cannibals in zimbabwe?

The economist reports…

“On one occasion, 15 armed invaders, banging on metal objects and chanting war songs, forced their way into Mr Freeth’s house, threatening to burn it to the ground, kill the two men present, rape the women and eat the three children asleep in their beds. Thanks to an earlier beating, Mr Freeth, an emaciated, soft-spoken man of 40, has never recovered his sense of smell. Mr Campbell, 76, was so badly thrashed that his memory is impaired.”

I had absolutely no idea that Zims were into eating little children. But then again it could just be a case of some air-head Economist reporter (and his/her editors) clinging to the notion of cannibalistic Africans irrationally inclined to commit rape and murder. May they soon realize that the world has moved on.

And dwelling on the issue of white farmers in Zimbabwe, I think it might be time for everyone to look at the facts and accept the truth for what it is. It is true that Robert Mugabe and his marauding thugs have committed economic and other crimes by dispossessing thousands of white Zimbabwean farmers of their land. But it is also true that a tiny section of Zimbabweans who happen to be white own(ed) a disproportionate percentage of the arable land in the country. Add into this imbalance the fact that the land may have been acquired through questionable means a few decades back by the ancestors of these farmers and you have yourself an explosive situation.

It is no wonder that even Morgan Tsvangirai (the reformist Premier of Zim) is, according to the Economist, “blowing hot and cold” on the issue. He knows that he cannot, with a clear conscience, defend the system of land ownership that exists in Zimbabwe.

I am in no way supporting violent seizure of land in Zimbabwe. All I am saying is that there is a case for radical land reform in the country. And this is not a question of race and/or ethnicity. I have seen the same tensions in Kenya – where squatters have clashed with fellow Kenyan ( indigenous) owners of large tracts of land. I am totally against illegal redistribution of land. But at the same time I cannot defend an obviously unjust system of land ownership.

It is sad that Mugabe’s illegal (and at times murderous) repossession of land in the country has overshadowed the real land problem in Zimbabwe – to the extent that even a somewhat respected newspaper like the Economist feels no shame in allowing a subliminally racist line like the one quoted above in its pages.

it is time more districts translated into wider taxation

President Kibaki has created about 180 districts over the last 6 years. The logic behind the creation of the many districts, according to the president and his men, has been that there is a need to bring government services closer to the people. One obvious question then is what government services? Are we talking about registration of births and deaths, motor vehicle registration, licensing, issuance of title deeds, judicial services and all that stuff? Because these services are still mostly highly centralised, requiring one to travel either to Nairobi or to far off provincial headquarters. Critics of the new districts have oftentimes highlighted their high cost and non-viability (The president thinks such critics are “backward”).

It was therefore welcome news when yesterday the president announced the halting of the creation of new districts – citing financial reasons. For some reason this fact (high costs) never crossed the minds of the president’s advisers somewhere between new district # 1 and # 180.

And now that we have over 180 new and expensive districts – most of them dished out for political reasons and “people’s demands” – I think it is time we require the new districts, being local governments, to do what governments do: TAX EVERYONE. Each district should be required to raise a percentage of its expenses from local populations (it is quite unfair for Nairobians to pay for non-viable districts in remote parts of the country created purely for political reasons). This minimum requirement need not be uniform across the board – people in West Pokot need districts too, you know – but should be geared towards making local people bear some responsibility for their local governments. With local funding for local districts, Kenyans may be persuaded to care more about who gets appointed to be DC and what their DC and the many district committees do. And to add to the positives, the DC’s will have an incentive to promote local economic activity to generate revenues.

Eventually, one hopes, this idea of local taxation for local services will make Kenyans demand that they get to elect their local DC’s instead of having State House appoint them.

This may sound like a pipe-dream but there is hope. Given parliament’s increasing assertiveness and power-grab from the executive and judiciary it is conceivable that such an idea can successfully be passed into law by the august House. Does someone know a crafty MP with nothing to lose who can champion this cause?

ps: I never thought I’d ever say this but I am actually missing the Standard online edition. What happened to them? Can’t they afford a website?

more reasons why Mang’eli should go home

Related to the previous post, here is Jaindi Kisero’s piece in the Daily Nation shedding some light on the validity of the sacking of Kioko Mang’eli, the former boss of the Kenya Bureau of Standards.

And in other news, where is the East African Standard? I keep being redirected to this website that says that the eastandard.net account has expired and is awaiting renewal or deletion. Really? Like seriously?

Ali’s exit was long overdue

In an ideal world the ranking of an institution as the most corrupt in a country is enough reason for the head of that institution to resign or initiate radical reforms to mitigate the situation. But this has never been true for the Kenya Police Force. Every year,  the Kenya Police Force has emerged as the most corrupt institution in the country without serious repercussions at Vigilance House. It therefore came as welcome news when the president announced today the replacement of Major General Ali with Mathew Iteere as Police Commissioner.

