bullying kenya, Southern Sudan in the mix

A few months ago it was Uganda. Kenya’s western neighbor sent troops and hoisted their flag on a Kenyan island on lake Victoria. The Kenyan government at first wavered, unable to provide a coherent response before it formed a joint task force with the invading Ugandans to determine the ownership of the island. It turned out the island is indeed Kenyan, only for the Ugandan president to claim that even if the island is Kenyan the waters and fish around it are Ugandan.

Now Southern Sudan is also in the mix. The Kenyan immigration minister, the man charged with the running of Kenya’s border posts was stopped from accessing one such post by Southern Sudanese security people – on Kenyan soil!! How ridiculous.

This insouciant approach to territorial matters is evident of the lack of a sense of nationhood in most African countries. These states only meaningfully exist withing a few hundred kilometres radii of the capitals. Since no one had to fight for the borders, no one really cares. But Kenya’s case is even more absurd. This is not Somalia or the Gambia. We should have better control of our people and our borders.

politics gets in the way of justice, again

The Kenyan cabinet yesterday decided not to set up a local tribunal to try those who organized the targeted killings of people who spoke certain languages (but lived in the “wrong” places) after the bungled general elections of late 2007. Instead, in an effort to assuage the fears of a hostile parliament, the president and his cabinet decided to clean up the police force and the judiciary and have these organs try the said suspects. Yeah right.

My doubts of the cabinet’s intentions are premised on the fact that reforming the police force and the judiciary will not take a few months. The police force is the most corrupt institution in this country. Reforming it will take years. Same with the judiciary. If we are to wait for the police and judges to stop taking bribes and begin respecting the rule of law before we initiate the prosecution process then we might as well forget about the whole thing.

I remain deeply skeptical of President Kibaki’s commitment to making sure that those who organized the killing of more than 1300 Kenyans be brought to book. If he really means what he said yesterday then he should begin by firing Attorney General Amos Wako. This is a man who has been in that position through the tortures of the Moi era, the killings that preceded the 1997 general elections, and a myriad corruption scandals (including the mother of all, Goldenberg) without ever bringing any prominent player to book. Mr. Wako has been as effective as a parachute that deploys on the second bounce and should be shown the door, no questions asked.

It was always going to be difficult to bring the oafish  ethnic chiefs masquerading as patriots to book. Yesterday was a stark reminder to all Kenyans that justice is political and that if change doesn’t come soon the powerful will continue doing what they want and leave the weak to suffer what they must.

nigeria still battling with islamic militants

So far Islamic militancy has only succeeded in one Sub-Saharan African state – Somalia, a failed state.  In other places African traditional values have proven to hold more sway than the murderous ideology of Islamic terrorists, even in areas with high densities of Muslims like West Africa and the East African Coast.

But recent events in Nigeria are a sign that the Continent may not be immune from religious zealotry. A group calling itself Boko Haram has been attacking police stations and killing civilians all across northern Nigeria – all in the name of agitating for the imposition of Sharia law across the country. Nigeria is almost half muslim and half christian, with Sharia law mostly operational in the northern states.

President Yar’Adua has asked his security chiefs to do all they can to stop Boko Haram from taking root in the country. West Africa and the Sahel have a large muslim population and so the fact that Islamic militancy has reached these regions should be a concern to the many weak governments in this part of the Continent – ranging from Chad to the Gambia.

where is John Harun Mwau

This morning as I was trying to read on the parliamentary reform strategy, I took time to look at the list of members of parliament. Following the 2007 election, a lot of newbies joined the list. But the list also has those who have been household names since the Moi era. One of these old guards is John Harun Mwau, the honorable member of parliament for Kilome.

Back in the day he was a permanent fixture in the news. But since the last election he has gone completely MIA. Where is he? And whatever happened to his reform agenda?

the mau list of shame

Prime Minister Raila Odinga has tabled in parliament a list of those who acquired land in the Mau based on their well-connectedness with the government. Top of the list are those closely associated with former president Moi – including his son and former Baringo Central MP Gideon. The task force on the Mau issued a report that claimed that 80% of the titles to the land in Mau were issued to undeserving people.

