Tuesday, January 29, 2008

So, Kenya finally is a failed state?

The heading sounds funny, doesn't it; a declarative question. Yeah, am wondering whether to agree that Kenya is a failed state or give it the benefit of doubt.

Kenya has been in the news for now close to a month since elections were conducted. And not just in the regional papers but even the global media. Not because Kenya conducted a great election, but because the election marked the start to an end of a state called Kenya.

Ok, what are the indicators? Finance minister Kimunya has been trying to put on a brave face that the economy would still survive the anarchy. But yesterday, he threw in the towel. He admitted that the clashes, which now have claimed over 1,000 people is sending Kenya down the recession road. He has admitted that tourism will take ages to rebuild.

As the massacres continue, especially in Naivasha and Nakuru, the police can only look on. Meaning they are either defeated, or conspiring to let Kikuyus kill Luos. I know that they are overstretched. But what do we call a state, which can not police itself?

The biggest component of a failed state is not the dead or even the economy. It is fear. The moment a country slides into a situation where people are not sure of their neighbours, where you must walk while watching your back, where you talk in whispers, for fear of being heard, then all freedoms are gone.

And believe me, Kenya has gotten there. I sent a mail to my friend (a journalist in one of the biggest media houses asking whether, the division bug had not bitten even they the 'elite' too. I asked her if in office, they are not segregating among themselves, and here is what she told me;

"Don, we do not want to believe it, but to be frank the bug has bitten us too. A Kikuyu friend of mine has suddenly stopped talking to me. When i greet him, he offers muffed responses. We hear some of our bosses from a certain tribe met to discuss how to guard their interests. We are now in a state of confuion and fear. Am not sure even sending you this mail is safe."

Fear, to me is the definition of a dead state. A people who live in fear of one another are as good as those living in cages. Kenya is a failed state.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

the job i don't envy

As a child, I dreamt about being a journalist. I loved the voice of Robin White on the BBC African Service, though many times then; I did not fathom what exactly he was saying. Then as my love for the profession grew, I learnt of people called spokesmen. I was impressed when some time in the mid 90s, I watched a NATO spokesman, during the siege on Slobodan Milosevic of Yugoslavia, address a press conference and answered questions from journalists in five different international languages!!
I immediately knew where my heart wanted to go—spokesmanship. I did not matter really what I should be speaking for, but all I wanted was to be a spokesman.
Then came the American invasion on Iraq in 2003 and the thrust into international spotlight of a man, we later termed Comical Ali. Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf was the Iraq information minister when the Americans descended over his country.
He, overnight, became a star when through comical interviews; he rubbished the attacking forces, even when it was clear that Baghdad was falling to the occupational force.
“There is no presence of American infidels in the city of Baghdad,” he declared to journalists on the roof of the Palestine Hotel as gunfire echoed across the city and tanks fired from the banks of the Tigris just a few hundred yards away.
As the audience of bemused reporters pointed out the fierce firefight across the river, he continued: “There is no presence of the American columns in the city of Baghdad at all. We besieged them and we killed most of them.”
“Today, the tide has turned,” he continued confidently. “We are destroying them.”
And after an American tank shell hit the hotel, killing two cameramen, he moved to reassure the world’s press corps. “We are not afraid,” he proclaimed, adding paternally “And don’t you be afraid”.
After such theatrical performances, I knew that speaking, especially for governments can be indeed tough business. Matters are not made any better, if it is a dictatorship you are speaking for.
You may be wondering what has suddenly forced me go through these archives. But it is events in neighbouring Kenya. You see, since election results were disputed in late December, there has been one man who has tried to defend an outrightly illegitimate Kibaki government. This man goes by the names of Dr. Alfred Mutua—the official government spokesman.
Small in build and rather tall, listening to him makes one remember the tragi-comedy sub-genre of drama. I was ‘privileged’ to hear him speak to a group of Kenyan students in 2005 at Makerere University just before his government was defeated in the referendum on constitutional amendments; I concluded that theatre had missed an asset.
In a bid to impress students, he took to mimicking accents of several Kenyan tribes and obviously, you could see a man who did not recognise the gravity of events.
This week, Mutua was again in the news. After several western nations threatened to cut aid to Kenya, unless it got its political act together, Mutua said the threat was idle, adding: “You are not here to threaten us. We have gotten ourselves free from the yoke of neo-colonialism and dependency.”
Poor man, he may be right, considering that only 5% of the Kenyan budget gets foreign funding, but little does he know that the western masters still wield influence, too much of it that no amount of independence can let you cross their paths. He should ask Mugabe, Saddam and a couple of African states. He is obviously overstepping the bounds.
But what makes me see the real Comical Mutua is his remark in relation to opposition leaders, who called for mass nationwide protests.
“They are just waking up at 10 o’clock, eating eggs and sausages, giving interviews and planning how to disrupt people's lives,” Mutua told reporters.
Of course, I no longer dream of being a spokesman. Am comfortable being a blogger!!

Wednesday, January 09, 2008


We are now taking stock. Over 1,000 people might have been killed in the violence that gripped Kenya after elections, over 300,000 people are displaced both within and without the country.

