Monday, January 29, 2007

The Human Face of Iraq

I came across this heart-breaking letter on IRINnews.og from 11 year old Sameer Ibrahim who lives and schools in Baghdad. It is a moving indictment of the American adventure in Iraq and of the inhumanity at the heart of the so-called insurgency.

BAGHDAD, 29 Jan 2007 (IRIN) - "I’m 11 years old and an only son. I’m a pupil at Mansour Primary School in Baghdad. Lately, I have been feeling very lonely in my class. This week, I was the only student in class because all my classmates didn’t come to school for various reasons.

“Since last September, three of my classmates have been kidnapped and two have been killed. One was murdered with his family at home and the other was a victim of a bomb explosion a month ago.

“The others have either fled to Jordan and Syria with their families or their relatives have prohibited them from coming to school for fear that something might happen to them.

“I live very close to my school. I can walk there in two minutes. My mother takes me there and picks me up every day. She prays all the way to school and all the way back and tells me not to be scared. She says that at least I’m studying and one day I can be an important man and leave Iraq forever.

“Every time something happens to a child from my school, the next day all classes are empty and they stay empty for at least a week. Families and teachers get scared and desperate.

“I remember one day when I was leaving school, four men pulled up in a car and kidnapped Khadija, one of my friends. She was only 10. I cried for days on end fearing she was going to be killed. Her parents sold their house and car to pay the ransom money and then she was released. But she was so weak that she had to be hospitalised for two weeks.

“Now she and her family are in Jordan. I miss her, but I know it is better for all of them.

“The only thing that makes me afraid is that if they kidnap me, I know I’ll be killed. My family has no money to pay a ransom. We don’t have a house, a car or any other goods to sell. So for sure I could be another victim of the terror that we live with but I have faith that God will protect me.

“Most of our teachers have left the school. I heard that some of them have travelled abroad and others stopped working for security reasons on the insistence of their families. I miss them all. I miss the days when we used to run in our school and go home on our own, not worried by the violence.

“This week, I asked my mum to keep me at home too because I was the only child in class but she insisted that I go to school. I’m scared but I have to obey my mother.

“We were 21 students and today I’m the only one in class.

“When people ask me if I have hopes that everything will be fixed and we will have security again, I answer that I don’t because the violence is increasing every day and I continue to lose friends.

“I cannot study any more. I don’t have the concentration and the teachers don’t give us lessons as before. What I study these days is material that I learnt two years ago. I’m not sure that if I study like that I’ll turn out to be that important man who my mother believes I’m going to be.”
You can read more IRIN reports on Iraq here.

I Have A (pipe) Dream

Kalonzo Musyoka: "I have a dream today! I have a dream that one day, down in Nairobi, with its vicious inequalities, with its President having his lips dripping with the words of "pumbavu" -- one day right there in Nairobi little Kibera boys and Mathare girls will be able to join hands with little Muthaiga boys and Runda girls as sisters and brothers... Who came up with this crap?!"

How about this for a campaign promise? Why not propose a law obligating all public servants (including the President, Cabinet Ministers, their assistants as well as MPs) to take their kids to public school and their families to public hospitals? More than any other measure, this would concentrate the minds of our famously selfish legislators and result in a world-class public health and education system in the shortest time possible. It would also eliminate the hypocrisy of the politicians recommending to the rest of us a system they themselves are unwilling to abide.

While such a policy is bound to be popular with the electorate, I don't expect to hear it from any of the current crop of presidential aspirants. Instead, I have to do with supposedly "realistic" promises that have nothing to do with the quality of education and healthcare offered at our schools and hospitals.

I recently posted my thoughts on Kalonzo Musyoka's promise of free secondary education if he secures the presidency in the forthcoming general elections. It has since come to my attention that when he was Minister for Education in 2000, he rejected the Koech report's TOTALLY INTEGRATED QUALITY EDUCATION AND TRAINING (TIQET) concept which among other things recommended expanding basic, universal and compulsory education from the current 8-year primary education to include secondary school (1 year, pre-primary, 7 years primary and 4 years secondary).

