subsidiary of british firm suspends ore imports from congo

It is not a secret that the war in eastern DRC is more than anything else economic. The trade in charcoal and a litany of minerals has forever been blamed for the conflict that has killed, maimed or displaced millions of Congolese. It is therefore encouraging to learn that Thailand Smelting and Refining Co. (Thaisarco), a subsidiary of British metals giant Amalgamated Metals Corporation (AMC), has suspended the import of tin ore (cassiterite) from the Congo because it believes that the trade in the mineral might be financing the Congolese civil conflict.

The move has however been criticised by Global Witness, an advocacy group.Global Witness argues that if AMC is indeed concerned about the financing of the conflict then instead of cutting and running it should contribute in the setting up of a proper industry-wide system of checks on all sources of metals. The cessation of imports, argues Global Witness, does nothing for artisanal miners in the Congo who depend on trade in metal ore for their livelihood. It also does nothing to stop the trade in ‘blood’ metals in general from the Congo.

Citing a 2002 UN Report that accused AMC and its subsidiary (among other firms) of breaching OECD guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, Global Witness said that AMC and Thaisarco had always known that their activities in the Congo were funding the conflict there.

AMC and Thaisarco cited “the threat of misleading and bad publicity” as their main reason for halting their trading operations in the DRC. Kudos to Global Witness for their campaign against militarized exploitation of minerals in the DRC. I hope this sets a precedent for the many foreign firms that continue to profit by trafficking in minerals from the Congo – at the expense of millions of innocent women and children… and men.

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.

quick hits…..

This is total nonsense. Kenyan politicians never cease to surprise me. Why would we want a foreigner heading our electoral commission? And this coming from our own Prime Minister? Where is your Kenyan pride, Prime Minister Odinga? Are you saying that out of almost 40 million men and women we cannot find one individual who is sober-minded and impartial enough to be trusted with the job of being chairman of the interim ECK? We expect more nationalism than this from you Mr. Odinga. Your statement sends a most ominous message – that all Kenyans are myopic, conceited tribalists who cannot be trusted with the running of an institution like the ECK. And that is just sad. And about foreigners… don’t get me started. It is my hope that when you thought about foreigners you meant someone from one of the 54 countries on the continent, because otherwise I would be doubly mad at you.

Finally, the Kenyan police’s bad habits have been brought to light:
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, arbitrary or summary executions, Mr. Philip Alston, has carried out investigations and found the Kenyan police and justice system guilty of summarily executing suspected criminals – mostly in Eastern Nairobi and the surrounding areas. The envoy’s report recommends the sacking of Attorney General Amos Wako and Police Commissioner Hussein Ali. I second this recommendation. This report exposes the government’s failure to maintain a functioning society in poor areas of the country and its attempts to cover up its failure and the rot that is the justice system by killing people without a trial. The crime problem in Eastern Nairobi and the surrounding areas is one of poverty and poor planning on the part of the government.

Poverty alleviating measures – like vocational training or micro-credit schemes – could be of help to the thousands of youth in this part of the country who find themselves without any alternative but to engage in crime for a living. The government could also reduce the crime rate by keeping young kids in school. Most of the thugs terrorizing residents of Eastern Nairobi are primary school and high school drop outs. Investing in schools and programs that keep teens in school could be the way forward. A more controversial plan could also be an attempt to have families be more responsible for how their children turn out. We cannot ignore the fact that poor parenting leads to social problems like crime, unwanted teenage pregnancies and the like. Public education on parenting might sound crass and too paternalistic to some but it might just be what some families need.

I am glad that the international community is paying attention to this problem. A lot of young Kenyans (mostly criminals, and suspected members of the murderous Mingiki sect) have been killed without being accorded due trial. Although most of them might have been guilty of robbery with violence, or murder (crimes deserving capital punishment according to Kenyan law) we are not Somalia or the Congo. We have laws and a court system. I hope Kibaki and Raila will carefully review the recommendations of the report and do something.

can we please end the nonsensical sensationalism

“He stood in front of a burned-out vegetable market, wielding a rusty machete and wearing blue toenail polish.” Gettleman, The New York Times.

I am a regular reader of articles by Jeffrey Gettleman, the East Africa bureau chief for the New York Times. I read his articles because most of the time they are the only coherent on the ground reporting that come out of places like the remote parts of Eastern DRC and East Africa in general.

But I have a slight problem with Mr. Gettleman. I have noticed a consistent pattern in his reporting that is kind of disturbing. He seems to always be willing to go out of his way to over-dramatize whatever he is reporting about. For instance, the above details – the “blue toenail polish” and what not – do not belong in the pages of the New Yorks Times but on some creative writing novel. When we read reports on soldiers from elsewhere, we never hear about their tattoos or body piercings or anything. I therefore get a bit disturbed when I see a consistent pattern on Mr. Gettleman’s part to portray combatants in African conflicts as somewhat other-worldly.

The other day I watched a video for  a class in which the same gentleman had the guts to say that the era of Belgian colonization represented “more prosperous times” for the Congo. What does he mean? Who are his editors? Does he know what the Belgians did to the Congo? I am sure he does. He must be a smart man to have been able to rise to the position of bureau chief. So this was either a slip or a deliberate attempt to hype the problems facing the DRC.

