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Kenya: Outpost of Conflicting Global Interests
August 24, 2013 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta with British Prime Minister David CameronAn increasing number of analysts are now convinced that the 2007-2008 post-election violence in Kenya was not derived from simple ethnic mistrust and hatred; it was largely due to politicized ethnicity. Politicians had conveniently contaminated ethnicity to fulfill personal ambitions. And the contesting local political forces ultimately found themselves hand-in-hand with like-minded foreign allies. Was this a form of internationalized ethnicity?

It is still astonishing to recall how quickly and vehemently the European Union jumped to declare Kenya’s  December 2007 vote tally to be fundamentally flawed. Since rigging is usually associated with the incumbent government, there was a strong ‘suggestion’ in the EU announcement that the regime of President Mwai Kibaki had been guilty of wrongdoing relative to those elections.

That allegation no doubt fed into the opposition’s  claim of wrongful usurpation of a hard-won victory and its righteousness in demanding it by whatever means necessary. Hence, the amorphous intensity and fury of the violence that followed.

Shortly after the EU made its opinion public, the Americans joined the array of Kenya’s election evaluators. To illustrate how seriously Washington viewed the Kenyan crisis, a senior government official was dispatched to the scene. After consultations and preliminary investigation in Kenya, the Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, Jendayi Fraser, unveiled her findings. Yes, there were irregularities in the election procedures, but both sides had been guilty of misconduct Consequently, it was impossible to tell who had actually won. This was a striking contradiction to the EU position by the leader of the Western world.

Fraser’s statement was more than a denunciation of the vote count. It was an indictment of the entire voting process. In effect, she nullified the opposition party’s claim that Kibaki had ‘stolen’ the election.  On the other hand, Fraser’s statement also made a mockery of  Kibaki’s counter-claim that he had won the election fair and square. From Fraser’s perspective, the electoral voting process made the elections null and void.

In all likelihood the US and the EU, respectively, had the same Kenyan election data in front of them. If so, why did they come to such divergent conclusions? Surely in the 21st century, we do not need a rocket scientist to sort out who got more votes between candidate A and B. What appears like a mere disagreement over interpretation of election results may indeed manifest a profound conflict of interests within post-Cold War West.

In October 2007,  the EU donated a $2 billion to South Africa as development aid in context of their newly-established strategic partnership. Yet, SA is classified as one of upper middle-income countries that normally do not receive foreign aid. Indeed foreign aid constitutes such a small portion of South African budget that it can easily do without it. What then prompted the EU to part with such a hefty donation for a country that does not need it?

According to the EU Commissioner for Development at that time, Louis Michel, the aid was needed to consolidate EU’s relations with South Africa as a ‘strategic partner.’ South Africa’s Minister of Finance concurred that the donation indeed reflected a deepening partnership between the EU and SA.

Prof-James-KariukiBut what made it so compelling that the EU-South African partnership had to be ‘deepened’? Michel explained that Europe was glued to a backward mentality that Africa was a burden and a pawn. Meanwhile, the rest of the world had awakened to the reality that the continent was an opportunity. And the emergent global economic giant, China, had become particularly threatening because of its easy investments, loans and general economic aggressiveness. In short, the EU needed to rush and organize partnerships with Africans.

To the EU, Kenya of that time (2007) was already a disappointing illustration of an opportunity lost. As a result of negative experience with Western donors, Kenya under Mwai Kibaki had quietly set out to make itself less international aid-dependent. Indeed, Kenya had already reached a stage where it prepared its budgets without factoring in foreign donations.

More ominously, Kibaki had turned East in search for economic development and business fellowship. The Chinese presence in Kenya (and Tanzania) was clearly a fait accompli replacement of Western influence, especially British. This reality cut across the board from consumer goods to building the historic Uhuru Railway, supplying police vehicles to constructing highways.

Was the Chinese presence in Kenya sufficiently threatening to the EU to trigger longings for change in African leadership. Was EU’s assessment of Kenya’s 2007 election prompted by a desire for regime change?  After all, the EU Development Commissioner is on record that he was out to convince Africans that the EU was a more dependable partner than China in every respect. Doubtless Kibaki, and in all likelihood Tanzania’s Mwalimu Julius Nyerere before him, would have chuckled at the arrogance of such claims.

In analyzing 2007-8 Kenya’s post-elections violence, the EU and the US had divergent views because they were inspired by their own priorities and national interests. While the EU looked forward to establishing an economic foothold in post-election Kenya, the US had ‘war on terror’ as its preoccupation. From the American perspective, Kibaki probably had done himself a ‘favor’ by deporting some Islamic suspects to Ethiopia to be interrogated by the CIA. This was enough to dampen the impulse for regime change in Kenya. That is why Uncle Sam was not so certain who won Kenya’s 2007 elections.

The moral of this story is that what nations say cannot always be taken at face value. National leaders at times sugarcoat issues, outright lie or their perceptions, deliberately or unwittingly, contain unstated agenda items. Given that we are not always told the truth, is it an exercise in academic futility to simulate what our friends and foes may be up to?

*James Kariuki is Professor of international Relations and an independent writer. He is a Kenyan based in Johannesburg, South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.


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When Kenyan media addressed Mr President
July 13, 2013 | 0 Comments


Uhuru-Kenyatta First of all I must record my thanks—on my own behalf and on behalf of the Kenya Editors’ Guild and the wider media fraternity—for this rare occasion to share breakfast with Your Excellencies at State House, Nairobi.

As you all know I’m not a common visitor here, so it’s a welcome opportunity to familiarise myself with pleasant surroundings.

At a personal level Mr President, I’m particularly thankful because you also have this rare opportunity to see me in the flesh.

Feel free to take a close look. You will see that contrary to what you may have been told, I don’t have horns on my head.

And if you look around the room, Mr President, you will see editors, reporters, photojournalists, TV and radio presenters, twitters, bloggers, and other representatives of a very large and very diverse fraternity.

You will see all ages, all shapes and sizes, the big and the small, the long and the tall; the fat and the thin, the in-between; and all creeds, sexes, beliefs, ethnic groups, and everything else that makes us a microcosm of this great nation.

And that is the point: We may represent different media groups, different publications and broadcast channels, different platforms within the industry, etc,

But we are united and bound together as journalists living and working in Kenya; and also in our Kenyaness.

We are proud to be Kenyan, proud of our country and would be the last people to publish or air anything calculated to cause problems, divide or incite the people.

It is as Kenyans and patriots that we welcome this opportunity for frank and free exchange of views, and examine how the media and the government can work together for the national good.

Before I proceed, there’s something I must put on record for avoidance of doubt. This is particularly for attention of the perpetual sceptics.

Some of us have been in journalism for very many years. We went through our formative years during the era when a visit to State House was viewed with suspicion.

That was the time when State House regularly hosted various delegations assembled to pledge loyalty.

There was also a period when a visit to State House was taken as a mission to ‘eat ugali’, or to collect briefcases stuffed with cash.

Mr President, Mr Deputy President, we are assured that you did not invite us here to try compromise us or to woo us to support the Jubilee government.

We believe that things have changed. This meeting is in the open. It is being broadcast and reported for all the world to hear, see and read.

It is not a political mission, and we would happily engage in this dialogue irrespective of who was in State House, whether Jubilee, Cord, Tip Tip or any other entity.

The reform agenda

We are here to principally to get to know each other, understand each other and explore possible avenues of collaboration, specifically on the reform agenda that remains a core mission of the Kenya media.

Within that reform agenda also lies specific areas of reform within the media sector, very dear to us in the Fourth Estate.

Mr President, we recall your gracious presence at the Kenyatta International Conference during the World Press Freedom Day celebrations on May 2.

We were happy to hear your unequivocal pledge in defence of freedom of the media. These are inalienable rights that are specifically guaranteed by a progressive constitution, and we trust that your government will not do anything that might amount to violating those rights.

Right now, there is debate taking place around amendments designed to update various pieces of legislation touching on media so they are in sync with the freedoms guaranteed by the constitution.

