Wednesday, December 31, 2008

War on Peace?

It is often said that truth is the first casualty of war. Take the reasons offered for the ongoing bombardment and invasion of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force. The right of national self defense is the oft-repeated mantra, the reasoning being that no nation can abide continued rocket attacks on its civilian population.

To support their claim, the Israelis have been issuing figures of up to 11,000 rockets lobbed either by Hamas or with its blessing into Southern Israel from Gaza, and have accused the group of refusing to respect and renew the current ceasefire while at the same time taking advantage of the lull to replenish its weapons stocks.

Well, regarding the just ended ceasefire, a report by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC) which is part of the Israel Intelligence Heritage & Commemoration Center (IICC), an NGO dedicated to the memory of the fallen of the Israeli Intelligence Community says
"As of June 19 [when the ceasefire took effect], there was a marked reduction in the extent of attacks on the western Negev population. The lull was sporadically violated by rocket and mortar shell fire, carried out by rogue terrorist organizations, in some instance in defiance of Hamas (especially by Fatah and Al-Qaeda supporters). Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire."
The report goes on to show that between June 19 and November 4 (when the truce was broken by an Israeli incursion into Gaza -more on that later)only 20 rockets (three of which fell inside the Gaza Strip) and 18 mortar shells (five of which fell inside the Gaza Strip) were fired at Israel. Compare this with the average of 380 rockets and mortars a month in the six months preceding the ceasefire.

In fact, the Jeruasalem Post reported that on Sunday, 21 December, less than a week before Israel launched her attack on Gaza, Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) head Yuval Diskin told the cabinet that Hamas was interested in renewing the relative calm with Israel and wanted to improve the cease-fire conditions.
"Diskin listed Hamas' conditions as cancelling the blockade of the Gaza Strip, obtaining a commitment that Israel won't attack, and expanding the cease-fire to the West Bank."
In fact, historically it is Israel itself that has been reluctant to accede to truces and ceasefire. 

  • In the early 90s, Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmad Yassin offered Israel a fixed ceasefire of 20-50 years if she withdrew to the 1967 borders, if both sides undertook not to attack each other and if there were free elections for Palestinian reps to peace talks. Yassin explicitly accepted that elected Palestinian reps would recognise Israel and that such an outcome would end the conflict. There were no takers from Israel. 
  • On July 31, 2001, Israel's assassination of 2 militants in Nablus ended a near two-month Hamas ceasefire. 
  • On July 22, 2002, just 90 minutes after the text of a Tanzim ceasefire supported by the EU, Jordan and the Saudis had been completed, an Israeli airstrike on a crowded apartment block killed a senior Hamas leader, Sheikh Salah Shehada, and 14 civilians, 9 of them children. The Israelis later admitted that they were aware of the impending declaration of the ceasefire. 
  • In February 2005, Hamas signed on to a limited ceasefire agreement banning non-retaliatory attacks on Israeli targets, during talks with the Palestinian Authority and other militant groups. While the ceasefire officially ended on January 1, 2006, Hamas maintained it without further commitment till popular anger over the alleged Israeli shelling of a beach in northern Gaza, which killed 7 family members, forced it to withdraw from the ceasefire in June 2006. It is instructive to note that throughout this period, Israel continued her policy of incursions, shelling and assassinations.
Given then that Hamas was committed to maintaining the June 19 tahadiyeh (lull), how and why then did it collapse?

The ceasefire was based on unwritten understandings and there was ambiguity as to how long it would hold. According to the ITIC report quoted earlier, " Israel 's position was that the lull had no time limit. The position of Hamas and the other Palestinian terrorist organizations was that it would remain in force for six months and they then expected it to be extended to Judea and Samaria . Spokesmen of Hamas and other terrorist organizations later stated that it would end on Friday morning, December 19." However fighting broke out on the evening of November 4 when, according to the BBC, Israeli tanks and a bulldozer moved 250m into the central part of the coastal enclave, backed by military aircraft. 

The Israelis claim their intention was to destroy a tunnel dug by militants to abduct its troops. In the ensuing violence, 6 Hamas fighters were killed and the group responded by lobbing over 35 rockets and mortars into southern Israel. The ITIC report shows that by December 17, a further 330 rockets and mortars had been fired from Gaza into Israel by Hamas and other Palestinian groups while Israel responded with air strikes and by "closing the [border] crossings for longer periods leading to shortages of basic goods in the Gaza Strip and disruptions in the supply of fuel." And while the ITIC report claimed that "electrical power was not cut off, since the plant in Ashqelon , which supplies 65% of the Gaza Strip's electricity, provided an uninterrupted flow of power", TimesOnline quoted UN figures showing that half of Gaza City’s residents received water only once a week for a few hours and homes were without electricity for up to 16 hours a day.

By December 18, with one day left to go in what was by then a largely fictitious ceasefire, Hamas was declaring, in the words of MP Mushir al-Masri "the truce with Israel is finished .... and there is no possibility of it being renewed." Another Hamas official, Ayman Taha, explained that the lull was dead "because the enemy did not abide by its obligations."

Explaining the group's logic, Israeli author Arthur Nelsen wrote in Haaretz:
"Breaking the siege that has crippled normal Gazan life is the central challenge facing Hamas, both because it has decimated the lives of its electoral base, and because it is a litmus test of the group's alternative policy for statehood through resistance as well as talks. 

