Saturday, October 08, 2011

Fighting Words

The recent kidnappings of two disabled Europeans from the Kenyan coastal resort town of Lamu have brought to the fore concerns about the spill-over effects of continued anarchy in neighbouring Somalia. For much of the last 20 years, Kenya has had to contend with huge flows of refugees and illegal arms into its territory as well as conflict along the common border which have rendered the North Eastern province essentially ungovernable. The terrorist attacks of 1998 and 2002 in Nairobi and Kikambala were both planned from within Somalia and, more recently, piracy off the vast Somali coast and now the spate of kidnappings for ransom by Somalia-based bandit gangs are posing significant threats to the Kenyan economy. This raises the question of what the country is doing to address these threats.

Two weeks ago, while addressing a Mini-Summit on Somalia that was held at the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, President Mwai Kibaki called on the international community to expand its support for the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which was deployed in Mogadishu in 2007 under a UN mandate to help support the Somali peace process and protect the institutions that the process had generated. However, while thanking “Uganda and Burundi for their continued unwavering commitment in providing the AMISOM troops”,” the President did not explain why Kenya itself has not contributed troops to the mission.

The Kenyan reluctance can be partly explained by the fear that a peaceful, confident and secure Somalia may once more stoke irredentist ambitions among the Kenya’s Somali population as it did in the years immediately before and following independence, leading to the “Shifta War” of 1963-67. However, this fear ignores the fact that in the last 20 years, as Somalia dissolved into chaos, much has been done on the Kenyan side of the border to integrate the Somali population into the rest of the country. The harsh policy of emergency rule by decree was lifted in 1992 and, in a 2005 report, Dr. Ken Menkhaus, Associate Professor of political science at Davidson College and a former special advisor to the U.N. operation in Somalia, noted that “the introduction of competitive elections for Parliament has had the positive effect of opening up political space for debate in the region, and of generating legislative representatives seeking to serve the interests of their home constituencies.” Today, ethnic Somalis hold high positions in the Kenyan political and business landscape. Compare that with the situation 30 years prior, when a British commission of inquiry reported that 87 per cent ot the population in what was then known as the Northern Frontier District, favoured unification with Somalia and subsequently boycotted the 1963 elections in favour of armed insurrection.

While undoubtedly much more remains to be done to extend the benefits of Kenyan citizenship, including government services such as registration, security and infrastructure, as well as investment and economic opportunities to the North Eastern Province, it is clear that the fear of irredentism is a historical relic that should not stand in the way of stabilizing Somalia.

The fact is Kenya has been an instrumental actor in the search for peace in the Horn of Africa. Its facilitation enabled rival Somali groups to negotiate and develop the transitional structures at several conferences hosted in Kenyan towns. In fact, the Transitional Federal Government and Parliament were formed in Nairobi and from there, set out to establish a governmental presence first in Baidoa and then in Mogadishu. Kenya’s involvement was motivated as much by self interest, given the price it was paying for the anarchy, as by good neighbourliness.

Over the past year, the support of AMISOM has been critical in entrenching this peace process. With it, the TFG has achieved significant success in forcing the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabaab extremists out of Mogadishu, and establishing a measure of relative security in the Somali capital. The confidence this has engendered in the population is evidenced by the fact that many Somalis displaced by the famine ravaging the country are opting to flee to the relative safety of the sea-side city, where international agencies have been providing humanitarian aid. This undoubtedly relieves the pressures that would otherwise be brought to bear on the already overcrowded refugee camps in Daadab in Kenya. In fact, as many refugees were heading north to the capital daily, as were headed south to Daadab, and while the flow into Kenya has somewhat diminished, that into Mogadishu continues unabated.

Further, the relative peace has created room for further negotiations among Somali factions with a view to the eventual conclusion of the transition and the return of permanent government. In his speech to the UN, President Kibaki alluded to the conference held a month ago in Mogadishu, during which a detailed Roadmap to achieving this, complete with benchmarks and timelines, was adopted. It is undeniable that these achievements in the security, humanitarian and political spheres will, if entrenched and expanded, have a lasting beneficial effect on the situation along the Kenyan border.

However, as demonstrated by last week’s horrific suicide bombing in Mogadishu, this is easier said than done. As President Kibaki noted, AMISOM urgently needs to be reinforced so that the city can be secured and the war taken to the extremists in the southern areas, where the famine has hit hardest and where criminal gangs benefit from the al Shabaab’s protection. The AU’s Peace and Security Council has already authorised the deployment of up to 20,000 AMISOM troops, which is what the field commanders say is necessary to secure the whole country. Further, the UN Security Council has committed to review the AU request for expanded support but pegged it to an increase in troops to the already authorised 12000, up from the current 9,000 now in Mogadishu.

It is up to African countries to make up the numbers. While encouraging noises have been heard from Sierra Leone and Djibouti with regards to deployments (the former have promised a battalion by April next year while the latter have also declared their intentions to send troops), nothing in this regard has been heard from the Kenyans. Yet with one of the more advanced and better equipped militaries in the region and the strongest economy to boot, Kenya would be a valuable addition to AMISOM.

