Kenyans have done it again!
We are now getting used to Kenyans chalking up achievements in areas where all of us should have been eager to prove our worth in. And it looks like there is neither atomic science nor black magic in what they beat us in. All they have needed is a little thinking space in which to exercise their minds, and, surely, that should be available.
This time round, I learn that a couple of Kenyan students, Paul Ntikoisa and Ivy Etemesi in the Rift Valley, have been putting their heads together around a problem that has been dogging young female learners in all our countries; some female students sometimes drop out of the school system because of the biological imperative of having to go through the menstrual cycles in an unfriendly environment.
Though we all know that this is a natural imposition of womanhood that no girl — unless seriously disabled — can avoid, we seem to think of it as a girl’s problem which she and her mother – not father — should deal with.
It has been with us for a long time, and we have knowledge of the impediment it places on the path to women’s emancipation which should come through attaining modern education, and yet we do little to alleviate the inconvenience experienced by school girls. It has often been stated that many girls cannot stand the discomfort and humiliation they have to go through when the inevitable happens, every month, because they are shunned and mocked by their uncomprehending male colleagues who treat them as if they were unclean, though it is obviously through no fault of theirs.
It is estimated by Unesco that up to more than 2.6 million girls are faced with this problem in Kenya alone, and it is easy to imagine how many more will be affected across the continent.
Now, some Kenyan youth have come up with a brilliant idea that will radically change the way we look at the banana plant. Taking a cue from the traditional use of the banana stem by Ugandan women, these young Kenyan students went one better, by obtaining banana trunk fibre and processing it into wearable fibre that can be deployed as a sanitary pad.
Immediately, I heard of this big news I rushed to google it, and spent some time buried in the literature. Till I understood the processes. I am not a techy buff myself but I could kind of understand what they had done with the banana stem: take out the soft inner flesh of the stem, wash it thoroughly to remove impurities…
Well, I must stop there lest I give misleading information to DIY enthusiasts, but my point is made.
What these young people have done is a practical demonstration of the can-do spirit with which many youngsters are imbued, and they are to be found not only in Kenya but in all our countries.
It is only that the Kenyans tend to get there before the others, and get all the bragging rights. If I sound envious, it is because I am.
But better late than never, and all our youngsters in the other countries can take up the challenge.
First, we have the advantage of knowing what the Kenyan lads have done with the banana plant. That is not the only way to go, because someone could try to utilise some other tissue. I wonder how baobab bark would fare in this context, since ‘orubugu’ is hallowed textile in the Lake Victoria area and could do the trick if it is properly pounded and softened. What about papaya stem?
On a general note, we need to encourage our youth to be more adventurous, to experiment with what has never been used but is plentiful.
A long time ago I got some wisdom from a visiting young French man who told me, unforgettably: to make progress, you either identify something useful and acquire plenty of it, or you identify something that you have plenty of and find a use for it, because you already have it. It is the case of banana plants all around us.
This might create a banana revolution in which people will uproot other plants to replace them with bananas, and find that the bananas have numerous advantages:
They can be eaten as fruit when they ripen; they can be cooked before they ripen to provide matooke and katoogo; the banana juice is sweeter than Coca Cola; fermented, it gives the alcoholic beverages, rubisi and mbege, from which a moonshine is extracted for serious Waragi and Konyagi gins consumers.
In addition, banana plants in large numbers help to decorate the land, cool the earth and freshen the air.
I see no reason why people all over East Africa do not plant as many banana as they can in all the areas with a moderate rainfall pattern. The DR Congo, which enjoys such plentiful rains, should take the lead in creating this luxuriant and extremely valuable agricultural belt.
We could all soon celebrate the banana plant as a liberator on so many fronts, and since some people have been trying very hard to make banana republics of our countries, we might as well complete the picture meaningfully.
Jenerali Ulimwengu is now on YouTube via jeneralionline tv. E-mail: [email protected]