quick hits

Check out Bill Easterly’s comment’s on the ongoing debate about millenium village tourism…

And what is the deal with Nigeria and its oil rebels? I still do not understand how a country as big as Nigeria – with potential to be Africa’s biggest oil exporter – cannot get it together when it comes to dealing with these rebels. I mean, how about talking to them if you can’t take the fight to them and win?

another african big man won’t leave

Mamadou Tandja, the president of Niger, yesterday announced that he will ignore a court order against a referendum on whether to extend his rule or not after his term expires later this year, adding that he will continue to rule by decree. Mr. Tandja has been in office since 1999 and is constitutionally barred from running for a third term. His second term ends later this year. The country’s parliament was dissolved in May. It is unclear whether parliamentary elections scheduled for August 2oth will be held.

Niger, a nation of 15 million, is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its per capita income is US $700 despite being a major uranium exporter. Most Nigeriens depend on subsistence agriculture for their livelihood in this mostly desert country. Ever shortening drought cycles, continued desertification in the Sahel and a rapid population growth have conspired to retard meaningful economic development.

It’s weird how things never change. We have heard this story countless times in many an African country. President Tandja belongs to the crazy bunch running the Continent who see themselves as irreplaceable demiurges entitled to rule for life. What amount of hubris would make a scarcely educated 71 year old man think that there is no one else in a country of 15 million that can fill his shoes? And given the dismal state of Niger’s economy it can’t be that hard to outdoor Mr. Tandja. He should simply go home.

I reiterate, this lifestyle is not sustainable

The Economist’s Middle East and Africa section has a piece on the plight of those exposed to environemntal disasters due to climate change. The article talks a bit about the nomads of northern Kenya and how their livelihood remain endangered as the place gets drier and the drought cycle shortens. As I have stated before, it is not enough for us to pretend that the type of lifestyles still maintained by the nomads of Kenya, and Africa in general, are sustainable. The simple truth is that they are not. It is 2009 and human beings should not still be living at the mercy of nature, if they can avoid it. It is time these communities were given incentives to start laying the groundwork for a sedentary lifestyle. This is not cultural imperialism or anything. It is what’s practical.

And by the way, it is not condescending to say that nomadic pastoralism belongs in the stateless past when there was no concept of land tenure or stuff like libraries and hospitals and schools that require a sedentary lifestyle. “Incentives” here means some sort of nudge in the right direction. And to be quite honest, sometimes communities might make the wrong choices if the state stays out of their business. If a community chooses a lifestyle that kills half its children before they are five, confines women to the fields and kitchen, promotes high illiteracy rates and is generally backward by universally accepted standards of human life then I believe that the state has a duty to intervene. Now I know that for most of Africa the state is largely unable to do anything, and that is why there are NGOs everywhere (well to some extent). But this (the existence of an interventionist developmental state) ought to be the case.

How we can make the state do what it ought to do is another can of worms. But I think that right off the bat those involved in the development industry should always make it clear that the aim is to guarantee people a decent livelihood and not to merely make them comfortable in their poverty by pretending to “respect” their cultures and ways of life. This faux-respect is the kind of stuff that should never leave anthropology seminar rooms.

And going back to the Economist piece, the clown who wrote that piece should know that talking about the poor of the global south “picking up sticks” in conflicts is not cool. Such a condescending tone does not help anyone. The cheap humor is not worth it.

quick hits

The BBC reports that the Kimberley process, designed to rid the global diamond market of blood diamonds, is failing. This is largely because of second country exporters of diamond like the Ivory Coast. Made famous by the movie Blood Diamond which included among others the Beninois Djimon Hounsou and Leonardo DiCaprio, the attempts to stop the illicit trade in diamonds that was fueling wars across the Continent had so far been seen by many as a success. Many had hoped that the same success could be replicated in other commodities, especially in the DRC where mineral wealth in the eastern part of the country has been funding wars since the mid 1990s.

And in other news, William Easterly wrote a rather pointed critique of the Millenium Villages project and the tourism business surrounding it. This piece reminded me of the plight of the Maasai of Kenya and Tanzania whose lifestyle has long been “preserved” by the two governments as tourist attractions reserves – even as thousands of Maasai children remain out of school and without proper healthcare or diet because of the incompatibility of the centuries old traditional Maasai way of life with 21st century living (and this is not exclusive to the Maasai). I think it is about time governments and development experts got honest with themselves. Development means having a good education system, having access to healthcare so that people do not die of treatable illnesses, having a diet of at least 2500 calories a day, being well clothed and housed, among other things. If a lifestyle, however cherished, denies the people practising it these essentials for a comfortable human existent it belongs in the rubbish bin of history, regardless of whether such a lifestyle is considered authentic African or not.

on the new constitution: wanjiku doesn’t care

The committee of experts charged with steering the process of giving Kenya a new constitution has come up with two contentious issues that they think should be ironed out before Kenyans can finally have  a new constitution – after over 20 years of waiting. The issues are:

1) whether to have a presidential, parliamentary or hybrid system  of government

2) whether the term of the current parliament should expire with the adoption of the new constitution.