If the tahadiyeh (lull) had succeeded in opening Gaza's borders to aid, trade and free passage for Gazans - especially work-related passage - it would have been political madness for Hamas to break it. As things were, the Gaza closure pushed the organization's popular support down to 16 percent in November, according to one opinion poll, and it must have concluded it no longer had anything to gain by holding fire. "
It therefore seems clear that, contrary to Israeli government  assertions, Hamas largely abided by the tahadiyeh and would have preferred to extend and renew it even after the hostilities provoked on November 4 provided the Israeli blockade of Gaza was lifted, as Shin Bet's Diskin confirmed. It is thus the siege and the reasoning behind it, namely the toppling of Hamas and reversal of the 2006 election result, that is the real issue. 

On this, there is broad agreement across the Israeli political spectrum, despite recent statements to the contrary. On December 21, the same day Diskin gave his cabinet briefing, the top candidates to become Israel's next Prime Minister, Kadima's Tzipi Livni and Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to topple Hamas in Gaza. Livni said her government's "strategic objective" would be to "topple the Hamas regime" using military, economic and diplomatic means. Netanyahu called for a more "active policy of attack", accusing the current government of being too "passive". "In the long-term, we will have to topple the Hamas regime. Ephraim Sneh, former Deputy Defense Minister and chairman of the Strong Israel Party, argued in the Washington Post on New Year's Day that Israel's strategic aim is not to stop rockets falling on Sderot, but to topple the Hamas government in Gaza. More directly, Deputy Prime Minister Haim Ramon in televised comments last week said: "The goal of the [current] operation is to topple Hamas." 

But even the uprooting and destruction of Hamas would be but a step on the way to Israel's ultimate goal, an imposed peace. The idea that Palestinian quiet would be met with Israeli concessions has been effectively demolished in the West Bank. There, where no rockets or mortars are being fired and where a moderate Fatah government of Mohammud Abbas holds sway, Israel has increased its checkpoints, expanded its settlements and continued to build its illegal "separation barrier" on Palestinian land. Even the much touted pullout from Gaza was described by a senior adviser to then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, Dov Weisglass, as "formaldehyde." It supplies the amount of formaldehyde that is necessary so that there will not be a political process with the Palestinians... this whole package that is called the Palestinian state has been removed from our agenda indefinitely." 

A final word on Hamas rockets and the targetting of civilians. Arthur Nelsen writes concerning the former:
"Rocket attacks may be criminal and ineffective - as well as self-defeating in the destructive response they elicit from Israel. But they also meet a very human need to maintain both honor under fire and the spirit of resistance....As Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum put it, 'Because the occupation decided to use every shade of punishment to destroy Hamas - collective punishment, deporting, arresting and killing - we need military resistance to force it to stop.'"
And the targetting of civilians is a tactic that has been adopted by both sides. In January 2008, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said concerning those his government now claims are held hostage by Hamas: "As far as I'm concerned Gaza residents will walk, without gas for their cars, because they have a murderous, terrorist regime that doesn't let people in southern Israel live in peace." Once the principle has been established that Gazans can be punished for Hamas' rockets, it is a small leap from blockading and siege to bombing and death.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Not Yet Uhuru

In the run up to last year's election, I argued (to vociferous protest from some of my readers) that not only was the Mwai Kibaki administration a beneficiary, and not the instigator, of democratic reform, but was (and still is) engaged in the process of rolling back our hard won freedoms. After at least four attempts to muzzle the media (and now civil society) through brute force and legislation, countless unresolved corruption scandals and a stolen election, I wonder how many still think the President is interested in democracy.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Iraqi Journalist Shows Kenyan Counterparts The Way

I hope Nyambane and Fredrick Odhiambo are watching. This is how it should be done! During a press conference on his final tour of Iraq, George W. Bush was ducking more than questions after an Iraqi journalist threw his shoes at him shouting, "This is a farewell kiss, you dog!" 

Perhaps a new report which describes the US effort to rebuild Iraq as a $100 billion failure is what had the gentleman, identified as Muntadar al-Zeidi, a correspondent for Al-Baghdadia television, so riled up. The report lays bare the general incompetence of those tasked with the effort and their attempts to cover up their failures by resorting to Saddamist tactics (The document has former secretary of state Colin Powell complaining that after the 2003 invasion, the Defense Department "kept inventing numbers of Iraqi security forces -- the number would jump 20,000 a week! We now have 80,000, we now have 100,000, we now have 120,000.'")

Whatever his grievance, the reporter was beaten up and arrested by security agents. If the Kenyan example of how we deal with those who disrespect our big men (as Internal Security Minister George Saitoti described the Jamhuri Day protests) is anything to go by, I think the Iraqi journalist deserves all our prayers.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Is Zimbabwe Africa's Iraq?

The similarities are uncanny. Two nations, both led by megalomaniacal demagogues with delusions of grandeur, both involved in costly (and ultimately failed) foreign adventures, both considered international pariahs and both subject to debilitating international sanctions. And if Prime Minister Raila Odinga has his way, Robert Mugabe's Zimbawe may soon have something else in common with Saddam Hussein's Iraq: US-style regime change this time delivered by African Union troops.

The proposal, which has received Archbishop Desmond Tutu's blessing, is unlikely to succeed on two counts. First, it is unclear whether the famously spineless AU is up to the task. Its record and that of its predecessor the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) hardly inspires confidence. The deployment of an under-resourced and undrmanned AU peacekeeping force in Darfur in 2004 did little to quell the violence there and the peacekeepers frequently became targets themselves. Even faced with Zimababwe's unpaid and unmotivated army (which resembles its DRC counterpart by the day), it is by no means certain whether the AU could muster enough troops and resources to get the job done. 

