After Eliud Kipchoge’s big one, Africa needs these ‘firsts’ too

Wednesday October 23 2019

Eliud Kipchoge celebrates with his pacemakers, friends and supporters after crossing finish line to break the historic two-hour barrier for a marathon during the INEOS 1:59 Challenge in Vienna, Austria on October 12, 2019. PHOTO | INEOS 1:59 CHALLENGE |


Two weeks ago, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge became the first human being to run a marathon in under two hours. The Olympic champion and world record holder brought it home in one hour, 59 minutes and 40 seconds in a special race in Vienna.

We thought of many things in which we desperately need a Kenyan or African first.

Here are eight of them:

African country that’s the least corrupt in the world:

Though countries like the Seychelles, Botswana and Rwanda have relatively low corruption levels, according to Transparency International’s latest “Corruption Perceptions Index”, Africa is still bedevilled by graft.



The index reported that the 10 most-corrupt countries are all in Africa.

Kenya is estimated to lose between Sh800 billion ($8 billion) and Sh1 trillion to corruption every year.

Africa loses $148 billion (about 25 per cent of its average GDP) annually through corruption.

Nairobi says goodbye to waste water vegetables:

We want to be the first city residents in over three generations to have clean water flowing in Nairobi River.

A recent expose in the Daily Nation left one with the feeling that the river is one of the most polluted in the world.

It quoted Water and Sanitation Cabinet Secretary Simon Chelugui as saying a mind-boggling 4,404 pollutants have been found in the river.

The filth of Nairobi River was flagged as early as 1918 and has only got worse, prompting the Daily Nation to say in its report that, “More than 100 years later, Nairobi residents are still eating vegetables grown with sewage water”.

The first continent to end ‘life presidency’:

Of the world’s longest-ruling non-royal leaders who have clocked 20 years, nine of the top 20 are from Africa. Needless to say, we top the list with Paul Biya, the venerable big man of Cameroon, clocking 44 years and 116 days as you read this.

In the past 14 years, 15 leaders have scrapped term limits to make themselves presidents for life — the most in any continent.

Africa desperately needs to be the first continent to end these until-death-do-part-me-from-the-throne presidencies.

No child left behind:

The infant mortality rate in Sub-Saharan Africa declined 57 per cent from 1990 to 2018, from 182 deaths per 1,000 to 78 — meaning one in 13 African children died last year before age five. In 1990, one in five were dying. Progress, yes, but not good enough.

In Europe and North America, the figure in 1990 was 14 per 1,000 and down to six in 2018. We should be the peoples who recorded the sharpest drop in infant mortality in human civilisation and catch up with Europe and North America by 2025.

Stopping traffic accident deaths in its tracks:

Death rates from traffic accidents are highest in Africa. The continent records 26.6 annual traffic deaths for every 100,000 citizens, compared to 9.3 in Europe, where the rate is the lowest. The World Health Organisation noted that the risk of being killed in a traffic crash in Tanzania, proportionate to the number of vehicles on the road, is 20-30 times higher than in the US and Western Europe.

That everyone will be in their home:

The number of people fleeing their homes due to conflict, persecution or other threats exceeded 70 million in 2018 — the highest level in almost 70 years.

Seven of the 10 nations listed as the major source of refugees, or the displaced, are in Africa. South Sudan and Somalia are in the top five, along with Syria, Afghanistan and Myanmar.

The others are Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Eritrea and Burundi.

Africa should aim to be the first developing world region to shut all refugee and IDP camps and send everyone to the safety of their homes.

Get all the children in class:

Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion in the world. Over one-fifth of children between six and 11 are out of school. Almost 60 per cent of youth aged 15-17 are not in school.

At current trends, it’s projected that learning rates will drop by almost a third in Francophone African countries by 2030.

This just won’t do. Africa should scramble and be the first to get all its children in class in the next decade.

Lights everywhere:

While the electrification rate in Africa is 43 per cent, the number of people without access to electricity has stagnated at about 600 million. The 43 per cent is half the global rate of 87 per cent.

Hey, let’s be the first to move from darkness to light for all at the first rate the world has seen.

Mr Onyango-Obbo is the curator of the Wall of Great Africans and publisher of explainer site @cobbo3