Will rampant corruption jeopardize Kenya’s ability to prevent future terror attacks?

There is an interesting debate on this question over at the Guardian. Following the terror attack at Westgate Giles Foden made the following claim:

In Kenya crime and terrorism are deeply linked, not least by the failure of successive Kenyan governments to control either……… These attacks are part of a spectrum of banditry, with corruption at one end, terrorism at the other, and regular robbery in the middle. Some Kenyans will feel that the conditions in which the attacks have happened have arisen because of economic growth in a vacuum of governance. Money that should have been spent on security and other aspects of national infrastructure has been disappearing for generations.

Two days ago the Kenyan Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs, Amina Mohamed, responded to Mr. Foden with a denial of the charge that corruption in the country was in any way related to the failure of security forces to thwart the attack at Westgate. She reminded readers that:

The disasters of 9/11 or the more recent Boston marathon in the US and 7/7 in the UK – both highly developed countries – could hardly be blamed on corruption, so why Kenya? We do not recall Foden blaming corruption within the security agencies involved.

So what is the relationship between corruption and the likelihood of successful future terror attacks in Kenya?

There is no denying the fact that corruption is a huge soft underbelly in the Kenyan state’s fight against al-Shabaab. As I have pointed out before, the attack at Westgate  showed Kenyans that AK-47s are not a menace only in the hands of cattle rustlers or carjackers. They can also be weapons of mass murder. So reports of police reservists renting out their AKs to criminals or being paid by the same criminals to look the other way do not inspire confidence in the government’s ability to prevent future attacks. Indeed last Friday Reuters reported that:

security officers, diplomats and experts describe a security apparatus that may be squandering skills built with the help of U.S., British and other trainers because suspects can buy their way through police checks and poor inter-agency coordination means dots are not joined up.

Add to this the fact that the country has about 600,000 light weapons and small arms in civilian hands (pdf) – including 127,000 illicit guns in Turkana County alone – and you begin to get the picture of why lax law enforcement, partly fueled by lack of funds and poor training and pay of regular police, but also by higher-ups’ venal proclivities, does not bode well for the likelihood of future Westgate-style attacks.

That said, to put terrorism on the same scale as carjacking would be a mistake, especially with regard to how the Kenyan state is likely to react to future threats of terrorism in the wake of Westgate. Obviously, due to entrenched interests and the administrative power (pdf) of the Civil Service the president cannot simply wish away corruption with a stroke of a pen. But he will be under tremendous pressure from the business community (which, in my view, is his number one constituency) to make sure that things that are singularly bad for business – like Westgate-style terror attacks – do not happen in the future.

Regularized murderous banditry in the less governed spaces in Kenya or carjackings in Kileleshwa are different from terror attacks in that the former are often localized “micro-events” on the national stage (even when they are of Baragoi or Tana River or Bungoma proportions) that rarely ever have systemic effects. Westgate, on the other hand, did have a systemic effect. And in a big way. As such I expect that the government will follow the trail and start closing loopholes wherever they are that might be exploited by terrorists in the future. This includes reforming the Kenya Police Service, to the extent that is necessary. It is hard for me to imagine that the president would risk failing to secure reelection just to keep a few corrupt officials happy.

So on balance Westgate might actually lead to a major push to rid critical state institutions of the scourge of corruption and to strengthen them with a view of increasing state capacity.

I could also be totally wrong.

There is a scenario in which the response to Westgate is al-Shabaab-focused and purely driven by the military (which presently has a huge PR problem with the Kenyan public and would want to save face) and other security agencies with little input from the political class. Such an eventuality would be a double bad because of the risk of erosion of civilian control of the military in Kenya (at least at the policy level) as well as a failure to reform critical domestic institutions to reduce the likelihood of future attacks (or attempts to bring back the bad old days…)

All this to say that on the off chance that someone asks you the question in the title of this post, the simple answer would be probably.

The World Bank Group Africa Fellowship Program

The Bank has an exciting fellowship for PhD students from the Continent.

According to the Bank’s website:

Fellows will spend a minimum of six months at the World Bank in Washington, D.C. getting hands-on experience in development work. This includes knowledge generation and dissemination, design of global and country policies and the building of institutions to achieve inclusive growth in developing countries. While benefitting from research and innovation in multiple sectors, Fellows will also work on economic policy, technical assistance, and lending for eliminating poverty and increasing shared prosperity. Special attention will be given to work with Fragile and Conflict-Affected States.

More on this here.

What if we killed all the mosquitoes?

It appears that a malaria vaccine will not be available for some time. According to Reuters,

“The world’s first potential malaria vaccine proved only 30 percent effective in African babies in a crucial trial, calling into question whether it can be a useful weapon in the fight against the deadly disease.”

Reading this reminded me of my own illness with malaria at the end of summer.