The report proposed a total overhaul of the country's education system, including pre-primary and tertiary levels. According to analysis by the Institute of Policy Analysis and Research, if effectively implemented, its 588 recommendations would have led to savings of up to 21% in the education budget by 2004 (as of 2000, compared to other Sub-Sahara African countries with similar GDP per capita, Kenya spent considerable more on education in relation to total Government expenditure (23.7%) and Gross National Product (7.4%). With free primary education, the figures are undoubtedly higher), while addressing issues of access, quality, relevance, dropout and retention. In response Kalonzo came up with a mysterious figure of 320 billion needed to implement the report (mysterious because the he never bothered to explain how he arrived at that figure) and instead chose to reform the system in bits starting with the primary and secondary curricula.

It is still unclear how Kalonzo intended to sort out the critical issues of access, quality, life-long learning, relevance, regional and gender equity, cost and finance of education by focusing on curricula. Since he has made education reform (if you can even call it that) his campaign's cause celebre, I think he needs to explain why, as in 2000, he has chosen to ignore early childhood education and the tertiary sector, which are key in the life-long learning cycle as well as emerging alternatives like non-formal education, whose target is to provide opportunities to those out of school. By proposing his limited scheme, he, like Kibaki, is in the words of Daily Nation's David Aduda "massaging rather than diagnosing and reforming an education system that was on the verge of collapse".

He now says that the country is able to offer free secondary schooling and doesn't bother to explain where the cash will come from, especially considering that the free primary education is already straining resources, and why we couldn't use those resources to implement the Koech report back in 2000. Anyone see a pattern here? Is it sensible to continue spending more resources in education and achieving less? Why not consider spending more in the short-run, less in the medium and long-term and achieving more for individuals and the country as a whole by implementing the Koech report?

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Tales from Absurdistan

Now that President Kibaki has officially declared his candidacy for a second term, I think we should call his attention to another promise he made in the run-up to the 2002 election. Appearing on NTV's StateCraft in September 2002, the late Michael Kijana Wamalwa explained how the National Party of Kenya (NAK) agreed on a single presidential candidate:
“It was hard to select the party's flagbearer. We all staked our claims with reasons. The reason that won the day was made by Kibaki after he made it clear he would be president for only one five-year term....Kibaki volunteered that proposal.”
So not only did the President turn his back on his LDP colleagues, having previously discarded the MoU that was the basis for their support of his candidature, he has now also cuckolded his erstwhile partners in the NAK. Whatever else one may say about him, he is an equal opportunity conman.

Moving on, the BBC reports:
A hospital building programme in South Africa has been put back, to help pay for the football World Cup which the country is hosting in 2010. Two hospitals in the remote Northern Cape have been told their buildings will be delayed because of cuts in government spending. The rising cost to South Africa of hosting the World Cup is beginning to take its toll on government spending. A new 200-bed hospital in De Aar is to be delayed - so is another in Upington. A spokeswoman for the Northern Cape health department, Shelley Fielding, said money had been diverted to prepare for 2010.
Now many South Africans who were dying to host the event will literally get their wish.

Associated Press reports:
An Australian man said he is considering suing national carrier Qantas for refusing to let him onto an international flight because he would not take off a T-shirt calling U.S. President George W. Bush a terrorist. Allen Jasson said on Monday he was turned away last Friday at a Qantas departure gate in the southern city of Melbourne when he tried to board a flight to London while wearing a shirt with the a picture of Bush and the slogan "World's #1 terrorist." Qantas Airways Ltd. said in a statement: "Whether made verbally or on a T-shirt, comments with the potential to offend other customers or threaten the security of a Qantas group aircraft will not be tolerated."
It doesn't bode well for passengers aboard Qantas if a message on a T-shirt constitutes a threat to the security of the aircraft. What's next? Suicide Bumper Stickers?

Staying Down-Under, CNN tells of some private investigators who may have landed the ultimate gig:
Sydney officials have paid private detectives thousands of dollars to have sex with prostitutes to gather evidence needed to shut down illegal brothels, a newspaper reported Sunday. Nine local councils have paid private investigators a total of 25,000 Australian dollars (US$19,740) over the past three years to go undercover and root out the illicit trade, according to The Sunday Telegraph newspaper. Nick Ebbeck, the mayor of Kuringai council, which has reportedly spent A$7,000 (US$5,520) in the past month employing detectives to have sex with prostitutes, said extreme measures were necessary. "We have to employ private investigators to actually go through with the act and come up with reports that will suffice in a court process," he was quoted as saying. "On numerous occasions over numerous days and times they had to fulfill the act."
The term "private dick" just got a whole new meaning. 'Nuff said!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

NARC(-K) gets a Hiding

Kibaki: "Wait! I'm sure we can settle this without resorting to violence!"

