Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Johnnie Carson briefs journalists on the upcoming elections in Kenya.
February 8, 2013 | 0 Comments
Africa Regional Media Hub
February 7, 2013
MODERATOR: Good morning and good afternoon to everyone from Johannesburg, from the Africa Regional Media Hub with the United States Department of State. A warm welcome to our participants calling from across the continent and to the media gathered in the room in Embassy Nairobi. Today, we are joined by Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, who is speaking to us from Washington DC. We begin today with remarks from Assistant Secretary Carson and will then open it up to your questions. To ask a question press “star, 1” on your phone to join the queue. Today’s call is on the record and will last approximately 40 minutes. And with that I will turn it over to Ambassador Johnnie Carson.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Carrie, thank you very much for the introduction and good afternoon to all the participants in this call. I am extraordinarily pleased to have the opportunity to speak with you today about Kenya’s upcoming elections. These elections are vitally important to that country’s future. Kenya has been a long standing friend and partner of the United States and probably our closest partner in East Africa, in the Horn.
These elections are vitally important. The choices that Kenyans make on March 4 will affect the stability, prosperity and reputation of Kenya for many years to come. As President Obama said earlier this week in his message, Kenya must reject intimidation and violence and allow a free and fair vote. Kenyans must resolve disputes in the courts, not in the streets. Most importantly President Obama urged Kenyans to come together even further towards a true democratic Kenya defined by the rule of law, and strong institutions which respects the rights and dignity of all Kenyans.
President Obama clearly stated that the choice of who will lead Kenya is up to the Kenyan people, but it is also important to note that choices have consequences. We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact that their choices have on their nation and on the world. All Kenyans, no matter their gender, ethnicity, or geographic affiliation, have the responsibility, through their own actions, to help ensure Kenya’s elections are free, fair and peaceful, and through the election process to select the country’s leaders.
National leaders are responsible for their actions before, during, and after the elections. Accountability for political violence, including that perpetrated during the 2007 / 2008 electoral crisis is an important part of building a peaceful and prosperous country. We know very well the negative economic impact that past violence has caused Kenya. Kenya needs successful elections to ensure a stable and secure environment that will continue to attract foreign investment and to fuel the country’s economic growth and prosperity. The United States support free, fair, and peaceful elections that will help ensure Kenya’s stability and prosperity.
Since 2010, the United States government has contributed more than $35 million to support electoral reform, voter education, and elections preparation. The United States elections observation effort will complement domestic observation and other international observation programs. With this election, Kenyans have a wonderful opportunity, an enormous opportunity to build positively on the recent constitutional reforms and demonstrate to the world the vitality of Kenya’s democracy. As the president said, to all that are willing to walk this path of progress, he will continue to have a strong friend and partner in the United States of America. I am going to stop right there and thank you for listening to my opening remarks. I will take a few questions.
MODERATOR: Thank you Ambassador. We are going to start today with some questions from journalists gathered in the room in Nairobi. A quick reminder to callers to press “star 1” if you have a question and that will put you in the question queue. So I will turn it over to Chris Snipes who is moderating questions in Nairobi. Go ahead, Chris.
MR. SNIPES: Thank you very much Carrie. We do have a few questions, and we will start with a question from The Star.
QUESTION: My name is Nzau Musau, from The Star newspaper. Ambassador, I just want a clarification. The message which came from the President was interpreted in some quarters, some section of the coalition of political players in Kenya, and they say that it is an endorsement from the President that they can actually run and there would be no action later. So you can expand on the fact if there would be sanctions after the election of the ICC suspects? If indeed the President endorsed any side of the coalition? Thank you.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Thank you very much. The President was absolutely clear that the choice of who Kenyans select as their leaders is up to the Kenyan people. We as the United States do not have a candidate nor a choice in this election process. But as I just said, choices have consequences. We live in an interconnected world and people should be thoughtful about the impact that their choices have on their nation, on their region, on the economy, on the society, and the world in which they live. Choices have consequences.
MODERATOR: Chris, we can take another one in Nairobi.
MR. SNIPES: Thank you, yes, we do have another one.
QUESTION: Mr Ambassador, please clarify what you mean by choices have consequences.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Let me say very clearly that individuals have reputations, individuals have images, individuals have histories, individuals are known for who they are, and what they do, what they have said and how they act.
MODERATOR: Chris, do you have another, one more question in Nairobi?
MR. SNIPES: We have one more at this time, yes.
QUESTION: My name is Antony. I am from The People. Mr. Ambassador, I want you to clarify, or to make it straight, what position the U.S. government is going to take if Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto [inaudible] in the ICC.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: It would be presumptuous of me to engage a hypothetical answer about an outcome about which we are not certain at this point. I don’t know who is going to win the election, and so I am not going to make any judgments about any actions that might be taken about a winner or winners who are not yet known.
MODERATOR: We are going to take a question now from callers. We are going take the first question from Peter Fabricious with Independent Newspapers in South Africa.
QUESTION: Secretary Carson, thanks very much for your briefing. Could you give me some sense of the U.S. assessment of the likelihood of peaceful or violent elections? There is a growing incidence of violence in various parts of the country and concern being expressed about the possibility that this could have an impact on the election.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Well, let me say that I think that we in the United States join with many, many across Kenya to do everything that we can to prevent a recurrence of the events that followed the 2007 elections and carried over into 2008. We have worked with groups across Kenya to reduce the prospect of violence in the forthcoming elections. We have worked with Kenyan groups to monitor, reduce, and eliminate hate speech on radio and in the print media. We have encouraged peace and reconciliation committees and communities in and across the nation. We have reached out to religious organizations, to civil society, to youth groups, to professional business groups, to women’s groups, and to local leaders, all encouraging them to discourage violence, to look at this as a peaceful process, and to avoid any kind of acts of intimidation.
There should be no place for violence in the democratic electoral process. And we are also encouraging all political leaders to foreswear violence, to sign pledges that they will not engage in violence, encourage or incite violence from their followers, and they will not tolerate it. The Kenyan justice system should not allow for impunity for those who commit violent acts or who encourage violent acts.
We have seen some local, regionalized incidents of violence in the Tana River area and around Mombasa. We look at these as a result of some longstanding political and land grievances. We hope that these things will not spill over into the political process, but it is incumbent upon all those who are friends and partners of Kenya as well as all of those who are citizens and politicians and civil society and religious and business leaders in Kenya to recognize that violence should be eliminated from the political process.
The violence that occurred after the 2007 elections into 2008 resulted in a significant loss of Kenyan GDP that resulted in a loss of tourism, tourism revenue, a loss of several billion dollars in earnings. And, because Kenya is a gateway, a hub to all of the East Africa region, when the roads between Nairobi and Kisumu were closed, it meant that there was no overland transportation into western Kenya, into Uganda, into Southern Sudan, into Burundi, Rwanda, and into the eastern Congo.
Kenya is a keystone state. It is an economic hub, a financial center, an agriculture giant, a communications node. Kenya is vitally important to every Kenyan, but it is also vitally important to the region and to the global community. Kenya’s politicians must not allow violence to dominate or interfere in this political process. It must be free. It must be fair. It must avoid ‘07 and .08, and I will say again choices have consequences. People should be thoughtful about the impact that their choices will have on the nation, and on the region, on their image, and on the country.
MODERATOR: The next question is from Channels TV in Nigeria, Amarachi Ubani.
QUESTION: Thank you so much Ambassador. You just answered my first question, so I will just go on to the second one. In the meantime, while the U.S. is helping Kenya to prevent electoral violence after the elections in March, what else is the United States doing to help strengthen the country’s democracy.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Let me say that we have been a proud participant in efforts to strengthen Kenya’s democratic institutions. Over a number of years we have worked very closely with the Kenyan parliament to help strengthen the committee system in parliament, to strengthen the ability of the parliamentary representatives to investigate and to review legislation, to look at budgets, to develop bills and to undertake their responsibilities as legislators.
We think that we have engaged significant efforts to strengthen the ability of the parliament to hold accountable the executive branch for its actions and responsibilities. We have also worked closely with the Kenyan judiciary. We have an enormous respect for the Chief Justice of the Kenyan court, and we have work with Kenyan jurists to help strengthen the judicial process and judicial procedures. We recently invited a number of Kenyan jurists to the United States to meet with members of our own federal judiciary, and also our Supreme Court. We believe that democratic institutions play a vital part of the democratic process. We have also worked with the media and with other trade associations as well.
MODERATOR: Thank you, we are going to turn it back over to journalists in Nairobi for a few questions, and just a reminder to callers, we will come back to you, but press “star 1” to join the question queue. Go ahead Chris.
MODERATOR: Thanks Carrie, we have a question from Nzau Musau from the Star.
QUESTION: Ambassador, some of the U.S. allies in Nairobi like the British, UK, have already announced they will adopt a policy of no contact with the ICC indictees in case they get elected. So, from the U.S., for example will you consider visa ban? Is there something along that line?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Let me just say again choice have consequences. Choices have consequences. Individuals have histories, individuals have images, individuals have reputations. When they are selected to lead their nations, those images, those histories, those reputations go along with them. They are not separated from them. Again, I am not going to speculate on what our actions will be, but we are not signatories to the ICC convention, but I underscore that we recognize and respect what the ICC is trying to do, and we try to adhere to what its main principles and goals are.
