zimbabwe’s kenya-esque election

It all sounds too familiar. Elections are held, but the government fears that the wrong people might be winning. The election officials know the results but are not releasing them for some mysterious reason. All things then break loose, with disastrous consequences.

The credibility of the election process is tarnished and everyone is left guessing who really won the election.

I am not saying that this is how Zimbabwe will pan out but I am worried at how eerily familiar the situation there seems.

Right now, with 52 constituencies counted, the government has half the seats and the opposition the other half. Tsvangirai’s party has 25 and Mutambara’s 1. A couple of Mugabe’s ministers have lost their parliamentary seats. Other results are being delayed for some mysterious reason even as Tsvangirai’s party, the MDC, continues to claim that it has won 60% of the votes cast to Mugabe’s 30%. The MDC also claims that it has won 99 seats in parliament against ZANU-PF’s 96 while 15 went to other opposition groups.

The real results have been delayed by the electoral commission …….. no prizes for guessing why. The weird part about this is that even after uncle Bob showed the world what he is capable of over the last two decades, I was still kind of optimistic that he was going to hold a relatively acceptable election (please prove me right Mugabe, please…)

To future would be African “riggers of elections” : if you have to rig, please be tactful. Do it without delaying results simply because this creates suspicion. Do it without having voter turnout being higher than voter registration. And do it in a way that half the government ministers do not lose their parliamentary seats because if they do and you still win, even the dumbest among us will smell a rat.

Kenya sees HIV prevalence rate drop, more needs to be done

The government has announced a drop in the HIV prevalence rate in Kenya from a high 14% to a relatively low 5%. These figures were announced by Prof. Were, the chairperson of the National Aids Control Council. Prof. Were also added that the number of people on ARVs had increased from a paltry 2000 five years ago to 150,000 in 2007.

This is good news. However, a lot more needs to be done. West African countries like Senegal have showed that with government commitment and cultural changes the scourge of AIDS can be kept at bay.

Among things that ought to change are traditional practices that belong in the pre-AIDS era. I am talking about wife inheritance in my home province of Nyanza and sharing of material during communal circumcisions across the country. Other areas to be looked at are religious practices and teachings that may encourage the spread of the disease. Being a Catholic, I am embarrassed by my church’s insistence that people should not use condoms even as they die like flies from this terrible malady. The government should talk straight with the church on this issue and require them not to preach from the pulpits anything that might jeopardize the success of the national anti-AIDS campaign.

Kenyans also need to change certain social practices. A friend of mine told me that when she visited Africa – South Africa and Swaziland – she was struck by the utter lack of faithfulness among couples. This might explain the high AIDS prevalence rates in Southern Africa and is also true in East Africa. Kenyans need to be more responsible with their sexuality by planning well with regards to matters sexual. The government and interested groups ought to be more aggressive in their family planning and sexual education initiatives in order to ensure that the gains that have been made in the last six years are improved upon.

I believe that with a concerted effort from the government, churches and cultural icons – like the Ker in Luo Nyanza for instance – Kenya can achieve a prevalence rate of less than 1% in the not so distant future. The majority Muslim countries of West Africa have managed to have low infection rates with little resources and so can we in the East, and possibly lend our ideas to the Southerners who are the worst affected by this scourge.

Anjouan attack a real test for the AU

The African Union is finally flexing some muscles. It is now certain that an AU backed force is set to attack the renegade Comoros island of Anjouan in an attempt to bring it back to the fold of the islands that form the Comoros. So far, South Africa and some reports say France are against the move but the rest of the continent, very wary of secessionists, seem to be OK with the idea of invading the island and doing all that is necessary, including killing the renegade leader of Anjouan – Mohamed Bacar – to restore Moroni’s rule on the island.

As I have written many times before, I have no love for secessionists. I believe that it is partly because of African dissenters’ (most of whom were opportunist egg heads) love for the gun that most of the continent remains in pre-modern times due to the ravages of civil wars and their aftermath. African maps were drawn arbitrarily by some old Europeans, but so what? In any case the Berlin conference saved the continent from going through bloody wars of nation creation like Europe did through most of the middle ages until and in some cases beyond the 1648 treaty of Westphalia that established the nation-state as we know it. That said, I think the problem of rival “nations” being forced into one state is a legitimate problem. However, current global trends can take care of this. As the salience of national boundaries continue to diminish, Africa should take advantage of this and open up its borders to allow free flow of people and capital. This will reduce the continent’s persistent internal feuds and will also be good for the continental economy. Intra-continental should more than the paltry 11% that it is right now.

