Two Important Lessons Americans Should Learn From the Senate Torture Report

As Americans digest the contents of the just released Senate Report on CIA’s use of torture, here are two important lessons that they ought to internalize.

  1. The release of the report neither absolves America of the deeds highlighted therein, nor does it mean that such gross violations of the rights of non-Americans have ended. As Mother Jones reported back in 2012, President Obama may have ended officially sanctioned torture, but as it continued to wage the global war on terror America merely “outsourced human rights abuse to Afghanistan, Somalia, and elsewhere” through rendition programs. In addition, CFR has calculated that over the course of 500 drone strikes under both the Bush and Obama administrations 41 men were targeted, but 1147 people were killed. Dangerous terrorists should be taken out, by all means. But at some point we must begin to ask questions about what ought to constitute an upper limit of tolerable collateral damage. Especially in relation to the lives of innocent non-combatants.
  2. By outsourcing illegal practices to governments in the developing world America is contributing to the weakening of institutions of accountability in those countries and the radicalization of potential jihadists. Six months ago I argued for caution in the ongoing militarization of US-Africa relations. My worry is that many American security arrangements with African governments are designed to bypass normal democratic channels (like direct military to military cooperation) and risk creating unaccountable militaries and governments. In Kenya, for instance, it is increasingly unclear whether the military or the elected civilian administration is in charge of national security policy (especially with regard to the mission in Somalia). Nairobi has also recently been on the spotlight accused of engaging in extra-judicial killings of suspected terrorists with foreign assistance. In addition, many governments in the region that cooperate with the US have enacted sweeping anti-terror laws, many designed to also silence domestic political dissent. If it is not yet abundantly clear, it is high time American policymakers realized that unaccountable and highly securitized governments play into the hands of jihadist recruiters.

The release of the report is certainly commendable. It is a shining example of the virtues of separation of powers, something that America, more than any other nation in history, has perfected. But it is not an end in and of itself. It ought to be a first step in acknowledging that human rights do not end at the water’s edge, and putting pressure on elected officials to devise national security and foreign relations policies that respect this fact. Despite what some Americans may say, respecting the rights of non-Americans and their desire for accountable political and military institutions will not weaken America. On the contrary it will make it stronger by bolstering its soft power, and safer.

This is huge >> ICC drops case against Uhuru Kenyatta

The ICC prosecutor has dropped the charges against President Uhuru Kenyatta, citing the lack of evidence due to non-cooperation by the Kenyan government. Mr. Kenyatta stood accused of playing a significant role in the 2007-08 post-election violence in Kenya in which at least 1300 people died and over 300,000 were displaced.

Four quick observations.

  • The Kenyan case was always going to be a tough one for the ICC. Kenya is neither the DRC nor Sudan. As soon as Kenyatta got elected Brussels, London, and Washington made it clear that they would not sacrifice their economic and geopolitical interests in the wider eastern Africa region on the alter of justice. This gave Mr. Kenyatta latitude to attack the legitimacy and legality of the ICC case against him both through the African Union (AU) and Kenyan diplomatic channels. Back in Kenya witnesses disappeared or withdrew their testimonies. The Office of the Prosecutor repeatedly said that the Kenyan state refused to hand over evidence relevant to the Kenyatta case. All this while Western embassies remained quiet about the case (for fear of “losing” Kenya to China).
  • This leads me to conclude that in a perverse way, the collapse of the Kenyatta case might actually be good for the ICC. The court (and OTP) can save face by arguing that they had the authority to prosecute the case but lacked cooperation from the Kenyan state. Now, the biggest challenge for everyone involved is how to ensure that this does not get interpreted as blanket immunity for all sitting presidents who are suspected of committing atrocities against their citizens. The deterrent effect of the ICC should be preserved.
  • The collapse of the case has interesting implications for Kenya’s domestic politics. It is common knowledge that the political union between President Kenyatta and Deputy President Ruto ahead of the 2013 election was primarily driven by their ICC cases. Mr. Kenyatta’s case has collapsed. Mr. Ruto’s is ongoing. This will diminish Mr. Ruto’s bargaining power in the alliance. It will also demand for Kenyatta’s allies to walk a tight rope and ensure that they do not signal to Ruto’s supporters that they no longer need them now that Kenyatta is off the hook. Ruto’s bloc, URP, has the second largest number of MPs in the National Assembly. This will give him leverage of some sort, even as his case goes on. Simply stated, without the ICC bond, the union between Kenyatta and Ruto will become more transactional. This means that mistakes will be made, and each side will have to try hard to ensure that disagreements over specific issues do not get blown out of proportion. Knowing Kenyan MPs, this will be a tall order.
  • Lastly, now that the ICC is behind him President Kenyatta might actually seriously tackle the issue of insecurity in Kenya. It is widely known that since he took office his approach to security matters has been informed by the desire to rid his administration of anyone who might have been sympathetic to the ICC. The former chief of intelligence (who may have played a role in “fixing” both Kenyatta and Ruto) and other senior officials who may have testified against him were let go. It took the slaughter of more than 450 Kenyans at the hands of terrorists and armed bandits over the last 18 months for the president to fire the chief of Police and the Cabinet Secretary in charge of internal security. One can only hope that now Kenyans will get a more responsive security sector.