Ali tried to rein in organized crime and to tame the proscribed Mungiki sect. The executive lacked the political will to let him finish the job and Ali lacked the spine to take the fight to those who stood in his way. He was also anti-reform, which must be the main reason why the president has chosen to show him the door. His legacy will forever be tarnished by the force’s extra-judicial killings that took place on his watch. But he will also be remembered as the no-nonsense commissioner who moved the force from the backward days of the Nyayo era police state towards a force befitting a quasi-democracy. Many would agree that for a reformer he lasted for too long at the helm and therefore failed  (kind of like what will become the fate of his former boss, President Kibaki).

Mr. Iteere, from the paramilitary GSU, comes in at a time when the force needs urgent structural and operational reforms (as recommended by the Ransley report). I know nothing about the man but I hope he is strong enough to stand up to the president’s  men (and increasingly the Premier’s men too) who might stand in his way. We wish him well.

gettleman does it again

Do not get me wrong. Jeffrey Gettleman’s story on the famine in Kenya is as important as any other article on a humanitarian disaster. It is his delivery that sucks. In typical Gettleman fashion (more about his style here and here), the article is full of sensationalism that does not belong in the Times. He goes way out of his way to depict all Kenyans as hapless, passive victims of the weather and their ineffectual government.

“The aid community here has been predicting a disaster for months, saying that the rains had failed once again and that this could be the worst drought in more than a decade. But the Kenyan government, paralyzed by infighting and political maneuvering, seemed to shrug off the warnings.”

Lines such as these are meant to convey the message that ordinary Kenyans – meteorologists and even some civil society organizations or even the Kenyan media – have had nothing to say about the famine that is affecting the country. It is the do-gooder foreigners who know it all that have warned the intransigent government. It is the same foreigners who are expected to send in food aid to help the dying Kenyans. Nothing is ever said about local initiatives to mitigate the disaster. That would give agency to Kenyans, and nobody really wants to read about that.

Instead we are told that “Turkana men are abandoning families, simply vanishing into the desert because they cannot face the shame of being unable to feed their children.” And the story would not be complete without the mention of tribal conflict. So even though it is obvious, and quite rational, that in times of acute scarcity there would be conflict over resources – and even Mr. Gettleman acknowledges this – there is still subliminal hints to an irrational ethnic conflict between the Turkana and the Pokot. Again, nobody wants to hear about rational people fighting over resources. No, being in northern Kenya is like “stepping back in time.” The place is full of starving people who engage in irrational tribal wars. This is the much more sexier story.

May be I am holding Gettleman to too high a standard. After all he is an American lacking enough knowledge of local conditions to appreciate the nuances involved even in the midst of such disasters. But he is the Times’ bureau chief and because of that people take what he writes seriously. There must be a more humane way of telling the world about the problems afflicting the inhabitants of the arid and semi arid parts of Kenya.

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.

of sex boycotts and wife battery

I found this story quite amusing. Kenyan women, married and otherwise, have been urged to boycott sex in solidarity with those pushing for reforms and constitutional review in the country. G10 – a group of women lobbies – went as far as recruiting prostitutes in the boycott. I am curious to see the efficacy of this move. And just in case you are wondering, this particular form of coercion is not unique to Kenyan women. As far back as in ancient Greece – the ancient Greek play Lysistrata has the story – women have occasionally done this to protest against unwanted male behavior.

I was a bit disappointed though by some of the reactions by men – as seen on Nation TV – to this story. A number of those interviewed admitted on TV that they would beat their wives if they did not get their conjugal rights. It says a lot about Kenyan society if in this day and age men can still openly admit to living cave-man lives and get away with it. If I were a police officer I would use some of these men as an example – track them to find out if they actually beat their wives and put them on trial then throw them in jail. It should never be OK for any man to admit that he beats his wife. And to do so on television ought to warrant some punishment.

Good luck G10, although I doubt if the real power players in the country – the very old men around the president – are active in the bedroom enough to be seriously affected by this boycott.

mungiki massacre in Karatina

The Kenyan dailies are reporting that at least 29 people have been killed by suspected Mungiki members in Karatina, Central Province. The murderous sect members allegedly woke up their victims late in the night and dragged them out before hacking them to death in the middle of the road. The pictures from NTV tell it all – there were bodies littered all over the road next to a tea plantation.

This latest incident should shame the government into taking conclusive action against the sect. The government must know the sponsors of the sect. The Mungiki problem is not a criminal problem that can be remedied by targeted assassinations like the government has been doing. It is a structural problem. Jobless youth in Central Province and the wider Nairobi area have been made to feel like there is no hope and therefore they turn to crime. Killing these young men while leaving the financiers and beneficiaries of their thievery untouched will not end the problem.