Going back to Anjouan and the AU. I think it is commendable that this talk shop that we call the AU is finally doing something meaningful. I wish they could do more, especially in cases like Darfur, Somalia and the DRC. A lot of African armies sit in their barracks doing absolutely nothing. Why can’t they form a force and then solicit international funding and go ahead and restore order in Somalia and the DRC? Sudan is a more complex issue, but if there is a will I think it’s case can be resolved too. The proxy US involvement in Somalia through Ethiopia could have been more successful if many other African countries were involved and not just Ethiopia, given the two countries’ bad history over the Ogaden.

So as we wait to see how Mr. Bacar goes down, let’s hope that the AU casualty count will not be high enough to discourage such involvements in the future and that a success in Anjouan will make Addis even more bold in the future and possibly give it the will to have a firmer hand in reigning in on wayward African leaders like Mugabe, Al-Bashir, Biya, Obiang……. .. (I can easily reach the high forties with this).

do not forget about Kenyan IDPs

Right now Kenyan seems to be holding its breath eagerly waiting to find out whether politicians from their “ethnic homelands” will be appointed to the cabinet. Lost to most Kenyans, and sadly this includes even the mainstream media, is the case of the hundreds of thousands of Kenyans who still haven’t been able to go back home after marauding gangs of murders killed their kin and drove them out of their homes simply because they spoke a different language.

Frankly speaking I did not expect the politicians to remember the plight of those who fought and even lost relatives and property in their names. Kibaki and his cronies got the violence to stop and calm return. Raila now eagerly awaits the plum post of Premier and his colleagues in the ODM can expect cabinet positions. All well and good.

The average Wanjiku, Atieno and Nafula can go to hell for all these people care. They got their rewards and that is all that matters to them. After causing the mess that killed more than 1500 Kenyans, the best this group of leeches can do is be seen on pool sides in Mombasa’s South Beach where most of them are spending their Easter Holidays. Forget about the little Muriukis and Omondis in IDP camps who are yet to return to school and who will have a very miserable and hunger-filled Easter. Or the old lady from the Rift Valley who after having spent her entire adult life in Nakuru had to flee to a strange land called Murang’a simply because she does not speak the language of the supposed “ancestral owners” of the land in the Rift Valley.

The same politicians are talking about having 34 expensive ministries. Can you believe this??!! 34 ministries!!! And this in a third world country where most people live in conditions that are utterly dehumanising.  Conditions very close to stuff that should only be experienced in anthropology text books about human evolution. These politicians act like they have never been outside our failing continent to other parts of the world where government is based on rational-legal processes and not myopic ethnic balancing acts that only serve to cement ethnic divisions.

I do not care if the MP for Alego, one Mr. Yinda,  gets a cabinet post or not. What I care about is whether the people of Alego, Nyeri and Mandera will have to continue living in embarrassing conditions or whether the political class will finally get its act together and come up with a development agenda to develop the entire country equitably and de-ethnicise it in the process. That is all I will ask for from Kibaki and Raila and their associates.

Why aren’t we seeing the faces or reading the stories of Kenyans suffering in refugee camps and contrasting these with those of politicians in expensive cars or on beaches? The lack of attention to the current suffering of Kenyans in IDP camps will only cement the idea in politicians’ heads that Kenyan lives are expendables that they can use any time to get what they want. Our continued silence will just prove true the adage that societies get the leaders they deserve, for our leaders are, in most cases, a true reflection of who we really are as a country.

kenyan parliament passes bill creating the post of prime minister

In an extraordinary session of parliament attended by the president himself in his capacity as member for Othaya, parliament unanimously passed the bill to create the post of prime minister, expected to be occupied by Hon. Raila Odinga. For the first time in Kenya’s history a sitting president attended parliament to contribute to a debate on the floor of the House. The president sat in the spot reserved for the official leader of government business in the House.

