The Africanists

Insights. Comments. Thoughts. Analysis. Africa.

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They were good guys, but not terrorists. Why did it take so long for the West to support Mandela?

 Sir Nick Stadlen, a former High Court Judge, has made a remarkable new film about the Rivonia trial called Life Is Wonderful: Mandela’s Unsung Heroes.

The 1955 Rivonia treason trial in South Africa was an event of monumental, almost biblical stature. Not just was – is. Nelson Mandela and his comrades were on trial for their lives. The African National Congress leaders had been caught red-handed at a house called Liliesleaf Farm north east of Johannesburg as they plotted a campaign of guerrilla warfare. They had realised that the Apartheid government would never concede democracy to black people in South Africa and that armed resistance was the only way forward. The police found detailed plans for a bombing campaign and details of many key members and activists. 30 of these were put on trial. After years of failed peaceful protest, the ANC had decided to take up arms against a race-based political and social system that deprived them of the rights of freedom and democracy, reduced human beings to brutal slavery and questioned their very humanity.

 Sir Nick Stadlen, a former High Court Judge, has made a remarkable new film about the trial called Life Is Wonderful: Mandela’s Unsung Heroes. It’s a clever title because the accused were not executed, as they expected, but given life sentences. The film was recently shown at the British Museum and I hope it gets a global showing. It brought together many of those who were, in one way or another, part of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa and the UK. Sir Sydney Kentridge, the last surviving lawyer for the accused, introduced the film. Most of the audience were old and grey but their straightforward self-confidence and simple attire suggested that many of them had resisted and fought against apartheid.

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Life style audits in Kenya a good idea to fight corruption

By Willy Mutunga

Lifestyle audits of state/public officers is a great idea. Our political elites are never short of great ideas. In every great idea coming from them we must always ask the attendant question, namely, is there political will and commitment to implement the idea or is the idea yet another example of political distraction from what ails our nation?

In a public statement in May this year President Kenyatta told the nation there would a lifestyle audit that would begin with him followed by the Deputy President. Who would oppose such a great idea? I do not recall anybody who did.

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Grand handshakes in Kenya reconfirm the interest of the political elite

When things go wrong. Aftermath of election in 2018(Photo Ilona Eveleens in Kisumu)

By Willy Mutunga

The handshake between President Uhuru and Raila Odinga on March 09, 2018 was not the first of baronial handshakes we have seen nor will it be the last. But the last of them will be when an alternative political leadership that can imagine our freedom and emancipation takes the reins of political power in our country.

“When Baba told us he was leading us to Canaan we did not know he meant the Office of the President!” one Kenyan tweeted, expressing the views held by many including public intellectuals who did not see this turn of events coming.

Hitherto, the narrative had been that the National Super Alliance (NASA) was the lesser of the two political evils, but the truth is they are both pawns in the hands of the imperialisms of the West and East. Indeed, their shared vision of looting the country can never set them apart.
However, I believe the swearing-in of Raila Odinga as the People’s President on January 30, 2018, is the straw that broke the camel’s back. The ceremony confirmed Odinga as a leader of the new national opposition with a following to be reckoned with. Proving he had the capacity to mobilise millions could not be taken lightly or ignored.
I saw a clear parallel from the past when Jaramogi Odinga resurrected our hopes of fighting the Moi-KANU dictatorship and the heralding of the so-called second liberation. Speaking in Bondo in his trademark shrill voice he warned Moi: “Moi-i-i-i, you do not have the title deeds to Kenya.”


I believe the current Jubilee dictatorship saw this too and negotiations started soon after with meetings booked in order to “maintain the peace”. Apparently, the staff at the Office of the President who saw Odinga walk in feared he had decided to physically evict President Uhuru from his official seat!

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How foreign aid has become unwanted

Airport Juba(Photo Petterik Wiggers)Photo Petterik Wiggers

Immediately upon arrival in the South Sudanese capital Juba, the sight of white relief workers is overwhelming. At the airport there are long rows of white-painted aid aircrafts and helicopters, from the United Nations, the Red Cross and Doctors Without Borders. In the city one gets stuck in traffic jams of four-wheel-drive vehicles owned by foreign aid workers. The aid industry has taken over South Sudan, it organizes air transport, arranges tasks for ministries and keeps the economy running.
Such aid dependency increasingly irritates African governments, this is in strong states like Rwanda and Eritrea as well as in ‘failed’ states such as Congo and South Sudan. This has been the case for years, but since the turn of the century, Africa has seen remarkably high economic growth and increasing political stability. That is why governments have become more assertive. The painful dependency on the one hand and self-confidence on the other creates tension.
African countries increasingly consider the presence of foreign aid groups and the UN as an unwanted interference. Foreign aid is in danger and becomes a political toy.

