how do we force them to resign?

Tomorrow’s Sunday Nation opinion pieces are full of complaints against the ever growing culture of impunity among the ruling class in Kenya. We have become a nation in which cabinet ministers remain in office even when suspected of having ordered the killing of Kenyans a year ago, or turning a blind eye when public corporations were being looted by their cronies. The police chief, the Attorney General and the justice minister still remain in office even after a UN-sanctioned report blamed them for allowing extra-judicial killings to take place in Kenya. The entire judiciary is one giant sty filled with corrupt judges and officials. Everybody knows this but no one wants to do anything.

This may seem naive, but I am kind of surprised that Hussein Ali and Amos Wako are still in office. Especially Amos Wako. He is the man who is responsible for most of the rot in the judiciary. Under Moi he did nothing as the former president and his friends bastardized the judiciary. Kibaki probably kept him on on the request of Moi so as to protect himself and his friends against potential law suits. I say it is time Amos Wako went. He has been Attorney General for far too long with very little to show for it. During his tenure corruption has ballooned like no one’s business but with very few people ever being brought to court.

And about our corrupt cabinet ministers…. Where is the supposedly vibrant Kenyan civil society? I think it is time they took Philip Ochieng’s advice and started agitating for the sacking of certain people implicated in the many scandals that have rocked the country in the last several months.

quick hits…..

This is total nonsense. Kenyan politicians never cease to surprise me. Why would we want a foreigner heading our electoral commission? And this coming from our own Prime Minister? Where is your Kenyan pride, Prime Minister Odinga? Are you saying that out of almost 40 million men and women we cannot find one individual who is sober-minded and impartial enough to be trusted with the job of being chairman of the interim ECK? We expect more nationalism than this from you Mr. Odinga. Your statement sends a most ominous message – that all Kenyans are myopic, conceited tribalists who cannot be trusted with the running of an institution like the ECK. And that is just sad. And about foreigners… don’t get me started. It is my hope that when you thought about foreigners you meant someone from one of the 54 countries on the continent, because otherwise I would be doubly mad at you.

Finally, the Kenyan police’s bad habits have been brought to light:
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions, Mr. Philip Alston, has carried out investigations and found the Kenyan police and justice system guilty of summarily executing suspected criminals – mostly in Eastern Nairobi and the surrounding areas. The envoy’s report recommends the sacking of Attorney General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali. I second this recommendation. This report exposes the government’s failure to maintain a functioning society in poor areas of the country and its attempts to cover up its failure and the rot that is the justice system by killing people without a trial. The crime problem in Eastern Nairobi and the surrounding areas is one of poverty and poor planning on the part of the government.

Poverty alleviating measures – like vocational training or micro-credit schemes – could be of help to the thousands of youth in this part of the country who find themselves without any alternative but to engage in crime for a living. The government could also reduce the crime rate by keeping young kids in school. Most of the thugs terrorizing residents of Eastern Nairobi are primary school and high school drop outs. Investing in schools and programs that keep teens in school could be the way forward. A more controversial plan could also be an attempt to have families be more responsible for how their children turn out. We cannot ignore the fact that poor parenting leads to social problems like crime, unwanted teenage pregnancies and the like. Public education on parenting might sound crass and too paternalistic to some but it might just be what some families need.

I am glad that the international community is paying attention to this problem. A lot of young Kenyans (mostly criminals, and suspected members of the murderous Mingiki sect) have been killed without being accorded due trial. Although most of them might have been guilty of robbery with violence, or murder (crimes deserving capital punishment according to Kenyan law) we are not Somalia or the Congo. We have laws and a court system. I hope Kibaki and Raila will carefully review the recommendations of the report and do something.

can we please end the nonsensical sensationalism

“He stood in front of a burned-out vegetable market, wielding a rusty machete and wearing blue toenail polish.” Gettleman, The New York Times.

I am a regular reader of articles by Jeffrey Gettleman, the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times. I read his articles because most of the time they are the only coherent on the ground reporting that come out of places like the remote parts of Eastern DRC and East Africa in general.

