DEVOLUTION: OPPORTUNITIES AND THREATS

By @kresearcher and Don Pablo

The devolution of governance brought about by the Constitution of Kenya (2010) has witnessed a dramatic first year of implementation. The process has seen a significant shift in the system of government bringing with it new players and new service delivery units that are closer to the people. It has also witnessed turf wars as players adjust to the new rules of engagement.

A year down the line, some assessment is necessary to draw lessons as we move forward. Devolution as we have it was designed to address the excesses of a centralized government through dispersing of power. It envisages greater representation and inclusion in decision-making, equity in resource allocation and utilization and improved service delivery to all parts of the country. Devolution also seeks to have greater accountability and transparency in government.

If well implemented, devolution can ensure each county determines its development agenda and reduce the zero-sum political competition at the national level. It has the potential to solve the social, political and economic problems that have held back this country from fulfilling her immense potential.

Despite the promise it brings, devolution faces various challenges and threats that need to be addressed if the process is to deliver and survive for the long haul. The actions and utterances of key institutions and players threaten the process and have to be checked. There have already been calls by a minority to do away with the process due to the actions of a few. This piece will highlight some of the threats devolution faces as well as the opportunities it presents.

The chance to have government that is close to the people and responds to their needs is something that many Kenyans have been waiting to have since independence. We are witnessing this where County Governments have the mandate and budgets to deliver services relevant to the local population. For instance, Mandera is one of the Counties in Kenya that has perennial problems when it comes to food security. The County recently announced that it had revived 3 irrigation schemes along River Daua and had put in Ksh. 900 million into more irrigation projects to arrest the food problems in the county.This is in addition to the Ksh410 million already allocated to agriculture in the county budget.

Kenyans are now having service delivery units that they can access as opposed to pleading with a Government that is in distant Nairobi. Machakos County has been in the news for all the good reasons since the County government came into place. The investment in rain water harvesting tanks in all 695 primary schools in the county is a welcome move in water provision in the semi-arid county.

Other examples include Counties employing a large numbers of ECD teachers to improve access to Early Childhood Education as well as the purchase of motor bikes for Muranga County Agricultural Extension Officers to ease their movement across the hilly terrain in the County. The important aspect here is government that is close enough to understand the unique needs of people and adequately respond to them.

Access to information is important if the principle of transparency and public participation in government is to be realized. Many counties are making some notable efforts in having running websites which are well updated with timely information. Makueni leads on this front with a website which has everything from a citizen’s budget, to the county plans, GIS data maps and other good pieces of information. Other counties such as Nyandarua , TaitaTaveta and Kisii also have some modestly populated website with quality information for the public.While counties have a long way to go, these steps to open up and increase access to information need to be appreciated as it could lead to a culture of transparency across all levels of government in time.

Use of funds at the County level has also seen adherence to law and accountability that is not as evident at the national level. County Governments adhered to the law when they responded to the Controller of Budgets’ (CoB) recommendations that they revise their budgets before accessing funds. The need to comply with the law explains why more than half the counties did not spend a single dime on development in the first quarter as per the CoB’s report. This was reported out of context by the media with Governors accused of not prioritizing development (more on the media later). The report released by the Auditor General and the subsequent calls for Governors to account for the money spent is also a positive step towards accountable governance.

Despite these positives, devolution has had to face a lot of criticism. The following institutions in one way or another are threatening this process at a crucial stage where it needs nurturing and support from all quarters:

1. Governors: Of all the offices created by the new constitution, Governors arguably play the most important role in ensuring the success of devolution. They have big budgets for service delivery relative to the defunct local government and hold the hopes of millions. Being the inaugural Governors, they have a dual role to play. Not only are they entrusted to respond to the needs of the citizens but they hold the key to how the country will perceive devolution and whether it will survive beyond its initial years. So far, Governors have wasted no chance in shooting themselves in the foot. They greedily agreed to have all functions devolved at once as ordered by the President without considering their capacity to deliver. They’ve also tussled over the right to fly flags – a cheap, unnecessary attempt at exercising power – allegedly engaged in financial impropriety, engaged in petty sideshows and alienated the public with increase in taxes that lacked meaningful public participation. Governors need to take a step back and re-asses their approach to the whole devolution process. Missteps during the first year can be excused but people won’t be patient for long. Vultures are already smelling blood and circling the Governors waiting to feast.

2. Senators: The Senate is facing a serious crisis. It was created to protect devolution but wasn’t given much to do in that regard. What we’ve ended up with is a Senate with experienced politicians who have nothing much to do. As is natural, the Senate has eyed roles performed by other institutions in an attempt to establish relevance in the game. After a war of attrition that bore no fruits with the stubborn National Assembly, the Senate has turned its guns towards the Governors. The attempt to create a County Development Board chaired by the Senator is the Senate’s way of getting a say in development projects at the County. As has been argued before, the Senate cannot be in charge of development projects at the County level and expected to offer oversight on itself. The legality of a legislature implementing projects it is expected to offer oversight on is already being challenged in court with the on goingcase against the CDF fund. Ominously, the Controller of Budget applied the same argument when she indicated that she won’t disburse ward development funds to MCA’s as this contradicts the doctrine of separation of powers. Senate needs to re-think this self-defeatist approach that sees pillars of devolution engaged in attrition that weakens the process as a whole. They need to find a better way to establish their relevance.

3. National Assembly: The National Assembly has been the institution most affected by the new order. Having been the main custodian of development and go-to people for all problems their constituents may have had, Members of the National Assembly have not taken kindly to having an alternative source of leadership for the people. They have thus set about to ‘tame Governors’ with all sorts of antics. Most serious of this is the attempt to have the Equalization Fund managed by MP’s. As is the case with CDF, legislators ought to stick to their three functions of legislation, representation and oversight. Implementation of projects is a reserve of the Executive as per the dictum of separation of powers. The National Assembly Members need to perform their roles and wait for the next electoral cycle if they want powers mandated to other Constitutional offices.

4. The Transitional Authority: The Transition Authority is a body created to midwife the process of devolving governance. With such a crucial mandate and the way it has gone about doing its work, the T.A is arguably the institution that has failed devolution most. T.A was to carry out several key activities for a coordinated transition. First, it was to unbundle the functions assigned to each level of government under Schedule Four of Kenya’s constitution. Secondly, T.A was to come up with the cost of delivering the different functions at each level of Government. This would assist in determining how much revenue is devolved and what remains at the national level. The Transitional Authority was also expected to gradually allocate functions to the counties based on their capacity to take up the functions they ask/apply for. Other crucial functions included facilitation in development of County budgets during the first year of devolution and carrying out an audit of existing human resource of the Government and local authorities to advise the deployment of staff at either level of government. Many of these activities have not gone according to plan which explains why there is still a lot of confusion surrounding the devolution process. The transfer of functions was done haphazardly with little attention paid to capacity of counties to perform the functions allocated. The President’s directive to have every function devolved at once didn’t help matters. County Governments were also left to their own devices in coming up with budgets which explains the confusion and reluctance by the CoB in releasing funds to Counties whose budgets didn’t comply with the set legal framework. Delayed release of funds resulted in Counties not spending much on development during the first quarter. On the staff audit, the T.A last month released the ‘Counties Human Resource Report‘, a whole year after devolution started. Only T.A knows how this will be of help when Counties have already hired without much consideration of staff redeployment from the national level. There’s been talk of the Authority deliberately being starved off cash to carry out its mandate and Governors have been openly calling for its dissolution. In general, most of the confusion surrounding devolution is as a result of failure by the Authority to carry out its function, deliberately or otherwise.

5. Media: The media plays a crucial role in informing the people and influencing their decisions. It is a critical component of society that has the potential to build or destroy the society. The media in Kenya have failed in many aspects as highlighted here and they continue to do so where devolution is concerned. The numerous errors and erroneous interpretation of devolution issues by the media goes a long way in threatening devolution by creating mis-informed masses. Majority of Kenyans will learn about devolution from the media and the journalists need to work harder to first understand devolution and then cover it effectively and objectively. So far, the media has thrived on sensationalism portraying the whole devolution process as a tug of war between the national and county governments on one hand and Constitutional office holders on the other. There’s been limited attempt to educate the citizenry on this paradigm shift in governance and what it means for the country. Nor has there been any serious attempt to highlight how devolution is changing the lives of people across the country; people who’ve never known government for 50 years. Instead, we have feature after feature on who is fighting who, who is stealing what (transparency notwithstanding) and hysterical stories of Counties appointing ‘Ambassadors’ and what not. It is telling that one year down the line, no media has an in-house devolution expert or journalists dedicated to covering devolution stories despite this being the most significant political change in the country since independence. If they are not careful, the media will play a role in poisoning the minds of citizens and creating cynicism towards devolution. This will pave the way to do away with the process should a referendum on the same come up.

6. The Citizen: As stated earlier, devolution anticipates greater representation and inclusion in decision-making. Citizens have an important role to play in the system. This includes participation in legislation as well as in development of County Development Plans. Participation ensures the response of the government is relevant to your particular needs. Without meaningful public participation, there’s bound to be a disparity between the needs of the people and solutions provided, hence resistance. A case in point is the Finance Acts passed in many counties that saw protests by citizens. While the County Governments have failed in providing for meaningful public participation, the citizens can’t escape blame as public participation fora have frequently seen poor attendance especially in urban areas. The citizens have an important role to play in the new system and they have to be active in governance and holding the government to account. It is futile to call for government to be brought closer to the people then ignore the process of governance once it has been devolved.

The devolution process is still in its nascent stages and needs to be handled carefully and judged further down the line. The upcoming Devolution Conference in April will provide a forum where all relevant stakeholders will sit down and take stock of the process while ironing out whatever differences they have. When all is said and done, devolution holds great promise for this country and requires the input of all in society if is to be implemented successfully.

Categories: Civics, Guest Posts, Human Interest | Tags: , , | 7 Comments

Year 6000

By Tayiana Chao

For a long time, in my mind I had toyed with the idea of a parallel universe, a notion that was often times fuelled by numerous science-fiction films, comic books and novels. I found it a tad bit comforting to think of an alternate world. A world that offered more remedies than it did maladies. A world devoid of psychological limitations and creative boundaries. Where people would have the ability to not just imagine but to create, to not just dream but initiate.

But the human mind happens to be a ceaseless wanderer and consequently one that will never find rest.  Bringing me to the conclusion that, if there does exist a perfect world, then it’s highly likely that someone in that perfect world is thinking of an even more perfect world.  A conclusion that would have brought this article to a rather untimely end, had the internet not been invented.