The Kibaki administration is in full retreat following the pummelling it has taken recently over the issues of corruption and electoral reforms. The recent revelations by John Githongo as well as opposition threats of mass action seem to have softened the bellicose rhetoric of the government. The Nation quotes NARC-K interim Chairman Dr. Mukhisa Kituyi saying: “We have no defensive position on the constitution because most of us are heirs to the reform movement. We are not in any way opposed to reforms, whether minimum or comprehensive.” The Trade and Industry minister said although they preferred comprehensive reforms, they would readily take part in talks to agree on laws that would create a level playing field for all parties in the elections.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Return of the Muck

The latest revelations by our very own Taped Crusader have put the spotlight firmly on Attorney-General Amos Wako and the Director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission Justice Aaron Ringera. Coming just days after they rubbished his allegations and evidence of a conspiracy to conceal the Anglo Leasing affair, John Githongo’s new release clearly demonstrates Wako’s and Ringera ‘s complicity in the scheme. They have been caught red-handed attempting to subvert the course of justice and mislead the Kenyan people. The tapes we were told were unintelligible and incoherent turn out to be clearly understandable and on the face of it confirm the allegations of a plot.

Last week’s muted reaction to Githongo’s threats to reveal more damning information indicates that the government was aware of the coming storm. NARC-K politicians who would normally race to outdo one another in issuing condemnations of his treachery were conspicuously silent. The attention-loving government spokesman refused to comment on the matter and the AG himself ducked a scheduled press conference on Monday, preferring instead to fax a statement to newsrooms.

Never in independent Kenya’s history have we had a government as compromised as this one. Even during Kanu’s 40 year looting spree, direct evidence of malfeasance was difficult to come by. But now we have two tapes purporting to show two senior Cabinet Ministers interfering with and attempting to shut down an active investigation. The recordings implicate the Head of State and the agencies charged with investigating and prosecuting these cases, which have themselves been caught in the act of perpetrating a second cover-up.

It is imperative that the government moves fast to reconstruct anew the people’s shattered trust in their institutions. A minimum condition for this to happen is a full and public accounting of the Anglo-Leasing saga and the subsequent cover-up, quickly followed by the prosecution of all those involved. This though has to be preceded by the resignations of not only the concerned Cabinet Ministers, but more importantly those of Wako and Ringera, their credibility having been blown to bits. In fact, the two should be subjects of investigation and prosecution over their attempts to shield the politicians from the law.

If resignations are not forthcoming, then President Kibaki will have the opportunity to salvage whatever is left of his moral authority and legacy by removing the suspects from his Cabinet and initiating the process of firing his both AG and Justice Ringera (they enjoy security of tenure). Failure to do this will be tantamount to an admission of guilt on his part in which case the challenge will come to his employers, the people of Kenya, to rise up and eject him and his foul administration from office. We must not allow this case to go the way of Goldenberg. Once and for all, we must eradicate the culture of executive impunity and in the process reclaim our country and our revolution.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Et tu USA?

Does the USA consider Kenya an ally? For more than forty years, we have chosen to stand four-square with US as a bulwark against communism and in recent times, terror. The last few weeks have seen us deploy our forces to the northern border to help the US secure or eliminate Al Qaida terrorists in Somalia. And we have paid for that choice in blood. The embassy bombings of 1998 were at the time the worst terrorist attacks ever and our casualties taken as percentage of the population were on a par with the US 9-11 numbers. Also US strikes on southern Somalia have also reportedly killed a number of Kenyans). Given that history, it is reasonable to expect that the US considers us one of her key allies in the region. However, reason has not been a hallmark of US foreign policy of late and this is no exception.