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The difficulty of South Sudan’s transition to statehood

Independence day(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

South Sudan has gone from Arab to Dinka domination. The dire situation may vindicate those who had doubted the ability of the Southern Sudanese to govern themselves. However, I am convinced that it is not about the people of South Sudan failing to govern themselves; rather, it is the political leadership in South Sudan failing to meet the aspirations of the people.

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Africa – The long view


Why did European countries take over of Africa? Was it inevitable? What might have been if they had agreed to establish diplomatic and trading relations with African rulers? What was Africa like then? What glimpses do we have from the first outsider?

Afbeeldingsresultaat voor picture Verney Lovett Cameron

I have just finished reading a little known book by Verney Lovett Cameron, a British naval officer who walked across Africa from Bagamoyo on the coast of Tanzania to Benguela in Angola. It took him four years from the beginning of 1872 to 1875 and he nearly died – several times. His aim was to find the sources of the Congo river and discover which streams he crossed might lead him to it. But in this he failed and was forced to head to the west coast which he finally reaches sick and exhausted. Today Cameron comes across as an honest, determined but unimaginative man who carried all the racial attitudes of the time but is deeply sympathetic to African societies which are being destroyed by slavers who create roaming gangs of displaced people who rape, rob and kill to survive. As Cameron and his train of carriers and guards make their way across the continent they become weaker and more and more dependent on the very people Cameron was determined to expose: the slave traders, Arab and African.

Two shocking facts – new to me – and a question emerged from the book. In Europe’s schools today we are taught that Britain “abolished the Atlantic slave trade” in 1807. In fact it continued. Portugal agreed to stop taking Africans to America in 1836 but did not enforce it. Nor did the United States and Britain. So Portuguese ships continued to take slaves from southern and central Africa to Brazil and the southern Caribbean across the southern Atlantic until the 20th century. Brazil was ruled by Portugal until 1822 but it did not abolish slavery until 1888. In east, central and southern Africa millions of Africans were seized and force marched as slaves to Zanzibar to work on plantations there or sent north to “Arabia”. My question is why aren’t Saudi Arabia, Yemen and the Gulf not – like Brazil – populated by the descendants of black Africans?

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South Sudan: crying in despair

(Photo Johannes Dieterich)Nyaruch Kuon anxiously holds the stick that her granddaughter used to lead her through a war zone to the primary school in Akobo. After a week of wandering, the old woman sinks down to the ground in a classroom between other displaced people. She wildly rubs her dull eyes on her wrinkled face. “I cried and cried and I wept over the death of my sons, until my eyes gave way,” she says.

Last month, when government soldiers set fire to her house, three of her sons died. Yesterday she lost her youngest son, killed by a militia affiliated to the government.

Never before has South Sudan sunk so deeply, never before has the misery been so great. Between 1955 and 1972 and again between 1983 and 2005, the South Sudanese fought for separation from the Arabized north of Sudan. Once independent, they attacked each other with so much venom, that an unprecedented humanitarian tragedy broke out: hundreds of thousands of people were killed, 4 million people fled, half of the 12 million South Sudanese became dependent on foreign food aid.
There is political solution is in sight. Both government and rebels camps are fragmenting, the economy is broke and the outside world does not know how to stop the violent implosion.
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Death eroticizes the senses and erodes the norms at the frontline

A reflection on the Oxfam scandal

The area around the NGO worker’s tent is littered with cigarette butts, his sleeping mat surrounded with half-eaten food remains. Every day he eats beans and smokes two packs of cigarettes. His body is covered in tattoos. He does a lot of talking and does not listen much. I recently saw him establish a base for thousands of displaced people in a war zone. If you travel to the remote corners of disaster-hit countries you need to be a little crazy. Those who do it – aid workers and journalists – sometimes resemble psychopaths.
On the front line, aid workers and journalists run the risk of losing their naivety, their health and sometimes their minds. You feel like a mercenary or a fool. Three United Nations employees wrote a book about it in 2004: Emergency sex. Their bosses in New York wanted the book banned. They could not believe the passages which honestly talked about sex in response to violence and even sex during violence. They did not understand that it is precisely in these circumstances that the need for a hot body and a cold glass of beer is so dire.
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A tribute to the rains


The pungent smell of raindrops in the dust after a long drought can make a Kenyan lyrical. There is a cacophony of mating sounds in the kraals of nomads where they live with their cattle. Sexually aroused donkeys keep the Samburu’s awake. It is raining heavily in Kenya; nature is reborn and every animal wants to reproduce. Six months ago, at the height of the drought crisis, three million Kenyans needed emergency aid.