A couple of years back; the world as we know it today would have seemed like nothing but a baseless fantasy. It was almost comically inconceivable to think of a world where distance was not a problem and geographical boundaries were nonexistent. A world where messages would be sent from wherever to whoever in a matter of seconds. Where information was really at your fingertips because your fingertips would always be at the top of your phone. Where people were free to be themselves and most times free not to be themselves. A world where you could make thousands of friends and never meet them. A world so free, it would boast of infinite possibilities.

Possibilities of all kinds; some sensible, some exceptional, some ordinary others completely unheard of. Possibilities that make up today. Where we have people leading revolutions from behind their computer screens. Others running million dollar companies from the comfort of their homes. Countries spying on each other and fighting cyber wars much to the dismay of the rest of the world. Memories being shared in seconds and secrets spreading in an even faster time.  News forums and blogs bustling with life and everyone itching to comment, compliment and criticize anything they can find.

They say that with great power comes great responsibility and sometimes it feels like we’re still getting used to the idea of a virtual world and the liberty that comes with it. A liberty that is occasionally misused or used with malicious intent. Where one person can build, another can easily destroy.  Where there is an avenue to speak truth there’s an equal opportunity to deceive.  

But I guess that’s the most interesting thing about humanity’s advancements, they take so long to happen and such a short time to catch on. One day you wake up and the next thing you know they’re flying cars and spaceships everywhere, holograms popping out of every possible gadget you can think of. And all the advertisements are telling you, that you need to buy new “thingamajigs” because the ones you have are outdated. 

Now you’re probably wondering why on earth this article is titled Year 6000, I should have at least made an effort to call it something smart like, “The internet and the pacifying of human grandeur”  or “ The conceptualization of time and …something something something ” but quite simply, it has everything to do with the year 6000. Because unlike trying to envision an alternate world and wondering whether it actually does exist, I’m pretty sure the year 6000 will someday reach, I just won’t be there to see it. But that doesn’t mean I can’t think about it.

In the year 6000, the inhabitants of planet earth will not study the ways of the Greeks and Romans. They will not tell tales of Greek gods or stories of ancient Roman wars .They will not sample Egyptian hieroglyph texts or quote Latin sayings. They will not marvel at renaissance art or gaze at baroque architecture. They will not have to dig up fossils and examine skulls in order to determine our brain capacity.  They simply will have the entire history of our civilization conveniently located at a central place, a virtual one.

Because for as long as the internet exists and as long as we go around leaving traces of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be, we will in more ways than we think remain immortal. I wonder what they will see in us, as they study our thoughts our tweets, emails, comments, photos, music the list is endless. Will they laugh at our folly or marvel at our genius. Will they think we were a brave civilization that carefully wielded its digital power, or a careless one that did not exploit its potential to the fullest?

And if you look at the internet as a museum of sorts, a magnificent palace lined with endless corridors of beautiful memories and thoughts, then you would realize that every tweet, every status, every email, every comment you ever made will outlive you. And these very comments will speak for us even after we are gone and be a testimony to who we were, who we are and who we eventually became.  But for now, we go on living our lives as usual; unaware of the vital role we play as collectors, curators and custodians of a museum, in the year 6000.

Tayiana Chao blogs about Art and History at theeagora.com

Categories: Guest Posts, Human Interest | Tags: , , , , , | 8 Comments

Drug Control in the Era of Devolution

By Mohamed Boru

Kenya’s shift to a devolved system of government has seen a re-distribution of functions that the government is supposed to perform. Where such functions were once a preserve of the national government in Nairobi, the new dispensation has brought about devolution of functions between the national and county governments depending on who is best placed to perform them. One such function that has been devolved is the control of drugs. (Schedule 4 of the constitution gives a breakdown of the functions to be performed by the two levels of government).

Devolution of such a function gives the County Assembly the mandate to pass laws that give effect to this function. This means that each of the 47 County Assemblies can come up with drug control legislation unique to their County despite existence of national laws that were enacted for the same function.

The Constitution of Kenya (2010) provides that in instances where a function is divided between the two levels of government, national legislation takes precedence over county legislation in case of conflict between the two sets of laws. But where a function is the preserve of the county government (such as control of drugs), county laws will supersede existing national legislation that governed such functions. Such a drastic shift is bound to have interesting consequences in attempts to control drug use in the country.

If for instance a county feels that a certain drug or substance is of detriment to the residents of the county, it can pass laws that will control the distribution and use of such a substance or drug. This was the case when Garissa County announced plans to regulate the sale and use of miraa within the county despite no such restrictions on the substance under national laws.

It gets more interesting where a particular substance is popular with residents of the county but has been banned for one reason or another under existing national legislation. In such a circumstance, the county in question can pass legislation that will allow for use of such substances regardless of the illegal status conferred to the substance by national legislation.

In counties where drug abuse has become a menace, the county can enact laws that explore alternative models of drug control to the existing model of criminalizing drug use that has done little to control drug use. Mombasa County – a haven of drug abuse – can decide to explore models that have proved successful in controlling drug abuse and its negative effects in other jurisdictions. Portugal’s model would be a good precedent where the country addresses drug abuse as a public health problem as opposed to a criminal-justice one. Here, drug users are subjected to a hearing and instead of being sent to jail, they are sent to a rehabilitation center. Such a restitutive approach aims to return the ‘offender’ to their original state in contrast to the retributive approach that seeks to punish the user. This model has proved quite successful with the number of drug addicts in Portugal reduced by half as well as reduction in spread of STD’s and death by drug overdose.

What we are likely to have in future is a scenario such as what is currently being witnessed in the USA where residents of the states of Colorado and Washington recently passed ballot initiatives that made it legal to cultivate, sell and consume a limited amount of cannabis for those aged above 21. The two states stand out for defying federal (national) laws that criminalize pot use and hands out stiff punishments to ‘offenders’. The federal government while initially opposed to these provisions has shown a shift with US Attorney General Eric Holder indicating that the federal government won’t be pursuing pot users in these two states.

The legalization of previously banned substances is also bound to have other implications such as revenue generation for the particular counties as the substances would now be taxed. Such a paradigm shift might also spawn the emergence of ‘drug tourism’ where residents of different counties travel to a particular county to partake in substances that would otherwise have them arrested in their home counties. Netherlands has been doing this for decades with Amsterdam famed for its liberal stance on drug use.

Moving forward, it will be interesting to see how the overzealous Chairman of the drug control authority NACADA deals with the devolution of drug control what with Counties likely to challenge his high-handed attempts at controlling drug use in the country.

Categories: Human Interest | Tags: , , , , | 15 Comments

How David Moyes Can Salvage Man United’s Season

By Mohamed Boru

I realized at some point last year that I’d been writing predominantly about football, Man United to be specific and decided to diversify and cater for the non-football audience as well. Given how shitty United have been since then, it seems a timely decision in hindsight. But things have deteriorated so drastically that writing about United seems one of the few cathartic avenues left to relieve some of the angst.

The transition to new management has left us in an unfamiliar position of strife and a plethora of reasons have been given in an attempt to explain the sudden mediocrity. Of these reasons – poor squad made worse by lack of signings, the leeching Glazers, lack of motivation among the players et al – I believe that it’s the manager’s tactics that are largely to blame for the poor performances and results. Allow me to explain.

Whereas United has always been a team that likes to move the ball wide and whip in crosses, Fergie has always mixed it up ensuring that we also create chances through the middle. It would be a stretch to claim United have been entertaining for the last three years but the football was bearable and challenged for trophies right until the end of the season. Under David Moyes, our idea of attacking play has been to get the ball out wide to Evra and Valencia for them to cross it in. Not occasionally but almost always. We’ve largely avoided attacking through the middle as though there’s some magical crater that suddenly appears outside the opponent’s box when in possession to suck in our players and the ball. This is bad enough without factoring in Evra and Valencia’s poor crossing. The result has been limp performances from United where we create very little in games.

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Down but not out: United can yet steady the ship (c/0 ndtv.com)

You may say that the lack of midfield options has forced this archaic style of play on Moyes but Fergie managed the same players to the league championship a few months back. And it’s not like anyone told Moyes to dither with signings in the summer anyway. But looking back, you notice a clear pattern where Moyes’ teams almost exclusively attack through the wings. It’s no surprise that Leighton Baines was one of Everton’s best players last season and explains Moyes’ desperation in trying to sign him in the summer.

The easiest solution to the dearth of options in midfield would be to sign players that would see us change our style of play but let’s face it, that’s not going to happen. Moyes was brought in primarily because he was consistently ‘successful’ without spending much at Everton. Since we probably won’t be signing anyone as Moyes himself admitted and the Glazer’s won’t sack him for the poor results, it’s time the manager stops sulking and makes the most of what he has got.

One way to steady the ship would be to ditch 4-4-2, not because it can’t work but because we don’t have the players for that system. Man City play with a 4-4-2 but they’ve got two dynamic central midfielders and effective wide players. At United, we not only lack good central midfielders but wingers as well. What we have are a number of good defenders, world class attackers and fullbacks who are arguably better at attacking than defending.

A good system that would maximize on this squad imbalance and possibly bring out the best in our players is 3-5-2. We have five central defenders and of these, Evans, Vidic and Smalling deserve to be starters at center back. Phil Jones can arguably be added to that category as well. Playing three center backs – with one playing as a Sweeper – would in one move guarantee playing time for our good young defenders and shore up the defence. Since Moyes must get his crosses, Evra and Rafael can play as wingbacks sans the priority to defend that fullbacks have. I’ve got no doubt that Rafael would absolutely kill this role. Valencia can deputize for him with Buttner as Evra’s understudy.

In midfield, the problems we’ve faced have been lack of dynamic midfielders to allow us to play two in the middle as we’d like to and finding a position for Shinji Kagawa. Playing three in the middle would allow us to have a double pivot of Fletcher and Carrick with Kagawa playmaking ahead of the duo. The extra player in the middle would see us win the midfield battle. Kagawa would also create chances from the middle and reduce our over-reliance on wing play. Adnan Januzaj has also indicated that he sees himself as a playmaker in the long run and depending on form, he’d share this position with Shinji.

Upfront, Rooney won’t have to drop deep as he’s been doing, with a playmaker tasked with creating operating behind him. Essentially, this would leave us with two world class out-and-out strikers whose sole aim is to score goals. Having Rooney and RVP stay high up the pitch will force opposing center backs and even fullbacks to drop deep and hand us territorial advantage. Kagawa would keep their defensive midfielder busy denying the latter a chance to assist his defenders. To add to the numerical advantage, Fletcher can join in attack safe in the knowledge that Carrick and three center backs are covering him. United would thus line up as shown below:

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How United would line up in a 3-5-2 formation (Excuse the numbers :o)

All this seems a long shot though, but if our form is to improve, something has to give. Moyes could do worse than try out this system until the end of the season when he’ll presumably buy players and build the team to his liking. Juventus are successfully implementing the 3-5-2 in Serie A where Pirlo, Vidal and Marchisio/Pogba provide technique, industry and creativity as Lichtsteiner and Kwadwo Asamoah bomb up and down the wings. There’s no reason why the aforementioned trio of Carrick, Fletcher and Kagawa can’t replicate this for us. If anything we have better strikers and potentially better wingbacks. Add the good form shown by Moyes’ teams in the second half of the season and we might just salvage a season that is slowly turning into a tragicomedy.

