the waki report, political expediency and the denial of justice

The Kenyan Premier, Raila Odinga, has bowed to pressure from within his party and made a hasty retreat with regard to the implementation of the Waki Report. (This report was compiled by a commission set up to investigate the post-election violence that nearly plunged Kenya into civil war early this year). This is a huge disappointment and a blow to the pursuit of justice in Kenya. About 1500 died. Hundreds of thousands were displaced, many of whom still live in IDP camps. Don’t we owe these people a public acknowledgment that they were wronged?

Members of both the ODM and PNU have been implicated in the report. Predictably, a cohort of PNU parliamentarians already roundly rejected the report. Now ODM, for the sake of unity (its members from the Rift Valley province threatened a mutiny), has decided to do the same. This means that the Waki Commission will probably join the list of the myriad useless commissions the country has set up since independence to investigate all manner of wrongs and provide recommendations – recommendations which were then rubbished and never implemented. What a waste of time and money!

But there is still hope. And it lies within the Kenyan civil society. The law society of Kenya, among other such civic organisations, should pressure the international court in the Hague, through Kofi Annan, to prosecute those named in the report, unless the government agrees to set up a Kenyan tribunal. The culture of impunity has to be stopped. This report could have been used as a tool for national reconciliation and regeneration. It is sad that political expediency has once again come before justice. It is doubly sad that ODM, a party that has claimed to be for the people, is the same party denying justice to the people.

these not so serious leaders of zimbabwe

It has been ages since Zimbabwe held elections but until now Robert Mugabe (having stolen the elections) and his nemesis Morgan Tsvangirai (the supposed winner) are yet to reach a deal to form a government. This deadlock is not about policy. It is not about how these two men will stear Zimbabwe out of the mess it has found itself in. It has nothing to do with increasing school enrolment, creating jobs or improving post-natal care for rural women. The squabbling that continues to deny the people of Zimbabwe a government is over cabinet posts – posts that are to be filled with men who are as alienated from the struggles of the rural folk as that infamous French queen was. It is a tragedy. It is a total travesty.

The regional leaders are still calling for more summits. Opportunities to spend tax payers money while discussing how to divide that money among the same corrupt men who seem to have completely lost direction and the interest to serve their people.

Do these guys know the inflation rate in their country? Do these guys see how Zimbabweans are suffering in camps in South Africa or in the other countries in Southern Africa?

It is a shame. A big shame. Who cares about who holds what posts? As a the former president of Kenya would say: will this in any way increase the number of utensils in any ordinary Zimbabwean’s house? Whatever happened to policy?

does anyone have the guts to tell kabila the truth?

So Gen. Nkunda and his men have yet again captured an army base in the East of the DRC, further raising questions of the viability of this vast country as a united nation-state. The news reports did not come as a surprise. I have said again and again that Kabila seems unable to take it to Nkunda and his army and because of this I think that the DRC should be split up. Millions of people should not live forever in misery and at the mercy warring armies simply because of King Leopold’s greed several decades ago.

Kabila does not have complete control of the country and because of this the African Union and the UN should consider putting the Eastern part of the country in a trusteeship with the aim of granting them complete autonomy if they so choose in a referendum some time in the near future.

Time will not stand still to wait for Kabila, Nkunda, Museveni and Kagame to resolve their differences. As they, through their surrogates, squabble, millions of real people continue to die or be confined to lives as base as no human being should have to countenance in the 21st century. Addis Ababa and New York have buried their heads in the sand for too long over this matter. It is time to wake up and face the realities on the ground.

Yes, I know this seems as too simplistic a suggestion. Rwanda has a stake in this because of the deposed Hutus in the region – Nkunda himself is a Tutsi claiming to be fighting to defend his ethnic kinsmen from these Hutus. Uganda is involved too, perhaps because of the minerals or just because of Museveni’s need to keep his army busy to avoid discontents at home. It is a complicated mess to put it mildly. But all these other facets of this conflict do not negate the fact that the DRC, a vast country that is the size of Western Europe, is too big to be governed by a weak government in Kinshasa. Kinshasa cannot project its power throughout the country. Period. No society, at least not in the modern political economy, can exist without government. The chaos in the East of the DRC are as much a result of Kinshasa’s ineptitude as they are of foreign meddling by Kagame and Museveni. I say divide the country, or give the East more autonomy and move one.

the waki commission and the need for total truth

I have previously stated my sympathies for William Ruto. But on this one I think the man from Eldoret North is going a bit too far. For a whole minister to go on record and rubbish the work of a highly respected commission is indeed deplorable. I hope that soon enough Ruto will realise that the more he continues to shout from the roof tops about the uselessness of the commission’s finding the more Kenyans will start pointing fingers at him.