Nine years after the bomb that killed 250 of our citizens, the US still advises its nationals against travel to Kenya, depriving our economy of millions in tourist dollars. And now according to a report in the Standard, a US senator has used his influence to block a proposed $14.4 million (about Sh1 billion) loan to expand Kenya’s soda ash industry. In February 2006, the United States Export-Import Bank (an independent US Government agency that helps finance overseas sales of US goods and services) received the application for a six-year loan to finance the export of eight American-built locomotives to Magadi Soda. Thanks to the efforts of Republican Senator Mike Enzi of Wyoming, the loan never came through. The Senator apparently prevailed on Ex-Im Bank chairman Mr Jim Lambright to block the loan on the grounds that expansion of Magadi Soda’s operations would harm Wyoming’s soda ash industry. "If these locomotives go to Kenya" said the Senator, "it will strengthen that country’s industry not just today, but for years in the future."

The Senator's suggestion that increased output from Magadi Soda would have an impact on world prices is hardly credible considering that the company's current total annual production is 360,000 tonnes -a pittance compared to Wyoming's 9.1 million tonnes, about 25% of world supply. Even the recently announced plans for a $97 million expansion of its plant on Lake Magadi would only raise annual production to 700,000 tons. To add insult to injury this particular Senator is considered to be a proponent of free trade. The Cato Institute Center for Trade Policy Studies rates his voting record on free trade issues at 82%. He even voted to give permanent Normal Trade Relations [NTR] status to China, which for the first time in a century surpassed the United States in 2003 as the world's leader in soda ash production. He has also previously stated that he is "a big believer in the axiom that the worst thing in the world for the environment is poverty... a visit to any third world country will confirm this."

I guess the US position could be summarised as follows. Protecting the environment and free trade are all good unless the Kenyan economy benefits in the process. Hardly the stance of ally!

Magadi Soda did manage to raise the necessary funds from a consortium of local banks and the locomotives will be arriving in the country by the end of the month.

Monday, January 22, 2007

More Christianofascism in Kenya

Now that, according to the Daily Nation, Bishop Margaret Wanjiru intends to win the Starehe seat "for Jesus" in the next elections, one wonders what is to become of the constituency's non-Christian population should she win. And since there is a ban on religious parties in Kenya (remember the Islamic Party of Kenya saga?) shouldn't this be construed to extend to candidates who campaign on a religious platform? After all, the law is there to prevent the country dividing along religious lines. Surely statements such as "we are taking Starehe for Jesus" are just as likely to stoke religious resentment.

By the way, let's assume that the Bishop goes ahead with her planned marriage to a South African pastor and that it is a Christian marriage registered in Kenya. If it then turns out that she was in fact previously married to Mr. Kamangu under African Customary Law and that that marriage was never terminated, wouldn't she be guilty of bigamy?

Arabian Knights?

What is Syrian President Bashar al-Assad up to? Last week he hosted Iraqi President Jalal Talabani for discussions on how to end the violence in Iraq. Today he has succeeded in engineering a meeting between Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and exiled Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal over the violence in Gaza. The Syrians seem intent on disproving the wisdom of the US President George W. Bush's rejection of the Iraqi Study Group report which advocated talks with both Syria and Iran on resolving the Iraqi quagmire.

The Syrian diplomatic success stands in sharp contrast to the continuing American failure in Baghdad. With both American and Iraqi casualties mounting (last week a dozen US soldiers died and today a double bombing killed 75 in Baghdad), it seems that Bush has staked his legacy on the dubious ability of a limited number of US troops and Iraqi Government to impose order in Iraq. Or perhaps he expects that this latest "surge" in troop numbers will fail giving the US a plausible (though hardly believable) excuse to withdraw claiming they had done all that could be done.

Either way, the real winners in this Middle East tragicomedy will be the Syrians and their pals the Iranians, whose regional credentials will shine next to those of the US. As Assad feigns concern for the plight of Lebanese, Iraqis and Palestinians, Bush is seen to be primarily concerned with the reactions of Americans back home -a thousand Arab lives not being worth a thousand lost American votes.

Free Education: More Pie-in-the-Sky

Kenyans never learn. Following the fiascos that characterised the hasty and imprudent implementation of both Mo1's 8-4-4 system and Kibaki's Free Primary Education, one would have thought that other proposals to "improve" our education system would be tempered by a dose of realism. Not so. Presidential aspirant Kalonzo Musyoka is now promising to similarly mess up our secondary schools.