Categories: Sports | Tags: , , , | 16 Comments

How Construction of the Mombasa-Malaba Railway will Transform Kenya

By Don Pablo

On Thursday this week, Kenya will recreate the steps that led to the formation of the country by commissioning the construction of the railway to Uganda. That it has taken us more than a century to add to what the British built in the 19th century is a shameful story for another day.  Now is the time to rejoice at a crucial and long overdue move by the state.

The commissioning that will take place in Mombasa will be a walk down memory lane as attempts to open up East Africa’s hinterland are given a big push by the authorities in the region. The railway once complete will run from Mombasa to Malaba, into Uganda and beyond to Rwanda. South Sudan is said to be eager to have the railroad extended to Juba as well.

Construction of the railway has been a necessity for a country that relies heavily on road transport to haul bulky goods. Shockingly, Kenya uses trucks to transport up to 95 % of goods from the port in Mombasa. This reliance on an inefficient form of transportation has seen Kenyans pay heavily for our lack of options with the cost of transport and logistics accounting for 45% of the cost of goods in Kenya. The situation is bad enough without our neighbours relying on the same creaking infrastructure to transport their goods.

The advantages of rail over road are quite significant. This goes to explain the zeal shown by the President in having the rail infrastructure in place ASAP. For instance, one train carries approximately 216 TEUs (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units); those big containers carried by trucks along our highways. It would take 108 trucks carrying 2 TEUs each to move the same number of ‘containers’. The heavy use of road transport explains why up to 60 trucks leave Mombasa for the interior of the country every hour!

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The train carries in one trip what would take 108 trucks to transport (c/o Tom Shermer)

This comparison of tonnage transported doesn’t even take into consideration the speed factor where the trains would move goods and passengers almost four times faster than the trucks. Incidentally, you’d be shocked to learn that Kenya is considered ‘landlocked’ due to the period it takes to move freight inland. It takes up to 7 days for a truck to move from Mombasa to Kisumu, a journey that the train would cover in a maximum of 17 hours.

The trucks that dot our highways are dangerous for road users and have been known to brazenly defy traffic rules. The crazy number of deaths on our roads can be partly attributed to their dangerous antics such as ‘freewheeling’ when driving downhill, driving in the middle of the road, and lack of tail lights. The trucks are also heavy and cause damage to the roads. The section between Uthiru and Limuru is a good example of the roads ‘sinking’ under the weight of the heavy machines. In terms of pollution, it’s quite obvious that 108 trucks would cause much more pollution than a single train.

The difference between these two forms of transportation in terms of cost efficiency, pollution and could not be any clearer.

Simply using a train to move goods would reduce the cost of transport by up to 60% according to government statistics. This would have a significant effect on the overall cost of living in the country and boost our economy. Crucially, Kenya will also reduce her import bill since we’ll require less fuel for transportation. Easy and cheaper means of transportation might also lead to industrialization along the rail corridor as industrialists take advantage of the infrastructure.

The benefits of the railway will also include appreciation of property value along the corridor. Sultan Hamud is particularly tipped to grow into a big town being a future railway depot. This would help in decongestion of major cities as satellite towns develop along the railway corridor.

The railway will be built in two phases with the first phase between Mombasa and Nairobi being completed in 2016. The construction phase will also come with benefits. At least 60 jobs will be created for every kilometre of track laid, a total of 30,000 jobs during the Mombasa-Nairobi phase.

The Sino-African workers won’t face as severe a threat from wildlife at Tsavo as their Anglo-Indian counterparts though, largely due to decimation of animals through poaching. Nor would they have to deal with locals attacking and stealing rail materials from them. The danger they will face will come in the form of competition as Tanzania tries to steal the shine from us.

As was the case in the early 20th century, the railway will transform life in Kenya and beyond. With the lines clearly drawn in the battle to be East Africa’s preferred transport route, it is good to see that our country is alert to the danger and willing to out-do our southern neighbor. It’s also encouraging to see the country seek alternatives to the 21st century lunatic express, the chaotic Mombasa-Kisumu highway. Sit back and watch the future of East Africa take shape.

(Statistics courtesy of Kenya Railways)

Categories: Human Interest, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

SKY GAZERS’ DELIGHT: KENYA END YEAR 2013

By Don Pablo

After months of grey skies that inhibited views of the cosmos for earthlings in this part of the world, the clouds have finally dispersed. As we approach summer, the clear skies come bearing gifts for sky gazers to make up for the lost months. It’s late October in Nairobi and a lot is happening in the sky. Between now and the solstice on December 21st, sky gazers in Kenya will see the brightest planet in the solar system reaching its pinnacle in brilliance, a solar eclipse and a potentially super bright comet.

As if sensing the astronomical thirst we have had to endure, the skies have wasted no time in putting up a show for us. Planet Venus has been lighting up the sky as it beams mightily in the west at dusk, living up to its ‘evening star’ moniker. The evening star is the brightest planet visible from earth and the third brightest celestial body after the sun and moon. Venus dominates the western sky and is visible for two hours after sunset before setting in the western horizon. That it’s visible in the early evening sky makes it particularly easy to view.

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Position of Venus in the evening sky. Antares is the brightest star in the Scorpius constellation (c/o earthsky.org)

Venus has been visible for the better part of the last three months. It was particularly dazzling three nights ago when perched right at the ‘tail’ of the Scorpius constellation, one of the twelve constellations of the Zodiac. Identifying Venus should help you see the Scorpius constellation given their proximity at this particular time in this part of the world. As you can tell from the name, the Scorpius constellation resembles a scorpion as shown in the image below.

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Venus (in red) and the Scorpius constellation

Having curtain raised for its more illustrious celestial bodies, Venus leaves the stage for the Sun and Moon to enchant us. On the 3rd of November, the moon will pass between the Earth and the Sun, partially blocking out the Sun and putting on a spectacular celestial show for people who are in the right place to see it. This particular solar eclipse has received a lot of coverage in Kenya and rightly so. The Turkana region offers some of the best views of the eclipse anywhere in the world.

When the Moon passes directly between the Sun and Earth, the usual outcome is either a total or partial solar eclipse. But the event on November 3rd is something of a hybrid. A hybrid solar eclipse occurs when the Moon is almost too close to the Earth to completely block the Sun. This type of eclipse will appear as a total eclipse to some parts of the world and will appear as a partial eclipse to others.

The eclipse path will begin in the Atlantic Ocean off the eastern coast of the United States and move east across the Atlantic and across central Africa.

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Turkana region lies directly in the path of the total eclipse (c/o earthsky.org)

Totality will be visible only from a narrow track of earth, stretching from Gabon in the west to Kenya and Ethiopia in the east. In this very narrow path across Africa, there will be a total eclipse when the moon covers the sun completely, with darkness descending and the stars coming out! In every other place of Africa beyond that narrow band of totality, everyone will see a partial eclipse including folks in Nairobi and Mombasa.

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Path of the solar eclipse (click to view gif) – c/o sunearth.gsfc.nasa.gov/eclipse

Kenya will be a particularly popular destination for astro tourists seeking to enjoy this rare occurrence. While the eclipse duration locally is only 11 seconds or less (compared to more than a minute in Gabon), the northwest region of Kenya has excellent weather prospects with clear skies expected.

(Please note that it is dangerous to look directly at the sun without the aid of a solar filter to block the sun’s harmful rays. It may cause “eclipse blindness,” a serious eye injury that can leave temporary or permanent blurred vision or blind spots at the center of your view. If you cannot access a solar filter, try get your hands on a welder’s protective glasses. Used camera films aren’t of much help so you might want to reconsider using that as well).

Fast forward to November 28th and newly discovered comet ISON will make its closest approach to the sun. If the comet survives its encounter with the sun, it could be one of the brightest comets in recent memory. Some astronomers estimate that it could even be bright enough to be seen during the day!

The big question mark however is whether the comet will stay intact, or shatter in spectacular fashion. If the comet survives, it will be visible in the early morning and early evening sky and could be nearly as bright as the full Moon. Some astronomers are already calling it the comet of the century.

The end of the year marks the beginning of summer in the Southern hemisphere. On December 21st, the South Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, when it ‘reaches’ its southernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.44 degrees south. This is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.

Given our position on earth, we are lucky enough to witness some spectacular celestial events in the coming weeks. If you are lucky enough to be able to travel to Turkana, savour the moment and please share your pictures and experiences with us. If you can’ travel to Turkana, you can enjoy the sights from the relative comfort of the home. Wherever you may be, enjoy these sensory delights and  marvel at the wonders of the universe.

Categories: Astronomy | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

How Nairobi’s Geography Shapes Our Lives

A little over a hundred years ago, the bustling city that we call home was little more than an uninhabited swamp littered with wild animals. The city of Nairobi came to be when the British took advantage of the last flat area they encountered before beginning their ascent up the escarpment wall while constructing the Kenya-Uganda railway. Where Nairobi stands today, the British pitched camps where they could pause for a breather before embarking on the grueling attempt to ascend the rail track over the escarpment, into the Rift Valley and beyond.

The decision to pitch camp at Enkare Nyirobi, as it was known then, and the resultant growth of the camp into the capital city has shaped and continues to shape the lives of its residents to date.

Before proceeding, it’s best to understand the position of Nairobi relative to its surroundings for this piece to make sense. Nairobi lies a few kilometers to the East of the Rift Valley, with the closest distance being the 30 Kilometers to Ngong’ Hills, which forms part of the escarpment.  The map below shows the position of Nairobi relative to the escarpment. The red line is roughly where the escarpment runs.

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Nairobi’s proximity to the Rift Valley has lent it a unique geography with the city roughly divided into two halves of varying elevations. That the city is quite limited in terms of acreage only serves to better highlight the striking difference in altitude between its Eastern and Western halves. As you approach Nairobi’s Eastern boundaries from Athi River, you are in a relatively flat area: the Athi plains. This flat area stretches North-South from Ruiru, across Eastlands, Industrial Area, the Nairobi National Park all the way to Rongai in the South.

The city experiences a sudden rise on its western side as the ascent up the escarpment wall begins. This ascent sees Nairobi areas such as Karen, Langata, Ngong’ road, Westlands, Parklands, Gigiri all the way to Kiambu being higher than the aforementioned areas on the eastern side.

