Kenyan politician John Michuki dead at 80

John Michuki, MP for Kangema is dead at 80. The late Michuki was a Kenyan politician that many learned to love (and sometimes love and hate). As Transport Minister he brought sanity to the rowdy matatu sector with the much-loved “Michuki Rules”. As Minister for the environment he cleaned up Nairobi River.

His less illustrious contribution was in the security ministry. It is under his watch that the Standard Media group was raided by masked thugs under the pretext that they were about to publish information that would have “impinged on the person of the president.” It later emerged that the media house had information about alleged illegal dealings by a woman rumored to be an illegitimate daughter of president Kibaki. The war on the Mungiki sect was also carried out under his watch – with numerous allegations of extrajudicial killings of hundreds of young men.

The son of a paramount chief, Michuki was among the group of super-wealthy conservative elites who at independence took over power and managed to quiet the more radical elements of the independence movement. Under their watch Kenya emerged as a capitalist enclave even as its many neighbors flirted with communism and African Socialism, with disastrous consequences. For better or worse, Kenya benefited from this “home guard generation” (see Bates 1989, for instance; for a different view see AfriCommons).

The Kenyan political scene will sorely miss Mr. Michuki’s straight talk and ability to deliver. He was among a handful of government officials that actually stood for what they believed, and he had results to back up all his talk. As the Nation reports:

Michuki gained the reputation of being a “ruthless” and efficient manager, who is widely acknowledged as being among the best performing ministers in President Kibaki’s government.

May he rest in peace.

Our man in Mogadishu

QUICK UPDATE:

Two separate minor explosions rocked Nairobi in the last 24 hours, one at a club on Mfangano Street and another at OTC. One person has been confirmed dead and several people were injured. By targeting ordinary Kenyans in the eastern reaches of the city (instead of other soft targets in upper class parts of town) al-Shabab’s strategy seems to be one of forcing the Kenyan public to pressure the government to stop the military operation in Somalia.

My hunch is that they are mistaken. The Kenyan military did not go into Somalia because of public pressure but because of a desire to restore confidence in the tourism sector and possibly after a little prodding from the US and France. And killing innocent Kenyans will only harden public resolve to have the al-Shabab kicked out of Eastleigh.

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Somali President Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed says Kenya’s campaign against Al-Shabaab rebels should not go beyond training Somali soldiers and provision of logistical support in specified and agreed areas.

Speaking while on a visit to the the frontline of the war between his government’s forces and the Al-Shabaab, President Sharif stated that many Somalis were anxious to know more about the military operations reportedly being carried out inside Somalia by Kenyan troops.

Several factors can explain why a beleaguered president, unable to leave a restricted section in his capital, would oppose help that could help stabilize his country.

  1. It could be a domestic politics issue. Leaders of occupied states – e.g. Afghanistan and Iraq – often have to juggle the dual roles of public opposition and private support of foreign troops in their territory. Understood this way, we should brush aside Sharif Sheikh Ahmed’s opposition to the Kenyan troop presence in Somalia as a mere PR exercise.
  2. The invasion could be harming the president’s interests. After two decades of life without a central government nearly all of the Somali elite have dirty hands. Mr. Ahmed, himself was once the commander in chief of the Islamic Courts Union, a parent of al-Shabab. He is also from South Somalia, where Kenyan troops are currently stationed. By routing al-Shabab and all potential for organized armed organization, the Kenyan invasion might actually be taking the rug from under Ahmed’s feet. His election to the Somali presidency was not because he was the most peaceful of the warlords.
  3. The invasion might undermine other interests within Somalia that the president relies on. The piracy trade on the Indian Ocean is a lucrative business that is allegedly fueling the property boom in Kenya, especially in Nairobi. I would be surprised no one in Mogadishu had a hand in this and other shady operations such as gun-running in the wider Eastern African region. Kenyan stated goal of capturing Kismayu will most certainly disrupt these businesses, with huge financial consequences for the real Big Men involved. Mr. Ahmed might just be protecting the interests of those he depends on.

Whatever the case one hopes that Somalis in the south of the country will not, in their president’s utterances, find justification to actively undermine the Kenyan mission to deny al-Shabab of an operating base.

Meanwhile two grenade explosions have hit Nairobi in the last 24 hours, with one person confirmed dead.

Also, after a week of rallying around the flag in support of Operation Linda Nchi, the Kenyan media is beginning to ask questions about planning and long-term efficacy of the Somalia mission. It is unclear just how much uncertainty, about their own physical security, Kenyans will tolerate as the government continues to execute the war against Al-Shabab.

blurring the line between church and state

The Catholic Church has urged Parliament to interrogate the moral values and family principles of two judicial nominees before approving them.