Of particular interest to us, are what we commonly refer to as the Media Bill and the Communications Bill.
Without going into deep detail, I will just mention that we would be uncomfortable with any amendment that undermined the principal of self-regulation. The spirit will be undermined if appointments to the Media Council are removed from the industry and vested in the Executive; and if as a consequence, the independent Complaints Commission within the Council becomes answerable to that same appointing authority.
Mr President, I am sure you can personally attest that an independent Complaints Commission is not a bad thing.
On the Communications Bill, we are also not happy with yet another attempt to have the Communications Commission usurp the functions of the Media Council and the Complaints Commission in regard to regulation of broadcast content.
It is our view that the Communications Commission should limit itself to regulation of the airwaves—management of broadcast licences and frequencies—; and leave broadcast content to the rightful regulatory authority under which the Media Code of Conduct and Ethics is lawfully vested.

There is one more area of legislation I will briefly touch on. The pending Freedom of Information Bill, together with the existing Official Secrets Act.

Mr President, and I’m glad a good number of you Cabinet secretaries and Principal secretaries are here, there is nothing more frustrating for us in the media than the culture of secrecy that is prevalent in government.

Even the most innocuous requests for what should be harmless public information are routinely rebuffed.

Every ministry and department today has communications officers, but they often are not allowed to release any information to the media; that is the preserve of the Cabinet Secretary and the PS.

We would not bother the senior officers with all these calls if their mandated officers were empowered and allowed to do the work for which they were hired.

Mr President, the constitution provides for Freedom of Information, but many requests for information are turned away on the excuse that the legislation is not yet in place.

That is usually an excuse, not a good reason. The real problem, is not the delayed Freedom of Information law, but an entrenched culture of secrecy.

Army of officers

President Kenyatta and Vice President Ruto.Sometimes we get the impression that government employ a whole army of officers armed with an battery of rubber-stamps, and whose only job is to designate each and every letter and document as

‘Confidential’, ‘Secret’, ‘Top Secret’ or ‘Classified’.

The other day, I was having a chat with the Secretary for Information & Communications and his Devolution & Planning counterpart. I told them not to be surprised if their copy of the daily newspaper lands on the desk stamped ‘Secret’.

I also told them a story of a letter I once received from the Attorney-General — not the incumbent, but a previous one whose name I cannot reveal because I am not allowed to speak to the Press.

It was a letter confirming attendance at a stakeholders meeting on media laws, of which I was as one of the convenors.

Believe it or not that, letter was stamped “SECRET”, complete with that red wax seal that suggests some very deep state security issue. True story.

Mr President, a serious culture shift is vital if government is to get away from the secrecy mindset and embrace transparency, accountability, openness and the free and unhindered flow of information.

Embracing transparency etc, is not actually for the benefit of the media, but the benefit of the wider society for which we merely serve as watchdog.

Freedom of the media, and the responsibility that comes with it, is not just an end in itself. Neither is it a selfish sectoral pursuit. It is not something to be pursued in isolation, but as critical component of the even bigger goal of free, open, democratic and progressive society.

And that is where we as the media would want to direct any collaboration with the government because the pursuit of freedom and liberty is also our agenda.

We have looked closely at the various political party manifestos put out ahead of the General Election. Whether Jubilee, Cord, Narc Kenya, UDM, Tunawesmake, Safina or Dida, they were strikingly similar.

All espoused commitment to the reform agenda, human rights and freedoms, economic opportunity and empowerment for all, accelerated growth, access to health, education and social support.

The little differences in detail and did not detract from the largely identical goals which we believe the rival political formations unconsciously or otherwise concurred reflected the needs and aspirations of most Kenyans.

Where those aims dovetail with what the Kenyan media has always stood for, then it makes sense to work with whoever is working to similar goals.

But here we must emphasise again that exploring areas of collaboration does not amount to getting into bed with the government.

The political classes

It is our experience that even as we engage with the political classes, as we must always do across various divides, we must always keep a healthy distance lest we be swallowed by forces that we cannot control or contain.

It is our nature to be deeply suspicious of government.

If we forgot that, then we would betray a sacred duty as society’s watchdog, and lose our reason to exist.

Therefore, whatever meetings of minds come out of this engagement must come with the understanding that the media will continue, without fear of favour, to keenly scrutinise the government, hold it to account, expose corruption, misrule, incompetence, misuse of power, violations of citizens rights and everything else that often sours relations between the governors and the governed.

The watchdog role is a responsibility that we do not take lightly, because it is what defines the Kenyan media.

The media has been at the forefront of the unending struggle for reform and creation of a more just and equitable society.

That is why we largely supported adoption of the progressive new constitution.

Before that we overtly and covertly supported the struggle against the monolithic one party system.

The emergence of alternative media during those trying periods was critical to the opening up of democratic space and communication channels at a time when the mainstream media was afraid to fall foul of the regime.

A good number of journalists and editors were arrested, tortured, detained and sent into exile for speaking out for justice.

We can go back to the struggle for independence, when the nationalist pioneers used the alternative media to wage war against colonial oppression.

Freedom war heroes such as Harry Thuku, Makhan Singh, Paul Ngei, Achieng’ Oneko, Bildad Kaggia, Pio Gama Pinto … and a certain Jomo Kenyatta, made powerfully use of the pen to disseminate the ideals of freedom, liberty and human dignity.

They were reporters and editors in their own publications that played crucial roles in the struggle for independence.

Those ideals of freedom and liberty remain the foundations on which the Kenya media is built; and those are the ideals that will guide us in engaging the government towards realisation of common goals and aspirations for a better Kenya.

As we engage, we will keep in mind that there will always be room for disagreement and divergence of opinion.

Whipped into line

Life would be very boring if everybody thought the same way.

We will continue to be guided by our Code of Ethics in regard to remaining objective, fair, balanced, and professional.

That does not mean we will be bland automatons thinking alike. There will be divergence of views and opinions.

Media outlets will have the freedom to define their audiences and to take up any causes and campaigns they so wish.

As the Guild, we will remain open to all editors who share our vision and subscribe to the code of ethical, responsible and professional journalism.

Just one or two more items. Mr President, you no doubt are aware that our colleagues who cover Parliament have been locked out of the Media Centre.

Now, we all know that the decision was not informed by the need for the space, but as retaliation for the way on which the media reported agitation by the MP for more pay.

We are aware that the constitution now separates the Executive from the Legislature. With that in mind, we would not ask you to intervene; we would not ask you to encroach on the province of the Legislature or undermine its independence.

However, we are also conscious that the presidency is not useless. We know that MPs, and particularly the House leaders such as the Speaker, the Majority and Minority Leaders, the Whips, and even departmental committee members and chairs, do not sit in their individual capacities. They are not there as independents, but as representatives of their respective parties. We have seen in recent days that on issues critical to their sponsors, they can be whipped into line.

Mr President, I will say no more on that one, but just thank you in advance.

Before I conclude, I would like to thank most profoundly the Cabinet Secretary for Information and Communications Fred Matiangi, for making this possible.

Some of us engaged with Dr Matiangi in his previous life, so this is just a continuation of contacts and trust that goes way back.

We are hopeful; that this initiative will bear fruit, and not just as a baby of the Information ministry, but in redefining how we engage with all all arms of government.

Mr President, Mr Deputy President, thank you very much. We hope that out of this the pursuit of a more open and transparent government will be accelerated, walls will be torn down, barriers and roadblocks removed.

Thanks you for your patience

* Source  Africa Review .Macharia Gaitho is Nation Media Group’s Managing Editor, Special Project.


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President Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenya’s Ideological Twists
July 2, 2013 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

KenyaDuring the Cold War, Third World states aspired for ‘neutralism’ in their international relations. The world was then bipolar, divided ideologically between the West and the East. Neutralism was a Third World assertion that it wanted no part in the quarrel between the two global blocs. That thinking crystallized into the Non-Aligned Movement.

Post-colonial Kenya was reluctant to observe non-alignment provisions precisely because its first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was an Anglophile. There is a puzzling contradiction in that assertion. For decades, the same Kenyatta had spearheaded anti-British activities in colonial Kenya. Branding him a leader “unto darkness and death,” the British imprisoned Kenyatta allegedly for master-minding the Mau Mau rebellion.

Kenya became independent in 1963 and contradictions continued to emerge. Firstly, power was handed over to the same Kenyatta whom the British had dismissed as a devilish pervert. Secondly, Kenyatta surprisingly tilted the country to the West.

