food shortage in Kenya

Food shortage continues to plague several parts of rural Kenya. This inspite of the Kenyan government’s public promises  to contain the crisis. The whole affair has been a sham. Firstly, the government officials charged with distributing cheap maize the rural and urban poor have been involved in corrupt scandals intended to defraud the government and the Kenyan people of millions of shillings. Secondly, the government does not seem to have a coherent long term plan to tackle the problem. Why is it that we are having a food shortage? Is it because people did not farm last year or is there some other reasons? And why didn’t anyone in government see this coming and plan for it in advance?

It is sad that so far no head has rolled yet. None of those suspected to have been involved in the scandals have been brought to justice – despite promises from several members of parliament. It is likely that people high up in the coalition government may have been involved hence the need to shield them for the sake of the coalition. I say this is a bucket of horse manure. This is total dung because we cannot continue to sacrifice the lives of innocent Kenyans just to keep a bunch of kleptocrats in high office. For too long Kenyan politics have lacked accountability. Justice should never be compromised for the sake of political expediency.

And where is the Kenyan media while all this is going on? What are their names? The names do not have to appear on the front pages of the Nation or the Standard. Just leak them online. Wikileaks is a good place to start. If our politicians do not want to willingly be transparent we should force them to do just that. That’s the least they could do for us for the obscene amounts of money we pay them every month.

America the great

obamachampion

Today the world got yet another glimpse of the greatness of the greatest nation on earth. The United States of America, a nation founded in part by slave owners, witnessed the swearing in as president the son of a Kenyan and a Kansan woman. Just like in the 18th century, when (together with France) America laid the foundations for the belief in the rights and equality of all peoples, today America reminded the world that it ought to be the case that any human being, regardless of race, creed or gender can be anything that they choose to be.

This is no place for jingoism. I am aware of America’s flaws. It is a country of contrasts in many respects. There still are millions who are yet to live the American dream. Ethnic suspicions and racial bigotry still persist. And its international agenda still has hints of arrogance and a false sense of entitlement. But at the same time America continues to be the shining example of what can become of a union of free men based on the ideals of inalienability of the rights of man. No other nation tries so hard to stick to these ideals. No other nation has shown this much vitality and ability to renew itself and maintain its greatness at the same time.

So as Barack Obama begins his journey in the White House it is my hope that the world will take a moment and think about what it is that makes America great. If they are honest with themselves they will come up with answers that condemn tyranny, arbitrary government, and many other ills that perpetuate poverty and general socio-cultural stuntedness in most of the poor regions of the world.

mugabe and tsvangirai failing Zimbabwe

There comes a time when convention and ideology needs to be brushed aside for the sake of the well being of a nation. Now is such a time for Zimbabwe, once Southern Africa’s bread basket but now a basket case in its own right. The truth be said, Robert Mugabe’s land policies had some merit. It is inconceivable in any democracy that a tiny percentage of the population (most of foreign origin whose grandparents and parents stole land from native Zimbabweans) should own huge tracts of land while the vast majority subsist on tiny parcels. This system was simply unsustainable and was bound to explode with or without uncle Rob (next watch South Africa under Zuma…..). That said, it is indisputable that Mugabe bungled the entire process. Forceful evictions, cronyism and outright thuggery made the whole process seem like it was being run by a bunch of kids.

So now the water has been spilled. As they say where I come from, maji yakimwagika hayazoleki (once water has been spilled you can’t put it back into a container). The Zimbabwean economy is paying dearly for Rob’s misadventures. The political process has also been a major casualty of the land mess. And millions of Zimbabweans have been forced to flee their own country. A few questionable elections have been held. Many have been jailed for political reasons.

With all the above in mind, I can’t help but wonder why the hell Robert Mugabe and Robert Tsvangirai are continuing in their dillying and dallying instead of reaching an agreement to start fixing the country. Perhaps Tsvangirai does not want to cede any ground on principle. But this is no time for principles or unncessary fights. People – with only one life to live like all of us – are dying daily because of the intransigence of these two men and their aides. Someone needs to lock them up in a room without food or bathroom break until they come up with a plan to save Zimbabwe. Meanwhile, South Africa continues to be a big disappointment in this affair. They are the last country one would expect to tolerate arbitrary tyranny – regardless of the color of the skin of the tyran.

what an obama presidency could do for african leadership

There is excitement in the air. All around the world and here in the US in particular everyone seems thrilled by the idea that tomorrow Barrack Obama, the son of a Kenyan man and a Kansan woman, will be sworn in to become the 44th president of the United States. I am excited too, partly because of my own political persuasion and partly because being a Kenyan this is a special moment when the son of a Kenyan becomes the most powerful man in the world. I am not big on identity politics but I simply could not let this one go.

Back to the topic of this post. As we await the arrival of the Obamas in the White House I cannot help but wonder how an Obama presidency will affect leadership on the continent of his father – Africa. Already in Europe and Israel we have seen candidates mimic Obama as they attempt to woo voters. I hope that the same enthusiasm for this man’s brand of politics and political organization spreads to Africa. I hope that an Obama presidency will plant the seeds for African leadership based on lasting ideals and ideologies and not myopic ethno-economic calculations.

