martha karua for president?

You know, I have been thinking about the nature of African leadership over the years. For the most part the continent of Africa has produced two types of leaders. On the one hand have been the idealist intellectual visionaries, smart but completely detached from the realities on the ground. I think of great sons of the continent like Nkrumah and Nyerere and Senghor and Cabral. On the other hand have been the deranged half-wit dictators (the majority) who have run down the continent and made it the mess that it currently is. This camp comprises nearly all African leaders in history with a few exceptions.

Martha Karua, the Kenyan justice minister, fits neither camp. She is a strong-willed woman who shoots from the hip. She tells it like it is and seems to be the kind of politician who is never afraid to follow through on her beliefs. I am willing to speculate that if she could get elected she might be the leader Kenya has been waiting for – a radicalist who will shock us out of our stupor, bring in a new order and make us rethink who we are. She might also be a total disaster, but either way I think she has the potential to wake us all up. None of our current Big Men seems to possess the same qualities. Saitoti is a small man who was content being Moi’s stooge forever. Kibaki is an aloof intellectual who thinks that things just work out on their own and believes that the likes of Mutula Kilonzo, Murungi, Ruto and the rest know what they are doing. Raila is a populist. I used to like Ruto but his handling of the maize crisis has raised serious doubts. Mudavadi is a younger Kibaki. And Uhuru Kenyatta should never be president because deep down he is not a politician. Moi forced him into it. Martha Karua seems like the one who will demolish Kibera, Kangemi and Kawangware and build formal settlements in their stead. She seems like the one who will radicalise our constitution and provide a break from the reactionary politics that have shaped our history since 1991. And while she is at it she might even jail a few corrupt people, redefine gender relations in Kenya and bring some semblance of substance into our politics.

ps: I am not affiliated to any political party. Quite frankly, I have a beneath-the-ground opinion of nearly all our politicians, PNU and ODM and all their affiliates alike. I just find it interesting to put this proposition out there because many people have written Karua off because of her ethnicity and her stance after last year’s botched elections. But her faults aside, I think she could be the African Iron Lady. She is young, has no colonial and post-colonial hang ups and seems like she has the courage to make history.

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scandals in Kenya: can we please have some big names behind bars??

Right now Kenya seems like the most corrupt place on the planet (sort of a hyperbole, but it’s close to that). There is the running scandal of the sale of the  Grand Regency Hotel , there is that involving cheap imported maize, there is the one with the Kenya Tourism Board and then there is the giant one involving Triton and the Kenya Pipeline Company – and of course many smaller ones that never make it to the national news.

I am quite frankly disappointed by the coalition government. These old men running our country seem to have no idea of what it means for people to have trust in their government. There has to be less embarrassing ways to steal from poor people! There has to be smarter ways! That these thieves choose to steal in broad daylight and so shamelessly means that they have nothing but contempt for the average Kenyans. And for that they deserve punishment. Someone needs to be jailed for life – without parole. And they should pay heavy fines too. We must make corruption as expensive to the corrupt as it can get.

The current saga has got me thinking. May be the Kenyan model of mass movement of the 1990s has failed. Kibaki and Raila are both mass movement leaders but they are failing Kenyans almost in the same way that Moi did. May we should try a bourgeois liberation movement. May be if the middle and upper classes get politically active enough our leaders will listen to them. Because as it is it is so easy for Nairobi to dupe the millions of Kenyans who live in the rural areas and the slums in the major cities. Kibera, Mukuru, Kangemi and others prove this fact. But I don’t think that the Kenyan middle class would be so easily duped. The problem is that as a political constituency they lack the numbers and the courage. Many would rather spend their time in the many hypermarkets around town than to agitate for real change. Some might even owe their status to the corrupt ruling class.