Outraged, Oginga Odinga objected bitterly to the pro-Western stance and proceeded to write a book, Not Yet Uhuru (1968.)Odinga was no ordinary citizen; he was a major anti-colonial nationalist and Kenya’s first Vice-President. While he was pro-socialism, Kenyatta coddled British capitalism. Conflicting ideologies were asserting themselves in new Kenya.

In the same year that Odinga’s book was published, Kenyatta released his own, Suffering without Bitterness. The book confirmed that Kenyatta was not anti-British; he was merely opposed to their racial discrimination. Indeed, he was even prepared to work with them. Accordingly, he turned Kenya into a towering ‘darling of the West’ in Eastern Africa and, for good measure, built himself into a capitalist tycoon of staggering proportions.

President Uhuru KenyattaKenyatta’s book reeked of forgive-and-forget sentiments towards former colonial detractors. The baton has now been passed to his son, Uhuru. That fact may push Kenya through yet another ideological twist.

Unlike his father, Uhuru’s worldview seems to be: we-may-suffer-but-we-will-not-necessarily-forget. In particular, he appears to have ‘reservations’ about the British for treating his father abusively. Additionally, Uhuru himself has already had an unhappy personal encounter with the West.

 Uhuru is an ICC-inductee allegedly for orchestrating Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence. Coincidentally, the charges erupted simultaneously as the credibility of the ICC itself was declining. Critics lamented that engaged in ‘selective justice’ by targeting African leaders unduly. Yet, the greatest human rights violators are Western leaders and they, invariably, walk free.

In the agitated anti-ICC atmosphere, it appeared disingenuous that the West continued posturing as the guardians of human rights in Kenya. In the 2012-13 campaign it smacked of deviousness that Westerners masqueraded as the moral force to constantly remind Kenyans that the Uhuru ticket was comprised of ICC-inductees, unworthy of the presidency.

Clearly, the West believed that their Kenyan interest were safer if left under the care of Raila Odinga, Uhuru’s principal opponent. Once again ideological anomalies were rearing their heads in Kenya’s brief history. At independence Uhuru’s father, Jomo Kenyatta, was pro-capitalist West. Raila’s father, Oginga Odinga, was distinctly socialism-inclined and pro-East. Half a century later, the sons’ ideological persuasions were reversed.

Discrediting Uhuru’s candidacy by the West has revived a public sentiment that, for Kenyans to align themselves too closely to external powers, is ill-advised. In this instance, the West misread Kenya, persisting to view it as a prime candidate for foreign aid. Accordingly, Kenyans should behave as ‘deserving poor.’ Voting for ICC-inductees into power is alien to the notion of deserving poor.

Yet, Kenyans have abandoned the ‘deserving poor’ status. To them, Kenya is not a ‘failing state’ with a begging bowl looking for aid. Theirs is a country pregnant with economic potential and they are resolved to disembark from aid and engage in trade. After all, Kenya possesses bargaining power; it is East Africa’s business hub, one of Africa’s most connected nations. That self-confidence has been buttressed by discovery of oil and gas reserves.

images (1)Thus Kenya finds itself in a world where it is as equally sought after as it is a suitor. Calling shots is no longer an exclusive prerogative of the West. This realization has prompted a Western journalist to warn that the West “might find it is not missed as it once might have been.”

Indeed, Kenyan strategic thinkers have noted with interest that a mutually beneficial Sino-Kenya interaction has quietly evolved in the past decade with positive impact on the Kenyan economy. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta is probably turning over in his grave that the Uhuru’s administration is urged to double its efforts in building on that relationship. China is eagerly poised to undertake the challenge.

It would be the ultimate ideological anomaly if Uhuru consolidates the current surge of nationalism and tilts the country East. That would mean going a whole cycle to negate daddy Kenyatta’s legacy of turning Kenya West half a century ago. Do Kenyans trust the Chinese more or do they now trust the West less?

*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer.  He is based in South Africa. Views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.

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Microsoft’s Offer and Risk Factor for Kenya
June 25, 2013 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki*

UhuruSeven months ago, Kenya banned importation of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) foods because of their potential risks to public health. That move sparked a fierce war of words between local anti-GMO activists and their pro-GMO rivals. The Government stood firm and has so far prevailed over the influential and well-resourced pro-GMO faction. Has Kenya unwittingly walked into the volatile, global GMO controversy?

On June 4, 2013, Microsoft International pledged to support President Uhuru Kenyatta’s spirited project of free laptops for primary school pupils. At that stage of the game the GMO issue probably did not arise; Kenyans had moved on to new frontiers. But, had we really managed to sneak past the GMO issue?

Last year Kenya’s anti-GMO crusade was spearheaded by Beth Mugo as the Minister of Public Health and Sanitation. This year, Uhuru Kenyatta is the torchbearer for the computer-skills quest. Uhuru is now Kenya’s Head of State and he conceived and articulated the free computer skills idea as his 2013 campaign pledge.

Coincidentally, Uhuru and Beth are first cousins. Their point of convergence is Jomo Kenyatta, father of the nation! Could computer skills and GMO issue drive a wedge between two of Mzee Kenyatta’s public offspring? It gets more involved: computers and GMOs are also akin.

The Microsoft International’s gift to Kenya was in form of training the trainers to implement the computer-to-schools programme by January 2014. That attractive offer was conveyed to Uhuru by Jean-Philippe Courtois, President of Microsoft International. Courtois’ official assignment is to guide global sales, marketing and services everywhere outside the US and Canada.

The GMO issue was probably never mentioned when computer skills offer was discussed. In any case, what Kenyan would resist the appetite to acquire computer skills for Kenyan youth from Microsoft, the mother of computer know-how? After all, what matters in contemporary world is not what you own; it is what you know. What do GMOs have to do with computers anyway?

On reflection, enough connectedness crops up to trigger alarm. Microsoft International is a subsidiary of US-based giant computer multinational (MNC), Microsoft Corporation. Ultimately, Courtois reports to the Chairman of Microsoft Corporation, Bill Gates. To service his $1.5 million annual income, Courtois must peddle Gate’s will.

The world knows Bill Gates as a computer wizard and the richest man in the world, but he more than that. He is deeply involved in GMOs; indeed he is now a major shareholder in the world’s biggest biotech MNC, Monsanto Company. Additionally, Bill and Melinda Gates’ Foundation underwrites numerous GMO projects in Africa, including Nairobi-based Alliance for Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA.) For all practical purposes, he is the face of the GMO universe. GMOs and computers converge on Bill Gates.

GMO enthusiasts are said to envision a GMO world-without-borders. Hence, the obsession to control food production everywhere in quest for the world dominance which that would imply. For the same reason, Monsanto seeks to own seeds, fertilizers, pesticides and food markets worldwide. Meanwhile, the company is hell-bent on destroying food competition around the world, including its American home base.

Most unsettling of the GMO drive is that Barack Obama is now squarely part of it and he has sucked Africa into it. In May 2012, the American President launched the New Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security (NAFNS), ostensibly to save sub-Sahara Africa from hunger in a decade.

Dissenters objected loudly and clearly. They accused Obama of opening up Africa for domination by ruthless American multinationals and pushing controversial GMOs down their throats, literally. Suggestions of “saving” the continent were a smoke-screen; MNCs are profit seekers not NGOs. They are neither equipped nor inclined to engage in humanitarianism, least of all in Africa.

Prof-James-KariukiImagine a ‘misunderstanding’ arising over Kenya’s current GMO policy. Suppose, for example, that it is Bill Gate’s will is to have Kenya’s 2012 anti-GMO importation decision revoked. The opponents would be the Government of Kenya plus a few local anti-GMO voices. The supporters would be Monsanto, Microsoft Corporation, Microsoft International, AGRA, NAFNS and local GMO-enthusiasts. In addition to their deep pockets, the GMO-believers would also have the White House on their side. This would be a genuine David versus Goliath confrontation.

For several years, the pro-GMO forces have had their heydays. But anti-GMO voices, principally the US Organic Consumers Association, have recently also gathered steam. They are angry and have vowed to squash Monsanto to oblivion.
The above is the complex-mix in the sealed package that Courtois presented to Uhuru on June 4, 2013. It would be reckless to underestimate the might of the heartless global corporate capitalist system behind it, its power to seduce and to corrupt. Meanwhile, it is well to remember the American unveiled threat to Kenyans in the last election: choices have consequences.