MODERATOR: Any more from the room?
MR. SNIPES: Yes, we have another question from the Nation.
QUESTION: Thank you, my name is Aggrey Mutambo from The Daily Nation. I would like to know how significant the U.S. sees Kenya in the region and the whole of Africa?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Thank you very much. Kenya is our most important partner in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. Our friendship has been strong and durable since Kenya’s independence in 1963. Today, Kenya houses our largest embassy in Africa, not just in sub-Saharan Africa but all of Africa. Our quarters at Gigiri are the most significant diplomatic establishment that we have in Africa. Full stop. That is in recognition of our longstanding friendship and partnership, but it is also in recognition of Kenya’s overwhelming importance to the region.
As I said before to you, Kenya is the financial and transportation hub of East Africa. It is a major agriculture producer and center. It is a major manufacturing centre. What goes on in Nairobi and in Mombasa not only affects the people of Kenya, it affects all of the surrounding states. What happens on the road from Mombasa to Nairobi and from Nairobi over to Lake Victoria and Kisumu, can have enormous impact on landlocked states in the region, on Uganda, its ability to move cargo in and out, its ability to move agricultural supplies and capital goods. On Burundi. On Rwanda. Mombasa is more important as a city and as a port of entry to Bukavu, to Kisangani, to Goma, than is Kinshasa. The same can be said of Juba. And the same can be said of many places in southern Ethiopia which have better access through Kenya.
Kenya is an important partner. It is an important state, and this is why we are focused on trying to do as much as we can, along with Kenyans, along with Kenya’s friends in the international community. To appeal to all of Kenya’s political class, all of the business and commercial elite, to take seriously the need to ensure that these elections do not turn out the way that the ’07, ’08 elections occurred.
This is not the time for violence. This is the time for reconciliation and for progress. This is the time to build upon Kenya’s constitutional reforms. This is a time to take a step, a positive step forward, to make Kenya an even greater place than it is today. But the decisions are in the hands of Kenya’s voters. In Washington we are looking at Kenya as a partner, as I said before we do not select rulers for other countries, but we do believe in the democratic process, we believe in democratic institutions, and we believe that there is no place for violence or intimidation or harassment in the democratic process. It is unacceptable.
MODERATOR: We are going to turn to our callers, and the next question is from Richard Lough from Reuters, calling from Nairobi. Go ahead, your line is open.
QUESTION: Ambassador, good afternoon. My understanding is that Washington already has an essential contact only stance with ICC indictees in general. I assume that includes Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Could you confirm that that is indeed the case, and is it therefore fair to assume that this stance would remain in place if Kenyatta won the election, if it was deemed free and fair. And secondly, if I can ask you a question on Mali. I just wondered if you are using, I understand that you are using drones that are based in Niger, but whether the U.S. is deploying drones that are based elsewhere over the Sahara region, whether these drones are armed and whether you have plans in place for the deployment of Special Forces.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Thank you. Let me take the first Kenya-specific question. We have, in respect to President Bashir, in individuals in Sudan who are ICC indictees, taken a position that we will not engage with them, and we have not. And I will not speculate here on what is not yet a fact. But I will say that it is clear that we have taken our distance, our diplomatic distance, certainly in the case of these individuals in Sudan who are ICC indictees, that we have not engaged with them directly. We believe that individuals who are accused of crimes against humanity should go before the courts to prove their innocence or suffer the consequences of the judgment of the courts if they are found guilty.
With respect to Mali and drones, drones are not part of the State Department’s diplomatic arsenal. I will not comment on drones, their use, or where they are located. This is not a question for public discussion by me or my office. I will say this about Mali, that we support the actions of ECOWAS, we support the actions of the French and the non-ECOWAS forces that are operating there. We believe that it is important to do everything that we can to help to eliminate the spread of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in Mali and in other parts of West Africa.
But I will also say very clearly that Mali is a very complicated set of issues. It is absolutely imperative that that country move back to democracy through elections. It is important that the electoral roadmap and timetable be adhered to and that we see a return to democracy there. A military solution without a democratic solution is an imperfect solution. We must also seek negotiations with the moderate Tuareg, those who renounce violence. The Tuareg, many have longstanding political grievances, legitimate and longstanding. They must be dealt with, but we also must keep focus on the elimination of AQIM as a threat not only to Mali, but the region as a whole, and we should not forget the humanitarian concerns as well.
MODERATOR: Okay, we are going to take one question from a caller, then we are going to go to Nairobi and take the final question. The next question is from Jason Straziuso with the Associated Press, calling from Nairobi.
QUESTION: Hi Ambassador, you touched on this a little, but I want going to see if you can round it out a little bit. In general, you were just talking about Sudan, not only the reaction to the individuals who might be charged but what is the economic or military, security reaction as a whole, in terms of the U.S. relations to the country if it has a leader in place that is indicted or convicted by the ICC.
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Jason, thank you for that question. I don’t want to make a comparison with Sudan in its totality because Sudan is a special case in many ways. We have comprehensive economic and commercial sanctions on Sudan. Some of our most rigid and tough sanctions in the world, but those sanctions are there as a result of actions that occurred in Darfur and also because of Sudan’s support in the past for terrorist organizations. Sudan is on our state sponsored terrorism list. It is against U.S. law for us to trade with Sudan, to have any financial transactions with Sudan, to fly any commercial airplanes into Sudan or have any American registered ships go into Sudanese ports. Many of those sanctions deal with the government’s mishandling of the situation in Darfur, and the government’s past support of terrorists and terrorist organizations. None of that, none of that applies to Kenya. Again, it is a different set of circumstances.
Let me just also add here, Jason, if I would, I am going to come back to this point, choices matter. Choices matter and they have consequences. We live in an interconnected world. People should realize that their choices have an impact, and this impact can be in terms of a country’s image, it can be in terms of how leaders and countries are perceived, and people make choices in a global community on the basis of images, and on the basis of past histories, of things that have occurred. These things are not in isolation.
MODERATOR: Thank you. We are going to take the last question from Nairobi. So Chris, I will turn it over to you.
MR. SNIPES: Thank you very much Carrie, we have one more question from The Standard.
QUESTION: Thank you, my name is Moses Njagi from The Standard. Ambassador, you have repeatedly said that choices have consequences. Is that to say that the U.S. for example would have the [inaudible] if they go ahead and elect persons who have tainted images?
ASSISTANT SECRETARY CARSON: Again I am not prejudging who Kenyan voters will select. That is a choice for Kenyans to make. It is a choice only for Kenyans to make. But we do live in a broad global interconnected community and as I said, it is difficult to separate a person or persons from their images and from their histories and from their actions. It’s inevitable, it’s around the world, it’s not one place but everywhere and every place.
MODERATOR: Thank you. That concludes today’s call. I would like to thank Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Johnnie Carson, for joining us and thank all of our callers for participating. If you have any questions about today’s call, please contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you so much.
Obama channels ‘connection to Kenya’ in video calling for peaceful elections
February 6, 2013 | 0 Comments
By Julian Pecquet*
President Obama touts his personal “connection to Kenya” in a video urging the east African nations’ voters to conduct a “free and fair vote” on March 4.
The video, which starts with a greeting in Swahili, urges Kenyans to “come together” and avoid a repeat of the disputed elections of 2007 that left more than 800 people dead and about 200,000 displaced. Obama’s father, Barack Hussein Obama Sr., was a senior government economist in Kenya, and the president still has family in the country.
“I’ve been grateful for my connection to Kenya,” Obama says in the video.
“We all know what makes for successful elections. Kenya must reject intimidation and violence, and allow a free and fair vote,” he says. “Kenyans must resolve disputes in the courts, not in the streets.”
“Above all, the people of Kenya must come together, before and after the election, to carry on the work of building your administration.”
Obama adds that while the United States does not support any particular candidate, “we do support an election that is peaceful and reflects the will of the people.”
“This election can be another milestone toward a truly democratic Kenya, defined by the rule of the law and strong institutions,” he said. If Kenyans “come together instead of tearing apart … you can show the world that you are not just a member of a tribe or ethnic group, but citizens of a great and proud nation.”
Successful elections, he says, would be a powerful message on the 50th anniversary of Kenyan independence from Great Britain.
Successful elections, he says, would be a powerful message on the 50th anniversary of Kenyan independence from Great Britain.
* Source The Hill
Kenya: Understanding The Dynamics of a High Stakes election
January 18, 2013 | 1 Comments
“Kenyans aware that country must not return to anywhere near 2007 elections aftermath.”
By Ajong Mbapndah L
As Kenyans brace up for another high stakes elections, the challenge will be to avoid the violence that erupted in the aftermath of the 2007 elections. “There is a general sense among everyone, especially those in a position to create havoc that we cannot and must not return to anywhere near where we ended up after the 2007 elections,” says Samuel Omwenga an Attorney and Consultant. Barred for constitutional reasons, President Mwai Kibaki is not in the race. His 2007 challenger Raila Odinga widely believed by many to have won the elections is a front runner so too is Uhuru Kenyatta son of the country’s first President.