It is true that the Rift Valley was the hotbed of the violence and that most of the perpetrators may have been Ruto’s adopted constituents. It is therefore expected that someone from the Rift Valley would come out and defend the perpetrators. But this is not how to go about it. The systemic problems that caused the flare up last January will not be solved by the commission’s prosecution of the perpetrators. I hope Kenyans realise that and that the commission appreciates this fact in its recommendations – I have downloaded a copy of the report but because of a term paper and other commitments haven’t been able to read through it (plus it’s like over 500 pages long!). In light of this fact, I don’t see why Ruto wants the truth to be swept under the carpet this early. He ought to let the truth come out and then we shall deal with the truth as responsible citizens who want a united future for Kenya.

If the people of Rift Valley and their leaders killed innocent Kenyans, Kenyans deserve to know. The victims need to know who these people are. From here we ought then to proceed to why these atrocities were committed and if we are true to ourselves we shall realise that the solution is not retribution but honest reconciliation. It is no secret that land was the issue in the Rift Valley. On this basis, some form of amnesty and redistribution of land can be worked out – but only after the truth has been put out there.

So Mr. Ruto should not be afraid, this only betrays his guilt – whether apparent or real. He should instead advocate for a responsible handling of the reconciliation process. This is his only realistic way of navigating through the tricky issue of the violence. If he however choses to confront the rest of the country by rubbishing the report, he will lose face and his own party might throw him under the bus. More importantly, Kenya may end up further divided with residents of the Rift Valley feeling alienated and marginalised. Nobody wants that. I hope this is clear to William Ruto.

zimbabwean leaders, stop acting childish

Am I the only one tired of the antics of Robert Mugabe and Morgan Tsvangirai? This struggle over which ministries to give to which party is turning into child play. How hard can it be to agree on which posts to take? This is not rocket science. And what gives these lunatics of leaders the idea that they can continue to mortgage their citizens’ lives as they leisurely engage in inane political fights??

Zimbabweans are hurting – no one needs a reminder about this. And I just read an article about the collapsing school system. This is particularly sad because education holds the key to the future. If Zimbabwean children lag behind they are going to have a hard time catching up and competing in the increasingly globalized labor market – if and when their economy recovers and sanity returns to their country.

Quite frankly, I am simply sick and tired of the circus that is the negotiations. Mugabe and Tsvangirai should be locked in a room without food or bathroom break until they come up with a deal that will work for Zimbabweans and stop the madness that has characterised this once promising African country.

this is total bull, and we should not be scared by it

I just read a BBC piece that the Islamist terrorists in Somalia are threatening to attack Kenya if it goes ahead with plans to train about 10,000 Somali soldiers. Really? Seriously? Are we supposed to be scared by this?

Somalia has been a mess since Siad Barre was deposed in the early 90s. Thugs and war lords have made normal life impossible for millions of Somali from all walks of life. For well over a decade the country has not had a functional government. While I opposed the Somali invasion to ged rid of the Islamic Courts union government, I think that that is all water under the bridge now. And quite frankly in retrospect that might have been a good idea. There is heavy Western investment in Kenya and the last thing we needed was a government that pals around with terrorists, to borrow from that now famous Alaskan.

Training these soldiers, is a good idea. It is time Somalia had a government to impose peace and stability. Due to the rampant clanism in the country, democracy will not work. At least not in the short term. The best thing to do is have a functional government that is moderately legitimate and have it use all human-rights-respecting means to quell the violence and bring some order and civility to Somali life.