Now birds chase after the fluttering termites. Fresh flowers smells on the wet earth. Children glide through the mud on their bare buttocks and try to catch the birds. “The world is laughing again”, says the young shepherd Lengai. “With drought, nature is silent, you cannot even hear goats and sheep from a distance anymore. Now they run and jump. Everyone is happy”.

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When police start throwing stones

scannen000001When policemen become rioters. This picture in the Kenyan Standard of the 20th of November shows it all.

On that day the Supreme court declined two petitions to nullify the 26th of October repeat elections, won by sitting president Uhuru Kenyatta with 98 percent of the vote. The opposition under Raila Odinga refused to participate.

The electoral scene is most likely now going to switch from the court room to the streets: Jubilations in the case of Kenyatta’s supporters, demo’s in opposition areas.

Violence got dirtier this weekend. First, several people died when Odinga was welcomed at the airport by his supporters. His supporters that day also allegedly attacked cars owned by Kikuyu’s, seen as supporters of Kenyatta. As a revenge, presumably members of the Mungigi Kikuyu sect attacked Luo supporters of Odinga in a slum Saturday night.

With this rapid deterioration violence may get out of hand. And going by these pictures, the policy seems not to be neutral anymore.

Hands off the Judiciary! Will the Kenyan elite ever grow up?


By Willy Mutunga, Former Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court

The Kenyan elite and its variants in the political, corporate (licit and illicit), civil society, media, intelligentsia and the diaspora, need to grow up and cease their superficial dramas and look past their noses to see that their theatrics have far-wide reaching consequences that affect millions of lives.

But the million-dollar question is can they ever grow up?

The factions of the divisive Kenyan elite have consistently subverted one important pillar in the 2010 vision of the Constitution – The one on building strong institutions to deliver on the promise of democracy to the country.

The Judiciary continues to endure vicious attacks on its independence and whenever elections take place, followed as they are invariably by electoral disputes – the Judiciary is never spared. More likely, it gets thrown into centre ring for all sides to rain their blows.

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How fear and violence became part of elections in Kenya

Election violence 2007/8 Phot Petterik Wiggers

Women of the Nandi and the Luo no longer want to wash their clothes together in the River of Lions, the river dividing their tribal areas. Because of the forthcoming elections, tensions between their tribes have risen to boiling point.

“I see signs of violence,” says Atieno Atito, teacher in the village of Kopere on the right bank. To the right of the river, on the plains of Lake Victoria, live the Luo’s, to the left in the hills live the Nandi’s. Every day Atito sees Luo’s with trucks full of household goods departing from Nandi dominated area. In schools and churches in Kopere, preparations are made for the reception of displaced persons.

“They are different from us,” Atito points out to a hill across the river. “They are voting for the government party of President Uhuru Kenyatta, we are for the party of opposition leader Raila Odinga. These people at the other side of the river think that in a democracy the winners take all, including our fields. That’s why, since the introduction of the multi-party system, Kenya has no longer known peace.”
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Delivering justice is not the job of activists and journalists. Revisiting the Rusatira Affair

By Jos van Oijen

The arrest then release of Colonel Rusatira is often held up as an example of false accusations against genocide suspects. But a new look at the evidence raises the possibility that justice was not served but obstructed.

For the United Nations, the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi in Rwanda will always be remembered with shame as it failed to act and prevent the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people. But even within this embarrassing stain on the international body’s history, there are some moments which are even more woeful than others.

One of those is the massacre that took place at the Don Bosco Ecole Technique Officielle (ETO) in Kicukiro, on the outskirts of the capital Kigali. Just a few days into the genocide, thousands of Tutsis had sought refuge at the school because UN forces were stationed there. But on 11 April 1994, the peacekeepers abandoned the post to evacuate Westerners.