Ease seems to return but the recent announcement of a partial cabinet by Kibaki and possible failure of AU-brokered talks means Kenya is far from peaceful.

Now, away from the political sentiments that gripped all of us, depending on what side we sat, we need to do a post-mortem on what exactly took Kenya down that path. We know that few African countries conduct fool-proof elections. We know that many African regimes lack legitimacy to rule but they go ahead and rule.

So, why did Kenya get caught up in this flame? Are the Kenyans more patriotic than other Africans? Are they the most sensitive that any form of electoral malpractice would yield the bloodshed it did?

Obviously not. So, why did we see youth, living in slums hold matchetes and clubs and maul each other? why did we see young men, with good command of English (telling from the TV interviews) decide to burn and loot shops and other institutions?

The answer in my understanding is; they are a lot of young people frustrated by unfair economic state policies, who seem to be losing hope in existence. They are a group of young people, who perceive themselves as already dead, and physical death will mean nothing to them. That is why, unlike the middle class, which most likely had voted for Raila also, these depressed youth took to the streets, ready to confront security forces and if possible get killed.

In subsequent accusations between the warring parties, PNU accused ODM of masterminding a genocide and terrorism. I beg to disagree on the genocide bit but fully agree on the terrorism accusation.

What is terrorism anyway: An American general described terrorism as the war of the poor against the rich, while war is the terrorism of the rich against the poor.

What we saw on the streets of Nairobi was indeed, a war of the poor against the rich. What we saw was a statement of discontent by the 57% of Kenyans who live on less than one dollar a day. The blood-thirsty youth we saw are no hoodlums. Many of them are Form Four leavers, who have failed to gain access to colleges. Some maybe graduates, who with the unflexible economic systems that favour those who already have, are confined to the misery of slums. They try to make a living the hard way. The education system has shaped them to reject rural life and have moved to urban areas, living in constant hope of a miracle happening and things getting better. Problem is---the miracle like the parousia, seems nowhere in sight.

It is such a lot of youth who are a time-bomb. They are ready to die for someone (like Raila) who promises them heaven when they get to power. To such youth, the State has failed them. That is why they will raze houses, they know they will never build. That is why they will loot property they have only afforded in dreams. That is why they will walk in the face of bullets, knowing their lives are as good as absent.

Two things though: Is Kenya the only African state with this growing class of frustrated youth?

Secondly, is it true that we are short of resources to ensure equity in our societies?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

kenya has let us down

Prior to the December 27 presidential polls in Kenya, it was universally agreed that the biggest economy in East Africa was also setting the right pace in terms of democracy and general respect of freedoms. The first five years of the Kibaki presidency had literally turned round the image of a country once seen as a waste under Daniel Arap Moi, into a thriving, enviable economy in the region.
At the back of this praise was the 2002 presidential election, where Uhuru Kenyatta, the then ruling KANU party candidate, lost to Kibaki of the NARC and gracefully conceded defeat. For once in this region, we saw a ruling party hand over power to an opposition party.
For the rest of us, especially in Uganda, we could only afford to watch on with envy, considering the fact that our own 2001 presidential elections had been declared unfair by the Supreme Court and some not-so-romantic images of paramilitary squads like the Kalangala Action Plan still fresh in our memories.
Therefore, going into the 2007 presidential election, we knew our Kenyan brothers had already set the pace for us. If the 2002 election was like setting a house foundation, we expected this election to be the harnessing of the ring-beam with the hope that the 2012 polls would be roofing the democratic thatch.
How mistaken we were! We heard the opposition complain about the composition of the electoral commission during the campaigns and saw a few skirmishes claim lives. But where in Africa don’t these things happen? Even our darling Kenya could be guilty of these small failures.
But we knew they would stand the biggest test---let the people choose and respect their choice of a president. That we knew was a sure deal.
By Sunday December 31, it was clear that the maxim ‘In elections those who count the votes are strong than those who cast the votes’-had caught up with Kenya. We have looked on with horror as a country hitherto known to be peaceful descend into anarchy.
We have looked on with disgust as a country taunted as being respectful to media freedoms clamp down on media with decrees on what they should air.
We have seen a country previously respected for its thriving economy slowly witness a slump with its thriving tourist sector already threatened by scenes of violence and mayhem.
It was very disturbing to see thousands of Kenyans flee their previously peaceful country and seek refugee at shelterless border towns in Uganda. We have with worry reports that gangs are attacking innocent people in churches and burning them, reminding us of the 1994 Rwanda genocide, where even the altars turned into slaughter grounds.
And of course we can never blame the majority ordinary Kenyans. They did their part and cast their vote. The degeneration of Kenya into a Police state will by posterity and history be blamed on the political leadership. It will be placed on those, who threw away conscience and altered results in places like Molo.
The blame will squarely lie on the politicians, who put egos before State, who put self-interest before country, who roused ethnic sentiments at the cost of national unity.
The rest of us in this region will look on and say, Kenya took one step forward and moved three steps backward.