Now, don't get me wrong. I have nothing against free education. It is a noble and worthwhile goal. Musyoka is yet to provide us with the mechanics of how this is to be achieved but I suspect he will pretty much follow Kibaki's lead i.e. declare the policy and hope for the best. For it to work, however, we need to make the necessary investment in teachers and facilities before we throw open the school doors. And that will take time and resources.

The current emphasis on quantity and not quality will not do. The lack of preparation for free primary education has resulted in class sizes of up to 120 as opposed to the recommended 40. We don't have sufficient schools and teachers to cope with the sudden influx of up to 1.5 million extra kids (and grandpas) into the system. It is reminiscent of the introduction of 8-4-4 when students studied curricula requiring laboratories and other facilities that their schools simply didn't have. The folly of this will be with us for some time to come and it is our children who will pay the price. And since our politicians' kids rarely attend public schools, they will not similarly suffer.

See no Lama, Hear no Lama

The Dalai Lama doesn't need to come to the Maasai Mara to see Kenyan animals. Just watching the antics of the government over the his proposed visit should suffice. Moody Awori's monkey business simply provides more evidence that Kenya under Kibaki is a banana republic.

This from the Sunday Nation:
Kenya has once again denied exiled Tibet spiritual leader Dalai Lama entry into the country. His Holiness Dalai Lama was expected in the country tomorrow on a week-long private visit. However, his effort to obtain a visa from Kenya’s New Delhi embassy has hit a dead end.

Despite the spiritual leader being promised by Vice President Moody Awori himself that he would be issued with necessary travel documents, his handlers have not obtained the same. So the exiled political and spiritual leader of the Tibetan people will not be visiting Kenya for the second time...

Dalai Lama was blocked from visiting the country in 1999, when former President Moi declared that he could not allow him since Kenya had very cordial relations with China and could not allow it to be soured by such a visit.

When Mr Moi was denying the spiritual leader a chance to visit the country and go on a safari, the then Leader of Official Opposition Mwai Kibaki was accusing the Government of allowing its foreign policy to be at the mercy of donors. Mr Kibaki said Kenya had lost her sovereignty to international financial institutions. But Mr Moi dismissed the Democratic Party leader saying he expected a person of his calibre to be knowledgeable on matters of global economic affairs. Read More
By the way, is it just me who detects a pattern here of Kibaki saying one thing when in the opposition and then doing the opposite when in power?

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Public Enemy No. 1: Wako and Ringera

The war against corruption is officially over. And Kenya lost. That, it seems, is the conclusion of the grossly overpaid and just as grossly underperforming head of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, Justice Aaron Ringera and Attorney General Amos Wako. The charade of the last few years, during which the NARC government pretended to investigate the perpetrators of the Anglo Leasing scam, has been dropped and the major suspects exonerated without so much as seeing the inside of a courtroom.

On the recommendation of Justice Ringera, the AG, himself accused of wrongdoing in the matter, officially declared the innocence of the senior government officials implicated in the Anglo Leasing affair. The people who sought to give Kshs. 50 Billion of our hard-earned tax money to a fictitious company have escaped scot-free. Even by the particularly low standards set by the Kibaki administration, this is a shocking admission of incompetence and downright criminal negligence within our law enforcement system.

It is amazing that Wako and Ringera, the two people principally responsible for waging the war on corruption, have failed to successfully prosecute a single individual in connection with the two largest scams in Kenya's history -Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg- involving the theft and attempted theft of a total of at least Kshs. 118 billion. That they still have their jobs is an eloquent comment on the NARC government's oft-proclaimed commitment to eradicating graft. More telling is the fact that the only anti-corruption warrior to take his job seriously was forced to flee the country in fear for his life. John Githongo, the former Permanent Secretary in charge of Governance and Ethics in the President’s Office, has released a statement repudiating the excuses given by Wako and Ringera for their latest failure.

