foreshadowing post-independence southern Sudan

It is an open secret that Southern Sudan will likely descend into civil war once it secedes from Khartoum. Reports of a mutiny against Southern Sudanese government troops after last week’s election may foreshadow what is to come after Juba achieves full autonomy. Divisions within the South are not new. In 1991 Riek Machar led a rebellion of Nuer officers against the Dinka-dominated SPLM/A. In the end John Garang’ and SPLM/A prevailed after SPLM-Nasir (Machar’s faction) was accused of being stooges of the regime in Khartoum. The same divisions may plague post-independence Southern Sudan – there are already widespread grumbling about Dinka domination of state affairs in Juba. Khartoum is almost likely to play a role in destabilizing the South. The Southern referendum on secession will be held on January 9th 2011.

kenyan mp Dick Wathika to lose Makadara seat

Following a petition by former MP Reuben Ndolo (of the “weka tire” infamy), Lady Justice Kaplana Rawal has nullified the election of Dick Wathika as Makadara MP in the 2007 general elections. Mr. Wathika becomes the 5th sitting MP since the chaotic 2007 vote to lose after an election petition in court. The 2007 elections were marred by irregularities that almost plunged Kenya, previously an oasis of peace in a turbulent part of the Continent, into civil war. 1300 people died before a power-sharing agreement was brokered between incumbent Mwai Kibaki and his challenger Raila Odinga. Given that most Kenyans voted “three piece”, the apparent widespread irregularities at the constituency level must be highly correlated with those of the presidential vote. Neither PNU nor ODM can claim innocence. The real culprit, however, is one Mr. Samuel Kivuitu. The former boss of the electoral commission presided over a sham election with a straight face and got away with it. Shame on him.

if a tenth the charities out to help “africa” were any good ….

A lot of money has been poured in Africa (to use a Kenyan phrase) since the 1960s. Most of it has gone down the drain without much impact. If a tenth of the aid effort in Africa were effective things would be very different. Instead you have a cacophony of aid effort without much coordination. Yes there are the many hospitals, schools and business projects that have improved millions of livelihoods, and we applaud them. But there are also bizarre projects – like giving rape victims cameras to record their ordeals in the Congo or this crazy idea to send a million shirts to Africa.  As Aid Watch aptly puts it, a lot of aid is never about what the people in this mythical place called Africa need but what people want to give – and oftentimes what they want to give is a function of their warped notion of what life is like on the Continent.

And in other news, Sierra Leone has seen the light. As I noted here two years ago, the country’s HDI indicators belong in a time long gone. It is therefore encouraging that the Sierra Leoneans have decided to take HDI matters seriously.

after sudan, ethiopia

Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir is here to stay. Ethiopia’s Meles Zenawi is up next on a list of African autocrats who face elections this year. Ethiopia holds parliamentary elections on May 23rd in a vote that will determine who becomes Prime Minsiter. Africa’s second most populous country cremains under tight rule by the increasingly despotic Meles Zenawi. It is a foregone conclusion that Mr. Zenawi’s party will win. The only non-academic part of these elections will be how many seats the opposition is allowed to win. Mr. Zenawi has run the country since 1991 when he led a rebellion that overthrew the tinpot dictatorship of Mengistu Haile Mariam.

More on Mr. Zenawi’s rule here.

The other elections coming up in the next month include Mauritius (May 5th) and the Central African Republic (May 16th). Keep track of these elections here.

south africa steps up fight against aids

The most embarrassing part of Thabo Mbeki’s presidency was his bizarre approach to South Africa’s AIDS epidemic. Together with his nutty health minister, President Mbeki refused to dot the lines between the HIV virus and AIDS. The Minister was known to traffic in the idea that beetroots and traditional herbs could confront the deadly virus.

It is thus encouraging that Mr. Zuma, Mbeki’s successor has taken a more rational approach. Mr. Zuma recently declared that he is HIV negative. The country is currently in the midst of a massive campaign to have at least 15 million South Africans tested by June 2011. South Africa has 5.7 million HIV positive citizens, the biggest number of any country.

Mr. Zuma himself is known to have had sex with a HIV positive woman. This particular sexual encounter was the subject of a public trial in which Mr. Zuma was accused of rape. The South African president prevailed in court in a ruling with which many were not satisfied.

Development and how to achieve it

A while back I argued for a move away form small scale, “pro-poor” development strategies to more robust development strategies aimed at economic innovation and large-scale job creation. This is not to say that micro-development should be neglected. What I am saying is that jua kali kiosks will not increase Africa’s per capita income to 10,000 USD. The most they do is enable people to cope without really changing their standard of living.

Alkags, a blog I just discovered, deals with this debate.