The difference in height manifests itself clearly along the low-high divide that cuts across the city, a feature that sees sudden steep ascents/descents in various parts of Nairobi. The slope that marks this divide runs from Rongai cutting across Magadi road near Multimedia University and extends all the way across the National park. You will notice the descent if you’ve been to a game drive at the National Park where you drive from a high area where the offices are located (with lots of trees) to a low flat grassland. The low-high divide is shown in the map below with the black line roughly indicating where the slope is located across the city.

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The slope extends past the National Park and cuts across Langata road near Uhuru gardens, hence the elevation as you approach Langata. The cliff face extends beyond Nairobi Dam and manifests itself on Mbagathi road where it cuts across the road near Highrise and extends all the way to Upper hill behind Kenyatta Hosital, KASNEB and Madaraka estate. Along this particular stretch, the railway runs adjacent to the slope. The slope approaches the CBD and can be clearly seen on Bunyala road near NIC Bank and the Railway Golf Club. Uhuru Park is perhaps the most famous stretch of this slope that continues its division of the city along State House road and Kileleshwa to resurface clearly on Waiyaki Way near Chiromo. Along this entire stretch, the average height above sea level increases by up to 100M. Beyond Westlands, the slope is seen in Parklands and runs adjacent to Thika road in Muthaiga past Garden estate and beyond.

The difference in height between the eastern and western side of Nairobi has determined the zoning of the city (hence delineating the affluent and working class areas), the drainage pattern, weather and vegetation in Nairobi.

The higher areas to the West of Nairobi are relatively ‘richer’ than the Eastern half of the city. Thika road and Langata road roughly divide the city into an Eastern-Western half while the Northern corridor – Mombasa Road and Waiyaki Way – divides the city to have a Northern and Southern half. The intersection of these roads near the City center divides the city into four quadrants.

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The upper Western quadrant bordered by Thika road and Waiyaki way (quadrant 1) is home to the super rich of Nairobi, Kenya and the region in general. This quadrant contains suburbs like Gigiri, Nyari, Runda, Kitisuru as well as the UN headquarters and high end shopping malls.

The lower Western quadrant bordered by Langata road and Waiyaki way (quadrant 2) houses the upper middle class and includes estates like Kileleshwa, Lavington, Hurlingham and Adams Arcade. The periphery of this quadrant has working class estates like Kawangware while the affluent Karen that borders the escarpment at Ngong’ is also situated at the southern tip of this quadrant.

The lower Eastern quadrant bordered by Langata road and Mombasa road (quadrant 3) is largely filled by the Nairobi National Park with estates like Rongai, South C and Nairobi West being on its edges. The upper Eastern quadrant bordered by Mombasa road and Thika road (quadrant 4) is largely a working class area and an industrial zone. This includes estates adjacent to Thika road like Mathare and Kasarani, estates along Outer Ring and Jogoo roads as well Embakasi and areas near the JKIA. It is also worth noting that the City’s two airports are situated in the relatively flat Eastern half of the city.

The aforementioned slope also affects the drainage of Nairobi. The law of gravity dictates that water flows downhill and with a flat area bordering an elevated one, it is no coincidence that Nairobi was described as a swamp by the British when setting up the city. Water flows rapidly eastwards whenever it rains and upon reaching the Eastern plains, the water spreads out forming a flood plain that is best seen in the National Park. This explains why certain areas of the city experience flooding whenever it rains. The areas that lie adjacent to the slope (indicated in blue in the second map) including Rongai, South C, TMall, Nairobi West, Bunyala road roundabout and Thika road at Pangani experience the worst of the flooding. South C residents will attest to the peculiar phenomenon where it floods in the estate despite no rain falling in the area. Run-off water from Langata, Karen and Ngong finds its way to South C and the National Park causing floods in this flood plain. Indeed, South C has earned the infamous ‘South Sea’ tag due to the frequent floods. The above phenomenon also partly explains the images seen when flash floods caused parts of Thika road to look like a river a few months back. (These areas need enhanced storm drainage, something the British were oblivious to when settling on a flood plain and the Kenyan authorities have done little to address).

While Nairobi’s climate is relatively standard across the city, there are times when the weather fluctuates from one part of the city to another. This ‘micro climate’ phenomenon is influenced by the difference in altitude. Apart from the example of Langata, Karen and South C above, you find situations where it rains in Hurlingham, Kilimani and Kenyatta Hospital but it becomes sunny as you descend to the other end of Mbagathi road at TMall.  The weather is also cooler in the Western side of Nairobi than the Eastern side especially in the morning, typified by the fog along Waiyaki way in the morning.

There’s a similar distinction in the soil and vegetation in the Eastern and Western side of Nairobi. As this map below shows, the higher Western side is ‘greener’ with more fertile soils. This explains why the early settlers had coffee farms especially in the areas adjacent to Kiambu road. This particular area lies at the foot slopes of the Aberdares which forms part of the escarpment.  The large coffee farms were later subdivided towards independence to form the affluent suburbs of Nairobi. Karen estate was also a farm made famous by Karen Blixen’s memoir ‘Out of Africa’.

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Beyond Nairobi towards the Rift, there is a steady increase in height with dramatic change of weather as you approach the peak of the escarpment. This includes areas like Limuru which have an average height of 2200m above sea level with the neighbouring Nairobi being 1800m above sea level. Kinale forest situated 20kms from Naivasha is the peak of the escarpment along the Nairobi-Nakuru Highway before the dramatic descent to Naivasha.

Dip slope .

The distinct diversity in altitude over a small, compact area has given rise to a unique city that has the distinction of being the only city with a park in the world. Rivers, valleys, flood plains, hills, forests, dry areas and views of the Great Rift valley co-exist in this thriving city that is the biggest between Cape and Cairo. I’ll end this piece by giving you all a heads up. While it took me the better part of three years to observation and deduction with a couple of months researching and drafting this blog piece, it will take you a trip to the KICC helipad and information from this blog post to appreciate the unique geography of this city we call home and how it affects our everyday life as Nairobians.

Categories: Best of Panoramicdon, Uncategorized | Tags: , , | 36 Comments

David Moyes and Manchester United’s Era of Uncertainty

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by Mike Njoroge

The departing master left one final instruction. As Sir Alex Ferguson held the microphone and addressed the Manchester United community in his last game at Old Trafford, he gave them one final command. The words that echoed provided a truism to his retirement. He commanded that now, everyone had to stand by the next United manager.

Of course by then, he had already known that David Moyes would be that man. Ferguson had already rang up the former Everton manager, invited him to his house and told him what his immediate future was. Further confirmation would prove it. That, alongside Jose Mourinho to Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti to Real Madrid and Gareth Bale’s world record transfer would compete for 2013’s version of football’s worst kept secret.

As such, the chosen apprentice now finds himself in the shadow of the irreplaceable master. For a long time, the thought of Ferguson departing Manchester United had seemed false. A whole generation has grown up knowing nothing other. His influence reached mythological proportions that seemed to create a false sense of eternity. He is most definitely gone now.

And nothing proves this more than the surreal uncertainty that his absence now provides. The Manchester United community finds itself in a state of never before experienced dubiety. Ferguson had enough triumphs behind him to mask any blips. He continued to provide triumphs that justified his supposed mistakes. Trophies were won because of him. Challenges were overcome in spite of him. Despite anything, Ferguson occasioned the wins.

Ferguson’s imperialistic manner means Moyes has a near impossible act to follow. As Mourinho once said, Ferguson’s whisper makes the whole Premier League shiver in fear. Such a statement now quantifies a past that has now ended. A new era has begun.

Robert Greene’s 41st Law of the 48 Laws of Power speaks of the avoidance of stepping into a great man’s shoes. If such is the case, then Moyes finds himself in the shoes of more than just a man, but an icon who was massively influential. But Moyes would hypothetically counter Greene’s advice with a question of his own – what was he meant to do when an opportunity of such grand stature as managing United presented itself?

Indeed, Moyes never ticked all the boxes, but he ticked enough that Ferguson himself was willing to recommend him as his successor. A recommendation that was very well a decisive stamp of approval. In turn, it provides Moyes with further quest for ambition. An ambition to grow his managerial career and make a name of it.

That means that he must now further follow Greene’s advice. If one finds himself following a great man, they must not get lost in that shadow or remain stuck in that glorious past. One must establish their own name and build up their own identity. The best way of doing this is slaying the overbearing father, disparaging his legacy and shining on your own.

If this is the case, then a horrible transfer period has done little to work towards that. Missing out on targets with the public nature not usually accustomed to has put a glaring dent into Moyes’s already difficult start. As such, it has also put a dent to the reputation and aura of a post-Ferguson Manchester United.

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All the misgivings are of course not of Moyes’s sole doing but in a football world where constantly the buck stops with the manager, they will be held as such. An indifferent start to the Premier League season also points to this further perceived ineptness.

Because a win against Swansea City, a draw with Chelsea and a loss to Liverpool point to only four points being registered. As such, the underlying question has been – ‘if it were Ferguson…’ Yet, it was Ferguson whom in those same games last season oversaw a loss to Chelsea at Old Trafford, a draw to Swansea at the Liberty Stadium and a win against Liverpool at Anfield. The same four points from the same four games mirrors itself. But even though the contexts of those seasons are entirely different, the difference will relate as much with the times as they will with who was the manager at those different times.

That shows that the overbearing absolute faith placed in Ferguson has been lost with his departure. In place, a shaking incertitude has replaced it. As such, questions are bound to always arise as the impossible attempt at comparing the two manager’s reigns inevitably continues. Ferguson’s incomparable shadow will — unless Moyes steadies the ship very quickly and delivers a trophy; and until he finally departs – forever linger above the new man’s head.

For whereas Ferguson’s presence provided guarantees and sureties – his absence opens doors of uncertainty. It is this, more than anything else that Moyes will have to battle against most.

Mike Njoroge writes FutbolTriangle

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So long, Godfather

Godfather

Yesterday, the greatest chapter yet in the best story of my life came to an end. The legendary Sir. Alex Ferguson walked into a football tunnel never to come out again as the manager of Manchester United United Football Club. His was a chapter in the United story that is unlikely to be matched in longevity and success and he’s been rightly lauded to the high heavens over the past fortnight for his achievements.

My tribute to the old man who gave us most of our lives’ best moments won’t focus on his incredible achievements but rather how he managed the club so successfully. In many ways, Sir Alex managed United with the ruthless efficiency a Don would run a mafia organization. (If we put aside our prejudices, we’ll realize that accomplished mobsters are just like leaders in any other industry in life, be it business or sports).

