Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Spare Me!

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

What Have We Become?

The BBC is reporting that military helicopters have opened fire over the heads of warring gangs Naivasha. Question is: Is Kenya in an undeclared State of Emergency? Having seen pictures and heard media reports of the army patrolling streets in Naivasha and Nakuru, and curfews in these and other areas, I think the police have lost the ability to impose law and order. If this is the case, I wish the government would declare the emergence already. It makes no sense for the Commissioner of Police to insist that the cops are on top of things when we can plainly see evidence to the contrary.

I have also been privy to unconfirmed reports that 10 people, who were apparently part of a Luo gang that attacked a Kikuyu neighbourhood in Kibera last night following the killing of the MP for Embakassi, Mugabe Were, were caught and hacked to death. There are also reports of 3 dead bodies at or near the railway line in the slum, victims of overnight violence. Near where I live, in one of the middle class estates that ring Kibera, I have seen men carrying machetes and clubs patrolling the road. Rumours are flying that they are Mungiki here to repulse Luo gangs. And just now, about 1pm, the sound of gunfire had rung out over Kibera.

Why, at a time when things had calmed down in Nairobi, would anyone stoke the fires again by assassinating an opposition MP? Why would the police fire teargas canisters into a crowd of mourners? Are they deliberately trying to provoke a reaction? To use the terminology common in the Moi days, is someone "hell-bent on causing chaos and despondency"?

I hope things will have calmed down by the time my wife gets back from work. I am desperately worried for the safety of my brother and sister, who also live in the area.

Is this the kind of country we fought so hard to achieve in the 90s?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

ODM Planned Ethnic Attacks -Human Rights Watch

The BBC is reporting that the ODM planned and executed at least some of the recent post-election violence.

"We have evidence that ODM politicians and local leaders actively fomented some post-election violence," said the lobby group's acting Africa director (Georgette Gagnon).

Human Rights Watch says members of President Kibaki's Kikuyu community were targeted following the announcement of his victory.

Their researchers spoke to member of the rival Kalenjin group, who said they were mobilised by their leaders to attack and loot Kikuyu-owned shops and businesses.

Local ODM officials and Kalenjin leaders "arranged frequent meetings following the election to organise, direct and facilitate the violence unleashed by gangs of local youth", HRW said.

One ODM official provided a lorry to ferry youths to attack Kikuyus, it said.

"If the leaders say stop, it will stop immediately," one Kalenjin elder said.

Matchmaker, Matchmaker, Find Me a Match....

Monday, January 21, 2008

Another Missed Opportunity?

I am fast tiring of all the excuses our so-called leaders (on both sides) are employing to avoid having the necessary talks so the current crisis can be resolved. So what if Kibaki chose Kalonzo and Karua to represent him? As Yitzhak Rabin noted, one does not make peace with one's friends! And Raila cannot purport to decide for the PNU whom their negotiators should be.

Secondly, someone has to lay the groundwork for a face-to-face between the two, as Raila wants. It is of no use for them to meet just for the sake of it without any substantial outcome. Let their lieutenants sort out the messy details and converge their positions so that when we finally have a leaders' "summit" they will have something to sign. It is how negotiations are carried out all over the world.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Meanwhile, As Kenya Burns....

The fiddler at State House

Isn't it amazing that at a time when the country faces an existential crisis, the Head of State remains quiet, safely ensconced within the protective walls of State House and content to let the police guns and teargas do his talking for him? I know that this is default mode for him whenever there is a problem but this time I think his silence speaks volumes about how little he cares for the welfare of his subjects (for that is indeed what we have become), for democracy and for the rule of law.

Just when we though the Big Man Syndrome was gone for good, Africa's latest reformer-turned-dictator, following in the footsteps of others like Uganda's Yoweri Museveni and Ethiopia's Meles Zenawi, is now rolling back more than a decade of hard-won freedoms in a desperate bid to hang on to power. The so-called wind of change that was supposed be sweeping the continent is petering out in front of our eyes and with it go our hopes and dreams.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

In Defense of Our Democracy?

Raila Odinga, during his interview on BBC's Hardtalk yesterday, said he is willing to join a transitional arrangement that would

1) recognise Mwai Kibaki as President still in his first term and
2) create conditions for an independent forensic audit and retallying of the ballots or put in place a truly independent ECK to organise a re-run of the Presidential election.

Most importantly, he said he would abide by the results even in the unlikely event (his words) that a retallying showed a Kibaki win.

I think there is still remains an opportunity to salvage the nation and even to make the necessary constitutional changes that would enable us to emerge from the crisis as a stronger democracy.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My Way Out of this Mess

I think we have two problems in Kenya that we are in danger of confluencing. First is a political and legal problem occasioned by a stolen election. The second is a law-and-order issue.

The election results declared by the ECK chairman Samuel Kivuitu may or may not reflect the will of the Kenyan people. That uncertainty is at the heart of the current political crisis and needs to be cleared up. The only way is through a recount and retallying of the votes. How do we do that? Well, two weeks ago, in an exceedingly rare demonstration of cajones, Kenya's Attorney-General Amos Wako went against his boss, President Mwai Kibaki, and recommended a recount and further declared in his statement that we do not need a court order to do that. This statement stands in marked contrast to the claim by the Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua that a recount can only be ordered by the courts. In my view, since Wako holds a constitutional office and Karua is a (possibly invalid) political appointee, his word carries much more weight than hers.