Members from both ODM and PNU expressed their support for the bill, the most notable contribution being from Hon. Martha Karua, who had previously been adamant that Kenya’s crisis be solved within the existing constitutional order. Hon. Karua, while contributing to the debate, said that “The law is made to serve man, not the other way round.” The thawing of relations even on the floor of the House is further sign that the political leadership in Kenya might be genuinely committed to reform in order to herald a new post-tribal Republic. I would, however, not hold my breath. The real test still lies ahead in cabinet appointments. Ethnic balancing vs. rationality will be the big fight and it will be interesting to see how Kibaki and Raila choose to juggle the two.

For now Kenyans can afford to be hopeful that things might actually change. This hope for change should not be just about power sharing at the top but be accompanied with genuine reforms in the public service and government policy. The culture of mediocrity has to stop. Leaders must openly and courageously face the task of modernizing the Kenyan Republic. No more Kenyans should ever die of hunger. No more Kenyans should ever have to live in dehumanizing conditions as exist in slums and in vast swathes of the countryside. May rationality and decency prevail from now on, however hard it may be.

the truth will not be pretty

When the truth finally emerges about Kenya’s very bloody post election violence, it will not be pretty. If Human Rights Watch has it right (and I highly suspect they do), it will be established that the violence in the Rift Valley and parts of Nairobi were meticulously planned by local leaders, big name politicians and business people. More than 1500 died people in the two-month nightmare.

It perplexes me how we shall be able, as a nation, to trust our leaders after they get mentioned to have planned the killings of fellow Kenyans. How can we trust people who organized the burning of 50 people, most of them women and children, in a church? How can we trust the other leaders who in turn organized an arson attack of their own that killed 19 in Naivasha?

The other question will be, where does the investigation stop. Does it stop will the local elders in the Rift Valley or should it go all the way to the national stage where big name politicians might be implicated? Does it stop with the Mungiki leaders in the wider central Kenya or does it go all the way to those who participated in the supposed meeting at State House to plan the reprisal attacks in Nakuru and Naivasha?

Kenya’s near collapse at the beginning of the year is yet again another confirmation of Africa’s lack of serious and dedicated leadership – both within governments and the civil society groups. Why do we always settle for such inept egg heads to lead us? And where is the media on this? Where is their investigative journalism? The media should expose the killers who killed innocent Kenyans for who they are. And our civil society should stop shouting from the roof tops and actually get their hands soiled for a worthy cause. Please give names, dates, numbers, hard facts. EXPOSE THESE KILLERS.

Kenya owes the 1500-plus victims justice. For too long we’ve hid behind a culture of mediocrity and complicity with killers, thugs and rapists. 1992, 1997 and 2007 need to be cleansed from our national conscience. One way to do this would be to bring to book the real perpetrators of the violence that gave us all, as Kenyans, a bad name. The bigger their names the better.

is this love-fest for real?

The ODM leader and Premier-designate Raila Odinga has lately been on a charm offensive. Raila has met with former opponents Karua, Kiraitu, Kimunya and on Friday was hanging out with Jimmy Kibaki and Fidel Odinga. The thawing of relations which was at first just between Raila and Kibaki seems to have spread to the surrogates of the president.

That said, I am still not convinced that things are going to be fine. One Francis Muthaura has already thrown some spanners into the works by his “clarification” the other day and I am sure the naming of the new cabinet will further reveal the differences that these two sides seem eager to hide. I am also not convinced because the love seems to be directed at only Raila and not the other top members of the ODM. For this thing to work it should not be just about Raila. The whole of ODM was aggrieved by the results of the elections and therefore all of ODM should be part of the ODM-PNU alliance.

Increasingly it seems like Raila is hogging all the attention as the rest of ODM hold their breath waiting for the cabinet appointments. I suspect that after the cabinet has been named cracks will start appearing in ODM if Raila is not seen to be fully inclusive of his pentagon colleagues in his engagement with PNU. ODM, although still very rough on the edges, is a promising political party with a national reach. If the party bosses want to be around for some time, they should use this time to cement institutionalism within the party and avoid the culture of personality politics that continues to render our political parties mere vehicles to power, devoid of any ideology or values.

david mwenje has passed away

Former Embakasi MP David K. Mwenje passed away on Thursday evening at Nariobi’s Aga Khan Hospital. Mwenje was admitted to the hospital on January 16 before passing into a coma shortly thereafter.

