Thursday, 28 February 2013

Free speech as seen by a believer

Wrote an article on free speech from the point of view of those of Abrahamic faiths. Do check it out and let me know your thoughts!

Monday, 25 February 2013

Kenya’s second presidential debate

For the second and last time before the 4 March election, eight presidential candidates of Kenya took the stage for a televised debate. Although Uhuru Kenyatta, leader of the Jubilee Alliance, had declared last week he would not appear in protest over the attention given in the first debate to his status as International Criminal Court (ICC) suspect, Kenyatta reversed his decision in time to appear alongside his rivals. Just as with the first debate held two weeks before, this guaranteed a show-down between Kenya’s two titans: Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, leader of the CORD alliance. The two have been neck-and-neck in opinion polls with one week remaining before election day.

Discussion started with a question on what the minimum wage in Kenya should be. All candidates avoided giving a specific answer, missing a key chance to engage with ordinary wananchi (citizens). Martha Karua explained how it was not about a minimum wage but a livable wage and whether this was possible, but presenter Uduak Amimo responded by highlighting the enormous disparity between politicians’ pay cheques and Kenyans' average incomes. In reply, Mohammed Dida relaxed the atmosphere as he heralded how nobody should be allowed to be a ‘super Kenyan’; he advocated equity as ‘we all have the same stomachs.’

Kenyatta approached the question by arguing he would focus on bringing the cost of housing and food down. In turn, candidate Musalia Mudavadi said he would concentrate on the price of fuel.

Attention then turned to the country's gross inequality, which has been on an exponential rise. Presenter Amimo pointed out how in 1972 the International Labour Organization had suggested a freeze on the salaries of Kenya’s politicians, and asked the presidential candidates if they would commit to such a move.

None of the respondents chose to do so until Dida came out declaring how he would not only suggest a freezing of the salaries but also that politicians pay back some of what they had  already received. Odinga followed suit, albeit at a more measured pace, continuing that he would lead by example if elected.

This gave opening to directly addressing the question of corruption, only skirted upon at the close of the first presidential debate. All candidates were put pressure on to answer accusations both fresh and old. Paul Muite was asked whether he had indeed taken a 20 million KSh bribe but replied how this allegation had been part of an orchestrated campaign to silence his investigations into the Goldenberg scandal. He nevertheless accepted how ‘individuals around me may have got money’ at the time.

The next target was Mudavadi, dubbed by Ruth Nesoba in a BBC article as ‘Kenya’s kingmaker’ as he commands the support of voters that may tip the balance between Kenyatta and Odinga in the event of a second-round run-off between the two titans. He was asked to give an account of his role in the Goldenberg scandal as well as the more recent 2010 cemetery scandal. Mudavadi defended his position by arguing he was the one that had terminated Goldenberg, and that he had asked PWC to conduct an audit. On the cemetery scandal he claimed it was the Nairobi City Council making mistakes.

Karua was accused of not supporting whistle blowers of corruption during her time as Minister of Justice. She weakly replied that John Githongo, the corruption tsar who had first exposed the Goldenberg scandal, could not have been supported by her as he was out of the country at the time.

Odinga received focus for his involvement in various graft projects including the Kazi kwa Vijana (Work for Youth) scheme and the “maize scandal” of the urban food subsidy programme. Odinga replied that he had suspended ministers suspected of being involved in the maize scandal and defended the Kazi kwa Vijana scheme as having had a complicated and mixed outcome.

Although the stains of office had so far escaped presidential candidate Dida, he was quizzed about a company of his that organises Kenyans to work in the Middle East in domestic capacities. The presenter gave the hint that this could be a case of people-trafficking, given the poor treatment of foreign labour that results.

After Odinga stated “I stand hear with a clean conscience,” Dida drew laughs by putting his finger on the problem of debating corruption with politicians: “Do you expect a thief to tell you ‘I’ve stolen’?” He advanced that because Odinga had been in office for so long, he had to take some responsibility for the scandals that had plagued Kenya’s 9th and 10th parliaments. In response, Odinga emphasised how his hands had been tied by the violence of the 2007/8 period, and that he had during those years sacrificed his autonomy in taking political action for the sake of peace.