As yet Kenya does not have leaders from the middle class – or the upper class for that matter. The little men who parade as gods around the country do not have any affiliations to any given class. It is no wonder that they usually just fight for their selfish interests. They have never been middle or upper class (not in wealth, but in their thinking) and they are in more than a rush to discard their humble roots (invariably by stealing from the public). They do not care much for the middle class, and they keep duping the vast majority of poor Kenyans (by playing on ethnicity). May be we need class conscious movements (nothing Marxist, just classist) to articulate the interests of various classes. May be then we shall have stable political parties that are based on ideas and not fleeting personalities and ethnic alliances.

The most frustrating thing about all this – African politics in general and the Kenyan corruption scandals in particular – is that our leaders seem completely oblivious. In some other place the minister in charge of the KPC would have resigned already. Just a few weeks ago the Belgian government resigned because of a scandal in the financial sector. I am not advocating for a government resignation. I just hope that someone high up there gets to pay for his mistakes. That’s all.

go harambee stars!!

So for those of us who are not keen fans of the Stars, they will be playing the hosts – the Uganda Cranes – in the finals of the Challenge Cup tonight (Tuesday). I am hoping that our football team manages to do what our rugby team has struggled to do in the recent past – to beat Uganda in their home ground. We all know what happened with the Elgon Cup. Last year we barely won after going into the second leg in Nairobi trailing by 17 points.

So go Stars! You make us all proud.

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in china they execute these kind of people

This story has left me speechless. Millions of Kenyans are at risk of imminent starvation and in dire need of government help but the same government officials charged with helping them seem to be in to make a quick buck at the expense of the very same nearly starving Kenyans. I am reminded of the stories I read of Chinese officials being executed after being found guilty of corruption. I know Kenyans might have reservations when it comes to the death penalty but in such situations it is mightily tempting. How should we treat people who would rather have thousands of Kenyans starve if it meant that they’d make a few millions shillings? Do you jail them? will that really help?

The only problem is that if we were to punish all those involved in shady deals we’d probably have to get rid of the entire government. All of them. In all three branches.

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on the Kenyan Media

Lately, the Kenyan press has been, with good reason, crying foul over the government’s decision to muzzle it. On this I was in complete agreement with them. I think that for society to remain healthy everyone should be allowed to express their beliefs, however unsettling they may be to sections of the same society. A free society must have a free press.

That said, I think the Kenyan media could do much better – if they tried. Being away from home, I mostly read the Nation and the Standard. I used to listen to radio online but stopped after I realized that the content is almost the same as any radio station over here. It is all American music, American gossip, American crap (Mobutu’s “Authenticity” was mostly horse manure, but his intentions had merit. We can never run away from the fact that every ‘culture’ has its owners). Even the accents of the presenters are no longer Kenyan (Nairobian, to be precise). The print media and television are just as bad. Foreign content predominates. I know we have made progress; and kudos to KTN and NTV for the local shows they have been airing. But these shows are not engaging enough. They do not seem to be geared towards educating the average Kenyan on their civil liberties and responsibilities. They do not come close to “Tushauriane”. And the newspapers. They are mostly sensationalist. The editorials lack the force that is needed in the editorials of major newspapers. Oh, and the Standard needs to shed its “gutter-press” image fast, just as the Nation needs to stop seeming like they lack a unity of purpose among their editorial staff.

So let’s be honest with ourselves and demand better from our media. We demand that they act as educators of Kenyans. They could dedicate an hour each week to talk about gender issues. Have middle class women (middle class for the simple reason that they probably practise what they would be preaching) talk about family planning, AIDS, marriage issues, Kenyan women’s needs and the like. Dedicate another hour to Kenyan men and on the same issues. It is only through the media that we can create a national consciousness and the attitudes that will help us advance as a nation. It is very sad that more than forty years after independence we still don’t have a national culture to speak of. The Kenyan media takes the biggest chunk of the blame for this.They have never engineered any meaningful national debates over any issue. Ethnicity, land, wealth distribution, family planning, AIDS, culture and the arts, language, and many others are areas in which they could focus (MEANINGFULLY) in order to help improve the condition of average Kenyans.

