily tell a story of success. Kaptebee is so remote that the farmers could not afford to access distant big markets individually, whereas the high transport costs could inevitably hinder any chances of profitability. The only option prior the P4P was to sell to traders individually at very low prices, meaning that they could not afford to produce high quality maize to achieve WFP quality standards. Through the current approach, where they ensure good prices, the group's aggregated product meets WFP standards of quality and offers increased production. The farmers of Kaptebee now sell their crops to WFP directly. Following the in-depth briefing of the group activity, and the drastic change through the smart partnership with engagement of WFP’s P4P, the group members were treated to fresh boiled maize offered by the host farmers.

My question here is to WFP Sudan, and whether they have any attempt or plans to adopt the P4P here in Sudan given the similarity of farmers' conditions to their Kenyan counterparts.Dr Sylvester Kimaiyo With the warm speech delivered by Ambassador Sofie at the closing session on Friday, 14 September, at the Embassy of Finland back in Nairobi, the group's desire to sustain, develop and build on their togetherness was growing higher than any time before.

The fact that Finland was never a colonial power, never branded as adopting hidden  agendas, and the dedication of Finland to promote and strengthen know-how in Africa,  suggests that the group will continue to discover new ideas to sustain its activities in  many ways.

Addressing the closing session, Ambassador Sofie From-Emmesberger expressed
 satisfaction with respect to the workshop outcome, and the necessity of such
 an interaction for a sustainable development.
During their final session, also, the group
 members briefed the workshop on the performance of the press in their own countries,
 including challenges and opportunities. As Sudan Vision Editor, I highlighted the role played by the Sudanese press in achieving peace nationwide, as well as the relentless efforts to promote the values of coexistence and tolerance. The major challenge obstructing Sudanese press and media is that they are local, since they adopt Arabic as the only medium - hence, coming short of globalising their coverage - except for 'Sudan Vision'.

Finally, one should urge both Sudan and Finnish foreign ministers to upgrade their diplomatic ties for the benefit of our people.

Saif Ahmed, Editor-in-Chief, Sudan Vision

NB This article is adapted from 'Finland in Africa - the Full Story' published by Sudan Vision at