The fact is, whether it likes it or not, the Kenyan military is likely to be increasingly drawn into a confrontation with the extremists on its North-Eastern frontier. The question is whether this will take the form of a unilateral, protracted, low-level conflict on the border or whether Kenya will join the AU forces in Mogadishu working for a holistic solution. In the final analysis, a strong Somali state, able to enforce its writ across the whole of the country’s territory, would be a boon to the fight against piracy, terrorism and radicalisation within the region as well as a reliable partner in combating cross-border crime.

In conclusion, just as the fight against piracy cannot be resolved by policing the high seas, so the pacification of the North Eastern border is not to be achieved through creation of buffer entities along the border or declarations of war against small gangs of bandits intent on kidnapping elderly, disabled pensioners in speedboats. The real and lasting solution lies in the pacification of Somalia through support for the peace and reconciliation process and the reconstitution of an effective, representative and democratic administration in Mogadishu. The participation of Kenya in this endeavour, utilising its considerable diplomatic, economic and, yes, military muscle, will not only expedite this outcome, but also ensure that its economic interests as well as the safety of its tourists are secured in the long term.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The King is Dead; Long Live The King

Contrary to what the African Union would have you believe, it would be fair to say that most people on the continent, including many potentates, were probably glad to see the back of the self-styled King of Kings. By the time of his ouster, Col. Muammar Gaddafi had become something of a sick joke –a veritable madman with grandiose visions of a United States of Africa and himself as its Leader, who had stoked murderous wars and insurrections across the continent. However, following a spate of racially-inspired atrocities committed by rebel forces in the wake of his being deposed, for many of Libya’s black residents, it seems to be a case of: “The King is Dead. Long Live the King!”

The Gaddafi days were hardly a bed of roses for darkies. According to an October 2000 article published in The Economist at the height of another pogrom targeting sub-Saharan immigrants, Libya has had a long history of racism: “Libyans were slave-trading until the 1930s and, under Italian colonial rule, they saw themselves as Mediterranean, calling Africans chocalatinos.”

Despite the rhetoric of pan-Africanism, Libya under Gaddafi remained a staunchly Meditteranean country. Despite indigenous blacks forming 20% of the population, a majority resented his overtures to their southern neighbours, preferring instead to break bread with the Arabs of the Middle East. Being one of the richest on the continent with the 10th-largest proven oil reserves of any country in the world and the 17th-highest petroleum production, they wanted to live in a better neighbourhood.

Unfortunately, Gaddafi had other ideas which would involve the use of millions of dollars of Libyan wealth to curry African favour, including bankrolling the AU itself as well as several armed rebellions and buying himself a Legion. As a result, though in 2009 the country had the fourth highest GDP per capita on the continent, 20.7 percent of her population was unemployed, according to the Oea newspaper, which used to be widely seen as the most influential newspaper in Libya because of its close links to Gaddafi’s youngest son and fellow ICC indictee, Saif al Islam. In more than 16 percent of families, not a single member was earning a stable income.

Faced with such dire straits at home, it is understandable that Gaddafi’s profligacy abroad would rankle and the hundreds of thousands of job-seeking immigrants from the south who flooded into Libya at his invitation would be far from welcome. According to Hein de Haas, a Senior Research Officer at the International Migration Institute of the Department of International Development and the University of Oxford, “since the 1990s, Gaddafi ha[d] actively stimulated immigration from sub-Saharan countries such as Chad and Niger as part of his ‘pan-African’ policies. These immigrants from extremely poor countries were easier to exploit [read cheaper] than Arab workers. From 2000 onwards, violent clashes between Libyans and African workers led to the street killings of dozens of sub-Saharan migrants, who were routinely blamed for rising crime, disease and social tensions.”

In the paper The Myth of Invasion, Haas elaborates on Gaddafi’s motivations. In 1992, the UN Security Council’s imposed an air and arms embargo on Libya after the regime refused to hand over two intelligence agents accused of carrying out the Lockerbie bombing. Feeling abandoned by fellow Arab nations, Gaddafi “embarked upon a radical reorientation of Libyan foreign policy, in which he positioned himself as an African leader.” In a bid to get around the air travel bans and the subsequent international isolation, he opened his land borders to Sudanese, Chadians and Nigeriens, offering them the opportunity to work in Libya “in the spirit of pan-African solidarity.” What was traditionally a destination for Egyptian and Tunisian migrants, now became a major destination for sub-Saharan workers. By 2000 they numbered over a million or nearly a fifth of the total population. And as tensions rose, black-bashing has become a popular afternoon sport for Libya’s unemployed youths. The feared security agencies did little to stop them.

Interestingly, the immigration policy represents a total about-face for Gaddafi in his dealings with the continent. Two decades earlier, in 1973, just three years after taking power, he donned the garb of an Arab cultural supremacist and created what he called the Islamic Legion. Modelled on the French Foreign Legion, it was supposed to be a force for Arabizing the region, and creating the Great Islamic State of the Sahel. Conveniently, Gaddafi's definition of "Arab" was broad, including the Tuareg of Mali and Niger, as well as the Zaghawa of Chad and Sudan. According to Alasdair McKay, a researcher for the UK Defence Forum: “Despite the Arab and Islamic-focused ambitions of the group, the Legion was comprised of individuals from various ethnic origins.” The online encyclopaedia, Wikipedia, suggests that the force may even have included thousands of Pakistanis. It quotes a French journalist, speaking of the Legion's forces in Chad, who observed that they were "foreigners, Arabs or Africans, mercenaries in spite of themselves, wretches who had come to Libya hoping for a civilian job, but found themselves signed up more or less by force to go and fight in an unknown desert."