It is now obvious that these two are part of the corruption problem and not part of the solution. For as long as they remain in office, there will be no serious attempt to bring to book the people responsible for what the Vice-President Moody Awori once described as "grand corruption at the heart of the government" (and he should know -he is one of those accused by Githongo in relation to the Anglo Leasing scandal). Having effectively spat on the constitutional protections accorded their offices, it is now of paramount and overriding importance that Wako and Ringera, the two millstones around our collective necks, be removed from office. Kenya can survive incompetent politicians, even one in State House. But the nation cannot long endure incompetence or negligence in the professionals charged with keeping those politicians in check.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

In Defense of the Death Penalty

The execution of Saddam Hussein and two of his former henchmen has brought to the fore the issue of the death penalty. Over at tHiNkeR's rOoM, M has passionately argued that corporal punishment not only serves no purpose, but reduces society to the level of the criminals it is executing. Confronted with arguments for the deterrent value of the death penalty, M rails against the injustice of punishing people for crimes they re yet to commit.

On this issue, I would respectfully (and with a measure of trepidation, given his satirical abilities) disagree with him. Let us consider his statement that killing inmates reduces us to their level. If this argument were to be taken to its logical conclusion, then all forms of sanction would be declared immoral as all involve the denial of some fundamental right (life, liberty and property) which the criminal has previously denied to his victims. Prison terms, fines and community service require that we curtail the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms. Surely, abolishing all forms of punishment would be unlikely to deliver a society safe from crime. Secondly, to state that we cannot demand an-eye-for-an-eye recompense is to put the criminal himself in the position of determining what can or cannot be done to him. Since we do not wish to be like thieves, then society cannot take for itself a thief's hard earned property through a system of fines. The very act of thieving would thus deprive society of resort to this kind of punishment and kidnapping would automatically outlaw jail sentences. The criminals would be the new legislators.

M's objection to the deterrent value of capital punishment is similarly flawed. All form of punishment is geared to achieving three goals: compensation, rehabilitation and deterrence. We jail thieves so as:
1) to get some sort of compensatory justice in that they got what was coming to them;
2) to attempt within the prison system, to rehabilitate them by showing them the error of their ways and hopefully giving them a socially acceptable alternative course of action; and
3) to deter him and other would-be criminals by promising similar treatment (in the famous words of Vioja Mahakamani, ili iwe funzo kwa wengine wenye tabia kama hiyo).

The deterrence value of punishment (capital or otherwise) is an important safeguard for society. And it does involve an element of (to paraphrase M) punishing someone for sins both he and others are yet to commit. However, by engaging in criminal activity, one does forfeit one's rights and society can then rightfully proceed to impose sanction.

To my mind, the death penalty is only acceptable if it achieves deterrence. Compensatory justice is too much like revenge to suit my taste and it is obvious that no rehabilitation (at least in this world) is offered by the gallows. If, however, executing criminals saves the life of innocents by deterring murders etc. then I think the immoral position would be to spare them (the criminals). The question thus becomes: Does capital punishment deter murder? Empirical evidence would suggest that it does. Countries that are not shy about executions such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and China have dramatically low incidences of crime. As J. Edgar Hoover once put it, swift and sure punishment is the best way to deter crime. Imagine if everyone who committed murder instantaneously dropped down dead himself. It would then be safe to assume that very few murders would be committed. Since this does not happen, then we need to do the next best thing: quickly put to death anyone duly convicted of the crime.

Some raise objections around the fallibility of our criminal justice systems and the irreversibility of death. The fear here is that we are bound to execute a few innocents. Again these objections dissolve when applied to other forms of punishment. If we insisted on an absolute measure of guilt (as opposed to the "beyond reasonable doubt" standard), then we would have no criminal justice system. And all punishments are inherently irreversible anyway. You cannot give back the years and opportunities that are denied someone who is wrongfully jailed or fined.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Empire Strikes Back

Last week's decision by President Mwai Kibaki to tear up the 1997 IPPG "Gentleman's Agreement" is the latest blast from a new wind of change sweeping Africa. Throughout the continent, the former champions of democratic and transparent government, the very people who were expected to usher in Africa's Century, are sadly changing into a familiar form -the Big Man. Kibaki now joins Uganda's Yoweri Museveni, Nigeria's Obasanjo and Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi who have discarded the democratic rule book in a bid to extend their tenures and eradicate dissent.

