Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Insurance in Traditional African Society: Thinking 'Aloud'

Mauri Yambo 
[Earlier version shared on September 30, 2014]

As both concept and practice, insurance appears, at first glance, alien to everyday life in Africa – as much now as in a past that we believe we have amply covered in our schooled quests for knowledge. The fact that, unless there is regulatory/legal compulsion, Africans continue today to display limited enthusiasm for modern insurance products only adds to that negative impression. And yet first appearances are misleading and distorting to a considerable degree, in this particular case.

Cattle, Insurance, Social Capital and Traditional African Life
Insurance has been integral to traditional African life for centuries; as long, it seems, as Africans have reared cattle.  Richard Hall (1996: 35) notes that as early as A.D. 916, explorers did encounter Africans with great herds of cattle in Eastern and Southern Africa. And since Melville Herscovits published his “cattle complex” thesis (and meme) in 1926, ethnographers (for example, Mtetwa, 1978: 32) have amplified or debated this “fixation” with cattle, but have in the process also touched on an important social fact: a practice of informal insurance anchored on broad pastoralist lifestyles and attendant social exchange modalities – which, it turns out, were replicated across all of sub-Sahara.

Herscovits’ “cattle complex” idea (1926: 248-272) is thus not really all about insurance, but insurance is integral to how the “complex” has over the decades revealed itself in the narratives of traditional life, and how it has been sustained in extended a-theoretical practice. It is about how life in black Africa revolved around cattle, but inescapably also about how cattle, a most prized possession, were to be pro-actively shielded against physical danger and the risk of short-term thinking among the owners and the heirs.

Abubakar (2005) has noted that cattle are several things to the Fulani of Nigeria:

     “[They] are prestige-makers… They could be
       an insurance against disasters; they are
       equally sources of food and labor.”

Hold it there for a moment: “insurance against disasters”! 

But how did traditional Africa use cattle as a hedge against potential or actual disaster, which could arrive in the form of: (a) an epidemic, such as rinderpest; (b) habitual cattle raiders; (c) drought or floods; or, (d) periodic border wars (1). They distributed portions of their herds, for limited periods, to close relatives or trusted in-laws and friends living in relatively distant or safer locales. The invariable rule of engagement in this form of social exchange was that recipients of the distributed livestock held them in trust. They could in return milk them or use them for certain farming purposes. 

They could in the process accumulate social capital (2).  However, they were never allowed to slaughter or sell or otherwise (as in dowry transactions) dispose of them. Any calves born during the trust period belonged to the sender, to whom they would by customary law be returned upon request or in due course.

There was an even more human(itarian) dimension to the notion of insurance that was often ‘pushed’ through these same channels “initially” designed to mitigate “cattle complex” concerns. What was it? It was the practice, often encountered, of sending a family member (typically a minor) to live with a relative in some safer or more wholesome place so as to “sit out” a perceived danger to the minor’s existential well-being.

If insurance is all about protecting and preserving whatever humans value – life, livelihood, property and the environment – against natural and human-caused danger, then the “cattle complex” had, built into it, a voluntaristic and most effective mechanism for mitigating livelihood/property-specific disasters in the expansive savannah.  

Notes:1.  Douglas Hamilton Johnson, David M. Anderson and I. B. Taurias (1968: 200)

2. Social capital in the form of trust, enhanced respect and social standing as individuals who could “do it”; that is, those who could do what was needed to enhance, in a palpable sort of way, cohesion and solidarity.

Abubakar, Abdulahhi Salihu (2005) “The Fallacy of The Cattle Complex Theory And Its Implications On The Development of The Pastoral Fulani Of Nigeria” 

Hall, Richard (1996) Empires of the Monsoon: A History of the Indian Ocean and its Invaders. London: HarperCollins Publishers

Herscovits, Melvile J, (1926) “The Cattle Complex in East Africa“ American Anthropologist, Vol. 28, Issue 1 (pp. 230-272), January-March 1926 [Also see Wiley Online Library Edition: 28 October 2009)

Johnson, Douglas Hamilton, David M. Anderson and I. B. Taurias, Eds., (1968) The Ecology of Survival: Case Studies from Northeast African History. Google Books  

Mtetwa, R.M.G. (1978) “Myth or Reality: The ‘Cattle Complex’ in South East Africa, with Special Reference to Rhodesia”, in Zambezia, Vol. VI, No. I, pp. 23-35.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Road to Goma: Haiku

Past Morendat, all
Thought turn'd, cleverly, to the
Unfinished journey.