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God has lost the key to make rain in Turkana

Turkana areaA dark cloud emerges above the cruel landscape of sand, stones, rocks and thorny bushes. On the plains as dry as cardboard live the last hardened cattle nomads. “The pattern of the blood vessels on the intestines of a goat we slaughtered yesterday show that there are still a few showers coming”, the tribal elder Muchu points to the cloud. Muchu belongs to Turkana, tribal people living in this extreme northwestern corner of Kenya around the borders of South Sudan and Ethiopia. Again, the rainy season has failed in most parts of Kenya this year. One drought has come on top of the other, for years now. In inhospitable areas like here, the nomads have come to a standstill because of climate change.

Maybe one car a day travels to the hamlet of Lokamarinyang, there are no roads but tracks. Children with little blubber buttocks pray for food or water, the elderly have protruding chests and legs like sticks. “Look at our mouths”, points an elder to his lip ring. “Did we have tea this morning? Our women and children eat the hides of carcasses”.

A group of slow-moving men sits down on boulders under an acacia tree. They talk about old days. A crisis that started many decades ago has reached its breaking point. It is not just about the devastating drought of 1960, that the Turkana refer to as Namator (“the time when the bones of camels showed themselves”). Or the one of 1980, or of 2011, or the present one. Due to the culmination of the increasingly occurring droughts, life is hardly possible any more in Turkana. “God has lost the key to making rain,” says a man.
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Eritrea: Woldeab Woldemariam, even after death they tried to silence him


Woldeab Woldemariam, a Visionary Eritrean Patriot, Biography

By Dawit Mesfin

Now I know why a monument has been erected for Alexander Pushkin, the renowned Russian poet, in the heart of Asmara, while the country’s first independence campaigner, one who co-fathered Eritrea alongside Ibrahim Sultan and other nationalists of the 1940s, is brushed aside.

Although my primary objective is to evoke a picture of Eritrea via the story of a unique individual set in an era prior to the armed struggle, I came to realize the portrayal of Woldeab Woldemariam’s story would only cover certain aspects of the history of Eritrea. It does not do justice to those aspects shaped by Sheik Ibrahim Sultan, Tessema Asberom, Abdulkadir Kebire and others.  And then there are those who opposed Woldeab and his fellow campaigners of the Eritrea-for-Eritreans campaign. But they own the other side of the story. This is Woldeab’s.

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Yemane Gebreab

The Ultra Nationalist Youth Wing of the Eritrean Government’s Party

Affronted in the Netherlands

By Dawit Mesfin

The youth wing of the ruling party of Eritrea had a plan to hold a European wide conference in Veldhoven , the Netherlands from the 13th to 17th of April, 2017. However, Eritrean activists successfully launched an appeal for the Dutch authorities to halt the gathering.  The conference was stopped after a Dutch court backed the mayor of Veldhoven in closing the gathering, arguing that it was detrimental to safety and security of local residents.  The event was going to be headed by President Isaias Afwerki’s senior adviser and right-hand man, Yemane Gebreab, whose arrival was described by the Dutch cabinet as “awkward”.  He was denied official reception by the government and eventually blocked from conducting a seminar for the Young People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (YPFDJ).

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Etnic backlash may desintegrate South Sudan in ungovernable places

Back to war

By Peter Adwok Nyaba

The legendary riddle of ‘chicken and egg’ corroborates the current realities of South Sudan civil war, whose effects have rendered irrelevant its causes and triggers, but at the same time have left the culprits, the victims and the mediators bewildered.

The absence of policy tools to address the crisis left the region and the international community with only two options: confine Dr. Riek Machar to South Africa, and give President Salva Kiir six months to clear the SPLM/A (IO). The consequences now register as dire humanitarian situation, refugees and famine.

A few days ago, Mr. Festus Mogae, Chairman of Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC) paid a visit to Dr. Riek Machar Teny-Dhurgon, the SPLM/A (IO) leader holed up in South Africa since November 2016. The purpose of the visit was to ask Dr. Riek to renounce violence, declare unilateral ceasefire and come back to Juba to join the national dialogue (ND) President Salva Kiir decreed last December. It was like adding insult to injury.

Mr. Mogae’s mission proves the very truth that the cause of the war is trying to catch up with its effects in view of the message he delivered. Mr. Mogae’s mandate is to monitor and to evaluate the implementation of the agreement on resolution of crisis in South Sudan (ARCISS).