To resolve these issues, the Attorney General, Amos Wako, wants Kenyans to submit their suggestions to his office. I say this is nonsense. The original idea to involve Wananchi in the writing of a new constitution was a mistake (I agreed with Moi, even back then as a high school kid) and any further involvement of “wanjiku” will remain an exercise in futility. Some of the best constitutions of the world – like the American one, for instance – were drafted by experts. Villagers in Siaya or Maragua do not care whether we have a presidential or parliamentary system. These are issues only in the heads of Kenya’s power-hungry ruling elite. All Wanjiku cares about is the number of sufurias in her kitchen. Period. Whatever system promises more sufurias she’ll be for it.

For full disclosure, I am not a fan of either PNU or ODM. President Kibaki is a living example of the excesses of an all powerful presidential system and a form of government lacking any separation of powers – the president and all members of his cabinet are also members of parliament. PNU wants to perpetuate such a system judging by what its talking heads are voicing.

That said, I think ODM’s call for a parliamentary system of government is also misguided. Kenya is a young democracy that needs stable government. Parliamentary systems, especially in fractious states like ours, are highly unstable. Look at Italy, Israel and Lebanon. They hold elections almost every few months and take forever to form governments. We need a stable and functional executive if we are going to accelerate Kenya’s economic development.

My two cents on this is that the solution lies in having a presidential system strengthened by a complete separation of powers. The president should be head of the executive and not a member of parliament. His cabinet ministers should also not be sitting members of parliament. Parliament should be independent. To acknowledge the ethnic realities of the country we need to have a two-tier legislature. The lower house should be composed of representatives from constituencies. The upper house should represent Kenya’s ethnic mix, with equal representatives from the major ethnic groups and regions.  The judiciary should be independent of the executive without any compromise whatsoever. Judges should have life tenure and have their pay regulated by an independent public servants remuneration commission.

And on the second point. 2012 is close enough. Let President Kibaki serve the rest of his term and go in peace.

the pros and cons of having a local tribunal

Kenya’s Justice Minister, Mutula Kilonzo, has made it clear that the government does not want the architects of Kenya’s post-election killings to be tried in the Hague. He instead wants to create a local tribunal. Previous attempts to establish a local tribunal were defeated in the Kenyan parliament.

A local tribunal is both symbolic and practical. It is symbolic in the sense that it reaffirms Kenya’s sovereignty in the eyes of the international community. It would show that we are neither Somalia nor Chad (although we might be getting there if things go unchecked) and can take care of our own mess. It is also practical because Justice is political and sometimes the pursuit of justice may need to be subordinated to political expediency in order to achieve better results. It is no secret that some of  those who organised the killings early last year are the same ethnic princes (both in ODM and PNU) running the country right now. Dislodging these buffoons from power may end up creating even more instability in the country. Better have a local tribunal in which those behind the killings would be exposed and perhaps forced to pay some fine while preserving the current state of cautious stability.

But there is also a case for an international tribunal. 1500 (more or less) human beings, with families, were killed. They were denied the basic human right to life. Someone has to pay for this. Political expediency, it can be argued, should never guide the administration of justice. Only an international tribunal would guarantee an apolitical trial of the cold-blooded killers who planned and executed the slaughter of  hundreds of their fellow Kenyans in Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha, Kisumu, Mombasa and other urban centres.

Either way, I think it is time that Kofi Annan leaked out the names of those implicated in the organization and execution of the killings. Expose them now Mr. Annan.

Kenyan budget 2008-09

I just skimmed through Finance Minister Kenyatta’s budget speech and I must say that I am impressed. He is cutting taxes on a few essential commodities and promises to implement business and tax laws that will make Kenya more business-friendly. And his development proposals, if followed through, will help the average Kenyan a great deal.

The best part of the budget, to me, was the allocation of Shs. 30 million (per constituency) to create high performance high schools. Being a product of a national school I think that it is time all of Kenya’s constituencies had places like Mang’u and Alliance Girls. I am hoping that someone at the education ministry will also think of expanding the Kenyan public university system to accommodate the increasing number of high school graduates.

I was disappointed though by Mr. Kenyatta’s decision to reduce the import duty on imported second hand clothes. The import duty on mitumba should not have been reduced. We need to encourage the growth of a domestic textiles industry. The job gains if such an industry were to be allowed to flourish would far outweigh the job losses in Nairobi and other urban areas. Remember Mr. Kenyatta, the three pillars are textiles, agriculture and construction!

Kenyan budget

Kenya’s Minister of Finance, Uhuru Kenyatta, is due to read the budget for the next fiscal year in parliament on Thursday afternoon. Mr. Kenyatta is expected to unveil a KShs.867 billion (US $11.1b) budget. The biggest chunk of the money -  a staggering Shs.607b -  will go to recurrent expenditures with only 258b going to development expenditure. The latter is a marked improvement from last year when only 141b went to development projects.

More details to follow tomorrow…..

Omar Bongo is dead

Omar Bongo, the president of Gabon and Africa’s longest serving ruler has died. Mr. Bongo had intestinal cancer and had gone to Barcelona, Spain for treatment. He took over power in 1967.

The African state of 1.5 million has considerable oil reserves, timber and manganese deposits and enjoys a per capita income of a middle income country – at US $14,400 according to the CIA Factbook. But due to a high level of income inequality, hundreds of thousands of Gabonese still live in poverty. Gabon was ranked 116th on the 2007/2008 UNDP Human Development Report. Like most mineral-rich African countries, corruption is endemic in Gabon. For instance, earlier this year anti-corruption activists accused president Bongo of buying French property with proceeds from corruption.

According to the constitution of Gabon, the head of the country’s senate will be the interim president until elections are held within 90 days.