Reply to Dr. Franceschi

 [Note: This is the full text of my reply to Dr. Franceschi's article, which appeared in the Daily Nation of last Friday, March 20, 2015. I am publishing it here because the newspaper has not published it online as at the time of posting it on my blog. Besides this note, the only change that I have made since I posted the original via Disqus is correcting Dr. Franceschi's name, which I had mis-spelt]

Several of the points that Dr. Franceschi makes deserve making, and it is important for the core issue that he has raised to be publicly debated. However, there are important reasons why "research", as he seems to define it, is not going on at the tempo and intensity that he, and we all, may wish it to. Delving into the reasons why will have to await another time. Suffice it to say that not all research is, or needs to be, "big bucks" activity -- or donor funded. After all, external donors have their (well known) preferences, and even favorites. And potential local donors cannot be counted on, since they are (too) engrossed in ethnically-tinged politics, as well as more grandiose (and outlandish) money-making schemes than they have already mastered.

What I really wanted to say is this: Dr. Franceschi is engaging in gross exaggeration of the facts as we know them. How many dons does he really know who are in two full-time jobs? My bet is -- really none. If he insists he does, and if they are employees of public universities, then it is his civic duty to report -- or name and shame -- them, because they are involved in an illegality. I simply don't know of any. More importantly, it is impossible to have two such full-time teaching jobs -- unless one of the jobs is a sinecure. Full-time means a minimum of an eight-hour per day obligation/availability (involving a range of activities) during the work-week. I don't know of any university with classes beyond 8.30 pm or 9 during the work-week. So "two full-time" is a definitional impossibility.

What is common, as I know, is  that an individual may hold a full-time job at one institution, and serve part-time at another, or even others. Alternatively, they may be on sabbatical leave from one, and 'temporarily' serving full-time at another. Though I have myself never engaged in such activity, let me say that without such individuals Strathmore University itself would probably have taken much longer than it has to get to where it in now. Nor would USIU have. These are, incidentally, the leading private universities in Kenya. They have both tapped massively into the scholastic reservoir of the University of Nairobi.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Obliquity: Haiku

Lo! Low & lower
Hanging fruit of the valley.
Cold wind springs, clockwise.

Monday, March 16, 2015

"Sisi Jojo": A Comment

Sisi Jojo, a 'collabo' by CJ Mama and Dwana, is a music video released in 2015. It is a gift of micro-'set-pieces' and tropical sounds all fused into one. 

The visuals are varied but consistent with a nuanced mix of living color and vibrant African (Naija) culture. 

Though I once upon a (recent) time believed that the video degraded the music, I want to emphasize that the whole, as the saying goes, is greater than the parts in Sisi Jojo (as in much of the music that I come upon these days). It's all very moving and totally heart-warming. 

The audio is up-, up-, up-beat. The beat that unifies the audio and the visual ebbs and flows, as the subtle narrative unfolds and reveals itself. 

The whole thing is very danceable; dance, that is, without obligations, and as the spirit moves one to dance.

Upon seeing and hearing this piece, those in the diaspora will, I fear, become severely homesick.

Here, click to play the video -- & ji-enjoy >> Sisi Jojo 

Friday, March 13, 2015

Faber: Haiku

Making up things is
All he was good at. Dreams. Stone
Things. Arrows. Rainbows... 

Friday, March 06, 2015

Red Sunset: Haiku

Waiting for something.
Hour-glass filled, emptied, filled.
I saw the wind fall.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Transcendent Eyes

Our eyes see both in the day and in the night, though they are blinded by the darkness there. But they see not when we sleep, when they all too often give way to a pair of transcendent eyes linked to a boundless cortex.