A tweet from Ory Okolloh, co-founder of Ushahidi, summed up the discussion on corruption, saying it was a ‘reminder that we are choosing who is the least criminal’.

The second half of the debate focused on the distribution of land and the country’s natural resources. This sparked intense argument between the candidates, and brought some of the fastest and hardest exchanges.

Peter Kenneth was the first to raise the stakes, arguing that the land issue could not be solved without someone with clean hands being in a position of leadership. Karua then struck out at Kenyatta, suggesting that the Kenyatta family was one of the largest land owners in Kenya and owned more than half of the country. She pushed at how Kenyatta’s running mate, William Ruto, was currently in court suspected of having stolen land in the wake of the 2007/8 post-election violence from Adrian Muteshi.

In a reputationally damaging display, Kenyatta never took by the horns the accusation that his family owned more than half of Kenya, leaving a gaping hole in the legitimacy of all his comments about the need for addressing indigenous rights. When pushed by the presenter on Karua's point, Kenyatta said that the Public Officer Ethics Act required parliamentarians to declare their wealth, and that if anyone wanted to find out they could consult the Speaker’s office.

Kenyatta attempted to dodge accusations by noting how Odinga had been the Prime Minister and had personally appointed the Minister for Land who had not solved the problem over the past five years. Odinga replied that the problem was one of ‘enough land for each one’s needs, but not enough land for each one’s greed.’ Referring to Kenyatta, he advised voters that ‘you cannot allow a hyena to protect your goats.’

Muite responded to the land issue by arguing he would repossess land that had been grabbed, but Kenyatta defended his position by affirming how ‘land that we own as a family has been purchased on the basis of willing buyer and willing seller.’

In a calculated move, Dida then pressed the wound caused on Kenyatta’s reputation by reading a Daily Star article where residents of Kiambu, the birthplace of Jomo Kenyatta (independence leader and father of Uhuru Kenyatta), were complaining how politicians of that area had taken advantage of the injustices the colonials had previously committed by grabbing all the land.

It is then that direct confrontation over the injustices of the land issue ensued. Odinga made a deft move by pretending he was sympathetic to Kenyatta having been put in a corner but then quipped how this was because Kenyatta was an ‘innocent inheritor—he did not commit the original sin’.

In response to an evocative question by a Nubian human rights activist, presidential candidate James ole Kiyiapi argued that the troubles suffered by the Nubian community was a case of local elites taking communal land. He decried the ‘willing buyer, willing seller’ mentality of Kenyatta, saying it was necessary to have safeguards in place for those indigenous communities oppressed by market forces they did not understand.

In a courageous move, the presenter then fielded the final question of the night in Kiswahili, and asked all respondents to respond likewise. Bringing the value of the presidential debate to a new level by suddenly connecting with a wider audience of Kenyans, the candidates thus closed their feisty discussion with the topic of the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), attempting to bring each other to account over why a permanent solution had still not been found five years after the displacement had occurred.

Candidates then summed up their positions, with Dida exhorting listeners to ‘consult your God for the right decision’ and Karua making an emotive appeal in Kiswahili to unite in building the country together. Although there was no overall winner of the debate, there was certainly a loser. The night was an embarrassment for Kenyatta's Jubilee Alliance campaign and will dent their chance of victory.

Kenya's presidential elections will be held on 4 March, with a second-round run-off scheduled two weeks later if a single candidate does not win over 50% of the votes in the first round.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Haja ya kuhutubu amani

Andikwa kwa Anne Makena, rafiki yangu:
(tafsiri kwa mimi)

Uhuru Kenyatta ni mwananchi wa Kenya, mwanasiasa na mfanyabiashara ambao ameajiri watu wengi na amekupa msaada kwa Wakenya wengi, hata wakulima wengi ambaye wanauza mazao yao kwa kampuni zake. Jumuia ya biashara yake ni muhimu kwa uchumi wetu na inatuauni mishahara kwa Wakenya wengi.