In particular, the story of Sir Alex shared many similarities with the greatest mafia story ever told and its central character, Don Vito Corleone, better known by his reverential moniker ‘The Godfather’. For starters, both men demanded unquestionable loyalty. Considering the many competitors seeking to usurp their ‘organizations’ at the top of their respective games, both leaders considered loyalty a must if they were to maintain their status at the summit.

Sir Alex and The Godfather also shared the same cruelty to adversaries, real or perceived. The media, the F.A, opposing managers, referees and even our own players and fans have faced the wrath of the boss throughout his tenure if he felt they were out to undermine his team. This compares with how the Don would go after enemies and foes who posed a threat including his own lieutenants and capos.

At the same time, both men are also famed for their kindness and generosity, going out of their way to ensure they are there for those who need them. The Godfather by Mario Puzo starts off with incidences where people come to Don Corleone to seek favors of all kinds. The Don didn’t discriminate, helping anyone who came to him regardless of social standing. This kind streak was also exhibited by the Don of the football world Sir Alex Ferguson, helping managers across the different leagues in football and offering his support during difficult moments. He’s written hundreds of letters of support and gratitude to United fans over the years while also attending weddings, funerals and other social events of importance in the lives of United fans. Don Corleone in much the same way attended as many funerals, weddings and baptisms as he could. Such gestures of friendship and loyalty gave a human touch to these larger than life characters and endeared them more to those who loved them.

The outreach that so characterized these two men contrasted sharply with their code of silence that was vigorously enforced during their respective tenures. The mafia is famed for its code of silence, Omerta, that forbids leaking of information to outsiders. Omerta is so central a pillar in the mob that those who break it pay the ultimate price for their betrayal. At United, there is an unwritten rule that club business should strictly remain as such with no info leaked out at any cost. In my fifteen years of supporting United, never have I seen newspaper articles or exclusives generated on the back of dressing room snitches or moles as happens with other clubs. In the one instance where Jaap Stam alluded to Fergie tapping him up when he was at PSV, the boss got rid in no time despite Stam being one of our best players at the time. With many people seeking to chip away at their position at the top of the game, the two leaders ensured they didn’t give them any extra ammo to help bring them down.

Family meant everything to both men and they did everything they could to protect them. Sir Alex infamously boycotted the BBC for eight years due to a 2004 documentary that portrayed his son in bad light. He also treated his players like family and was viciously protective of them. The media got a mouthful when they constantly questioned Veron’s worth to the team. “On you go. I’m no fucking talking to you. He’s a fucking great player. You are all fucking idiots,” said Sir Alex to the media gathered that day.

The characters in ‘The Godfather’ also share a resemblance with characters in Fergie’s United story. Sir Alex being the Don has got his own consiglieri, Ryan Giggs. Like the adopted son Tom Hagen, Giggs has been by Fergie’s side for the better part of his reign. Giggs has grown into a wise and respected figure within the team and was increasingly consulted by the boss on team affairs. It is telling that the new manager met Sir Alex and Giggs together last week presumably to plan for the future. Giggs will be central in the new regime, maintaining the culture and traditions of the club and ensuring the winning mentality is sustained.

David Moyes plays the role of Michael Corleone, the unfancied heir who most resembles the master in character and ends up taking over from him eventually. Moyes, like Michael takes over from the boss ahead of more fancied and flamboyant if abrasive characters. Many expected Mourinho to take over at United much like Sonny was expected to take over from the Don but their abrasive, combative nature proved their undoing and both men suffered as a result. The deceptively ruthless, obsessive Moyes assumes the leadership post and is likely to maintain the traditions and culture of prioritizing youth and attacking football that is ingrained in the club’s DNA.

Both Ferguson and the Don were visionary men who planned for life long after they are gone. The need to maintain their legacy and success saw both men planning for the next phase. Fergie built a youthful team that has its best days ahead and scouted for the best successor in his mould to sustain his empire. The Don, sensing turmoil in New York, built up his enterprise in Las Vegas as he planned for withdrawal. He also had a successor in his mould installed and when the time was right, the New York empire was abandoned with vanquished opponents in its wake and the empire shifted to Vegas with its new head.

In the end, both the stories of Sir Alex and Don Corleone are legendary narratives in their own rights. Where Fergie trumps his counterpart is that his is a real story of epic achievements while ‘The Godfather’ is a fictional account of a successful mob boss. Considering how surreal Sir Alex’s achievements at United are, his story could as well be fictional given how incredible it has been. The story will be barely believable to those who weren’t lucky enough to witness it unfold.

The great Scot has also done it for a longer time and has maintained his empire’s position at the top for the better part of three decades. And that is not the end of it. The stability, mentality and aura that Fergie has instilled at the club will long outlast him ensuring that the great story goes on.

Manchester United is an endless book that forever keeps giving. It has given us many tales of the master doing his thing, inducing the full spectrum of human emotions from frequent joy, madness, hysteria, nostalgia and the odd incidences of sadness and bile. And there is more yet to come. No sooner had Fergie time come to an end than we started anticipating the David Moyes chapter. We are already speculating on its main characters, the plot twists that lie ahead and the inevitable success. Will Rooney stay? Will we re-sign Ronaldo? Bale? How many trophies will we win over the next few years?

Sir Alex, the strong, brave and principled character stood tall against adversaries and challenges, defying critics and succeeding in a way that no one has or likely will in football history. In short, he is the kind of man we all wish to be in whatever industry we are in.

So for all the memories, joy, inspiration and the wonderful story that we’ll all tell our kids and grandkids, we thank you Sir Alex. Here’s us collectively kissing your pinky ring and wishing you the best in your retirement. So long, Godfather.

Categories: Best of Panoramicdon, Sports | Tags: , , | 12 Comments

Photo Blog: Ngong Hills 4/20

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So it’s been a while since I did a photo blog. Last week I had the chance to go hiking up Ngong Hills. The hills are the most predominant physical feature around Nairobi, rising to a height of over 2400m above sea level, a cool 500m above the average height of Nairobi.

The Eastern slope of the hills overlooks Ngong town, Rongai, Nairobi National Park and the city of Nairobi. On the western slope is a steep descent into the Great rift valley. My visit coincided with the peak of the rainy season and the lush, green expanse that stretched to every horizon was magical. My body was complaining the whole way up the hill but the sensory delight made it worth the hustle.  The massive windmills, watching the rain fall on the rift valley side and the colourful iridescent clouds all added to the delightful experience.

Hope you enjoyed the photos and if you can, go and experience for yourself the beauty of nature from a vantage point so easily accessible. Cheers

Categories: Best of Panoramicdon, Photography, Travel | Tags: | 7 Comments

Thank You RVP!

By Mike Njoroge

RVP SAF

Tensions relieved, emotions outpouring and overflowing. Those could be the words used to describe the image of Robin Van Persie racing down the touchline to jump into the arms of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Rarely do grown men jump into the arms of old men. But such is the nature of sport, such is the emotional connection that Van Persie could not contain himself. Like a little boy jumping into the arms of his father. Then again, didn’t Van Persie’s Manchester United career begin with that little boy inside him?

Against Stoke City, Van Persie had been brought down in the penalty area and as the penalty was signalled, here was the chance. The goal drought was now ready to be shattered. 10 games in the Premier League.  13 overall. For last season’s top scorer, it was not making for a pretty narrative.

Not only for the Dutchman alone. His teammates had come to rely on his goals. Now, the goal drought had taken something away from their title push. Their juggernaut like momentum had been reduced to that of a crawling marathoner. Inching ever closer to the finish line but without the same conviction that had led to the bursting out of the traps at the start.

But, Van Persie stepped up, and tucked it away. Then came the most compelling image. A statement in itself. ‘Where was he running to?’ turned into ‘who was he running to?’ What he did next summarised everything.

Sir Alex may not be the ultimate father figure that Van Persie has ever had. There have been the academy coaches at Feyernoord and Arsenal. Then, Arsene Wenger turned him into this goal scoring machine that he is. For two seasons at Arsenal, he was unplayable. Unstoppable. Any shot in the general direction of the goal and it was a goal. Everything he touched turned to gold.

Yet, he has not touched gold yet in the form of a Premier League medal. Indeed, his majority goals, had not won anything major.

Last season, outside of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Van Persie was probably the best forward in the world, if not, the best footballer. Yet, when the FIFPro World XI was mentioned at the FIFA Ballon D’Or Gala, Radamel ‘Falcao’ Garcia took his place alongside the superhumans in a quite vicious and fictional front line. Why? Because Falcao won the Europa League.  Falcao’s goals won Atletico Madrid the Europa League.

Van Persie won nothing. Van Persie’s goals won him nothing but the Premier League’s Golden Boot.

For all the individual greediness that footballers tend to be associated with, it is the joy of winning a trophy with a team that brings the most satisfaction.

That was what Van Persie was alluding to when he stated that he was leaving Arsenal because the club did not match his ambitions. Some will disagree; some will call it a betrayal of a club that had taken care of him in his injury prone days. A betrayal of a manager that was patient enough with him.

But, nobody considers whether that same club and manager betrayed him by not giving him the assurance that a trophy would be won.

That was the assurance that Ferguson sought to give the flying Dutchman in the summer as he made him his major season signing.

On the flip side, nobody considers it in this way. How a manager took a huge chance on a 29 year old with a reputation of incurring injuries. That this manager made a final big move possible for an ageing striker.  That he bought him without the warranty of time, but hoped that he would guarantee goals.

And how in his quest to reclaim the Premier League trophy, that same manager made him his team’s star man. Definitely, first choice. Evidently, irreplaceable. Even the once untouchable Wayne Rooney had to play second fiddle. Even the promising Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez had to understand. Dimitar Berbatov had to leave. All because all the eggs were placed in the Van Persie basket.

And even now, in his drought, Sir Alex had still kept faith in him. “Robin Van Persie was fantastic” he had said after the Manchester Derby loss. You really found it hard to understand how.

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But as Van Persie scored the penalty at the Brittania, all the relief of the few weeks were swept away with the perspiration. The run was fuelled by inspiration. The need to thank the man who was making it all possible for him.

Thank you!

That must have, and surely was the reason for all that. Thank you for believing in me.

Undeniably, those must have been the words that Van Persie uttered to his manager as he hugged him. Thank you for making a Premier League trophy possible. Yet, those could also be the same words Sir Alex will utter to his Dutch striker once the Premier League trophy is won.

As they inch ever closer, Van Persie reminded everyone that it is goals like these that will hand the Red Devils a 20th League title. And in thanking Sir Alex, he reminded everyone just who has ensured that they are competing for a 20th Premier League title in the first place.

And why they will achieve it.

