Tag Archives: Kenya

This won’t make a difference

Kenya’s electoral commission has just launched a new hi-tech voter registration system. Every would-be voter will have their fingerprint scanned and a digital photograph taken. Supposedly this will prevent voter fraud.

Two things:

One. The problems last time had little to do with voter registration. The election was stolen in the count.

Two. Somaliland tried this super-duper foolproof digital photo fingerprint scanner thing back in 2008. The result? The country’s worst case of voter registration fraud ever.

Lessons in Big Man politics

Chris Mullin spent two years as the UK’s Minister for Africa, a role that wasn’t quite as important as it sounds. Any decision worth making was carried out by Mullin’s superiors but he managed to travel a fair bit across the continent.

On one of those trips, to Kenya, he spends a day with Raila Odinga and gets his “first taste of Big Man politics”:

“All day we raced around in a convoy of gleaming Land Cruisers, mobbed by cheering crowds. At every stop a visitors’ book was produced. At first, I duly filled in my name and details across a single line. The Honourable Raila was unimpressed. ‘That’s not how you do it,’ he snorts, ‘you must fill the whole page.’ I flicked back through the book. Everyone else seemed to have made do with a single line, but that apparently is not how Big Men sign their nams.

“Honourable Raila takes the book and scrawls his signature across a full page. ‘There.’ He holds it out for me to admire. Try as I may, I cannot rise to the occasion. By the end of the day I am managing a mere three lines.”

From Mullin’s brilliant diaries, ‘A View from the Foothills’.

No comment

When a politician at the centre of a scandal tells you he or she doesn’t want to comment on a story, reporters in Britain tend to write so-and-so “refused to comment”.

African papers have a different style. Julius Malema, the charismatic and controversial president of the ANC Youth League, is under pressure for allegedly making £11m from state contracts in the last two years.

The Times of South Africa called Malema about the latest allegations and quoted his response verbatim:

“Don’t you know I have a spokesman from the ANC Youth League? Stop calling me about these things, okay?”

It’s not quite as good as my favourite version of ‘no comment’, which was made by Joseph Kinyua, the permanent secretary in Kenya’s Finance ministry, to the Standard newspaper in May 2009:

“Oh no, I’m not talking to you…No! No! No”

Kenya’s pride and shame

I’ve been working on a story this week about Kenya’s digital future. It’s an inspiring tale about smart young people creating new opportunities. The developers, designers and engineers using Nairobi’s new iHub, which opens next month, will all be hoping to create the next M-PESA or Ushahidi, and turn Nairobi into Africa’s technology hub.

I love working on stories like this. It’s not what we expect from Africa. It’s uplifting, it’s positive, and there’s not an aid worker in sight.

And then there are stories which make your heart sink. Five men in Mtwapa, just north of Mombasa, were arrested yesterday for being gay. A rumour had gone round that two men were going to get married. how they were going to do that when gay marriage is illegal is not quite clear. According to the BBC:

District officer George Matandura said two of the men had been found with wedding rings, attempting to get married, in Kikambala beach resort. The other three men were handed to the police by members of the public; two of them had reportedly been beaten.

A human rights lawyer criticised the police, calling the arrest “an offence, an unnatural offence, and also their behaviour is repugnant to the morality of the people.”

Oh, no, sorry. That was the police officer talking about the men he arrested.

People protest against something that has no impact on their lives whatsoever (Photo: Laban Walloga, Daily Nation)

One of the most depressing aspects of the story is the protests. People tend not to go on demonstrations here – partly because the police don’t need much excuse to fire tear gas cannisters and live bullets. But the alleged gay wedding has brought hundreds onto the streets in Mtwapa. In the past week two big corruption scandals have been on the front pages of Kenya’s newspapers. Subsidised maize that was meant to go to some of the poorest, drought-hit parts of the country, has been stolen. So too has money meant to pay for free primary school education.

Guess how many protests there have been about that.

Shooting the messenger, ignoring the message

Another week, another Africa blog row. This one was set off rather innocently by Shashank Bengali who pointed out a poster for the upcoming disaster movie, 2012.

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He wrote:

“An American friend saw this poster in the lobby and said: “Hey, a movie about the next Kenyan election!”

I laughed. Our three Kenyan friends didn’t.

The comments started off supportive but quickly degenerated.

Gee wrote:

“The problem with Kenya is that everyone’s an expert, and usually not Kenyan.”

Then Kenyachick added:

“I’m so bored with foreign comments about Africa. Give it a rest.”

And finally The Patriot weighed in with a 300 words tirade which ended:

“So please shut up and enjoy the suburbs and multiplex movie theaters and the 4 X 4.”

None of them are trying to argue about the message. They are effectively saying: “Yes, our country may be in trouble but who the hell are you to point it out?”

In a way it’s understandable. Kenya is a former colony, which gained independence only after fighting a war of liberation. For the past 40-odd years a procession of foreigners have been telling Kenyan leaders what to do – sometimes for good reasons, often for bad. While I don’t mind having an argument with a Kenyan about British politics I might feel differently if Kenya had drawn the UK’s borders, repressed and killed our people and still gave its opinion on our budget.

But just because it’s understandable doesn’t mean it’s right.

There is a strain of African populism that seeks to pin blame on the West whenever possible. Mugabe regularly rails against “imperialists” and “bloody whites”. Moussa Dadis Camara, the leader of Guiena’s junta, did it last week after the French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, had called for an international intervention following the slaughter of more than 150 pro-democracy protesters in Conakry:

“Guinea is not a district of France. When the French foreign minister says something like that, this is a way of denigrating the people of Africa.”

Here in Kenya the US ambassador, Michael Ranneberger, has faced criticism from some members of the Kenyan government after threatening 15 politicians and businessmen with visa bans. One assistant minister, Kareke Mbiuki, said:

“We are a sovereign State and the US must stop its arrogance and let us govern ourselves without undue pressure.”

Kenya is in a bad shape. It is ranked number 14 in a list of global failed states, there have been no political reforms since the last election, and militias are allegedly rearming in the Rift Valley.

I fail to see what’s wrong about pointing that out whether you are Caroline Mutoko or Kofi Annan, Mwalimu Mati or Shashank Bengali.

What’s most depressing about this debate is that no one has looked at that poster and said “don’t be ridiculous, that could never happen.”

Politics, protests and pop music

Kenya is welcoming a procession of international visitors this month that indicate both the depths it has fallen to and the heights it could once again reach.

Kofi Annan arrived at the start of the month to gently remind Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, and prime minister, Raila Odinga, that they still haven’t reformed Kenya’s constitution, electoral system or land disputes.

As Annan left, Wyclef Jean and Akon swept in for last Saturday’s MTV Africa Music Awards, a glitzy event which saw Kenyan artists, Nameless and Amani win two of the top awards.

Bumping into the hip-hop stars on their way out will be Luis Moreno-Ocampo, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), who is expected in Nairobi later this week.

From my latest Monocle column: Politics, protests and pop music

The perfect traffic jam

The inevitable consequence of refusing to follow the rules of the road.

jam1As frustrating as traffic jams are, you have to admire the beauty of the ‘Nairobi special’.