Though the Legion was primarily associated with the 9 year Libyan-Chadian conflict, some legionnaires were sent to Lebanon, Syria, Uganda and Palestine, though to no great effect. In 1980, 7,000 legionnaires took part in the second battle of N'Djamena, the Chadian capital, and distinguished themselves by their ineptitude. Following the humiliating retreat from Chad, Gaddafi disbanded the Legion in 1987.

However, the Legion's dissolution did not necessarily mean the end of his dream to achieve regional Arab supremacy. Soon after, he was sponsoring another ''Arab Gathering'', which many of his former legionnaires joined. “With its racist ethos of Arab supremacy, writes McKay, the Gathering's ideology… evoked a potent and compelling mythology concerning Arabs in the region tracing the origin of the Juhanya Arabs [of the Sudan] back to the Prophet Muhammad.” At the beginning of the 1987 Libyan offensive into Chad, the Legion had maintained a force of 2,000 in Darfur and the nearly continuous cross-border raids that greatly contributed to a separate ethnic conflict within Darfur that killed about 9,000 people between 1985 and 1988. By the turn of the millennium, the world would know the “Arab Gathering” by a more sinister name, Janjaweed, and they would be accused of committing genocide in Darfur. Other legacies of the legion include the bloody Touareg rebellions of 1989 and 1990 in Mali and Niger.

A particularly brutal and ironic legacy of the Legion is to be found in the current persecution of blacks in Tripoli and in other “liberated” Libyan cities. Many have been rounded up and some have even been hung or shot after being accused of being mercenaries fighting for Gaddafi. Others have seen their homes trashed, their earnings stolen and their daughters raped. This despite the fact that initial estimates of tens of thousands of black mercenaries were in Libya have proven to be unfounded. In fact, Amnesty International has accused the National Transitional Council, Libya’s interim government, of “wildly exaggerating” the issue of foreign mercenaries. “They have made matters worse. They have ignited public anger by tapping into an existing xenophobia with very dire consequences for many guest workers,” said Diana El Tahawy, the group’s Libya researcher.

Therefore, having been lied to, conscripted and sent unprepared into war outside Libya, and made the subject of regular pogroms within it, black immigrants to Libya have little reason to support Gaddafi. However, today, they find themselves in the crosshairs of a new revolutionary regime. Killings, rapes, assaults and theft committed against innocents were the hallmarks of the Gaddafi regime. The actions of the thugs now posing as liberators will only erode any confidence that the National Transitional Council is any better than he was.

Monday, August 01, 2011

No Road To Famine

It feels like we’ve been down this road before, doesn’t it? Once again the world is scrambling to deliver emergency food supplies to alleviate yet another food crisis in eastern Africa. While vulnerability to famine outside the continent has been almost completely eradicated, the Horn has more than earned the moniker, “land of famine.”

Famines have been recorded in the region since 253 BC, but it is not until relatively recently that the two became become synonymous. According to the paper, Famine in the Twentieth Century by Stephen Devereux, a Fellow of the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, it was China and Russia that were the epicentres of famine in much of the last century, accounting for 80% of famine-related deaths. Since the late 1960s, however, the vast majority of recorded famines have occurred in sub-Saharan Africa.

It would perhaps be comforting to blame this on droughts caused by climate change. In 2005, the acclaimed BBC documentary, Horizons, did just that, concluding that “what came out of [European and North American] exhaust pipes and power stations contributed to the deaths of a million people [in the 1984 Ethiopian famine].” Yet research carried out especially since the 80s has effectively debunked the link between drought-related crop failure and famine deaths.

The Horn of Africa experiences terrible droughts every three to four years on average, but rarely do these result in mass mortality. Furthermore, drought is not exclusive to the region. In the developed world, however, its effects are calculated in terms of economic losses, not deaths or starvation. It appears that the most critical factors affecting whether droughts are translated into mass graves are political will and a functioning transport and communications infrastructure. Or, more accurately, the lack thereof.

In pre-colonial African societies, as Devereux notes, famines were set off by natural events -droughts, floods, locusts- operating in the context of weak local economies and authorities that were either unable or unwilling to intervene. The colonial period was itself initially characterized by similar catastrophes as the European powers used food as a weapon to extinguish violent resistance to their rule. However, as they came to appreciate the need to cultivate political legitimacy, the development of communications and transport infrastructure, together with the initiation of early warning and intervention systems saw the incidences of mass mortality famine diminish.

In fact, between 1917 and 1957, only one major famine was recorded on the continent.
Independence, for many African nations, ushered in an era of military governments, insurgencies and civil war. Such conflicts tend to displace huge numbers in the affected areas, disrupting agricultural and distribution systems. Budgets in the region are eaten up by military expenditures with little left over for development in infrastructure, with what little there is rendered largely unusable by landmines and attacks on vehicles, including relief convoys.