But I have a slight problem with Mr. Gettleman. I have noticed a consistent pattern in his reporting that is kind of disturbing. He seems to always be willing to go out of his way to over-dramatize whatever he is reporting about. For instance, the above details – the “blue toenail polish” and what not – do not belong in the pages of the New Yorks Times but on some creative writing novel. When we read reports on soldiers from elsewhere, we never hear about their tattoos or body piercings or anything. I therefore get a bit disturbed when I see a consistent pattern on Mr. Gettleman’s part to portray combatants in African conflicts as somewhat other-worldly.

The other day I watched a video for  a class in which the same gentleman had the guts to say that the era of Belgian colonization represented “more prosperous times” for the Congo. What does he mean? Who are his editors? Does he know what the Belgians did to the Congo? I am sure he does. He must be a smart man to have been able to rise to the position of bureau chief. So this was either a slip or a deliberate attempt to hype the problems facing the DRC.

Do not get me wrong. I am not trying to advocate for restrictions on reporting. I am all for free press. But I also think that the press has a responsibility and a duty to desist from consistently portraying a particular group of people as irrational and crazy. Unfortunately, I feel that most of Mr. Gettleman’s pieces have had this rather distasteful feel to them.

what is the deal with Migingo Island?

Ugandan authorities have occupied an Island that might be on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria. The Kenyan government has done nothing but ask for there to be talks on the status of the Island. Now, I am not a war-monger or anything but this is not the way to do things. The Kenyan Navy should be patrolling around the Island in a show of force even as the talks proceed. That President Museveni of Uganda has imperial ambitions is not a secret. He openly campaigns to be the first president of the to-be-formed East African Federation. This move on Migingo Island might be his idea of testing the waters to see how Kenya might respond to such moves.

I say we let the Ugandans know that even though we are not itching to go to war with them they cannot routinely occupy Kenyan territory without consequences – they have done this before in the north west of Kenya and even killed a few Kenyans with BOMBS! under the pretext of chasing cattle rustlers.

Migingo Island may be small, and even economically worthless but we should retain it nonetheless.

And speaking of disputed territories, when are we going to make it official that the Ilemi triangle is part of the Republic of Kenya? We have administered this part of south east Sudan forever and I think it is time we made it clear to the international community that it belongs to Kenya.

ruto saga continues….

Today’s Nation quotes a Steadman poll that found that a majority of Kenyans want the Agriculture minister, William Ruto, out of office pending investigations into what really happened with the government’s strategic maize reserve at the National Cereals and Produce Board. Given the accusations and counter-accusations flying around regarding the maize scandal it is hard to establish who is telling the truth. Last week Ruto survived a censure motion in parliament when 119 of his colleagues voted in his support, against a mere 22 against him. But the fact that more than half of those polled want him out should signal to the minister that may be it is time he stepped aside to clear his name before resuming duties as a cabinet minister.

Plus this story is not going away any time soon. Today’s Nation also has a story about Jirongo’s denial of Karua’s (Justice Minister) supposed proposition to Ruto regarding the 2012 elections. The Lugari MP (Cyrus Jirongo) insists that his mediation between Karua and Ruto at his house in Muthaiga had nothing to do with a 2012 political deal between the two ministers but was an effort to try and find ways of resettling IDPs back in the Rift Valley, Ruto’s backyard. But if Jirongo is to be believed, Ruto demanded that any talks with Karua were contingent on the Judiciary dropping a land case in which he is implicated.

And so Ruto continues to be entangled in one scandle after another and it seems like the more he defends himself the more his detractors come out with even more damaging allegations. I think that for the sake of the coalition government’s cohesiveness and to avoid unncessary distractions it is imperative that Ruto steps aside – like the majority of Kenyans want. If he gets cleared he can return to the cabinet but if not he should be kept out of the cabinet.

