Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Veiled Habits

Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan's blog, I found this interesting article by Karen Armstrong comparing Jack Straw's criticisms of his veiled constituents in supposedly multi-cultural Britain to the Victorians reaction to habit-wearing Catholic nuns. Now, on many issues, I'm inclined to agree with Sullivan but on the issue of the Muslim veil he seems to be standing on rather shaky ground. He writes:

In a free country, I absolutely defend the right of any woman to freely choose to wear the chador, wherever she wants. But no-one is proposing banning it. And in public schools, where people have to teach students, I can see a reason to restrict it, because it is an impediment to doing your job. Facial expression matters in teaching. So does a clear voice.

Where is the evidence to show that veiled teachers are less effective than unveiled ones? Or is it an intuitive judgement that Sullivan makes? In that case, how is he different from Jack Straw and the others who see veiling as an affront to Western cultural sensitivities? In fact, in this case, I think Sullivan has become significantly worse. At least Straw and his gang haven't sought to couch their objections is pseudo-scientific proclamations.

When I was in secondary school, my maths teacher was a sari-clad Indian beau. During her lessons, the sari would ride up giving us a tantalizing glimpse of her magnificient midriff. Now, at such moments, I can guarantee that my fellow students (it was a boys school) were interested neither in her facial expressions nor her clear voice. By that score, I guess Sullivan would also be for the banning of saris in classrooms. And while we're at it, why not get rid of all beautiful teachers? Classroom crushes can be such a distraction after all!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Kenya Vision 2007

Any illusions we might have had that the Kenya Vision 2030 programme, which was launched by President Kibaki yesterday, had nothing to do with next year's elections were firmly dispelled by El Presidente himself. According to the Daily Nation:

"Although President Kibaki said he was optimistic that the development goal would be achieved, it will depend on how the country manages its affairs in the next five years."

The next five years? Could it be mere coincidence that that would cover most of a second term? Sounds very like a plug for reelection. Gone is "A Working Nation", from now till he renews his lease at State House it'll be "Kenya Vision 2030". And then I predict a deafening silence regarding implementation.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Thanks a Bunch, Mo!

As if we needed more proof that Mo Ibrahim's prize has made Africa an object of derision. The story has turned up on Wierd News along with reports such as Woman Taking Driving Test Crashes Car In License Office, Physics Professor Destroys Vampires With Math, German Motorist Obeys Navigation System, Crashes Car and my personal favorite, Online Users Poke Ridicule On President Bush after the US leader, in an interview earlier this week, admitted using thegoogle (on his internets, I'm sure) to check out his Crawford ranch. No wonder he has such a hard time getting accurate military intelligence (an oxymoron if I ever heard one) on anything! Here's the video.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

The GOP Elephant Has a Short Memory

Keith Olbermann tells it like it is in this commentary on the Republican Party's terror tactics.

The key to terror, the key to terrorism, is not the act - but the fear of the act. That is why bin Laden and his deputies and his imitators are forever putting together videotaped statements and releasing virtual infomercials with dire threats and heart-stopping warnings. But why is the Republican Party imitating them?

When, last week, the CNN network ran [the above] video of an insurgent in Iraq, evidently stalking and killing an American soldier, the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Mr. [Duncan] Hunter, Republican of California, branded that channel, quote, "the publicist for an enemy propaganda film" and that CNN used it "to sell commercials."

Another California Republican, Rep. Brian Bilbray, called the video "nothing short of a terrorist snuff film."

If so, Mr. Bilbray, then what in the hell is your Party's new advertisement?

Schroeder on Christiano-Fascists

"The problem begins when political decisions seem to result from a conversation with God. If you legitimise political decisions in this way, then you cannot respond to criticism or suggestions by changing policies or introducing nuances, because doing that would be to betray God's orders received during prayer." When former German Chancellor Gerhardt Schroeder wrote this, he was not referring to "islamo-fascist" terrorists or the Islamic Republic of Iran but rather to the administration of G.W. Bush.

As reported in rediff news, in his memoir, Decisions, My Life in Politics, Schroeder says that Bush would constantly refer to his Christian beliefs, and "again and again in our private talks it became clear how. . . . ruled he was by what he saw as a Higher Power." He adds, "We rightly criticise that in most Islamic states there is no clear separation between religion and the rule of law. But we fail to recognise that, in the US, the Christian fundamentalists and their interpretation of the Bible have similar tendencies. . . . When (a leader) takes political action directly from prayer, in other words from a dialogue with God, it can be problematic for a democracy."

In two weeks time, when they go to the polls, we'll all find out whether the Americans have learnt their lesson.

9/11 Foretold in 1998?

Another remarkably prescient 1998 quote, this time from Philip D. Zelikow, the executive director of the 9/11 Commission (Hat Tip: ICH):

“In the Nov-Dec 1998 issue of Foreign Affairs he (Zelikow) co-authored (with the former head of the CIA) an article entitled “Catastrophic Terrorism” in which he speculated that if the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center had succeeded ‘the resulting horror and chaos would have exceeded our ability to describe it. Such an act of catastrophic terrorism would be a watershed event in American history. It could involve loss of life and property unprecedented in peacetime and undermine America’s fundamental sense of security, as did the Soviet atomic bomb test in 1949. Like Pearl Harbor, the event would divide our past and future into a before and after. The United States might respond with draconian measures scaling back civil liberties, allowing wider surveillance of citizens, detention of suspects and use of deadly force.”