As a result, countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola and Liberia, which had known no famine previously, have developed a depressing familiarity with it. In the Horn, where drought-triggered famine was never far away, “complex food emergencies” are the norm. It is no accident that the 1984 famine occurred at the height of the Ethiopian civil war and that the 1992 famine in Somalia followed on the demise of the state a year earlier.

When drought pushes the precarious societies over the edge, displaced populations often suffer the most. In Somalia today, for example, IDPs are twice as likely as the general population to suffer acute malnutrition. Seeking help, these crowd into the few existing government centres, placing huge stress on the remaining food and water production and distribution systems, as well as the existing health care systems, as noted by the relief worker who blogs under the pseudonym Global Nomad. When the hygiene and faecal waste management systems fail, the physical proximity of vast numbers of people accelerates disease transmission rates. The fact is famines kill relatively few as a result of outright starvation. The real killer is disease as malnourished refugees with weakened immune systems are crammed into unsanitary camps.

Famines largely became a thing of the past in China and Russia after governments there invested in communications and transport infrastructure. In northern China, for example, the construction of 6000 miles of railway enabled faster interventions, which reduced famine deaths from up to 13 million in 1870 to half a million in the 1920s, despite analogous climactic conditions. According to William A. Dando, Emeriti Professor of Geography at Indiana State University, the conquest of famines since then was partly due to “promising investments in … transport-communication.” Russia also reduced its citizens’ vulnerability by integrating famine prone regions into the national economy through the development of similar infrastructure.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of California have warned that the increased frequency of drought observed in eastern Africa over the last two decades is likely to continue as long as global temperatures continue to rise. The Horn, with its largely non-existent infrastructure and historical absence of government in many parts, is singularly ill-equipped to cope. The heart-breaking stories of malnourished Somalis trekking for up to a month to reach feeding centres, mothers having to abandon emaciated babies by the roadside because they were too weak to make the journey and overflowing refugee camps in Mogadishu where, till now, few medical or aid agencies are working, are illustrative of this. The UN estimates that tens of thousands, mostly children, have already died.

If the world wishes to avoid the spectre of multiple mass mortality famines in the coming decades, the lasting answer is not to be found in the provision of massive amounts of food -sparked by pictures of starving kids- once the catastrophes are underway. Though necessary, such generosity is but a short-term band aid, serving only to prolong lives till the next drought. Resolving conflicts, as the African Union is attempting to do in Somalia, and investing in the region’s infrastructure during the intervening periods, is the best way to guarantee that communities will be ready the next time round.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Law Is an Ass and MPigs Want Some.

Wasn't the Political Parties Act 2007 intended to prevent exactly this kind of nonsense? From my reading of the Act, the only thing saving William Ruto and Co. is the inane wording of the Act, which requires an MP to vacate his seat if he publicly advocates for the "formation" of another political party but not if he publicly (though not formally) joins an existing one.

Still, it is undeniable that he and his ilk are contravening the spirit, if not the letter of the act. They are making a farce of the constitutional declaration of Kenya as a multi-party democractic state when they continue to treat political parties as nothing more than vehicles for individual power pursuits, devoid of any ideological content, and easily discarded when inconvenient.

In my honest opinion, our legislators are just proving the truth of Millie Odhiambo's claim that 15 per cent of her colleagues are gay. I mean, what do you expect when MPs have the integrity of Kamiti inmates and the law happens to be ass? In fact, 15% is probably a gross underestimation.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Church, Jury and Executioner

The nominations of Dr. Willy Mutunga as Chief Justice and Nancy Barasa as his deputy have caused considerable disquiet within the religious community. This week, as Parliament’s Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) started receiving public submissions on the nominations, along with that of Keriako Tobiko for Director of Public Prosecutions, Church representatives were not shy about their reservations.

Bishop Martin Oginde of the Nairobi Pentecostal Church said that though Dr Mutunga was a gentleman, he would be uncomfortable with a Chief Justice who wears a stud. He was appalled by the thought of, as he colourfully put it, “our young men becoming young women” and the prospect of “the highest person in our judicial system expressing themselves in the same way,” by wearing an earring. Mr Peter Waiyaki of the Christian Association took issue with Dr Mutunga’s and Ms Barasa’s support for abortion and same sex relations.

Father Ferdinand Lugonzo, who represented the Kenya Episcopal Conference, perhaps best summarised the church’s position: “We are … raising concerns about the family values that Dr Willy Mutunga stands for. We observed here, that one who has a philosophy that promotes gays and lesbians, aggressive population control, commercial sex work... We emphasize that family principles are not issues of private domain. Marriage and family are ordained by God”

The church’s stand betrays a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature and role of the state in a free and just society. To understand why this is so, we must examine the rationale for government and individual rights.

In their natural condition, all men, just like animals, are absolutely free to do as they wish, guided only by their instincts and conscience. Natural man is a law unto himself, born free and acting free. Sadly the law of the jungle respects only might and does not necessarily foster security or justice. The lamb has no forum to argue its right to life against a hungry lion. In similar manner, the strong, unrestricted by any outside agency, will tend to oppress the weak; the powerful will take from the powerless.

However, by acting together in civil society and binding ourselves to its laws, we pass from the natural state to a civil state, substituting justice for instinct and right for might. Natural independence is given up in favour of civil liberty, the former being guaranteed only by the individual’s might while the latter is guaranteed by the collective power of the community. This arrangement, what 18th century French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau referred to as “The Social Contract”, substitutes legal equality for natural inequalities in strength and intelligence evident among men.