Aid watch also has videos from a conference at the Yale law school on development. Chris Blattman and William Easterly are some of the featured development experts. Blattman makes some interesting comments about micro-finance, industrialization (medium to large farms) and development.

Quoting Blattman: “I think we have gone too far in the pro-poor direction…… we don’t necessarily have trade-offs. Factories are pro-poor.”

ruto moved in cabinet reshuffle

Former Agriculture Minister William Ruto has been demoted to the Ministry of Higher Education. This is certainly linked to Ruto’s position on the draft constitution. Mr. Ruto has been the most vocal minister in the Kibaki cabinet opposed to the draft constitution which is due for referendum in a few months.

In other news, I love this idea of cattle registration. The government is touting it as a security and rule of law policy but one of the (un)intended consequences will be ease of taxation of cattle owners. Someone at Kenya Revenue Authority must have come up with this idea.  Anything that establishes an accountability chain between farmers and the government (be it through transfers or taxes) is always good, as far as I am concerned.

Registration (and taxation) will also have the added benefit of incentivizing protection of property rights by the government. I hope that the revenue from this scheme, however little, will be used to further develop productivity in Kenya’s northern districts.

china in africa: getting the right picture

Here is a new blog on this by Brautigam. I attended her talk at Stanford and kind of liked the book.

I am glad that a consensus seems to be emerging that one-sided and blind China-bashing is not productive, especially with regard to Chinese involvement in Africa.

And in other news, what is Kagame up to? The man appears to be turning into a paranoid autocrat. It’s been 16 years since 1994 and about time he started being more open to constructive criticism.

constitution making in Kenya and the noise around it

Muthoni Wanyeki has this cool piece on the ongoing debate over the draft constitution.

I share in her surprise at how low the church has decided to sink in its opposition to Kadhi courts and the so called abortion clause in the draft constitution. Firstly, abortions are but a symptom of greater social problems (marital rape, poor sex education policies, the church’s intransigence over contraceptives, etc etc). People do not carry out abortions because they are baby-killers. Can someone please point this out to these men of God?

In any case personal morality is not a province of the state. People’s “moral failings” are a reflection of the church’s inability to instill in them the values that they consider to be ideal. Sending millions to their graves and creating even more orphans on the premise that God does not endorse the use of contraceptives is simply absurd. If I ran the Daily Nation I would print rates of contraceptive use and fertility rates in Rome, Canterbury and the great evangelical centres of America in the front page to make this point.

I say this knowing that Kenyan conservatism is not necessarily because of Christianity. But we don’t hear traditional elders screaming about these two issues. If the church wants to remain relevant it mus realize that before we all go to heaven we have to live through real life on earth.

And on the issue of Kadhi’s Courts. Who cares? Doesn’t the current constitution have this already? And isn’t it ironic that the same people who want to legislate personal morality on religious grounds are the ones opposed to Muslims having the option to use an Islamic judicial system? And do they even know that these courts would still be subordinate to the country’s secular court system?

daylight robbery

Edit: Lands Minister James Orengo has since declared that the mentioned piece of land is state property and promised to do “what is right for this country [Kenya].” Let’s wait and see.

This is daylight robbery. It appears that private investors have consistently robbed the government of much needed revenue in relation to the land on Museum Hill in Nairobi, Kenya. Kamlesh Pattni, the man who famously robbed the Kenyan treasury of billions of Shillings in export compensation fees for fictitious exports of gold, is yet again in the middle of another scandal to rip off the Kenyan taxpayer.

Lands Minister James Orengo, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, and the chief taxman at KRA Mr. M. G. Waweru should come clean with the facts.

democratizing kenyan schools

As a former prefect at Mang’u High School, I know quite a bit about the excesses of the prefect system. To put it mildly, prefects sometimes do go beyond the line. I am therefore glad that a student forum at Bomas, Nairobi voted for the establishment of elected student councils to replace prefect bodies. In most schools prefects are appointed by the school administration (usually a small group comprising the principal, his assistant, the dean, the discipline master and a few other teachers). Instituting elected student bodies will go a long way in democratizing Kenyan high schools. I will go out on a limb and even make the claim that it might help Kenyan democracy in the long-run by teaching our students a few things about civic duty and peaceful competition for elected office. Additionally, inculcating in students the virtues of peaceful political competition at an early age might help reduce cases of violence in elections for student body representatives at Kenyan universities.

the church and the crisis

Maureen Dowd’s column highlights the deep crisis in which the Catholic church has found itself in the aftermath  of the many cases of sexual abuse across Europe and the United States. Like Dowd, I am also a Catholic who is deeply disturbed by the Church’s apparent intransigence and inexplicable inflexibility in the face of problems like HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases on the Continent.