*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (emeritus) and an independent writer. He is based in South Africa. The views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.

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The Mau Mau Compensations in Historical Context
June 18, 2013 | 0 Comments

James N. Kariuki*

Kenyan Mau Mau who successfully challenged the British government, from left, Jane Muthoni Mara, Wambuga Wa Nyingi, and Paulo Muoka Nzili. Photograph: AP

Kenyan Mau Mau who successfully challenged the British government, from left, Jane Muthoni Mara, Wambuga Wa Nyingi, and Paulo Muoka Nzili. Photograph: AP

On June 6, 2013 the British Government pledged to make amends to Mau Mau survivors who had been brutally victimized by the British colonial authorities during Kenya’s war of independence.

 The offered financial compensations were by no means staggering but the wording of regrets for the wrongdoing was refreshing for its sincerity. The forthrightness of the exercise is a relief to the victims and adds significantly to the acts’ historical implications.

Firstly, the moment that the British Foreign Secretary William Hague stood before Parliament and regretted that horrid and excessive abuses had taken place in colonial Kenya, the Mau Mau freedom fighters ceased to be ‘terrorists’ and became nationalists. History books need to be edited.

More broadly, Hague’s words vindicated the claim that historically, the wheels of justice move slowly but they tend to move towards greater justice.

It has taken Britain half a century to accept culpability for the Mau Mau excesses.  Concurrently, another anti-colonial war raged in Algeria. The brutality in the Algerian War was so horrendous that, to this day, Algerians find it practically impossible to forgive their former colonizer.

A hint of regrets would probably ease the intense anger but the French too still bulk at the suggestion of an apology, much less of compensation. After all, the Algerian War nearly tore apart metropolitan France itself.  Hard feelings persist.

Algerian War notwithstanding, however, in situations where a definable group has absorbed ‘collective injury’ from another, historical tradition has been to amend the wrongs by paying restitution.  This has been said before in this blog, but it is probably worth repeating.

The most famous case is, of course, that of the Jews and the holocaust experience. Post-World War II Germany has faithfully made amends to the Jewish people and the state of Israel.

A less publicized tragedy is that of wrongful US internment of people of Japanese extraction by the Roosevelt administration during World War II.  When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, Americans feared another assault was forthcoming and pressured President Franklin Roosevelt to take pre-emptive action against Japanese descendents in the US.

In February 1942, Roosevelt signed an Executive Order authorizing 120, 000 people of Japanese descent on the US West Coast to be placed in War Relocation Camps. Presumably, Japanese descendants were more likely to spy for Japan. To the dismay of historians, no Japanese descendant was ever convicted in the US for spying for Japan.

Forty three years after World War II, the US Government resolved to pay restitutions in the amount of $1.2 billion to the affected Japanese-American families. The 1988 decision was accompanied by a moving pledge: “The internment of Americans of Japanese ancestry was a great injustice, and it will never be repeated.”

Two decades after the American historic decision, the Australian Government issued an unreserved apology to its Aborigine citizens for historical wrongful treatment, for “the “laws  and policies that have inflicted profound grief, suffering and loss on these our fellow Australians.”

The Australian Government fell short of mentioning reparations for the Aborigines, but amends for that purpose have been slowly coming.

History shows that Africans and their descendants have endured greater ‘collective injury’ than all the other groups combined. Yet, until the mau mau case in June, no reparations have ever been paid to them. Legal scholars insist that this is indeed ‘justice-delayed’ due to the enormity of the Africans’ case; it is too overwhelming.

Prof-James-KariukiThe matter of apartheid victims is exceptional; it is indeed smaller and more manageable. As a legal precedent, it could easily reverberate to the entire Global Africa. But restitutions have not been forthcoming, partly because the post-apartheid government of President Thabo Mbeki once resisted the idea of compensation decided upon outside South Africa. Allegedly, such extra-territorial decisions would infringe upon South Africa’s sovereignty. Bishop Desmond Tutu disagreed with that logic.

To-date, only a single apartheid case has had limited success.  Last year, General Motors, the American automobile company, agreed to an out of court settlement in which it would pay apartheid claimants. The payments were nominal but they were a back-door admission of liability for past racial-determined wrongdoing.

The USA bears a huge stigma regarding slavery and historical mistreatment of its black citizens. Politically, Barack Obama is not obliged to come to the rescue Africa; Americans voted him into office and he is answerable to them.

However, slavery was ultimately entrenched largely as an American domestic sin and political Obama has a moral responsibility to apologize to his fellow African-Americans for that wrongdoing. That alone is an ideal opportunity to place the first US black president in his rightful place in history for one act of kindness. After all, his presidency is itself an affirmation of history moving towards greater justice

Slavery was also a global sin of the Western world against Africans and their descendants. As the leader of the ‘Free World,’ Obama should take a hint from the British action regarding Kenya’s mau mau and apologize to the entire Global Africa in the name of the USA. That would be a mark of statesmanship.

** *James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (emeritus) and an independent writer.  He is based in South Africa. The views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.


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Why Is Barack Obama Skipping Kenya in His African Trip?
June 5, 2013 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki*

Obama addressing young African Leaders In less than a month, US President Obama will undertake his first extended visit to Africa. Amazingly, the tour excludes Kenya. This is puzzling since Kenya is Obama’s ancestral homeland. Even fellow Americans are wondering: why would Obama bypass his ‘old country?’

The intrigue dissipates when viewed through the prism of Kenya’s recent national election. When the votes were finally cast at the end of that process it was the West, especially the US and Britain that was mystified that Uhuru Kenyatta emerged victorious over their candidate of choice, Raila Odinga. Is the planned omission of Kenya in Obama’s itinerary a form of simple-minded revenge?

This seems to be the case when it is considered that fighting terrorism is a critical priority in US foreign policy. In Eastern Africa, Kenya has been central to counter-terrorism. In this sense, Kenya and the US have a shared interest in tackling a core issue to both. Why would the US president bypass the most prominent ally in the region? It is indeed tempting to believe that Obama’s ill-advised strategy may have nothing to do with US national interests. Is it a case of personal vendetta?

Uhuru and his deputy, William Ruto, are ICC-inductees allegedly for orchestrating Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence. But these charges erupted as the credibility of the ICC itself was on decline. There were ‘loud whispers’ that the court targeted African leaders disproportionately. Yet, the greatest human rights enemies were Western leaders and they, invariably, walked free.

Barack Obama himself is considered a case in point. Under his personal watch, thousands of innocent people have been killed by unmanned drones in the Middle East, Afghanistan and Pakistan.  The ICC has never even pretended to indict him. But the sins of US George Bush and Britain’s Prime Minister, Tony Blair, in the Iraq War were more relevant. To-date, thousands of innocent Iranians have died due to Western belligerence on ‘cooked-up’ claims.  The ICC has never gone after the perpetrators.

Sensitive questions thus arose: Has the ICC become a neo-colonial tool of the West? Why the selective justice? Unfortunately, for the court, this view was championed by none other than the continental African Union. The hunter had suddenly become the hunted; the ICC itself was on trial in public opinion.

In this anti-ICC atmosphere, it appeared contrived that the West continued to pose as the guardians of human rights in Kenya. In the 2012-13 campaign in particular, the British and Americans shamelessly masqueraded as the moral force to constantly remind Kenyan voters that Uhuru and his running-mate were ICC-inductees, unworthy of the presidency.

Prof-James-Kariuki To emphasize the point, Britain declared that in the unlikely event that Uhuru won the elections, it would maintain only ‘essential contacts’ with his government. At that juncture the Uhuru’s Jubilee Alliance felt compelled to object bitterly and publicly to the “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya’s election.”

Lest it is forgotten, the US is not a signatory to the ICC. Yet, the Americans went beyond subtle hints by issuing a thinly-veiled threat to the Kenyan voters: ‘choices have consequences.’ Implicit in the statement was that, if Kenyans voted the Uhuru-Ruto ticket to power, the Western powers would punish them.

