of sex boycotts and wife battery

I found this story quite amusing. Kenyan women, married and otherwise, have been urged to boycott sex in solidarity with those pushing for reforms and constitutional review in the country. G10 – a group of women lobbies – went as far as recruiting prostitutes in the boycott. I am curious to see the efficacy of this move. And just in case you are wondering, this particular form of coercion is not unique to Kenyan women. As far back as in ancient Greece – the ancient Greek play Lysistrata has the story – women have occasionally done this to protest against unwanted male behavior.

I was a bit disappointed though by some of the reactions by men – as seen on Nation TV – to this story. A number of those interviewed admitted on TV that they would beat their wives if they did not get their conjugal rights. It says a lot about Kenyan society if in this day and age men can still openly admit to living cave-man lives and get away with it. If I were a police officer I would use some of these men as an example – track them to find out if they actually beat their wives and put them on trial then throw them in jail. It should never be OK for any man to admit that he beats his wife. And to do so on television ought to warrant some punishment.

Good luck G10, although I doubt if the real power players in the country – the very old men around the president – are active in the bedroom enough to be seriously affected by this boycott.

bring him his machine gun

South African voters have spoken, and Jacob Zuma will be their next president. With half the votes in the ANC had over 65% of the votes, its closest rival had 18%. Now the only question that remains is whether the ANC will get more than two thirds of the votes to make it possible for it to change the constitution at will. Most people, in the interest of true democracy (including yours truly), are not particularly enthusiastic about such a prospect.

Now that he is president-elect, Mr. Zuma must clearly let the world know what he intends to do as president. Will he be a respectable statesman or will he be the clown of a leader that he fancies himself as in the eyes of the masses – initial pictures of his election victory celebrations show him on stage dancing with a group of women. (This is not really statesman-like Mr. Zuma, especially given your colorful marital history. The less of this side of you we see in the next few years the better).

Many challenges await Mr. Zuma. South Africa’s high unemployment and crime rates top the list. The other big issue will be land reform. The legacy of apartheid in South African land ownership must be dealt with at some point. Mbeki did not have the spine or the populist touch to do it. Mr. Zuma might be the right man for the job. I hope that the president-elect will not treat his presidency as an exercise in post-apartheid justice as embodied in his favorite campaign song “bring me my machine gun” but that he will do everything that he does within the confines of the law.

He may not be the wise man we would have wanted for the land of Mandela, but he will be president. Because of that I can only wish him success.

mungiki massacre in Karatina

The Kenyan dailies are reporting that at least 29 people have been killed by suspected Mungiki members in Karatina, Central Province. The murderous sect members allegedly woke up their victims late in the night and dragged them out before hacking them to death in the middle of the road. The pictures from NTV tell it all – there were bodies littered all over the road next to a tea plantation.

This latest incident should shame the government into taking conclusive action against the sect. The government must know the sponsors of the sect. The Mungiki problem is not a criminal problem that can be remedied by targeted assassinations like the government has been doing. It is a structural problem. Jobless youth in Central Province and the wider Nairobi area have been made to feel like there is no hope and therefore they turn to crime. Killing these young men while leaving the financiers and beneficiaries of their thievery untouched will not end the problem.

29 innocent Kenyans were killed last night by young men who have been brainwashed and turned into killing machines. The actual killers must be punished, yes. But most importantly, the plotters of the massacre and the leaders of the sect – those who parade around in expensive suits and are always in and out of courts – must also face the law.

And I can’t help but wonder, was there a police station near this particular village in Karatina? And why did the police take forever to respond? It must take a bit of time to hack more than 29 people to death and burn a house or two. So why did the police turn up after the dust had settled?

zuma may turn out to be ok

Jacob Zuma, the man poised to be South Africa’s next president, has been getting a lot of bad press. This much married man has had to deal with pages after pages of news concerning his corrupt past and his adventures with the South African justice system. The truth be said, he is not a clean man. Where there is smoke, there is fire, and in Zuma’s case there is just way too much smoke for there not to be a flame.

That said, the fact is that he is going to be president of South Africa and by virtue of that become the most powerful man in Africa. I would like to join the few editorial pages out there who in the past week have indicated possible positives of a Zuma presidency. I am not convinced the man is as blindly populist as he wants the South African masses to believe. He is a calculating politician. He knows that he needs a viable South African economy just as much as he needs the masses to sing and dance in his name. It is no coincidence that he matches every populist statement of his with a reminder that he does not intend to radically change South Africa.