And ethnicity should not be part of this. There is nothing that grants William Ruto an entitlement to the leadership of the communities residing in the Rift Valley province – just like Mudavadi or Raila are not entitled in Western or Nyanza respectively. This maneno of running back to ethnicity when politicians find themselves in trouble should be put to an end. Let every man carry his own cross.

clinton statement is bad news for Darfuris

“Human rights cannot interfere with the global economic crisis, the global climate change crisis and the security crises.” These were the words of Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state on her current visit to China. In an effort to warm up relations with the Asian mammoth (the party preferred to have a Republical White House), the Obama Administration seems to be willing to turn a bling eye to some nagging questions, at least for now.

But I say that this is the wrong approach. Chinese poor record on human rights issues at home and abroad cannot be ignored. China should be embarrassed into stopping its support for the genocidal regime of Mohammed al-Bashir in Sudan. The US  (and the world) cannot afford to put aside human rights issues just because of the world economic crisis. Indeed this might be the only time in the near future when China would feel vulnerable enough to feel threatened by international condemnation. Letting this opportunity pass by will be a big mistake for secretary Clinton and the Obama White House.

reasons for Obiang to be afraid

So the government of Equatorial Guinea is saying that Nigerian rebels were the ones behind the mystery assault weapon attach on the presidential palace yesterday. For now nobody really know who the attackers were. It is not clear what the motive of the Nigerians was in attacking president Obiang’s palace. Whoever they are I think the attack should be a wake up call on Mr. Obiang, the kleptocratic autocrat who has been running the tiny central African state since 1979. His rule has been bad news for most equatorians. The country is Africa’s third biggest producer of oil – after Angola and Nigeria – and should not have the high poverty rates that it has, especially considering that it only has just over 600,000 people.

In other news, it appears that one of the rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement has finally agreed to a deal with the Sudanese government. This  is welcome news. I hope the news will make the ICC slow down in its efforts to try al-Bashir for war crimes. I am not fan of the genocidal buffoon that is Mohammed al-Bashir but at the same time I think that attempts to arrest him will only make him dig in and reverse the progress that the opposition and civil society groups have made in terms of increased political space. Also, the deal does not necessarily mean an end of hostilities since not all the rebel groups in the western Sudanese province have signed on it. The conflict in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced over two million.

transparent budget making

The Nation’s Editorial has a piece against the idea of MPs managing the budget. I am a bit ambivalent on this one. On the one hand I am apprehensive about the idea of men like Maina Kamanda and Jakoyo Midiwo and Chirau Makwere deciding on what the government should be doing with tax payers’ money. These men (and quite frankly almost the entire lot in parliament) have proven to be myopic populists who will stop at nothing to gain short term political capital. If this plan goes through, we can expect pork-laden budgets and beyond-means-spending.

That said, I don’t think the idea itself is bad. What could be better than to take the power to allocate national resources from conceited bureaucrats at treasury? For far too long we have allowed the Finance Minister and State House to use the allocation of national resources as a political tool for patronage and for narrow tribal interests. Spreading this role to the entire legistlature may bring us a more equitable distribution of national resources for the good of all Kenyans.

That’s my two cents on this.

the complexity that is the drc

Every time I read or attend a talk about the Democratic Republic of Congo I always end up being a little bit more confused and pessimistic about this vast central African country. After attending a panel discussion on the conflict this afternoon I feel compelled to say something small about it.

The complexity of the conflict is mind boggling. First, there is the resource war that has been raging in Ituri since the mid nineties. Uganda and Rwanda have a hand in this, just as much as the local Congolese militia who own or tax the mining operations. Second, there is the political struggle waged by Eastern Congolese who want more autonomy and political space from Kinshasa. Third, there is the local ethnic and clan conflicts, pitting one ethnic group against another. For the record though the ethnic groups in the region have oftentimes been used as proxies by the invading armies of Uganda and Rwanda to fight their own wars against other ethnic groups that have not been sympathetic to their missions in Eastern DRC. Fourth, there is the total breakdown of order. Women are routinely raped. Young children have been forced to enlist in the militias and commit acts that leave them scarred for life. There is widespread hunger and disease. The number of “excess deaths ” from the conflict, currently estimated at over 5 million, continues to rise (this makes the conflict the deadliest since WWII).