Mwenje was a fiery and sometimes abrasive politician who knew how to mobilise the crowds at the grassroots. The long time Embakasi MP, though not a particularly clean character, had over the years cultivated the image of being a man of the people which lent him an almost cult like following in his Embakasi constituency. He held the same seat since the eighties before losing out to the late Melitus Were in the 2007 general election.

The late MP will be remembered by his Embakasi supporters for having passionately fought for equitable land allocation in the area against well connected Moi cronies. Unfortunately, he will also be remembered for having been involved with the much feared, murderous gang by the name of Kamjesh that terrorised Nairobi residents for some time in the past and for his infamous fight in parliament with Mbita MP Otieno Kajwang’ that resulted in Kajwang’ biting him in the back.

Mwenje was buried at his home in Murang’a district in a ceremony attended by among others, Martha Karua, the minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs. He was 55.

grave looting in liberia, madness on steroids

The BBC has a story that got me wondering what kind of hole Liberians have dug themselves into. You’d think that this West African country had reached its lowest point when mindless lunatics like Master Sergeant Samuel Doe and Gen. Butt Naked called the shots. But it turns out things could get lower, much much lower. The BBC reports that residents of Monrovia are complaining about a ring of grave robbers that are believed to have desecrated over 2000 graves. Yes 2000!

I am no expert on grave robbery but in my humble estimate I think it takes quite some time to dig up a grave, take out the casket and then leave the cemetary. It beats me how people can do this more than 2000 times without being caught. How hard can it be to catch people who repeatedly dig up graves in a known cemetary? Come on Liberians.

This story is yet another sad reminder of what war does to the human psyche. I have been to a few African countries and in all of them I noticed a deep respect for the dead – demonstrated in elaborate funeral rituals. It is unimaginable that Africans could routinely do what a section of Liberians are doing to their dead. It is apparent that, over the years, the war has demystified human life to these thugs and so for them anything goes, including emptying graves for their contents. This is a new nadir.

18 killed in Laikipia skirmishes

18 people have been killed after being attacked by gangs in Laikipia West in Kenya. The gangs also torched houses and made away with an unknown number of cattle. Members of the murderous gang that committed this heinous crime had guns and are believed to be part of a ring of cattle rustlers that have terrorised the area in recent days in the cover of the post-election violence that rocked parts of the country following the disputed December 27th elections. Just last week 9 people were killed and 100 houses burnt in Soilo and Muhotetu villages in the same area.

The Police Spokesperson, Mr. Kiraithe, said that 12 people have already been arrested in relation to the killings and will be charged in court for the murder of the 18 and arson. This incident further reminds us of just how non-existent the Kenyan government is outside of the major towns and cities. How can such armed gangs roam around committing the kinds of crimes the country has witnessed in Laikipia and Mt. Elgon without state agents knowing about it? And how can this happen even at the height of police presence throughout the country in the aftermath of the chaos of the last two months?

Surely Mr. Ali and his men can do better than this. And the Kenyan intelligence agencies should be roasted for not knowing anything about such operations by these gangs.

the kenyan military moves into Mt. elgon, finally

For a few months now a rag tag group of bandits calling itself the Sabaot Land Defense Force has been terrorizing the residents of Mt. Elgon in West Kenya. According to the Standard, the group has killed over 540 people in what it terms a war for land. According to a certain website (veracity of the facts therein not guaranteed), the group comprises of the Pok people who are trying to take land from the area’s indigenous community- the Cheptkitale Ogiek. I do not understand why the Kenyan government took so long before reacting to this group. The current move to use the military against the group is therefore most welcome, despite the fact that it is over 540 lives too late.

People like the members of this group should be made to realise that it is not an option to take arms against a sitting government (killing civilians is an affront to the government). I am not a fun of rebel movements, no matter what their cause is. Rebel movements have ensured that large parts of Africa remain in “pre-modern mode” because of incessant civil wars that have resulted in the deaths of millions – most of them being innocent women and children – and economic regression.