The Times They Are A-Changin'

"Stay the course" is out. "Changing tactics" is in. No, I'm not talking about Iraq. At least, not directly. In the battle for hearts and minds, it seems the US has accepted that the keyboard may be mightier than the Tomahawk Cruise Missile. I received the email below two days ago and I'm posting it here with Spc Erickson's permission. The website he refers seems to be a great source of information on the US military.


My name is SPC Chris Erickson with U.S. Central Command Public Affairs. I came across your blog, Gathara’s World, today and noticed your interest in different topics, particularly a post on Al Qaeda.

As a member of the US military, I like seeing open discussions on the happenings of the world, although many times I’m not able to get involved (especially if it gets political). I’m sure you’ve come across it in the past, but if you haven’t, I’d like to invite you to check out our web site, It’s one more resource for information and you’re free to use any of it (video, audio, photos and articles) in conversations on your blog. We also have a portion of the site set aside called “What Extremists are Saying”, which can serve to keep people knowledgeable about what’s being said.

Also, if you would like, you can be added to our mailing list. We send out news stories and press releases about US military and coalition forces operations, humanitarian and reconstruction efforts. This information is also available via RSS on our site. Most of the time we can get CENTCOM information out to bloggers before it appears in the main stream media.

I appreciate your time today and I do look forward to hearing back from you

Spc. Chris Erickson
Electronic Media Engagement Team
U.S. Central Command Public Affairs

Bribing Africa's Leaders to Stop Corruption

Sudanese-born telecom tycoon, Mo Ibrahim (founder of Celtel) is offering $5 million and a $200,000 annual stipend for life in hopes of enticing African leaders away from their national coffers. Mr Ibrahim said the prize, which has the backing of international heavyweights such as Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton, Tony Blair and Mary Robinson, is necessary to encourage African leaders to consider a fourth alternative to those they currently face when nearing the end of their term, namely “relative poverty, term extension, or corruption”.

Of course he would never call it what it really is: a bribe. While heads of government on other continents are expected to deliver peace and prosperity with only their people's gratitude and a pension as compensation, in Africa's case this is considered a tall order. This prize reaffirms the view that African leaders (and by implication, the African societies that produce them) are irredeemably corrupt. It is a view widely held not just outside, but within the continent. Why else would we accept the argument that the Kenyan policemen are corrupt because their wages are so low? Why else would we pay our MPs a small fortune each month hoping that they then wouldn't need to steal from us? What is the difference between that and "protection money" paid to the Mafia?

Such thinking completely misses the point. Giving the police and our politicians more money will not stop corruption. If it could, then Kenya would be a graft-free paradise. Poverty is not a sufficient or even necessary condition for corruption. A lack of integrity is both necessary and sufficient. Integrity cannot be bought. You either cultivate it or you don't. For as long as we don't put a premium on integrity, wage increases and prizes such as Mo Ibrahim's will only serve to whet the appetites of those seeking to devour us.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


From the BBC:

Families and tourists in a London park were left shocked when a pelican picked up and swallowed a pigeon.

The unusual wildlife spectacle in St James's Park was caught on camera by photographer Cathal McNaughton.

Punster's Paradise in the fall of '06

Did pride come before the fall? Or a ride that came after? Was it road-rage? Was money poured? Was that the root of all upheaval ($150,000 in one fell swoop)? To make an omelette, did he really need to crack his head? Is he a head banger? Should he sue or just let it slide? Would he be banging his head against a brick wall? Would it (could it) be beneath him? Or did the race organiser's already slip him some cash under the tape? Isn't that a slippery slope? Ama he's the fall guy? A layman? I'm not falling for that!

Speaking of which, did he fall for someone or just decided to slip into something less comfortable? Was that the exquisite pain of falling in love or did he just fall out of favour? Could that be it -a falling out? He did fall in though. Perhaps he just didn't want to get caught on tape. Needs to lie low for a while. Or he thought it was punch tape. That might have been a stumbling block for he really did stoop to conquer.

Kenyans, let us not forget our fallen hero. Upon a falling star, let us all wish him well. Encourage him to hold his head high and avoid the low road. And constantly remind him: To fall does not make one a fallure (No point in butting heads. I'll take the fall for that one). It's just the luck of the toss: heads he wins, tails we lose.

For those who missed it, here's a heads up.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Is Iraq Just Another Reality Show?

It's bad enough that celebrities are full of themselves, but it now seems they are also taking over our brain cells.

According to this a new study of 200 celebs to be published in the Journal of Research in Personality, shows the stars are more in love with themselves than the average person. That's mind-numbingly obvious, I know. But wait, there's more. What worries me is a report that a research team led by neuroscientists at UCLA and Caltech has rather haphazardly located a neuron that "looks for all the world like a 'Jennifer Aniston' cell."