Back in September I contracted malaria while on a short trip back home in Kenya. Due to malaria’s incubation period I only started feeling sick after I was back in Palo Alto. My illness set off a total freakout at the Stanford Hospital. No less than four medical students, besides the crowd from the infectious disease unit at the hospital, passed by my hospital bed to ask the EXACT same questions (And of course they wanted to keep me overnight. They had an IV drip already installed in my arm. I tried my best to tell the doctor that I didn’t think I needed to be hospitalized to no avail.) The nurse who took my vitals put a mask on my face the moment I told her that I had malaria (I had to restrain myself from reminding her that malaria is not airborne). A week later the Santa Clara county infectious disease office called me to get my details and ask me if I was feeling better – The government wanted to know where and how I got malaria (The grad student in me was fascinated by this level of state capacity).

A few weeks before my Kenya visit I was in Fort Worth, TX. This was at the height of the West Nile virus outbreak that killed dozens of people. At the time the health authorities in the Dallas-Fort Worth area were in the middle of spraying the area to kill all the vectors (mosquitoes). My girlfriend reminded me of the fact that as recent as when her parents were growing up in Grand Prairie, TX much of the American South still had to be sprayed regularly (with DDT) to get rid of disease-bearing mosquitoes.

The reason I recounted these stories is to illustrate the fact that there is an alternative to pouring tons on money on vaccine research or bed nets. Yes, these may result in cool scientific discoveries or provide excellent opportunities for social scientists to get published on their RCT findings. But the reality is that millions of people are still dying.

Instead of asking those living in high disease burden environments to change their behaviors and sleep under mosquito nets, how about we get rid of the mosquitoes??

If it worked in the American South, and many other places, why can’t it work in Africa?

I would very much love to live in a place free of malaria. Because of my age and health, my malaria infection at the end of summer was a mere nuisance – muscle aches, head aches and fatigue. But for millions of children and post-natal mothers across much of tropical Africa malaria is a fatal disease.

But is DDT the answer? Haven’t we been made to internalize the evils of DDT?

It turns out that what we know about DDT might not be the whole truth. As Gourevitch argues, the environmental impact of DDT might have been overblown by the environmentalists.

Writes Gourevitch:

“Around the same time, the U.S. government launched an ambitious DDT-centered malaria eradication project which by the early ’60s had virtually eliminated malaria from Southern Europe, the Caribbean, and parts of East and South Asia. (In India, for example, annual deaths went from 800,000 to zero.) At the time, DDT was thought to be such an effective and useful substance that in 1948, Muller received a Nobel Prize in medicine. “To only a few chemicals does man owe as great a debt as to DDT,” declared the National Academy of Sciences in a report in 1970. “In little more than two decades, DDT has prevented 500 million human deaths, due to malaria.””

Adding that:

“But over the years, mainstream scientific opinion has absolved DDT of many of its supposed sins. Indeed, the Stockholm Convention partially backfired because it brought to light a slew of studies and literature reviews which contradicted the conventional wisdom on DDT. Like nearly any chemical, DDT is harmful in high enough doses. But when it comes to the kinds of uses once permitted in the United States and abroad, there’s simply no solid scientific evidence that exposure to DDT causes cancer or is otherwise harmful to human beings……

Not a single study linking DDT exposure to human toxicity has ever been replicated.”

But even assuming that the effects were as bad as they were claimed to be, shouldn’t we as humans be able to decide on the relative importance of human lives versus bald eagles?

How many children should be allowed to die so that bird watchers can better enjoy their Sunday afternoons?

nairobi blasts were grenade attacks

The Daily Nation reports that the blasts at a “NO” rally in Uhuru Park, Nairobi were caused by grenades. This confirms Kenyans’ worst fear – that the explosions were not accidents but an organized attack on those opposed to the draft constitution. One hopes that Kenyan politicians will be sober-minded as the relevant authorities investigate this incident. The last thing we need is careless finger-pointing and sabre-rattling.

I hope that the president and his prime minister will follow on their promise to bring those responsible to book. This is a potentially dangerous attack on Kenya’s young and troubled democracy. Freedom of expression is one of the key pillars of civilized society. This is an attack on every Kenyan’s freedom of expression. Those opposed to the draft constitution should be allowed to do so openly and as loudly as they can, as long as they are within the limits of the law.

Politicians all over Kenya are currently on campaign mode for or against the draft constitution. The referendum on the new document will be held on the 4th of August this year. The main sources of division in the proposed constitution include land management, devolution of power from the centre, inclusion of Kadhi’s courts to adjudicate on Muslim family law and the existence of a loophole that could allow for the legalization of abortion.

jacob zuma: why crash so soon?

Update: President Jacob Zuma agrees that he fathered a child out of wedlock with the 39 year-old daughter of one of his friends. Mr. Zuma is 67. In his statement the President said that he had done the “cultural imperative” of admitting to having fathered the child. A few suggestions for Mr. Zuma and those around him:

- having three wives is bad enough. Concentrate on the job. South Africans are looking up to you

– please fire your communications director. You are really bad with PR

– you are embarrassing the entire Continent. Not just yourself and your immediate family but the entire Continent. The whole 700 million of us.