I like this dose of transparency from the Prime Minister (Although for good practice he should have made the list public as soon as he got it in order to allow for a more mature progression of the eviction debate). My hope now is that Kenyans will realise exactly what the interests of those against the government directive to conserve the forest are. Indeed if I had it my way, the millionaires who unlawfully acquired public land should be made to pay a fine.

The popular consensus seems to be that the government should compensate the regular “wananchi” who have titles and who unknowingly legally bought illegally acquired land. But the “wenyenchi” who grabbed public land should not be given a cent. Shame on them.

And on a different note, kudos to the Kenya Revenue Authority. I was surprised that I was able to get my pin number online. The first time I tried getting one I had to wait in line at Times Tower and left because the line did not move for the more than 45 minutes that I was there. My only problem now is that I can’t seem to be able to print my pin number certificate. Anyone with a clue?

ruto is a disappointment over mau

Leaders are meant to lead – to set the agenda and make people believe that what is good for them is exactly what they need. On this count, Agriculture minister William Ruto has failed as a leader. On the issue of Mau Forest, he is increasingly sounding like a mad populist out to gain political mileage at the expense of millions of Kenyans – including those that he is purportedly protecting.

That deforestation in the Mau is causing the drying up of vital water sources – 12 rivers included – is no longer contested, not even by Mr. Ruto himself. I therefore do not understand why he is still against the eviction of those who illegally acquired land in the forest. The government has already agreed to compensate small holders (with title deeds) who were cheated into buying land in the forest. But wealthy Kenyans who acquired land in the Mau due to their connections to the Moi Administration should not be given a cent. In any case they should be investigated.

I say it is time that Mr. Ruto acted as a leader and made the case to his constituents that saving the Mau is in their best interest. This is the least he can do if he really aspires to be seen as a respectable national leader rather than an over-glorified tribal chief.

shame on the world bank

From Aid Watch, William Easterly’s very informative (and sometimes controversial) blog, is a story that serves to highlight the dysfunction that is endemic in the aid industry. And unsurprisingly, the World Bank is right in the thick of things here as well.

ocampo, the rift valley and mau forest

Last week I took a whirlwind tour of the Rift Valley province of Kenya. For two days I accompanied a program office from the NGO that I am working with this summer to Eldoret, Burnt Forest and Timboroa. The purpose of the visit was to assess the progress of peace initiatives in the area – necessitated by the madness of last year’s post-election violence. The evidence on the ground was encouraging. Exclusive ethic zones no longer exist and free movement of people and goods is now possible. That said, tensions still exist as evidenced by the heavy police presence in the region – every few hundred metres on the Eldoret-Timboroa road there are brand new police camps.

Especially risky are the ongoing debates over the prosecution of the masterminds of ethnic violence at the Hague and the resettlement of those currently living in Mau Forest. Given that certain ethnic chiefs of the two quarreling communities are most certainly on the Waki list, some people on the ground favor a local truth and reconciliation commission which, they presume, would be less harsh on the masterminds of violence. But those whose houses were burnt or who lost relatives want real justice and are advocating for the Hague option.

Also tricky is the Mau resettlement debate. Word on the ground is that if certain people are evicted from Mau without compensation, then it will be justified to evict other people who settled in the Rift Valley decades ago outside of their “ethnic homelands.” Knowing how passionate some of those in these areas are, it makes me cringe with fear every time I hear politicians carelessly comment about the impending eviction of those who (il)legally settled in Mau Forest.

The other leg of my journey took me to Nakuru. Driving around Kabarak, visiting Lord Egerton’s Castle, hanging out at Egerton University’s serene botanical garden and dining at Kunste were all topped by the ride back to Nairobi. Next time you are coming back to Nairobi from Nakuru take the Naivasha-Mai Mahiu road. The view of the escarpment on this road is like none other. And Longonot will be right there too, with the baboons, warthogs and other wildlife.