Secondly, while Zimbabwe's economic problems have undoubtedly been exacerbated by the undeclared sanctions imposed upon it by the US, it is also accurate to say that it is Mugabe's myopia and greed that led to the crisis in the first place (the economy was in free-fall way before the enactment of the Zimbabwe Democracy and Economic Recovery Act in December 2001, through which "Zimbabwe’s access to finance and credit facilities was effectively incinerated"). Many of the African countries that would be contributing troops to unseat Mugabe are similarly affleicted, even though the symptoms of economic malaise have not been demonstrated in as dramatic a fashion. It is unlikely that the likes of Meles Zenawi, Yoweri Museveni and Mwai Kibaki (to name but a few) would have anything constructive to add to a discussion on restoration of democracy in Zimbabwe.

Perhaps Africa's rulers should first remove the straw from their own eyes before tackling the log in Mugabe's?

In the meantime, I think the continued denial of international finance and credit facilities to Zimbabwe is abominable. Just like the 12-year Iraqi sanction regime, it hurts the people while doing little to dislodge the regime. While I support continued international pressure to oust Mugabe or at the very least secure a transitional power-sharing agreement, inducing a full-scale collapse of the country's economy is beyond the pale.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Party Poopers

Recently the residents of Africa's largest slum, Kibera, had an opportunity to celebrate the election of Raila Odinga as their MP. But they apparently had more pressing matters on their minds. The PM's triumphal "homecoming" was marred by shouts of "Unga!" as his constituents sought to know what he and his guests (who included the Minister for Agriculture) were doing about the escalating cost of maize flour, a staple for most Kenyan families. Their welfare is, after all, supposedly one of the reasons he is enjoying his over-inflated, tax-free pay package.

The Waheshimiwas reaction to all the commotion would have been laughable if it wasn't so tragic. The Prime Minister blamed his Agriculture Minister, William Ruto, who returned the compliment by pointing out that Mr. Odinga chairs the Cabinet sub-committee on agriculture. No less than 9 Cabinet Ministers blamed something called "The Government" for the situation! They threatened "dire consequences" should the issue not be resolved post-haste with one of them (Prof. Anyang' Nyong'o, Minister for Medical Services) vowing to lead public demonstrations.

I remember a quote from Prof. Nyong'o during his days in opposition. He used to speak of people who were "incompetent to govern", referring to the Mo1 regime. It now seems very like a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Blinkered Justice

Now that one of the most vocal critics of the Waki Report, Hon. William Ruto, has backtracked and acceded to its implementation, the question is: What quo is he getting for his quid? 

I'm certain that his change of tune has not been occasioned by a miraculous spiritual revelation but by a rather mundane political epiphany. The intentions of the report's authors are unlikely to survive a ride through our National Assembly and courts. 

Sure we will end up with some cosmetic moves towards justice but nothing substantive. And while a few of their pawns may be allowed to rot in jail as a sacrifice to appease our wrath, none of the organisers and financiers of the post-election violence is ever likely to pay for the crimes. Ruto himself recently told us that it was "dishonest" for us to demand that they do.

I predict that a day of national forgiveness is coming (properly attired in the now regulation public holiday), preceded by a Truth and Justice Commission which will provide neither truth nor justice. A local tribunal set up to investigate the post-election crimes will expend massive resources and effort overlooking evidence and missing clues. A feeble attempt at prosecution will be made and quietly abandoned years later following innumerable Constitutional petitions. Already lawyers are pointing out that "a court ruling that expunged the name of former Central Bank of Kenya governor Eric Kotut from the recommendations of the Goldenberg Commission report has sounded a death knell to recommendations of all commissions formed since independence", including the Waki Commission.

All this will be covered in great mind-numbing detail by our local media though a few years later it will be difficult to find a Kenyan who remembers exactly what all the fuss was about.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Waki's Bully Tactics?

Isn't it just great to see the consternation that the Waki report is causing our previously untouchable politicians? The thieving, murderously incompetent rabble-rousers deserve everything that's coming to them.

Election Dance-Off

Crumpin' you can believe in!

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Waki-ing up to Reality

Surprise, surprise! It now emerges that the change of mind by principals in ODM and PNU regarding the implementation of the Waki report had nothing to do with the interests of Kenyans at large. It is instead a cynical attempt to keep instigators and  perpetrators of the post-election mayhem away from the hands of prosecutors at the International Criminal Court. 
[T]he Nation learnt that the fear that post-election violence suspects could be taken to the ICC at The Hague, The Netherlands, is behind the change of mind by some MPs within PNU and ODM.

Sources said PNU leaders were taken through the Waki report and its implications if a local tribunal was not formed by lawyers Mutula Kilonzo who is also Metropolitan minister and former Kanu chief whip Justin Muturi.

Mr Kilonzo managed to convince 10 Cabinet ministers allied to PNU not to dismiss the report as this would land the suspects in the ICC....

Mr Kilonzo, Mr Sirma, MPs Bonny Khalwale and Cyrus Jirongo said MPs had read and understood that it was futile to dismiss the Waki report when it had a self-implementing mechanism.
Yesterday's 9pm TV news reports showed Deputy Prime Minister Musalia Mudavadi recommending adoption of the report on the basis that it would be easier to manipulate a local tribunal than to deal with the ICC. In fact, the Daily Nation further reports that there are already moves to "propose amendments to the Waki recommendations to ensure that instead of having two foreign judges and one local in both tribunal courts, two judges should come from Kenya" once the report is tabled in Parliament. (Since this was not a Parliamentary report, it is unclear on what authority the MPs would amend it.)  

It is thus clear that there never was any intention of ensuring that those responsible for the rape, murder and displacement of thousands faced justice. On that score alone, we should do away with the whole idea of a local tribunal. Since both parties were keen to report one another to the ICC in January, I think we should grant them their wish and let Luis Moreno-Ocampo have his way with them.