Do not get me wrong. I am not trying to advocate for restrictions on reporting. I am all for free press. But I also think that the press has a responsibility and a duty to desist from consistently portraying a particular group of people as irrational and crazy. Unfortunately, I feel that most of Mr. Gettleman’s pieces have had this rather distasteful feel to them.

what is the deal with Migingo Island?

Ugandan authorities have occupied an Island that might be on the Kenyan side of Lake Victoria. The Kenyan government has done nothing but ask for there to be talks on the status of the Island. Now, I am not a war-monger or anything but this is not the way to do things. The Kenyan Navy should be patrolling around the Island in a show of force even as the talks proceed. That President Museveni of Uganda has imperial ambitions is not a secret. He openly campaigns to be the first president of the to-be-formed East African Federation. This move on Migingo Island might be his idea of testing the waters to see how Kenya might respond to such moves.

I say we let the Ugandans know that even though we are not itching to go to war with them they cannot routinely occupy Kenyan territory without consequences – they have done this before in the north west of Kenya and even killed a few Kenyans with BOMBS! under the pretext of chasing cattle rustlers.

Migingo Island may be small, and even economically worthless but we should retain it nonetheless.

And speaking of disputed territories, when are we going to make it official that the Ilemi triangle is part of the Republic of Kenya? We have administered this part of south east Sudan forever and I think it is time we made it clear to the international community that it belongs to Kenya.

reasons for Obiang to be afraid

So the government of Equatorial Guinea is saying that Nigerian rebels were the ones behind the mystery assault weapon attach on the presidential palace yesterday. For now nobody really know who the attackers were. It is not clear what the motive of the Nigerians was in attacking president Obiang’s palace. Whoever they are I think the attack should be a wake up call on Mr. Obiang, the kleptocratic autocrat who has been running the tiny central African state since 1979. His rule has been bad news for most equatorians. The country is Africa’s third biggest producer of oil – after Angola and Nigeria – and should not have the high poverty rates that it has, especially considering that it only has just over 600,000 people.

In other news, it appears that one of the rebel groups in Darfur, the Justice and Equality Movement has finally agreed to a deal with the Sudanese government. This  is welcome news. I hope the news will make the ICC slow down in its efforts to try al-Bashir for war crimes. I am not fan of the genocidal buffoon that is Mohammed al-Bashir but at the same time I think that attempts to arrest him will only make him dig in and reverse the progress that the opposition and civil society groups have made in terms of increased political space. Also, the deal does not necessarily mean an end of hostilities since not all the rebel groups in the western Sudanese province have signed on it. The conflict in Darfur has killed more than 200,000 people and displaced over two million.

somalia: may be we should give the Islamists a try?

Before the US decided to use Ethiopia to invade Somalia, the southern portion of the failed state – including the capital Mogadishu – was largely run by a group calling itself the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). The ICU was into strict Sharia Law, something that did not go well with most of the secular warlords (who were simply out to make a profit from the chaos that is Somalia) and most of the West (read the US). Financed to some extent by Eritrea, (to Ethiopia’s chagrin) the ICU called for a Jihad against the Ethiopian government for colluding with the infidel Americans. Ethiopia’s involvement in Somalia was partly motivated by the Islamist group’s support of the cause for the liberation of the Ogaden, a region of Ethiopia inhabited by ethnic Somalis and which has been the poster-child for irredentist dreams of Somali governments and warlords alike.

And so when the ICU seemed to be gaining too much power than the Ethiopians and Americans would have liked, a decision was made to take them out. It also emerged that the ICU was sympathetic to terrorist elements – inluding the plotters of the 1998 bombings of American embassies in Kenya (more than 200 Kenyans were killed in the attack in Nairobi) and Tanzania. Beginning in July of 2006 Ethiopian troops started moving into Somalia to take out the Islamists – and for some time they succeeded, even enabling the installation of the Somali transitional government in the sleepy town of Baidoa.

But now the Ethiopians have decided to pull out and the Islamists are back. As soon as Ethiopia withdrew, the ICU overran Baidoa and vowed to reinstate Sharia Law. This latest turn of events proves that the ICU is not a mere rag-tag group of bandits. They seem to mean serious business and perhaps it is time the international community took them seriously. Yes they have supported terrorists, but that can be changed by a stroke of a pen on a cheque book. They support the terrorists because the terrorists fund them. I am sure they can be co-opted into the global force for good in exchange for their restoration of order in Somalia.

And about Sharia Law, why should the US and the rest of the international community complain so much while it is the norm in Arabia and the gulf? What makes it different when the Somalis do it? I am all for respect for human rights and all, but I think it is imperative that global do-gooders (and all of us who believe in sensible liberalism) realize that justice is political and therefore should be pursued with regard to the particularities of the societies involved. A realistic approach to Somalia ought to allow the Islamic Courts to be if they can guarantee order and some semblance of  a state in exchange for some cash and a promise not to fund or harbour terrorists. America and Ethiopia must accept the fact that the ICU has some street credibility among Somalis. This is no time for ideological struggles. Somalis have suffered enough.