ringera calls it quits

I just watched a clip on the Nation’s website showing the press conference at which outgoing director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, retired judge Ringera announced his departure from Integrity Centre. I don’t understand exactly why it took him so long to see the sense in doing this.The clip also hinted at rumors that Ringera may get a job in the judiciary. I hope not. He was ineffectual at KACC. He earned 2 million shillings a month and delivered nothing for Wanjiku. Public service, and the emoluments that come with it, is not the right of a select group of Kenyans. We should not keep recycling the same names. And this is not restricted to just the high profile national offices. We transfer ineffectual DCs, PPOs, directors and chiefs all the time. No wonder the more we try to implement change the more things stay the same.

As Ringera left he made some very useful suggestions on how parliament can strengthen the KACC. May be we should award his courage in resigning by implementing some of these ideas.

And on a sort of related topic, I wish Annan and Ocampo would stop issuing threats. Just give us the names. Let us know who is suspected of having done what in last year’s post poll violence. These leaders need to be named and shamed instead of being given more time to continue mis-shaping Kenya’s destiny.

on american involvement in Kenya

Macharia Gaitho, one of my favorite columnists at The Daily Nation captured my exact sentiments in his column today. I hope the American ambassador in Nairobi, and whoever it is that briefs Washington on matters Kenyan took note of this piece.

And in other news, Guinea has serious problems. The junior army officer who took over  in a coup last year to “establish peace and democracy” has decided that he wants to hang on to power, inviting protests from Guineans not into such ideas. We’ve heard this story before, and we know how it ends.The Guineans should start reading on Samuel Doe, Jerry Rawlings, Idris Deby, Obiang, Museveni, Yahya Jammeh and the many others. Coups are the strongest predictor of future coups. A history of civil violence is also a strong predictor of future violence. Endemic poverty, an economy’s reliance on the export of commodities and weak to poor trade ties with the international community compound matters even more. The odds are stacked against the poor Guineans. They are in this for the long haul. And it sucks that the international community (including Sarkozy’s France) does not care about Guinea, as long as the generals keep exporting Bauxite.

Fun fact about Guinea: Guinea is a leading bauxite exporter, but most of its people live on less than $1 a day (courtesy of the BBC).

marriage bill needs improvement

The Kenyan cabinet is planning on introducing a bill that will seek to set the record straight when it comes to marriages. People who cohabit under come-we-stay arrangements for up to two years will be considered married under the law. Forced wife inheritance will be outlawed. Marriage while under the age of 18 will be considered illegal. The breadwinner of the family will be obligated under the law to take care of the spouse earning less.

Other positives include the fact that both spouses will own property 50-50. Husbands (or wives) cannot kick their spouses out of the house without a court order. And second wives/mistresses are not entitled to any property they found their man with. In most respects the bill seems like a step in the right direction.

But I have (for now at least) two problems with it. Firstly, by allowing for come we stay arrangements, the bill does not go far enough in strengthening the institution of marriage. It would have been better if it had some incentive (a tax break for instance or less maternity costs for those that don’t pay taxes – and there are loads of them) for people who want to live together to register their marriage. They don’t have to go to church or anything (although this would my preferred way of doing things because of the added advantage of social monitoring of church marriages), just register with the DC or something.This way Kenyan women will have the law on their side against cheating husbands who do not want to fulfill their obligations and it makes it a lot easier to keep records for households for planning purposes.

Secondly, the section on customary polygamy should be thrown out. I think that Kenyan men have for far too long exploited this loophole to give women a raw deal. The requirement that women consent in writing to polygamy will not change anything. As long as they are financially dependent on their husbands women will have no choice but to consent to polygamy – for their sake and perhaps more importantly, for the sake of their children. Plus this provision will be exploited by men who want to have extra-marital affairs – which is contributing a great deal to the spread of HIV among married couples. Infidelity should be outlawed, with very stiff penalties (too bad the Kenyan parliament is male-dominated).

I am a believer in the truism that laws should incremental and a reflection of the culture of the people at any given time. At the same time however I think that the government should have a normative bias towards registered monogamous marriages among non-Muslim Kenyans.

more on cannibalism, this time from the Congo

If you thought that the Economist’s mention of cannibalism in Africa was a rare exception, think again. The Independent, an Irish paper, just ran a story with the headline “We can’t abandon Africa to cannibalism and genocide.” This is in reaction to details out of the trial of Jean-Pierre Bemba, the Congolese warlord, at the ICC. The reporter quotes a “highly regarded” Associated Press reporter who wrote that pygmies (is this PC anymore??) in the Congo told UN investigators that Bemba’s men, lacking food supplies, ate children. The same reporter quotes a French doctor working with Medicins Sans Frontiers who said that Bemba’s men in the northwest of the Congo “were routinely eating members of the pygmy tribes in the region.”