Since July 2016, Mr. Mogae has been telling the world the opposite of what actually was happening in South Sudan. Intimidated by Information minister, Makuei et al, Mr. Mogae is reduced to a messenger; ferrying messages from President Salva Kiir Mayardit and the Jieng Council of Elders (JCE) to Dr. Riek Machar.

This new assignment undoubtedly puts Mr. Mogae in an embarrassing situation of admitting that ARCISS is definitely dead and this necessitates a return to the drawing board.

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Is nature conservation in Africa ‘a big white lie’

Dzanga Sangha(Photo Petterik Wiggers)


Photo Petterik Wiggers

Colorful butterflies flutter in the few rays of sunlight that penetrate the bottom of the humid jungle. At a water hole where two days ago poachers killed a forest elephant the stench of rotting flesh fills in the air. The biological cycle is particularly fast here; the poached animal has already for the most part been devoured by soldier ants and other insects. “This is the heart of the Congo Basin”, says German biologist John Kirchgatter, “this area is unique for its biodiversity”. John Kirchgatter works for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
A little further on a gorilla with a bulging belly sits leaning against a tree picking his ear. Attentively he follows his females who are eating leaves nearby. He coughs, then they answer. When there is no response, he calls “hu hu”, followed by threatening strikes on his chest. The wildlife park Dzanga Sangha is a haven for biologists and an abattoir for poachers.
Photo Petterik Wiggers

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We must not give up on revolutionary optimism in Kenya

Election violence 2008(Photo Petterik Wiggers)


Kenyan former chief justice Willy Mutunga speaks out. “We must not give up on revolutionary optimism”, he warns in this piece. Since a new and progressive constitution was promulgated in 2010, reactionary forces try to undermine it. But “the struggle to implement the progressive vision of this Constitution continues today”. Mutunga praises devolution, which he sees as “transformation from the margins”.

This article first appeared on the website of Transformation.

On August 27 2010 Kenya promulgated a progressive Constitution whose vision is social democracy. It’s a vision of the promotion and protection of the whole gamut of human rights; the equitable distribution of political power and the resources of society; and the creation of a nation out of different ethnic groupings. The Constitution aims to bring an end to the organization of politics through divisions; mitigate the protection of private property in land; cement agreement on national values and principles; promote integrity in public and private leadership; and build depersonalized national institutions.

The struggle to implement the progressive vision of this Constitution continues today. The elite forces of the status quo who found this vision unacceptable are resisting its implementation at every step. As the latest stage in this process, Kenya will hold new elections on August 8, 2017. I was Chief Justice and President of the Supreme Court of Kenya from 2011 to 2016, so I’ve observed and participated in this process first-hand. Given the efforts of the political elite to resist the implementation of the Constitution, I became convinced that the Judiciary had to play a pivotal role in defending and advancing it. We consciously developed a jurisprudence that promoted the Constitution’s robust implementation, and in that way the Judiciary became a political actor.

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Jammeh left in dignity leaving his tormented victims behind


A red carpet was laid out at the airport of Banjul and a brass band played. That is how Yahya Jammeh was escorted out of the Gambia on Saturday night January 21. The dictator, with an oversized ego and a childish love for cars, wanted to take one of his Rolls-Royces with him, but the new president Adama Barrow put a stop to that.

The dignified departure of Jammeh from Gambia after 22 years was made possible by international negotiators. After his pledge Friday January 20 on television that he would resign – he had his rule extended after his election defeat by a declaration of a three-month state of emergency – yet he refused to immediately leave the country. He succeeded to get a good deal with the negotiators of the UN, the African Union and the regional grouping ECOWAS. A document of the three organizations praises Jammeh for its goodwill and statesmanship.

In the village of Tujereng, forty kilometers south of the capital, five torture victims throw their hands in the air -out of disbelief- when they hear about the document. “How is it possible that he could leave this way?”, says an old man called Ibrahim Jaban. “I want to do to him what he did with me. I want to kill him.” Jaban lost an eye and broke his shoulder blade during torture.
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The pearls in the mud of Congo

Kinshasa Photo Johannes Dieterich

In the narrow, muddy streets of Masina, one of Kinshasa’s popular quarters, the sound of rumba blends with hysterical singing from Pentecostal churches; the stench of rotting garbage is peppered with the smell of marijuana. By the site of a clogged sewer, women seated under umbrellas sell fresh pineapples, a man with a tray of eggs on his head steps over a drunk guy. On a wall is written boma biso, Lingala for “Kill us.”