Mike Njoroge is the Writer of Football Triangle

Categories: Sports | Tags: , , | 1 Comment

Cristiano Ronaldo Returns

 

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By Mike Njoroge

 

I, for one, will be applauding.

Applauding because he once was a good servant of the club. A servant to the point of becoming a master. On Tuesday, the 5th Day of March, 2013, if everything goes right; injuries permitting ; Icelandic volcanoes and Mayan apocalyptic prophecies ignored, Cristiano Ronaldo will return to Old Trafford.

It will be, his third game against Manchester United. His second competitive game against them. His first at Old Trafford since leaving Manchuria to join the Madrilenos. Stopped being a Red Devil and became a merengue. Preferred paella to fish and chips. Euros, to Sterling Pounds.

And when he comes back, when he returns, I will be applauding.

Applauding just as I did on that day in early August, 2003. Fresh from a pre season tour in the United States, Man United stopped over in Portugal. Their purpose, ridiculous it seemed to me at the time, was to play the inaugural match at Sporting Clube de Portugal of Lisbon’s newly built José Alvalade  stadium, which would in a years time host five matches for the European Championships.

United had already felt the satisfaction of a pre season tour. In the States, they had already defeated, convincingly so, both AC Milan and FC Barcelona. The 3-1 win over the Catalans had been most satisfactory. Barcelona had in their line up their latest coup,  Ronaldinho Gaucho. The Brazilian was wearing the Blaugrana colours out of choice after refusing to join United. That same summer, he had chosen tradition over novelty. With the chance of becoming Manchester United’s first ever Brazilian superstar, he instead chose to follow the footsteps of fellow Brazilians Romario, Ronaldo and Rivaldo in establishing a name at the Camp Nou.  It was his first game against the club he had just snubbed.

So, as United defeated Barca 3-1, though just a pre season friendly, the feeling was that dominance would come ; there was no need of Ronaldinho. The trip to Portugal was therefore but just a casual one. To enjoy the festivities of the opening of a new stadium.

The Portuguese were in festive mood. The scoreline after 90 minutes read 3-1 to Sporting Lisbon.

That was not the important factor though. The performance of an 18 year old completely left all who witnessed that match feel as if they were in dreamland. Donning the number 28 jersey, Cristiano Ronaldo had dazzled and bamboozled the United defence with his dribbling. Nobody could contain him. He was an evident thorn in the side.

The new stadium applauded.

Apparently, on the way back to Manchester, United players pestered their manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, urging him to buy that player. They would have their wish. Before the transfer window was over, Ronaldo would be unveiled as a United player. 12 Million Pounds had been the price. At the time, it was the largest sum anyone had ever paid for a teenager, but a meagre amount to the 30 million that had been set aside for Ronaldinho.

It would be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Legend has it that at his unveiling, Ronaldo requested the number 28 jersey that he had worn in Portugal. Sir Alex had refused, and instead gave him the number 7. The stuff of legends. Ronaldo was told that he would become a legend.

From then on, the rest is history. Requesting for the number 28 would prove to be Ronaldo’s last act of modesty. Arrogance would eventually encapsulate him as he set out on the road to becoming a legend. By the time of his departure, he had contributed a lot to the United cause. He had been central to a hat-trick of Premiership titles between 2007 and 2009. He would also be instrumental to the Champions League winning side of 2008. His goals in that season, 42 in all competitions, would be phenomenal, falling just short of Denis Law’s record of 46. He had though surpassed other legends such as George Best.

The road had not been rosy. The start had been doubtful. His endless dribbling was, although flashy, at times needless. Charged with delivering corners and free kicks, his delivery was poor. It seemed as if United had gotten another headless running winger into their ranks. All the while, Arsene Wenger was leading his team to an unprecedented unbeaten run. Then, Jose Mourinho would join the millions that Roman Abramovich had brought to West London to clinch the Premier League in two successive years. Success in Europe was also not forthcoming. In fact, neither was the FA Cup. It led to a period when the only realistic challenge United had was the one for the League Cup.

So bad was it that Sir Alex said some of his senior players requested to leave. One in particular, unnamed to everyone, had even told Sir Alex that he recognised that Ronaldo (as well as another young recruit in Wayne Rooney) had potential, but that he was not willing to stick around to wait for that potential to materialise.

That would eventually be his loss, whoever he was. As he left, Ronaldo was busy learning. The potential would eventually materialise. Ronaldo and Rooney would together become an unstoppable, immovable force. They led United in a period of dominance just as grand as the one that had won the treble in 1999.

It was all because of that August night in Lisbon when a young boy had lived up to that legendary name of his.

Now, he returns. Returns having further made his name and raised the bar for all of football. At times, superhuman, his battle with genius Lionel Messi means that he is undoubtedly one of the best footballers in the world, – if not ever.

He returns after having already played against United, and scoring against them at the Bernabeu. On a night filled with stars, he had risen as high as the stars to head in the equaliser that ensures that the tie is now precariously placed at 1-1.

The last time a man named Ronaldo played for Real Madrid against United at Old Trafford in the Champions League, he scored a hat-trick. If Cristiano is to emulate his namesake, then he will undoubtedly etch his name forever into the pantheon of greatness.

Whatever transpires does not matter for me. All that matters is that once Cristiano Ronaldo steps onto that Old Trafford turf, it will seem like a dream. Ronaldo back at the theatre of dreams. I will raise my hands and move palm to palm in a motion to produce complimentary sound. I, for one, will be applauding.

Categories: Sports | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

De-link us please

Some things get you so worked up you feel like pulling off your hair. That you can’t do anything to rectify such a problem only adds to your frustration. With no other resort, a pen and paper offers you a futile if cathartic avenue of addressing the problem. Here’s to hoping that with a wider audience, maybe the issue might be picked up by relevant authorities or bring together a critical mass to a common cause which might offer a solution. Or maybe the constitution, that panacea of seemingly all our problems, might just provide a way out of this nightmare.

The problem I’m alluding to is the unnecessary traffic in South C and Nairobi West caused by the diversion of traffic from an international highway into a residential area. Link road, a ‘road’ barely 20m in length is causing untold suffering to residents of the aforementioned estates by causing perpetual traffic throughout the day. This is the road that joins South C with Mombasa road just before the flyover. (See map attached)

Link Road Traffic.

The road marked in red shows the route used by traffic diverted from Mombasa road while the ‘blue’ roads shows the resultant tailback in South C.

While appreciating that planners of Nairobi had the best intentions in providing a gateway to Mombasa road from South C, the short sightedness in having such an inlet is truly baffling. The problem starts whenever there is a tailback of traffic on Mombasa road which is almost always the case. To escape this traffic, impatient drivers end up driving through South C and Nairobi West, rejoining the Highway at the Bunyala road roundabout via Aerodrome road. The result of this is endless traffic within the estate at whatever time of day.

The situation is so dire that some residents find traffic right outside their gates, forcing them to wait up to 15 minutes just to reverse their cars out of the driveway. The same impatient drivers will not give way and are willing to overlap or do anything that will hasten their journey. You therefore end up having personal and company cars, route 33 & 110 matatus, Rwaken & Karuri minibuses, trailers, oil tankers and every other sort of vehicle in the estate, polluting the air and congesting the estate. To avoid all this, you have to leave the house by 6am or be prepared to take half an hour just to get out of South C.

Temporary respite came recently in the form of road rehabilitation of the Link road meaning the road had to be closed to all traffic. The resultant transformation of the traffic situation in South C and Nairobi West, temporary as it may be was remarkable to say the least. This turn of events offered a glimpse of how much easier life would be for the residents of these estates if this nightmare of a road had not been in existence. The seamless entry and exit into your home was reminiscent of the situation in South B, a neighborhood adjacent to the highway on the opposite side but whose traffic situation couldn’t be any more different. South B is lucky enough not to have a direct inlet from the traffic headed to the city center from Mombasa road avoiding such unnecessary traffic.

I find no justification in having this road as it does little to ease the traffic on Mombasa road but seeing as a whole road cannot be closed, something of a middle ground must be reached to alleviate this suffering. The constitution establishes county assemblies where such local issues can be addressed and solutions provided. After the election, whoever is elected as the South C ward representative and his/her Nairobi West counterpart should make it their number one priority to address this problem. A proposed solution would be the conversion of the Link road into a one way outlet that joins South C to Mombasa road. This will maintain the relevance of the road while restricting the traffic diversion into the estate. As for accessing South C from Mombasa road, I am certain a majority of South C residents will happily use the Bellevue entrance if it meant no endless traffic jam in the estate.

Once this is done, the county reps can then focus on our other major problem of drainage and security. The establishment of factories within the estate such as Supa Loaf should also be looked into but I’ll rant about that in a separate blog post. Until then, we will have to contend with leaving the house while it’s still dark or get stuck in traffic  within the estate with ‘me first’ drivers who will happily run you off the road if it means getting to their destination ‘on time’.

Categories: Civics, Human Interest, Rants | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

ROBIN VAN PERSIE WINS THE MANCHESTER DERBY

Manchester City v Manchester United - Premier League

By Mike Njoroge

Sometimes, some decisions change everything. For Manchester United, that must have been the day when ‘that little boy inside’ Robin Van Persie decided that Manchester United, rather than Manchester City, would be his preferred destination.

And on Manchester Derby Day, he himself showed why.

For with a swing of his left boot, Van Persie’s free kick, with the aid of a deflection off his former Arsenal teammate, Samir Nasri, went past the despairing dive of Joe Hart and in off the upright for a 92nd minute winner. That goal, the 5th of the game, the third for Manchester United and Van Persie’s 11th this season, was definitive. It showed just why Sir Alex Ferguson splashed the money for him. For he was brought in to win games like these for United. That is exactly what he did.

And that is exactly what he has been doing. His career at United has, already, seen him haul Manchester United from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory. His first ever United goal, an equaliser against Fulham, sent United on their way to a win. A week later, he would, on Sir Alex Ferguson’s one thousandth game in charge, miss a penalty, but complete his hat-trick in a manner that would be enough to endear him as a legend to the Red Devil faithful.

The word legend is however used too loosely these days. In Van Persie’s case, it seems that even though he hasn’t acquired it by status yet, the journey he is undertaking will in all eventuality take him there. For that City winner means that his goals have been worth 16 points. Without them, United would be on 23 points, tied with Stoke City and Swansea City, and a point behind Arsenal.

The former Arsenal talisman however is not only doing it in the Premiership. Already in the Champions League, he secured a comeback victory with a brace against CFR Cluj in Romania. He also started the comeback that at Braga ensured that the Red Devils would qualify as Group Winners with two games to spare.

No wonder he is being missed at Arsenal. It is that sort of impact that makes champions. Then again, he didn’t make them champions last season. But without his 30 goals, Arsenal would have finished in the lower half of the League table rather than competing in the Champions League.