I hope that the Kenyan military will deal decisively with this gang and that the government will thereafter move in to settle the land issues once and for all. It is sad that there seems to be two Kenyas. One where human lives matter and government response is swift and a different one in places like West Pokot, Mt. Elgon and the Ethiopian border where the government only reacts to disasters and doesn’t seem to have any elaborate plan of action. Kenyans everywhere within our territorial boundaries should feel the full effect of government – taxes, police, justice, security, schools, healthcare, etc

not yet a democracy, kenya’s false starts

Three times Kenya has toyed with the idea of becoming a fledgling democracy and failed. The first time was the immediate post independence republic. Back then Kenyatta found it convenient to co-opt former president Moi and his KADU apparatchiks,  thereby rendering the country a de facto one party state and putting off full democracy for later. After the Limuru ouster of vice president Oginga Odinga and his lieutenants, the former VP emerged as the chief leader of the opposition but his party was too weak to provide any credible challenge to the independence party, KANU.

Moi made Kenya a de jure single party state after taking over from Kenyatta in ’78, a situation that persisted until the democratic wave of the 1990s swept away section 2a of the Kenyan constitution thus making Kenya a multiparty democracy. This was the second attempt. But 1992 did not create a true democracy. What Moi did was to ensure that the opposition was divided and muzzled to make them too weak to pose any serious challenge. On occasions he even co-opted the opposition – like was the case with Raila’s NDP in 2001. Through these means the man from Baringo managed to hold onto power until December 2002 when he was pushed out by a constitutional limit to terms.

2002 marked the beginning of the third attempt. KANU was in the opposition and Kenyans were in high spirits. A few months into the Kibaki presidency tragedy started to strike. MPs died in freak accidents, Kenya lost one of its most illustrious sons in the name of Michael Kijana Wamalwa. And NARC fell apart. The NARC fallout created so much animosity and mistrust that the LDP faction had to opt out. ODM was formed in the process. KANU, or a section of it, was co-opted into the Kibaki government. The official opposition party was severely weakened.

With the resultant level of mistrust, Kenyans headed for the 2007 general election. Kibaki (or his lieutenants) was (were) determined to stay in power. With the all powerful Moi out of the picture, Kibaki and Raila were political equals and thus were determined to fight it to the bitter end. For a moment it seemed like Kenya was a true democracy. No one had any significant undue advantage. The playing field seemed level enough.

But something was missing. In a true democracy where the outcome of elections can be tight and highly uncertain, there is need for very strong institutions. This was lacking in Kenya. You had a case where neither of the contestants in the ring could deliver a knockout punch to be the outright winner and so you needed a win by points – the only problem was that the officials were all compromised, making it impossible to know the real winner. This third time Kenyans had put the cart before the horse. Competition was high but without the necessary supporting institutions. Kivuitu and his commissioners let their country down.

The system thus gave in, unleashing a wave of killings that shocked many across the globe. The third attempt became yet another failure.

And now we are back to square one. After Raila and his ODM join the government, Kenya will be a de facto one party state. Although ODM may survive the marriage, I highly doubt that any of the other parties will. I foresee a scenario in 2012 in which there will be yet another hurried creation of a party like the PNU for political expediency. And the cycle will continue – more ad hoc political alliances without any principles, ideologies or values……

Looking at the current battle withing the US democratic party, I can’t help but wonder when we shall have strong enough parties to withstand such gruesome intra-party competition without defections and political re-alignments, let alone have a free and fair presidential election.

kenya’s 10th parliament officially opens

The official opening of Kenya’s tenth parliament took place on Thursday afternoon amid high expectations of national reconciliation and healing. The president’s speech laid emphasis on the need to urgently amend the constitution in order to create the constitutional framework for the implementation of the deal that he signed a week ago with arch-rival Raila Odinga (It is important to note that since last Thursday these two have become bosom buddies, they are always smiling at each other in public. I hope this love-fest persists and extends to their lieutenants as well).

The ball is now in parliament’s court. The MPs need to expedite the enactment of the relevant laws to ensure that Kenyans have a speedy return to normalcy – the most needy now being the hundreds of thousands of IDPs who have been moved away from where they used to call home. I still think that it was a big mistake for the government to move people to their “ancestral homelands.” The government should have provided security for the people wherever they were even as the land problems are being addressed.