For a while, I thought Kenya would prove immune to this. After all, our 2002 elections were hailed far and wide as an example to the rest of the continent. Even when Kibaki reneged on promises not to interfere with talks on a new constitution, failed to punish corruption within his Cabinet and kept silent as his wife and government goons intimidated the media, I always thought that he would not be so rash as to try and take away that which, above all else, we had fought so hard for -our right to replace him in a free and fair election.

In hindsight, this was naive. Why should Kenya be different from Ethiopia or Uganda? On this Animal Farm, democracy is locked in a continuing struggle against the darker impulses of dictatorship and we should never have imagined that with the election of NARC, we had earned five years of respite from that conflict. But we did. After we expelled Daniel "Mr. Jones" Moi, we happily acquiesced in the death of Old Major, the civil society that had been the vehicle for change when the politicians failed us. We celebrated when the leading lights of this disparate band of organisations were co-opted into government. Now when, like Napoleon and Squealer, the pigs turn against us and seek to rewrite the rules on the barn wall, we find that we cannot distinguish between them and the KANU dictators.

So what to do? The nightmare of the last 5 years should teach us all one important lesson: we cannot afford to rely on the goodwill of anyone who wants to be President. We must always keep up our guard against the return of the Big Man. And though the political class will seek to present this as a fait accompli, we need to show them (Kibaki and the other pigs in both NARC-K and ODM) that our freedoms are not to be trifled with. We need to send out this message loud and clear by voting him out in such numbers that all the Electoral Commissioners in the world could not reverse it. And we need to revive civil society organisations such as the NCEC. Popular support for these would serve notice to the next State House tenant that we intend to keep him on a very short leash.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

GWOT comes to Somalia

It has been a long while since I wrote a post and so much has happened in the meantime. In Somalia, Ethiopian forces have made short shrift of the much vaunted Union of Islamic Courts. In less than two weeks, the courts have been routed from many of the towns they formerly controlled and what remains of their forces is now trapped on the southern tip of the country. The noose around them is tightening as the Ethiopians advance from the north, the Kenyan border to the south and west remains closed and American warships cut off any eastward escape to the sea.

The parallels with the second Gulf War are rather unsettling. As was the case with Iraqi army, many of the armed men whose allegiance lay with the Courts simply vanished in the face of Ethipoia’s overwhelming force. Now Al-Qa'ida's second-in-command Ayman al-Zawahiri is calling for “Muslim brethren everywhere to respond to the call for jihad in Somalia” employing “ambushes, mines, raids, and martyrdom-seeking (suicide) campaigns”. Right on cue, today brought news of American air strikes against elements of the ICU fleeing Mogadishu. As usual, US policy seems peculiarly designed to create the maximum number of terrorists.

If there was one place where America was helpful by its military absence, Somalia was it. For as long as no American forces were seen to take part in the fighting, the task force off the Somali coast notwithstanding, it would have been difficult for Al-Qaida to turn Somalia into a cause célèbre for jihadists around the world. However, by launching these air strikes, instead of waiting for the Ethiopians to finish the job, the US may have just provided the fuel for another Iraq-type “insurgency”. I suspect that many jihadists, whose goal in life seems to be to die fighting the “Great Satan”, will now be attracted by the new opportunities to do so in Somalia. It is these foreign fanatics who have the funding, expertise and will to create havoc on such a scale that the last 15 years would seem a paragon of peace and order. This conflict, which has previously been cast as a purely African affair, is in danger of becoming another front in the disastrous War on Terror. And it is Africans who would shoulder the awful burden of such an eventuality.

The air strikes also work to undermine the Transitional Federal Government by leaving it open to accusations of being a US puppet. While it is common knowledge that the US provided diplomatic cover for the Ethiopian action, the TFG itself has not so far been described as an American imposition. Considering the last US foray into Somalia, such a charge could prove fatal to President Abdullahi Yusuf’s ambitions of exerting his authority over the whole of Somalia.

Also this week, an interesting story from the UK about the furore raised over the decision by a former Education Secretary to take her kid out of public schooling and into private school. The merits of that particular case notwithstanding, I generally consider it hypocritical for those who manage education and health systems to turn to the private sector for the same services for themselves and their families. Such a disdain of the fruits of their own handiwork hardly inspires confidence. But don’t look to our Kenyan backbenchers or the opposition to make an issue of it. They are too busy lining their own pockets to care about public services.