The above is just a rude summary of the kinds of factorst that continue to fuel the embers of the conflict. Rwanda and Uganda should get it straight and stop raping and pillaging Eastern Congo for financial gain. The UN has started pointing this out and I hope that international pressure continues on Kagame and Museveni on this issue. The other problem of ethnic conflict should also be addressed soberly. Rwanda should make honest attempts at resettling its Hutu and Tutsi populations who fled to Congo or are there on military expeditions. And both Uganda and Rwanda should stop using local ethnic groups in their divide and pillage games that they use to loot the DRC’s mineral resources.

The other thing that came out at the panel discussion was the role of multinational companies in the conflict. It is very depressing that Western multinationals willingly buyout rebel groups to guard their mines and facilitate the exploitation of minerals. How are they getting away with this? The blood diamond” movement worked for the diamong industry and I think the same model of mass action should be applied in shaming these faceless companies into coming clean on their operations in the Congo.

So the bottom line is that more than 5 million human beings have died and more will die if nothing is done to stop the violence and the root causes of the violence.

can zimbabwe bounce back?

Morgan Tsvangirai (a man who many believe ought to be Zimbabwe’s president) was sworn in Thursday as Zimbabwe’s Prime Minister. This marks the beginning of a compromise power sharing arrangement in Zimbabwe which forces the aging Robert Mugabe, 85 to share power with Tsvangirai’s MDC. Tendayi Biti, another MDC stalwart, will be Finance Minister.

This raises the question of whether Zimbabwe can bounce back  some time soon. Millions have fled the country. Millions depend on food aid. 3000 have died of cholera and many more remain at risk and the economy has virtually collapsed, with 9 in 10 people out of employment. I am a proud owner of a 100 billion Zimbabwe note. In short, a lot needs to be done and MDC will have it mostly uphill for a long time to come. But will they succeed? If the recent developments in Kenya are any indicators, Zimababweans should be warned that things will get worse before they get better. The same people who while in opposition were screaming about corruption have been coopted into the same shady deals they once fought against (the maize, oil and tourism scandals are testament to this). And the lack of a credible opposition has given the government some immunity against censure in parliament. Zimbabwe may find itself in the same position, unless they actively avoid it.

May be Tsvangirai and his MDC will do things differently. I wish them well.

total madness

Robert Mugabe and his men have been preparing for his 85th birthday. And it is going to be a big celebration. Reading this left me speechless. If the story is true (I still find it hard to believe) then a whole lot of people in the Zimbabwean government need to have their heads examined, after which they should be sent to the gallows. It is utterly unconscionable that anyone should be dreaming of such a grand party for an autocratic leader who has run his country’s economy aground. The only thing this monster deserves for his 85th birthday is a one way ticket to Pluto. He is a shame to humanity.

Also, shame on all those people who have donated money to these efforts. With millions of Zimbabweans living on food aid they should know better than to waste their money on Mugabe’s birthday party. I hope someone finds out who they are and makes public their names and the amounts they donated.

juvenile behaviour in madagascar costing lives

There is a lot of expensive childish behaviour going on in Madagascar. And no, I am not talking about the 2005 animated production by dreamworks. I am talking about the ongoing standoff between former mayor of Antananarivo, Mr. Andry Rajoelina and the president, Mr. Marc Ravalomanana. A few days ago the former mayor, who heads two communication firms, including a TV station, claimed to be in charge of the country – a treasonous act if you ask me. Reacting to this the president ordered the closing of his radio station. Mr. Rajoelina later ordered his supporters to storm the presidential palace, an act that resulted in the death of some 25 people.

It is unclear what the former mayor really wants. He is not eligible to be president on account of his age (He is 34 and must be 40 to be eligible to run in the 2011 elections). Although Mr. Marc Ravalomanana’s government is no efficiency machine, causing chaos and uncertainty in the manner that Mr. Rajoelina is doing will cause more harm than good. President Ravalomanana was elected in 2006 and should be allowed to serve his full term. If the former mayor wants him out of office he should use legal means. Using the poor people of Antananarivo as pawns in his attempt to grab power is a most heinous crime. More than 25 lives have been lost. How many more people does he want to die before he sees the folly of his actions? There has to be a better way of doing this.