What does this mean for reconciliation in Kenya? Not much. 2007-08 shattered the myth of Kenya as a peaceful oasis in an otherwise volatile region. Kenyans are yet to comprehensively deal with the shock of seeing what neighbors could do to one another. The preferred MO has been to sweep things under the rug. That was the logic of the Kenyatta-Ruto alliance (the land issues that erupted in clashes between their respective constituencies have not been resolved). It is the same logic that drove the peace-at-all-costs campaign that stifled open discussion of contentious national issues ahead of the 2013 election.

For better or worse, Kenyans are desperate to move on past 2007-08. But the weight of historical injustices, inequalities, and the continued failure to address them are constant reminders that 2007-08 might happen again.

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.

On the quality of higher education (and human capital development) in Africa

This post first appeared on the African Development Bank’s Integrating Africa Blog where I am a regular contributor. 

UPDATE: I got an email from readers working with the Regional Initiative in Science and Education (RISE), exactly the kind of collaboration that I am saying is much needed in Africa. Check them out here.

According to The Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2012-2013, the highest ranked university in Africa, the University of Cape Town, is 113th in the world. The ranking system employs 13 performance indicators that take into account universities’ core functions, including “research, knowledge transfer and international outlook.” Among the leading 400 world academic institutions, there are only four from Africa, all in South Africa. As a region, Africa only has 35 scientists and engineers per million inhabitants, compared with 168 in Brazil, 2,457 in Europe and 4,103 in the United States. The region is clearly behind as far as knowledge production and dissemination is concerned, producing only 1.1 percent of the world’s scientific knowledge, despite comprising more than 13 percent of the global population.

At barely over 8 percent, Africa’s gross enrollment in tertiary institutions of learning is the lowest of any region in the world (UNESCO, 2011). The average enrollment rate for developing countries is 23 percent, and that for advanced countries is 74 percent. Africa’s poor showing in the higher education sweepstakes is both a cause and effect of the region’s poor economic environment. The massive cuts in higher education funding in the wake of the structural adjustment programs of the 1980s and 1990s, even as enrollment more than tripled between 1991 and 2005, have had an adverse impact on quality. And in turn, the lack of high quality tertiary level education has starved the region of high skills needed for efficient allocation of factors of production thereby stunting improvement in productivity, high value addition and research and development. Africa devotes less than 1 percent of its GDP to research and development.

Data from 33 countries for which it is available show that tertiary education financing in the region has declined from a high of US $6,800 per student per year in 1980 to just about $981 in 2005. Over the same period the World Bank decreased its education lending from 17 percent in 1985-89 to just 7.5 percent currently (this is despite the fact that the World Bank nearly doubled its education lending between 2008 and 2009). The decline in public funding in the face of increasing demand for higher education has led to the proliferation of private universities of dubious standards and a bias towards perceived “soft” fields. In 2004 a meager 28 percent of students were enrolled in perceived “hard” disciplines in the sciences and engineering.

A 2008 study of 12 countries showed an increase in public universities from 113 to 188 between 1995 and 2008. Over the same period private universities ballooned from 14 to 107. This rapid increase in the number of universities in the region has not been matched by an increase in the number of trained teaching staff or facilities such as laboratories, libraries, and the like. Indeed, most of the new universities have tended to specialize in vocational subjects that require very little capital and human resource investment. To put it mildly, there is a great mismatch between the region’s development needs and the type of graduates it produces each year.

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An impression of the proposed Konza City in Kenya

The shortage of skills permeates nearly all skill levels, and could get worse as the region’s economy continues to grow over the next two decades. The case of Kenya is illustrative. The country has an ambitious plan to be the information and communication technology (ICT) hub of Eastern Africa (dubbed the “Silicon Savannah”) complete with a proposed $10 billion techno-city (Konza City) situated about 60 kilometres southeast of Nairobi. Already ICT multinationals, including IBM, Microsoft, Google and Intel, have their regional headquarters in Kenya. All this sounds good, except the lack of local skills. IBM’s research lab in Kenya has had to source for top talent among graduates in computer science, electrical engineering, mathematics, and data scientists from American universities. There is still a shortage of required skills among graduates of Kenyan universities. Quality assurance is also lacking, as recent news reports of “theses for hire” have demonstrated.

