Lest we forget…

There was a time when Somalia was different…

Democracy is also a deeply rooted Somali political principle which, I suspect, continues much as usual in the more remote parts of the nomadic interior. How long it will be before it reasserts itself in the central political life of the state remains to be seen.

We are still waiting.

For an account of the politics of the Siad Barre coup of 1969 check out Lewis (1972)

Kenyan politician John Michuki dead at 80

John Michuki, MP for Kangema is dead at 80. The late Michuki was a Kenyan politician that many learned to love (and sometimes love and hate). As Transport Minister he brought sanity to the rowdy matatu sector with the much-loved “Michuki Rules”. As Minister for the environment he cleaned up Nairobi River.

His less illustrious contribution was in the security ministry. It is under his watch that the Standard Media group was raided by masked thugs under the pretext that they were about to publish information that would have “impinged on the person of the president.” It later emerged that the media house had information about alleged illegal dealings by a woman rumored to be an illegitimate daughter of president Kibaki. The war on the Mungiki sect was also carried out under his watch – with numerous allegations of extrajudicial killings of hundreds of young men.

The son of a paramount chief, Michuki was among the group of super-wealthy conservative elites who at independence took over power and managed to quiet the more radical elements of the independence movement. Under their watch Kenya emerged as a capitalist enclave even as its many neighbors flirted with communism and African Socialism, with disastrous consequences. For better or worse, Kenya benefited from this “home guard generation” (see Bates 1989, for instance; for a different view see AfriCommons).

The Kenyan political scene will sorely miss Mr. Michuki’s straight talk and ability to deliver. He was among a handful of government officials that actually stood for what they believed, and he had results to back up all his talk. As the Nation reports:

Michuki gained the reputation of being a “ruthless” and efficient manager, who is widely acknowledged as being among the best performing ministers in President Kibaki’s government.

May he rest in peace.

The dangers of simplistic single narratives

As Stearns argues in this excellent book, the causes of the conflicts in eastern DRC are multiple and complex. Yet simple narratives in the media and among aid workers and advocacy groups have tried hard to reduce these causes to a fight over minerals; and similarly the consequences as mass rape of women and young girls (remember the video cameras fiasco??). In reality the story is more complex than this.

Here is a quote from a good paper on the international community’s responses to the Congo (DRC) conflicts by Severine Autesserre in the latest edition of African Affairs:

“These narratives focus on a primary cause of violence, illegal exploitation of mineral resources; a main consequence, sexual abuse of women and girls; and a central solution, extending state authority. I elucidate why simple narratives are necessary for policy makers, journalists, advocacy groups, and practitioners on the ground, especially those involved in the Congo. I then consider each narrative in turn and explain how they achieved prominence: they provided straightforward explanations for the violence, suggested feasible solutions to it, and resonated with foreign audiences. I demonstrate that the focus on these narratives and on the solutions they recommended has led to results that clash with their intended purposes, notably an increase in human rights violations.

The international actors’ concentration on trafficking of mineral resources as a source of violence has led them to overlook the myriad other causes, such as land conflict, poverty, corruption, local political and social antagonisms, and hostile relationships between state officials, including security forces, and the general population. Interveners have singled out for support one category of victims, sexually injured women and girls, at the expense of others, notably those tortured in a non-sexual manner, child soldiers, and the families of those killed.”

The paper is a grim reminder that “fixing the Congo”  – whatever that means – will take a long time. More on this here.