In sum, the Uhuru-Ruto Alliance was denied the assumption of innocence until proven guilty, a legal doctrine that the West otherwise holds dear. Is by-passing Kenya in the forthcoming Obama visit one of the consequences to Kenyans for making the wrong choice in the 2013 election? Would Obama consider by-passing Kenya had Raila Odinga won the presidency?

 Again, many Kenyans believe that Obama’s current dismissive attitude towards Kenya has nothing to do with the American vital interests; it is a personal vendetta against Kenyans for rejecting his preference, Raila Odinga, as their president. Is this nepotism, negative ethnicity or meddling on others’ domestic matters on the part of Barck Obama?  The answer is in blowing in the wind.

What is known is the excessive lengths to which Obama went to boost Raila Odinga’s political chances in Kenya. These included financial, political and campaign support. Unfortunately, the attempts ultimately fell short.

Baba Kabwela has it that the ICC has been under immense Western pressure to prosecute Uhuru Kenyatta and his running-mate for no other reason than to remove them as obstacles to Odinga’s way to Kenya’s presidency. For this purpose, a three-pronged strategy was devised. As a bona fide ICC member, Britain would push the Indictment issue from the legal aspect. Meanwhile, the US would agitate for the same ICC matter in Kenya politically, using its weight as a respectable foreign donor and world’s superpower.

Finally, the strategy called upon Odinga to exploit the same ICC-issue from the home front. In his campaign logic, Kenyan voters would never choose ICC-criminals over the ‘clean’ self. Additionally, it would be impossible for Uhuru and Ruto to rule Kenya from The Hague. After a long and turbulent political career, it would finally be smooth sailing for Raila to the State House.

As the campaign wound down, polls showed that Kenya’s elections were indeed close. But Raila Odinga was not concerned. With all the weight of the Western powers on his side, he doubtlessly would win the election; “it wouldn’t even be close.”

The prediction was wrong on both counts.  The tally was close—very close, but Raila was the loser. He and Barack Obama were understandably stunned and disappointed. Avoiding Kenya on the forthcoming Obama’s African trip is their way of pouting.

*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (emeritus) and an independent writer.  He is based in South Africa. The views expressed in the blog Global Africa are his.



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Africa’s New Global Opportunities: The Case of Kenya
May 13, 2013 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki*

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

British Prime Minister David Cameron and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta

Last week Kenya’s newly-elected President, Uhuru Kenyatta, travelled to London at the invitation of the British Government. Officially, the purpose of the trip was to participate at a Somalia Summit, a subject of vital importance to both Kenya and Britain.

In all likelihood, Uhuru was skeptical about the trip. He was surely mindful that when his father visited the UK in 1962, he was pelted with rotten eggs by the British public, a show of contempt. After all, colonial authorities had dismissed daddy Kenyatta as a satanic pervert.

Uhuru went to London anyway. The Somalia issue was too critical to Kenya’s national interest to be bypassed. Additionally, Kenya-Britain relations had recently deteriorated; their improvement called for gestures of goodwill by both sides.

During the 2013 visit, no eggs were thrown but the British news media dubbed Uhuru with a hostile title, ‘Criminal President.’ The epithet obviously offended the Kenyan millions who had just voted Uhuru into office. Kenya’s social media was abuzz with objections to the British crudeness.

Was there a story behind this story?

Kenya became independent in 1963 and immediately displayed intrigues. Firstly, Jomo Kenyatta, the uncontested national leader, had always been at the forefront of the anti-colonial struggle. Yet, power was handed over to him, the man whom the British colonialists had categorized as a “leader unto darkness and death.” Secondly, Kenyatta surprisingly proceeded to tilt independent Kenya to the West, the former oppressor.

Soon thereafter, Kenyatta published a book, Suffering without Bitterness. That title, and the book itself, were a vivid affirmation that Kenyatta was an Anglophile poised to entrench Kenya as a prominent ‘darling of the West’ in Eastern Africa. Concurrently, he built himself into a capitalist tycoon of staggering proportions.

Kenyatta’s book reeked of forgive-and-forget sentiments towards the former colonial tormentors. Now the baton has been passed to his son, Uhuru, whose presidency may push Kenya to yet another paradoxical ideological orientation.
Uhuru’s worldview may be summed up as: we-may-forgive-but-we-will-not-necessarily-forget. Personally, he seems to harbor a deep Prof-James-Kariukimistrust of the British, perhaps because of how scornfully they treated his father in the colonial era. More to the point, Uhuru himself has had unpleasant encounters with the same West recently.
Uhuru is an ICC-inductee, accused of orchestrating Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence. Those charges emerged almost simultaneously as the credibility of the court itself started to decline on the grounds that it targeted African leaders excessively. Yet, the logic continued, Westerners were the greatest human rights violators and they were never indicted.

Had the ICC become a neo-colonial tool of the West? The hunter suddenly became the hunted; the ICC itself was on trial in world opinion. Tragically for the court, the campaign against it was championed by the continental African Union.
In this anti-ICC atmosphere it appeared strenuous that, in Kenya’s 2013 election campaign, Westerners posed as the ‘chosen’ moral crusaders to remind Kenyans that the Uhuru-ticket was composed of ICC-inductees, unworthy of the presidency. In short, Uhuru was portrayed as a liability to Kenyans.

For its part Britain decreed that, in the unlikely event that Uhuru won the elections, it would maintain only ‘essential contacts’ with his government. Uhuru was obviously offended by the pronouncement and his Jubilee Alliance felt compelled to protest of “shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya’s election.” The Americans also issued a poorly-veiled threat to the Kenyan voters that ‘choices have consequences.’

Clearly, Western powers were bent on withholding goodwill and friendship to a democratically-elected Uhuru-led government. In effect, Uhuru was denied presumption of innocence until proven guilty.
Conversely, the West was actively campaigning for Uhuru’s major political rival, Raila Odinga. Indeed, with the conspicuous Western support on his side, Raila was convinced that he would win the election; “it wouldn’t even be close.” He was wrong on both counts. He lost and the elections were close.

Kenyan voters were irritated by the Western meddling in their domestic political process. In the end, condemnation of Uhuru’s candidacy backfired, triggering Kenyans to support Uhuru in form of sympathy votes.
Attempts to discredit the Uhuru-Ruto candidacy strained relations between Kenya and Britain and left a bitter anti-West taste among Kenyans. Epithet of Uhuru as a ‘Criminal President’ by the British Sky News merely added salt to injury.
What caused the Kenya-British rift?

Regarding the ICC induction, the West saw it in purely legal terms. Uhuru had been indicted; he must face the law. Conversely, Kenyans saw it in context of local politics. Overwhelmingly they believe that, if Uhuru got involved in the post-elections violence at all, it was not a matter of premeditated murder; it was self-defense. Uhuru’s objective was to deter reckless human rights violations against the Kikuyu. Bravely, Uhuru resisted ethnic cleansing where the state had repeatedly failed. Kenyatta reinforced the principle of self-defense.

From this perspective Uhuru is a local hero, a leader who put himself in harm’s way in a bid to save his people from five-year cycles of senseless savagery. To many Kenyans Uhuru Kenyatta is not a villain; he is their favorite son and they said so in the March 2013 election. Neither the West nor the ICC can convince them otherwise.
In the broader sense, contemporary African thinkers insist that the West misreads the realities of current Kenya. It continues to see Kenya as a prime candidate for foreign aid. To maintain that status, Kenya must uphold its credentials of a “deserving poor.” Having an ICC-inductee as president violates good governance, a fundamental requirement for a “deserving poor.”

Yet, Kenyans have now departed from that view. To them, theirs is no longer a poverty-stricken country u-hauling a begging bowl in Western capitals in search for foreign aid. Kenya can no longer be subjected to the intrigues and manipulations of foreign aid. These Kenyans are psychologically eager to abandon foreign aid for trade. After all, Kenya possesses bargaining power. It is East Africa’s business hub and one of Africa’s most connected nations. Recent discovery of vast reserves of oil and gas have reinforced these views.

Finally, Kenya finds itself in a world order that offers other opportunities besides the West. In this setting, Kenya is as a much sought after lover as it is a suitor. Given these circumstances, calling shots in Kenya and Africa is no longer an exclusive domain of the West. To its credit, Britain has quickly realized and accepted that it needs Kenya just as much as Kenya needs it. It was against that thinking that Uhuru was invited to London in May 2013.