Apparently, the neuron in question (found in an epilepsy patient) had a thing for the Friends star and only fired when shown pictures of her. In other patients, cells were found for Halle Berry and the Sydney Opera House.

Thus we become what we watch. And with the profusion of dumb US reality shows (and the first study's finding that reality TV stars were the most narcissistic), is it any wonder that American policy in Iraq is, in the words of a senior US diplomat, "arrogant and stupid"?

Bling H2O: The Fountain of Celebrity Life

The latest must-have celebrity accessory (aside from adopted African kids) is Bling H2O. For only $35 (Kshs. 2500), you get a "Limited Edition, corked, 750ml, recyclable frosted glass bottle, exquisitely handcrafted with Swarovski Crystals," and... oh yes, a little spring water, bottled at source in amazingly unromantic Dandridge, Tennessee.
Wanna bet that some of you will soon be buying one, and after drinking the water, keep the bottle for future refills of home-boiled tap water? Bling, Bling!

Monday, October 23, 2006

WWJD in Government?

A horribly prescient 1994 quote from the late US Senator Barry Goldwater:

"Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they're sure trying to do so, it's going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can't and won't compromise. I know, I've tried to deal with them."

Too true.

The Dangers of Religious Certainty

A follow up to my posts on christiano-fascists here and here. Courtesy of Andrew Sullivan, I found this moving commentary by Dr. Jacob Bronowski, who lost many relatives to the Nazi death camps, on what "men do when they aspire to the knowledge of gods." It should be sobering to all Christians and Muslims who may be tempted to think they are in possession of all truth, that God is in their corner, and that it is their mission on earth is to impose the Kingdom of God over all creation.

Al Qaida in America

It used to be that Al Qaida only posted their videos on nondescript jihadi websites and on Al Jazeera. Not any more. It now seems they have recruited their very own high-powered publicity team in Washington. Check this out:

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Can Kenya Afford the Luxury of Poverty?

I just came across this February report on government extravagance done by Transparency International and the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights. It states that between January 2003 and September 2004, the NARC government spent about Kshs. 878 million on cars that were mostly for the personal use of senior government officials. The report notes that this substantially exceeded what the government spent over the 2003/04 financial year on controlling malaria, "the leading cause of morbidity and mortality in Kenya... In the year 2002 for example, it was estimated that as many as 34, 000 children below the age of five would die as a direct consequence of malaria infection. There is no doubt that had the funds been used to enhance malaria control, many lives would have been saved." Excerpts:

At the rate of a dollar (or seventy five shillings) a day, the [Kshs 878 million] could clearly be significant in reducing poverty in virtually any single constituency. Assuming that those living below the poverty line are able to meet at least half of their one dollar per day, Kshs 6840 per year would provide the other half. [Thus] it is clear that the amount would have been adequate to lift all the poor in any particular constituency above the poverty threshold.....

Suppose the Minister for Cooperative Development was also the MP for Ndhiwa constituency and he decided to donate the Range Rover to his constituents for sale at cost. Suppose also that they bought their MP a new, but modest, car at about Ksh1.2 million. Our estimates, based on their CDF allocations, is that the balance could be used to do the following:
· Construction of 7 health facilities (Kshs 3,200,000)
· Konyua Water Project (300,000)
· Construction and rehabilitation of 13 primary schools (4,000,000 )
· Construction and rehabilitation of 5 secondary schools (2,500,000)
· Supplementing bursary fund (Kshs 500,000)
· Logistics and administration (90,000 )

Celebrity Adoptions: Not a Black-and-White Issue

Following up on the row over Madonna's adoption of a kid from Malawi, it now appears that Brintey Spears "is now looking into the possibility of welcoming a disadvantaged child into her own family." Over at Mad Kenyan Woman's blog, I have been strenuosly arguing that there was nothing wrong with Madonna's adoption of David Banda. Though I am not overjoyed at the prospect of African kids being treated as the latest must-have celebrity accessory, I still think that, at a personal level, if one qualifies and follows the rules, then we should not be placing barriers in the way of their helping out kids whose societies are unable to take care of them. Of course, if the celebrities are unsuitable as parents, then they shouldn't have the children. But let's put that aside for now. For me, the furore raises many questions which are neither easy nor pleasant. Here are just a few:

Is there a danger in allowing hordes of presumably well-meaning, able and loving white celebrities to adopt black children who have been abandoned in orphanages in the third world? Could I be inadvertently supporting a policy which would result in the diminution of human dignity? It is obvious that our sense of self-worth is assaulted by the prospect of our kids reduced to fashion items. But perhaps there are greater injuries. What about the unnecessary deaths of millions of kids from easily preventable causes? Now, I have previously argued that the burden for solving such problems falls squarely on African governments and societies. Adoptions could not even begin to address the issues. That said, what right do we have to impose this suffering on even the tiny number of kids who would benefit from adoption? Does that not similarly assault our consciences?