Many thanks to my very good friend, a native of Njoro, who made the Nakuru trip the success that it was.

getting to the field…

Almost two weeks into the NGO world and I must say that I am liking this work. Last week we had a capacity building workshop on advocacy skills training. It was largely successful and I got to meet members of interesting Kenyan civil society organisations (CSOs) from across the nation. My take on the workshop was that Kenyan civil society exists, what’s lacking is clout. They need to have some say in what decisions are made in parliament or state house. This they can only achieve by increasing their membership and general public awareness and by raising cash.

And in order to make these same CSOs more democratic and representative, donors can come up with a system of conditioning their aid on the CSOs raising part of their monies from Kenyans. In this way, the wider a CSO’s Kenyan donor base, the more money they should get. There should of course be exemptions for emergency relief, education, public health programs, among other critical areas. The assumption here is that most CSOs are involved with the political aspects of development.

Tomorrow I head out into the field  for a monitoring and evaluation exercise in Eldoret and Burnt Forest – areas that were affected by the violence that rocked Kenya early last year. I will write a post on the developments concerning peace initiatives there.

kenyan cabinet remains deadlocked over violence

For the second straight week the Kenyan cabinet remains deadlocked on the way forward in the effort to bring to book those who planned the post-election violence that killed over 1300 people early last year. Several cabinet ministers are opposed to the creation of a local tribunal – which is the official position of the government – and want the suspects be investigated and tried by the ICC’s chief prosecutor Moreno-Ocampo at the Hague. Their position, they argue, is informed by the sorry state of Kenya’s judiciary which for all practical purposes is usually in the pocket of whoever occupies state house.

It is widely believed that a number of cabinet ministers were significantly involved in the planning of violence after the disputed election. Indeed the government funded Kenya Human Rights Commission last week released a list of suspects that was populated by cabinet ministers and members of parliament. Ministers and MPs from both sides of the political divide criticised the move and vowed to take the human rights body to court for defamation.

My two cents on this is that those that plotted the violence at the very top should go to the Hague. The middle level and small fry should be tried by a special court within Kenyan law. And as this goes on we should have a truth and reconciliation process. That way, the people at the top will know that Kenyan lives are not the expendable commodities they imagine them to be and thugs who killed innocent women and children will be punished. And above all, the truth and reconciliation process will start the process of healing among Kenyans.

the war muddied everyone

News that Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female president, had funded at least two rebel groups – including Charles Taylor – left me surprised and less optimist about the Continent. It was a stark reminder that politics is a dirty game, especially in the context of a civil war as crazy as Liberia’s (which had among its cast the self-styled General Butt Naked). It is hard to imagine how any prominent Liberian politician from the 80s and 90s could have avoided siding with any of the many warring factions.

Perhaps this comment from the FP website sums it best:

“Of course, it’s not clear that there is a Liberian over the age of six who hasn’t supported one rebel group or another the past twenty years. If they were all banned from politics, there wouldn’t be a local left to run the place.”

It is hard to sympathize with Ms Sirleaf without appearing to be applying double standards given Taylor’s treatment by the wider international community. That said, one thing is clear: Ms Sirleaf is no Foday Sankoh or Charles Taylor.

And speaking of Liberia, Charles Taylor’s defense at his trial in the Hague is turning out to be a  major hilarity. And of course nobody does better reporting on these issues than Wronging Rights.

the ICC debate is a major distraction

Two weekends ago I ventured into Siaya in Nyanza province of Kenya to visit family. On the way there, I saw for the first time the consequences of the violence that rocked the country early last year. More than a year later, whole families are still living in tents at the Molo junction. Many more have had to endure life in make shift houses, still unsure of whether they will be able to return home permanently.

But in Nairobi, the issue of resettlement of Kenya’s IDPs is on no one’s radar. The hot topic right now is which ethnic chief is on the list of suspected instigators of the post-election violence that killed more than 1300 Kenyans and displaced hundreds of thousands. The political class has completely forgotten about the people who did their dirty work or suffered the consequences of the same.