29 innocent Kenyans were killed last night by young men who have been brainwashed and turned into killing machines. The actual killers must be punished, yes. But most importantly, the plotters of the massacre and the leaders of the sect – those who parade around in expensive suits and are always in and out of courts – must also face the law.

And I can’t help but wonder, was there a police station near this particular village in Karatina? And why did the police take forever to respond? It must take a bit of time to hack more than 29 people to death and burn a house or two. So why did the police turn up after the dust had settled?

if just for today, Martha Karua is my hero

The resignation of Martha Karua from the cabinet is a most timely event. The coalition government has been teteering on the edge, dogged by one corruption scandal after another. The culture of impunity that has permeated the Kenyan ruling class in the last several months can be partly blamed on the corrupt judiciary. Indeed the law society of Kenya has petitioned the president to ask the chief justice to quit. If Amos Wako were a sane man he too would have already left the Attorney General’s docket by now.

Two cheers to former justice minister Martha Karua for having the courage to quit cabinet. I hope that this will challenge other ministers in the grand coalition to start pressuring both president Kibaki and Premier Odinga to implement much needed reforms in the judiciary and the wider civil service.I hope that she will keep true to her word and “totally disagree with anything that is anti-reform.”

ps: the conspiracy theorist in me is very curious to know why president Kibaki chose to throw Ms. Karua under the bus. After all, she was one of his most vociferous supporters after the 2007 election fiasco. What don’t we know???

is it time we had fresh elections?

So the weekend retreat in Tsavo of the big-wigs in Kenya’s coalition government failed. Instead of addressing real issues (reforms, corruption and Kenya’s land problem), the discussions veered into side-shows – like the Premier’s salary and the opening remarks of the president and his prime minister.

I am beginning to think that the coalition government has outlived its purpose. I am beginning to be persuaded by those who have been calling for fresh elections – most notably the clergy. The coalition government, as currently constituted, is dysfunctional at best. The prime minister and the president (and their respective camps) seem to be pulling in opposite directions on just about every issue. May be it’s time we went to the polls and gave a mandate to a single party instead of having the collective tyranny of ODM and PNU. I think we have a better chance with just one of these parties in power. May be then the government can act more responsibly on reforms instead of having cabinet ministers constantly pointing fingers at each other and blaming the other party.

On a different note, I hear rumours that Martha Karua might quit the government if she is not given more space in the Justice ministry. I hope she gets what she wants, i.e. more space to implement her brand of reforms in the judiciary. Hate her or love her, I think Martha Karua is one of the few Kenyan leaders who speak their mind and who have the balls to implement what they believe in. I remember reading somewhere that the problem with African politics is the lack of ideology. Many leaders act like blind men in the dark, constantly wandering around without any direction.

African social organization and politics have mostly been driven by contingency rather than ideology. The only country that ever produced a true ideologue on the continent was Tanzania. And for all its faults, Ujamaa helped Tanzania a great deal. God knows where the country would be had it not been for the commodity crises of the seventies and mandated structural adjustment programs of the eighties (yeah Gordon Brown, down with the Washington Consensus). I think Martha Karua may be Kenya’s real ideologue, and for that she is increasingly becoming one of my favorite politicians, even though she and I may not see eye to eye on her actual policies.

the two Kenyas

I just read that Kenyan MPs are demanding for a pay increase before they can pay taxes. Already these clowns are earning upwards of Shs. 800, 000 ($ 10,126) a month. This in a country in which the average income per year is $ 1800 and where almost half the population lives below the poverty line (According to both the UNDP and CIA factbook). The same ruling class is currently obsessed with succession politics and distribution of government jobs across ethnic (read ‘ethnic aristocracies’) groups instead of focusing on ending corruption and feeding millions of Kenyans facing starvation.

Meanwhile in the other Kenya, the UN has announced that it will double food aid to Kenyans hit by food scarcity and rising food prices. According to the Daily Nation, 10 million Kenyans will be severely hit as a result of the current famine either in terms of increasing food prices or severe food shortage as a result of crop failure.

One cannot help but wonder whether Kenyan politicians ever think before saying the things they say. Who in their right mind can demand for more money from the already over-taxed and severely under-served Kenyan tax payers? And at a time when the government is facing a huge deficit and is unable to feed its own people ???!!???

we continue to miss the big picture at our own peril

When Oscar Foundation founder, Oscar King’ara, was killed ten days ago I expected that the government would be embarrassed enough to do something about the seemingly premeditated killings that have rocked the country in the last few months. There seems to be an elaborate plan by the security forces in Kenya to sidestep the judicial system and neutralize suspected criminals. This is wrong. This wrong precisely because as citizens of Kenya we are all entitled to a just trial in court before being punished if found guilty. If we let the politicians decide who is guilty or not what will stop them from using the security apparatus to eliminate political opponents? Commissioner Ali, WE ARE NOT A POLICE STATE. AND IF WE ARE, COME OUT CLEAN AND LET THE WORLD KNOW.

