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 Obama’s re-election means for US Africa Policy

On the 14th of June this year President Obama outlined his policy for Sub-Saharan Africa. Included in the policy statement were four key strategic objectives: (1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth, trade, and investment; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development.

In my view, of the four aspirational goals the one that will receive the most attention in the near future will be the third (especially security).

US strategic security interests in Africa mainly involve two key concerns: (1) China’s growing economic presence in the region and (2) the spread of Al-Qaeda linked groups in the region, stretching from Somalia to Mauritania (This is why Mali featured more prominently than the EU in the Presidential foreign policy debate). Before talking about China, here are my thoughts on the US campaign against  al-Qaeda in Africa.

While I don’t foresee any success in the creation of an African base for AFRICOM, the US will continue to cooperate with AU member states in fighting Islamist extremism in the region. The “successful” AU mission in Somalia could provide a blueprint for future operations against potential terror groups. The biggest lesson from Somalia is that the US cannot just pick one nation (in this case Ethiopia) to fight its wars in the region, and that a collaborative effort with the blessing of the regional umbrella organization (the AU) and others such as IGAD can deliver results.

Having helped (both directly and indirectly) in the ouster of Al-Shabaab from strategic locations in Somalia, the next big task will be dealing with the mushrooming Islamist extremism in the Sahel (especially in northern Mali but also in Niger and Nigeria).

The problem of extremism in the Sahel is further compounded by the link of some of the groups to the drug trade flowing from Latin America and into Europe. There is significant evidence that drug money has financed the activities of separatist groups in northern Mali. The fight against these groups will necessarily involve dealing with this crucial source of finance. This means that for the operation to succeed the US will have to engage in capacity building and the strengthening (and clean-up) of security institutions (especially the armies) in states like Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, South Africa, Kenya, among others, in which officials in the security sector have been implicated in the drug trade.

The Sahelian challenge might yet prove more formidable than Somalia. The latter case had relatively stable neighbors that served to contain the anarchy. The Sahel (Sahelistan, if you will) is much larger and includes some of the least governed spaces on the planet.

On China, the US (and for that matter, the rest of the West) has to change its present approach of total freak-out overt suspicion over Chinese involvement in Africa. Africans need protection from China only as much as they need protection from the West. China is not out to “exploit” Africa any more than the West has. Nobody should expect China to engage Africa more benevolently than the West did for the better part of the last 60 years (Mobutu and Bokassa were not that different from Bashir and Mugabe).

A constructive approach ought to include policies designed to strengthen African states so that they can engage China on their own terms. It is ultimately African leaders who mortgage their resources and sovereignty to China (or the West). Instead of focusing too much on China, a better approach might be one that creates strong regional organizations (like the SADC or the EAC) that can improve the bargaining power of African states.

The other policy objectives outlined by Obama appear to fall in the business-as-usual category. Democracy promotion will not yield much in the face of other more pressing priorities (notice how security has triumphed over democracy in Mali). And unless the US is willing to get involved in massive infrastructure projects like China has (last time I checked they were in 35 African states), I don’t see how it can help spur economic growth in the region (AGOA was great, but Africa needs something better). Plus the US continues to be hampered in its development-promotion efforts by its aversion to state industrial policy. It’s about time Foggy Bottom realized that it is really hard to have a thriving private sector and American-style free enterprise in places with bad roads, very few (and bad) schools, and governments that are run by personalist dictators. In these instances some corruption-laden developmental state policies may be the best way to go.

lessons not learned

It has been 25 years since the 1984-85 Ethiopian famine that inspired Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to write the song do they know it’s christmas?

The Ethiopian government is marking the anniversary in the most appropriate way: by appealing for food aid from the international community to assist the more than 6.2 million of its citizens who are faced with starvation sans food aid. Yes, over the last 25 years the government of Ethiopia has not been able to put in place systems to guarantee its people food security. It is almost like 1985 never happened. Agriculture  (which is dominated by coffee) accounts for over 40% of GDP and makes up 60% of Ethiopian exports (CIA factbook). Now, I am no expert on agricultural economics or on Ethiopia per se but I am willing to bet a few hundred shillings that Addis must be favoring cash-cropping over basic food security. I guess it is just a lot easier to tax coffee exports than peasant agriculture – especially if you have an expensive autocratic system to maintain.

