airports airports

Yours truly is about to embark on a much awaited summer vacation back home. Nothing beats the annual summer trip back to the bustle of Nairobi and weekend trips to my “ancestral homeland” of Siaya. The only difference is that unlike back in my undergrad days this time vacation doesn’t really mean no work. Grad school tends to follow you everywhere.

Expect stories of my experiences in Nairobi and Siaya. I am especially looking forward to being home for the Kenyan referendum on August 4th.

One Item Vacation Reading List: Tolstoy’s War and Peace (this is the only non-academic book I am bringing along, I have got to finish reading it this time… hopefully)

do not miss out on this…

Happening on Blattman’s Blog. In addition to the many foreign experts who are being asked to please stand up, I add, would the real eastern Congolese also please stand up and weigh in on this debate?

Also, Texas in Africa has a number of posts on minerals and conflict in the eastern DRC to mark minerals week.

really Mr. Moi, really?

I have great respect for Kenya’s retired President Moi. The man from Baringo had many faults but he deserves credit for letting go when the time came in 2002 due to a constitutionally mandated term limit. He could have pulled a fast one on Kenya like many a dictator have done on the Continent even in the post-1989 era of pretend democratization. That said, his 24-year tenure was nothing to sing about. Kenya’s per capita income declined under his rule. The 1992 and 1997 election-related ethnic clashes occurred under his watch. Moi played the ethnic card more than any other Kenyan politician on record. Detention without trial was the norm for anyone who dared disagree with baba (father). Moi banned political parties in the early 1908s. In 1988 he rubbished the secret ballot and required that voters queue behind their preferred candidates. In short, Moi’s Kenya was nowhere near being a liberal democracy.

So when the former president runs around Kenya being characteristically anti-reform by campaigning against the proposed constitution and claiming that “I was not a dictator. People wanted peace” we can only sit back and ask: really Mr. Moi, really?

au sending more troops to somalia, defends Sudan’s al-Bashir

The African Union Summit in Uganda resolved to send an additional 2000 troops to Somalia. 5000 Ugandan and Burundian troops are already stationed in Mogadishu to prop up the beleaguered transitional government. The same summit resolution also sought to change the rules of engagement to allow AU troops to preemptively attack suspected terrorist al-Shabab strongholds.

Nice and dandy, except so far we can’t make much of Museveni’s threat to take the fight to the Somali insurgents. There are no details as to where the additional 2000 troops will come from within the region. Ethiopia and Kenya share porous borders with Somalia and have large populations of ethnic Somalis and so are highly unlikely to send troops. Tanzania’s large Muslim population may not take well the idea of their troops in Somalia. My guess is that the additional troops will come from either Uganda, Rwanda and/or Burundi or some country from farther afield.

At the same summit current AU chairman President Bingu wa Mutharika of Malawi took fault with the ICC’s indictment of the genocidal Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir. This is yet another proof of what kind of club the AU is. I may not fully agree with the political wisdom behind the indictment of a sitting president (because sadly, justice is highly political) but the likes of Mr. Mutharika should visit Darfur and UN camps in eastern Chad before defending al-Bashir.

southern sudan

As the January 9th, 2011 referendum draws closer the international community is getting concerned about the consequences of Southern Sudanese independence. Many fear that the north, led by the strongman Omar al-Bashir, will not honor the CPA and let the Southerners go. Southern stability is also a concern. Once in the early 1990s the SPLA/M split along ethnic lines (Machar, the leader of the splinter SPLA-Nasir, eventually came back to the fold). Recent skirmishes in the South are testament to the fact that ethnicized civil war may yet visit an independent Southern Sudan.

Check out this post on FP.

In other news, the Continental club of ineffectual autocrats African Union is meeting in Uganda. More on this soon.

sunday roundup

Easterly goes to church in Ghana.

This post has pictures on some interesting way to use bed nets…. It seems like the only way we shall ever eliminate malaria on the Continent is by getting rid of all the mosquitoes. Other tropical places have done it. Why can’t it be done on the Continent, at least in the urban areas??