We become part of a corporate body politic, a public person made up of the unification of many persons, called the state. The individuals within it are individually known as citizens and they all share equally in the sovereign power and are equally subject to its laws. The state itself is therefore formed for the common good as defined by the general will of the governed. Since the natural, some might say God-given, rights have been relinquished in favour of civil rights, the state now draws its legitimacy not from a higher being, but from its subjects, the people. It is, by definition, secular.

From the above, it is clear that Father Lugonzo is fundamentally wrong when he declares that “family principles are not issues of private domain.” Marriage and family may be ordained by God, but the state does not exist to serve Him. And even when one resorts to the dictum vox populi, vox dei – the voice of the people is the voice of God – there is no relief from having to allow for individual choices that may not be to the liking of the majority. The late US Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun said: "A necessary corollary of giving individuals freedom to choose how to conduct their lives is acceptance of the fact that different individuals will make different choices” adding that “we should be especially sensitive to the rights of those whose choices upset the majority”. In this, he was echoing a famous argument by another late Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. who stated: "If there is any principle … that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought -- not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate."

The common good being common to all, there is no question of sacrificing one person or group in the interest of another. Rather, since the state is the result of a negotiation by different interests, it is the common points of agreement that constitute common good. The contemporary ethicist, John Rawls, defines it as "certain general conditions that are...equally to everyone's advantage". Common good is thus a confluence of interests, not of moral values or traditions. The latter are important only in as much as they influence an individual’s sense of where his interests lie. At the state level, however, the discussion is only informed by interests. Far from enforcing a moral code, the only thing the state is committed to is the pursuit of common interests through the creation of social systems, institutions, and environments which work in a manner that benefits all persons without elevating the interests of one group over those of another.

The clergy should, therefore, not be allowed to impose its views on the rest of society without, at the very least, being required to show how the common interest is otherwise injured. As John Stuart Mill stated in his 1859 essay, On Liberty: "The only purpose for which power can be rightly exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant . . . Over himself, over his own mind and body, the individual is sovereign." We cannot punish or deny opportunities to individuals for making choices, when those choices have no perceptible harm on the rest of us, without demolishing the fa├žade of justice and individual freedom.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Israel vs POTUS? No Contest!

It never ceases to amaze me the massive clout that Israel wields within American corridors of power. Remember this? Well, last week, when President Obama needed a reminder of who really runs things, the current Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, was only too willing to oblige. Only he decided to do it in front of the assembled press corps following a tense meeting at the White House.

The trouble started when Obama had the gumption to suggest in a speech that mid-east peace negotiations be based a return to the 1967 "borders" with appropriate land swaps to cater for Israel's illegal "facts on Palestinian ground" more commonly known as settlements. Many would have thought this to be a rather generous offer, one that rewards the Israeli's bad behaviour and disregard for both international law and Palestinian's rights.

Obama was by no means breaking new ground. Ever since the Oslo Accords of 1982, negotiations have proceeded on a framework of land for peace i.e. the return of occupied land for a permanent peace. Occupied land, as described in UN resolution 242 of 1967, comprises territory taken by Israel following the Six Day War, including the West Bank, Gaza, Syria's Golan Heights and Egypt's Sinai (which was returned following the Camp David agreements).

Obama's "proposal" also enjoyed the immediate support of the Middle-East Quartet which brings together the UN, EU, Russia and the US. Following th speech, the Russian foreign ministry quickly issued a statement saying the grouping agrred that "progress in dealing with borders and security issues could eventually lead to a final resolution of the conflict."

However, Israel evidently didn't get the memo. A fuming Bibi berated the idea as based on illusions and made clear that he expected Obama to renew pledges made to Israel by his predecessor, George W. Bush. He claimed that the 1967 lines, from behind which Israel had conquered 3 Arab armies simultaneously in less than a week, were now "indefensible" and said Obama could not sweep certain facts -presumably settlements- under the carpet.

That set the scene for the post-summit joint appearance before the world's press. Obama went first, making reconciliatory noises about disagreements between friends and his commitment to Israel's security. Bibi however, was in no mood for niceties. He gave Obama what amounted to a public dressing down, lecturing him on the Jews terrible history of persecution -something Obama's African and Irish ancestors presumably knew nothing of.

Then he really got into his groove, saying it was time to tell Palestinian refugees that their much cherished right to return to the homes their parents and grandparents were kicked out of in what is now Israel, a right deemed inalienable by the admittedly non-binding UN General Assembly resolution 3236, was yet another illusion. Just moments prior to invoking the (one can only suppose extraordinarily long-living) Jewish people and their millenia long yearning for a return to Palestine, thus wiping out the area's future as an Arab region, he derided Palestinian's 63 year cry for Israel to "accept the grandchildren, really, and the great grandchildren of ... refugees, thereby wiping out Israel’s future as a Jewish state. It's not going to happen."

A craven Obama listened studiously, only summoning up the courage to correct Netanyahu once -when he referred to the 7 million Israelis as "a much smaller people" in comparison to the 310 million Americans. " A great people," Obama corrected him.