These know no boundaries between and within Time and Space (and even Dimension and Free Form), and fly free. No boundaries of past, present and future; of local and global and universal; of form and content; of yin and yang; of size and structure; of quantity and quality; of biology and technology; of thesis and antithesis; of mind and body; of thought and action; of cause and effect; of negator and negated; of motion and stasis; of light and sound and velocity; of gravity and weightlessness and free flight; of solid and liquid; of ontology and nothingness; of ‘this’ now and the Long Now; of chaos and cosmos.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Turn, Always

There's always a turn in the road -- indeed, many turns -- which you have never taken, and may long have been intrigued by. Take such a turn, and you will see: see things you've never seen, and which not even the Internet has an account of whatsoever, from your way of seeing. And not just see: feel. Have feelings that make you not simply the person you presently are, but the one you're becoming, truly.

I took such a ('left') turn today, and came upon many lovely homes that I'd never seen, in which people live that I don't know -- perhaps just don't know yet, or perhaps know but have not imagined live quietly here -- in a serene neighborhood which was suddenly new to me. 

Hardly a resident on the sidewalks, but a scatter of parked and parking cars -- arranged as the neighborhood and the city desire that visitors arrange them. Hardly any sight or sound of children behind the fencings, nor of their parents and minders. Not of their older siblings and cousins either. 

A sense, nevertheless, of an unstoppable digital migration. A sense that belying the laid back physical ambiance was a vigorous and dedicated electronic chatter all over the air.

Anonymous people, then; yet people I have probably seen elsewhere -- in the streets of downtown Iborian, in the suburban malls, in other 'elsewheres'. Or who have seen me drive by -- seen the car I drive (and which is my, truly my, wife's) driven by as frequently as they think they remember. 

People who may even remember my face from behind the wheel, or from many chance encounters in public places, shared venues. People you wouldn't want to call strangers, because you had this deep feeling that living in the same city somehow bonded you, the all of you, mysteriously and gladly, into a oneness; and that the bonding was the reason the city continued to be as it was -- and to evolve as it was.

But one guessed, alright, that today the residents were probably there, taking it easy near mid-day on a sun-shiny Saturday. Or if not, then, perhaps like me, they were mostly out -- the day being what it was, the time seeming proper: out to/from the supermarkets, out to/from the malls, out to/from the barbers and the "saloons" and the tailors and the petrol stations and all the places worth being at.

I was, thusly, 'left' to my own devices. I was on my "own O!" 

I soon came to a dead end, though, and did a U Turn at once disappointing and prepared for. The turn I'd taken didn't exit at the other end and so couldn't take me to a road I'd thought/hoped/ doubted it might -- the hope that had prompted me to take the turn in the first place, on this day.

I turned left, at the point I'd moments earlier turned left, and drove home.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Wordland: Haiku

So many phrases
That have not quite turned, for me.
Thunder, chasing light.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


Two place-mats for you.
Love, de wonder, stuns de eyes.
Sudd'n rains. Snow. Suchlike.

Fiesta: Haiku

To make you go fly.
Flipped, negative, shadows -- surf'n.
Under white billows.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Emergency Toolkit Laboratory (CSO 587): Introduction to the Course

What is an emergency? It is any out of the ordinary event which threatens to do harm or actually does harm to human well-being, life and property; or to the natural environment. All disasters are emergencies, but not all emergencies are disasters. Disasters are catastrophic/traumatic, critical events which occur because we haven’t, didn't or couldn't do anything or enough to prevent, mitigate or respond to them. 

What does the term toolkit mean in the phrase emergency toolkit? A toolkit is more than one tool. It is a combination (collection, array or repertoire) of tools used to respond to or preempt or otherwise manage a critical event or an emergency. But, given the practical challenges typically faced in emergency situations, there will probably be frequent need for something bigger than a kit: a toolchest, or even a container.