There was an element of urgency for Britain to act quickly because non-Western international presence is now “part of the fabric in today’s Kenya.” In particular, China makes no bones about its interest to engage in Kenya. And Uhuru is under considerable domestic pressure to give China a chance.

It would be truly paradoxical if Uhuru’s presidency consolidates the current surge of anti-Western nationalism in Kenya and tilts the country to the East. Should Kenya go East, Uhuru will negate his father’s legacy of turning the country West half a century ago. This could happen, not because Kenyans trust the Chinese more, but because they now trust the West less.

*James N. Kariuki is Professor of International Relations (Emeritus) and an independent writer. He Is based in South Africa.

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Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement
May 7, 2013 | 0 Comments

Kenyan Mau Mau victims in talks with UK government over legal settlement

Payments to thousands who were tortured during 1950s insurgency could open door for other victims of British colonial rule

By Ian Cobain and  in Nairobi*

Kenyan Mau-Mau veterans celebrate on October 5, 2012 in Nairobi, after the High Court in London ruled that three Kenyans tortured during the colonial-era rebellion can sue the UK for compensation.

Kenyan Mau-Mau veterans celebrate on October 5, 2012 in Nairobi, after the High Court in London ruled that three Kenyans tortured during the colonial-era rebellion can sue the UK for compensation.

Kenyan Mau Mau war veterans celebrate the UK high court ruling of 5 October 2012 allowing them to proceed with compensation claims against the British government.Link to video: Mau Mau torture case: Kenyans win ruling against UK government

The British government is negotiating payments to thousands of Kenyans who were detained and severely mistreated during the 1950sMau Mau insurgency in what would be the first compensation settlement resulting from official crimes committed under imperial rule.

In a development that could pave the way for many other claims from around the world, government lawyers embarked upon the historic talks after suffering a series of defeats in their attempts to prevent elderly survivors of the prison camps from seeking redress through the British courts.

Those defeats followed the discovery of a vast archive of colonial-era documents which the Foreign Office (FCO) had kept hidden for decades, and which shed new and stark light on the dying days of British rule, not only in Kenya but around the empire. In the case of the Mau Mau conflict, the secret papers showed that senior colonial officials authorised appalling abuses of inmates held at the prison camps established during the bloody conflict, and that ministers and officials in London were aware of a brutal detention regime in which men and women were tortured and killed.

As a handful of details began to emerge last week from the confidential talks between lawyers for the government and the Mau Mau veterans, the FCO said it acknowledged the need for debate about Britain’s past, and added: “It is an enduring feature of our democracy that we are willing to learn from our history.” Up to 10,000 former prisoners may be in line for compensation, if the talks result in a settlement. Although the individual amounts will vary greatly, the total compensation is likely to run into tens of millions of pounds.

The Foreign Office knows that compensation payments to Mau Mau veterans are likely to trigger claims from other former colonies. Any such claims, if successful, would not only cost the British taxpayer many millions of pounds; they could result in testimony and the emergence of documentary evidence that would challenge long-cherished views of the manner in which Britain withdrew from its empire.

Former Eoka guerrillas who were imprisoned and allegedly mistreated by the British in 1950s Cyprus are already considering bringing claimsagainst the British government.

The archives of the International Committee of the Red Cross show that its inspectors documented widespread use of torture in British prisons during that insurgency, with some individuals being waterboarded, with kerosene mixed into the water.

Historians and personal injury lawyers believe strong claims could be made on behalf of individuals who were imprisoned during the 1960s insurgency in the colony of Aden, now part of Yemen. Papers from the time show abuses inflicted upon prisoners were carefully documented by British officers, and that senior colonial officials kept the FCO informed.

Documentary evidence could also support compensation claims from Swaziland in southern Africa and British Guiana, now Guyana, in South America. However, as a result of a number of rulings in the House of Lords, no damages claims arising from events before 1954 can be brought in the English courts. During the process of decolonisation, the eight-year insurgency known as the Mau Mau uprising was possibly the most bloody conflict in which the British became embroiled, with up to 30,000 Kenyan deaths, both insurgent and loyalist.

Thousands of people – estimates vary from 80,000 to 300,000 – were detained in a network of camps that were described in one Pulitzer-winning history of the conflict as Britain’s gulag.

Official papers from the time confirm that prisoners suffered appalling abuses. Some died under torture, with colonial officials writing about prisoners being “roasted alive”. In one of the few prosecutions brought against the torturers, in December 1954, a Nairobi judge, Arthur Cram, compared the methods employed to those of the Gestapo.

One of those abused was Hussein Onyango Obama, the grandfather of Barack Obama. According to his widow, British soldiers forced pins into his fingernails and buttocks and squeezed his testicles between metal rods. Two of the original five claimants who brought the test case against the British government were castrated.

It was not until the Kenyan government lifted the ban on the Mau Mau in 2002 that survivors of the camps began to consider legal action, however, and it was a further six years before they asked the high court in London for permission to sue the British government for damages.

Government lawyers argued that the claim should not be heard, initially arguing that under the legal principle of state succession, the Mau Mau veterans should be suing the Kenyan government and not the British. A number of historians, called as expert witnesses in the case, realised that the government’s disclosure of documentation was incomplete. This in turn led to the disclosure of the existence of the enormous secret archive at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire, a repository for more than 8,000 files from 37 former colonies.

Among them was a damning memo from the colony’s attorney general, Eric Griffith-Jones, a man who had described the mistreatment of the detainees as “distressingly reminiscent of conditions in Nazi Germany or Communist Russia”. Despite his misgivings, Griffith-Jones agreed to draft new legislation that sanctioned beatings, as long as the abuse was kept secret. “If we are going to sin,” he wrote, “we must sin quietly.”

When the claimants gave evidence at the high court in London last year, Wambugu Wa Nyingi told how he was detained on Christmas Eve 1952and held for nine years, much of the time in manacles. He was beaten unconscious during a particularly notorious massacre at a camp at Hola in which 11 men died.

“I feel I was robbed of my youth and that I did not get to do the things I should have done as a young man,” he said. “There is a saying in Kikuyu that old age lives off the years of youth, but I have nothing to live off because my youth was taken from me.”

Faced with the secret archive evidence and the expert witnesses, government lawyers conceded that the allegations made by Nyingi and the other claimants were true, but continued to oppose their attempt to bring their case, arguing that too much time had elapsed for there to be a fair trial.

That was rejected by the high court last October, with the judge rulingthat a fair trial remained possible. “The documentation is voluminous,” he said. “And the governments and military commanders seem to have been meticulous record keepers.”

The FCO announced that it would appeal against a judgment that had “potentially significant and far-reaching legal implications”, and a hearing was due to be held later this month. The government also faced considerable international political pressure, with the United Nations’ special rapporteur on torture, Juan Méndez, calling publicly on the government to “provide full redress to the victims, including fair and adequate compensation”, and writing privately to David Cameron, along with two former special rapporteurs, to warn that the government’s position was undermining its moral authority across the world.

“In our view the response of the British government to vulnerable and elderly victims of (acknowledged) British torture is shameful,” they wrote.

Last month the FCO told the claimants’ lawyers, Leigh Day, that it wished to adjourn the appeal and start negotiating a settlement.

In Nairobi, the Kenya Human Rights Commission compiled a list of around 50,000 people whose claims to be Mau Mau veterans were confirmed by a government committee. This list has since been divided into five categories. George Morare, senior programme officer with the commission, said that any compensation agreed would be paid only to members of one category: “Those who can show they suffered personal injury and grievous bodily harm, such as castration or rape.”Tom Mboya, a former political adviser to the British high commission in Nairobi who now runs the Kenyan civil rights group Inuka, said: “Symbolically, a payout by the British government might provide further validation for the younger generation of the role the Mau Mau played in the struggle for independence in this country. Recent struggles often obstruct our ability to look at how far we have come as a country, and indeed, where we have come from. It is critically important that younger Kenyans understand this history.”

Dan Leader, a partner with Leigh Day, said: “The parties are currently exploring the possibility of settling the claims brought by our clients. Clearly, given the ongoing negotiations, we can’t comment further.”