There’s not an inch of space to spare in the crowd. A young man grabs me by my shirt. “What do you want here, are you looking for Filimbi”, he shouts. He’s a government spy, one of many to be found on the streets of the Congolese capital of 12 million inhabitants. Despite the official ban on demonstrations, Filimbi, a citizen group, plans a demonstration in Masina today, demanding the departure of president Joseph Kabila. But the secret agents begin arresting the protesters before they can shout “Kabila must go”. “We are not frightened by this repression anymore,” cries one Filimbi activist before taking to his heels. “We are ready to die.”
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The threat of genocide

South Sudan, Juba, July 9, 2011

The discourse about South Sudan these days is whether a genocide is in the making. The discussion is not about politics, not about power struggles, and certainly not about the development of the country. More and more horrors are being reported. Tribal hatred boils over.

Genocide requires a good organization, as was the case in 1994 in Rwanda. The authorities in South Sudan show themselves hopelessly incompetent in ruling the country. So when they really would want to have a genocide it is questionable that they can organize one. But in massacres they are highly skilled, as in 2013 when thousands Nuers were killed by soldiers of Dinka descent. And the opposition has shown itself to be capable of mass killings as well, see what happened in retaliation against Dinka’s in Bor and Bentiu in early 2014.
So it remains an academic debate whether or not a genocide is imminent. The number of large massacres is already frightening.

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Once more thousands threatened by drought in Kenya

Samburu area near Wamba

In traffic this morning a mighty bull caught up with me. The throbbing cars were soon surrounded by skinny beasts, a long tongue licked salt from my side mirror. The open window at times let the sweet aroma of cow dung in, until a swirling cloud of dust made me to close the window.
Once more the cattle from the neighboring Maasai people invade the outskirts of Nairobi, looking for the last lush greenery around filthy sewers, or for sprinkled flowers in public lawns or gardens of the rich. The usually agitated motorists gracefully give way to the cattle. For Kenya, as well as large parts of East Africa, is on the verge of a new burning drought. According to the Kenyan Red Cross already 1.3 million Kenyans are going hungry, a number that may increase to 2.5 million in the coming months.

It is the season of the jacaranda. In a desperate attempt to survive this tree with blue-purple flowers drops its seeds just before the rains and creates a colored carpet on the streets. The flame tree, an Australian tree with red plumes, is ablaze. Normally these trees announce the spring after many dry months, but this time the weather services predict the failure of the rainy season. Kenyans are preparing for disaster.
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Let the horror begin

Daily Nation

“Let the horror begin”.

That may be a good summary of the reactions in Africa regarding the victory of Donald Trump.

Where Obama was Africa’s hero, Trump is seen as a racist.

My shocked sister in law jokingly but with a serious undertone said she expects me to send a rapid intervention force from Kenya to evacuate her family from the US.

Fears of mass deportation of Africans from the US looms more than ever, writes a Kenyan American in the Daily Nation. There are roughly 1.8 million African immigrants in the US, according to a 2013 survey conducted by the Pew Research centre, with the number doubling every decade, writes Macharia Gaitho in the Daily Nation. Trump’s threat to deport all illegal immigrants was a message that no doubt was badly received by both the African diaspora in the US and Africans in Africa. It was seen as based on exploitation of latent racism in the US, and that sought to capitalise on white resentment off two term Barrack Obama, a much loved man in Africa.

Africa did not feature at all in Trump’s campaign, only in references Obama’s roots in Kenya.

In Nigeria Bolaji Akinyemi, a professor of political science, described Mr. Trump’s victory as a worrisome development, according to the Premium Times.

Mr. Akinyemi, a former Minister of Foreign Affairs, said: “It brings uncertainty into international politics because the world now has to deal with a man who is inexperienced, does not understand the complexities of international politics and has no respect for anyone who is not white or American; I think that is dangerous.

“There has always been an ugly side to the U.S. just as there is with every country in the world but the good side in the U.S. has always prevailed so that in tackling American problems, the interests of the U.S. are not defined in antagonism to the interest of the whole world.

“But this victory of Trump is a victory of the ugly side of the U.S.”

Dapo Fafowora, former Nigerian ambassador to the UN, said Mr. Trump’s victory was a lesson to Nigerians and Africans to remain in and contribute to the development of their countries.