The Church came short of rejecting the nomination of Dr Willy Mutunga and Ms Nancy Barasa for the positions of Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice respectively, over questions raised about their controversial moral standing.

“The excessive emphasis on academic excellence and radical reformism is not sufficient. Justice fundamentally involves moral order,” said the Church in a statement signed by all the bishops and read by Cardinal Njue.

That is Cardinal John Njue as quoted in the Kenyan daily the Standard.

As part of the implementation of the new constitution the Judicial Service Commission recently nominated Willy Mutunga, a card carrying liberal and reformer. Many in the Kenyan right, including the Church, have come out against Dr. Mutunga – some even pandering to Kenya’s overall conservatism by claiming that Dr. Mutunga might be gay (notice Njue’s comment about “moral order”). Weird stuff.

A part of me thinks that the church is being used by people who know they will lose big time if Kenya’s judiciary gets cleaned up. This talk of morality is horse manure mere hot air. Dr. Mutunga is not a threat, at all, to the country’s conservative character – wrongly conceived or not. He is, however, a nightmare from hell for those who have benefited from corruption since 1963.

The church was on the wrong side of the constitutional debate in 2010 – and lost. It appears that they have not woken up to reality yet. Kenya is changing. If it wants to remain relevant it must change, too.

perspective: land issues in Kenya and zimbabwe

This quote made me pause for a moment:

“As seen in this work, the naked exploitation of land rights has a far longer and more illustrious history in Kenyan than in Zimbabwe. Further, the human cost of such exploitation of land rights in Zimbabwe pales in comparison to Kenya. Human Rights Watch, which is not known to underestimate rights abuses, reports that, by the year 2000 seven white farmers and several tens of black farmers had been killed in Zimbabwe in such violent exploitation of land rights. By the year 2000, these activities in Kenya had resulted in the deaths of thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands”

That is Onoma in his book on the Politics of Property Rights Institutions in Africa.

Notice that the figures quoted do not include the victims of Kenya’s 2007-08 post election violence. 1300 died, and just over 300,000 were displaced.

In 1980 6000 (white) Zimbabweans owned 42% of the land in the country. How anyone, including the white farmers, thought this was sustainable in the long run beats me.

In some sense Zimbabwe was inevitable. South Africa is next.

president kibaki’s weird move

President Kibaki has done quite a few good things for Kenya. He will be remembered as the president who did away with the oligarchic constitution that Kenya inherited from the Brits at independence.

That said, his recent move to appoint constitutional office holders in the justice system without consultation raises serious questions about his commitment to Kenya’s reform agenda. And it is not simply about his failure to consult the ODM in making the appointments. Mr. Kibaki ignored due process stated in the constitution. Appointments to the judiciary are required to originate from the judicial service commission.

Also, why appoint Ruto’s lawyer to be director of public prosecutions? Didn’t anyone at Harambee House see the obvious questions that would arise? As Macharia Gaitho notes:

If the Kenya Government – or rather President Kibaki’s PNU axis – is to convince anyone that it has the will to establish a truly independent local tribunal, then it could not do much worse than nominate a lawyer for one of the Ocampo Six as Director of Public Prosecutions.

countdown to wednesday begins

On Wednesday a few Kenyan cabinet ministers, wealthy businessmen and security chiefs – mostly from central Kenya and the Rift Valley – will be exposed as suspects behing the post election violence in 2007-08 that killed 1333 Kenyans and displaced hundreds of thousands. Needless to say, this will have significant political consequences.

The expected political realignments following the initiation of this phase of the ICC process will shed some light on what Kenyans should expect come 2012. It will also be a litmus test on how much the Kenyan political elite is committed to reforms and fighting impunity. Kibaki and Odinga will either have to defend or cut loose some of their most trusted lieutenants.

In other news Laurent Gbagbo is still refusing to relinquish power in the Ivory Coast. Moreno Ocampo should warn him that if any more people die as a result of his refusal to obey the electoral outcome he will be held responsible.

Elections have consequences.

 

Mwakwere seeks to retain seat in matuga by-election

Latest: The Daily Nation reports that former Kenyan Transport Minister Ali Chirau Mwakwere has been re-elected as member of parliament for Matuga. Mr. Mwakwere will probably be reinstated as Transport Minister by President Kibaki. The Matuga by-election was occasioned by a court order that annulled Mwakwere’s initial election in the 2007 general election.