Of course it was not the first time he was being reminded who's boss. He's had plenty of lessons. During his campaign for the presidency, he was criticised for having the temerity to suggest that the US should actually be what it claims to be -an honest broker between the Israelis and the Palestinians. After he made it to the White House, the notional leader of the free world was again reminded of the limits of his power after he attempted to get Israel to stop its illegal settlement activity on occupied Palestinian land. Needless to say, that is now a subject he steers well clear of.

So what are we to conclude? The mightiest nation on earth is not necessarily the brute with the brawn. It's the historically and geographically challenged state that controls the brute's head.

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Necessary Enemy of The People

Next week's issue of The EastAfrican will feature a glowing profile of Dr. Willy Mutunga and will be full of praise for the decision by the Judicial Service Commission to nominate him for the post of Chief Justice with Nancy Baraza as his deputy. With both the President and Prime Minister endorsing the two nominees, and with opposition from William Ruto's camp seemingly crumbling, Parliamentary approval appears to be a foregone conclusion. In a few weeks time, all things being constant, Dr. Mutunga will take office and change from being the champion of Kenyans' rights to being an instrument for their suppression.

Now, I have absolutely no reason to think that that Dr. Mutunga is anything other than what the EastAfrican piece will say he is: a fearless advocate for social justice. I have no doubt that he is as committed to uplifting the lives of ordinary Kenyans as anyone can be. My reservations have nothing to do with either his qualifications or his integrity. They, however, have everything to do with the nature of power and the propensity of my countrymen to ignore the lessons of history.

Power corrupts. A simple yet unfailingly true phrase. Kenyan's history is replete with fallen icons, former giants of matchless courage and integrity whose reputations did not survive a sojourn into government. In this pantheon you will find the likes of Mwai Kibaki, Raila Odinga, Martha Karua, Kivutha Kibwana, Anyang' Nyongo, Wangari Maathai, Kiraitu Murungi and Mukhisa Kitui, just to name a few of the most recent examples. By the time they were raptured into government, many of these had fought the good fight, risked life and limb, and endured torture, incarceration, beatings and tear gas, all in the name of upholding the rights of ordinary Kenyans. They inspired us, and brought the despotic government of Daniel Arap Moi to its knees, by the sheer force of their beliefs.

Yet all of them eventually turned into the very oppressors they were once fighting after we put them in power. Which brings me to my second point: Kenyans unrelenting and, frankly, psychotic sense of optimism. Despite all evidence to the contrary, we still persist in the illusion that if we just elect or appoint a nice guy, all will be well and we can look forward to living out the rest of our lives in comfort and luxury. We allow our institutions to rot while we wait for the promised Messiah, our very own Mandela or Ghandhi.

"Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty" is a line familiar to most. What is perhaps less well known are the words that Wendell Phillips uttered following these:"The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continual oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot." Phillips was only too well aware that the intrinsic goodness of the powerful could not be the ultimate guarantor of liberties. Similarly Kenyans should put their faith in their own ability to monitor and control the people in office, and not in candidates' records and words.

Now, I am not saying that qualifications, experience and integrity are unimportant. I hold them to be vital. However, like Phillips, I know they are just proof that the man (or woman) can do the job. They are no guarantee that he (or she) will actually do it. Past performance is fickle surety for future returns. Only "continual oversight" will deliver that and it will require that we treat all office bearers, Dr. Mutunga included, as "the necessary enemy of the people." I hope all the good folks applauding our next chief justice will keep this in mind.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Press Release: KPLC Supports Earth Hour

KPLC Supports Earth Hour

For Immediate Release

Nairobi, March 26, 2011

The Kenya Power & Lighting Company (KPLC) has once again declared that it will join the rest of humanity in celebrating Earth Hour and renewed its commitment to minimising Kenya's contribution to global environmental change.

Hundreds of landmarks in thousands of cities around the world will go dark at 8:30pm Saturday local time, as hundreds of millions of people take part in the planet’s largest voluntary action for the environment.

"We are proud once again to join with individuals, organisations and governments this year, and pledge that our Earth Hour commitment will, as always, stretch beyond the hour. So there's no telling when the lights in Kenya will come back on," said Eng. Joseph K Njoroge, the company's Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer.

"KPLC has always been proud of its unilateral initiatives in support of the environmental cause," Eng. Njoroge said, listing frequent blackouts, power rationing and poor customer service as part of the company's unique project to reduce electricity consumption and consequent harm to the environment.

"The company understands that there's little the country can do to limit consumption from the demand side of the power equation, considering that electricity is critical to sustainable development. However, there's much that can be done to restrict supply and we are committed to exploring every avenue to do this, including raising costs and introducing further inefficiencies," he added.

Electricity costs in Kenya are already among the highest in the world, quadruple the the price per kilowatt in Egypt and up to 6 times that in India and China, an achievement KPLC can be justifiably proud of.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

You Asked For It!

Joshua arap Sang, who was on Wednesday served with summons to appear at The Hague on April 7, has told Capital News that he has written to the ICC asking for help in meeting expenses for a ticket, accommodation and meals.

Monday, February 07, 2011

I Quit This Bitch!

On my way to work today, I had an epiphany. As I sat in one of the unending traffic jams that have become part of the daily ritual of trying to get to work, fuming as matatus "overlapped" the queue, it occurred to me that it wasn't they who were the stupid ones.