In the present context, the term tool refers to a range of practical resources: technologies – hardware, software and orgware (and even spiritware) – systems, processes, methods, procedures ("How Tos"), templates, standards, indicators, questionnaires, checklists, guidelines, forms, formats, formulae, plans, blueprints, manuals, records, reports and references.

An Emergency Toolkit is therefore a basket of emergency management resources available for use by specialized staff and others involved in the various stages of an emergency: mitigation, preparedness, response and recovery.

We title this course Emergency Toolkit Laboratory because a lab is where you scrutinize, open up, dissect, dismantle, unpackage (= disassemble, take apart or unbundle in a controlled way), test, tinker with, experiment with and/or repackage (= re-assemble in a value-adding way) high-value resources. 

In this lab, therefore, we will try to:

(a)       catalogue and describe the tools that we can identify from our readings, discussions or experiences;
(b)       "un-package" available tools and critically evaluate them as a preamble to modifying them or re-packaging them, or coming up with better or entirely new ones; and 

(c)       following all that, put together various toolkits and specify their uses based on (or in relation to) certain emergency scenarios that we will develop, and cases that we will cite and interrogate.

1. Orgware = the organizational contexts and/or ownership claims attached to specific tools or technologies of interest.
2. Spiritware = The spiritual dimensions, preconditions and/or connotations that emergency actors of one kind or another may attach to certain technologies or their use thereof.
3. There are 11 graduate students in the January-April 2015 class.

Prof. Mauri Yambo, Department of Sociology, University of Nairobi

Friday, February 13, 2015

Drone/Predator: Haiku

Summer's wedding do.
Hawkeye glides and carpet bombes
The Tent with shadows.

Recrafted (Feb 13, 2015)

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Rainbow Valley: Haiku

All dem gud tins ant --
In heaven's selfie, yet O.
Lukadem, Lov, luk.

Sunday, February 01, 2015

Everything We Were: Haiku

Love's the reason. We
Were where ever we found us.
No end to things there.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bird! Weather Crosser: Haiku

Troubadour, I sing.
All poetry be lyrics.
Across the weathers.


Done some re-framing of the initial blog-version

Sunday, January 25, 2015

All Them Stars in High Heaven: Haiku

A lakeside patjo.
Wait'n 2 catch the waiter's eye.
Two angels breezed by.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Old Trader: Haiku

Day offers no rest.
All dust's in the stranger's shoes.
Night hints at old lights.

Love: Haiku

Love is for giving.
Love loves love, and hurts easy.
Love, torrential.

Inner Outer Spaces: Haiku

Holes to nowhere. Black
Empty mists of time, all told.
Vales in the thunder.

Thursday, January 08, 2015

Freedom Must Be Free

Freedom is always in danger.
Freedom must always be fought for.
Tyrants of all shades are Freedom’s enemies.

Freedom is never to be assumed.
Those who fear to say no
Are Freedom’s weakest link.

Freedom must everywhere be free.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

A Tomb in Heaven: Haiku

It rained a little tear,
Far from the known universe.
As Philae landed.

Line in the Sands: Haiku

Seasons do do pass.
No one crosses the border.
But is changed by it.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

A life, again, as here: Haiku

Time has many sides.
As fir'flies in the dark Ness.
As summer's d'sire.

Naked Wind: Haiku

Child's a little older.
The wind has no abode O.
Comes and goes at will.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Rubio's Cuba

It's OK not to forget, and to remember. But M. Rubio has, it seems, a blinding ossessione. 

He'll not let anyone let Cuba go (or be). Nor will he let go of Cuba, and more specifically the aging folks who still run all the show in Havana -- after all these years. 

He must, after a fashion, destroy it. That one-dimensional country which lingers on in his mind (and yet which in so many eyes is much gone and in need of sympathy) which, he believes still, destroyed his (now much reconfigured) family and (wait!) his future.

Cuba must have no future he does not himself specifically, so to (hear him) speak, have a hand in and sanction. He who was so brutally denied one.