Now, these thugs might carry out their threat and kill Kenyans. And I would find it hard to justify sacrificing Kenyan lives on behalf of Somalis – or vise versa. But sometimes we have to stand up for what is right. Kenya should not feel threatened by pirates and common thugs with kalashnikovs. We are stronger and braver than that. I say let’s go ahead and train these Somalis and if these thugs attack us we shall take it to them. We can do it.

the 2008 world hunger index: it is not pretty

So the 2008 world hunger index (WHI) published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) from the US and Welthungerhilfe from Germany is out and it is ugly. No, I am not talking about the horrible pictures of African children covered in ashes or an emaciated South Asian woman and her child which are prominently displayed in the report. I am talking about the fact that Sub-Saharan Africa still remains the hungriest part of the world. The DRC, Eritrea, Burundi and Niger are among the worst performing countries in Africa and in the world.

Kenya (55th out of 88) is hungrier than Mauritania, a desert country. The least hungry continental Sub-Saharan African country is South Africa.

It is embarrassing that over 10,000 years after humans invented agriculture over 900 million people still go hungry worldwide (South Asia and Africa being the worst affected areas). It is sad that many African countries still cannot feed their own people. A combination of wars, bad politics and a dearth of planning has ensured that millions of Africans continue to go hungry. When are we going to start thinking seriously about agriculture, population control and food stability?

may i politely disagree with Ruto

So the other day William Ruto, a prominent national leader, proposed that parliament, instead of Omondi, Kamau and Muchama, should elect the president. His rationale was that the presidency has grown into a divisive rather than a unifying figure. That Kenyans have come to view competition for the post as a do or die, as was seen earlier this year when supporters of Kibaki and Raila killed, looted and maimed in the name of their respective candidates.

To some extent Ruto is right. The Kenyan presidency has been bastardized by the way the last elections were handled. It is because of the presidency that more than 1000 Kenyans died and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes. The country is yet to fully recover from the polarizing effects of the events that followed Kivuitu’s sham of an election. So may be if we took away the winner-takes-all nature of the presidency we can reduce the risk of having another fiasco like we did in Decemeber of last year. Then we can have a very decentralized form of competition for constituency seats and then the party with the highest number of seats can form the next government. We shall in effect have a parliamentary system, with parliament having the power to recall an ill-performing president.

I have nothing against the above argument. I believe that the more checks we have the better. And we can kind of tweak Ruto’s suggestion a bit to have a Premier with executive powers elected by parliament and a president with ceremonial powers – either elected by the same parliament (but with a longer tenure) or by the people (again with a longer tenure than the Premier).

The only problem with this proposition is that I don’t think Kenya is ready for this yet. Our MPs are as corrupt as they are mindless and irresponsible. What stops them from being bribed to change governments every two days? Plus such strict parliamentary systems are highly unstable. Look at Israel and Italy for instance. They change governments every few months. This is the last thing we need in a highly tribalized young democracy like Kenya. We need stability in our politics and economic policies. Only a stable presidential system can provide this, for now. May be when we are more stable economically and have credible, stable and transparently run political parties we can flirt with the idea of having a parliamentary system.

isn’t it time we split this country up?

One of the defining characteristics of a legitimate state is that it ought to have a monopoly over the use of violence. The army, the police and all physical security apparatus belong to the state. When a state cannot command enough authority and support to have this monopoly – for more than a decade – then the question of whether such a state is legitimate ought to be seriously considered.

The Democratic Republic of Congo is such a state. This central African country is the size of Western Europe but with an infrastructure that is probably worse than the Persians’ during the reign of Xerxes. Strictly speaking, the DRC has never been a cohesive nation-state. It began with Katanga secessonists right after independence. Mobutu’s kleptocracy barely held it together with an iron feast and bribes. With Kabila I came the chaos in the Kivus. Kabila II keeps losing battles to ethnic Rwandese rebels. Kinshasa’s control and political legitimacy does not extend to the Eastern region of the country.

So the big question is: Is the keeping of the territorial integrity of the DRC worth the 4 million lives and counting it has cost thus far? I say no. If Southern Sudan is anything to go by, sometimes partition can be the answer. It is almost certain that Southern Sudan will vote to secede in the forthcoming referendum. May be Eastern Congolese ought to be given this option as well. Kinshasa is very far from the Kivus – both literally and figuratively. The Easterners are closer (culturally and economically) to the Swahili speaking East Africans than the inhabitants of the Western parts of the country. It is and will always be very hard to forge a cohesive nation-state out of the mess that is the DRC.