The rule of law, whether we're talking about the highway code, commercial law or criminal statutes, assumes a universal application. So, when I accept to religiously abide by it when others consider it only as a guideline, to be discarded whenever it is convenient to do so, then it is I who is refusing to see the reality as it truly is.

This notion was reinforced when I finally got to my office and read in the papers that Rift Valley MPs were planning to ditch the National Accord in a bid to replace Raila Odinga as the Prime Minister with William Ruto. According to The Standard, the plot is an attempt to shield Ruto from potentially facing charges at the International Criminal Court relating to the 2008 post-election violence. "If it means repealing the Accord, then we will act and move with speed to replace the PM, ," the paper quotes the chairman of the Rift Valley Parliamentary Group, Dr. Julius Kones, as saying.

Putting aside for one minute the questionable wisdom of the move (after all, Omar al-Bashir's position as President of Sudan didn't save him from similar indictments), the statements simply emphasize the fact that there is one law for some and another for the rest. Just like the enlightened matatu drivers, our politicians believe that the rules do not apply to them and can be discarded whenever one of them gets into trouble.

Our whole system of governance aids and abets this logic. So when Cabinet Ministers are forced out of office after being caught with their hands in the till, the government creates a new taxonomy in which those who "step aside" are allowed to keep their fat salaries and allowances without actually having to work for them. That, they tell us, is how we will win the war on corruption!

I now believe that it is the ordinary, hardworking, tax-paying, law-abiding Kenyan who is stupid. We agree to faithfully pay our taxes, even celebrating when the government exceeds its revenue collection targets, while those who actually pass our tax laws do not feel obliged to live under the same regime. We pay salaries to policemen and civil servants and then agree to supplement these with bribes. We accept that the leaders of the same government supposed to ensure roads are properly built to cater for the booming numbers of vehicles and that traffic rules are obeyed, should not themselves be inconvenienced when they fail to do their jobs. We allow them to provide our children with a failing education system -at our expense, naturally- while they take their kids to private schools and elite universities in the West. We acquiesce when they tell us all is well with our public hospitals but they fly abroad at the slightest sign of illness.

We are the fools when we insist on believing that a new constitution will somehow magically apply the law to them. Our politicians, like our matatu drivers, are not Kenyans. The fact is, Kenya is their creation, not ours. Its policies, rules and laws only apply to Kenyans, the wananchi (the people of the nation), not to the wenye nchi (those who own the nation). They are designed to perpetuate the power and wealth of the latter, to transfer resources and dignity from the former. It explains why none of our systems work, for the wenye nchi have no interest in us spending our money on ourselves. It is why no one goes to jail when they steal maize while a third of the country is starving, why no one is punished when people are sold contaminated food and when public funds go missing. It is the sole reason that the fate of 6 of them is of more import than the deaths of 1,500 Kenyans.

I, for one, am tired of this charade we call Kenya. I am tired of countless commissions that only produce paper; of a Parliament that only represents itself. I am tired of the cycle of prosecutions that produce no convictions and reforms that generate no change. I am tired of being poor and having to work hard to fund the excesses of a wealthy few. I am tired of carrying a leadership, a state, a country, that is nothing more than a parasitic infection.

I am tired of being a Kenyan. I am tired of being stupid.

In 2008, after being treated like crap for years, Inetta the Mood-Setter, a part-time DJ in the US, refused to take it anymore. Her parting words to the radio station, delivered live on air: "I QUIT THIS BITCH!"

So do I.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Breaking News - Shadowy Party Revealed in Kenya

As Kenyans are kept engrossed in the never-ending wrangles within the governing coalition, we can authoritatively reveal the existence of a shadowy party which commands the allegiance of the vast majority of politicians and MPs in the country, including almost all in the Grand Coalition.

Known as the Federal Union of Candidates in Kenya (FUCKenya), the party has developed a Strategic Harmonized and Integrated Target List (SHITList) of policies that all members are expected to support. MPs, known within the party as Parliamentary Representatives of Independent Candidates of Kenya (PRICKs), have the duty to translate these policies into law.

The policies cover almost every aspect of the country’s social and economic life. Land reform, for example, is addressed in the Strategy To Enhance Allocation of Land (STEAL) while the youth are offered the Direct Renewal and Urban Growth Strategy (DRUGS).

To ensure the party’s favoured candidates are elected, FUCKenya has devised the Bolstered Regional Integrated Ballot and Election Strategy (BRIBES) which is implemented under the Targeted Regional Integrated Ballot and Election Scheme (TRIBES).

According to informed sources, who cannot be named, the party has urged its members to resist the moves to try the Ocampo Six at the International Criminal Court, threatening to unleash its Counter-Hague Advanced Operation Strategy (CHAOS).

Friday, January 28, 2011

HADAF Somalia International Cartoon Competition

The Association of East African Cartoonists (KATUNI )invites all cartoonists to participate in the

HADAF Somalia International Cartoon Competition.