So let us all make merry and be happy as the world begins a new chapter with a renewed America. And let us strive to imitate what is best about America – it’s resiliency and unique ability of self-regeneration and most of all its peoples belief in themselves, even when the odds seem longer than they can overcome.

a few stories that highlight just how bad things are for some people

The BBC reports that women in Niger have a 1 in 7 chance of dying during childbirth. The report also mentioned that more than half of maternal deaths in poor countries occur in Africa. I have talked about this in the past but it still is saddening to see such statistics and know that there are real people, real human beings behind them. IRIN also has a slightly positive story on maternal mortality in Somalia.

Turning to the bizzare, The Economist reports that albinos in East Africa are facing constant threat of death in the hands of crazies out to harvest their body parts – to be used by witches. This is the 21st century? How do people still believe in things like this? The Economist may have hyped it a bit, but the mere fact that such crazy things are still happening in communities in East Africa is shocking, and quite frankly embarrassing for Africa. I think it is time governments stopped pretending that people don’t do such weird things and go ahead and outlaw certain practices – like witchcraft and the like. Of course this may be a problem if some law-makers believe in that stuff too. And I would not be surprised if it turned out that some do because we are led by a brood of half-baked adults without a scintilla of statesmanship but full of superstitious and anachronistic nonesense that they present as “traditions.”

And lastly, a positive story from Malawi. The authorities tthere have adopted the use of mobile phones to assist in data collection. This discovery might help improve the standards of data collection across Africa, a continent where planning has been seriously hampered because of unreliable data collection and record-keeping.

martha karua for president?

You know, I have been thinking about the nature of African leadership over the years. For the most part the continent of Africa has produced two types of leaders. On the one hand have been the idealist intellectual visionaries, smart but completely detached from the realities on the ground. I think of great sons of the continent like Nkrumah and Nyerere and Senghor and Cabral. On the other hand have been the deranged half-wit dictators (the majority) who have run down the continent and made it the mess that it currently is. This camp comprises nearly all African leaders in history with a few exceptions.

Martha Karua, the Kenyan justice minister, fits neither camp. She is a strong-willed woman who shoots from the hip. She tells it like it is and seems to be the kind of politician who is never afraid to follow through on her beliefs. I am willing to speculate that if she could get elected she might be the leader Kenya has been waiting for – a radicalist who will shock us out of our stupor, bring in a new order and make us rethink who we are. She might also be a total disaster, but either way I think she has the potential to wake us all up. None of our current Big Men seems to possess the same qualities. Saitoti is a small man who was content being Moi’s stooge forever. Kibaki is an aloof intellectual who thinks that things just work out on their own and believes that the likes of Mutula Kilonzo, Murungi, Ruto and the rest know what they are doing. Raila is a populist. I used to like Ruto but his handling of the maize crisis has raised serious doubts. Mudavadi is a younger Kibaki. And Uhuru Kenyatta should never be president because deep down he is not a politician. Moi forced him into it. Martha Karua seems like the one who will demolish Kibera, Kangemi and Kawangware and build formal settlements in their stead. She seems like the one who will radicalise our constitution and provide a break from the reactionary politics that have shaped our history since 1991. And while she is at it she might even jail a few corrupt people, redefine gender relations in Kenya and bring some semblance of substance into our politics.

ps: I am not affiliated to any political party. Quite frankly, I have a beneath-the-ground opinion of nearly all our politicians, PNU and ODM and all their affiliates alike. I just find it interesting to put this proposition out there because many people have written Karua off because of her ethnicity and her stance after last year’s botched elections. But her faults aside, I think she could be the African Iron Lady. She is young, has no colonial and post-colonial hang ups and seems like she has the courage to make history.

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scandals in Kenya: can we please have some big names behind bars??

Right now Kenya seems like the most corrupt place on the planet (sort of a hyperbole, but it’s close to that). There is the running scandal of the sale of the  Grand Regency Hotel , there is that involving cheap imported maize, there is the one with the Kenya Tourism Board and then there is the giant one involving Triton and the Kenya Pipeline Company – and of course many smaller ones that never make it to the national news.

I am quite frankly disappointed by the coalition government. These old men running our country seem to have no idea of what it means for people to have trust in their government. There has to be less embarrassing ways to steal from poor people! There has to be smarter ways! That these thieves choose to steal in broad daylight and so shamelessly means that they have nothing but contempt for the average Kenyans. And for that they deserve punishment. Someone needs to be jailed for life – without parole. And they should pay heavy fines too. We must make corruption as expensive to the corrupt as it can get.

The current saga has got me thinking. May be the Kenyan model of mass movement of the 1990s has failed. Kibaki and Raila are both mass movement leaders but they are failing Kenyans almost in the same way that Moi did. May we should try a bourgeois liberation movement. May be if the middle and upper classes get politically active enough our leaders will listen to them. Because as it is it is so easy for Nairobi to dupe the millions of Kenyans who live in the rural areas and the slums in the major cities. Kibera, Mukuru, Kangemi and others prove this fact. But I don’t think that the Kenyan middle class would be so easily duped. The problem is that as a political constituency they lack the numbers and the courage. Many would rather spend their time in the many hypermarkets around town than to agitate for real change. Some might even owe their status to the corrupt ruling class.