MKW argues that the kids did not chose the "atmosphere of glamour and superficiality and strangely-earned wealth and notoriety associated with the celebrity life" and that such a life is not in their best interests. Well, they surely didn't chose poverty either and, it's safe to say, penury is definitely not in their interests. In any case, African families routinely send their kids to live with wealthier relatives or abroad to live and study in wealthier societies. Is there something innately wrong with this? Aspiring for a better life for oneself and one's kids is after all universal. Over the centuries, many Europeans have similarly abandoned their ancestral homelands to seek richer lives in the New World. And with thousands of African adults daily risking liberty, life and limb to escape the poverty on the continent, is it not hypocritical for us to be denying our infants the opportunity to do the same?

What of the preservation and perpetuation of "African culture" (whatever that means)? Do kids need to be taught the language, values, beliefs and customs of their forefathers? And do the same African societies that prostitute themselves by, for example, installing politicians and white do-gooders as "elders" retain any moral authority to prevent the subsumption of their cultures through the adoption of their kids by the celebrities of the West? Anyhow, isn't culture supposed to be dynamic? Why stick to customs and traditions that were formulated to deal with the challenges of a bygone age but now seem only to consign us to a debilitating and never ending poverty?

More later.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

38% of Kenyans support torture

According to a BBC survey, in answer to the question:
Most countries have agreed to rules prohibiting torturing prisoners. Which position is closer to yours?
a)Terrorists pose such an extreme threat that governments should now be allowed to use some degree of torture if it may gain information that saves innocent lives
b)Clear rules against torture should be maintained because any use of torture is immoral and will weaken international human rights
53% of Kenyans voted for clear rules against torture to be maintained while 38% would like them to be relaxed. This compares with a global average of 59% against and 29% for "some" torture.

I, for one, am to be counted among the former. Times of utmost peril to society are the times we need to reinforce, not relax, protections against human rights violations. For it is at such times that governments are liable to use and abuse any and all powers vested in them. Just look at what's happening in the US. Now, just by decree, the government can arrest and hold you incommunicado, without access to lawyer, without the right to challenge your detention in a court of law and without the right to see the evidence against you. In the course of your detention, you will be subject to torture in order to reveal information you may or may not have. And to what end? To protect the freedom that terrorists apparently detest. You cannot protect liberty by denying it to those who are most at risk of losing it.

Also, imagine what would happen should our despotic leaders be allowed to possess such powers. Any opposition sympathiser would find himself branded a terrorist and hauled of to jail for torture or worse. Remember the infamous Nyayo House torture chambers? These would now acquire the respectability of legality. And who would be safe then?

I heard the most eloquent exposition of the need to protect fundamental freedoms, even those of terrorists, in this exchange between Sir Thomas More and young William Roper in the movie A Man For All Seasons (based on the true story of Sir Thomas More, the 16th-century Chancellor of England, who refused to sign a letter asking the Pope to annul the King's marriage and resigned rather than take an oath declaring the king the supreme head of the English church):

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Weeding out the Taliban?

Another gem from Reuters

OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian troops fighting Taliban militants in Afghanistan have stumbled across an unexpected and potent enemy -- almost impenetrable forests of 10-feet (three metre) high marijuana plants.

General Rick Hillier, chief of the Canadian defence staff, said on Thursday that Taliban fighters were using the forests as cover. In response, the crew of at least one armored car had camouflaged their vehicle with marijuana.

"The challenge is that marijuana plants absorb energy, heat very readily. It's very difficult to penetrate with thermal devices ... and as a result you really have to be careful that the Taliban don't dodge in and out of those marijuana forests," he said in a speech in Ottawa.

"We tried burning them with white phosphorous -- it didn't work. We tried burning them with diesel -- it didn't work. The plants are so full of water right now ... that we simply couldn't burn them," he said.

Even successful incineration had its drawbacks.

"A couple of brown plants on the edges of some of those (forests) did catch on fire. But a section of soldiers that was downwind from that had some ill effects and decided that was probably not the right course of action," Hillier said dryly.

One soldier told him later: "Sir, three years ago before I joined the army, I never thought I'd say 'That damn marijuana'."

Now, I wonder what were the "ill effects" suffered (yeah, right!) by some soldiers. Guess that's what Bush meant when he vowed to "smoke 'em out of their caves".

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Spoiling the View?

This photo was taken on an unidentified Mediterranean beach in Spain in 2002 and appeared recently in the magazine "Refugees", published by the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The caption reads: The corpse of a would be migrant or refugee on a Mediterranean beach – one of some 6,000 similar deaths recorded in Europe over the past 12 years.

This Beats Maturbating During Ramadan

This from Reuters (Hat Tip: providian)

NAIVASHA, Kenya (Reuters) - A couple caught having sex in a Kenyan mosque during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan have been sentenced to 18 months jail for what the judge called an "abominable" affront to religion.

Peter Kimani and Jennifer Wairimu pleaded guilty to the charge of having sex in a place of worship after being caught on October 3 at the Abubakar mosque in Gilgil, about 60 miles north of Nairobi. Neither is a Muslim.

A worshipper heading for evening prayers found the couple having sex after investigating what the prosecution described as strange noises emanating from a dark corner of the mosque.