The Foreign Office also said that it would be “inappropriate” to discuss the talks. In a prepared statement, however, it added: “We believe there should be a debate about the past. It is an enduring feature of our democracy that we are willing to learn from our history.

“We understand the pain and grievance felt by those, on all sides, who were involved in the divisive and bloody events of the Emergency period in Kenya. It is right that those who feel they have a case are free to take it to the courts.

“Our relationship with Kenya and its people has moved on and is characterised by close co-operation and partnership, building on the many positives from our shared history.”

*Source Guardian Newspaper ,UK

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Uhuru Kenyatta and Kenya’s New Posture in Global Politics
April 22, 2013 | 0 Comments

ByJames N. Kariuki*

Uhuru KenyattaNot so long ago Third World countries subscribed to the notion of non-alignment in their international relations. The world was then bipolar, divided ideologically between the West and the East.  Non-alignment was an assertion that the Third World was not party to the quarrel between the two global blocs. That thinking was enshrined in what came to be known as the Non-Aligned Movement. 

 Post-colonial Kenya observed the provisions of non-alignment mostly in breach. That was so because the country’s first president, Jomo Kenyatta, was at heart an Anglophile. This was ironic given that the same Kenyatta was the vanguard of anti-British colonial activities. Finally, Kenyatta was imprisoned allegedly because he master-minded the Mau Mau rebellion. The British dismissed him as a leader “unto darkness and death.”

 Kenya became independent in 1963 and the country’s ironies continued. First, power was handed over to the same Kenyatta whom the British had branded a devilish pervert. Secondly, Kenyatta quickly tilted independent Kenya towards the West.

 Outraged, Oginga Odinga objected bitterly and proceeded to write a book, Not Yet Uhuru (1968). Odinga was no ordinary citizen; he was a major anti-colonial nationalist and Kenyatta’s Vice-President. While he agitated for socialism, Kenyatta welcomed British capitalism. Odinga did not realize then that Kenyatta had fought against colonialism, not because he objected to the British socio-economic order, but because of racial discrimination that accompanied British presence.

  In the same year that Odinga published his book, Kenyatta released his own, Suffering without Bitterness. That title emphasized that Kenyatta had nothing against the British; he was prepared to work with them. To affirm the point, he proceeded to turn Kenya into a major pro-British fort in Eastern Africa. For good measure, he also built himself into a capitalist tycoon of major proportions.

 Kenyatta’s book reeked of forgive-and-forget sentiments towards his former detractors, the British. His son, Uhuru, has now become Kenya’s president which may push the country into the next major irony. Unlike his father, Uhuru seems inclined to the notion: we-may-forgive-but-we-will-not-necessarily-forget. And he does have a grudge against the West.

 Uhuru Kenyatta has been inducted by the ICC as a contributor to Kenya’s 2007-08 post-election violence. Coincidentally, the charges erupted when the credibility of the ICC itself was declining in Africa on the grounds that it targeted African leaders. Yet, critics said, the greatest human rights offenders are Western leaders and, invariably, they walk free.  Is the court a tool of the West? Unfortunately for the international court, this view was championed by none other than the African Union. Suddenly, the ICC itself was on trial in global public opinion.

 In this anti-ICC atmosphere, it was suspiciously provocative that the West continued posturing as the guardians of human rights in Kenya. In the 2013 campaign, at least, it seemed reprehensible that Westerners became constant reminders that Uhuru and his running-mate were ICC inductees, unworthy of the presidency. Indeed, Uhuru’s Jubilee Alliance was compelled to object bitterly and publicly to “the shadowy, suspicious and rather animated involvement of the British High Commissioner in Kenya’s election.”

 On their part, the Americans went past hints and issued a poorly-veiled threat to the Kenyan voters: ‘choices have consequences.’ Implicit in the statement was a resolve that Western powers would withhold friendship and goodwill to an Uhuru-led government. Similarly, Britain stated that, in the event that Uhuru won the elections, it would maintain only essential contacts with his government. For all practical purposes, the West denied Uhuru the assumption of innocence before proven guilty.

 In effect, the Western powers were now campaigning for Uhuru’s major rival, Raila Odinga. For his part, Raila stated that he would win the election; it would not even be close.  Kenyans took exception to the Westerners meddling in their domestic affairs. Condemnation of Uhuru’s candidacy backfired, prompting Kenyans’ impulse to give more votes to him. Sympathy votes flowed in abundance.

 Regarding the ICC case, many Kenyans believe that Uhuru’s was not a matter of premeditated murder; it was an issue of self-defense. If he got involved in the post-elections’ violence at all he did so, not to harm innocent people, but in defense of reckless human rights violations by others against the Kikuyu. He bravely countered ethnic cleansing where the state had repeatedly failed to do so.  Self-defense is an acceptable principle of the law, is it not?

 Indeed to many Kenyans Uhuru is a hero, a leader who put himself in harm’s way in a bid to save his people from five-year cycles of senseless savagery. To millions of Kenyans, Uhuru Kenyatta is not a criminal; he is their favorite son.  Neither the West nor the ICC can convince them otherwise.

Uhuru’s victory reflects a bewildering self-assertion in Africa, one reminiscent of the non-alignment movement. The popular mood during Kenya’s 2013 election was anti-Western; westerners felt mistrusted and unwanted. Most importantly, Uhuru’s Jubilee Alliance was triggered to protest publicly against Western political intrusion.

 Western exploitation of the ICC indictments to discredit Uhuru’s candidacy has left bitter taste in Kenya. This reality has occasioned a public consciousness among Kenyans that to align too closely to the West is ill-advised. It would be the ultimate irony if Uhuru eventually tilts Kenya to the East. He would negate his father’s legacy of turning Kenya West. That is the stuff of history.

 *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.

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Uhuru Kenyatta sworn in as Kenyan president
April 10, 2013 | 0 Comments

In his inaugural address, Mr Kenyatta said he would govern for all KenyansUhuru Kenyatta has been sworn in as Kenya’s new president, following his victory in March against Raila Odinga.

Dignitaries and tens of thousands of people witnessed the inauguration at a stadium in the capital, Nairobi.Mr Odinga did not attend the ceremony after his attempt to overturn Mr Kenyatta’s victory in court failed.Mr Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, face charges at the International Criminal Court relating to post-election violence five years ago.


They were on opposite sides at the time and both deny the accusations.Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who faces an ICC arrest warrant over the conflict in Darfur, was not in Nairobi for the inauguration.Mr Kenyatta is the son of Kenya’s founding father, Jomo Kenyatta, and is heir to one of the largest fortunes in Kenya.

 ‘Laptops promise’

He served as deputy prime minister, minister for trade, and finance minister under outgoing President Mwai Kibaki.The crowd, waving Kenyan flags, burst into rapturous welcome as the 51 year old took the oath of office, becoming Kenya’s youngest president.In his inaugural address, Mr Kenyatta said he would govern for all Kenyans.“We will leave no community behind… Where there’s disillusionment, we’ll restore hope,” he said.The new government would abolish maternity fees in its first 100 days and children starting school next year would be given laptops, he added.

 In an apparent reference to the ICC case against him, he said: “I assure you again that under my leadership, Kenya will strive to uphold our international obligations, so long as these are founded on the well-established principles of mutual respect and reciprocity.”US and European diplomats attended the inauguration, despite warning before the election that they would have limited contact with Mr Kenyatta if he is voted into office.


 Among the African leaders present for the inauguration were South Africa’s Jacob Zuma, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni. Mr Museveni told the cheering crowd that he wanted to applaud Kenyans for rejecting the “blackmail” of the ICC.He supported the ICC when it was formed, but it was now being used by “arrogant actors” who were trying to “install leaders of their choice in Africa and eliminate those they don’t like”, he said.

 Mr Odinga – the outgoing prime minister – did not attend the ceremony, choosing to be on holiday in South Africa instead.Other senior members of his Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) party have also stayed away to signal their opposition to Mr Kenyatta’s presidency, correspondents say.

According to official results, Mr Kenyatta beat Mr Odinga by 50.07% to 43.28% in March, avoiding a run-off by just 8,100 votes.Mr Odinga challenged the result, but said he would respect the Kenyan Supreme Court’s ruling in Mr Kenyatta’s favour.The election was Kenya’s first after a disputed poll in 2007, which led to violence that left more than 1,200 people dead.

