how do we force them to resign?

Tomorrow’s Sunday Nation opinion pieces are full of complaints against the ever growing culture of impunity among the ruling class in Kenya. We have become a nation in which cabinet ministers remain in office even when suspected of having ordered the killing of Kenyans a year ago, or turning a blind eye when public corporations were being looted by their cronies. The police chief, the Attorney General and the justice minister still remain in office even after a UN-sanctioned report blamed them for allowing extra-judicial killings to take place in Kenya. The entire judiciary is one giant sty filled with corrupt judges and officials. Everybody knows this but no one wants to do anything.

This may seem naive, but I am kind of surprised that Hussein Ali and Amos Wako are still in office. Especially Amos Wako. He is the man who is responsible for most of the rot in the judiciary. Under Moi he did nothing as the former president and his friends bastardized the judiciary. Kibaki probably kept him on on the request of Moi so as to protect himself and his friends against potential law suits. I say it is time Amos Wako went. He has been Attorney General for far too long with very little to show for it. During his tenure corruption has ballooned like no one’s business but with very few people ever being brought to court.

And about our corrupt cabinet ministers…. Where is the supposedly vibrant Kenyan civil society? I think it is time they took Philip Ochieng’s advice and started agitating for the sacking of certain people implicated in the many scandals that have rocked the country in the last several months.

quick hits…..

This is total nonsense. Kenyan politicians never cease to surprise me. Why would we want a foreigner heading our electoral commission? And this coming from our own Prime Minister? Where is your Kenyan pride, Prime Minister Odinga? Are you saying that out of almost 40 million men and women we cannot find one individual who is sober-minded and impartial enough to be trusted with the job of being chairman of the interim ECK? We expect more nationalism than this from you Mr. Odinga. Your statement sends a most ominous message – that all Kenyans are myopic, conceited tribalists who cannot be trusted with the running of an institution like the ECK. And that is just sad. And about foreigners… don’t get me started. It is my hope that when you thought about foreigners you meant someone from one of the 54 countries on the continent, because otherwise I would be doubly mad at you.

Finally, the Kenyan police’s bad habits have been brought to light:
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions, Mr. Philip Alston, has carried out investigations and found the Kenyan police and justice system guilty of summarily executing suspected criminals – mostly in Eastern Nairobi and the surrounding areas. The envoy’s report recommends the sacking of Attorney General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali. I second this recommendation. This report exposes the government’s failure to maintain a functioning society in poor areas of the country and its attempts to cover up its failure and the rot that is the justice system by killing people without a trial. The crime problem in Eastern Nairobi and the surrounding areas is one of poverty and poor planning on the part of the government.

Poverty alleviating measures – like vocational training or micro-credit schemes – could be of help to the thousands of youth in this part of the country who find themselves without any alternative but to engage in crime for a living. The government could also reduce the crime rate by keeping young kids in school. Most of the thugs terrorizing residents of Eastern Nairobi are primary school and high school drop outs. Investing in schools and programs that keep teens in school could be the way forward. A more controversial plan could also be an attempt to have families be more responsible for how their children turn out. We cannot ignore the fact that poor parenting leads to social problems like crime, unwanted teenage pregnancies and the like. Public education on parenting might sound crass and too paternalistic to some but it might just be what some families need.

I am glad that the international community is paying attention to this problem. A lot of young Kenyans (mostly criminals, and suspected members of the murderous Mingiki sect) have been killed without being accorded due trial. Although most of them might have been guilty of robbery with violence, or murder (crimes deserving capital punishment according to Kenyan law) we are not Somalia or the Congo. We have laws and a court system. I hope Kibaki and Raila will carefully review the recommendations of the report and do something.

can we please end the nonsensical sensationalism

“He stood in front of a burned-out vegetable market, wielding a rusty machete and wearing blue toenail polish.” Gettleman, The New York Times.

I am a regular reader of articles by Jeffrey Gettleman, the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times. I read his articles because most of the time they are the only coherent on the ground reporting that come out of places like the remote parts of Eastern DRC and East Africa in general.

But I have a slight problem with Mr. Gettleman. I have noticed a consistent pattern in his reporting that is kind of disturbing. He seems to always be willing to go out of his way to over-dramatize whatever he is reporting about. For instance, the above details – the “blue toenail polish” and what not – do not belong in the pages of the New Yorks Times but on some creative writing novel. When we read reports on soldiers from elsewhere, we never hear about their tattoos or body piercings or anything. I therefore get a bit disturbed when I see a consistent pattern on Mr. Gettleman’s part to portray combatants in African conflicts as somewhat other-worldly.