As yet Kenya does not have leaders from the middle class – or the upper class for that matter. The little men who parade as gods around the country do not have any affiliations to any given class. It is no wonder that they usually just fight for their selfish interests. They have never been middle or upper class (not in wealth, but in their thinking) and they are in more than a rush to discard their humble roots (invariably by stealing from the public). They do not care much for the middle class, and they keep duping the vast majority of poor Kenyans (by playing on ethnicity). May be we need class conscious movements (nothing Marxist, just classist) to articulate the interests of various classes. May be then we shall have stable political parties that are based on ideas and not fleeting personalities and ethnic alliances.

The most frustrating thing about all this – African politics in general and the Kenyan corruption scandals in particular – is that our leaders seem completely oblivious. In some other place the minister in charge of the KPC would have resigned already. Just a few weeks ago the Belgian government resigned because of a scandal in the financial sector. I am not advocating for a government resignation. I just hope that someone high up there gets to pay for his mistakes. That’s all.

go harambee stars!!

So for those of us who are not keen fans of the Stars, they will be playing the hosts – the Uganda Cranes – in the finals of the Challenge Cup tonight (Tuesday). I am hoping that our football team manages to do what our rugby team has struggled to do in the recent past – to beat Uganda in their home ground. We all know what happened with the Elgon Cup. Last year we barely won after going into the second leg in Nairobi trailing by 17 points.

So go Stars! You make us all proud.

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in china they execute these kind of people

This story has left me speechless. Millions of Kenyans are at risk of imminent starvation and in dire need of government help but the same government officials charged with helping them seem to be in to make a quick buck at the expense of the very same nearly starving Kenyans. I am reminded of the stories I read of Chinese officials being executed after being found guilty of corruption. I know Kenyans might have reservations when it comes to the death penalty but in such situations it is mightily tempting. How should we treat people who would rather have thousands of Kenyans starve if it meant that they’d make a few millions shillings? Do you jail them? will that really help?

The only problem is that if we were to punish all those involved in shady deals we’d probably have to get rid of the entire government. All of them. In all three branches.

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on the Kenyan Media

Lately, the Kenyan press has been, with good reason, crying foul over the government’s decision to muzzle it. On this I was in complete agreement with them. I think that for society to remain healthy everyone should be allowed to express their beliefs, however unsettling they may be to sections of the same society. A free society must have a free press.

That said, I think the Kenyan media could do much better – if they tried. Being away from home, I mostly read the Nation and the Standard. I used to listen to radio online but stopped after I realized that the content is almost the same as any radio station over here. It is all American music, American gossip, American crap (Mobutu’s “Authenticity” was mostly horse manure, but his intentions had merit. We can never run away from the fact that every ‘culture’ has its owners). Even the accents of the presenters are no longer Kenyan (Nairobian, to be precise). The print media and television are just as bad. Foreign content predominates. I know we have made progress; and kudos to KTN and NTV for the local shows they have been airing. But these shows are not engaging enough. They do not seem to be geared towards educating the average Kenyan on their civil liberties and responsibilities. They do not come close to “Tushauriane”. And the newspapers. They are mostly sensationalist. The editorials lack the force that is needed in the editorials of major newspapers. Oh, and the Standard needs to shed its “gutter-press” image fast, just as the Nation needs to stop seeming like they lack a unity of purpose among their editorial staff.

So let’s be honest with ourselves and demand better from our media. We demand that they act as educators of Kenyans. They could dedicate an hour each week to talk about gender issues. Have middle class women (middle class for the simple reason that they probably practise what they would be preaching) talk about family planning, AIDS, marriage issues, Kenyan women’s needs and the like. Dedicate another hour to Kenyan men and on the same issues. It is only through the media that we can create a national consciousness and the attitudes that will help us advance as a nation. It is very sad that more than forty years after independence we still don’t have a national culture to speak of. The Kenyan media takes the biggest chunk of the blame for this.They have never engineered any meaningful national debates over any issue. Ethnicity, land, wealth distribution, family planning, AIDS, culture and the arts, language, and many others are areas in which they could focus (MEANINGFULLY) in order to help improve the condition of average Kenyans.

And while they are at it they should not allow themselves to be used by politicians. And speaking of politics, I think a 24 hour news channel would do us a lot of good. If Kenyans are reminded every half hour of what scam their leaders are involved in it might just push them over the edge and make them demand for better leadership. But who is going to fund it? Perhaps one of our few truly rich citizens. I say truly rich because most of the members of the Kenyan upper class belong to the “wabenzi” tradition. They get moderately rich, buy a benz and a house and then settle. Any further investment is usually in useless things like land in their “home areas” and other similarly dead-end investments. I could go on and on but this is a topic for a development economics piece that I hope to write some time soon…….

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