Fiat justitia, ruat coelum (Let justice be done, though the heavens fall)!

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Absurdity of Hopelessness

First we were the only country in the world to declare a public holiday to honour the election of a foreign head of state. That was bad enough. But our national obsession with Barack Obama knows no bounds. 

Our MPs have declared their intention to hold a thanksgiving prayer meeting at Uhuru Park, Obama's grandmother has netted an international job as Ambassador-at-large for some algae and newspapers are full of reports of an expected economic bonanza heading our way. Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his pet poodle Otieno Kajwang' are both claiming to have played "crucial" roles helping secure Obama's victory in the expectation, I wager, of invitations to visit with the future First Family in the White House or Cabinet posts in the new Administration. I wonder how many kids unlucky enough to be born this year will forever carry monickers such as Kogelo, Whitehouse, Election etc.

And when the party is over, when all euphoria has dissipated, we will be the same divided Kenya. After celebrating another peoples' milestone on the road towards true unity, we will ourselves retreat from the call of History and head back into our tribal cocoons, sharpening our pangas in readiness for the next round of bloodletting masquerading as election campaigns.

Or, perhaps, just perhaps, we can change?

Yes we can! But we won't.

Monday, October 27, 2008


I have some misgivings about a Barrack Obama presidency and how it would affect us, most especially his stance towards global trade. For one whom Mukoma Wa Ngugi describes as "a mosaic of cultures and experiences...probably the first political leader to fit snugly into the skin of globalization", his proclamations on protecting American jobs and his opposition to Free Trade Agreements smack of good old-fashioned protectionism cloaked in the guise of a paternalistic and condescendng concern over the plight of poor people everywhere. 

In his memoir, Dreams From My Father, here's what he had to say on the subject of globalisation: 
"I tried to imagine the Indonesian workers who were now making their way to the sorts of factories that had once sat along the banks of the Calumet River [in south Chicago], joining the ranks of wage labor to assemble the radios and sneakers that sold on Michigan Avenue. I imagined those same Indonesian workers ten, twenty years from now, when their factories would have closed down, a consequence of new technology or lower wages in some other part of the globe. And then the bitter discovery that their markets have vanished; that they no longer remember how to weave their own baskets or carve their own furniture or grow their own food; that even if they remember such craft, the forests that gave them wood are now owned by timber interests, the baskets they once wove have been replaced by more durable plastics. The very existence of the factories, the timber interests, the plastics manufacturer, will have rendered their culture obsolete; the values of hard work and individual initiative turnout to have depended on a system of belief that’s been scrambled by migration and urbanization and imported TV reruns. Some of them would prosper in this new order. Others would move to America. And the others, the millions left behind in Djakarta, or Lagos, or the West Bank, they would settle into their own Altgeld Gardens [the projects where Obama worked], into a deeper despair." 

Idealizing the lifestyles of the poor (I am yet to hear Obama urging the residents of Manhattan to settle the prairies, weave baskets and grow their own food) is a pretext employed by those who have the most to fear from globalisation. And that’s not the poor, who are suffering anyway, but those who have benefited from the skewed nature of global trade, America and Western Europe. 

Even worse, it is just such mercantilist thinking that pushed the world into an economic depression in following the stock market crash of 1929. Once again the global economy stands on the brink of the precipice and we must be careful that those, such as Obama, who seek to protect their ill-gotten gains behind trade barriers are not allowed to push us over.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Waki Nation

Reading parts of the Waki report as detailed in the Nation, one thing struck me as a bit strange. The report contends that at least part of the post-election violence was stoked by the Majimbo debate. It seems to me that Justice Waki is declaring certain topics/issues to be no-go zones, that we have no business discussing alternative forms of  government beause such loose talk will inevitably lead to violence. This is just another recipe for the petrification of Kenyan society, and consequently a guarantee of the preservation of the inequality and thievery that's characterizes our present system. Furthermore, it perpetuates the notion that Kenyans are to treated like children, deemed unable to comprehend the complexities of the world. We need to be shielded from certain ideas which can only soil our naive souls, or worse, bring out the murderous savage that dwells not far from the surface of each one of us. Personally, I find such notions deeply insulting.

Today I spent an hour stuck in traffic courtesy of one Mwai Kibaki, whose idea of public service seems to include taking a drive through the city during the lunchtime rush hour. The experience just brought home another aspect of the idiocy of Mutula Kilonzo's idea of building a dedicated lane for VIPs (apart from the obvious ass-licking issues, of course!) I couldn't help but notice that Uhuru Highway has 3 lanes each way but the police never clear just one for the potentates. What makes the Honourable gentleman assume that adding a fourth will change this behaviour?

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

A Kenyan Obamanation

Not content with intimidating those alleging that Kenya is arming Southern Sudan, the government has now inserted itself into the US presidential campaign by arresting and deporting the author of a book critical of Barack Obama. According to Xinhua,
Jerome Corsi, who authored "The Obama Nation; Leftist Politics and the Cult of Personality", was arrested at a Nairobi hotel on Monday minutes before launching the book meant to advance a negative campaign against the U.S. Democratic presidential candidate on his ancestral soil. The book questions the Illinois senator's character, his links to Prime Minister Raila Odinga and attacks Obama's fitness for the White House.

Corsi was grabbed as he entered the venue of the press conference and his books and copies of the media statement grabbedand later whisked to the Immigration department for questioning. In a statement he issued inviting journalists at the book launch, left no secret of the intention to hurl dirt at Obama and undermine his campaign from his ancestral home.