Omwenga who is well versed in Kenyan politics and was in the field for the 2007 elections says with free ,fair and transparent elections, Kenyans will elect the right leader who will fully implement the constitution and lead the country to greater prosperity. Approached by PAV for perspectives on what will be a keenly watched elections across the continent, Mr Omwenga also addresses the looming indictment of one of the leading candidates Uhuru Kenyatta, the legacy of President Kibaki, the chances of Raila Odinga and the ethnic equation in the elections amongst others.
Sir, could you sum up the upcoming elections in Kenya for us, the stakes and some of the key actors?
The elections of 2013 in Kenya will be unlike any in the past for several reasons.
First, this is the first election we’ll have after we nearly plunged into a civil war following the last elections held in 2007.
Second, President Kibaki is serving his final weeks in office but the man he faced off with in 2007 and who still believes he won those elections, Prime Minister Raila Odinga is vying in a field of no less than 5 serious contenders.
Third, Uhuru Kenyatta, the son of our first president and presidential candidate in 2002 (but not 2007) is vying again even though facing serious crimes against humanity charges at the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Uhuru’s running mate, William Ruto, also faces serious crimes against humanity charges at the same time and the fact that both are ICC suspects but still vying has been condemned by many, including former UN Secretary General Koffi Annan, who was very instrumental in brokering a deal between Kibaki and Raila during the crisis of 2008.
Other than Uhuru, the other serious presidential contenders are Musalia Mudavadi, who is our other Deputy Prime Minister, Hon. Martha Karua and Hon. Peter Kenneth.
There are several others who claim they are contending by they are either not serious or they cannot be taken seriously.
With the potential that Kenya has and the challenges it faces going forward, can you paint the ideal profile of the leader the country needs at the moment?
The ideal candidate must first be someone who has the ability, skill and desire to unite the country.
He or she must also be reform minded and must have a demonstrable commitment to complete full implementation of our constitution.
It, of course, goes without saying the leader must not only have a vision for moving our country forward economically, but he or she must have a specific plan to tackle the outrageously high unemployment in the country that is hovering near 50%.
How prepared is the country for the elections and does the fact that President Kibaki is not running brighten prospects for a successful election?
You can say we should have been preparing for this elections since the last one but, in reality, we have only had since promulgation of the new Constitution in August 2010 to do so.
Under ordinary circumstances, the time we have had since then is sufficient to have been prepared and ready by now to hold the elections but, we are not quite there yet.
True, significant progress has been made but there still remains loose ends that must be tightened in order to be confident to say we are ready.
One of the outstanding issues that has yet to be resolved is whether or not Uhuru and Ruto, the two ICC suspects, can be allowed to vie.
There is a court case pending challenging their eligibility to vie and a decision is expected any time.
How the court rules may not directly impact election preparation but could have peripheral impact such as delay in ballot ordering and printing.
We have actually already lost time for preparation due to other delays and even the much needed voter verification may not happen now as the body charged with the responsibility to run the elections scrambles to meet the various other deadlines.
The last elections ended in violence that almost degenerated to a civil war, has the country turned a page, have sufficient measures been taken to avert a similar calamity?
One can cautiously say yes we have done just that.
There is a general sense among everyone, especially those in a position to create havoc that we cannot and must not return to anywhere near where we ended up after the 2007 elections.
The police force that was accused of being at best complacent or at worst active participants in the mass killing of innocent Kenyans has been reconstituted with new leadership at the top and ditto for the electoral commission that started it all.
More and more Kenyans are also more informed and are vigilant such that those with ideas to cause electoral problems must think twice before embarking on such ill-advised shenanigans.
The result of the chaos from the last elections was shared government, as a keen political observer how did this work out, would you consider the experiment a success or a failure?
However, in terms of actual accomplishments, the coalition government fell short and what progress or development that came about was directly as a result of Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ability to leverage his less than half a loaf he got from the deal to do more for the country in terms of initiation and implementation of various development projects.
That is not to say the country would have automatically fared better if either only Kibaki or Raila came to power without the other following the elections.
So, for these reasons and more, the conclusion has to be the results are mixed relative to the success or failure of the coalition government.
It looks like the tribal factor is still very influential in Kenyan politics, the Kikuyus, Luos, Kalanjins etc how decisive is the ethnic factor going to be in deciding who leads Kenya next?
There are two schools of thought on this:
First, there are those who believe tribalism is here to stay and must be exploited to the maximum to deliver votes.
The Jubilee alliance led by the ICC suspects Uhuru and Ruto ascribes to this school of thought and has its entire campaign against Raila based on it.
The second school of thought maintains: yes, tribalism continues to rear its ugly head in Kenya but must be defeated or significantly crushed by reorienting and urging Kenyans to pick their leaders based on leadership ability and qualifications, not tribal affiliation.
The Cord alliance led by Raila Odinga and his running mate Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka ascribes to this school of thought and its campaign is largely predicated on it.
Raila Odinga perceived to have won the contentious 2008 elections is again a front runner, is 2013 finally going to be his moment?
This is what the polling done to date shows and many expect to be the case.
There is no question his opponents are doing everything they can to stop him from being elected but the fundamentals and current circumstances are such that they are unlikely to succeed.
Some of the actors in the race like William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta have been indicted by the ICC and waiting trial, how does this specter factor in the elections?
Well, it depends on who you ask; if you ask them, meaning Uhuru and Ruto, or their ardent followers, they will tell you ICC doesn’t matter and that they will be elected notwithstanding the fact they face these serious charges of having been the most responsible for the commission of crimes against humanity in Kenya back in 2007-2008.
If you ask Raila and members of his Cord coalition or followers, they will tell you ICC does matter and the fact that these two, Uhuru and Ruto, face these serious charges should be reason enough for them to be barred from vying for any public office.
The reality is, assuming the court does not bar the two from vying, they will be on the ballot and Kenyans will have to make a choice whether they will have someone like Raila who has for decades fought and sacrificed for the sake of bringing reforms in the country be their president or would they prefer to have these two ICC suspects trying to absentee lead the country while defending their respective cases at the Hague.
That’s the choice Kenyans must make come Election Day.
It remains a milestone in Kenyan and African politics that another leader in President Kibaki is stepping down in respect of constitutional term limits, what you think will be his legacy besides this, what did he achieve for Kenya in his two terms?
On the positive side, Kibaki will be remembered for having teamed with Raila to have our new constitution passed.
He will also be remembered for having presided over a more improved economy than his predecessor Moi who basically drove the country deep under the ground from which we are still trying to emerge.
Kibaki will also be remembered for having helped restore some of the glimmer the country lost following the elections.
On the negative side, Kibaki will be remembered as the worst tribal presidents we have had in that he took the practice of nepotism and tribal appointments to key positions to a level much higher and worse than his two predecessors combined.
A quick prediction on the elections, you think the world will see an image of Kenya different from what we saw after the December 2008 elections?
I am confident we shall have an open, transparent and peaceful election and Kenyans will be wise enough to elect a president who will fully implement our constitution and lead our country in a new direction of greater peace and prosperity.
*To read more of Mr Omwenga’s perspectives on Kenyan politics visit his blog at omwenga.com
Mike Macharia – the Kenyan businessman with pan-African ambitions
January 11, 2013 | 0 Comments
BY DINFIN MULUPI*
Kenyan entrepreneur Mike Macharia was only 25 when he ventured into business, establishing Seven Seas Technologies (SST), one of East Africa’s leading technology solutions companies. He is currently the Group CEO of SST. From a team of just five at inception in 1999, the SST Group today has more than 100 permanent employees in East, West and Southern Africa as well as Portugal.
Macharia argues that life is not always smooth sailing, not even for those considered to have made it, but it is the bumps along the way that mould one to perform better in the next instance.
Aged 37, Macharia feels that Africa views its entrepreneurs and success in a skewed manner that needs to be turned around.
“We are all trying to become the next Facebook, which is indeed a story of innovative success, but we need to move away from the ‘copy and paste’ syndrome. What may work brilliantly in one continent and culture may not be directly transferable across the board. In Africa, when learning from successful case studies, one should ask the critical question; ‘Is the solution provided related to the problems that are affecting Africa today?’ We need to link African problems with innovation and create monetary value. Now that is business,” said Macharia in an interview with How we made it in Africa.
He argues that the concept of entrepreneurship in Africa has a lower acceptability profile compared to the Western world
“In Africa, we are conditioned and socialised [into thinking] that the vision of success is to work for a large company, earn a pay cheque, be able to have a mortgage and go out to social places with our families. The concept of entrepreneurship, therefore, does not fit into this bracket and is viewed as alien,” explains Macharia. “That is how we are indoctrinated from childhood and altering this perspective is a journey that has only just begun.”
Macharia opted out of pursuing his university degree in mathematics and physics. He would later study finance and take up an accounting position in an IT firm as his first job. It is this understanding of cashflows and finance that has been instrumental in his entrepreneurship journey.
Africa needs pro-entrepreneurship policies
According to Macharia, Africa needs policies that encourage entrepreneurs to capitalise on the continent’s opportunities.