Theme: The search for peace in Somalia: Achievements and Challenges

1st Prize: $3000
2nd Prize: $1500
3rd Prize: $750

Competition Rules

  • The maximum number of entries you may submit is 5.
  • Deadline for receiving cartoons is Monday 14 March, 2011
  • All entries should be without any kind of frame and must not be folded
  • Each entry must be accompanied by a short biography and/or CV as well as the name and contact details of the cartoonist.
  • Submitted works may be put on exhibition and used in future publications.
  • The judges’ decision is final and no correspondence shall be entered into it.
  • Submitted works will not be returned.
  • By participating, you grant the organizers the rights to publish and use the submitted artworks in any form including:

a) Reproduction and dissemination in printed form for all editions (e.g. study edition, school edition, special edition) and in unlimited print-runs (printing right). The printing right embraces in particular hard-cover editions, paperback editions, reprints, magazines, newspapers, collected works, via all distribution channels such as retail bookshops, other retailers selling books, book clubs, open and closed user groups and in all formats.

b) Electronic/digital storage and making accessible (including in databases) by means of digital or other storage or data transmission technology, with or without intermediate storage, in such a way that users have access from a place and at a time selected individually by them and can download, play back, interactively use and/or pass to third parties this work via PC, eBook, mobile telephone or other wired or wireless appliances, for example via the internet, UMTS, cable, satellite or other transmission paths (online right).

How to Enter:

Digital copies of the cartoons may be sent to and should be in JPEG format with a resolution of at least 300 dpi.

Original artworks or clear prints (no photocopies) should be placed in an envelope marked “Hadaf Somali Cartoon Competition” and either sent to:

Hadaf Somali Cartoon Competition,

P.O. Box 2074

Village Market 00621, Nairobi, Kenya

or dropped off at one of the following venues:

Alliance Francaise de Nairobi, Loita/Monrovia streets, Nairobi

4D Innovative Ltd, 3rd Floor, Revlon Plaza, Kimathi St., Nairobi.

GoDown Arts Centre, Dunga Rd., Industrial Area, Nairobi.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Kenyan Dumbocracy: A Rant

"Do not underestimate the predictability of stupidity," warned Vinnie Jones in the British movie, Snatch. Kenyan politics is a monument to the veracity of that statement.

At the height of post-election violence, our politicians were falling over themselves to present cases to the International Criminal Court. Both ODM and PNU sent teams to The Hague, each arguing the case for prosecution of the other for crimes against humanity.

So convinced were they of the remoteness of the possibility of that ever occuring, that they time and again spurned the opportunity to create a credible (read malleable) local tribunal to provide a veneer of juridical respectability to the impunity with which they killed and murdered.

Now that that remote possibility has become a very real probability, the fools are closing ranks and like dogs to the vomit, reviving talk of local trials. In their panic, they are lashing out at anything and everything. The new constitution, the ICC, party leadership. They are not above looting the national treasury to pay their cronies' legal bills.

None of this should come as a surprise. Anyone who has anything more than a passing acquaintance with our politics understands that the average MP or government mandarin has the intelligence of a fencepost, however many university degrees he/she may hold. Blinded by their greed and stupefied by their seeming invicibility, they cannot identify "national interest" if it bit them in the rear.

However, there is one other group of Kenyans that better fits into Vinnie Jones' description. And that is the Kenyan voter, who time and again offers up his body and treasure to these parasites. Every 5 years, he will predictably rotate out 60-70% of idiots in Parliament replacing them with other fools. Always willing to let bygones be bygones, the Kenyan voter will never scrutinise CVs, never demand proof of integrity. To wipe the slate clean, all he demands is a public and superficial show of religiosity and a defection to whatever party catches his fancy at the moment.

The truth is, our politicians are a reflection of ourselves. Instead of continually beating our breasts at their latest affront to common sense, we should be asking ourselves what part we play in this tragicomedy and trying to be little less predictable. To paraphrase another well known Hollywood line, "stupid is as stupid votes."

Monday, January 03, 2011

It's His Turn To Eat

Kibaki's New Year Message

The other day, I got to thinking about the President's New Year message to the nation and especially his rather oblique references to the indictments expected to be handed down by the ICC. While I do not expect that he will do our MPigs bidding and assent to their ludicrous attempt to pull us out of the Rome Statute, I nonetheless still believe that he shares their ultimate goal: to preserve the culture of impunity by protecting the organizers of the post-election violence. The only difference is that he proposes to do it, not through an unconstitutional Act of Parliament, but through a wholly incredible and implausible local tribunal.

Incredible because no one in their right mind actually believes that there exists the political will to actually dispense justice to the coterie of murderers named by the ICC prosecutor, Louis Moreno Ocampo. Otherwise, arrests would have taken place two years ago and by now their cases would be nearing completion.

Implausible because, as the President put it: "We must all take due care to ensure that the process of seeking justice, does not erode the gains we have made in the direction of national healing and reconciliation." So there we have it. The priority for a local tribunal is not to ensure that criminals get their due but rather to preserve the "gains" secured by the reconciliation process, which gains mainly consist of lucrative positions for the masterminds of the violence.

The truth is Kenyans today find themselves in the modern-day Manor Farm, witnessing what appears to be a row in the farmhouse. Mwai Kibaki and Isaac Ruto are each attempting to play an ace of spades simultaneously. Though voices may be raised, they are all alike. No question, now, what has happened. The citizens may look from MPig to President, and from President to MPig, and from MPig to President again; but already it is impossible to say which is which.