But it is not only Arsenal who miss him. In another possible world, Man City would have bagged the Dutchman for themselves, and it is they who would have been enjoying his goal scoring exploits. Instead, they have had to contend with a drop in form of Sergio Aguero, as well as deal, once again, with the unpredictability of Mario Balotelli and the ill discipline of Carlos Tevez. Lively and for the most part a game changer in the Derby, it was a Tevez foul on Rafael that led to Van Persie’s free kick. Indeed, the indication is that the effects of that night in Bavaria when he refused to play have not been fully dealt with. That may explain why at times he hasn’t started even when it seems ludicrous not to start him.

Man City however showed that they are still the second half specialists. The silky David Silva raised his game and for a while, they looked like they would juggernaut their way past the eternal enemy. Were it not for Sir Alex Ferguson’s introduction of Phil Jones into the midfield to add a bit of bite, as well as pulling two goal hero Wayne Rooney back into midfield, a City comeback was well on the cards. That in itself would have been ironic for only last season, City went away with United’s crown in the most Man United of fashions – on goal difference and winning it in Fergie time. A comeback win in the derby would clearly have shifted the tide.

That tide however would be shifted by Van Persie. His 11th goal of the season ensured that United would go six points clear at the top. It is a situation that City will be aggrieved by considering how many draws have put them in this position. It shows why Robert Mancini wanted him. It shows why Sir Alex got him.

The script for the 2012-2013 Premier League season seems to have Manchester as its main battleground. If that is the case, then it began, and has eventually come to be centered around the battle for Robin Van Persie. United won the initial battle and on Derby Day, did it again. There is still a long way to go and City still showed that their quality can, and will, still rise to the top if and when the moment requires it. However, Robin Van Persie’s late strike meant that, at least for the time being, the rise of the blue moon is being eclipsed by the return of the red sun.

Categories: Sports | 3 Comments

ACID TESTS AWAIT MAN UNITED

By Mike Njoroge

The mixing and matching is evident. Like a Chemistry lab professor mixing his elements, it still looks as if Sir Alex Ferguson is trying to figure what his favourite combination for a starting XI is. Tinkering and tampering has occurred. Changing and switching. All the while, it has led to Manchester United having indifferent games. Dominating then dominated. Conceding, then scoring. It has been difficult to determine just what Manchester United will produce, or how they will produce it.

For one, it seems as if Sir Alex this season has started by building his team from the front. Ordinarily, teams are built from the back. You start filling in the defensive positions first before moving on to midfield and then ultimately the attack. Where Manchester United is concerned this season, the inverse seems to have been happening.

This is the only reason that can explain how three strikers can start, with an attacking midfielder, and a winger. Most team sheets this season have featured; both Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney; either Javier Hernandez or Danny Welbeck; Shinji Kagawa has also been on the pitch, then out wide either Luis Nani or Antonio Valencia. This means that in essence, there are 5 attacking players. That leaves room for 5 other players. Considering that a back four is a certainty, that leaves room for only one central midfielder.

It really looks like the Maradona confusion that Argentina played with at the FIFA World Cup in 2010. A wonderful array of attacking players, with as little midfield cover as possible for the defence. That little midfield cover has led to the defence being exposed in more situations than is necessary. And it is no wonder Manchester United has been leaking goals.

However, some common sense has been restored in recent games. A midfield diamond has been deployed, meaning that width has been abandoned. The midfield diamond still looked shaky when introduced against CFR Cluj in the Champions League. But against Newcastle United, it glistered. In the first 22 minutes, Man Utd were averaging 70% possession. In that period, the pressure on Newcastle’s goal had produced two goals. To avert further disaster, Newcastle had to change tact and fill the midfield. It worked as it reduced United’s momentum. But what it did was to also reduce Newcastle’s strengths. Now, they did not have two strikers up top to aim at with crosses. Furthermore though, it meant that Newcastle, the home side, were now playing on United’s terms. That is what control is all about.

But that control has been lacking. In subsequent games, United have fallen behind. Luckily, they have had the firepower to always bounce back. And against Braga in midweek, the stakes were raised a bit higher. They stretched and dug deep to come back from 2-0 down to win 3-2. Then however, their most dominating period did not include the diamond, but rather Kagawa’s injury had necessitated the introduction of Nani. Width in place of the diamond, and still the victory was acquired. It doesn’t look that much confused now as Maradona’s model was. Sir Alex’s model can morph into the circumstances it finds itself in. A case of Plan A and Plan B working in tandem. There is no set standard, and that is why it looks all confused, while all the same fulfilling its eventual purpose of winning.

Major questions still linger though. What happens when, as Maradona found out against Germany, this model meets up against a well organised team. Can Man Utd continue to come back against the better organised teams of this world. Can they afford to continue conceding? Can they still score more than their opponents can? Those are questions that will probably be answered in the coming weeks. A run of fixtures that sees United face Chelsea twice, then Arsenal, and then a trip to Braga in the Champions League. This is bound to set things into perspective. United faces major tests here. The diamond and the width will now have the chance to prove their worthiness.

Categories: Sports | Tags: , , , , | 1 Comment

DON’t you wish your striker was RVP?

Alas! The summer’s most drawn out saga has come to an end. Bar a failed medical, Robin Van Persie will become a Manchester United player in the next few days. United announced last night that a deal has been agreed with Arsenal to transfer the reigning PFA Player of the Yaer and last season’s top scorer to the red half of Manchester. His move brings to three the number of players signed by United in the off-season, joining German player of the year Shinji Kagawa and prodigy Nick Powell in signing for the Red Devils. With the transfer all but complete, its time to analyze what RVP’s arrival will imply for MUFC.

First off, I’ll have to admit I was adamant against United moving for RVP. My main reason for objecting to this move was the effect his arrival would have on the younger players at the club whom much was expected from this season. Being an undroppable player, the Dutch striker would would compel us to employ a system with two strikers against the prevalent lone striker system of modern football. With RVP and Rooney up front, Shinji Kagawa would be forced to play much deeper, negating his exemplary skill and awareness which is best utilized in the final third. I argued against such deep deployment here.

Robin Van Persie’s arrival would also curtail the burgeoning career of young Danny Welbeck. As reds would know, Danny looks likely to be the first striker to break through form United’s reserves system since Mark Hughes in (1986). Welbeck formed a nice partnership with fellow Englishman Wayne Rooney last season, displacing Javier Hernandez and Dimitar Berbatov from the first eleven. After an impressive Euro 2012 outing, Welbeck seemed poised to take off. With RVP in the squad however, Danny will have to contend with much less game time which will undoubtedly hinder his progress. The less said about Javier Hernandez the better as his hitherto limited appearances will diminish even further.

Despite all these obvious reasons as to why we didn’t need to make the RVP move, its now water under the bridge and we gotta start looking at the positives. First off, RVP is a world class player and I won’t complain with the addition of such a classy player to the team. With Rooney and RVP, we have the best strike force in English football if not the whole of Europe. Last season, the two scored a combined 71 goals. Defences all over Europe will be shitting themselves at the thought of facing the two world class strikers.

What the arrival of RVP indicates is that Fergie sees the number ten as Rooney’s best position. With last season’s 34 goals from this deep lying role, its hard to argue the case against this line of thought. As such the two can strike a perfect complimentary partnership as their ideal positions do not overlap. Van Persie excelled playing the number 9 position at Arsenal and with Rooney ploughing in goals from further back, the prospect of both getting 30 goals each isn’t far feteched.

With the defensive midfield position blind to Fergie hence our defence being exposed, Van Persie’s signing adds to our already impressive attacking options making it a case of trying to outscore the opponents this season. This will be a stark contrast to the dour 1-0 scorelines we’ve been accustomed to in the last few seasons. I’m sure this is something reds will relish despite the occasional heart-in-mouth moments that accompanies the 5-3 scorelines.

In terms of the system to be played, Fergie will move or less replicate last season’s 4-4-2 and its slight variations. As noted earlier, RVP will start uptop with Rooney tucked behind him in the hole. TonyV and Nani will cover the wings with Carrick and Kagawa playing in central midfield. Carrick will sit back and build up play/ intercept possession from the opponents with Kagawa shuttling back and forth much like Scholes did with Keano behind him in that most amazing of midfield partnerships. In fact, the more you look at it, the more you realize the line up will resemble the treble team. After much experimenting, Fergie has taken it back to his classic system as he builds what he probably sees as his last great side. Suddenly, we have moved from slight ambivalence to wanting the season to start in excitement. Opponents should be afraid. Very afraid.

Finally, RVP’s arrival is a chance to laugh at Arsenal football academy club  and its loud fans. Since Vieira’s exit in 2005, the club/academy has seen a steady exodus of their star players in their prime. Arsenal has perfected the art of nurturing talent for the big teams to cherry pick from. Ever summer, the club’s star player (and most likely captain) leaves the club under a ‘Judas’ tag to achieve success elsewhere. What these fans fail to see is that theirs is a team that isn’t at the very top of the game and is struggling to accept this. For a team that views Champions league qualification as the barometer for a successful season, it shouldn’t come as a surprise when the star player becomes ambitious and wants to win things. Its symbolic that Vieira’s departure marked the beginning of the drought that is now entering its eighth year. They have at least made the effort to secure replacements early enough ensuring the loss won’t sting as much. Curiously though, how do Arsenal allow the players to run down their contracts and find themselves in this position every summer? For a club that specializes in selling their best players, you’d half expect them to try maximize on such deals. Either the club is plain daft or in denial. With Arsene ‘I didn’t see it’ Wenger, its more likely the latter. Whatever the case, this is an apt opportunity to all point at Arsenal and laugh. All together now, HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA. AHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

Let the games begin.

Categories: Sports | 26 Comments

Access to football news, then and now.

I was following the trial of John Terry on twitter recently and a tweet I came across made me pause to think of how access to football news has evolved since the days I started following the English Premier League. In the race to break the news first, certain journos and wanna-be journos had logged into twitter through two separate devices with each device having a tweet ready to be sent. One phone or PC would have the words “John Terry: Not Guilty” and another “John Terry: Guilty” with thumbs ready to click on ‘Tweet’. The race to break the news was on.

Compare this with the late nineties when the most up to date way of accessing such news would have been through Sky News through their sports bulletin every twenty past the hour.  Sky News used to be televised through the now defunct STV/ TvAfrica which would be on during the day and late at night. If your team had made a signing or had a player injured, you either had to stay up late to catch Sky news (which was a problem considering we were in primary school and had a bedtime to abide to) or wait for the sports news on local news which was brief and useless. I remember the disgust when you would wait for KTN sports news and after two or three news pieces, Tony Gachukia or Robert Soi would inform that that was it for sports news without giving you the news you were waiting for.