Kimani and Wairimu both pleaded for clemency at Monday's hearing, saying they were too drunk to know where they were. Kimani told the court he thought he was in a lodging house.

John King'ori, senior magistrate in nearby Naivasha, dismissed their plea.

"Having sex in a mosque is a most abominable thing to religion and only a custodial sentence can add justice to this," he said.

I wasn't aware "having sex in a place of worship" is a criminal offence in Kenya (what with the Fr. Wamugunda saga et al). I have also so far been unaware of the uncanny resemblance of a mosque to a lodgo!

To take notice of safe, the slippery are very crafty

The Chinese government has embarked on a campaign to root out "Chinglish" or English literary howlers that pepper signs in public places in Beijing. The authorities have also launched campaigns for citizens to learn English, as well as requiring taxi drivers to pass English tests or lose their licences ahead of the Olympic games in 2008. As the title of this post (which is taken from a sign warning of slippery roads) shows, this may prove to be a ...ummm...crafty(?) road indeed.

More examples of Chinglish can be found here. Also check out this hilarious blog dedicated to "the wonderful results of an English dictionary meeting Chinese grammar." While there, be sure to check out this post for a Chinese perspective on Hollywood blockbusters (or just consult the back of your pirated collection of DVDs- yeah, I know you have 'em!)

The Beautiful Game II

An update to an earlier post. For those of you who missed it, here's Paul Robinson's crowning moment in England's 2-0 loss to Croatia in Zagreb.

Monday, October 16, 2006

US Senate votes to Abolish the Constitution

OK. Perhaps the title is a bit over the top. But it is now clear that the Bush Administration considers the US Constitution an impediment to fighting terror and protecting Americans' fundamental freedoms. Here's the proof:

Cruel Britannia

A followup to a previous post on the hypocrisy of the so-called multi-cultural British society when it comes to dealings with Muslims. It seems that some religions are more equal than others.
Following the row over Muslim veils in the UK, a Government minister, Phil Woolas, has called for 23-year-old teacher Aishah Azmi to be sacked for refusing to down hers. In a totally unrelated development, the British Airways uniform policy, which calls for all jewellery and religious symbols (including the Christian Cross) on chains to be concealed, has been described as "loopy" by Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Hain. There, of course, have been no calls for the sacking of 55 year old check-in worker Nadia Eweida who claims she was effectively "forced" to take unpaid leave after refusing to conceal her cross necklace. On the contrary Kent Conservative MP Ann Widdecombe urged a boycott of BA. She said: "My view is that Christians do not have to take this." Well put! Muslims don't have to take it either.

Blowing hot air?

Was Roads and Public Works Minister Simeon Nyachae was too busy to blow his nose before this photo was taken during an interview with the Sunday Nation? His industry is not so obvious considering at the dilapidated state of our road network.

Christiano-Fascists in Kenya

In a recent post, I expressed my growing alarm over the political objectives of extremist Christians. While I was referring to events in the US, it seems that we now have our own home-bred extremism to deal with. According to the Sunday Nation, a section of Christian churches are sponsoring candidates in next year's general election with the ultimate aim of establishing a theocracy along the lines of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

The paper quotes Presbyterian Church of East Africa Moderator, Dr. David Githii, declaring "a theocracy is the dream we have. Look at the Bible. When god fearing people took power, nations prospered. These God-fearing people destroyed idols and put God first." Perhaps Dr. Githii needs to widen his sources of historical facts. A look at the sorry history of so-called theocracies should disabuse anybody of the notion that "God-fearing people" actually fear God. The Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition and the many wars and attrocities that followed the Reformation are proof enough of the dangers of Christian rule. In Africa, Dr. Githii and his associates in this project should now be counted among the likes of Joseph Kony whose LRA rebels have mounted a campaign of terror in Northern Uganda in their bid to establish a government run according to the Ten Commandments.

At least the Catholic Church seems to have learnt its lesson. The Pope's representative in Kenya, Archbishop Alain Paul Lebeaupin rejected the theocracy project saying "a priest or bishop serving in the Catholic Church cannot accept a direct appointment from the government, cannot be elected as an MP, President or Cabinet Minister."

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Take a back seat Acolyte

For those who thought Aco's excoriation of Kikwete was overboard, here's a video from UK's Labour MP (yes, that's Member of Parliament!) Sion Simon taking the mikey out of the Leader of the Conservative Party, David Cameron.

Cameron posted the above video on YouTube on the eve of the Tory Party Conference and Simon has posted the "rebuttal" below.

Handoutville, Kenya

This from the BBC

Mau Mau veterans seek UK damages
Veterans of Kenya's independence war with Britain 50 years ago have filed a formal claim for compensation against the British government.

The case has been brought by six former Mau Mau fighters who say they were subjected to inhuman treatment in British-run detention camps.

Their lawyers plan to give Whitehall four months to respond before taking the case to the High Court in London.

Claims are also being pursued in Kenya by up to 2,000 more Mau Mau detainees.