Raila Odinga amekuwa mwanasiasa wa taifa hili na amelipa sana kushinda kwa ukombozi wa pili. Ameteseka, amekamatwa, amehuzunika kwa sababu kwamba sisi (taifa lizima, wote wa kabila lolote) tunaweza kupokea uhuru na demokrasia. Watu wale wengine na amri wakitaka tuzuge, yeye ametukesha.

Halafu, swali langu ni hili:

Aidha kama hawa wawili hawajatoka kabila lako, je, unakuwa na nini dhidi Uhuru au Raila, mabwana wawili ambaye ni marafiki binafsi? Je, wawili ambaye hujawakutana na bila shaka hutawakutana?

La, mimi ninachagua si kuwa mtu wa kabila tu. Nahutubu penzi.

Tafadhali hutubu amani, penzi na umoja hadi tarehe ya nne, mwezi wa tatu, na milele na milele.

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Two key developments in the Kenyan presidential campaign

Today sees two important stories likely to impact heavily on Kenya's election of 4 March. The first is presidential candidate Uhuru Kenyatta's decision not to appear in the second round televised debate. After much discussion following the unprecedented exchanges in the first presidential debate, Kenyatta has chosen to withdraw participation in the next round. His Jubilee Alliance campaign team stated: "Our Candidate’s time can be better spent on the campaign trail rather than participating in a skewed, shambolic and farcical Second Debate." This means that only 7 of Kenya's main presidential candidates will appear on the evening of 25 February, guaranteeing weight and attention for Raila Odinga, who rivals Kenyatta in the opinion polls.

The decision of the Jubilee Alliance seems based on the way in which Kenyatta was seemingly victimised through discussion of his ICC trial. The campaign team explained: "It was profoundly unprofessional and tasteless for Kaikai [the TV presenter] to use the ICC indictments as a platform for allowing the other candidates to ride roughshod over Uhuru without equally raising questions related to their suitability and competency."

However, spokespersons of Odinga's coalition, CORD, have framed this as an avoidance of the land question, due to be discussed at the next debate. The CORD campaign team commented: "We are shocked that the Jubilee Alliance’s flag bearer Hon. Uhuru Kenyatta has persistently evaded the issue of land whenever questions are raised and we are not surprised at his withdrawal from the 2nd National Presidential Debate".

The land question is so politically charged that this framing of Kenyatta's actions will certainly embitter relations between the two parties as the country enters the more intense weeks of the campaign trails. The likely outcome is that sensible communication between the groups about ownership of land or land distribution grinds to a halt. At the same time, Kenyatta's refusal to participate in the second debate will be used by political opponents to emphasise his unwillingness to engage in peaceful discussion.

In a second key turning point, Chief Justice Willy Mutunga has today announced that he received a death threat from a group describing themselves as the "Mungiki Veterans Group / Kenya Sovereignty Defence Squad". As Dr Mutunga explained, "The letter warns against an adversarial ruling on the presidential and deputy presidential candidacy of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. The letter extols the violent 'exploits' of the Mungiki Movement and threatens dire consequences." It arrived prior to the decision on whether to bar Kenyatta and his running-mate William Ruto from standing in the election due to their statuses as ICC suspects. 

However, it is not clear who the real author of the letter was. The Mungiki allegedly disbanded as a militant group in 2009, and its previous leader, Maina Njenga, recently joined the CORD Alliance under the political party Mkenya Solidarity. There has not yet been any commentary on whether the letter to the Chief Justice swayed the judgment that gave the green light to Kenyatta and Ruto's running for office, but regardless of this fact, the mere awareness of previous Mungiki supporters operating in connection to one of the two main electoral blocks is unnerving for the political situation. Although this is likely to be interpreted as something coordinated through the highest levels of the Jubilee Alliance in order to force the hands of the courts, an article in The Standard, one of Kenya's most established newspapers, does well to point out: "It has not been established whether the letter came from Mungiki, supporters of the two Jubilee leaders or political rivals using it as a black propaganda attack." If framed as the latter, it will necessarily intoxicate relations between supporters of Kenyatta and supporters of Odinga. Combined with Kenyatta's recent refusal to participate in televised debate, the scene is set for the same to-and-fro of allegations that led to upheavals in the past.