That not a single individual has been arrested and tried for the killing of Mr. Kang’aru or the hundreds of other young Kenyans killed by the mysterious death squad is a shame. It is a shame on the government of president Kibaki and premier Odinga. It is a shame on the Kenyan media who now are fixated on 2012 succession politics and have completely forgotten about the deteriorating condition of security in Kenya. It is a shame on the Kenyan civil society who seem to be willing to stop at issuing statements condemning the killings. Don’t we have investigative journalists who can expose exactly what is going on?

Who is behind these killings? The police commissioner must know. Can’t parliament summon him and have him testify under oath? And why is the attorney general still in office? Mr. Wako, please go home. Your EIGHTEEN years as our attorney general has brought nothing but shame to the Kenyan judiciary. Go home.

out with these ‘regional’ leaders

A while back I contemplated becoming a life member of KANU. This was when Uhuru Kenyatta was a rising star in the party and seemed poised to change the direction of the country and its politics. Although I could not vote in the 2002 election, I outwardly supported the NARC alliance but secretly hoped for a KANU victory. I simply had a bias for younger leaders. But Kibaki won. And many Kenyans seemed pleased by the outcome. Almost seven years on and we are yet to see real change take place in Kenya – but that is another story for another day.

For now let’s talk about the regionalization of our young leaders. First it was Uhuru Kenyatta, openly showing that he wanted the title of leader of Central Kenya. And then it was William Ruto, a man who has been having a lot of trouble lately, openly admitting that he is first a leader of the Rift Valley, national responsibilities come second. These new developments have left me jaded. I always used to think that this regionalism was an idea of the Moi-Kibaki-Raila generation. But it seems to be creeping into the Ruto-Uhuru generation as well.

These two men are shamelessly being tribalistic right now. Ruto is hiding from the corruption cases in his ministry and power struggles in ODM by receding back to his ‘tribe’. Uhuru is doing the same in order to sideline Karua (kudos to Karua though, she seems to have a more national outlook to politics, at least that’s how I see it from this end).

What this means for Kenyan politics is that we shall continue having tribal political parties and regional leaders. Every single politician will keep fighting for his ‘people’ at the expense of the national agenda. Meanwhile more Kenyans will remain hungry, sick and uneducated. To borrow from Achebe in his book The trouble with Nigeria: The trouble with Kenya is simply and squarely a problem of leadership, although sometimes I wonder if we are getting our just deserts because of our having disengaged with the state.

spread the word…..

The Kenyan government continues to refuse to deal conclusively with the issue of police brutality and extra-judicial killings. Here is a link to an open letter to the prime minister and president on the issue. Read it and pass it along.

I am particularly disturbed by the continued politicization of the killings. ODM seems to be the most vocal against the killings while PNU remains more cauti0us in its approach. I believe it is wrong for both ODM and PNU to try to politicize this matter. Kenyans are dying, some innocent, and we risk a complete breakdown of the rule of law. And how is police commissioner Ali still in office?????? Why hasn’t ANYONE been fired yet??? Accountability, accountability, accountability.

Mungiki-linked NGO leader killed after a day of mayhem

Following a day of Mungiki-led protests that disrupted traffic in Nairobi and its environs, Oscar Kamau King’ara, leader of the Oscar Foundation was shot dead by unknown people on State House Road Thursday night. In his company, and also felled by the unknown assassins, was one Paul Oulu, a former official of the students’ union at the University of Nairobi. The killing of Mr. Oulu prompted riots by University of Nairobi students. The Standard reports that government spokesman, Dr. Alfred Mutua, had accused Mr. King’ara’s foundation of being involved in fund-raising for Mungiki, a banned organization.

Both Mr. Oulu and Mr. King’ara had spoken to Mr. Alston, the UN investigator on extra-judicial killings in Kenya, and given evidence of police involvement in unlawful execution of suspected criminals – including members of Mungiki. Their violent murder comes in the wake of the murder of another witness of Mr. Alston’s Mr. Bernard Kiriinya.

The murder of Oulu and King’ara reeks of police involvement. I think it is time President Kibaki’s government set up an independent investigation into the extrajudicial killings that have become the norm in the police force. And Ali, I thought he was a sane man. How can he let this happen under his watch? His police force is the prime suspect on this one, and if he thinks otherwise he better tell us who killed the two ASAP or resign.

Update: I found Wanyeki’s take on this issue interesting and a bit more balanced than most.