The other day I watched a video for  a class in which the same gentleman had the guts to say that the era of Belgian colonization represented “more prosperous times” for the Congo. What does he mean? Who are his editors? Does he know what the Belgians did to the Congo? I am sure he does. He must be a smart man to have been able to rise to the position of bureau chief. So this was either a slip or a deliberate attempt to hype the problems facing the DRC.

Do not get me wrong. I am not trying to advocate for restrictions on reporting. I am all for free press. But I also think that the press has a responsibility and a duty to desist from consistently portraying a particular group of people as irrational and crazy. Unfortunately, I feel that most of Mr. Gettleman’s pieces have had this rather distasteful feel to them.

what is the deal with Migingo Island?

Ugandan authorities have occupied an Island that might be on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria. The Kenyan government has done nothing but ask for there to be talks on the status of the Island. Now, I am not a war-monger or anything but this is not the way to do things. The Kenyan Navy should be patrolling around the Island in a show of force even as the talks proceed. That President Museveni of Uganda has imperial ambitions is not a secret. He openly campaigns to be the first president of the to-be-formed East African Federation. This move on Migingo Island might be his idea of testing the waters to see how Kenya might respond to such moves.

I say we let the Ugandans know that even though we are not itching to go to war with them they cannot routinely occupy Kenyan territory without consequences – they have done this before in the north west of Kenya and even killed a few Kenyans with BOMBS! under the pretext of chasing cattle rustlers.

Migingo Island may be small, and even economically worthless but we should retain it nonetheless.

And speaking of disputed territories, when are we going to make it official that the Ilemi triangle is part of the Republic of Kenya? We have administered this part of south east Sudan forever and I think it is time we made it clear to the international community that it belongs to Kenya.

ruto saga continues….

Today’s Nation quotes a Steadman poll that found that a majority of Kenyans want the Agriculture minister, William Ruto, out of office pending investigations into what really happened with the government’s strategic maize reserve at the National Cereals and Produce Board. Given the accusations and counter-accusations flying around regarding the maize scandal it is hard to establish who is telling the truth. Last week Ruto survived a censure motion in parliament when 119 of his colleagues voted in his support, against a mere 22 against him. But the fact that more than half of those polled want him out should signal to the minister that may be it is time he stepped aside to clear his name before resuming duties as a cabinet minister.

Plus this story is not going away any time soon. Today’s Nation also has a story about Jirongo’s denial of Karua’s (Justice Minister) supposed proposition to Ruto regarding the 2012 elections. The Lugari MP (Cyrus Jirongo) insists that his mediation between Karua and Ruto at his house in Muthaiga had nothing to do with a 2012 political deal between the two ministers but was an effort to try and find ways of resettling IDPs back in the Rift Valley, Ruto’s backyard. But if Jirongo is to be believed, Ruto demanded that any talks with Karua were contingent on the Judiciary dropping a land case in which he is implicated.

And so Ruto continues to be entangled in one scandle after another and it seems like the more he defends himself the more his detractors come out with even more damaging allegations. I think that for the sake of the coalition government’s cohesiveness and to avoid unncessary distractions it is imperative that Ruto steps aside – like the majority of Kenyans want. If he gets cleared he can return to the cabinet but if not he should be kept out of the cabinet.

And ethnicity should not be part of this. There is nothing that grants William Ruto an entitlement to the leadership of the communities residing in the Rift Valley province – just like Mudavadi or Raila are not entitled in Western or Nyanza respectively. This maneno of running back to ethnicity when politicians find themselves in trouble should be put to an end. Let every man carry his own cross.

clinton statement is bad news for Darfuris

“Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises.” These were the words of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state on her current visit to China. In an effort to warm up relations with the Asian mammoth (the party preferred to have a Republical White House), the Obama Administration seems to be willing to turn a bling eye to some nagging questions, at least for now.

But I say that this is the wrong approach. Chinese poor record on human rights issues at home and abroad cannot be ignored. China should be embarrassed into stopping its support for the genocidal regime of Mohammed al-Bashir in Sudan. The US  (and the world) cannot afford to put aside human rights issues just because of the world economic crisis. Indeed this might be the only time in the near future when China would feel vulnerable enough to feel threatened by international condemnation. Letting this opportunity pass by will be a big mistake for secretary Clinton and the Obama White House.

reasons for Obiang to be afraid

So the government of Equatorial Guinea is saying that Nigerian rebels were the ones behind the mystery assault weapon attach on the presidential palace yesterday. For now nobody really know who the attackers were. It is not clear what the motive of the Nigerians was in attacking president Obiang’s palace. Whoever they are I think the attack should be a wake up call on Mr. Obiang, the kleptocratic autocrat who has been running the tiny central African state since 1979. His rule has been bad news for most equatorians. The country is Africa’s third biggest producer of oil – after Angola and Nigeria – and should not have the high poverty rates that it has, especially considering that it only has just over 600,000 people.