"Dr. Corsi will also expose details of deep secret ties between US Democratic presidential candidate Sen Barack Obama and a section of Kenya government leaders, their connection to certain sectoral groups in Kenya and subsequent plot to be executed in Kenya should Sen Obama win the American presidency," the statement reads in part.
Since when did it become a crime in Kenya to criticise Obama? And isn't this the height of irresponsibility? Not only does this harm Obama and open him up to accusations of intolerance, it also creates enemies in the one place we do not need them. What should happen if John McCain should  ascend to the US presidency? Won't our government have compromised our future relations with the most powerful nation on earth?

In fact, such action seems unnecessary considering, according Wikipedia
Corsi's book has been criticized for inaccuracies by news organizations such as The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, U.S. News and World Report, the Associated Press, Time magazine, Newsweek, The Daily Telegraph, Editor & Publisher, The Guardian, CNN, The Independent,, and The Boston Globe. According to The New York Times, "several of the book's accusations, in fact, are unsubstantiated, misleading or inaccurate." Peter Wehner of Commentary wrote: "conservatives should not hitch their hopes to" Corsi's book because "it seems to be riddled with factual errors — some relatively minor (like asserting that Obama does not mention the birth of his half-sister, Maya Soetoro-Ng, in Dreams from My Father; Obama does mention her), and some significant (suggesting that Obama favors withdrawing troops from Afghanistan; he wants to do the opposite)."
Not that its accuracy should be an issue for the government absent a libel complaint from concerned individuals (yes, libel is still criminalised in our statutes.)

On the other hand, perhaps this has nothing to do with Obama and everything to do with politicians covering their asses. What exactly was Corsi going to reveal during his press conference? According to Classic FM, the book "paints some local politicians in a bad light."

This is just more evidence that the Kibaki-Raila administration is not interested in promoting free speech.

MSNBC, quoting a "senior immigration officer", Carlos Maluta, is reporting that Jerome Corsi "was picked up by police Tuesday for not having a work permit."  He is due to be deported tonight. 
He was briefly detained at immigration headquarters before being brought to Jomo Kenyatta International Airport for deportation, said Joseph Mumira, head of criminal investigations at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.
Hmmmm?! Does one need a work permit to adress the press? Does one need a work permit to promote the sales of a book (which sales generate tax revenue for the government)? Does Nameless need a work permit to go to the US and hold concerts to promote sales of his CDs?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Shooting the Messenger

The BBC is reporting that Kenyan police have arrested Andrew Mwangura, who's the spokesman for the Kenyan chapter of the Seafarers Assistance Programme, over allegations that the tanks and weapons aboard the recently hijacked Ukranian ship, MV Faina, were destined for the autonomous government of South Sudan in a possible contravention of the Sudan Peace Accord, and not Kenya as the government claims. According to the Associated Press, Mr. Mwangura was the first to publicly state this though the claim has been subsequently repeated by a US navy spokesman. Kenya, Sudan and the Ukraine flatly reject the allegation.

The police have been looking for Mwangura since Tuesday apparently because "he has been too vocal on the media, we want him to share with us what he knows of these pirates," a police official reportedly told AFP.
"We just want to question him on a few issues. It appears he knows more on the ship. We want him to tell us about this southern Sudan controversy about the arms," added another official.
"All I can tell you is that he is being investigated for issuing alarming statements. Those are the charges he is likely to face," said another official attached to the Criminal Investigations Department.
The good folks at Mars Group Kenya have posted a series of questions which I think the Kenyan Government needs to clear up if we're to be convined that there is no sinister motive behind this arrest. Earlier this week, Mwangura had said that the Kenyan authorities had banned him from speaking to the media on the piracy saga. On what authority, I wonder? Whatever happened to freedom of expression? According Section 66 of the Penal Code (Hat Tip: Kenya Law Reports)
66. (1) Any person who publishes any false statement, rumour or report which is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace is guilty of a misdemeanour.
(2) It shall be a defence to a charge under subsection (1) if the accused proves that, prior to publication, he took such measures to verify the accuracy of the statement, rumour or report as to lead him reasonably to believe that it was true.
According to The Scotsman (Hat Tip: Dinah Lord), Mwangura, 45, has run the Seafarer's Assistance Programme for the past 12 years, tracking down missing vessels, investigating deaths at sea and negotiating the release of hostages. 
When one of their ships goes missing, the millionaire owners telephone Andrew Mwangura, a former seaman who lives in a two-room shack and relies on internet cafes to communicate with his global network of contacts.
This would lead any right-thinking person to believe that he knows what he is talking about. His arrest therefore constitutes an abuse of the powers granted under Section 66. The police themselves claim ignorance of the facts he clams to advance, have not demonstrated a prima facie case that what he says is untrue (it all comes down to whether you belive Alfred Mutua or the US Navy) and I fail to see how whistle-blowing on the gun-running activities of the Kenyan Government "is likely to cause fear and alarm to the public or to disturb the public peace." 