I say food aid should be conditioned on Meles Zenawi loosening his grip on power. Just like food aid during the last famine helped prolong the civil war at the time (see Alex de Waal), giving Zenawi food aid without any preconditions will just continue to perpetuate the very system that has been unable to guarantee food security for Ethiopians. Sen’s beliefs on autocracies and famines are partly true. Ethiopians continue to have these cycles of famine because Addis does not have to listen to the average peasant in Afar.

This does not mean that we should heartlessly sit back and watch millions of people die. No, those that can should assist as many people as is possible. However, while at it, the international community should insist on fairer government in Addis. It doesn’t have to be about regime change through elections or those other democratic stuff. All is needed is a guarantee of the chance for average Ethiopians to live decent lives without having to worry about major famines every decade or so.

al-Bashir is crazy, like seriously

President Omar al-Bashir of Sudan has announced that he wants all foreign aid groups out of the country in one year, adding that the aid agencies can drop off their aid at airports and let the Sudanese distribute it on their own – yeah right.

If we ever doubted the sanity of this man here is the confirmation that he is certifiably insane. It may have been political posturing on his part but he is president and should not be saying such crazy things. Nearly 3 million Sudanese have been displaced thanks to this man’s genocidal rule since he took over power in a coup in 1989. There is no way on earth that he can be trusted with relief food, or any other supplies. His airforce continues to bomb villages, killing innocent civilians. His bands of militia in Darfur, Abyei and other areas continue to run around raping women and terrorizing villages in a sick and twisted genocidal mission to “Arabize” certain regions of the country.

There has to be a way of forcing him to allow aid to reach civilians. The international community ought to invoke the ‘right to protect’ clause and intervene (force him to allow aid in) before this man’s madness leads to even more deaths.

some unwelcome radicalism

I am not a radical, or at least I don’t think of myself as one. But after reading this story about pastoralists in Eastern Kenyan, a rather radical idea came to my mind. You see, ever since man began living a sedentary life, history has proven that it is the best way to live. It offers security, provides opportunity for the development of a strong government, enables easy provision of essential services like education, healthcare and social care, among others. There are a few exceptions to the rule. The Mongols were a nomadic bunch that terrorized the life out of sedentary city states. But they were the exception that proves the rule. Civilization and human society flourishes in a sedentary setting, period.

So knowing this, I wonder if it would be a bad idea to make it government policy that nomadic pastoralist communities (in East Africa, the Sahel and Southern Africa) be offered incentives to settle down. Not forced, but given the right incentives. They move around not because they love to, but in search of pasture and water. The government could dig wells and start grass farms for these communities. It sounds naive and outlandish but think of the difference such an initiative would make in two or three generations.

Now before you anthropologists come for my neck I challenge you to be honest with yourselves. Why do you believe that it is OK for the such communities to live the way they do, with their short life spans and limited options while the rest of humanity does infinitely better? And don’t tell me that they are happy with their lives. I doubt that they would be if they had the options that other people have. I hearken to Amartya Sen’s arguments here. We need to expand these communities’ options if we are going to develop a single united country. They are not samples of past human existence for our study and amusements. They are people who are ends in themselves.

This reminds me of a post that I have been working on forever (still coming) on the approach to development in Africa. The prevailing mentality is that the African is developed when he is not dying of aids, malaria, hunger, civil war and the like. The current development efforts all across the continent aim at keeping people alive and comfortable at a very low station in life. I think this should change. Sustainable developmetn in Africa will only be achieved through real transformation of African societies. China is doing it. India is doing it. Africa can, and will, do it.  I know that some will argue that we should stop the civil conflict, eradicate HIV prevalence and do all other kinds of things before we think of putting refrigerators in people’s homes and housing them in modern houses. I say this is a heap of horse manure. Botswana, although with a high HIV prevalence rate, is doing fine. And the civil wars are not everywhere. Somalia, Darfur and Eastern Congo, compared to the rest of the vast continent of Africa can qualify as “isolated incidents” (yes, I can push the envelope on this one).

somalia: may be we should give the Islamists a try?