In other news, it appears that one of the rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement has finally agreed to a deal with the Sudanese government. This  is welcome news. I hope the news will make the ICC slow down in its efforts to try al-Bashir for war crimes. I am not fan of the genocidal buffoon that is Mohammed al-Bashir but at the same time I think that attempts to arrest him will only make him dig in and reverse the progress that the opposition and civil society groups have made in terms of increased political space. Also, the deal does not necessarily mean an end of hostilities since not all the rebel groups in the western Sudanese province have signed on it. The conflict in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced over two million.

transparent budget making

The Nation’s Editorial has a piece against the idea of MPs managing the budget. I am a bit ambivalent on this one. On the one hand I am apprehensive about the idea of men like Maina Kamanda and Jakoyo Midiwo and Chirau Makwere deciding on what the government should be doing with tax payers’ money. These men (and quite frankly almost the entire lot in parliament) have proven to be myopic populists who will stop at nothing to gain short term political capital. If this plan goes through, we can expect pork-laden budgets and beyond-means-spending.

That said, I don’t think the idea itself is bad. What could be better than to take the power to allocate national resources from conceited bureaucrats at treasury? For far too long we have allowed the Finance Minister and State House to use the allocation of national resources as a political tool for patronage and for narrow tribal interests. Spreading this role to the entire legistlature may bring us a more equitable distribution of national resources for the good of all Kenyans.

That’s my two cents on this.

the complexity that is the drc

Every time I read or attend a talk about the Democratic Republic of Congo I always end up being a little bit more confused and pessimistic about this vast central African country. After attending a panel discussion on the conflict this afternoon I feel compelled to say something small about it.

The complexity of the conflict is mind boggling. First, there is the resource war that has been raging in Ituri since the mid nineties. Uganda and Rwanda have a hand in this, just as much as the local Congolese militia who own or tax the mining operations. Second, there is the political struggle waged by Eastern Congolese who want more autonomy and political space from Kinshasa. Third, there is the local ethnic and clan conflicts, pitting one ethnic group against another. For the record though the ethnic groups in the region have oftentimes been used as proxies by the invading armies of Uganda and Rwanda to fight their own wars against other ethnic groups that have not been sympathetic to their missions in Eastern DRC. Fourth, there is the total breakdown of order. Women are routinely raped. Young children have been forced to enlist in the militias and commit acts that leave them scarred for life. There is widespread hunger and disease. The number of “excess deaths ” from the conflict, currently estimated at over 5 million, continues to rise (this makes the conflict the deadliest since WWII).

The above is just a rude summary of the kinds of factorst that continue to fuel the embers of the conflict. Rwanda and Uganda should get it straight and stop raping and pillaging Eastern Congo for financial gain. The UN has started pointing this out and I hope that international pressure continues on Kagame and Museveni on this issue. The other problem of ethnic conflict should also be addressed soberly. Rwanda should make honest attempts at resettling its Hutu and Tutsi populations who fled to Congo or are there on military expeditions. And both Uganda and Rwanda should stop using local ethnic groups in their divide and pillage games that they use to loot the DRC’s mineral resources.

The other thing that came out at the panel discussion was the role of multinational companies in the conflict. It is very depressing that Western multinationals willingly buyout rebel groups to guard their mines and facilitate the exploitation of minerals. How are they getting away with this? The blood diamond” movement worked for the diamong industry and I think the same model of mass action should be applied in shaming these faceless companies into coming clean on their operations in the Congo.

So the bottom line is that more than 5 million human beings have died and more will die if nothing is done to stop the violence and the root causes of the violence.

can zimbabwe bounce back?

Morgan Tsvangirai (a man who many believe ought to be Zimbabwe’s president) was sworn in Thursday as Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister. This marks the beginning of a compromise power sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe which forces the aging Robert Mugabe, 85 to share power with Tsvangirai’s MDC. Tendayi Biti, another MDC stalwart, will be Finance Minister.

This raises the question of whether Zimbabwe can bounce back  some time soon. Millions have fled the country. Millions depend on food aid. 3000 have died of cholera and many more remain at risk and the economy has virtually collapsed, with 9 in 10 people out of employment. I am a proud owner of a 100 billion Zimbabwe note. In short, a lot needs to be done and MDC will have it mostly uphill for a long time to come. But will they succeed? If the recent developments in Kenya are any indicators, Zimababweans should be warned that things will get worse before they get better. The same people who while in opposition were screaming about corruption have been coopted into the same shady deals they once fought against (the maize, oil and tourism scandals are testament to this). And the lack of a credible opposition has given the government some immunity against censure in parliament. Zimbabwe may find itself in the same position, unless they actively avoid it.

May be Tsvangirai and his MDC will do things differently. I wish them well.