Friday, 15 February 2013

A note to diplomats on Kenyatta, the ICC and the presidential race

There are two levels to the debate over the International Criminal Court's (ICC) trial of Uhuru Kenyatta for crimes committed in the post-election turmoil of 2007/8. One level is domestic and the other international. The international is of course important for diplomats, but it is crucial to bear in mind how it fails to have much impact on domestic discussions because most Kenyans have either come to distrust the motives of the ICC or feel that, for it to have been fair, Raila Odinga should also be under trial for his role in mobilising violent protests in 2007/8. Regardless of the truth of these claims, it is important not to underestimate the sense in which the ICC has been politicised in the eyes of many Kenyan citizens. This is made especially easy by the fact that most on-the-ground experiences of courts in Kenya are that they are open to corruption and political pressure. The judiciary is changing for the better, but this does not bring trust in judicial bodies overnight. In this way, the image of the ICC suffers from domestic experiences of miscarriages of justice.

Whilst Kenyatta is able to uphold a spirit of full complicity during this election campaign, there is support he could draw on if he came to power that would allow him to change his mind and stop complying. It is likely that Kenyatta would reverse his position of support for the ICC process if he were to take office, involving something like a domestic review of the Rome Statute together with the simultaneous creation of a local court. To facilitate this process, he might delay participation with the current ICC trial and continue a suspected tactic of eliminating witnesses due to appear against him (see the BBC article here; for Kenyatta's original request for witness identities, see this article). This process would last until either the trial finds no evidence to stand on, or a local court has sufficient credibility in the eyes of political supporters of Kenyatta to justify a departure from the ICC.

In terms of statements by international actors and diplomats against Kenyatta being free to stand for office in the election on 4 March, these are unlikely to get weaker for two reasons. First, the more comments that are made, the more this will be framed as a West vs. Africa confrontation which, if pursued, would just play into the hands of Kenyatta. The second is that, in my opinion, Odinga is much more likely to win this presidential race, and polls may bear that out in the two weeks preceding the second round run-off. This will give diplomats reason to "wait and see" who wins, before they use up their political capital.

Monday, 11 February 2013

Kenya’s first presidential debate

Yesterday, the presidential candidates of Kenya took to the nation’s mainstream television and radio stations for the country’s first ever presidential debate. The debate aimed to engage the candidates in matters close to the heart of Kenyan voters as they approach the first round of the presidential election on 4 March. Perhaps sensing that this was an historic moment, the eight candidates started stiff yet polished, showing a crisp concern for the dilemmas that have faced Kenyan politics for the past five years.

On the first main topic of ‘tribalism’, leaders maintained that, as James Ole Kiyiapi argued, ‘all Kenyans are born equal’. Uhuru Kenyatta started with a strong rejection, saying: ‘tribalism is a cancer that has afflicted this country’ and suggesting that the implementation of the constitution would help confront it. Raila Odinga countered by acknowledging that, although ‘ethnicity is a disease of the elite’, it cannot be denied that ‘Kenyans come from somewhere—they cannot come from the moon.’

The presenter pushed the concern specifically towards Kenyatta and Odinga, suggesting their political campaigns were being based around specific ethnic groups. ‘We are conducting a national campaign’, responded Kenyatta, claiming that when he had recently asked a community not to divide their vote this was nothing other than encouraging the most effective way of supporting his candidacy. Odinga also firmly countered  attempts to frame the election as an ethnic confrontation by saying, ’I agree totally with my brother Uhuru Kenyatta. We have nothing personal, in fact, we are brothers’. This was a strong moment of unity, and Odinga backed it up by repeating how he had, in 2002, voted for the Kikuyu candidate Mwai Kibaki, telling everyone at the time, ‘Kibaki tosha’ (Kibaki is enough).