“Tax regimes in Africa do not generally support entrepreneurship,” he notes. “The policies around intellectual property are weak and do not protect innovation.”
African capital markets, which he says are just beginning to strengthen, are not yet in a position to enable entrepreneurs to raise the much needed early funds, and limited exit strategies are also a cause for concern amongst private equity (PE) investors.
“PE investors can easily invest in what may seem as worthwhile businesses and then find that exiting becomes a very difficult task. This remains one of the ongoing areas of disquiet among potential investors. Our stock markets are also not mature enough in comparison with the worldwide playing field, especially in the technology sector to value technology assets,” he adds.
Macharia is also worried by the tendency among Africans to trust foreign ideals, businesses and entities first, a phenomenon that has weakened the positioning and growth of many African companies. This influence, he argues, can be attributed to the historical nature of external development.
“We need to begin consuming our own products and believing in our own local successes,” says Macharia.
Advice to entrepreneurs
In the face of all these challenges, passion is what keeps Macharia going. “Passion is what keeps you grounded when all things fall apart. You need to be focused, hands-on and highly engaged in your business. You also need to understand the fundamentals of money, how it works and how you can make it work for you because it is a scarce commodity yet crucial to entrepreneurial success.”
He reckons that another mistake African entrepreneurs make is having tunnel vision – not thinking about the bigger picture and not playing in the global court.
“My vision has expanded on a radically global scale. I don’t sit down and think about Kenya only, as was previously the case. I have re-energised my passion and consider myself an African entrepreneur,” says Macharia.
Africa has plenty of innovative, like-minded entrepreneurs who, he says, need to start looking at the region as a whole and create partnerships to drive the African agenda globally.
The Chinese look at Africa from this continent-wide perspective with a view to consolidating opportunities and combining resources. We need to stop compartmentalising countries and looking at Kenya on its own, Uganda on its own, and so on. It would be significantly value adding all-round to find solutions that address African problems as a whole,” advises Macharia. “It would be vital to lobby our governments to provide bilateral agreements to enable products and services exports across the countries.”
Macharia seems to be taking a dose of his own advice. SST, after all, is looking to be a “fully African company”. “We want to operate in all tier one markets in Africa and create a company that has a brand of excellence in technology-driven business solutions and rivals the global blue chip consultant firms currently playing in the technology and business space in Africa,” he adds.
In 12 years the company has grown steadily and now prides itself with the successful implementation of projects in a number of African countries, including Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
SST is also pushing beyond the boundaries of Africa and already has operations through acquisitions and partnerships with companies in Europe with a joint pan-African vision.
“This expansion plan is based on an equity point platform as SST already has fully-mature intellectual property that can be used and replicated across Africa in line with the whole drive towards Africanisation,” he notes. “There are Nigerian banks that have extended to Europe and America. These banks have succeeded in moving away from the traditional mentality of being West African, and only exploring pushing services across Africa. This is an [idea] that our Kenyan banks could latch onto – enlarge their dreams to include global destinations and diversify beyond the few that have expanded out of East Africa.”
Although SST had announced plans to list on the Nairobi Securities Exchange in 2013, these plans have been rescheduled for revisiting in due course. “Looking at the way our capital market is structured and especially in an election year, and also considering the low appetite of investors in the stock market, I would say it may not [be] the best time to consider this [listing],” explains Macharia.
SST is, however, exploring other markets where investors have a better understanding of technology stocks. It is also looking at large multinational companies that want to form partnerships in Africa.
“Sometimes it makes sense to identify trade sales and acquisition prospects, where you look at already established international companies that can invest or ride on the footholds of your business to give them access to a pan-African market,” says Macharia.
When he retires, Macharia plans to become an investor and build an African venture capital operation that will be involved in stimulating technology startups. He would like to make a strong positive impact on the continent and create a lasting shift. “My experiences can add value to many businesses,” he says.
Macharia is actively involved in mentoring young technology entrepreneurs and graduates. Through Knowledge For Life, a programme run by SST, graduates receive mentoring and training from SST staff, including Macharia himself, preparing them for employment and entrepreneurship.
Although things are not always rosy and business and entrepreneurship has its ups and downs, Macharia advises that one should be persistent and never give up.
* Source How We Made It in Africa
Has Barack Obama Betrayed Africa?
January 3, 2013 | 0 Comments
On November 8, 2012, the Government of Kenya prohibited importation of Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) foods into the country. Presumably, those foods can be reinstated upon receipt of compelling scientific evidence that they are not a threat to public health. When it comes to foods, however, meeting such a requirement can be a tall order. How does one prove that product XYZ does not cause cancer ten or twenty years down the line?
The USA faces the same unsettling questions as Kenya regarding the impact of genetically engineered foods but, incredibly, the American officialdom does not bar their sale and distribution in the country. Indeed, the American public has practically given up on official GMO safety restrictions; the most they expect now is to be informed when their foods contain the GMOs. To this end, they have resorted to a grass-root political strategy that they are calling the ‘label-it-campaign.’
Two days before Kenya’s announcement of the ban, Californians had voted on Proposition 37, a state-wide ballot initiative of far-reaching implications. Had it been approved, it would have made it mandatory for food companies to label GMOs in foods for the first time in US history. The initiative did fail at the polls, but the contest was robust and the outcome remarkably close. This in itself was good news to the label-it-campaign.
Prop 37 is important in part because it is a reflection of an adversarial relationship that has been brewing in recent years in the American society. On one side are the giant agribusinesses; on the other are the anti-GMO consumer groups and their devoted supporters who condemn the biotech giants for behaving like criminal predators against society. The two sides are locked in a dialogue of the deaf reminiscent of the anti-Vietnam War mass movement which ultimately brought down a US President, Lyndon B. Johnson.
Anti-GMO activists are driven by a conviction that accurate food-labeling is a fundamental right of all Americans to know what is contained in their food, a right enjoyed by citizens of 61 other countries in the civilized world. And they have a corollary belief: that once the true GMO information becomes publicly available via accurate labeling, people will stop buying and eating them. Presumably, this tactical maneuver will eventually trigger the decline and ultimate demise of the ‘wicked’ food giants as we know them today.
To the anti-GMO advocates, theirs is a moral crusade. They have no doubt that the food giants resist GMO-labeling because they have something to hide. After all, for no other reasons than greed, these agribusinesses engage in dubious and reckless ventures, including life-threatening activities, even at the risk of compromising public health and general well-being.
Currently, the same food giants are said to be obsessed with a mission to push the spread of GMO foods around the world, way beyond the US itself. Since this is now a ‘worldwide undertaking,’ the GMO logic continues, wouldn’t Africa be an ideal launching pad? Africans will not resist the GMO foods much. After all, they are desperately hungry!
For its November 8 ban on importation of GMO foods, Kenya is now on record that, if it can, it will not compromise the health of its people by assenting to a food solution fraught with unknown health risks. For that we say, bravo to the Kenyan leadership! But Kenya beware. The mighty agribusinesses are not happy about such resistance lest it becomes trend-setting in Africa and elsewhere in the third world. That eventuality may be hard for the affected MNCs to swallow.
From this perspective, California’s Proposition 37 was a manifestation of a brewing global war in microcosm. True, it was a state-bound confrontation, but California is only one of fifty American states. Could a good anti-GMO political showing in the California vote trigger similar future skirmishes in other states? How long can the MNCs endure recurring battles of this nature all over the USA?
And, behold, even before the dust had settled after the California confrontation, another GMO-labeling brawl has erupted in Washington State in form of a November 2013 anti-GMOs ballot. As a distant but potential victim of GMOs, has Kenya unwittingly become part of a simmering global war by virtue of identifying with the tormented American consumers against the same global agribusinesses?
And Americans are aware that anti-multinational sentiments do not end at the US borders. In 1974, Richard J. Barnet and Ronald E. Muller published a book, Global Reach: The Power of the Multinational Corporations that caused quite a stir in the US. It asserted, in part, that MNCs registered in the US were not necessarily American. They were American-based but their orientation, outlook and outreach were global. In strategy formulation and loyalty, MNCs had transcended the nation-state as the world’s basic units of operation.
When Baraka Obama stormed into the American national scene in early 21st century he, perhaps unwittingly, stepped into the ‘pro’ and ‘anti’ GMO volcanic dialogue. Given that their raison d’être is exclusively to make money, American MNCs had turned on their own in a frenzy to devour fellow Americans for profits. After all, MNCs do not have social contracts with any society, local or international; they are as comfortable with fratricide as they are with genocide.
Hostile sentiments against MNCs were thus a strong ‘intangible factor’ beneath California’s Proposition 37 vote. To the anti-GMO Americans, the heartless and cold-blooded Monsanto Company was, and remains, the ultimate Prime Evil among the MNCs.
In his initial run for the US presidency in 2007, Barack Obama made it publicly clear that he knew and understood the risks of vesting too much power in the hands of MNCs, especially in relations to regulatory government agencies. Furthermore, in the acrimonious confrontation between consumers and the food giants, he was decidedly on the side of the former. Accordingly, his presidency would not allow the Department of Agriculture to be transformed into the department of agribusiness. Regarding GMO-labeling, his position was equally succinct and unequivocal, “Let folks know when their food is genetically modified, because Americans have a right to know what they’re buying.”