Before the US decided to use Ethiopia to invade Somalia, the southern portion of the failed state – including the capital Mogadishu – was largely run by a group calling itself the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU was into strict Sharia Law, something that did not go well with most of the secular warlords (who were simply out to make a profit from the chaos that is Somalia) and most of the West (read the US). Financed to some extent by Eritrea, (to Ethiopia’s chagrin) the ICU called for a Jihad against the Ethiopian government for colluding with the infidel Americans. Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia was partly motivated by the Islamist group’s support of the cause for the liberation of the Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia inhabited by ethnic Somalis and which has been the poster-child for irredentist dreams of Somali governments and warlords alike.

And so when the ICU seemed to be gaining too much power than the Ethiopians and Americans would have liked, a decision was made to take them out. It also emerged that the ICU was sympathetic to terrorist elements – inluding the plotters of the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya (more than 200 Kenyans were killed in the attack in Nairobi) and Tanzania. Beginning in July of 2006 Ethiopian troops started moving into Somalia to take out the Islamists – and for some time they succeeded, even enabling the installation of the Somali transitional government in the sleepy town of Baidoa.

But now the Ethiopians have decided to pull out and the Islamists are back. As soon as Ethiopia withdrew, the ICU overran Baidoa and vowed to reinstate Sharia Law. This latest turn of events proves that the ICU is not a mere rag-tag group of bandits. They seem to mean serious business and perhaps it is time the international community took them seriously. Yes they have supported terrorists, but that can be changed by a stroke of a pen on a cheque book. They support the terrorists because the terrorists fund them. I am sure they can be co-opted into the global force for good in exchange for their restoration of order in Somalia.

And about Sharia Law, why should the US and the rest of the international community complain so much while it is the norm in Arabia and the gulf? What makes it different when the Somalis do it? I am all for respect for human rights and all, but I think it is imperative that global do-gooders (and all of us who believe in sensible liberalism) realize that justice is political and therefore should be pursued with regard to the particularities of the societies involved. A realistic approach to Somalia ought to allow the Islamic Courts to be if they can guarantee order and some semblance of  a state in exchange for some cash and a promise not to fund or harbour terrorists. America and Ethiopia must accept the fact that the ICU has some street credibility among Somalis. This is no time for ideological struggles. Somalis have suffered enough.

three cheers to Tutu

Finally someone is saying something that can move things a bit in Zimbabwe. The Nobel laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has called for the arrest or forceful ouster of Mugabe if he does not resign ang go home – or wherever he wants. Right now Harare’s people are faced with a cholera epidemic in the wake of total economic collapse. You know we have come to think of Zimbabwe as a failed state but it was not that long ago – even though Rob’s madness had already began then – that this country had great prospects. Zimbabwe could have been great. It still can, if someone acts now.

Which reminds me of the other day in a class on International Aid that I am taking. We were talking about humanitarian intervention and international law. Repeatedly, respect for sovereignty came up as a reason to not intervene in places like Somalia, Chad, Central African Republic, Zimbabwe, the DRC and all the other near failed states on the continent. Now I know there is no money to intervene in all these places. But we don’t need to. All we need is to set a precedent in one African country. A precedent that you cannot get away with killing or starving your own people. A precedent that you cannot get away with stealing your people’s money like Obiang’ and all the thieves in leadership positions are doing across the continent. Then everyone will think twice before they rig elections, kill innocent people or steal money out of state coffers.

Africans need to realise that they are in the only region of the world that still remains objectified. The only region that has not risen up to claim local agency in its history. Latin America, East Asia, South Asia, the Middle East and North Africa – all former colonies of Western Europe – have risen up to become actors in world history in their own right. The Chinese have a giant economy. South East Asia has considerable clout too. India has the atom bomb and massive amounts of top notch human resources. The Middle East is managing its oil and transforming the desert. Latin America is a middle income region by all means. And Western Europe and its off shoots continues to be ahead of everyone else – this is purely a historical accident and should not be imputed to anything else (read Jared Diamond).