The six former Mau Mau fighters say they were subjected to inhuman treatment including beatings, denial of food and suspension by the feet. Read the whole story.

It seems Kenyans never miss an opportunity to make a quick buck. I have two problems with this (and the "Bomb Blast" claims against the Americans).

First, I understand that attrocities were committed during colonial times but that was over 50 years back. There must be a statute of limitations on these things. Otherwise you will have all sorts of claims: the families of the 32 white civillian settlers killed during the uprising suing the MauMau for compensation, the Dorobos suing the Kikuyus and other Kenyans for the return of their land, Kikuyus and others suing the Maasai for centuries of cattle rustling and so on ad nauseum.

Second, they perpetuate the culture of victimhood where we refuse to take responsibility for the state of our affairs. So the MauMau blame the British for their plight but not the Kenya government which promised them land and jobs but roundly ignored them. In fact, MauMau (or the Land and Freedom Army as they called themselves) was a banned group in independent Kenya and only received official recognition in 2003. The August 7, 1998 survivors blame the US for the actions of Al Qaida but not their own government which failed to detect and stop the terrorist activity, and whose reaction to the disaster was less than sterling.

The Beautiful Game

This post is inspired by and entirely dedicated to England's Paul Robinson, who produced a mouth-watering piece of goalkeeping to let in Gary Neville's own goal during his side's 2-0 loss to Croatia in the Euro 2008 qualifier in Zagreb. Enjoy.

In Kenya, Old is definitely not Gold

Found this piece on the Sky News website:

Kenya Plans 'Youths' Of 50

They say you're only as young as you feel - and one Kenyan politician wants to enshrine that theory in law.
Government minister Mohammed Kuti wants to change the legal definition of youth to include people up to the age of 50.
That would constitute a 20-year jump from the current upper limit of 30.
If passed by parliament, the new rule would put "youths" within five years of Kenya's official retirement age of 55.
According to the UK's Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Kenya's average life expectancy is just 54.7 years, although that figure is affected by a high infant mortality rate.
Youth Affairs Minister Mr Kuti was quoted in local media as saying the government plans to change the law defining youth so that more people can access a one billion shilling - or £7.44m - youth fund, which was established this year.
The plan could almost have been inspired by one of Kenya's best known personalities.
Kimani Maruge, 86, made it into the Guinness Book of Records for being the oldest pupil in the world.
The peasant farmer and former Mau Mau activist attends the Kapkenduiywo primary school in Langas, west of the capital Nairobi.
Mr Kuti's proposal has rankled some in the east African nation, where critics say the reform agenda of President Mwai Kibaki, 74, has stalled because he has filled his cabinet with members of his own age group, or "wazee" in Swahili.
Auditor Catherine Kagweria said the proposed change was "utter nonsense".
She added: "We need younger, more spry leaders to take over from these geriatrics."

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

News Flash

According to the Daily Nation, President Kibaki has named former President Moi the Government's special envoy for regional peace. If Moi could not bring peace to Molo and other parts of the Rift Valley when he was President, I don't hold out much hope that he will accomplish much elsewhere.

The Almost Big Bang- Why didn't you hear about it?

Remember the huge media storm that was sparked off by the discovery of the alleged Islamist plot to allegedly blow up several airplanes flying from the UK to the US? Or the media frenzy that followed London's 7/7? Why then does the news below of the recovery by police of what is believed to be "the largest haul [of explosives] ever found at a house in [the UK]" merit only a paragraph at the UK's Sunday Times? Why have most not even heard about it? Could it be because this time the plotters were not of middle-eastern descent and had never attended an Al Qaida training camp in Pakistan?

06 October 2006
Chemicals Find: Two In Court
TWO Pendle men have appeared before Pennine magistrates accused of having "a master plan" after what is believed to be a record haul of chemicals used in making home-made bombs was found in Colne.
Robert Cottage (49), of Talbot Street, Colne, and David Bolus Jackson (62), of Trent Road, Nelson, made separate appearances before the court charged with being in possession of an explosive substance for an unlawful purpose. The offences are under the Explosive Substances Act 1883.
Both men were remanded in custody to appear at Burnley Crown Court on October 23rd. Cottage was arrested at his home on Thursday, while retired dentist Jackson was arrested in the Lancaster area on Friday, the same day as he left a dental practice in Grange-over-Sands.
The 22 chemical components recovered by police are believed to be the largest haul ever found at a house in this country.
Cottage is an ex-BNP member who stood as a candidate in the Pendle Council elections in May.
Mrs Christiana Buchanan, who appeared for the prosecution in Jackson's case, alleged the pair had "some kind of masterplan".
She said a search of Jackson's home had uncovered rocket launchers, chemicals, BNP literature and a nuclear biological suit.
Police raided Cottage's Talbot Street home on Thursday of last week. The house was taped off while forensics officers searched the premises. Neighbours were told to stay in their homes for their own safety. Mr Cottage's car was also taken away for examination.
Officers also made a thorough examination of Jackson's Trent Road home and, again, officers were on duty outside the house. Forensics officers examined the property.
Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan

An interesting article (Hat Tip: Rosemary Ekosso) by Edward Said on American stereotypying of the Arab world:

"Every empire, including America's, regularly tells itself and the world that it is unlike all other empires, and that it has a mission certainly not to plunder and control but to educate and liberate the peoples and places it rules directly or indirectly. Yet these ideas are not shared by the people who live there, whose views are in many cases directly opposite. Nevertheless, this hasn't prevented the whole apparatus of American information, policy, and decision-making about the Arab/Islamic world from imposing its perspectives not just on Arabs and Muslims but on Americans, whose sources of information about the Arabs and Islam are woefully, indeed tragically, inadequate."