After the land issue is cleared (yeah, I am gonna be delusional for a moment), those that legitimately owned land should be guaranteed a right to return even though they may be returning to areas inhabited by people that speak a different language. I am also looking forward to reading the ethnic equality bill that is being rumored to be in the works. I hope they’ve designed so that we can finally do away with all the tribes and just have one nation of rational, law abiding citizens.

And as parliament looks at these issues we hope that they won’t be tempted to award themselves hefty pay increases primarily because Kenya already has too big of a government – and one that will increase with the creation of the post of a premier and two deputies.

sierra leone: shocking statistics

The Republic of Sierra Leone has the worst rates of child and maternal mortality in the world. According to reports by IRIN, one in eight women die during pregnancy or child birth, compared to the global South’s average of one in 76 and the North’s one in 8000. If indeed these figures are accurate, the WHO needs to move in to avert the humanitarian catastrophe that is Sierra Leone. One in eight women dying during pregnancy or child-birth is medieval. Period. These numbers (even the 1 in 8000) should not exist in the 21st century. Child bearing should not be a death sentence to the women of the world.

The same report says that children in Sierra Leone have a more than 25% chance of not seeing their fifth birthday. Again, this is a shocking reality that should not exist anywhere in the world in the 21st century. Something needs to be done urgently to save the lives of the hundreds of thousands of Sierra Leoneans who are living on the edge, constantly threatened by malnutrition and a myriad illnesses, chief among them malaria.

The government of Sierra Leone needs to step in too. President Bai Koroma ought to realize that economic growth depends on a healthy, dynamic population. If the situation is not stemmed soon, Sierra Leone will sink even deeper into poverty. Already it is one of the poorest countries in the world with a per capita GDP of 800 dollars, according to the CIA factbook. Mr. Koroma should move urgently and constitute reforms to ensure that the country’s earnings from mineral exports are managed responsibly and channeled towards addressing this catastrophe.

stop your genocidal agenda, al-bashir

The man behind the humanitarian catastrophe that is Darfur, one Omar Al-Bashir, is at it again, on another front. It has emerged that his government is backing the Arab Misseriya tribesmen against Southern Sudanese civilians in continuation of Al-Bashir’s genocidal agenda in Africa’s largest country.

The SPLM government of Southern Sudan said in a statement that its forces had killed about 70 armed Arab militias. In an editorial in the New York Times columnist Nick Kristof wrote about a contested town called Abyei that has been surrounded by armed Arab militias ready to attack. The status of the town is in question since both the North and Southern Sudan claim is as part of their autonomous territories. This latest incidence further confirms Al-Bashir’s commitment to using tribal militias as proxies for his continued refusal to honor the comprehensive peace agreement he signed with the late John Garang’ in 2005.

Just like in Darfur, Al-Bashir is using local tribal militias to kill, rape and maim innocent civilians that dare to protest against his autocratic rule that is biased against the South and other regions that are occupied by ethnic non-Arabs.

Al-Bashir’s policies toward the suffering masses in Darfur and elsewhere over the years confirm him to be a card-carrying latter day genocidal racist.

It is sad that the world continues to watch, with half hearted protests, as this murderous despot continues to kill and maim innocent women and children – the very people he is supposed to protect as president of Sudan.

This latest move by Al-Bashir will exert pressure on the delicate agreement that exists between North and Southern Sudan. Al-Bashir knows that consistent with the agreement, the South will definitely secede when they have a referendum in 2011. Before then he wants to gain control over as much potentially-oil-rich land as possible, even if it means killing innocent civilians. This is the case in Abyei and surrounding areas.

Al-Bashir is hiding behind Sudan’s “Islamic Country” status to keep the West at bay. So I think it is up to the rest of Africa to act. This guy needs to be stopped yesterday. If he doesn’t and the war escalates then I think the rest of Africa should consider putting together a joint force to keep him out of Darfur and Southern Sudan. This is the least we can do in honor of the millions that have died over the last three decades due to Northern Sudan’s racist arrogance. Africa owes this not only to the Darfuris and Southern Sudanese but also to itself.