On assuming office, however, Obama made a surprising u-turn by suddenly tilting towards big agricultural businesses. In no time, the US president became the most visible ‘convert’ of the biggest of the agri-businesses, the same, much-despised Monsanto.
Obama’s bewildering turnaround was consummated by adopting the ‘revolving door strategy’ of appointing Monsanto’s ex-employees for key positions in government regulatory agencies. The approach was so effective that, in no time, Obama was branded as ‘Monsanto’s man in Washington’ and ‘the most GMO-dedicated politician in America.’ Indeed critics wondered aloud: Did Obama jump or was he pushed? Only Obama knows.
What is publicly known, however, is that Obama evolved what appeared to be a cozy relationship with Monsanto in blatant defiance to public outcry. GMO critics distrust and resist genetically-engineered foods on the grounds that their ultimate impact on human health and environment are still largely unknown. Accordingly their approval for human consumption requires more testing.
In short, the GMOs are scientifically ‘unknown territory.’ The only uncontested claim in the scientific community is that some of the adverse consequences of genetic tinkering on the environment will be irreversible. Consequently, a good many American consumers are unprepared to compromise, even with their otherwise popular president, over the right to know what is in the foods that they buy and their right to choose whether or not to ingest GMO-foods.
Against this background, American anti-GMO advocates remembered Obama’s pledge of 2007 and they held it against him. That promise was simply that the Obama’s Administration would make it legally mandatory for GMO-foods to be labeled as such. They were deeply disappointed that by the 2012 presidential elections, fulfillment of that promise was still nowhere near the president’s agenda. They felt betrayed by Obama, a man they deeply longed to trust.
Yet, Obama has gone considerably further than betray the American consumers. Indeed, he has raised the odds to a whole new level by authorizing and facilitating entry and spread of Western MNCs in Africa. In May 2012, he ceremoniously launched the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security (NAFNS), ostensibly to eradicate hunger and poverty in sub-Sahara Africa within the next decade. This ideal is to be achieved by embracing modern agricultural methods and technology, code words for biotech agriculture and GMOs.
Needless to say, the undertaking is to be spearheaded by the huge grand daddy of the GMOs, none other than the world’s biggest agricultural and seed corporate monster, Monsanto. Critics immediately cried foul on the grounds that MNCs are historically known as blood suckers; they are not inclined or equipped, to be in the business of humanitarianism, least of all in Africa. This has always been the case since the advent of the Dutch East India Company, the mother of all MNCs.
The ‘label-it-campaign’ is certainly gathering steam and quickly becoming an unstoppable force. However, it faces an intimidating specter of the GMO club that is resolved to spread GMO-foods around the world, and whose membership has widened to incorporate immensely powerful forces. At this stage the setting is a virtue stalemate between GMO advocates and anti-GMO critics. It is a classic case of irresistible force against an immovable object.
Monsanto is of course at the cutting edge of the GMO advocates. Despite its dirty historical record, it is a powerful, ruthless and super-rich MNC with awesome political influence, even over the US government. The pro-GMO club has also been joined by other ‘rich-and-famous’, including Microsoft’s Bill Gates, now a prominent shareholder in Monsanto.
Bill and Melinda Gate’s Foundation underwrites numerous GMO projects in Africa and is the major funder of Nairobi-based AGRA (Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa) together with the Rockefeller Foundation, an older hand at manipulation of agriculture for profits mostly n Latin America.
AGRA was originally packaged and projected as a brainchild of the highly respected former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan; use of that name probably helped open some doors in Africa. But, in the final analysis, it is the official entry of Barack Obama into the pro-GMO club that is truly unsettling. Obama is not just another man; he is the most powerful individual alive precisely because he is President of the USA, the world’s superpower. He brings with him extraordinary powers.
With ten offices already established in South Africa alone, Monsanto is poised to jump and implement the pro-GMO club’s plan to ‘save the continent from the ravages of poverty and starvation.’ And, this time around, ‘the plan’ has the backing of the most powerful government in history, thanks to Obama. Perhaps Africa’s ‘radicals’ can be forgiven for conjuring up images of a modern-day scramble for Africa. Is Obama duty-bound to comfort his ancestry?
Finally, questions persist. Was Obama truly moved to launch NAFNS by compassion for the hungry Africans? Was he brainwashed by the vile agri-businesses on what they can do for the ‘dark continent’? Or was Obama consumed in a bid to apportion a ‘piece of the continent’ for the West in the face of encroaching Chinese economic dragon? In short, did Obama jump or was he pushed?
*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa.The views expressed in this blog are those of the author.
‘Solar sisters’ spreading light in Africa
December 27, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Teo Kermeliotis*
As a community leader in the small town of Mityana, central Uganda, she’s been witnessing the health hazards and financial strains that a shortage of electricity can bring to people living in energy poor, rural areas.
“Just three miles away from here, people in the villages don’t have electricity — some of them use candles, some use kerosene lamps,” says Walusimbi, who runs schools for orphans and disadvantaged children in Uganda.
“One morning there was a kid that was picked from school early in the morning because her sibling had died in a fire,” she says. “[The kid] had lit a candle in the house and then went outside to do some other chores, so the candle melted away and the house was all on fire. By the time that they came back to see what’s going on, the whole house was burned down and the kid was burned to ashes.”
In Uganda, some 90% of the population lives without access to electricity, according to World Bank figures. Apart from the health risks, Walusimbi, 50, says that lack of electricity is also preventing people from escaping poverty.
“People that are living without electricity, their day ends up so quickly — they can do less work compared to the people with full light,” she says.
But for Walusimbi, there is light at the end of the tunnel. She has joined Solar Sister, a group aiming to eradicate energy poverty while creating economic opportunities for women.
Using an Avon-style women’s distribution system, Solar Sister trains, recruits and supports female entrepreneurs in East Africa to sell affordable solar lighting and other green products such as solar lamps and mobile phone chargers. The women use their community networks of family and neighbors to build their own businesses, earning a commission on each sale
Solar Sister founder Katherine Lucey, a former investment banker with expertise in the energy sector, says this model is creating access to safe, affordable and clean energy while helping women to earn a steady income to support their families.
“This gives them a chance to earn money in a way that is a lot more steady — they have control over it and that money can come into the family,” says Lucey, who is based in Rhode Island, in the United States. “In almost all cases we see them using that to spend on education for their children.”
During her 20-year career as an energy executive, Lucey says she’d seen how access to electricity was fundamental for economic growth. But whilst working on large-scale energy projects in developing countries, she also realized that the pressing needs of many poor individuals were still not being served. After dark, houses not connected to the electricity grid rely mainly on open-flame kerosene lamps for light. Such lanterns, however, pose fire hazards, emit toxic fumes and a put a strain on family budgets.
“You really can’t raise up above subsistence living if you don’t have light, electricity and energy,” says Lucey. “And when you do have it, it’s just tremendous what people are able to accomplish and the impact it has on people’s lives: children can study more and go to school, women can start businesses and are able to provide for their families.”
According to Lighting Africa, a joint World Bank – International Finance Corporation program developed to increase access to clean sources of energy for lighting, 589 million people in the continent live without access to a public electricity facility. The group says African poor rural households and small businesses pay $10 billion per year for lighting purposes, while communities not connected to the grid spend $4.4 billion annually on kerosene.
Lucey says ending a culture of dependency on aid is crucial to help people escape economic hardship and deal with the issue of energy poverty.
She explains: “There’s not enough philanthropy in the world to solve this problem,” she says. “A third of the world population doesn’t have access to electricity — it’s not going to be solved by philanthropy, it’s going to be solved by some kind of market mechanism where people have access to this product … and purchase as they need it.”
So far, more than 270 entrepreneurs in Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan have joined Solar Sister. Lucey says the group, which is looking to expand in other counties in the continent, is deliberately working solely with women as they are responsible of managing the energy needs of a household.
“Women are the ones who walk miles to cut the wood; women are the ones who go to markets to buy kerosene — so if we wanted to make the change that someone would say ‘well, I’ll quit the kerosene, I’m going to buy a solar lamp and use cleaner technology,’ then it had to be the person who was in charge of making that decision and that’s the women.”
Back in Mityana, Walusimbi says her life has “changed enormously” since she started working with the group, using the extra money to cover her household and farm needs.
“It makes me feel proud to see that I’m bringing an income to my family,” she says. “Because if I can support my family, I feel good — other than seeking helplessly and looking for everything to be sponsored.”
Nairobi beats Africa capitals in attracting visitors, survey shows
December 27, 2012 | 0 Comments
By PETERSON THIONG’O*
Nairobi is the fourth most visited city in Africa, a new research shows, underlining the city’s rating as the economic hub of the wider East and Central Africa.
The research by MasterCard estimates Kenya’s capital will play host to 1.8 million international visitors in 2012, ranking third behind Cairo, Johannesburg and Casablanca which are expected to welcome 3.3, 2.5 and 2.1 million visitors respectively.