The Church must reform. And I believe it will. Sweeping cases of priests molesting 200 deaf children under the carpet is simply not doable.

Similarly, condemning millions of people to their graves by putting spiritual sanctions against their use of known methods of disease prevention is also wrong. As the Church reacts to and adjusts in the face of the backlash in the West over the abuse cases it should also be reminded of the consequences of its anti-contraceptive policies in the developing world, particularly in Africa.

I should point out that even as I criticize the Church and its policies on the Continent I am aware of its importance as an institution. The Church runs schools, hospitals… etc etc. Indeed in my lifetime I have attended no less than three Catholic-run schools.

getting out of my league…

The other day a friend ambushed me with a somewhat interesting question. Presenting me with two options – Negritude or Fanonian “New Africanism” – he asked me to pick one that best describes my view of how the process of societal change should pan out on the Continent. I usually don’t like caging myself with labels but on this occasion I decided to put myself in the Fanon camp. My objections to Negritude, at least as formulated by Senghor and Cesaire, are best captured by the following quote from Bodunrin:

A way of life which made it possible for our ancestors to be subjugated by a handful of Europeans cannot be described as totally glorious.”

My sympathies towards Fanonian arguments derive from Fanon’s idea of the creation of a new society in the post-colonial period. Realizing the traumatic impact that colonization had on the African psyche, Fanon advocated for a renewal that did not hearken to the African past – unlike Senghor and Cesaire – for two reasons:

Firstly, in the post-contact period there was virtually no way of defining this pure and glorious African past that proponents of Negritude were beholden to. The African and his past had come to be defined in relation to and in juxtaposition to the European colonizer. Africa was essentialized as anti-Europe. Indeed even people like Senghor and Cesaire had come to learn of this past through the European lens – in the racialist works in anthropology and German-inspired pseudo-sciences of the time.

Secondly, the post-colonial state faced a new challenge of creating a nation-state composed of different ethnic groups with different histories and world-views (which particular African cultural identity did Negritude have in mind? Hausa, Zulu, Bemba, Kamba, Dinka….???). Fanon understood that the creation of strong and functional nation-states was critical to the realization of the fruits of independence. This he contrasted with the risk of decline into tribal quasi-states if sub-national forces gained prominence – as sadly came to pass. Notice that Fanon did not advocate for the eradication of tribal or ethnic identities. All he advocated for was the internalization of the fact that allegiance to the state should dominate any allegiance to sub-national identities. The Fanonian view allowed particular African cultural practices to flourish, but only to the extent that they did not threaten the state. In other words, the object of the state was not to advance any particular worldview, African or not.

Additionally, implicit in Negritude was the rather hollow notion of African epistemological exceptionalism (that whole thing about passion and reason. See Cesaire’s work on this) – a factor that, according to Fanon, would have only served to alleniate the African from the global community. Also, Negritude taken to its logical conclusion was racist in the sense that it sought to prove that the African (from pre-contact era) was more virtuous than the brutal European colonizer. Fanon did not want to continue living in the native-colonizer dialectic paradigm.

That is how I read Fanon on the subject of post-colonial nation-building. His provocative views on the virtues of violence and the psychology of being Black in the post-contact paradigm are not relevant to the arguments advanced here. Just to be clear, below is a sketch of why I think Fanon and not Senghor or Cesaire had the right idea.

I am passionate about economic development. I believe that all humans, regardless of culture, should be provided with opportunities and allowed to make autonomous choices about their individual destinies (roughly in the sense postulated by Amartya Sen). Contextualizing this on the Continent, I am of the view that the provision of public goods like education, healthcare and proper housing etc etc should never be subordinated to backward cultural mores inherited from centuries ago.  I understand that the designation of cultural mores as backward is problematic. However, we can sidestep arguments about this by simply stating that the objective of the state should be to create conditions in which individuals live as long as they can and have the most opportunities as they can in order to realize their potential. Any practices or worldview that go against this simple requirement, in my opinion, can be termed backward.

In other words, our objective should not be to abolish the way of life of the Luo, Kikuyu, Zulu, Hausa, Ashanti etc or espouse any of them as superior. Instead, our objective should be to educate sons and daughters of the Continent and afterward avail these options to them. Only then can we truly be promoting the best of cultures by allowing all of them to compete in the market place of ideas.

That is my peni nane answer to my friend. And I must admit that I am out of my league here. My dabbling should however remind us that there is a need to provide a logic for the existence of the African state. It just might be the case that the reason we are yet to reach the political kingdom called for by Nkrumah more than fifty years ago is because we never quite described what this kingdom was.