And lastly, I found this video clip totally cool.

Happy Sunday!

JAMBO!

quick hits

This is progress. I hope PLO does not go the way of most idealists and get sucked into the vortex that is Kenya’s corruption and patronage networks. Relatedly, the latest TI ratings suggest that corruption may have declined a tiny bit in Kenya. Rwanda still leads the pack as the least corrupt country in the wider region, although critics argue that this has come at the price of basic civil liberties as the mountainous country transmogrifies into an unapologetic police state.

Be sure to read WTF Friday on wronging rights…

hapa na pale (here and there)

Bankelele has a nice post on medical investment in East Africa.

For the business-minded, here is one more reason for Kenyans to vote YES in the August 4th referendum for a new constitution. I remain apprehensive about the size of government that will result from a victory for the YES camp. But as a student of history I am also hopeful that effective government, i.e. creation of grassroots administrative and TAXATION apparatuses in provincial counties, will lead to faster Kenyanization of ALL of Kenya. And who knows, may be the need to finance government will give officials incentives to formulate policies that promote growth and generate revenue.

In other news, EASSy, the third international fibre optic cable to land on the Kenyan shores, will soon roll out, hopefully helping lower the cost of internet connectivity not only in Kenya but in the wider East African region as well.

And lastly, being only nine days away from a short vacation back home I join Magical Kenya in saying JAMBO!

Paul Kagame: Rwanda’s “savior” turned despot

Rwandans go to the polls on August 9th. There are no prizes for guessing who the winner will be. President Paul Kagame, who is credited by most to have ended the Rwandan genocide in 1994, has recently had to resort to his darker tendencies to continue his stay in power, even as he walks the tight rope of political liberalization. Given the instability that the whole process has created in the country (grenade attacks in Kigali, murder of opposition leaders, attempted assassinations in foreign lands, ever rising ethnic tension etc etc) one wonders whether Mr. Kagame should stop trying to have his cake and eat it.

Political liberalization means being willing to give up power. But it is obvious that Mr. Kagame is not ready for this. Instead he wants it both ways – by holding sham elections to keep the liberal international community happy and singing his praises while he continues to muzzle the Rwandan domestic democratization movement. He may yet succeed at this, or in the more likely scenario go the way of the proverbial man who tried to ride two donkeys at the same time.

As Bratton and van de Walle have pointed out, “Liberalized authoritarianism…. is an unstable form of regime. Its political openings are easily and summarily shut as strongmen place ever heavier reliance on a shrinking circle of military loyalists. In the worst-case scenarios, blocked or precluded transitions lead to an intensification of political conflict, to anarchy (a regime without rules of any kind) and to the implosion of the authority of the state.”

President Kagame came to power in 1994 after leading the rebel Rwandan Patriotic Front in the conquest of Kigali. Since then he has had a largely positive role in an attempt to heal Rwandan wounds and spur economic development. But 15 years is a long time and it is increasingly becoming clear that Mr. Kagame has overstayed his welcome in State House, Kigali. Like Uganda’s Museveni, Ethiopia’s  Zenawi, and other Continental autocrats, he seems convinced that he is an irreplaceable God’s gift to Rwanda. Someone needs to disabuse him of this belief.

Happy Birthday Madiba!

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela is 92 today. To mark the occasion scores across the world will celebrate the Nelson Mandela Day, created in honor of Madiba’s service to humanity. The man surely has a special place in the pantheon of the greatest sons and daughters of the Continent who ever lived.

Happy Birthday Madiba!

is france messing up africa?

Elizabeth Dickinson at FP asks. Whatever the answer might be one thing is clear: France still has commercial and geopolitical interests in French-speaking Africa and would love to maintain close ties with the region, even if it means propping up misguided dictators who buy homes in the French Riviera while their own people starve.

The BBC adds that “a human rights group has said that some of the troops and leaders should instead be facing trial for war crimes.”