Charlie Thomas, the face of Sky news sports. (c/o skynews.com)

Lack of internet meant that the local dailies would carry a sports piece two days after the news broke. This was due to the fact that they would not have accessed the piece from Associated Press meaning that the piece would be forwarded to the next day.

The internet started to become available intermittently at the turn of the millennium. The wait for ‘news’ was getting more and more excruciating with each passing season. Finally, something had to give. In the summer of 2002 after the Japorea World Cup, rumours were abound that Sir Alex wanted to sign English defender Rio Ferdinand from rivals Leeds United. Leeds had only signed Rio two seasons before, breaking the transfer record for a defender in the process but financial difficulties meant they had to sell their assets. If United were to sign him, they would have to cough up quite an amount. I longed for the deal to be completed as he would have added to our defensive ranks which wasn’t the strongest at the time. The tension was getting to me and when I heard (belatedly as was the case back then) that Rio had undergone a medical at United, the excitement got the better of me. It was this sequence of events that led to me to breaking my online virginity.  I quickly rushed to the nearest cyber, Naitel at my friend Arnold’s place and despite the prohibitive fee of five bob per minute (five times the current average rate), nothing was gonna stop this moment of destiny.

With help from Arnold’s brother Steve, I typed in the magical words in the address field.. ‘www.manutd.com.’ The red and black background on the website was contrasted with a picture of Rio in a white suit being unveiled at Old Trafford by the manager. Alas, he had arrived.

The eagle has landed. Rio Ferdinand on signing for Man United. (Image c/o Reuters)

The joy I experienced at that moment and the significance of it all is understood better in hindsight. Yesterday marked ten years to the day this happened and what an experience it has been. In his time at United, Rio has won five Premier League titles, one FA cup, the Champions League and numerous other trophies in the most successful period the club has had in its long history. On a personal note, access to news has gone from being a tedious process to being bombarded with news as it happens. To that extent, I have gone from consuming news and analysis on the net to this, providing content on the net through a blog. The wheel has indeed come full circle.

As the Terry verdict was announced to a flurry of ‘Not Guilty’ tweets, one couldn’t help but help but crack a wistfully nostalgic smile at how technology has evolved and with it, the speed with which we access the news. The mind boggles at the thought of writing a similar article ten years from now and how things will be by then. So here’s to another decade of technological evolution and continued success by the greatest team of them all. Cheers.

Categories: Best of Panoramicdon, Sports | 17 Comments

PLEASE FERGIE, DON’T KILL KAGAWA THE PLAYMAKER

Shinji Kagawa: Will he be played in his best position?

By Don Pablo

First off, let me say that I am as ecstatic as the next guy that Man United has agreed a deal to sign the Japanese playmaker Shinji Kagawa from Borussia Dortmund. Kagawa offers a different dimension to anything we have at present; an attacking midfielder capable of thriving in the final third of the pitch. Whether we would have sanctioned such a signing if the player wasn’t in the final year of his contract (hence the knockdown price) is moot but regardless, Kagawa is a welcome signing.

 
Despite the excitement that comes with signing a goal getter and a goal creator, there’s a palpable sense of fear that laces such excitement. My fear is that Sir Alex Ferguson will curb the attacking instinct of a creative young player and in a few years time, we will end up with a less flambouyant more functional Kagawa.

There is a precedent to back such a scenario. When Anderson arrived at Man United, he was being dubbed ‘The new Ronaldinho’ due to his quick dribbling and his playing position that was similar to his established compatriot. A casual look at youtube videos of Anderson in his Porto days shows you a player whose game relied on creativity high up the pitch and could create chances in plenty for himself and his team mates (see video below). At United, Fergie has tried unsuccessfully to convert Anderson in to an all rounded midfield player who is equally adept at attacking as he is when tracking back. To say the least, he has failed in that regard with the Brazilian’s questionable fitness not making it any easier for the gaffer. Football pundits in Brazil have always lamented on how Sir Alex has killed the Brazilian in Anderson by trying to make him a central midfielder as opposed to his initial attacking midfielder role.

Michael Carrick is another player who arrived at United as a playmaker who would control play higher up the field but he has done a better job of dropping deep as compared to Anderson, mainly due to his passing range and his ability to read play hence breaking up opposition attacks from deep. Regardless of his relative sucess in a deeper role, the trequatista Carrick is no more.

 
As German football expert Raphael Honigstein puts it, Kagawa’s finishing is one of his strongest assets, along with his ability to play in team-mates with direct, one-touch passes. He is very much a man for the final third, a player who finds space between the lines and gets on the end of things. Pulling the strings in the center of the pitch is not his game.His ideal position is behind the main striker.

 
Kagawa would thus best be used in the hole in a 4-2-3-1 formation behind Rooney as the lone striker. This system would see us kill many birds with one stone. We will have three players in central midfield as opposed to the two we had in last season’s 4-4-1-1 which saw us lose midfield battles more often than not in the big games. We would also negate the need to buy another striker as Hernandez and Welbeck would be understudies with Rooney ploughing a lone furrow upfront.

The 4-2-3-1 system will also see Fergie maintain his wing play approach with Valencia, Nani or Young given the freedom to cut in regularly and try get goals for the themselves as they wouldn’t necessary be wingers per se but more of inside forwards, with less defensive responsibilities as opposed to the traditional winger.

 
If we move to the 4-2-3-1 and play Kagawa in the hole, there’s every reason to believe we will be a potent force both at home and in Europe. The cynic in me however believes that Kagawa, much like Berbatov, Anderson and Veron, is a creative player who Fergie will struggle to use in his best position and at best, he will end up being an OK central  midfielder as opposed to a world class playmaker. I hope I am proved wrong. Welcome to Manchester Shinji.

Anderson the playmaker at Porto: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0QoRV7JuQOc

Categories: Sports | 16 Comments

For the fear of coming across as an arrogant pseudo-intellect, I have shied away from expressing such opinion. Glad someone else did it. All you people listening to crap music, throw that shit out.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

REACTION TIME

By Michael Njoroge (@Mikenjoro)

I’m scared.

Scared, not because of the Manchester City fans. No, not them. They don’t scare me. In my part of the world, there are not enough genuine City fans who can really rub it in. Just City sympathizers who really, to be honest, made the right decision. They did not want Manchester United to win. Manchester United haven’t won. But they, they don’t scare me.

Scared, not because of the Gooner. Unlike the City fan, he has more than enough comrades in this part of the world. He may want to rub it in, but unlike the City fan, he lacks enough firepower. And he secretly knows it. And though he claims that his club, along with mine, are at par in terms of the achievements of the season (or lack of), that assertion, quite oddly, is both true, and untrue. He is simultaneously right and wrong. But he does not scare me. No, not him.

I’m scared because my blood is red, and its not just because of the haemoglobin. Manchester red. It scares me because I try not to act like one. But I can’t really deny the emotions that come with it. It is impossible to be, and yet at the same time, act as if I wasn’t. It is impossible, yet it is still possible. That dilemma scares me. For it forces me to withhold my opinion. Fear of the fact that my opinion on the subject will be considered biased. Or as a consolatory remark. In truth, I am not sure myself which one it is. Objective or subjective. Clear view, or red view. Am not sure. And that scares me. Scares the living daylights out of me.

But the minute you are scared to voice your opinion is the moment you shrink your greatness. It is the moment your darkness obliterates your light.  But I am not inadequate. I am powerful beyond measure. This opinion will not stay in my head. And besides, this article cannot write itself.

So, here goes.

Manchester City are champions. They totally deserve it. They have played the better football. Expansive I think is what they call it. They have scored more goals. Brilliant ones too. About 5 or 6 (no, not those 6). They have also shown character. They should have lost against Sunderland. Mario Balotelli and Aleksandr Kolarov ensured they didn’t (of course, after sorting out their little spat). They should have lost against Chelsea. But Carlos Tevez reversed the pass. Samir Nasri clinched it. They should have given it up. Mikel Arteta sought to convince them so. But they did not. And now, they are the best in Manchester. Now, they are the best in England.

Don’t talk about the money. Yes, His Highness Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan has pumped in the millions. But fuelling a car doesn’t mean that the car will win the race. Money buys talent. Money buys class. It does not buy championships. It only seeks to steer. Money can buy Sergio Aguero. It can’t buy that last minute winner. That final day drama. It can’t buy a moment of history. It can only precipitate it.

Deserved champions they are. But also as well in the League, deserved runners up come behind them. Manchester United. For the 7th time in a row, they have finished either first or second.  And though their head to head record shows a huge gulf in class, the overall league table doesn’t.  Level on points. City won it on goal difference. It is an illusion. So far behind, yet so near.  The fact that the last day was so dramatic was due, in part to United as it was to City. United, in truth, pushed them to the limit. United, did what they had to. That meant that City had to as well. It wasn’t a procession. It was nerve-wrecking. It shouldn’t have been. It should have been a pleasure cruise. It wasn’t.

Why it wasn’t that easy for City doesn’t matter. They have reached the pinnacle, regardless. And there is no use mulling over the quality of the United squad. That is never an excuse. Never from Sir Alex Ferguson. Never from Arsene Wenger at Arsenal. It is the reason they overachieve. It is the reason they are 2nd and 3rd best, when all odds point to them not being 2nd and 3rd best. It is the reason it hurts to be second, or third. Because it was expected that 1st is the only objective. Even when it does not seem realistic. The belief was instilled. There is never any room for excuses.

But what happens  when 1st place does not materialize?

You react. He reacts. He always does. Its in his DNA. It probably hasn’t been in Wenger’s, at least for the past 7 years. But now, there are signs that it is. Wenger is looking to do what the knight has always done. React.  He has been doing it for years. Reacting to everything. To Liverpool’s tradition. To Kenny Dalglish and Jack Walker’s Blackburn. To Kevin Keegan, when he would have ‘absolut’ly lov’d it if we beat ‘em.’ To Wenger’s football. To Jose Mourinho’s pragmatism. To Rafa Benitez’s ‘facts rant.’ To Carlo Ancelotti. He has always reacted. And now, there is the Roberto Mancini problem. Now, what will he do.

I assure you that for as long as Sir Alex has breathe in his lungs and chewing gum is still edible, he will react. The problem will be solved. It may take one year. It may take two. Eventually, it will be solved.  The cool Italian will eventually feel the pressure. He will be scrambling for his scarf. The noisy neighbours will eventually be silenced. Let them have their party now. They deserve it. A time will come when it will be their turn to watch us have the party as they have always done. Sir Alex will react. He always does.

And when he does, Manchester United will be back.

Categories: Sports | 12 Comments

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