Read the rest of it here.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Huffing and Puffing

US Assistant Secretary of State Chris Hill told the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University on Wednesday that the US is "not going to live with a nuclear North Korea. . . . We are not going to accept it." North Korea "can have a future, or it can have these weapons. It cannot have both."

Then again, in an interview with CNN: "We're just not going to accept that North Korea, with its starving population, is going to be able to join the nuclear club. . . . We're going to work very hard to make sure North Korea understands the cost of this [North Korean leader Kim Jong Il] is going to really rue the day that he made this decision."

Perhaps the US should take note of former UK Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher's reaction to the 1998 nuclear tests by India and Pakistan. She said, "huffing and puffing about test bans and non-proliferation" will not prevent major powers also becoming nuclear powers.

I have been wondering why France has not joined in the chorus of protest and condemnation that has greeted the North Korea nuclear test. A search on CNN and BBC has not turned up an official statement. Perhaps that has something to do with this:

"We can see that the tests occurred, and therefore the threat of sanctions did not work. We have to talk together and then talk to India and Pakistan in a more understanding way, even as we make clear that we disapprove of what they have done," French President Jacques Chirac opposing imposing economic sanctions on India and Pakistan following their nuclear bomb tests in May 1998.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Masturbating During Ramadhan?

From the website of Sayyid Ali Khamenei, Iran's Supreme Leader (Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan ):

To Masturbate While Fasting

Q: If somebody masturbates during the month of Ramadan but without any discharge, is his fasting invalidated?

A: if he do not intend masturbation and discharging semen and nothing is discharged, his fasting is correct even though he has done a ḥarām act. But, if he intends masturbation or he knows that he usually discharges semen by this process and semen really comes out, it is a ḥarām intentional breaking fasting.

The Nuclear Club Should Be Dissolved

Now that North Korea has apparently tested a nuclear weapon, the world will hopefully be forced to address the issue of how to reform the outdated and ineffective institutions and treaties that govern international relations. The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, just like many other relics of the post-WW2 and Cold War era, has proven unable to address the challenges of the 21st Century. They were designed to keep the peace in an age dominated by big military powers, when just the threat of war was sufficient to intimidate most into towing the line. Today, when 19 men with box-cutters can strike terror into a nation of 300 million and 10,000 Hizbullah guerillas can fight the largest and best equipped military in the Middle East to a standstill, such agreements seem obsolete.

A New World Order is called for. One that acknowledges the realities of today. There has been a devolution of power away from the armies of the nation-state. From the Russian failures in Afganistan and Chechnya to the US fiascos in Vietnam and Iraq, the limitations of military power are plain to see. Conversely, much of the destructive force that was formerly exclusive to governments is increasingly being developed by small groups. Remember the Aum Shinrikyo Sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway and the anthrax-in-the-mail scares in the US? These chemical and biological attacks were not perpetrated by governments but by small bands of fanatics. Dirty bombs and suitcase-size nuclear devices are not far behind.

State nuclear weapons do not necessarily threaten the peace. In fact, nuclear weapons were largely responsible for the fact that the Cold War never heated up; they made the idea of war between the US and the USSR unthinkable. The real threat comes from a proliferation of nuclear weapon states and the consequent danger of WMD falling into the hands of terrorists. A nuclear arms race is a terrorist's dream come true. At the moment, it is exceedingly difficult and expensive to manufacture a nuclear weapon, even a crude one. Many terrorist groups thus look to nuclear weapon states to provide them with the necessary material and technology. The more nuclear states, the higher the chances of this happening.

A North Korean nuclear weapon may spark a nuclear arms race in the Far East (especially considering the new Japanese Prime Minister's call for a review of the country's pacifist constitution.) However for the Big 5 nuclear states (US, UK, France, Russia, China) to assume that their arsenals do not drive proliferation is ridiculous. India developed its nuclear weapon largely as a counter to China's and Pakistan developed one because of India. Pakistan sold weapons technology to Iran which faces an Israeli nuclear weapon provided by the US. There are fears that North Korea may sell its technology to terrorists or "rogue" regimes though there has been no evidence that it has done so. On the other hand, the US has not only dropped an atomic bomb on a non-nuclear country but has also provided countless undesirables with the weaponry to conduct proxy war. Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden spring to mind. So who is to say the DPRK poses a greater threat? The fact is as long as any one country has WMD, others will feel it in their security interests to get such weapons.