Also, president Ravalomanana should wake up and smell the coffee. It is time he stopped the corruption in his government that precipitated the cancellation of much needed development assistance in December of last year (2008). The president should step up his government’s efforts to improve the lives of the people of Madagascar instead of just enriching himself. Otherwise trouble makers like Rajoelina will have every excuse (and every right) to send their supporters to the streets in order to disrupt constitutional order.

revisiting the conflict in Darfur

Today I sat in at a conference on Darfur at my school. The conference was well attended, the keynote speaker being Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court.  There were the usual talking heads from the UN and a myriad NGOs that are involved in one way or the other with the effort to stop the barbarous madness that is going on in Darfur. I was impressed by the fact that even though the global powers that be do not seem interested in providing any meaningful solutions to the conflict there still are people out there who are determined to do the little that they can to try and make a difference.

But I was also disappointed. Nearly all the panelists were foreigners, let’s say non-AU citizens. Now I do not mean to discriminate here. Darfur is a major problem and I know that Darfuris will be the first to tell you that all they want is an end to their hell-on-earth, regardless of where help to that end comes from. But even after fully appreciating this fact, I was still a bit unsettled by the fact that what I was seeing there is what is prevalent throughout the continent, not just with cases of armed conflict, but in other areas as well – poverty reduction, HIV and AIDS, malaria and what not. It is always the foreigners who seem to care more about the plight of the poor Africans than the Africans themselves (and their leaders of course). Why was there only one panelist from Sudan? Aren’t there Sudanese experts on Darfur, people who oppose al-Bashir’s genocidal policies and who can articulate their concerns at such conferences?

darfur_aerialForgive my digression. Anyway, the fact is that more than two million human beings have been displaced from their homes and their lives disrupted in unimaginable ways. More than 200,000 are dead. And nobody in Khartoum seems to give a rat’s behind.

Meanwhile the AU (the regional body that should be having Darfur, Somali and the DRC at the top of the agenda) just elected that clown, Muamar Gaddafi, as its president. The rather colourful Libyan dictator followed his election with a quick reminder of the true nature of African leaders – by saying that democracy was to blame for the crises in Africa. He is so full of horse manure. How is it not clear to people like this man that self-determination is the way of the future? How does he not get the fact that the days for rulers like him (and Mugabe, Al-Bashir, Obiang, and the whole brood of failures) on the continent of Africa are numbered?

some unwelcome radicalism

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

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

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

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

getting to the bottom of the maize scandal

So it turns out that Ababu Namwamba’s sensational claim in parliament that first lady Lucy Kibaki was linked to a company that illegal traded in maize for Kenya’s starving millions was based on false documents. And the same is also true of Bonny Khalwale’s accusations of agriculture minister William Ruto. Whether this is the truth or not we may never know. Kenyan politicians have a going price and retractions of statements (true and otherwise) have been made before. And why accuse the first lady and a whole cabinet minister with false documents? Messrs Namwamba and Khalwale are not village idiots. They must have known what they were talking about. For now I shall remain skeptical of these retractions and say that where there is smoke there is fire. If Mr. Ruto wants to clear his name he should tell us who traded in the maize, it is his ministry after all. And if the president wants his wife’s name cleared he should also tell us the truth. Everyone high up in government must know who these thieves are.

Millions of Kenyans face starvation if they don’t get relief food and so it galls me when I read that people are stealing the same relief food and being allowed to get away with it. Since when did we come to accept that Kenyan lives – no matter how poor our citizens may be – are worth sacrificing so that an already filthy rich cabal of thieves can continue enriching themselves? Where is the anger in the media, in the church, on the streets and among the civil society? Do we realise what we are doing to ourselves? Kenyans are dying!!!

Does it cease to be a crime just because someone who speaks your language did it? Does it cease to be a crime when it is Kibaki and not Raila or Ruto and not Michuki or vise versa? I don’t think so.

We need the truth NOW.