And while they are at it they should not allow themselves to be used by politicians. And speaking of politics, I think a 24 hour news channel would do us a lot of good. If Kenyans are reminded every half hour of what scam their leaders are involved in it might just push them over the edge and make them demand for better leadership. But who is going to fund it? Perhaps one of our few truly rich citizens. I say truly rich because most of the members of the Kenyan upper class belong to the “wabenzi” tradition. They get moderately rich, buy a benz and a house and then settle. Any further investment is usually in useless things like land in their “home areas” and other similarly dead-end investments. I could go on and on but this is a topic for a development economics piece that I hope to write some time soon…….

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why am I not surprised

The idiot who came up with the idea of selling maize to Kenyans at two different prices should be fired. This person should be fired for two reasons. Firstly, because the plan he came up with does not make any economic sense. It is common sense that prices find their own level. You cannot have the same commodity being sold at different prices to different people – unless this was backed up by other illusions like product differentiation and the like. Selling plain maize at different prices was simply daft.

Secondly, this person gave the government an image problem. By admitting to the country that there are two classes of Kenyans, the poor and the rich, this person betrayed the government’s reluctance to even the playing field for all Kenyans. Give cheap food to the poor in the slums and rural areas so they don’t litter the streets with their protests and keep the normal prices at the hypermarkets around town. Two Kenyas for two classes of Kenyans.

That the whole thing has failed does not surprise me. I doubt if even he government officials implementing it thought it would succeed. But they did it anyway, because the egg-head politicians, drunk with vulgar populism said so. WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?

That Kenya cannot guarantee itself food security in the 21st century is a big shame. This is something that people did – in desert regions – 10,000 years ago. How hard can it be? And then to respond to the food shortage with such silly ideas?

I know my lament is in vain, for the most part at least. Nobody will take the blame for this mess. Just like nobody took the blame for the lack of planning that created the food shortage to begin with. We – a nation of nearly forty million – shall continue to be run like some village in the middle of some rainforest where the chief and his henchmen do (very badly) whatever they want and nobody raises a finger. It is a sad world we live in.

ps: it turns out that the government has engaged a reverse gear on the new (anti) Media Law. Kudos to the media for drumming up support from the public.

i don’t mean to be culturally insensitive… but

The BBC reports that Jacob Zuma, the man who will almost certainly be South Africa’s next president intends to take on a third wife. Zuma married his second wife in a traditional Zulu ceremony last year. This will be his third wife.

Now, I have nothing against Zulu customs and traditions. But there is something to be said when the man poised to be the most powerful African leader decides to behave in this manner. South Africa, because of its big economy and history, is seen by many as the leading country in Africa. Nelson Mandela ranks high in the pantheon of the great sons and daughters of the continent. Mbeki, although mostly delusional (I had so much hope in him though), didn’t go on a marrying spree. As the de facto leader of the continent we demand better than this from Zuma. We have seen (with deep embarrassment) the sorry affair that is the life of the King of Swaziland. Let not the same become of the leader of a democratic, and supposedly modern, republic like South Africa.

Most importantly, I am uneasy about Zuma’s habits because of what it means for women’s rights in South Africa and to a great extent on the entire continent. It should no longer be deemed appropriate for a man (and especially a public figure like the president) to run around with as many women as he wants. If prominent leaders like Zuma do it, the local man in the streets will follow suit. What this means for Africa’s HIV/AIDS situation, not to mention other venereal diseases and the loads of children that will result from these bad habits, is unfathomable. I am not making a cultural argument here. I am simply stating that when a man marries more than one wife it takes away any leverage his wife may have on him. It is also an expensive affair. Zuma may be able to afford it, but most African men can’t. But they do it anyway, resulting in loads of uneducated, poorly raised children, most of whom die before they are five. THIS IS A BIG PROBLEM. Plus it doesn’t make any sense. How is he (Zuma) going to be a caring father if he has three homes to attend to? The presidency must be a demanding job. It says a lot about Zuma’s work ethic when he prepares for it by taking on a hugely demanding task like marrying a third wife (as if being in a monogamous marriage is not exacting enough). Either his presidency will suffer or his marriages will be neglected – or both. I am keeping my fingers crossed that this doesn’t turn into an annual spectacle like the (in)famous one by King Mswati.