I think the situation is probably as Mwangura himself put it: "The government doesn't like what we do and there are lots of people making money from piracy who would like us out of business."
The gangs, he says, are masterminded by crimelords in Dubai and Nairobi who monitor shipping routes for lucrative targets. They pass directions on to as many as five pirate gangs who pay a "licence fee" to Somali politicians or clan elders. "The majority of the Somali leaders are warlords or mafia-like businessmen connected to pirates, arms smugglers, people-traffickers, illegal fishing, logging," he says. "A thief can't catch a thief." The first Mr Mwangura hears of a hijack is a phone call from a Somali source or a shipping company desperate to trace a missing vessel. He uses a network of contacts in Somalia to find the ship and make contact with the hijackers. "If we can find a cell number for the gunmen and ask to speak to the crew to make sure they are safe, then often we can, as long as we don't give away the position of the ship," he says.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Gold Diggers

Isn't it amazing how Kenyan politicians and bureaucrats have become profligate with our tax money? Recently they have proposed to give a hefty compensation package to the wives of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Prime Minister Raila Odinga for their labour of love, the hardship of living on the public purse in palatial houses and hosting grand bashes, and the inconvenience of free first-class travel around the world, all in a dubious endeavour to enhance Kenya's image. For all these, we will be priviledged to pay them Kshs. 2,160,000 each over the next four-and-a-half years. This is in addition to huge travel allowances and the salaries they currently enjoy at their respective jobs. This year, President Kibaki's wife received a salary increment (she's now paid almost Kshs. 6M per year) for her supposedly expanded duties inspite of the fact that she is rarely seen in public. Talk of gold diggers!! In comparison, a gold medal winner at the recent Olympics in Beijing will receive a paltry Kshs. 750,000 for his/her four years of hard work.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Justice under the Cosh?

As reported in the Standard on Wednesday last week, Chief Justice Evan Gicheru is proposing to second senior judges as resource persons for training prosecutors and investigators, blaming the “apparent inability of the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions [Keriako Tobiko] and the Police to properly investigate and prosecute criminal cases” for the failure to secure convictions. Coming from the head of the institution that is most responsible for ensuring the protection of our common rights, this is a shocking turn. Pretty soon, any defendant may find himself facing a prosecutor trained by the very judge overseeing his case. This would raise uncomfortable questions regarding how fair such proceedings would be. It is as if classroom teachers were allowed to grade the national exams of their students. Would the judges be grading their student’s work or their own teaching abilities?

The offer also raises questions regarding the impartiality of the judiciary in criminal proceedings. What interest does the institution have in securing more convictions? Is it not supposed to be a disinterested party in one’s dispute with the state? While it is obvious that our prosecutors and investigators are in dire need of better training, is the Judiciary the appropriate organ to do this? Wouldn’t our judges be better employed sorting out the ridiculous backlog of cases and leave the training of prosecutors to someone else?

What about defendant’s rights? While it is true that the offices of the DPP and that of his boss, Attorney-General Amos Wako, are renowned for incompetence, the fact is that for the average Kenyan, the court is a supremely intimidating environment. No public legal assistance is provided and few are able to afford counsel. Consequently, most defendants are ignorant of their rights. Many simply plead guilty to avoid wasting years of their lives remanded in custody while prosecutors seek adjournment after adjournment citing incomplete investigations (why they should be allowed to charge you and deprive you of your liberty before collecting the necessary evidence and witnesses is beyond me). I, for one, am always depressed by the sight of tens of defendants being charged at the same time for all manner of unrelated misdemeanours. Surely, this militates against any attempt to establish the particular facts of their individual cases, doesn’t it?

I’m all for a better prosecutorial service. But this hardly seems to be the best way to go about it.

And while we are still on the subject of our Judiciary, I was rather surprised at the announcement that we would be seconding judges to the Gambia and assisting with the training of those in Southern Sudan. I thought we had more pressing problems of our own. Why second judges to another country when there is a shortage of them right here?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

African Democracy circa 2008

First Kenya, then Zimbabwe. Incumbent dictators all over Africa are taking solace from the now well established precedent that they do not have to step down if their nationals have had the fill of them and voted them out. All they need to do is delay the announcement of poll results, incite some violence and then grudgingly accept international mediation leading to the formation of a Government of National Unity in which they retain their positions.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Fast Going Nowhere

I know that this is probably old news but considering the legendary fickleness of our collective memory, I thought a reminder might be useful (and,of course, it also gives me an excuse to put up a cartoon).

According to the budget estimates released prior to the reading of the budget in June, as quoted by Mars Group, there are currently 149 vehicles parked at State House, Nairobi. And presumably this figure represents a dire shortage of transportation considering that in this year’s budget they have been allocated Kshs. 73 million to buy more cars.

The estimates also reveal that the residents of State House supposedly use as much water as the entire Ministry of Education and have larger power bills than 26 other ministries.

While thousands of its citizens face hunger and some resort to eating for rats (in keeping with Robinson Githae’s advice a few years back), the Government of Kenya spends the equivalent of Kshs. 5.7 million a day on entertainment and is planning to pay a total of Kshs. 6.5 billion to 5 companies for a non-existent fertilizer factory, a yet-to-be-delivered navy ship with non-existent weapons and an unauthorised communications project which has resulted in the attachment of our Embassy at the Hague.

And even worse for a supposedly "developing" nation such as ours, only 15% percent of the Budget went towards the mythical development. 85% was simply the cost of government (Otherwise referred to as recurrent expenditure; y'know, all those Ministers, their assistants and Permanent Secretaries need to be kept in the manner they have become accustomed. )

And we still dream of reaching middle-income status by 2030?!

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Broken News

On NTV 9pm news yesterday, 16th July, a report from one Robert Nagila was aired showing a confrontation between National Heritage Minister William Ole Ntimama and Chepalungu MP Isaac Ruto in the presence of Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Agriculture Minister William Ruto. It took place during the Mau stakeholders forum held at the KICC on Tuesday, 15th July. In the report, a clearly agitated Ntimama, seemingly unaware that the cameras were rolling and the mike was on, appeared to be admitting responsibility for the killings of 600-1000 people and even invited the MP to "bring his people" for an all out battle over the Mau.