He added that “there is nothing in his background to suggest he has any durable interest in Africa.

Trump’s victory may give a push to populist nationalists in Africa. “I think it is a lesson for Nigerians; people should stay here and make contributions in developing our country.

“I think it is a good development for Africa that we should look inwards and try to develop ourselves without relying on any major economic power.”

African presidents all did send congratulations to Trump. Only the Liberian president could not hide her feelings.

Liberia’s President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says she is disappointed that Hillary Clinton did not win the US elections.

In an interview with the BBC, Africa’s first democratically elected female president said: “We are extremely saddened by this missed opportunity on the part of the people of the United States to join smaller democracies in ending the marginalization of women”. At least some honesty here.

Biggest question off course is whether Africa will develop its own version of a Trump. Where Europe has already got its own Trumps in France and the Netherlands, Africa still does not have many. But don’t be fooled, in Africa many politicians come up with a lot of rhetoric, little substance, a lot of lies and show their illegal acquired wealth as proof of their capacity to lead. Africa will not be immune to populists.

Columnist Charles Onyango-Obbo concludes in the Nation: Now in Africa, we are not about to have a Trump(although the venality and cruelty of some of our leaders are probably worse), simply because elections are stolen or there is repression. But eventually, as we have seen recently in Ethiopia, the dams of anger will still burst.







How Eritrean revolution produced an undemocratic and closed society


By Dawit Mesfin

The book is an attempt to unravel why this small country with such a rich cultural heritage turned into one of the most repressive and secretive states in Africa. By covering its three distinct eras – colonial, armed struggle, and post-independence – the book presents the history that has unfolded over the last seven decades in a nutshell, and culminates in an explanation of how today’s Eritrea has turned into a pariah state after all the hardship it went through in securing self-rule.  Plaut uses vivid anecdotes throughout the book to show how the prevalent political culture in the country has brought it to its knees and caused a severe haemorrhaging of its youth.

The main thrust of Plaut’s argument is how the Eritrean revolution, like many others in Africa, has produced one of the most undemocratic and closed societies in the world. Here Eritrea is characterised both by the generous nature of its people and the heavy-handedness of a government that has blocked social, economic and political developments that under normal circumstances would usher in people’s participation in governing themselves.

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Eritrea has become a catastrophe

AsmaraBy Abraham Zere, head of Pen Eritrea

It initially sounded like a joke; gradually it got serious and then tragic. A decade and a half later, it is catastrophe.

Fifteen years ago on 18 September, 2001, fellow students of University of Asmara and I were confined in two labour camps, GelAlo and Wi’A, for defying a requirement of unpaid summer work. We were kept in the camps, under harsh, atrocious living conditions and open to the weather that normally reaches 45 C (113 F) for about five weeks. As we were preparing to return home, we learned the government had banned seven private newspapers and imprisoned 11 top government officials.

The day after our homecoming, beaten down and demoralised, I went to meet Amanuel Asrat, chief editor of Zemen newspaper. About 10 days before that, he had received an article, in which I detailed our living conditions, that I had managed to get smuggled out of the prison camp. My piece was published in the last issue of the newspaper.

An atmosphere of fear pervaded Asmara. The environment had changed abruptly from heated and loud political debates to people resigning themselves to whispers and silence.

Unlike our previous meetings when Asrat greeted me with a joke, this time his dejection was obvious.

I do not remember exactly what we talked about, nor do I remember where we met. I assume Asrat must have expressed satisfaction about my safe return (as two students had died in the camp) and perhaps asked about my family. It’s possible we talked about the days before we had been sent to the prison camp. I do not know.

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Fifteen years ago, a deadly silence descended on Eritrea


Issayas Aferworki in 1986 in the bush. Photo Koert Lindijer

Issayas Aferworki in 1986 in the bush. Photo Koert Lindijer

The Eritrean exile Dawit Mesfin is a bitter man. “There is no news at all of the prisoners”, he says from London. “They have totally been isolated in secret detention since their arrest fifteen years ago. That is an extremely cruel measure against Eritreans who sacrificed everything for the liberation of their country”.

Mesfin is still affected about what happened on the morning of September 18, 2001 in the capital Asmara. President Isayas Afeworki on that day committed fratricide. He put 23 critical senior government politicians and soldiers behind bars – all comrades of the thirty-year liberation struggle – as well as twelve prominent journalists. “Of the twelve journalists, we think, five are still alive,” said Abraham Zere, another Eritrean exile. “The last survivors wait in jail for death to come”.