NOTE: An earlier version of this piece has appeared on 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Is Giben: Haiku

Is giben Tumi!
All de kolor in de worl'.
Whorl, of de strum's eye.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Far Billows: Haiku

Not all that's fair's fa(i)r.
Poetry b the soul's math.
Wet road fox at 2.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

CSO 501: Contemporary Sociological Theory, Course Outline for May-August 2014 Semester


This course is designed to deepen graduate (M.A.) students' understanding of basic sociological theories, and of new undercurrents. The course also seeks to increase their awareness of the relevance of theory to their specific fields of interest.  It emphasizes contemporary themes and macro-level dimensions of social reality. Given that students will have been exposed to a greater or lesser degree to the major sociological theories during their undergraduate years, the lecture-seminar format adopted for the course stresses close familiarity with a set of readings around carefully selected topics and themes. Experience suggests that undergraduate courses with a theory content have tended to dwell on the broad outlines of particular theories. In general, students have not been required to demonstrate detailed knowledge of specific texts, or the writings of particular authors. This is a shortcoming which this course will help to overcome.

Click here for: CSO 501 Contemporary Sociological Theory Course Outline

Fear & Courage

Be. Be not among the fearful.
Fear not anyone,
And not anything.
Be not the one always in retreat.

Think as you will many wild thoughts.

Query, all the intentions.
Arm yourself with Reason.
Do, then, what you must.
Be among the courageous.

And never, ever, be afraid. 

Monday, May 26, 2014

CSO 405: Sociology of Work and Industry, Course Outline for May-August 2014 Semester (Module II)


This course covers: concepts, definitions and categories related to the 'anchor' notions of work and industry; the industrialization process; a selection of pertinent theories and models of work and industrialization; industrial policy in the 21st century; labour market segmentation; selected themes in industrial psychology; and aspects of Kenya's labour law.

An extensive reading list and links to useful online resources are integral to the course outline.

Now go to The Course Outline  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

CSO 302: Qualitative Research Methods ~ Course Outline for May-August 2014 Semester (Regular and Module II Day & Evening Programmes)

To highlight the value-adding proposition of qualitative methods of social science research.
The subject-matter and historical context of qualitative research methods (QRM). The importance of qualitative methods to knowledge-generation, and understanding of the workings of diverse social forces operating in 21st century society. A selection of theoretical/methodological perspectives and debates integral to doing qualitative research, such as: ‘big data’ analytics, chronology v. dialectics, deductive-inductive-abductive reasoning, ethnomethodology, grounded theory, naturalistic observation v. participant observation, phenomenology, ontology, “rules of sociological method” and symbolic interactionism. Design, classification, and implementation of selected methods of data collection, which include: case study, comparative method, ethnography, predictive deduction, and triangulation. Qualitative data analysis methods or techniques – including comparative analysis, content analysis, hermeneutics, SWOT analysis, systematic review, and thick description – and criteria for matching them with the stated research needs and goals. Elements of proposal writing. All of these should yield insights into the systematic analysis, synthesis and reporting of actual research data. 1 Unit.

Course Outline: Click Here

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Othello & Wambui

The mind is in all that
We say and do,
And see.

But is what Wambui
Says, and does,
All in Othello's mind? 

A suggested read: The Merchant of Venice   

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bote, in Horizon's Haze Fades: Haiku

Cรดte, littler. And lilt(s). 
Tail winds in 'er iv'ry sails.
To Zanj. Inde. Mars, p'raps.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

CSO 302 Qualitative Research Methods, Final Examination Papers, 21 December 2004 to 11 January 2014

To skip the text below and go straight to the examination papers, click here 

As is to be expected, the past papers included in the set I am providing in this blog post reflect the subject-matter of qualitative research methods taught under course code CSO 302 -- a third-year course at the University of Nairobi. The course underscores the contribution of qualitative methods to knowledge-generation, and to the deeper understanding of the social forces operating in 21st century society. 