Today morning I woke up nice and early hoping to catch some more on that confrontation on NTV News This Morning but Lo! and Behold, the clip had disappeared. Neither is it available on the NTV youtube website. There is absolutely no mention of the confrontation in today's Daily Nation either despite the fact that the dispute over the conference is front page news.

Another example of self-censorship in our supposedly free press? Or did someone make a late night phone call to Nation Centre? Anyone know where we can get hold of the clip?


The clip is available at

Hat Tip: Mwalimu Mati

Here it is:

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Parliament Burns

An eruption of violence at the grounds of Kenya's Parliament triggered by a disputed motion has left at least one person dead and has forced many Cabinet Ministers to seek refuge away from the August House.

Amos Kimunya was cornered and hacked to death on the floor of the House by a gang of machete-wielding back-benchers as horrified cabinet colleagues looked on helplessly. The youths were carrying plackards reading "No Grand Opposition Coalition, No Peace."

In an effort to contain the bloodletting, the government yesterday threatened to ban all live broadcasts of House proceedings.

And with more reports emerging of youths roaming the corridors of Parliament, Government spokesman Alfred Mutua downplayed the violence saying it had only affected 3% of Government Ministries. "Parliament is not burning nor at the throes of any division," he said.

As he spoke, a group of the youths were said to have cornered Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta.

Leaflets threatening Motions of Censure against certain Ministers have been circulating in the House and to date many Ministries remained closed for fear of looting of their Budget allocations.

And speaking from the relative safety of the KICC, Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka appeared to throw more fuel onto the fire when he announced that all MPs were ready and willing to pay tax on their bloated allowances. Mr. Musyoka was still nursing the wounds he suffered during his valiant but ultimately ineffectual attempt to save Mr. Kimunya.

The move to tax the allowances is said to be the real reason why Mr. Kimunya was killed. He was the first to propose the measure and ever since it was rumored that gangs of politicians-for-hire were looking to finish him off. They finally caught up with him at the Grand Regency Hotel, where he was consorting with Libyan bellydancers, frogmarched him to Parliament where they held a show trial in the full glare of TV cameras. Mr. Kimunya was pronounced guilty and sentenced to death after which the youths descended on him.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Brig. Ali Testifies at the Waki Commission

Testifying before the Waki Commission looking into the post-election violence, Commissioner of Police Brigadier Hussein Ali stated his belief that the police never encountered a single peaceful demonstration, denied that they had effectively banned all political gatherings and accused Kenyans of being interested only in rights and not responsibilities. He said his officers had not used unwarranted or excessive force in putting down the riots and demos except for the single "unfortunate" incident in Kisumu where two protesters were shot in cold blood.

Many of us who were not locked up in ivory towers, smoking whatever it is our public officials smoke, will beg to differ. I distinctly remember scenes of bullet-ridden bodies lying in the Nairobi Mortuary, police breaking down doors and beating up innocent residents in Kibera. I recall allegations of rape and wanton murder levelled by people against GSU officers. Pictures of CNN's Zain Verjee being hit by a teargas canister as she reported on the barricading of Uhuru Park to stop ODM rallies remain vivid in my mind as do recollections of the teargassing of attempted peaceful marches by an ODM women's group and another led by Nobel Laureate Prof. Wangari Maathai. Of course, this footage did not make it into his presentation.

Another interesting feature of his testimony was the attempt to downplay the severity of the chaos. According to him, only 600 people were killed and 200,000 displaced. He also seemed to heap praise on his officers for managing to prosecute all of 168 cases related to the violence out of over 13,000 cases investigated. Oh, and he also believes that the violence was a spontaneous reaction to the announcing of the Presidential results and was neither organised nor pre-meditated, which flies in the face of all available evidence and common sense.

At this rate, is it any wonder that impunity is the order of the day in Kenya?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Kimunya's Last Stand

Last week was one for the books. Finance Minister Amos Kimunya was censured by Parliament as his PNU cronies, whose dubious win in last year's presidential elections he had defended to the hilt (remember him saying that Koffi Annan was only here for a cup of tea?), hang him out to dry. What goes around, realy does come around. The very man who was high-handedly telling us that the NSE is not a fish market when we objected to the Safcom IPO now finds himself entangled in a very fishy deal. His arrogance and disregard for Kenyans' intelligence has finally caught up with him. I would like nothing better than to see him kicked out of the Cabinet but I am not holding my breath. President Kibaki is not about to go against his governing creed: for every action there is an equal and opposite inaction. And anyway, who wants the bother of a precedent-setting sacking especially at a time when allies in Parliament are few and far between? Such a move would immediately endanger his PNU cronies such as George Saitoti.
KBC is reporting that Kimunya has resigned following consultations with the President. Good riddance to bad rubbish! I'm quite happy for once to be proven wrong.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Knight Falls

Finally, the British have done the right thing and stripped this abomination of his knighthood. Robert Mugabe has blackened the name of Africans everywhere. And finally, they are starting to speak up. Yesterday, Nelson Mandela issued an admittedly timid condemnation of the dictator and Kenya has taken the lead in calling for international intervention. The sooner we see the back of this idiot, the better.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Looking out for (Agenda Item) No.1

Whatever happened to the Serena talks? Agenda Item No. 4, which was to deal with the root causes of the post-poll violence, has yet to be finalised but you wouldn't know it looking at our politicians. It seems once they got their cabinet positions, they assumed all was well. This not only proves the hypocrisy of both the self-proclaimed "People's President" and the electoral thief currently residing in State House, it is also an indictment of the entire Kenyan society. We have chosen to behave as if the violence never happened. Never before have so many given up so much for the stupid ambitions of so few.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Budget 2008

During his budget speech yesterday, wasn't it amazing to hear Finance Minister Amos Kimuya thanking the international community for intervening in the post-election crisis to save Kenya from self-destruction? After all, this is the same guy who at the time proclaimed that there was no crisis and that Koffi Annan was only here for "a cup of tea". Talk of eating crow!