There was no let up by the presenter on tackling the tension surrounding the electoral campaign, with focus concentrating on the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) charges against presidential candidate Kenyatta and his running-mate William Ruto.  Asked how his team can govern whilst at the same time standing trial at the ICC, Kenyatta answered, ‘we have not been found guilty in any way’. He argued that he would handle the issue of clearing his name whilst at the same time acting as president.

Presidential candidates Mohammed Dida and Martha Karua depicted Kenyatta and Ruto’s refusal to stand down from office until being cleared by the courts as going against the spirit of justice, and Odinga drew laughs as he reprimanded that it was ‘not practical’ and would ‘pose serious challenges to run a government by Skype’. Kenyatta countered that this was a question for the Kenyan people to decide. He reiterated that he was vying for an elected position, not an appointed one, and that this meant it was not illegal for him to stand.

Focus then turned to why a local trial had failed to be set up during the last parliament to try the ICC suspects. Whilst the candidates scrambled to demonstrate how much they had made efforts to resolve the issue locally, Karua teamed up with Kenyatta to accuse Odinga as having secretly supported going to the ICC. In response, Odinga distanced himself from the claim, pointing out that it was Kenyatta and Ruto who were in support of an ICC process until they realised they were among the suspects.

On the question of why political parties were so transitory in Kenya, Odinga explained how this was a challenge facing countries that have come from a single-party system, and a comparable process could be seen in the democracies of Eastern Europe. When challenged by the presenter on what consistent ideology he had, however, he made an unconvincing response: ‘social democracy’.

Closing part one of the two-part debate, candidates were challenged on whether the island of Migingo on Lake Victoria should be considered part of Kenya. Kenyatta and Peter Kenneth responded with convincing statements that Migingo was part of Kenya,  while Odinga emphasised how it was ‘inconceivable that Kenya and Uganda would go to war over a piece of rock’. Paul Muite came out with the most extreme position, controversially saying he would ‘send the navy’ before negotiating because Uganda did not have one.

The second round of the debate fielded questions from the audience, chosen to exhibit the concerns of a diverse mix of Kenyans. The first question brought to the fore the issue of the Tana River killings between the Pokomo and Orma peoples during 2012. Candidates assured the public of their commitment to internal security with Kenneth arguing that he would cut the indulgences of government to help fund security reform. Odinga instead responded to the question more indirectly, explaining that pastoralism was an increasingly difficult issue in the light of climate change and deploring the fact that Kenya was fixed in a ‘cowboy culture’ last seen in the United States before the industrial revolution.

In response to questions texted and tweeted in, the presenter asked whether the candidates could give assurances that the violence of the 2007/8 elections would not be repeated. To this, Odinga’s opening shot was that he had participated in the last four elections and that it was only in the last one that violence occurred after the results came in. He asked the media to help the campaign not follow ethnic lines, a point seconded by Kiyiapi.Karua focused on the role of the judiciary, saying  ‘if one is unhappy, you go to the court’. All candidates noted that they would accept defeat, with Kenneth summing up the mood by stating: ‘Kenya is greater than all of us’. Dida went on to further raise the moral tone, however, positing ‘I don’t know why people have run away from God’, and noting how God had already decided who would win the presidential election so it was something we have to accept.

In response to a question on the lack of citizens transferring from primary to secondary education, Kenneth insisted that the previous government had borrowed enormous sums and then wasted the money. Madavadi speculated over privatising the Mombasa port and the country’s airports as a way of raising money for government, whilst Odinga placed specific emphasis on the need for sanitary towels to be provided for primary schools so that girls were given an equal chance of proceeding to secondary education.