The BBC reports that Jacob Zuma may have fathered a love child last year. The South African president just recently got married for the fifth time (he has three wives). He is estimated to have about 20 children. Recently when confronted about his rather colorful matrimonial situation Mr. Zuma shot back with the claim that anybody who was against polygamy was a cultural bigot.This is total horse manure. Mr. Zuma should know that culture is not static and that an attack on his wayward habits is not an attack on Zulu culture.

Until recently Mr. Zuma had exceeded expectations. His cabinet appointments (i thought) signaled his pragmatism. He stayed clear of the incendiary demagoguery that characterizes the ANC’s youth wing leader, Julius Malema. Even the media had warmed up a bit to the man who had to wiggle out of corruption and rape charges to become president. For a moment I thought that Mr. Zuma was going to be the nice blend of populism and realistic politicking that had so much eluded the intellectually aloof Thabo Mbeki. South African land reform, a fairer redistribution and creation of wealth (through a more transparent BEE and faster job creation), a reduced crime rate, etc etc seemed somewhat doable because the core of his base was the working class. But as is fast becoming apparent, it appears that the man has decided to let his personal life interfere with his job. I hope this latest incident will embarrass the ANC enough for the party to ask Mr. Zuma to go easy on the distractions and concentrate on his job.

Update: This is the last thing that SA and its ailing economy needs. The tabloid-like headings are soiling the SA presidency.

some good news from Guinea

Abubakar  Diakite, the guy who almost assassinated Guinean dictator Moussa Camara, should be handsomely rewarded. Well, unless he was actually responsible for the massacre of more than 150 pro-civilian-rule opposition protesters last year in which case he should be tried for crimes against humanity and locked away for life. Either way his actions may have put Guinea on the path towards civilian rule. Capt. Camara has agreed to “voluntary exile” (yeah right) in Burkina Faso. His henchmen (now led by his second in command) have also agreed to hand over power to civilians after a six-moth transition period. All active members of the armed forces are barred from running in the elections to be held in six months. This is a good start, although things may yet change.

In other news, the Senegalese President (Abdoulaye Wade) is not smart. Haitians do not need Senegalese land. Haitians need to get their act together in Haiti. He is like the bleeding hearts who are willing to help strangers in foreign lands while their own relatives starve. Senegal has an income per capita of $1600. Life expectancy stands at 59 years. The country also has the 40th worst infant mortality rate in the world. Mr. Wade’s nonsensical grandstanding is an embarrassment.

climate change madness, and bad research

Climate change is real, no doubt about that. But making inferences like this one from observed climatic patterns does not make any sense. It is almost offensive.

quoting the piece….

“Climate change is likely to increase the number of civil wars raging in Africa, according to Stanford researchers. Historical records show that in warmer-than-average years, the number of conflicts rises. The researchers predict that by 2030, Africa could see a greater than 50 percent increase in civil wars, which could mean an additional 390,000 deaths just from fighting alone.”

There are several things that are wrong with this inference. From the start, attempting to predict future patterns of conflict based on past experiences is highly problematic. Unless we presume that Africans are irrational in their violence, there is no reason to infer that they will naturally fight because of the predicted adverse effects of climate change. Past wars had a myriad causes – chief among them state failure. Most of these causes no longer obtain and may not obtain in 2030.

I have not read the actual paper but will sure do so as soon as I can get it and then comment some more about it. For now all I can make of it is: we should save the environment or else the Africans will kill themselves. This is what I call a heap of horse manure.

sunday editorials that I liked

As usual, Mutahi Ngunyi has a provocative piece in the Sunday Nation. I am sort of sympathetic to his idea of ethnic suicide (by which he means dumping ethnic identities and what they stand for) – I was in Eldoret and Timboroa for two days this summer and saw with my own eyes the fruits of ethnic hatred. The short-term operationalization of the idea may be problematic though. To make Kenyans out of Luos and Kikuyus and Kalenjins will take time. Because of this the process of “ethnic suicide” ought to take place sub-consciously, for if it is “managed” the end results or the process itself may be nasty.

Gitau Warigi pours some cold water on Bethuel Kiplagat’s TJRC. I like his argument. I am always baffled by how much we spend on such useless commissions only to be rewarded with “classified reports” issued to the president.  Philip Ochieng‘ has an interesting piece on ethnicity and politics in Kenya. I wonder how many politicians read his column… And Kwendo Opanga just gave me one more reason to think that Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka is as misguided as ever. This is not to say that the alternatives to Mr. Musyoka in the post-Kibaki dispensation are any better. Woe unto Wanjiku.

And in other news, is this legitimising crime or what?

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.