We can trace the origins of qualitative methods back to the deep, millennia-long, past of human existence -- the ontological/ existential/proto-naturalistic past -- which preceded even the first stage in Auguste Comte's Law of Three Stages; that is, the "theological stage." Similarly, of course, we can trace the very roots of the natural (and social) sciences as we have come to know them back to that same past.

There is clearly a determination in the course to distinguish between methods of data collection and methods of data analysis, and to go for detail. And even though (a) similar methods often appear under a variety names; and, (b) similar names are or seem to be used, on occasion, interchangeably for both data collection and data analysis, you are challenged to spot the random disguises (under a), and to both extricate 'analysis' from 'collection' and articulate the paired differences (under b). 

All this puts a high premium on conceptual clarity and empirical example. Designing an efficient taxonomy of methods, which should proceed from such clarity and example(s), remains an ever-present challenge, which you are challenged to overcome any imaginative way you can, without 'brutally' violating Bateson's (1987: 284-287) classification principles embodied in his theory of logical types. 

Read More >>> Past Papers

Reminder: To access the CSO 302 examination papers, click here 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

CSO 589 Advanced Training Techniques, Past Examination Papers, 17 Aug 2000 to 28 Aug 2013

I have put together, via the link given below, a set of past papers in Advanced Training Techniques which covers the period August 17, 2000 to August 28, 2013. That's 13 years of teaching the course. Another examination is due next Wednesday, April 17th. Shall I say: "Ha! Ha! Ha!"?  No. Let me just wish you all the best, this examination season at the UoN.

To access the past papers, click here 

You may also wish to read this piece of mine on >> past papers

Past Papers

Past Papers is a powerful meme in student circles. The drive to lay one's hands on past examination papers has been around for decades, as I remember. Having them was, so it was presumed, a legitimate way to reduce the vagaries of chance in the examination room; a way to read the examiner's mind ahead of time and to 'prosper'. That is, a way to level the playing field, and thus to optimize the probable score. Did it ever work? It did, I think, for many, over the years. But it required a certain capacity for predictive deduction, a method of dealing with fuzzy or 'big' data and seeing the future that we used without knowing the term that stood for it. Let me restate that, just to stay on the point a moment longer: we practised predictive deduction long, long before we were to know that we had been engaged in it. I suppose that there are many such moments, such abductions, in all our pasts. The room for error and anxiety was always considerable, for just as many -- despite the method.

You will find more discussion of predictive deduction applications in this text. 

Lecturers at the UoN make available to their students past papers and/or other material related to their courses via one or more of the following ways: (1) selectively giving out excess originals, (2) making photocopies at their own expense for use by class (usually small classes), (3) temporarily placing scarce 'originals' in on-campus photocopy kiosks, (4) lending copies directly to class reps to enable class members to make and pay for their own copies at places of their choice, (5) distributing copies as email attachments.

The university library system is supposed to be depository of past papers from all faculties, but the service is far from satisfactory because the system simply isn't working. It won't until all the material is properly gathered at the end of each examination period, meticulously collated and classified, serialized and -- above all -- posted online. Until then, I am happy to make my past papers available on my blog, having installed my own scanning equipment at home. There is none at the office.

Still, the pressure to update sets of papers in a timely manner remains a 'clerical' challenge, what with all the other stuff that one must simultaneously do. I still send by email a good number of sets, more particularly the most recent papers.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

CSO 595 ~ Natural and Technological Hazards, Past Exam Papers, 10 September 1999 to 21 December 2012

I have taught this course since 1999 to MA students (Disaster Management cluster) in the Department of Sociology, University of Nairobi. Here below is a link to past (final) examination papers for the period up to December 2012. Click here to see the questions. I invite critical comments.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

CSO 302: Qualitative Research Methods. CAT Assignment for the January-April Semester 2014

It's that time again for a CAT. Remember that, besides having attended class regularly, you will have to do some serious reading at the JKML or other library, and/or online, to answer any of the set CAT questions satisfactorily. You will know so much more after this assignment. To access the questions,  follow this link >>> CAT Questions