Mr Kenyatta is due to appear at the ICC for his trial in The Hague later this year, accused of crimes against humanity. He denies the charges.

Kenya is a party to the Rome Statute, the treaty which established the ICC in 2002.But like most African countries, it has refused to enforce the ICC warrant for Mr Bashir’s arrest.Earlier, Kenyan government spokesman Muthui Kariuki told the BBC that Mr Bashir had been invited and would not be arrested if he accepted the invitation.After Mr Bashir visited Kenya in 2010, a Kenyan court ruled that the government must arrest him if he returned, in line with its international obligations under the Rome Statute.The government is appealing against the ruling.

 *Source BBC


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Political Succession in Africa: Opponents versus Enemies
March 29, 2013 | 0 Comments

By James N. Kariuki*

Prof James KariukiBarack Obama’s first inauguration in January 2009 was by far more glorious than the one four years later. It captured the initial dramatic affirmation that America was sincerely loosening its grip on politics of racial hatred. To Africa, the same inauguration should have had an equally poignant message that political differences should not invariably degenerate into personal or ethnic hatred.

At the Obama’s first inauguration, bitter political rivals sat side by side united in their American-ness. The contest between Obama and Hillary Clinton for the Democratic Party’s nomination was bitter. Yet, despite her stunning defeat, Clinton sat immediately behind the new president at the inauguration. And yet this honorable act paled in comparison to Republican John McCain’s graciousness in his short concession-of-defeat speech two months earlier. Is such remarkable political sophistication worthy of Africa’s notice or emulation?

Philosophically, the US Republican Party does not have much to offer to the international community but, in context of American national the politics, it does play a significant role.  For example, in the 1996 presidential campaign the Republican contender, Robert Dole, was urged by his campaign subordinates to make some unflattering remarks against his Democratic rival, Bill Clinton. To his eternal credit Dole declined, stating that Clinton was his opponent, not his enemy.

Those simple words were loaded with political wisdom and maturity. Bob Dole disagreed with Bill Clinton on almost every political issue. Yet, more fundamentally, he knew and understood that both were comrades-in-arms in a shared interest in America’s welfare. The same sentiments were clearly there when McCain conceded to Obama.

That was patriotism; it was what bound them together as Americans.  In other words, Dole implied, it was important to be a Republican but it was more so that he, like Clinton, was American first and foremost.

In Africa, there is a prevailing tendency for presidential incumbents and contenders to view political differences as personal affronts. Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe has repeatedly shown personal loathing for the country’s opposition leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. Could it be the case that Kenya’s J.M. Kariuki lost his life in 1975 for questioning the moral authority of the country’s founding father, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta? What about Tom Mboya and Robert Ouko?

When public issues are personalized, visions of ‘national interests’ become blurred. Put another way, since African leaders have habitually fallen short of putting national visions above personal interests, they have betrayed the continent and their respective countries. This legacy is uncommon in the US experience.

In the American political history, Richard Nixon is remembered as the most ambitious politician at the presidential level. But this ambition was mitigated by national loyalty.  In 1960, Nixon lost in the bid for US presidency against John Kennedy. Yet, the margin was so small that Republican advisors urged Nixon to demand a recount.  Nixon dismissed the suggestion outright on the grounds that such a recount would have plunged the nation into a constitutional crisis.

While the so-called ‘ambitious’ Nixon could smell the pinnacle of power, he loathed the prospect of ripping his country apart constitutionally in the interest of his quest for personal power. His sense of being American left no room for distortion of national interests in pursuit of his ambitions.  He thus made the honorable choice: my-country-before-my-ambitions.

It is true that in the years to come, Nixon ambitiousness brought his presidency to grief when he resigned the presidency in disgrace because of the Watergate Scandal of the 1970s.  However, this does not minimize that his decision not to contest the 1960 election results was a measure of remarkable leadership and patriotism.

In Africa today, it is almost a fashionable trend to challenge election results. The ‘political disease’ first erupted in Angola’s 1992 national elections in form of what came to be known as the ‘Savimbi Syndrome,’ the claim that “either I win or the elections were not free and fair.”  In his ambitions Jonas Savimbi had popularized the notion that, if he did not win the 1992 elections, the voting process was faulty.  Question: if the election results were so clear even before the voting, why bother to vote at all?

Raila and OdingaCritics of the Savimbi Syndrome reject it because, inherently, elections presume that there will be losers and winners. Those who suggest otherwise merely are bent on destroying.  Savimbi himself did lose the 1992 national elections and, sure enough, he plunged Angola into the next phase of its protracted civil war. Yet, the Savimbi Syndrome virus had slowly drifted North-East to Kenya.

Just before the 2007-08 elections, Raila Odinga visited South Africa and was asked about his prospects in the impeding elections. He stated on national television, “In the absence of rigging, I will win.” Odinga did not win. All he did was repeat his self-proclaimed prophesy that if he did not win, the elections were rigged. That is all it took to plunge Kenya into senseless violence that verged on a civil war.

Five years later, in 2013, Raila Odinga repeated his political forecasting, that he would win the presidency against Uhuru Kenyatta, that the election “wouldn’t even be close.”  He was wrong on both counts: the elections were close and, again, he was the loser.

Once more, Raila Odinga has failed to accept principle that elections presume that there will be winners and losers and has challenged the announced election results in court. Meanwhile, he holds the nation at ransom: fulfill my ambitions or I will unleash disaster upon you.Raila Odinga has been a great political tactician but he has fallen short of becoming a genuinely patriotic Kenyan.

*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.



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In Kenya, the Next Big Oil Patch
March 17, 2013 | 0 Comments

By Eduard Gismatullin *



Kenya’s Great Rift Valley, a 450-mile-long volcanic trench ripped open by shifting tectonic plates, is known as the cradle of mankind for the million-year-old remains of human forebears discovered there. Oil drillers say the area also holds a string of fields that could make East Africa’s largest economy a major energy producer. The U.K.’s Tullow Oil (TLW) and Canada’s Africa Oil found crude at two wells last year and now plan up to 11 more test wells in 2013. The valley could yield 10 billion barrels, Tullow estimates, enough to supply Kenya for three centuries.

The discovery puts Kenya at the center of East Africa’s emerging oil industry. Uganda will soon start to produce the oil it discovered starting in 2006. Tullow and Africa Oil are drilling in Ethiopia. And South Sudan, the world’s newest nation and an established oil producer, is looking for new export routes that would bypass the country it broke away from. All this oil would probably be piped to Kenya’s coast.

With the continent’s oil industry centered on Nigeria in West Africa, East Africa has been overlooked. Of the more than 30,000 wells drilled in Africa, fewer than 500 were in East Africa, according to Afren, an oil explorer active in the region. “There was a giant underexplored hole on the map,” Africa Oil Chief Executive Officer Keith Hill says. “Now the world has woken up to East Africa. I’ve never seen a basin of this magnitude.”

Kenya imports all its oil, so securing a domestic energy supply and becoming a hub for area producers would boost an economy forecast to grow 6 percent this year. Officials in Nairobi are proposing a $5 billion plan to build a network of pipelines to a terminal on Kenya’s Indian Ocean coast. Tankers would then ship the oil to customers in China, India, and other Asian countries. “The interest of this country is to fast-track this process,” says Martin Heya, commissioner for petroleum.

Production in Kenya remains three years off. The Rift Valley fields are in a relatively underpopulated part of the country. To move a rig to the Great Rift Valley site takes 230 individual truckloads of equipment driving on dirt roads. Supplies must be flown in from Nairobi, two hours away.

Workers are guarded by policemen carrying Kalashnikovs in an area where cattle rustling can escalate into gun battles between tribes. “We had to stop the seismic crew for a day,” says Africa Oil Vice President James Phillips. “They were shooting at each other, not at us, but the guys on the seismic crew had to stop and lay down on the ground. There were a few bullets flying.”

The bottom line: If Kenya can raise $5 billion to build pipelines to the Indian Ocean coast, it can export the region’s newfound oil to Asia.

*Source Bloomberg Business Week

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