As the Kenyan case suggests, the lack of sufficient investment in high quality tertiary education has adversely impacted Africa’s ability to realize its economic potential. A 2005 study showed that a one-year increase in the higher education stock of the region could boost growth rate by about 0.63 percentage points. This adds up to an overall increase in income by about 12 percent over five years. For the region to take off economically there is need for greater investment in quality higher education that will train workers for the 21st century economy. But improving the quality of higher education in the region will be a very costly affair. On their own, the region’s countries lack both the resources (on account of their small economies) and demand (on account of their population sizes) to justify the types of investments required. This is where regional cooperation comes in.

Cross-border educational exchanges are not new in Africa, and go back to the pre-independence era. For generations non-Senegalese francophone students have studied in Senegal, seen as a cheap way of getting quality education at par with diplomas from France. Uganda, with East Africa’s top university, Makerere, hosts legions of Kenyan students, eager to avoid congestion and high costs back home. South Africa, with its many quality institutions is also a preferred destination for students from across the continent. These historical cross-border exchanges have led to the formation of regional associations of higher education – the francophone Conseil Africain et Malgache pour l’Enseignement Superieur (CAMES); Inter-University Council of East Africa (IUCEA); Southern African Regional Universities Association (SARUA); and inter-university cooperation under the Arab Maghreb Union (AMU). Continent-wide, the 208-member Association of African Universities (representing 45 countries) is the umbrella organization of the region’s institutions of higher learning.

These associations need to be strengthened and empowered as drivers of regional harmonization of higher education both to facilitate cross-border inter-university mobility of both teachers and students and guarantee quality assurance. As a 2007 World Bank report aptly noted, “regional quality assurance networks are particularly relevant to Africa because of human resource constraints.” On this score the European Higher Education Area provides a possible model. The just over 10 years old Bologna process is working towards ensuring inter-university mobility (in terms of courses, qualifications, and periods of study) as well as a uniform quality assurance standard. In the African context, a continent-wide area of higher education is infeasible because of language and logistical constraints. However, sub-regional areas of higher education, based on the existing associations, provide a possible avenue to invest in a few good institutions of higher learning that can have a demonstrative effect on national institutions as well set high standards of learning. The associations themselves can also serve as certification bodies to ensure a uniform quality assurance standard (see here).

The announcement in late July 2013 of the creation of a new US $154.2 million multinational science, innovation and technology Pan African University (PAU) in the next five years is therefore welcome. (The African Development Bank (AfDB) has pledged a $45 million grant towards the effort.) PAU will be structured around existing institutions of higher learning across Africa’s five sub-regions. Basic sciences, technology and innovation will be based in East Africa; earth and life sciences including health and agriculture in West Africa; governance, humanities and social sciences in Central Africa; water and energy sciences including climate change in North Africa; and space sciences in Southern Africa.

Thus far, discussions over regional integration of systems of higher education have tended to view tertiary institutions as tools for regional economic and political integration – be it in East Africa, Europe or East Asia. However, the creation of stronger regional areas of higher education – especially in a region like Africa – can also be an economically efficient way of facilitating greater investment in higher education to match the demands of a 21st century economy. It is encouraging that current trends signal a move in this direction. University systems in Africa’s sub-regions would be a good place to start.

I conclude with a caution. The rapid increase in the number of public and private universities in Africa over the last two decades has come at the expense of other post-secondary institutions of learning such as polytechnics (this shift has occurred to a lesser extent in francophone Africa than anglophone Africa). In many countries governments have simply converted polytechnics and other constituent colleges into fully-fledged universities. This trend is worrying, especially given the fact that the vast majority of high school leavers on the continent do not make it to university. The low quality of high school education in the region (as demonstrated by the recent mass student failures in Liberia and Tanzania) is yet another reason why these “bridge” tertiary institutions are needed, both to prepare students for university and to impart valuable skills for those that do not eventually make it to university.

The rush to invest in university education should not distract from the fact that vocational post-secondary institutions, such as polytechnics, are an important component of human capital development, even in advanced countries as is the case in Germany (with its impressive “dual system” of training codified in the Vocational Training Act of 1969). As African economies move from dependence on primary commodities to manufacturing and technology, there will be need for skilled workers at all occupational levels. Doing away with vocational post-secondary institutions will only serve to further inhibit the development of adequate and relevant human capital to match the increased demand for skilled workers.