The images of French president Nicholas Sarkozy sitting next to Blaise Compraore, the murderous Burkinabe autocrat who came to power in 1987 after dispatching his predecessor Thomas Sankara to his maker, captured it all.

a very nigerian affair

The BBC reports that the Nigerian state owned oil company (NNPC) is insolvent, with a US $ 5 billion debt. Most of the money ($ 3b) is owed to the Federation Account a lootable cash cow that distributes money to different levels of government within the Nigerian state. The country is divided into 36 states (and one federal capital territory, Abuja) and 774 local governments, all of which have legally guaranteed claims to oil revenues.

The report also notes that: Despite Nigeria being a major crude oil producer, it must buy almost all the oil it uses on the international market because its own refineries are insufficient and dilapidated.

Recently the Nigerian government signed a deal with the Chinese that hopefully will result in the construction of an $ 8 billion refinery in Lagos to ease the country’s dependence on imported petroleum products. 80% of the cash will come from the Chinese and 20% from the Nigerians.

No prizes for guessing why on earth A LEADING INTERNATIONAL OIL EXPORTER should import almost all of its petroleum products or why it took so long for the Nigerian leadership to start thinking of expanding Nigeria’s refinery capacity…

Achebe’s assessment of the Nigerian condition in the early 1980s still rings true: “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership.

Sudan’s president bashir charged with genocide, icc issues new arrest warrant

President Omar al-Bashir just won’t shake the ICC off. The strongman of Khartoum already has an arrest warrant with his name on it for war crimes and crimes against humanity. To this the international criminal court has added three counts of genocide, the most serious charge in international law. It is interesting to see how friends of Khartoum, and African states in particular, will react to this new charge. The African Union chose to back Bashir the last time the ICC called for his arrest. Many African leaders have slighted the court for its disproportionate focus on African conflicts and human rights abuses.

Since 2003 Mr. Bashir has been waging a war against insurgents (led by the Chad-backed Justice and Equality Movement, JEM ) in the Darfur region in the west of the country. More than 200,000 people have been killed and millions displaced from their homes as a result.

Mwakwere seeks to retain seat in matuga by-election

Latest: The Daily Nation reports that former Kenyan Transport Minister Ali Chirau Mwakwere has been re-elected as member of parliament for Matuga. Mr. Mwakwere will probably be reinstated as Transport Minister by President Kibaki. The Matuga by-election was occasioned by a court order that annulled Mwakwere’s initial election in the 2007 general election.

Update: Mwakwere leading the tally halfway through the counting.

Former Kenyan Transport Minister Ali Chirau Mwakwere faces a tough challenge in his quest to retain his seat in the Matuga by-election being held today. Mr. Mwakwere lost his seat after a court ruling over constituency-wide irregularities in the 2007 general election. Mr. Mwakwere is contesting the seat on a Party of National Unity (PNU) ticket while his main challenger Mr. Hassan Mwanyoha is running on the Orange Democratic Ticket.

al-shabaab may be linked to kampala blasts

UPDATE: The daily nation reports that Somalia’s insurgent group al-Shabab has claimed the bombings that killed dozens in Kampala yesterday. The Atlantic’s Max Fisher offers an interesting analysis of the bombings.

Blasts in Uganda’s capital, Kampala, killed at least 64, the BBC reports. According to the report Ugandan security forces suspect that the bomb attacks may have been carried out by Somali insurgent groups. Ugandan troops are the backbone of the 5000 strong African Union contingent propping up the hapless transitional government of Somalia. The main rebel group in Somalia, the islamist al-Shabab, has previously threatened to attack Uganda in connection with its military presence in Somalia.

These attacks may be the beginning of a new security problem in the wider east African region. Since the fall of Siad Barre in 1991 the Somali’s have largely kept their violence within their borders, the only regional effect being the proliferation of light arms and the recent surge in piracy off the Somali coast. But that will change now that internationally-linked groups like al-Shabab are willing to export violence beyond the Somali borders. It might be time for unconventional approaches to the Somalia problem.

Uganda is scheduled to host a high profile African Union summit next week and security must be an even bigger concern for the Ugandan government in light of these attacks.