The issue is further complicated by Raila Odinga's and the ODM's refusal to go court citing the fact that the judges have been appointed by Kibaki himself and thus questioning their neutrality. I consider Raila's rejection of the court system to be hypocritical. He cannot pick and choose which parts of the constitution he wishes to obey. He cannot rely on certain provisions which back his case for the Presidency and reject those that complicate it. Our judges have always been appointed by the sitting President. The fact of their appointment is not enough to impugn their integrity. That said, it is manifestly unfair and self-serving for Kibaki to insist on this course of action considering that our courts take up to 5 years to dispose of election disputes (Kibaki's own case against Moi's 1997 election was decided in July 1999, after almost one-and-a-half years) and the overall politicization of the court process. The earlier mentioned case of Kibaki was thrown out on the basis that President Moi was not personally served with the petition despite the fact that (as reported by Kenyan Jurist) all the previous decisions, both local and from other commonwealth countries, with similar legislation, were clear that the petitioner had several options of service of the petition including service through the Kenya Gazette; and despite the judges acknowledging the factual accuracy of Kibaki's claim that presidential security consistently had denied him personal access to Moi. Kenneth Matiba's court challenge of Moi's 1992 electionwas similarly thrown out on the flimsy grounds that the petition was not signed by Hon Matiba himself but his advocate. On such technical decisions were Kenyans were denied the right to know what actually happened.

Though the results of any public retallying by an independent body (as recommended by Wako) would not automatically overturn the ECK's decision (only a court an do that), they could then form part of the evidence in a subsequent petition and the public pressure would probably insure against any shenanigans by the judges. Also, Parliament, when it convenes tomorrow, should urgently consider changes to our laws to place limits on how long courts can take to rule on election petitions, and to govern the inauguration of a new President to allow time for the petitions to be heard and determined.

As for the law-and-order issue, no political protest (of whatever magnitude) justifies ethnic cleansing, murder and looting. What we have in the Rift Valley and other parts of Kenya are thieves and killers masquerading as political protesters. I think the government should clamp down on that nonsense mercilessly (by for example immediately arresting and charging all those culprits who have been committing these acts in the full glare of TV cameras) while at the same time allowing space for legitimate and peaceful protest. It is sadly ironic that the very clique that used mass action so effectively against Moi in the 90s is now banning that very tactic. We have truly come full circle. The scenes of peaceful women demonstrators being dispersed with teargas when they were clearly posing no threats to the peace are deplorable (a caveat here: They really should have informed the Police of their intended march; we cannot uphold the law by abusing it). The called for mass action should be allowed to take place and the organisers should cooperate with police to ensure no violence occurs. That way, the police will truly be seen to be serving the Kenyan nation and not securing the interests of a would-be dictator holed up in State House.


Saturday, January 05, 2008

Leadership? What Leadership?

ODM calls for Peace

The crisis the country is above all attributable to a failure in leadership. None of the protagonists (Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga) could bring themselves to rise above their individual interests in securing power. They have both deliberately trampled on the national interest in their vainglorious search for personal fulfilment. Kibaki, seeking to extend his State House tenancy undoubtedly stole the election, and thus brought us to the brink of this precipice. However, Odinga's reaction to this injustice is what is now threatening to push us over the edge.

Over the past week, Kenyans have been disabused of the notion that we are somehow immune to the sorts of state collapse and genocidal tendencies that characterise much of the rest of Africa. Long touted as "an island of peace and stability" we have suddenly come face to face with the reality that underneath the seeming calm lies a smouldering volcano of disaffection, hate, desperation and fear. It is no coincidence that most of the carnage we are witnessing on our TV screens is visited upon the poor, by the poor.

I live in a middle class housing estate, only a few hundred metres from the Kibera slums. Yet, the place is no need of police protection. None ofthe rioting mobs has ventured close in spite of the lack of a police presence. While looting, chaos and death have reigned within the slum, we have been carrying on as normal, only slightly inconvenienced by the fact that the supermarkets, restaurants and bars were closed.

What we are witnessing in Kenya is more than just a political crisis with tribal overtones. It is the result of decades of unequal development that has led to one of the most inequitable societies on earth. The richest 10% (who are drawn from almost every tribe) of our society control the vast majority of our GDP. The people rioting in the streets are part of the 46% of our population that lives on less than $1 a day. They have nothing to lose. 5 years of steady economic growth under Kibaki has clearly demonstrated to them that even in boomtime, they will gain nothing. The UN's Human Development Index indicates that they are worse off today than they were 5 years ago. Inflation is running at levels not seen since the economic collapse of 1990s.

So they jump onto the ODM bandwagon which promises more equitable distribution of resources. It is immaterail that the populist Odinga is one of the wealthiest people in the land. It is also immaterial that he once joined the kleptocratic Moi in government (ironically denouncing the sorts of unlicensed political rallies he is calling for today as "treasonous"). All that matters is that he is offering an alternative (however illusory) to a deperate and marginalised people. It is the proverbial straw that the drowning man will clutch for.

Yet, as events in past few days have demonstrated, neither Odinga nor Kibaki have much regard for the suffering of their fellow Kenyans. They are content to issue alarmist and inciting statements from the comfort and safety of their fortified, luxurious homes. Each passing day they polarise the country further with their political brinkmanship.

However, the country is fighting back. Led by the media, artists, businesspeople and trade unionists, many are rejecting the slide towards anarchy. In this, I find a great deal of hope. For if we can develop alternative centres of power and influence, and rob the political class of the all-encompassing grip it has on our collective throat, then future political problems can be quarantined within the political sphere and not allowed to infect the rest of society.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Who Cares?

Q: What happens when an unstoppable demagogue meets with an immovable election thief?
A: Kenyans die!