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Archive for September, 2009

The Week at a glance

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on September 28, 2009

The past week has been full of intriguing news items. The week started off with the departure of Prime Minister Odinga on a widely publicized trip to the US. It was said that Mr.Odinga was going to represent the Government and by extension the Head of State (President Kibaki) at the UN Assembly. It was later announced that he had been invited, then “disinvited” and finally invited to a luncheon for African leaders. The strange events surrounding this fiasco never ended with the last type of “invite” but continued through to Havard University where Minister Michuki and Ambassador Ogego marched out on Mr. Odinga as he gave a speech. You do not need rocket science to see that what is known as a grand coalition government is nicely and truly divided by a not so thin line between PNU and ODM. Sadly, this took place on foreign land, which makes it more grievous and more of a grand coalition joke than government. This item was also extremely useful because it gave the reading public a chance to come to terms with editorial misdemeanors used by the two main media houses to give currency to various political groupings within the country. Objectivity was a natural casuality.
Then news of a Kenyan man who was involved in a love triangle and killed in New Zealand by another Kenyan managed to get space in the politics-saturated newspapers. Sadly, the man in his thirties had left a young wife and child back home in Kenya. Probably not a very worthy cause to lose your life for.
It was during the course of this week that a certain hitherto secret list was released to the public by some mysterious hand, warning the high and mighty that they wont be given visas to visit the USA. Not that the list has any surprises, it had the usual suspects, but the effect of the release of the list was instantaneous. The list came from the US government but was crafted by the State Department. The letters were addressed to certain individuals but either because of the nature of individuals targeted or the manner in which it was done, it pricked the normally impermeable Kibaki to the quick. It remains to be seen whether the USA President will apologize and chastice his Activist Ambassador, Mr. Rannenberger.
Two opposite items came together thus evening out the “feel good” and “feel bad” effects. It was announced that a gold mining firm called Goldplat from the UK was starting mining operations at Kilimapesa which literally means ”the mountain of wealth”. If it was good news to hear that a significant amount of a major mineral was to be mined, the smile disappeared when millions of shillings were stolen apparently by policemen detailed to provide security for the money. This demonstrated that the rot in the police force is deeper than generally acknowledged. What a welcome to Mr. Iteere, the new commissioner?

See you next week!

Sumaku’s Weekly Review


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Kenya Needs Reboot: John Githongo

Posted by Popular Ombudsman on September 26, 2009

from NEWSWEEK Published Sep 25, 2009

Kenya’s slide into temporary anarchy after failed elections at the end of 2007 shocked the world. The country had been seen as a force for stability in a turbulent region. Its robust economy, sophisticated urban middle class, good infrastructure, and other advantages made it an economic, political, and social hub for East Africa. Then came ethnic violence in which more than 1,000 people were killed and some 350,000 were displaced, stunning Kenyans and the rest of the continent.

This wasn’t supposed to happen here. A 2002 election saw the kleptocratic administration that had ruled Kenya since independence peacefully removed from power and President Daniel arap Moi replaced by his onetime vice president Mwai Kibaki. In 2003 Gallup polls found Kenyans to be the world’s most optimistic people. Economic growth averaged more than 5 percent between 2003 and 2007. Industries rendered moribund by graft and incompetence were revived. The introduction of free primary education brought 1.3 million children to school for the first time. Mobile telephones and FM radio became widely available, various other infrastructure improvements were made, and salaries for police and other civil servants were increased. The government repeatedly committed itself to tackling graft, and by improving tax collection (to more than $4 billion a year), Kenya dramatically reduced its dependence on foreign donors. The country enjoyed a boom in urban real estate and stocks; between 2003 and 2007, 500,000 Kenyans bought shares for the first time. Kenya, it seemed, was finally fixing the flaws in its hardware—its physical environment and the system for developing it. The signs were everywhere, from the Japanese cars clogging the streets to the appearance of new schools, cafés, stores, and villas.

The subsequent near collapse into ethnic war should be thought of as a dramatic national software crash—a crisis of relationships. For all its progress, the new government continued to tolerate corruption, even at the highest levels, and to lend new currency to old ethnic grievances. The new ruling elite, perceived as largely hailing from Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group, shunted aside the largely Kalenjin-led elite of Moi’s day, leaving virtually everyone feeling excluded.

Kenyans realized we have a fairly strong state in terms of executive power, but a weak sense of nationhood and a high level of impunity when it comes to graft and human-rights abuses. The 2007 elections exposed underlying schisms. Indeed, in a cruel irony, the much-vaunted middle class—supposed to be the driver of modernity—became and remains the most vociferous of Kenya’s new ethnic nationalists. Software providers like the church, previously one of the more respected arbiters of national disputes and a champion of the poor, were also polarized, weakening their ability to intervene effectively.

Today Kenya is consumed by a sense of foreboding about the future, especially the 2012 election. To prevent another outbreak of violence, the country badly needs a software upgrade—an improvement in personal relations. Corruption and ethnic hatred must be fought. Regional economic and political integration would also reboot the software of a number of African countries by subsuming local conflicts into a larger project.

These things are easier said than done. But unless the basic software issues of nationhood are addressed, no amount of infrastructure development or economic growth will save Kenya and its neighbors from future convulsions driven by resentments not captured by World Bank statistics. Indeed, where the right software is lacking—and people distrust their neighbors and leaders—rapid growth can actually increase political instability. Other nominal democracies such as Uganda and Cameroon are at risk for similar reasons. In Kenya, at least, our national crisis forced us to confront our problems. And we have started to address them while building bridges, roads, schools, and hospitals. More important than these physical structures is creating an idea of Kenya—a collective identity. At the moment, that identity involves a great sense of shame, felt acutely when fellow Africans walk up to us and say, “Sorry about what happened to you chaps.” But it can also prove our ultimate salvation.

Githongo is a trustee of the Zinduko Trust and head of Twaweza Kenya.

© 2009

Mr. Githongo is a much admired and probably trusted former anti-graft permanent secretary. His expose is credited with creating awareness about Aaron Ringera’s role.

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