Mr. Zuma, the daughters of Africa deserve better. Your bad habits, and those of your neighbor, King Mswati, continue to denigrate our mothers and sisters. I don’t care what motivates your actions – tradition or otherwise. This is simply unacceptable for a public figure. Period. The saddest thing about this is that Mr. Zuma will still be elected president of South Africa. He was accused of corruption. He has not been faithful to his TWO wives. But he will still be elected president of South Africa. South Africa, the land that gave us Mandela, Winnie, Sisulu, Tambo and many others of their ilk, can do better.

Kudos to Ghana

The Ghanaian electoral commission announced Saturday that the opposition candidate John Atta-Mills had won the fiercely contested run-off election. After losing in the first round to incumbent candidate Nana-Akufo who did not get the 50% plus one vote required to win,  Atta-Mills came back to win by a mere 0.46% of the total votes cast in the run-off.

With the conclusion of this election Ghana has proven that it is indeed a constitutional democracy – at least according to political scientists. Twice it has exchanged power after elections without any chaos and this time round it was a tight election too. And it is the second time that an incumbent party lost an election and conceded defeat. It happened when Kufuor won his first term as Rawlings stepped down and it has happened again now that Kufuor is stepping down.

My hope now is that other countries in Africa will feel challenged to rise to Ghana’s level of sobriety (and beyond) when it comes to democratic politics. Ghana’s example of reasonably free and fair elections, contested by two stable major political parties contrasts sharply with the electoral processes of most other African nations. Kenya for instance sees the birth of a major political party (a coalition of greedy politicians to say the truth) every time there is a general election. We saw it with FORD in 1992, NARC in 2002 and PNU in 2007.

Back to Ghana, congratulations on this wonderful show and best wishes to Atta-Mills as he begins his work to develop the land of the Osagyefo.

Kibaki and the media bill

Kenyan politicians are very myopic. Moi’s regime, while it had the air of invincibility, gave all power to the presidency. After 2002 the same people that had hoarded power in the executive were out complaining that the president had too much power. Before 2002, Kibaki and most of the clowns in the current government (ODM and PNU alike) spent a great deal of time out in the streets fighting for press freedom and freedom of assembly. This about turn therefore comes as a surprise (well not really, call me cynical but deep down I didn’t expect Kibaki, Raila and their loonies to be agents of change, we just needed them for the sake of peace).

So now we are going back to the days of a highly regulated media. Does anyone remember when Biwott kept winning cases against those he accused of defamation?

And the thing with this media bill is not only political. It has to do with economics as well. The growth of the Kenyan media has created jobs in broadcasting and advertising. Not to mention production companies and what not. Free speech should be encouraged at all costs. Truth will always win against untruths and therefore Kibaki and his men should not feel the need to guard truth by outlawing all untruths (at least this is the premise of the media bill).

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year dear readers. I am also glad to announce that Opalo’s Weblog is one year older. Thanks for all of you who have left comments and encouragements to this post. The few debates that some of my comments generated in 2008 were most appreciated.

Now although I am not particularly into this whole thing of an arbitrary date marking a new beginning, I understand how important it is that we have milestones and because of that I am glad that 2009 is already here. To me this will be an important year. Graduation from college and life thereafter await me. I hope all goes well. I wish you all a happy and successful year too.

To my brothers and sisters from the continent, a special note. 2008 was not a particularly successful year. Kenya, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Senegal, Sudan, Somalia, the DRC, Uganda, South Africa and many other states had issues of continental significance. But we also had a few successes. I think Ghana’s electoral process was exemplary. I hope the run-off ends well. Zambia had a peaceful transition of government. Tanzania is moving in the right direction. Mbeki, a sitting African president was forced to resign (under dubious circumstances yes, but he resigned when he could have refused to). Out athletes did us proud in the Olympics. And most importantly, our desire for a better African remained intact. Let’s keep the dream burning and may 2009 bring more successes than failures.

Again, Happy New Year and remember that you are what you are because of what we all are.

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