“Nairobi ranks 8th in the Middle East and Africa, with a robust growth in international visitors of 10 per cent in 2012,” the research said.
The visitors are expected inject $1.3billion into the city’s economy.
Nairobi’s emergence as a top destination for international visitors has in the past largely been attributed to its relatively better developed infrastructure and the presence of leading regional airline Kenya Airways, which uses the Jomo Kenyatta Airport (JKIA) as its hub.
In 2011 for example, Kenya Airways carried 3.6 million passengers, majority of whom transited through JKIA in Nairobi.
As they wait for connecting flights, some passengers opt for brief tour of the city, especially as a Kenyan visa can be obtained at the Airport for $50.
The setting up of regional headquarters in Nairobi by global multinationals and aid agencies like IBM, Airtel , Coca-Cola, Google, Microsoft, General Electric, Action Aid, Oxfam and the United Nations has also contributed to the growing number of visitors.
However, tourism could be the major driving factor especially as most tourists pass through Nairobi’s JKIA.
|Top 10 biggest cities in Africa and Asia by international visitors and their spending|
|City||Visitors in millions||Spending in $ billion|
*Source The East African
Kenya: The Rise Of The ‘Uhuruto’
December 8, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Daniel Waweru*
Like the platypus, the Uhuruto — the newly-unveiled political alliance featuring Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto (with a supporting cast of Musalia Mudavadi and Najib Balala) — is a strange beast, consisting of two such different parts that had been thought to exist only in fantasy.
Uhuru Kenyatta was, until recently, Kenya’s Minister of Finance and Deputy Prime Minister. He is also the incumbent MP for Gatundu South; the son of Kenya’s first President; and the newly-minted leader of the Gikuyu, having triumphed in the succession struggle that kicked off in anticipation of the retirement of President Mwai Kibaki, the senior Gikuyu politician.
William Ruto is MP for Eldoret North; party leader of URP; and the widely-acknowledged leader of the Kalenjin. Both men found themselves on opposing sides at the last election; violence followed; they now find themselves charged, at the international criminal court, with, among other things, crimes against humanity
Much of the violence before and after the general election of 2007–8 occurred in Kenya’s Rift Valley province: more than 65 percent of reported deaths (744 of 1133) and the vast majority of recorded injuries (2193 of 3561) and displacements. Since much of the worst violence in the Rift Valley took the form of Kalenjin versus Gikuyu ethnic combat, the Uhuru–Ruto alliance is not the most obvious ticket for the general elections in 2013.
Still, they begin the race for the presidency with some formidable advantages. Uhuru will probably have the full backing of Kenya’s largest ethnic community — the Gikuyu — and with them, the rest of the Mount Kenya peoples. These account for up to 25 percent of Kenya’s electorate, and, with a boost in turnout expected now that one of theirs is on the ballot, their share of the electorate might well be higher. Ruto is backed by the Kalenjin, and allied Rift Valley peoples: they account for between 10 and 15 percent of the electorate. While those numbers aren’t quite enough to win the election (which requires a margin of 50 percent +1 ) it’s clear that this is a coalition which satisfies the first requirement of pre-election coalitions: it looks likely to win.
Moreover, they have a compelling story to sell. They have argued that their electoral alliance offers a chance for peace and reconciliation between Gikuyu and Kalenjin. The claim isn’t entirely implausible: it has attracted reputable supporters and endorsers, among them Bishop Cornelius Korir, who did much to reconcile communities in the aftermath of 2007–8.
The alliance can plausibly claim at least four other advantages. The first is that their candidature would, if successful, represent the generational change in leadership that Kenya very urgently needs. The second is that Kenyans’ right to elect their leaders, and, in particular, their President ought not to be usurped by foreigners. To prevent them from running for the Presidency would, they argue, amount to a surrender of the right of self-government; the more so when neither of them has been tried or convicted of the crimes with which they’re charged.
The nationalist card has some resonance, and it plays well against their main opponent, Raila Odinga, who is (i) accused of being over-eager to accede to the wishes of the West, and (ii) charged with having arranged the predicament in which Uhuru and Ruto now find themselves.
Third, they’re set to take advantage of what seems to be an èlite mini-revolt against Raila Odinga’s candidacy: the coalition of ethnic barons he brought to the brink of victory in 2007–8 has shattered; and he’s seen several less substantial figures, whom he might have expected to line up with him this time, follow them out of his party. This has not hampered his opposition’s attempt to portray him as an overbearing and needlessly abrasive boss
Fourth, the Uhuruto seems to have more money than the opposition: for example, a recent analysis by David Throup – a long-time observer of Kenyan politics – has it that Uhuru has been able to hire political consultants from the UK, at the cost of some 16 million pounds. It is unclear whether funding on that scale is available to ODM.
For all the interest in their candidacy, and their strengths in finance, numbers and messaging, the Uhuruto faces a tough contest. Even though his odds have seriously weakened, the ODM’s Raila Odinga remains the slight favourite. Almost all the recent polling (admittedly, of varying reliability) shows him ahead of Uhuru, who is set to be his alliance’s presidential candidate. Raila’s choice of the incumbent Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka as his running mate is sound – polling suggests that ticket comes out just ahead of Uhuru and Ruto.
ODM is likely to make every effort to turn the campaign into a referendum on the fitness for office of Uhuru and Ruto. Even setting aside the trials at The Hague (which the duo face in the New Year), there’s plenty of material to make a campaign on these issues worthwhile. Ruto, for example, has been involved in a dizzying array of litigation; whereas Kenyatta has been accused of profiting from land allegedly improperly acquired by his family. Both were prominent in the previous ruling party, KANU, on whose ticket Uhuru ran for the Presidency in 2002, with Ruto closely behind, and Mudavadi as Uhuru’s running mate.
Where Uhuru and Ruto will attempt to present themselves as a new generation of leadership, ODM will counter that they are connected to the worst practices of the ancien régime, and that to elect them would be to ensure its survival. This attack has bite when it comes to the constitution: it has been a refrain of ODM’s that no one should be elected who cannot credibly promise to protect it; and Ruto campaigned against the ratification of the new constitution in 2010.
Finally, the mere fact that Uhuru and Ruto are indictees at the ICC is a powerful issue which, on balance, can be expected to play in favour of the ODM coalition: they can reasonably argue that to elect either Uhuru or Ruto to high office would be to deal a serious blow to the country’s reputation, with consequences for its international relations, and hence its solvency. (In this, they will be helped and hindered by Kofi Annan’s increasingly unsubtle attempts to influence the election.) The alliance’s expected counter — that they come in peace, and that ODM itself was at the centre of the violence — will get an airing, but it amounts to little more than a tu quoque.
But perhaps the most serious issue facing the Uhuruto is the possibility of disqualification on the grounds of integrity. A recent court case, whose movers had sought a ruling determining whether the pair were eligible under the integrity provisions, has been withdrawn. Its movers claim that the withdrawal is tactical: they intend to pursue similar cases against all the major presidential aspirants, requiring all of them to defend their personal integrity.
The emphasis on personal integrity, while understandable, is misplaced; a little-noticed provision in the constitution regarding institutional integrity is the real barrier. In the most recent ruling on the integrity provisions for candidates, a three-judge bench of the High Court distinguished personal and institutional integrity; it then appeared to find that even if no serious allegations against a candidate’s integrity could be sustained, it would nonetheless be necessary to prevent them taking up the public position if their doing so would impair the institutional integrity of the office to which they hoped to ascend.
Recent discussion regarding the eligibility of both Uhuru and Ruto has turned on the question whether they satisfy the integrity provisions of the constitution, where the integrity provisions were broadly understood as related to personal integrity. However, the legal distinction (as defined by the recent ruling on the case of Mumo Matemu) is between personal and institutional integrity, and makes them independent: even if there is insufficient evidence to arrive at a finding that the candidate lacks integrity, the courts will still bar the appointment if they determine that the candidate’s occupation of the office would weaken the integrity of the office they hope to occupy.
It shouldn’t escape notice that in this case the judges defined institutional integrity (or rather, threats to it) very broadly: the court appears to have held that if the consequence of an individual gaining a public office were that Kenyans would be led to question the impartiality of the institution or its institutional integrity, then this questioning of itself would suffice to impair the institutional integrity of the office, and so suffice to disqualify the candidate who aroused it.
One doesn’t have to agree with the decision to see that the if the precedent is upheld, then the Uhuru-Ruto bid is in serious trouble. While they would not directly oversee the institutions which will try them, the police and security services are responsible for cooperation with foreign and domestic courts in regard of the crimes committed during the post-election violence of 2007–8, and all report to the President. Should their bids succeed, Uhuru and Ruto would then have control over bodies which would be expected to investigate allegations concerning their conduct. Given the Matemu precedent, the courts would be bound to find that the candidatures present a threat to the institutional integrity of those bodies.
It seems, then, that the Uhuruto must find a way either to keep the matter out of court, or to ensure that the precedent is distinguished or overturned. Game on.
*Source African Arguments .Daniel Waweru is a Kenyan academic living in the UK.
Gangster movie Kenya’s first Oscar contender
November 17, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Jim Stenman*
A hard-hitting Kenyan movie about gang culture has become the country’s first-ever film to be considered for an Oscar.