But I am not concerned with South African domestic issues. My concern is what a Zuma presidency will mean for the Southern African region and the Continent. And on this front I am hopeful. Eager to please the international community, I think that Zuma might just be the man to bring real change to Zimbabwe and some sort of sanity to the African Union. His predecessor, Thabo Mbeki, was too professorial to deal with the half-wits that run most of the Continent. Most of them did not take his (Mbeki’s) calls for an African Renaissance seriously. But Zuma, being a man of the people, might just be the one that charms them into seeing the light and actually changing the way they run their countries.Wishful thinking? Perhaps.

we may be on a sinking boat

A friend of mine keeps telling me how deranged I am whenever I wax lyrical about Kenya’s preeminent position in East Africa. Being a perennial optimist on most matters Kenyan, I have somehow managed to convince myself that the current political troubles rocking the country are but transient – a necessary step on Kenya’s path to being the region’s top dog. But even I am beginning to get worried.

The recent fallout between Premier Odinga and President Kibaki is not a good sign. My worries have been further compounded by reports of the existence of militias being trained and armed by politicians. And forget about being the region’s top dog. Uganda seems to have successfully annexed Migingo Island. And without even having to fight for it. Just when did the rain begin to beat us so bad???

Things seem to be getting worse by the day. Corruption is off the charts. Nepotism and tribalism seem to be the norm in the public service. Kenyans continue to die of hunger like it is 20,000 BC (the Kenyan food jokes are not so funny anymore).  The President and his Prime Minister are reading from different scripts. The country remains as divided as ever. And worst of all, the vast majority of Kenyans still live in a pre-industrial world where an obscene number of children die before they are five and those that survive have very little to hope for.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga are failing Kenya. They have it in their power to sack corrupt ministers. They have it in their power to impose civility on the civil service. They have it in their power to use the current crisis as a chance to craft social policies that will finally catapult Kenya into the 21st century. I am disappointed that instead of doing any of these things the two men have chosen to run the country like a village kiosk.

if just for today, Martha Karua is my hero

The resignation of Martha Karua from the cabinet is a most timely event. The coalition government has been teteering on the edge, dogged by one corruption scandal after another. The culture of impunity that has permeated the Kenyan ruling class in the last several months can be partly blamed on the corrupt judiciary. Indeed the law society of Kenya has petitioned the president to ask the chief justice to quit. If Amos Wako were a sane man he too would have already left the Attorney General’s docket by now.

Two cheers to former justice minister Martha Karua for having the courage to quit cabinet. I hope that this will challenge other ministers in the grand coalition to start pressuring both president Kibaki and Premier Odinga to implement much needed reforms in the judiciary and the wider civil service.I hope that she will keep true to her word and “totally disagree with anything that is anti-reform.”

ps: the conspiracy theorist in me is very curious to know why president Kibaki chose to throw Ms. Karua under the bus. After all, she was one of his most vociferous supporters after the 2007 election fiasco. What don’t we know???

is it time we had fresh elections?

So the weekend retreat in Tsavo of the big-wigs in Kenya’s coalition government failed. Instead of addressing real issues (reforms, corruption and Kenya’s land problem), the discussions veered into side-shows – like the Premier’s salary and the opening remarks of the president and his prime minister.

I am beginning to think that the coalition government has outlived its purpose. I am beginning to be persuaded by those who have been calling for fresh elections – most notably the clergy. The coalition government, as currently constituted, is dysfunctional at best. The prime minister and the president (and their respective camps) seem to be pulling in opposite directions on just about every issue. May be it’s time we went to the polls and gave a mandate to a single party instead of having the collective tyranny of ODM and PNU. I think we have a better chance with just one of these parties in power. May be then the government can act more responsibly on reforms instead of having cabinet ministers constantly pointing fingers at each other and blaming the other party.

On a different note, I hear rumours that Martha Karua might quit the government if she is not given more space in the Justice ministry. I hope she gets what she wants, i.e. more space to implement her brand of reforms in the judiciary. Hate her or love her, I think Martha Karua is one of the few Kenyan leaders who speak their mind and who have the balls to implement what they believe in. I remember reading somewhere that the problem with African politics is the lack of ideology. Many leaders act like blind men in the dark, constantly wandering around without any direction.

African social organization and politics have mostly been driven by contingency rather than ideology. The only country that ever produced a true ideologue on the continent was Tanzania. And for all its faults, Ujamaa helped Tanzania a great deal. God knows where the country would be had it not been for the commodity crises of the seventies and mandated structural adjustment programs of the eighties (yeah Gordon Brown, down with the Washington Consensus). I think Martha Karua may be Kenya’s real ideologue, and for that she is increasingly becoming one of my favorite politicians, even though she and I may not see eye to eye on her actual policies.