So as I have stated before, Kabila II has two options. Either declare an all out war and defeat the rebels once and for all (I am no fan of rebel movements, regardless of their cause, and never will be) or agree to lose the Eastern part of the DRC. Eastern Congolese have had enough of this war of attrition. News that Gen. Nkunda has captured yet another vital army base just serve to confirm how weak Kinshasa is.  If you cannot fight for the East let it go, Kabila. Let it go!

A critique of african culture

“A way of life which made it possible for our ancestors to be subjugated by a handful of Europeans cannot be described as totally glorious.”  Professor Peter Bodunrin

I am no Western apologist. I am a proud son of the soil (as Wahome Mutahi of the Whispers fame used to say) and a believer in the fundamentals of African socio-economic organization – a way of organizing society in which I am because we are. But I am no blanket African apologist either. And that is why I particularly like the candor of Bodurin. I am sick and tired of hearing Afrocentric thinkers prattle about how the life of the Afircan is serene. How it is untouched by modern greed and desires for material wealth. How it still embodies the true spirit of humanity.

I am tired because this kind of talk reminds me of Rousseau’s critique of arts and sciences in his first discourse – in which he talks about “uncivilized” peoples being noble savages and portraying this as the true nature of man that we should all aspire to. This is bull. It is bull because when you go hungry. When you cannot read or write. When your children die of simple treatable illnesses. When your entire life is lived in a dystopia that has lasted generations. You are not noble, savage or not. You are subordinate to nature and all its mysteries.

A little reality check will establish that there is almost nothing noble about the life of the African at this point in history. We are the laughing-stock of the world. Images of starving children and scary deranged men in war zones are what define us to the rest of the world. It therefore disturbs me quite a bit when I hear our leaders talk about “African culture” and the need to preserve it.

What culture is it that these men are talking about? Is it the culture that keeps millions upon millions hungry and illiterate? Is it the culture that allows them to marry five wives and oppress them as they so wish? Is it the culture that makes us apathetic politically and allows them to steal from us? If this is the culture they are talking about and that they want us to preserve then I am against it. I am against it because it burdens us with a docile and meek morality that is blindly accepting of hierarchy and ideologically impoverished authoritarianism.

I am no sociologist but I know that there is something fundamentally wrong with how we have come to organize our societies in the post-European-contact era. All our social institutions have come to be either European or in reaction to Europe. I say that it is time we went back to true Africanness. True Africanness means caring for one another. It means providing for the hungry and only indulging in excesses after everyone has what they need to live a decent life. It means an appreciation of nature in a way that only Eastern traditions come close. It means being passionate about life and its blessings – I believe it is Senghor who said that Africans are a people of passion and not reason. I want to go further and say that we are a people who are passionate about all that we do (including our use of reason).

The African is alive. We are not like the Westerner who is chained by “norms” or the Easterner who blindly denies his humanity as he strives for higher rewards. We are alive! We embrace humanity with vigor and rhythm. We are as diverse as diverse can get. And we care for one another – valuing human life like no other human society does. (Do not let the wars delude you. I am yet to meet a people who have as much a reverence for human life as does the African. This is one of the foundations of African Philosphy – that life is cyclical, the living, the dead and the unborn all participate and so all life is revered. Just look at African burial ceremonies and mourning rituals if you are in doubt.)

It is time we returned to the fundamentals. We should be careful not to confuse true African culture with practices that came out of poverty or contact with Europe and in some instances Arabia. When we return to these fundamentals, we will find that African culture is not at all incompatible with modernity. We can stop being nomads when it is not economical to do so. We can stop having a thousand children per household. We can stop wife-inheritance. We can stop wife-beating. We can stop female genital mutilation and all evils against our mothers and sisters. All these practices are not African. They are human, and temporal. We should see them as habits from an era gone by. And we can change them.

What makes us African is in our social relations. Not in the environment or our economic condition. We will only return to that greatness when we restructure our social organizations and carefully remove all foreign practices that have tainted the Spirit of Africa.