“Nairobi Half Life” has just been shown at Film Africa 2012, which is currently taking place in London — having already made history as the most successful theatrical release for a local film in Kenya, according to its producers.
It’s the debut film from Kenyan director David “Tosh” Gitonga, who says he wants to change views about crime in the country.
“We keep saying crime is wrong, but are we really looking at why there is crime?” he says. “I don’t believe Kenyans get into crime for fun and giggles.”
Prior to shooting, Gitonga wanted to understand the story behind Nairobi’s crime culture and to fully comprehend the situation he spent time with real-life gangsters.
This experience led him to hear stories of gang members flooding properties and defecating on porches after robberies. He was told: “It hurts us that you have these things we don’t have.”
Gitonga admits he was left speechless when asked whether it’s fair that some are born into wealth, while others struggle to feed their children just one meal a day.
“I couldn’t answer that question and it still haunts me today,” he says.
His film chronicles the trials and tribulations of the character Mwas — a young aspiring actor from rural Kenya who dreams of becoming the next “Bruce Willis.”
Mwas moves to Nairobi in pursuit of that dream — but experiences first-hand why some people refer to the city as “Nairobbery,” after being robbed of all his belongings on his first day there.
Fighting to survive in the city, Mwas strikes up an unlikely friendship with a gang leader who introduces him to a world of theft and violence. This includes taking part in robberies and carjackings — common crimes in Nairobi.
According to the U.S. State Department, the city averages about 10 vehicle hijackings each day.
Jitin Mediratta, a Nairobi-born lawyer, describes the movie as a story that hits home.
“I have been a victim of robbery with violence when I was living with my father a few years ago,” he says. “The truth about the thugs being young and nervous when carrying out the crimes is indeed true.”
While Mediratta says the film “humanizes” the gangsters, he rejects feeling any empathy for them — an opinion shared by his wife Isha, who adds: “A crime is still a crime.”
He does, however, want to know how the Kenyan government plans to improve the situation and tackle social injustices.
It is a sentiment shared by Gitonga. He hopes the film will help government officials understand what is happening on the ground, even if just a minority of them take any action.
There hasn’t been a formal response to the film from the Kenyan government, but Gitonga says some government officials have discreetly expressed “a need to look at our country and make things better.”
The movie has already received international recognition. Joseph Wairimu, who plays Mwas, won best actor at the Durban International Film Festival, in July. And the U.S. Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is considering whether to nominate Nairobi Half Life for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language
Film category — the first time a Kenyan movie has been considered.
Gitonga is also humbled by the positive response the film has received from Kenyans, since Kenyan movies don’t usually attract large local audiences.
He feels the movie has opened doors for other Kenyan filmmakers and African film in general. “I want the rest of the world to go to the cinema and appreciate a world they don’t know,” he says.
*Source CNN Africa
How two twenty-somethings built one of Nigeria’s biggest mobile social networks
November 9, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Kate Douglas*
South African-based mobile social network application, 2go, has taken off in Nigeria and is bigger than Facebook in the country. What is incredible about this is that 2go’s success in the West African country is a phenomenon that seems to have developed almost completely on its own.
Alan Wolff and Ashley Peter co-founded 2go in 2007 when they were studying computer science at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa. The app first started as a mobile timetable for students who were struggling to find which lectures to go to next on campus, a problem experienced by Wolff and Peter.
“Ashley and I met each other at varsity and we were both always hungry to do something practical so we were always talking about our ideas and various different things we could possibly do,” explained Wolff, who was 21 years old at the time. “We started off with the timetable thing as we thought that was probably tremendously useful because we are not the only people with this problem. So we made that and we realised, why don’t we build something that lets students talk to each other and start forming a whole ecosystem for students?”
What was meant to be a three month project became 2go, an easy to use app that offers one-on-one private messaging and mobile chatrooms. It currently has around 20 million registrations, with over 10 million active users.Nigeriamakes up 90% of total users. 2go has grown inNigeriawithout any form of marketing and nothing but an ‘invite contact’ option on the app.
“We try and provide the user with something which they find nice to use and which actually has a strong use for them, and I think these are the side effects of that,” explained Wolff. “If you can just do that, it can grow nicely by itself.”
One of the reasons for 2go’s success is the fact that the mobile app is aimed at lower-end feature phones, which the majority of African mobile phone users currently have. It’s for this reason, and the fact that the app is cheap and simple to use, that Wolff believes it developed “legs of its own”.
“I mean even when we started it, it was crazy how quickly it spread throughout theWestern CapefromGauteng[inSouth Africa], and at that time we didn’t even have any ‘invite user’ option,” said Wolff.
Marc Herson was brought on in June as the new director of 2go. His experience in mentoring start-up businesses through his years as a venture capitalist has provided the company with the business skills required to compliment Wolff’s and Peter’s developing skills. Herson said that although most would want to focus on the latest tech phones, forAfricaand the developing world feature phones are still predominant.
“It’s a big part of what we are trying to convey to people and brands in an advertising space – that they have to think about feature phones much more as being where they need to go,” said Herson.
Feature phones usually have basic internet access, the ability to take photos and listen to music, but do not have all the computer-like functions of a smartphone. While Wolff and Peter are developing a 2go app specifically for smartphones, which they hope will be available in the next few months, their focus will remain on their large base of feature phone users.
Herson also said that 2go looks at markets where SMS costs are high and where users are cost-sensitive about data usage.
“Everything that [the founders] thought about when developing this technology, was around how to reduce the amount of bandwidth consumption that a user would have to use, because people obviously are so price sensitive,” said Herson.
“I think where our business model works well is in identifying the large markets, and then being really good at what you do in that market,” said Herson.
Wolff and Peter self-financed the company and believe in running a “lean” business. According to Wolff, the most important thing an entrepreneur can have is passion for what they do. “I think it’s exactly what Steve Jobs said. He said it’s so difficult to grow a business that the only thing that will keep you going is your passion and that probably is the best advice I’ve had.”
Kenya’s 2013 Election: Will History Repeat Itself?
November 9, 2012 | 0 Comments
By Ryan Cummings*
Whether or notKenyasees a repeat of the 2007/8 post-election violence largely rests on the result and if the candidates can remain amicable
Following a High Court ruling in March this year, Kenya will hold general elections to choose a president, members of parliament, and local representatives on March 4, 2013. In the case that no presidential candidate obtains a majority of the vote, or does not receive 25% in at least 24 counties, a second round will be held on a yet to be determined date, with President Mwai Kibaki remaining in office for the interim period.
Concerns about the country’s security situation during the election period stem from widespread political unrest that characterised the period after the December 2007 general election. The unrest initially occurred between supporters of opposing political groups following the announcement of results in the presidential poll. With political parties largely split along ethnic lines, clashes between rival supporters soon took on an ethnic dimension, and attacks against certain ethnic communities occurred. Following a peace deal between Kenya’s major political elites, a coalition government was agreed upon and the violence subsided; however, ongoing ethnic tensions and a number of other challenges continue to affect the political environment.
It is therefore possible that the forthcoming election could reignite these tensions and further incidents of politically or ethnically motivated violence, and civil unrest cannot be ruled out. The current situation is fluid, and the extent of any election-related violence will depend significantly on the line opposing candidates and security forces take in response to any incidents that should occur.
The 2007 election
The December 2007 voting process itself concluded with relatively few incidents of unrest. The election was contested by incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki of the Party of National Unity (PNU), and opposition candidate Raila Odinga of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM). Despite widespread post-election allegations of voter fraud, the results were hastily released and indicated that Kibaki had won the poll. Discontent over the alleged irregularities, including the speedy announcement of the winner, sparked weeks of anti-government protests and politically-motivated violence across much of the country. The worst violence, which included rioting, clashes between rival political supporters and targeted assassinations, was reported in Nairobi’s slum areas, in the city of Kisumu and in the Nyanza and Rift Valley provinces.
The political scene in Kenyais largely split along ethnic lines; at the 2007 election Kibaki mainly cornered the Kikuyu vote while Odinga was largely supported by Luo and Kalenjin groups. The post-election violence quickly took on an ethnic dimension, with reports of attacks against Kikuyu populations and reprisal attacks against Luo and Kalenjin groups, largely in the Rift Valley. In Nairobi, long-standing discontent over poverty and unemployment exacerbated the violence. There were also reports of criminal gangs taking advantage of the unrest to carry out targeted killings. Incidents of looting, targeting both state-owned and private commercial interests, were also widely reported, with the situation particularly dire inNairobi’s Mathare, Kibera, Huruma and Kariobangi neighbourhoods.
After approximately six weeks of violence, which resulted in the deaths of at least 1,000 people and left an estimated 600,000 others displaced across the country, a peace agreement brokered by then-UN secretary general Kofi Annan was agreed upon on February 28, 2008. Under the agreement, Odinga’s ODM and Kibaki’s PNU formed a coalition government. Kibaki was appointed president and Odinga prime minister. In the wake of the agreement, most violence ceased with only isolated cases reported in Rift Valley province in the following months.