Attention was then drawn to the extreme discrepancy in pay between teachers and politicians, leading to quick exchange between Karua, Kenneth, Odinga and Kenyatta. Karua brought up how lavish the spending had been on political campaigns and asked: ‘if they continue with that lavish spending, where will the money come from?’ In response, Odinga brought laughs by quipping ‘campaign time is campaign time’, and that money is raised for it through private fundraising. But Kenneth pushed him further, asking why he had earlier admitted the government had lost KSh 30bn. Odinga replied that this was attributable to the fact that the previous government was a coalition, saying ‘there is very little you can do’ and passing the buck to Kenyatta. The previous Minister of Finance agreed that ‘there is a lot of wastage in government’ but responded that it was the Prime Minister’s Office that was guilty of the biggest misuse of funds for foreign trips.

By the end of the debate the mood had eased, with candidates speaking more openly and revealing a sense of their characters, if not exactly how they would go about tackling corruption. Dida caused ripples of laughter by describing how politicians were eating so much they did not even know how to leave first, space for food; second, space for water; and third, space for breathing.

Kenya’s first presidential debate can be counted a victory for the country’s media, who came together on an unprecedented scale. Candidates will face each other for a second time on 25 February.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A poem for Adrian Muteshi

Adrian Muteshi at court.
I have written this poem for Adrian Muteshi, who has been going to court since the 2008 post-election violence for land he lost in Kenya’s Rift Valley to William Ruto, MP for Eldoret North. Written below in Kiswahili and then English.

Nasimama peke yangu, siyakini.

Siyakini mimi ni nani, sasa.

Kiswanja si kama pesa;
Si kama shillingi na fedha.

Nakataa malipo toka yeye, shetani langu. Pesa si kiswanja, haziwezi kuishi.

Je, pesa zinaweza kutembeza watoto wangu, kama kiswanja changu kimenitembeza mimi?

Je, pesa zinaweza kukua kama kiswanja kinaweza kukua,
            misimu ufuasi kama nyayo,
            kuzeeka na kurutubika, kama kicheko cha mke?

Kiswanja changu ni mzee wangu, kudumu na kusubiri;
Roho la kabila, na mawazo makubwa.

Hapa katika hakama ninakaa peke yangu, sina roho.

Tulipambana na miezi ya mapigiano, kaka ya Kenya alimpiga mwingine kwa sawa,
Kuua na kutoka,
kushika nchi.

Nchi yangu, kiswanja changu.

Kilishika pia. Kama mandazi toka mikono ya mtoto.

Lakini mimi si mtoto, na mikono haya ni nguvu zaida ya shetani lile limeona;
Mimi ni Mkenya mpya.

Katika hakama hili nasubiri kwa yeye, Ruto, shetani langu.

Jana alisema kwamba hawezi kuja kwa sababu shahidi lake alikuwa mgonjwa.

Leo anasema kwamba alinunua kiswanja changu na usawa,
            toka mke ambaye alikuwa na miaka sita kama kisa hiki kiko kweli.

Hajaona kwamba mimi si katika jana yake, hata mimi si katika leo yake.

Nimo katika kesho, na kwa hivyo hawezi kushinda. Jina langu ni Muteshi. Nasubiri katika hakama kwa sababu alfajiri ya Kenya itafika.


I stand alone, not sure.

Not sure of who I am, anymore.

Land is not like money;
It is not like notes and coins.

I refuse payment from him, my persecutor. Money is not land, it does not live.

Can money accompany my children, as my land accompanied me?

Can money change as land changes,
            seasons following like footsteps,
            ageing and enriching, like a wife’s smile?

My land is my elder, steadfast and sure;
A kindred spirit, with thoughts deep.

Here in court I stand alone, soulless.

Months of violence we faced, brother Kenyan turning on brother Kenyan,
To kill and chase away,
To take the land.

My land.

Taken too, like mandazi whipped from a child’s hands.

Yet I am no child, and these hands are stronger than my persecutor sees;
I am a new Kenyan.

In this courtroom I wait for him, Ruto, my persecutor.

Yesterday he said he could not come because his witness was sick.
Today he says he bought my land fairly,
from a lady who would have then been six years old if his story is true.

What he fails to see is that I am not in his yesterday and I am not in his today.

I am in the tomorrow, and that is why he cannot win. My name is Muteshi. I wait in the court room because Kenya’s dawn will come.