Africa on the other hand remains to be the poster child of failure. Soon enough we shall be receiving aid from the Indians and the Mexicans and the Brazilians and may be some day even the Afghanis. Why don’t African leaders see what they are doing to the African people and their collective consciousness? Why don’t they see how detrimental to future generations of Africans their actions are? Why don’t they seem to mind the fact that when one says Africa or Africans the first things that come to people’s minds are Aids, Poverty, Hunger, Disease, and all manner of evils. Why?

The middle East has dictators. Pinochet was a dictator, but not a mindless buffoon like Samuel Doe, or Amin or Mugabe. Suharto was a corrupt thief, but not the moron that was Abacha. Why I ask. Why can’t any of our leaders, dictators or not get anything right? Why?

these somali pirates must be stopped now

As I whined about the resignation of Mbeki and the ineluctable ascendance of one Jacob Zuma to the most powerful position on the continent, the story of Somali pirates seizing a ship with militray cargo destined for Kenya made me even more worried. 33 tanks, among other military hardware, were on the Ukranian ship that was hijacked by pirates from Somalia while on international waters off the coast of the failed state in the horn of Africa.

These developments raise a very serious question. For how long will the world sit back and watch as a few greedy men with guns terrorize an entire country, killing innocent women and children and depriving them of a decent livelihood? So far the consensus has been that as long as the mess is confined within Somalia then everyone (save for Ethiopia and the CIA) would pretend that nothing is going on. But now there is an overflow. Tired of the boredom of pillaging within their borders the rag-tag bandits of Somalia have decided to extend their activities to the sea, routinely hijacking ships for ransome and booty. They need to be stopped.

These 21st century pirates need to be stopped not just in the sea but also within the borders of Somalia. It is imperative that countries within the wider East African region come up with a plan of solving Somalia’s problem once and for all instead of merely containing it, as seems to be the policy of the regional military powerhouse Ethiopia and the United States. Somalis are people too – just like the Kenyans or Ivorians who elicited much international sucpport in their times of crises - and need to be allowed to have an existence worthy of human beings. The last eighteen years have shown us that Somalis, on their own, cannot rid themselves of the dystopia that they’ve made of their country. The international community should – in a Rousseauian sense – impose peace and set in motion a more transparent re-education on government and institutions instead of the current puppet government arrangement. Sounds too optimistic to you? To the gainsayers I say it can be done. It can be done because the vast majority of Somalis want it to be done. An international intervention will not be an Iraq, not even a Somalia-’93.

when will africa get it right?

A few months ago, after the Nigerian election, I read a piece in a leading international newspaper that said that Africa had yet again failed at democracy. The article infuriated me because it was a blanket write off of the entire continent as being undemocratic. I thought about Kenya, Senegal and Botswana as viable democracies that were capable of holding free and fair elections and which had freedom of the press.

But then Kenya happened. A country that was largely peaceful and with prospects of becoming a middle income country in the next decade and a half suddenly imploded and descended into never-before seen chaos. An election was stolen by a man who was viewed as one of the better behaved presidents on a continent infested with autocrats and dictators.

How, after all this, can we convince the world that Nigeria, Zimbabwe, the CAF, Equatorial Guinea, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, the DCR and all the others are isolated incidents? How are we going to convince ourselves that we are capable of running peaceful and prosperous countries when all that exist around us are chaos and murderous wars? Total failure?

It is true that countries like Botswana and Senegal still remain stable and democratic and also headed towards economic prosperity. South Africa is also doing quite well, although I am holding my breath to see what a Zuma presidency has in store for us. But the rest of the countries either have wars, or some form of instability and those that are peaceful have poverty rates that are utterly inhuman, to put it mildly.

It is extremely vital for the continent not to let a working model like Kenya sink into the same pit that has the Somalias of the continent. This is because many countries in East Africa depend on Kenya for their own economic success. A failed Kenya would mean no hope for Somalia and serious problems for Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Southern Sudan, Eastern DCR and Northern Tanzania. A failed Kenya will also mean a serious blow to the spread of democracy on the continent and especially East Africa. Besides Tanzania, Kenya was the only other democracy in the region. Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi all have autocrats who would happily use Kenya as an excuse for them to stay in power.