It is a shame that the mainstream media in Nairobi has bought into the distraction tactics of Kenya’s (very mediocre) ruling class. As much as we should know about and debate whether to try suspected plotters of the violence here at home or in the Hague, we should continue focusing attention on those that are still suffering in tents away from schools, hospitals and their farms. These Kenyans deserve better than they are currently getting from Nairobi.

my dad almost drove over a woman today

It was a few minutes after seven o’clock. The radio was on kiss fm – a popular local radio station – and the presenter (the very much likeable Caroline Mutoko) was talking about the envelope that Kofi Annan gave to Moreno Ocampo, the ICC chief prosecutor. The envelope supposedly has names of leading-light Kenyan politicians who organised the bloodshed that followed the botched 2007 presidential elections. We were discussing what this means for Kenya as my dad navigated the congested roads of Nairobi – the number of vehicles in this city keeps increasing but no one bothers to widen the roads. There are no lanes on most of them, and pedestrians – like the woman who almost got run over by my dad – do not care for the barely functional traffic lights and rare zebra crossings. Everyone plays games with the many traffic policemen stationed at junctions and roundabouts.

My dad had his sights ahead and to his left, trying hard not to be scratched by this very loud matatu that was trying to squeeze into the (imaginary) middle lane when all of a sudden some woman jumped into the road from the right. My dad instinctively hit the breaks, but it was too late. The front right tire hard caught the woman’s left shoe as she tried to jump back onto the pavement.

The craziest part of all this is how calm everyone involved was – including me. My dad reversed, the woman removed her shoe and then kept walking – like nothing had happened. I am convinced that Nairobian pedestrians are the toughest in the world.

more on Moyo and aid

A reader gave this link to a certain critique of Moyo’s “Dead Aid.” The criticism offered by this gentleman, although weighty in its own right, has not changed my admiration of Moyo’s work. The fact of the matter is that Africa needs to rid itself of dependency on well wishers from wherever on the globe.

Moyo’s book, because it is intended for general consumption, lacks the regressions and seminar-like proof that some of her critics are asking for. It does not take a statistical genius to realize that it was Western aid that propped the corrupt (and most probably mentally challenged) Bokassa.

And the simple argument that correlation does not imply causation does not fly either. It has been more than forty years of western aid to Africa without any meaningful development. Within the four decades, if there was something else other than aid that was retarding African development we should have discovered it. The fact that we have not means that aid might be the problem. And what Moyo proposes is a viable alternative.

And to be honest, the main reason why I am in full support of the Moyo way is not because I am sure that it would succeed. It is for the simple reason that it would give Africans agency in their lives. It would force African governments to govern their people humanely. And it would reduce African dependency on the rest of the world. Anyone who has taken time to observe Africans’ interaction with the rest of the world knows the enormous degree of self-doubt that Africans have. Grown men take off their hats to kids the ages of their grandchildren simply because they are not from the Continent. This much needed self-confidence will only be achieved when Africans truly take charge of their destiny. Moyo offers an option that might lead to this.

summer reads

I just finished reading two excellent books: In defense of elitism by William Henry III and Dead Aid by Ndabisa Moyo.

The former book deals with how society (American but it can apply anywhere) may, over time, be dragged down by its less savvy members in the name of egalitarianism. I do not agree with Henry on all the issues addressed in his book. I particularly think that he is misguided on his views on education and the feminist movement. But overall I think he has a point about the ever increasing vulgarization of the mainstream – in an ever increasing tide of anti-intellectualism – in order to accommodate the common man.

Moyo’s book is one of the best I have read on development in a long time. It kind of reminded me of Collier’s the Bottom Billion. And the book is a fast read, with the chapters seamlessly connecting with one another. I am a terrible book critic so I am just gonna say: go read it.

And speaking of Paul Collier, check out this fascinating debate. I like this, I only wish there were one or two heavy hitters from the continent weighing in on this. Where are you Prof. Wantchekon?