Anyway, I thought there was a lot to take comfort from in the speech, primarily the introduction of taxes on MPs allowances. While not going as far as I would have liked (i.e. taxing their bloated salaries as well), it is a good first step and opens the door to further taxation in the future as the reluctant foot-thumping and embarrased laughter from the legislators illustrated. The zero-rating of VAT on bread and rice was also welcome (though the latter's price on the world market has been steadily declining) as was his resisting the temptation to up the rate of VAT.

I applaud his attempt to crack the whip on renegade stockbrokers through a ten-fold increase in the paid up capital requirement. Also welcome is his doubling of the road infrastructure budget as well as his proposal to establish a Contractor's Registration Board with powers to deregister and blacklist the so-called cowboy contractors.

There was, though, also a lot I found puzzling such as the Kshs. 210 million he set aside for a constituency-based national football competition. Who will administer this cash? The very MPs whose record on CDF is less than stellar? Also, his silence on the sky-rocketing cost of fuel was surprising considering that half the pump price consists of government levies. How he hopes to tame the runaway inflation without a reduction in these is something of a mystery.

Finally, it did not escape notice that the budget is heavy on recurrent expenditure and comparatively light on development and investment. I think the ratio is in the range of 3:1 in favour of recurrent expenditure. I think we urgently need to find a way of reducing the public sector bill (a theme totally absent from the speech) if we are ever going to achieve the goal of becoming a middle-income country by 2030.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Obama Wins, Hillary Whines

Just what does Hillary Clinton hope to achieve by refusing to concede a Barrack Obama win in the race for the US Democratic Party Presidential nomination? I heard she's been pushing the argument that she won the popular vote, perhaps in hopes of overturning her deficit in delegates. Methinks she's trying, and may very well succeed, in pulling an Al Gore circa 2000. As the latter painfully learnt, the popular vote is immaterial. Delegates rule!

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Safaricom Customer Care

Here's a useful facebook group:

Safaricom should be able to afford better customer service...

Who is not tired of waiting over 10 minutes for someone to pick up your call at customer service? And this is on the chargeable line!

The toll free lines are a complete joke!

I think with all the profits the company is making, they should take all those young people wearing green tshirts off the streets and actually provide the services they advertise.

Ksh. 20 billion profit and they can't afford a decent customer care service? And they think we have peculiar calling habits! Since we all know that the media is in Michael Joseph's pocket, it would be interesting to see how they might react if we made such a stink on Facebook that they could on longer ignore it. So I suggest that we all join (and invite all our friends to join) this group and share their Safaricom horror stories. In this way we might just cause them enough embarrassment to effect a little change.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Here We Go Again

Is it just me who thinks that going into another round of elections without doing something to restore the ECK's credibility is asking for trouble? As far as I know, no reforms have been undertaken at the Commission following the murderously incompetent handling of the General Election. It seems to me that Kenyans are living up to their billing as the most optimistic people on earth. Insanely optimistic, I might add, considering that repeating the same actions and expecting different results is one of the hallmarks of insanity!

Monday, May 12, 2008

Runaway Inflation

Military Intelligence?

Can you believe the idiots running Burma (or Myanmar)? Possibly 100,000 people killed and over 1.5M displaced by cyclone Nargis and all the military rulers can think of is how to hang on to power! This is very reminiscent of the Kenyan situation in the first few months of this year when, confronted with over 1000 deaths and hundreds of thousands displaced, our politicians could only think of ways of exploiting the situation to their advantage. In Burma, the government actually went ahead with its sham referendum on the Constitution (which seeks to entrench the ruling junta in perpetual government and to deny Nobel Laureate Ang Sang Suu Kyi, the only person to have been validly elected to run the country, any chance of doing so) despite pleas from all concerned to postpone it in the light of the calamity. The Burmese dictators, already notorious for the scant attention they pay to the welfare of their people (having presided over the decay of the country from one of the wealthiest to the poorest in the region), are plumbing new depths of inhumanity by refusing to issue visas to humanitarian workers and seizing the few relief supplies that have been flown in. If this is not a crime against humanity, then I don't know what is. I hope the generals will soon be the subjects of an investigation and prosecution by the International Criminal Court.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Mid-East Peace

Earlier this year, US President George Bush announced to all and sundry his expectation of the signing of a peace deal between the Israelis and Palestinians before he leaves office. In the meantime, his administration continues to ignore calls to talk to Hamas who yesterday announced that they would be willing to live in a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders as demanded by the UN. The US not only refuses to sanction Israel for its continued violations of agreements (especially with regard to roadblocks and settlements) while insisting that the Palestinians uphold their end but is also complicit in the illegal and immoral collective punishment meted out to the residents of Gaza.

The fact is the American Government has no interest in securing peace in the middle east because peace is the one thing the Israelis fear beyond all else. For as long as the illusion of an existential threat is perpetrated (and the US continues to act as Israel's mindless enforcer), then the Jewish state has a free hand in dealing with the Arabs. It can ignore all accepted norms of decent, civilised behaviour, can tear up UN resolutions, can appropriate the land of others, can turn Gaza into one huge concentration camp and continue to maim and murder Palestinians at will. A peace agreement would force them to abandon their search for Libensraum at the expense of their neighbours and would force the Jews to face up to the reality that they have behaved in a manner reminiscent of the attrocities perpetrated against them by the Nazis.