Peace Muchiri

Peace Muchiri

I saw pepper on the lush green northern part of the Ngong Hills. Wind turbines sit as beautiful dots on the already panoramic view of the hills. The arabesque pose of the ballet dancer found itself in the blades of a wind turbine head above me. I was David and the wind turbine tower was Goliath. These tall, strong structures were a sight to behold. Two small boys engaged in a game of tapo (tag) across from where I walked.

A walk to the wind farm from Ngong town takes roughly twenty five minutes. Talking to residents along the way, not many were particularly familiar with the workings of the farm until I encountered James Sululu and Joseph Kirrinkol. If nothing betrayed their maasai heritage, they needed only speak. James is tall, dark and his English came to the fore with a bit of a strong maasai accent. Joseph is also tall but lighter skinned with a less pronounced accent and was eager to engage in conversation about the wind farm. They have lived next to the wind farm since before it inception, since they were boys.

Where Kenya relies highly on hydro for its electricity needs and this can be severely hampered by fluctuation in rainfall causing expensive power rationing; green energy in the form of renewable resources such as wind farming is a cheaper alternative albeit with a lower energy output. According to the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics as at 2014 hydro sources of electricity generated 3569 GWh of energy while wind generated 17.0 GWh. Other sources such as thermal oil and geo thermal generated 2585.2 and 2917.4 GWh respectively.

Driven by heat energy from the sun, colossal convection currents in the earth’s atmosphere produce wind. The green factor is found in the fact that as long as the sun is present, wind will always be available. There are no fuel costs when using wind. Pollution does not occur with wind power. It does not produce harmful gases or other pollutants. One wind turbine takes up a small plot of land and so land surrounding a small wind farm can be used for agricultural purposes such as farming. Wind farms make for an interesting feature of a landscape though this may be arguable. Remote areas which cannot access the electricity power grid can use wind turbines for their electricity supply. Wind turbines are also available in a range of sizes and this means that a wide range of people and businesses can use them. Lastly climate change which is a threat to wildlife is mitigated by wind energy which reduces CO2 emissions and avoids the consumption of billions of gallons of water annually.

The cliché, ‘thank God for Mother Nature,’ applies well in the above regard. James and Joseph can however tell you that although sometimes clichés express sentiments best, in this case it is with a sense of half heartedness. In his half heartedness Joseph comes up with the summation, “If you are going to do something, do it well.” For the 22 years that the wind farm in Ngong, Kajiado County has been in existence, James and Joseph can appreciate that wind provides a good source of electricity, is environmentally friendly and contributes to the development of a third world country like Kenya but they opine that better consultation with the surrounding community could have been done. That’s what Joseph is alluding to with, “… do it well.”

The surrounding community and specifically James and Joseph have experienced some negative effects with the installation of the turbines and most especially the first four turbines which they say are within a 100 meter perimeter of their homes. These effects include poor mobile phone network, noise pollution (the vibrating noise produced by wind turbines is not only a nuisance but can cause sleep disruption and therefore stress), when the turbines are put off it can be quite frightening as it becomes silent very suddenly, the shadow of the turning turbine as seen inside a house can be disturbing and James and Joseph worry that young children can get eye problems and coughs. Furthermore for James and Joseph unlike me the beautiful landscape of the Ngong Hill has been disfigured by this wind farm what with soil erosion as well.

Other challenges posed by dependence on wind energy comprise that it can be unreliable and wind turbines are unpredictable. Birds can get killed or injured when they fly into turbines and so it is important for thorough environmental assessment of all ecological impacts that may come with the erection of a wind farm be undertaken. This way major migration routes, important feeding, breeding and roosting areas of bird species can be avoided.

Still, the erection of the wind farm has provided opportunities for employment for the neighboring community. Joseph is one beneficiary. He was employed as a health and safety officer for three months. Others have been employed as security guards. Owner Kenya Electricity Generating Company Limited (KenGen), the leading electric power generation company in Kenya has also built two classes for a school in the area and a borehole. They have also planted grass to curb soil erosion and to reduce the rising of dust especially during the dry season.

The Ngong wind farm began with two wind turbines commissioned in 1993. These first two turbines were a donation from the Belgian government and would help prove that the northern part of the Ngong Hills has a favorable wind regime. And so it was that in August of 2009, the second phase of the farm was commissioned. This second phase has a capacity of 5.1 MW of power.

In 2014, Iberdrola Ingenieria in a consortium with Gamesa, a global technological leader in the wind industry added 13.6 MW to the second phase under the Ngong II project. They installed 16 Spanish manufactured G52 Gamesa turbines completing the project on a turnkey basis over a period of one year. Through this Ngong II initiative a new electricity distribution system including a high voltage network, with 15 new kilometres of overhead and underground power lines will be established. Even more, four substations - Athi River, Isinya, Ngong and Koma Rock producing 220 kilovolts (kV) in each case will be put up. Lastly, an extension to the most important substation in the city, Dandora, also producing 220 kV will be constructed. The Ngong II wind farm is the largest wind farm in East Africa. KenGen plans to increase the capacity of the Ngong wind farm to 25.5 MW.  