My suggested solution would be to ensure that all nations are equally protected by the existing WMD stockpiles. That means handing over all WMD to a commonly accepted central authority that would be mandated to fire in retaliation whenever one nation launched a nuclear attack on another. This authority would also be charged with nuclear research and the distribution of all the civillian benefits freely to all nations.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Queries on Tribes

Over the weekend I had an interesting discussion with my Dad regarding the achievements (or lack thereof) of the Kibaki administration. As the discussion inevitably turned to NARC-K and ODM, the temperature heated up and voices became shrill. It suddenly dawned upon me that almost all Kenyans on both sides of the political divide were motivated by something less than ideology, something less than the objective assessment of a government's or politician's merit. It is the big gorilla in the room no one wants to discuss. No, I am not referring to Fred Gumo, but to the tribe -supposedly the basic unit of the African polity.

The questions that bedevil me are these. What is a tribe? If the tribe is so central to our identity, why has the concept been so systematically demonized? Why is it absent in our current and proposed governing structures?

What is a tribe? According to Wikipedia, a tribe "consists of a social group existing before the development of, or outside of, states...The term is often loosely used to refer to any non-Western or indigenous society." This definition is remarkable because it doesn't tell us what a tribe is, but what it is not. It is not a state and it is not Western. Tribes lack the moral, cultural, administrative and material refinement associated with statehood. And the moniker is uniquely applied to non-Westerners. (This, strictly speaking, is not true. The "savage" hordes that ravaged the outer reaches of the Roman empire in Europe were grouped into tribes.) I think the notion the word is meant to portray is uncivilised. The penchant for equating civilisation with Westernisation then leads us to the absurd situation where the Irish, Scots, English and Welsh are not the tribes of Britain but the Ibos, Fulani and Hausa are tribes in Nigeria (nothing to do with population, by the way, since the Ibos easily outnumber the Welsh and Scots combined.) Europe has ethnicities, the rest have tribes. The difference is in the connotation. In the reality show "Survivor", participants are grouped into tribes because "ethnic groups" somehow does not quite convey the idea of uncivilization that the show thrives on.

Now, it is obvious that we are dealing with a loaded word here and need to be careful (I wouldn't wish to find myself in the position of arguing that a lack of civilisation is central to African identity!). Why is allegiance to one's tribe so demonised? Let me be the first to state that some of the most heinous crimes have been committed in the name of the tribe. Just look at Rwanda. However, many more massacres have been committed in the name of ethnicity, race, religion and state but these are not demonised to the same degree. Do the "tribal" aspirations of the Luos really differ from the "ethnic" aspirations of the Serbs, Albanians, Chechens, Scots, Irish or French? The latter's railings against "Anglo-Saxon" domination sound very like the rants we hear about Kikuyu domination in Kenya. Was the Holocaust (and the many pogroms that preceded it) really not a tribal genocide same as the wholesale killing of Tutsis in Rwanda or the ongoing "ethnic cleansing" in Darfur? Is it more "civilised" to pack human beings into cattle boxes and transport them to gas chambers where their deaths are meticulously recorded, rather than to pick up machetes and hack them at random?

In Kenya, our response to the political challenges posed by tribe has been wacha ukabila! We have been banging our heads against that particular brick wall for the last 40 years. (Today, our political parties are little more than vehicles for tribal ambitions and accommodations. In the 60s, KANU was a Kikuyu-Luo Affair and KADU a coalition of the smaller tribes. In the new millenium, we are still struggling with the consequences of the Kikuyu-Luo falling out, only we try disguise it in ideological terms. There was a brief rapproachment in 2002, but the rift opened up again.) Why are we afraid to accept the tribal basis of our politics? Why is it considered a liability? If democracy springs from the people, and the people are a tribal lot, then should that not be reflected and accommodated in our national institutions? Take the US example. In the drafting of their constitution, they acknowledged that the basic political unit was the state. Small states feared domination by big states. They did not resolve this by shouting wacha ustate! Instead they accommodated the reality of it in the institutions they created. Should we not be looking to accommodate the reality of the tribe in our constitutional arrangements?

Answers anyone?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Licence to Steal?

The NARC government's war on corruption once again looks like a whitewash. Just a day before the KACC urged the prosecution of 12 suspects, Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua offered a deal to all those implicated: return the money and face no consequences. She says that this is to promote national reconciliation.

Why, I ask, do we need to be reconciled with criminals? Is this not the same argument that Kiraitu Murungi employed when he declared Anglo-Leasing "the scandal that never was" since the cash had been returned? In fact, Karua's offer underscores the unwillingness of the government to make any meaningful attempt to punish those who have systematically pillaged and plundered Kenya's economy.

Most have gotten away scot-free (such as former president Moi, his cronies and his family, especially his son Gideon -remember the missing CID files?) and the few who have been nabbed have been treated with kid gloves. Just look at what happened to Ketan Somaia, Khamlesh Pattni and Margaret Gachara. A short time behind bars (most of which was spent in hospital private wards), no confiscation of assets and in Gachara's case, a Presidential pardon. Where is the deterrent value in that? I would gladly spend two years in prison if it meant that I could keep Kshs. 24 million. No wonder corruption continues unabated!