A referendum for a new constitution took place in Kenyaon August 4, 2010, and marked the first national vote to be held since the 2007 elections. Following the deaths of at least six people in a referendum-related attack in the centre of Nairobi on June 12, 2010, concerns were raised regarding possible violent civil unrest during the voting process. However, the referendum concluded peacefully and Kenyans voted overwhelmingly for the adoption of a new constitution.
The coming election
Reports since April 2011 strongly indicate that there are two main presidential contenders: Raila Odinga and Uhuru Kenyatta, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court on charges of crimes against humanity committed during the 2007/8 violence. On average, polls reflect that Odinga is likely to receive 36% of the first-round vote compared to the 22% Kenyatta is expected to garner. With the expectations of an Odinga victory, accusations of fraud and irregularities are more likely to be made if Kenyatta wins. Nevertheless, there is a threat of politically-motivated violence throughout the election period, regardless of outcome.
The two leading candidates were both prominent in the December 2007 unrest: Odinga for his role in suggesting the poll was fraudulent, and Kenyatta for allegedly planning and funding violence in Naivasha and Nakuru, both in Rift Valley province. Odinga and Kenyatta are from the Luo and Kikuyu ethnic groups respectively. This immediately frames the electoral decision as an ethnic one once again. Furthermore, relations between Odinga and Kenyatta are strained. During Kenyatta’s pre-trial hearing for instigating violence in 2007/2008, he stated that Odinga should take full responsibility for the violence that followed the election. He specifically stated that Odinga’s assertion that the vote was rigged led to the beginning of the unrest and that he failed to use his influence to stem the ongoing violence.
It remains unclear whether either Odinga or Kenyatta will willingly concede defeat. As mentioned, the threat of politically motivated violence related to the election is assessed to be high regardless of the outcome. However, the extent of violence is largely dependent on how the candidates respond, and how vociferous they are in tackling allegations of fraud or electoral irregularities. As was seen in the 2007 vote, the candidates were accused of stoking tensions and not actively intervening to reduce the violence. As such, the candidates’ reactions will be a critical factor in the extent of potential violence. Furthermore, the manner in which the police and security forces respond to any outbreaks of violence is likely to affect its spread.
However, even in the event that both Odinga and Kenyatta remain amicable throughout the election period, there are concerns that outbreaks of ethnically-motivated violence may occur. Of particular concern are reports from both human rights and civil society groups in Kenyawhich indicate that members of both the Kikuyu and Kalenjin ethnic groups in Rift Valley province have already begun rearming themselves ahead of the election. Given the underlying tensions between these groups, such reports present a negative outlook for peaceful elections, as even a small-scale communal dispute will carry the potential to flare into widespread civil unrest.
Furthermore, as much of the violence during the 2007 elections was perpetrated via the use of crude weapons such as machetes, clubs and traditional bows and arrows, the acquisition of more sophisticated weaponry, such as handguns, high-calibre rifles and grenades, could lead to more intense violence than was previously seen. In addition, various Kenya-based civil society groups have also reported on the government’s alleged reluctance to demobilise and prosecute various party militias, which were primarily responsible for the ethnic and political violence in the country. This is another factor that could possibly provoke a repeat of the unrest in the country.
* Source Ryan Cummings is an Africa Analyst at red24. http://thinkafricapress.com/kenya/projections-upcoming-2013-elections
Silicon Savannah: Time to grow up?
November 6, 2012 | 0 Comments
BY JONATHAN KALAN *
It’s raining in the Silicon Savannah, and unlike Nairobi’s unbearable traffic problem, no app has emerged promising to stop it.
Inside the colourful and buzzing tech corridors of Africa’s first technology boom town, whispered conversations between investors are becoming amplified. Criticism, candid commentary and a dose of reality are dropping in from bloggers and pundits, challenging Kenya’s image as a place where African technology magic happens, where successful startups, apps, and entrepreneurs flow like water.
Over the past two years, media and the startups they cover have shared the responsibility of painting a glorified picture of Nairobi’s startup scene. They have built a collective hype that’s attracted investors, entrepreneurs and even journalists.
Yet for those who have arrived and stayed, what they have found is neither a vast oasis of untapped innovation, nor a dry and dusty savannah filled with empty promises. The reality lies somewhere in between – essentially a very young ecosystem with great potential, but one that also needs to mature and grow up.
As the choir gets louder, one thing is becoming apparent – a little rain on Kenya’s technology parade might actually be a good thing. It’s time for companies to sink or swim, for the good seeds to grow and the bad to be washed away.
Software and app startups are a dime a dozen here. Yet few are finding funding, and even fewer are actually making money. Entrepreneurialism has become a profession itself, and many young entrepreneurs are lacking the experience, training, and business acumen to make companies grow. This is something investors notice quite quickly.
“High expectations, big disappointment,” is how Kenyan blogger Kachwanya described Kenya’s current tech landscape, in a blog post that received 27 heated comments.
Andrea Bohnstedt, an investment risk analyst and columnist wrote in a local Kenyan paper “there’s hype and then there’s business. Nairobi’s ‘Silicon Savannah’ is in desperate need of a large dose not of money, but of modesty”.
In a recent piece for Impact IQ, I myself wrote of “vanity capital and vanity companies”, referring to the fact that entrepreneurs with half-baked ideas and a collection of buzzwords are “falling for too many carrots, chasing free money to satisfy overeager funders”.
Last month, even iHub, Kenya’s most established and successful innovation hub, held a full-house event titled ‘Silicon Savannah – Reality Check’, to have “a brutally honest discussion around what’s really going on in Silicon Savannah”.
To get to the bottom – or really the top – of Kenya’s ICT scene, I recently sat down with Paul Kukubo, the chief executive officer of Kenya’s ICT Board, to get his take on this Silicon Savannah debate.
What is your take on the argument that there’s “too much hype” surrounding Kenya’s technology scene? Is a bubble about to burst?
We need good debates. The guys who bring up these issues are important to solving the sector issues, and it’s a healthy debate. It’s not discouraging people, it’s making them think again.
If anything, it’s not hyped enough. Kenya’s app-fuelled startup scene is a very small sector, with a few people who are active on Twitter following each other.
It’s important to understand that Kenya’s 20% growth in ICT is coming from a multiplicity of businesses and tiers, not just from the small startups.
At the top of the ladder are the multinational corporations, like IBM and Oracle. Then there is the partner ecosystem – the companies that feed off this multinational tier as partners and distribution channels. Then, there are companies that do a bit of everything, creating software products, either by utilising open source systems or developing code from scratch. These are traditional software writers, systems that run schools or financial systems.
Finally, you have the apps companies, a new generation of companies that have an innovation agenda. You get attention with the most sexy app, or the one that does the most sensible thing. Their role is to break the rules, articulate needs at the community level, innovate, and customisation for the market.
Top tiers, like Oracle, IBM, Microsoft, are the large money generators, but the app model is what’s being developing around the world, and you cannot rank these things. Just like you need Oracle, you need Angry Birds.
That’s why we love this scenario, and don’t want to mess it up. It’s nice when you have a culture where young people take the initiative to create. That has its own momentum. It’s creating a culture of creating, which is what all governments around the world spend so much time teaching the young people to do.
You see many foreign investors coming through your office. What are their concerns with the Kenyan market?
Some of them say they came in too early, some say they wish they came in earlier.
Their biggest concerns are not about the ideas. They think the ideas are exactly the same. What they say is that the culture of doing business among these technology entrepreneurs has to be strengthened, in terms of things like reporting back.
Venture capital money is not like donor money. It’s very strictly commercial. VCs are finding there are sometimes discipline issues, inability to comply with requirements, and a culture around their obligation towards repayment.
I’m on record as saying I fear that we can create a donor dependency. You don’t want donor money to crowd out the private sector. But, I think it straightens itself out. The market is the best judge.
It’s a learning curve, and you need to go through that curve. People don’t understand technology enough to invest in technology companies. I think that that’s changing. If anything, that’s changing faster here than it’s changing anywhere else.
What is the media’s role in this?
Writers are like small companies. They also need to write. So, we now need a new angle – this ecosystem needs a new angle. You read about the Silicon Alley Insider, the role that magazine played in building Silicon Valley, it was exactly the same. We need a good technology writing clique to decipher the stories actually surrounding this debate.
What we also need is better reporting so the failures can be highlighted. When it comes to failures, there are many. You don’t know them because many don’t exist in the structured labs and hubs. They are working in their bedrooms, in the schools, in rural areas.
In 5-10 years, where do you see Kenya’s tech scene? What does it need to get there?
Some companies will grow and become big, some companies will become mid tier, some will become acquired, and many will fail. That’s just the way it has to be.
We need this many startups because the ratio of failure to success by definition must be high. There are companies littered all over the Silicon Valley roads. Many of these companies are going nowhere, others will become millionaires.
We need people to actually start to solve problems by understanding problems well. We have needs in agriculture, health care, retail, mining, public sector – everywhere.
Most importantly, we need a new kind of entrepreneur. Someone who’s young, has worked for a larger tech company for a few years, who understands business process. We don’t have many of these yet, but they are emerging.
(interview edited for length and clarity