The government of Kenya is on an ambitious journey to add 5000 MW on the national grid with renewable facilities like the Ngong wind farm. Yet another project in this line is the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project which will host 365 turbines. Other wind farms in Africa include the Tarfaya wind farm in Morocco, the Ashegoda wind farm in Ethiopia and Sere and Gouda wind farms in South Africa.

Sometimes only a dash of pepper makes the food uber delicious. As James and Joseph tell, living near a wind farm can be quite a challenge but forget not the benefits. Half kudos!

Friday, 20 July 2018 10:28

Please boys, be boys

The shamba boy (a farm hand) had arrived. Or so my mother announced. Shamba boy! Not really. Those skinny jeans and that tightly fitting top; I could name him Gisele Bündchen, after the Brazilian supermodel.

It’s not just him. It’s every other young boy nowadays. Walk through your neighborhood, walk through a shopping complex or mall, walk through the streets of Nairobi and tell me what you see. For some, it extends even to mannerisms. I would have you know that today, a man can carry a purse or a handbag known as a man’s purse or murse, men wear scarves and skirts or kilts yet they are not Scots, they tie their hair in buns or spot dreadlocks plaited in lines and indulge in a vast array of beauty treatments. Boys have become girls!

Bespectacled and busy Annie Mwaniki, an administrative assistant with USAID’s Aphia Plus Project rightly informs that it is the 21st century; men are dressing very freely, as they want to. Young men’s dressing decisions depend on themselves not their parents. We mustn’t forget peer pressure. Boys, young men are looking at their peers in different parts of the world and desire to look like them. They imitate.

Dressed in the standard yellow garb of a parking attendant, average heighted and of lean build, James Leteipa opines that the world is changing and that as long as you are comfortable with what you are wearing, you are good to go.

While Annie has seen feminine fashion items such as piped and skinny jeans on boys, James says sometimes you cannot differentiate a boy’s shoes from his mother’s and I would add his sister’s or girlfriend’s. The colors and appearance are girl like. What does this tell us about society?

I would say that societal values are becoming a tad warped. When a parent can see that his or her boy child is dressed as a girl would and does not put his or her foot down then there is a problem. For James, the reference point is one’s parents as well. For him, society will always judge. As long as one’s parents are fine with what one wears society can be kicked to the curb. The argument is that as Annie puts it, “People dress the way they feel like and according to their personalities.” In other words, people, young men included are free to choose what they want to wear. She reiterates that there is the need to fit in, there is peer pressure and boys find it hip when they dress as their counterparts in the Western world do.

It could then be said that the line between appropriate and inappropriate dressing for young men has become blurred. Good fashion sense is however relative and James states that how you like to dress might not please another. If you are comfortable in your apparel, that is what matters. As a mother, Annie lets her son choose his own style but advocates for decency as far as appropriateness is concerned. Decency should be defined. Both Annie and James think of decency as some of the clothing traditionally ascribed to men; shirts, men’s trousers and men’s shoes. In addition, Annie wouldn’t want her son to have his hair worn long in dreadlocks for example. Clean cut is best.

The metrosexual male defined as a man keen on his appearance and in touch with his feminine side is what young men may claim to be. The term metrosexual is associated with English journalist Mark Simpson who first defined it in a 1994 article for The Independent, a British newspaper. Simpson describes the effect of consumerism and media proliferation specifically the men’s style press on traditional masculinity.

The worry is precisely that, that young men can have problems with their masculine identity when they dress as young women do. Gender identity, how you feel and express your gender is very important. Gender is a social status and gender roles are defined by culture. Kenyan culture is housed in its forty two ethnic groups which affirm traditional masculinity especially where dressing is concerned. Young Kenyan men should be keen on this affirmation.

Moreover, metrosexuality connotes homosexuality for some. Young men should be careful about what they call themselves and the notions they subscribe to. Like gender identity, our sexuality affects who we are and how we express ourselves. Boys shouldn’t only look to the media and friends (peers) as influences for sexuality. They should also remember their culture and religion. One’s sexual orientation shouldn’t be susceptible to peer pressure. Sexual health comprises our values, our sense of self, our self image and the quality of our relationships. Young men need to have parents and guardians who hold them accountable for their dressing sense.

Perhaps and more specifically when parent is mentioned, the father-son relationship or paradigm can be called upon. Father-son relationships are essential to boys’ development. Despite the generational difference young men may face when it comes to bonding and emulating their fathers, a strong relationship between the two can teach that appropriate dressing especially for men outlives this disparity. The call is for fathers to take on the challenge and guide their sons dressing choices.          

And so when young men return to the presented argument that dressing sense is individual and relative, the counter is that no human being lives for themselves. No man is an island. We must be conscious of how our dressing affects others and be sensitive to this. It is part of learning to be a social being. Without rules, norms, society wouldn’t be. When one conforms to the norm, they are building society at large. One shouldn’t just board a band wagon, be part of a crowd. From where I sit, the verdict is: it is commendable for a man to be interested in his appearance but could our boys steer clear of fashion items and accessories that are both traditionally and contemporarily women’s. Call it being fashion conscious, call it metrosexuality. I say: please boys, be boys.

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