Update: Mwakwere leading the tally halfway through the counting.

Former Kenyan Transport Minister Ali Chirau Mwakwere faces a tough challenge in his quest to retain his seat in the Matuga by-election being held today. Mr. Mwakwere lost his seat after a court ruling over constituency-wide irregularities in the 2007 general election. Mr. Mwakwere is contesting the seat on a Party of National Unity (PNU) ticket while his main challenger Mr. Hassan Mwanyoha is running on the Orange Democratic Ticket.

it was never going to be an easy ride

The two decade-old clamour for a new constitution in Kenya has not been an easy ride. One is reminded of the saba saba rallies from the early 1990s. Most vivid of all was the shocking image of Rev. Timothy Njoya being clobbered by armed police men. Then came the Bomas constitutional conference under the NARC Administration that produced the document that was rejected at the 2005 referendum. The current constitutional review process also seems to have acquired a lot of enemies. On the surface – and this is what the mainstream Kenyan media seems to trumpet – it appears that those who are politically opposed to the draft are wary of the massive head-start that a YES victory would grant Premier Odinga in the 2012 presidential election. I beg to differ.

Me thinks that most of the political opposition to the document are founded on distributional concerns. The new set up will take a lot of power from the centre and redistribute it to the people. This will significantly alter resource allocation processes, including the management of land. It will also render obsolete the patronage networks that we call the provincial administration. It is not a coincidence that the biggest opponents to the draft also happen to be the biggest landowners, including former President Moi, among others. Imagine this for a second: President Kibaki is on the YES team, but the treasure continues to dilly and dally with the allocation of money for civic education… how can this be?

Mutahi Ngunyi has a different, but interesting take on things. Kwendo Opanga, shares his thoughts on the same, while Mutua tackles the rather risible decision of the courts to declare the current constitution unconstitutional!

Kadhi’s courts and abortion revisited

It appears that after more than 20 years of waiting Kenyans will finally have a new constitution after August 6th. The Attorney General Amos Wako (I can’t believe this man is still in office) published the document today. The electoral commission will formulate the referendum question and announce the campaign period for the August 6th referendum. It is almost a foregone conclusion that the document will be passed by a majority of Kenyans. The latest poll indicated that 64% of Kenyans support the document compared to 17% who oppose it.

The Church and a section of politicians are opposed to the document because of its wording in relation to abortion and Kadhi’s courts (see below) and on matters of resource allocation.  With regard to abortion, my stand is that the constitution does nothing against Kenya’s conservative bend. If anything it still needs some doses of liberalism on family law and social justice in order to protect our mothers and sisters and other marginalized peoples from the rather dated views of the Kenyan patriarchy.Our mothers and sisters are not crazy child-killers. They too are very conservative when it comes to abortion. In this case the law will only serve to bring out of the shadows the thousands of illegal abortions that result in the death of many women in our towns and cities. Also, if the church is so concerned with abortion, how about doing so by promoting birth control? I still don’t get the church’s justification for its consignment of millions to an early grave (thanks to HIV/AIDS) and orphanhood because of its bizarre policies on the use of contraceptives.

And on the Kadhi’s courts: the wording speaks for itself. It only applies to Muslims’ personal issues and even then only with their consent. No Christian will ever have to face a Kadhi. Plus as I have pointed out before, the church’s attempt to impose Christian morality on Kenyans through the constitution is not consistent with their opposition to Kadhi’s courts.

On Abortion:

Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law.

On Kadhis’ Courts

(1) There shall be a Chief Kadhi and such number, being not fewer than three, of other Kadhis as may be prescribed under an        Act  of Parliament.
(2) A person shall not be qualified to be appointed to hold or act in the
office of Kadhi unless the person—
(a) professes the Muslim religion; and
(b) possesses such knowledge of the Muslim law applicable to any  sects of Muslims as qualifies the person, in the opinion of the
Judicial Service Commission, to hold a Kadhi’s court.
(3) Parliament shall establish Kadhis’ courts, each of which shall have the jurisdiction and powers conferred on it by legislation,   subject to clause (5).
(4) The Chief Kadhi and the other Kadhis, or the Chief Kadhi and such of the other Kadhis (not being fewer than three in number) as may be prescribed under an Act of Parliament, shall each be empowered to hold a Kadhi’s court having jurisdiction within Kenya.
(5) The jurisdiction of a Kadhis’ court shall be limited to the determination of questions of Muslim law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance in proceedings in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion and submit to the jurisdiction of the Kadhi’s courts.