The report also has this disturbing error with regard to African geography:

It would seem that few in the West actually care. The biggest “atrocity” story about the rebels in the Western media was when park rangers across the border in Senegal said that rebels had killed and eaten two mountain gorillas in January 2007. (Apparently being a pygmy puts one lower than these primates. But then again I see cat-stuck-in-a-tree headliners – while people are dying elsewhere – all the time).

Senegal does not border the Congo. Infact it is several countries to the West of the continent of Africa. But let’s not let this error distract us from the real story…

The Independent piece (which attempts to advocate for a more interventionist EU policy in Africa) concludes by saying: The only “militarisation” being put forward is the type that would end the eating of children and the other horrific acts of genocides.

I think it is time we had KTN’s Jicho Pevu (Mohammed Ali) or Anderson Cooper or the BBC  guys out into the Congolese forest to show the world that Congolese soldiers are into eating pygmy children. I will believe that cannibalism (outside of ritual – like in Papua New Guinea and other places) exists only when I see it on video or hear it from first hand witnesses.

And to the Independent, you are not helping the Congolese by portraying them as child-eaters. Thanks to you now a bunch of Irish people think that in addition to being infested with AIDS, malaria, civil war and all that stuff, the Continent has marauding bands of pygmy child-eaters. Nice.

links that I liked

Taking a break from Collier and Hoeffler and Crawford Young (and into my third cup of tea for the night) I came across the following links…

William Easterly has his usual skepticism when it comes to practitioner-certainty in the field of Economics. How I wish I had time to read the two books he is banging on about in the New York Review of Books.

This result of a World Bank funded project is sort of long-ish, but I liked because one of the authors is a fellow student at the department – and because it touches on something that I care about. I can’t wait for the time I shall be doing similar fieldwork…

And Texas in Africa has a piece on Somalia that is asking the right questions. Is it time for the US and the rest of the world to call Al Shabab to the negotiating table? May be not.

cannibals in zimbabwe?

The economist reports…

“On one occasion, 15 armed invaders, banging on metal objects and chanting war songs, forced their way into Mr Freeth’s house, threatening to burn it to the ground, kill the two men present, rape the women and eat the three children asleep in their beds. Thanks to an earlier beating, Mr Freeth, an emaciated, soft-spoken man of 40, has never recovered his sense of smell. Mr Campbell, 76, was so badly thrashed that his memory is impaired.”

I had absolutely no idea that Zims were into eating little children. But then again it could just be a case of some air-head Economist reporter (and his/her editors) clinging to the notion of cannibalistic Africans irrationally inclined to commit rape and murder. May they soon realize that the world has moved on.

And dwelling on the issue of white farmers in Zimbabwe, I think it might be time for everyone to look at the facts and accept the truth for what it is. It is true that Robert Mugabe and his marauding thugs have committed economic and other crimes by dispossessing thousands of white Zimbabwean farmers of their land. But it is also true that a tiny section of Zimbabweans who happen to be white own(ed) a disproportionate percentage of the arable land in the country. Add into this imbalance the fact that the land may have been acquired through questionable means a few decades back by the ancestors of these farmers and you have yourself an explosive situation.

It is no wonder that even Morgan Tsvangirai (the reformist Premier of Zim) is, according to the Economist, “blowing hot and cold” on the issue. He knows that he cannot, with a clear conscience, defend the system of land ownership that exists in Zimbabwe.

I am in no way supporting violent seizure of land in Zimbabwe. All I am saying is that there is a case for radical land reform in the country. And this is not a question of race and/or ethnicity. I have seen the same tensions in Kenya – where squatters have clashed with fellow Kenyan ( indigenous) owners of large tracts of land. I am totally against illegal redistribution of land. But at the same time I cannot defend an obviously unjust system of land ownership.