Kenyan Elections 2013 and The High Potential for Violence

In an excellent piece over at African Arguments Sheekh and Mosley give a comprehensive discussion of the recent outbreak of violence in the Tana Delta region of Coast Province, Kenya. According to the authors:

Long-standing competition and conflict over access to pasture and water resources were important factors, but did not alone provide the trigger for violence.  A range of political and economic factors have fed into the local dynamics in Tana Delta. These include longer-term trends related to alienation of local people from land due to large-scale government and private sector purchases, and shorter-term impacts related to the process of delineating electoral constituency boundaries and county districts in line with Kenya’s new constitution. The ready availability of small arms has also seen such conflicts intensify in recent decades. Lack of livelihood opportunities for the youth is also a major factor.

As such, the recent clashes are emblematic of wider trends.  Although the Tana Delta (along with the rest of Coast Province) has tended to be politically marginalised, tensions in other areas – such as Mt Elgon and parts of the Rift Valley including Eldoret, Nakaru and Naivasha, and counties in northern Kenya – could also be exacerbated by the same political factors.  Some of these areas were flash-points in the post-poll violence of late 2007 and early 2008, with major national and regional ramifications.”

Spot on.

The Tana Delta conflict is symptomatic of a larger dynamic that will play out in anticipation of the March 4th 2013 elections in Kenya. The new constitution has created 47 county governments, many of them multiethnic or otherwise diverse, that will each have three county-wide elected officials (a governor, deputy governor, and a senator). Ethnic and communal rivalries will inevitably surface in these county contests, with potentially disastrous outcomes such as what we’ve seen so far in Tana River County.

The potential for decentralized violence in Kenya’s 47 counties is a real cause for concern.

In order to limit the potential for violence, the national commission charged with policing ethnic harmony has initiated talks in potential flash-points to broker inter-ethnic power-sharing deals with the hope of avoiding a situation in which certain communities are totally excluded from county-wide elected offices. Sadly, so far there is no sign that these initiatives will work (Not to mention how un-democratic such back room arrangements will be). Plus the violence will not necessarily be exclusively of the inter-ethnic variety (which is what the commission is fixated on at the moment). Even ethnically homogenous counties might experience inter-clan violence.

While most of the attention in the next few months will be on how to avoid a repeat of the aftermath 2007-08 election, Kenya watchers should be warned that the problem will be much more complicated. If nothing is done, many counties will experience inter-communal violence. The new county governments will have real resources (about a third of national revenue) that will generate real patronage networks worth fighting for.

Given the nature of Kenyan politics, the race for the presidency (more blog posts on this soon) will inevitably hog all the attention in the next five months. I hope the contest for State House and its own risks for violence will not overshadow the county-level contests which will also be just as intense and likely to result in violence.

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.

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.

please do away with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung”

Big business and economic development in “pristine lands” is awful. Especially if you grew up with the comforts of indoor plumbing and general over-abundance of the purest hedonistic-capitalist kind. It is only when you have the choice to pop in and out of “tropical obscurity” that you would find the intellectual courage to defend a way of life that is just above that of man circa 1750 A.D. Suddenly you find yourself forgetting the basic fact that it is underdevelopment that makes infant mortality, HIV infection rates, gender inequality and a whole lot of other maladies most acute in your presumed tropical paradise.

I am beginning to read things to the effect that the development of a port in Lamu (Kenya) is bad – both for the environment and the local people and their culture. I don’t buy most of the stuff though. The likes of Gettleman want us to believe that people in places like Lamu are inherently anti-development. According to him the people of Lamu “say they are not especially well suited for the mechanized world.” Good for them. They would much rather live with the “omnipresent smells of donkey dung” than have a modern port constructed in their district. This is total horse manure.

Firstly, the environmental costs of having a modern port in Lamu will surely be outweighed by the socio-economic benefits. Oil exports from Uganda and Southern Sudan, among other trading opportunities in the wider region will surely create jobs in the area. Secondly, why should we assume that exposure of Lamu culture to the wider (albeit still not completely apparent) Kenyan Culture is necessarily bad? Aren’t cultures supposed to change with time? Plus if Lamu culture cannot keep up after such an encounter it should be allowed to go the way of the dodo. That is why we build museums.

If it can be done – as it should – the construction of Kenya’s second port in Lamu should be a foregone conclusion. The Kenyan government should make this crystal clear to all the environmentalists and anthropologists concerned.

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.