It is sad that Mugabe’s illegal (and at times murderous) repossession of land in the country has overshadowed the real land problem in Zimbabwe – to the extent that even a somewhat respected newspaper like the Economist feels no shame in allowing a subliminally racist line like the one quoted above in its pages.

subsidiary of british firm suspends ore imports from congo

It is not a secret that the war in eastern DRC is more than anything else economic. The trade in charcoal and a litany of minerals has forever been blamed for the conflict that has killed, maimed or displaced millions of Congolese. It is therefore encouraging to learn that Thailand Smelting and Refining Co. (Thaisarco), a subsidiary of British metals giant Amalgamated Metals Corporation (AMC), has suspended the import of tin ore (cassiterite) from the Congo because it believes that the trade in the mineral might be financing the Congolese civil conflict.

The move has however been criticised by Global Witness, an advocacy group.Global Witness argues that if AMC is indeed concerned about the financing of the conflict then instead of cutting and running it should contribute in the setting up of a proper industry-wide system of checks on all sources of metals. The cessation of imports, argues Global Witness, does nothing for artisanal miners in the Congo who depend on trade in metal ore for their livelihood. It also does nothing to stop the trade in ‘blood’ metals in general from the Congo.

Citing a 2002 UN Report that accused AMC and its subsidiary (among other firms) of breaching OECD guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Global Witness said that AMC and Thaisarco had always known that their activities in the Congo were funding the conflict there.

AMC and Thaisarco cited “the threat of misleading and bad publicity” as their main reason for halting their trading operations in the DRC. Kudos to Global Witness for their campaign against militarized exploitation of minerals in the DRC. I hope this sets a precedent for the many foreign firms that continue to profit by trafficking in minerals from the Congo – at the expense of millions of innocent women and children… and men.

more on the Mang’eli saga

It is now emerging that the Kenya Bureau of Standards MD, Kioko Mang’eli, falsified information while petitioning for a salary increase. The embattled director was asking for a salary hike from 480,000 shillings a month to 1.07 million. His reason was that he had contributed to the financial stability of the bureau of standards by turning a 300 million shilling deficit into a 1.6 billion surplus. But this claim, in addition to a job evaluation report favorable to the MD, have been termed as false by the office of the head of civil service.

The Nation has more on this.

And in other news, the Standard is back online.

shame on the Ivorian government

The BBC has this really sad story about the dumping of chemicals in Abidjan, Ivory Coast by Trafigura, an oil trading company.

The story reveals that the company  knew about the harmful effects of the chemicals. Internal emails contained messages like:

This operation is no longer allowed in the European Union, the United States and Singapore” it is “banned in most countries due to the ‘hazardous nature of the waste

And yet the Ivorian government allowed its citizens to be exposed to the waste from Trafigura. Shame shame shame.

it is time more districts translated into wider taxation

President Kibaki has created about 180 districts over the last 6 years. The logic behind the creation of the many districts, according to the president and his men, has been that there is a need to bring government services closer to the people. One obvious question then is what government services? Are we talking about registration of births and deaths, motor vehicle registration, licensing, issuance of title deeds, judicial services and all that stuff? Because these services are still mostly highly centralised, requiring one to travel either to Nairobi or to far off provincial headquarters. Critics of the new districts have oftentimes highlighted their high cost and non-viability (The president thinks such critics are “backward”).

It was therefore welcome news when yesterday the president announced the halting of the creation of new districts – citing financial reasons. For some reason this fact (high costs) never crossed the minds of the president’s advisers somewhere between new district # 1 and # 180.

And now that we have over 180 new and expensive districts – most of them dished out for political reasons and “people’s demands” – I think it is time we require the new districts, being local governments, to do what governments do: TAX EVERYONE. Each district should be required to raise a percentage of its expenses from local populations (it is quite unfair for Nairobians to pay for non-viable districts in remote parts of the country created purely for political reasons). This minimum requirement need not be uniform across the board – people in West Pokot need districts too, you know – but should be geared towards making local people bear some responsibility for their local governments. With local funding for local districts, Kenyans may be persuaded to care more about who gets appointed to be DC and what their DC and the many district committees do. And to add to the positives, the DC’s will have an incentive to promote local economic activity to generate revenues.

Eventually, one hopes, this idea of local taxation for local services will make Kenyans demand that they get to elect their local DC’s instead of having State House appoint them.

This may sound like a pipe-dream but there is hope. Given parliament’s increasing assertiveness and power-grab from the executive and judiciary it is conceivable that such an idea can successfully be passed into law by the august House. Does someone know a crafty MP with nothing to lose who can champion this cause?

ps: I never thought I’d ever say this but I am actually missing the Standard online edition. What happened to them? Can’t they afford a website?