The arrests ushered in a period of repression without end. Eritrea is at the bottom of the world list of press freedom, it has never held elections since its independence in 1993. Almost thousand youngsters flee the country every week.
Zere calls it “a chilly police state where fear has been implanted in people’s genes”. Independent researchers and journalists rarely get permission to visit the country, so the scant information usually comes only from exiles.

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Who tells the African story?


The Ugandan poet Harriet Anena crawls from the stage and -groaning- invites a spectator to undress her. Anena performs a stage adaptation of her latest book of poetry A Nation in Labour during the literary festival Writivism in the Ugandan capital Kampala. Her sexually abused body is Uganda, her exploiter President Yoweri Museveni. The play – I bow for my boobs – is an example of a vibrant emerging literature in Africa.

Since about ten years everywhere on the continent festivals like Writivism(which was held at the end of August)take place. In Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya but also a festival was recently held in the Somali capital of Mogadishu. And every year there is a book festival in the city of Hargeisa in Somaliland.

African writers suffer a miserable existence. Only in Nigeria and South Africa, the market is big enough for writers to earn a living. “Meetings like Writivism get writers out of their cultural ghettos and give them self-confidence,” says Sumayya Lee, a South African author and co-organizer of the festival in Kampala.


Disinterest of publishers and lack of a distribution network are the biggest problems ambitious writers face. “In South Africa my books are everywhere for sale but not at all on the English-speaking market in Nigeria. So like mules we writers travel with our books on the continent trying to sell them.”

Storytelling plays a central role in ancient tribal cultures. “Africans love stories, the problem is not that Africans do not want to read,” says Lee. Publishers focus on producing profitable school textbooks, they’re not looking for literary talent. Governments or large commercial companies refuse to invest in the development of writing skills, as is the case in the rich West.


Schools don’t stimulate literature either. “Our school curriculum is for drilling kids, not to stimulate their creativity,” says Kenyan teacher and writer Gloria Mwaniga Minage, who released her beautiful short story Boyi at Writivism. In African schools the great heroes of the African literature of the sixties are taught, such as the Nigerian Chinua Achebe and the Kenyan Ngugi wa Thiong’o. “In their literature the story always revolves around the anti-colonial struggle or the resistance to African dictatorships,” says Mwaniga Minage. “But how can young people identify with literature if it does not touch their world? Issues like sex and technology, these are the things that they are daily dealing with.”

Which literature is relevant for young Africans, who make up three quarters of the population on the continent? During Writivism the authors discussed about their role. “Some of us ponder how to write in order to win a European award,” says the Kenyan writer Stanley Gazemba, who wrote three novels and eight children’s books since 2003. “From our income we can not make ends meet, so to organize these festivals we have to talk to white donors. So should we also please them? Some writers manipulate their story to make it fit the mindset of the Europeans.”


The most famous and best-selling African writers live most of the year outside the continent, like Binyavanga Wainana, Taiye Selasi and Chimamanda Adichie. “Those celebrities can not tell our African story” sneers Stanley Gazemba. “The heart beat of the continent is in our slums and villages. You can not peep though a keyhole at Africa from a luxury position in Europe or America and then claim that you write African literature. That is voyeurism. They do not represent our continent.”

Photo’s: Sumayya Lee, Gloria Mwaniga Minage and Stanley Gazemba

Sugar daddies are on the rise

Rwanda, around Kigali, September 2012 Girls at a private school.  Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos PicturesRwanda, around Kigali, September 2012
Girls at a private school. They say that all their friends have sugar daddies
Photo: Petterik Wiggers/Panos Pictures

Boys loiter at their usual hang out on the outskirts of a slum in Nairobi, when an expensive SUV stops. A young woman – flashy dressed, bright lipstick, high heels – walks on the muddy path to the car as the door swings open. “Lucky Devil”, the boys say. They know they have no chance with Sarah, because she has a relationship with a rich man, her sugar daddy.

Sarah’s friend and fellow student is called Kali. She is jealous. “I want a sugar daddy too,” she whines. “I also want to live a good life. I have so many friends with sugar daddies.”
A financial sponsor of an older age, who in exchange for sex and other entertainment provides a younger girl with what she needs: that’s a sugar daddy in Africa. Or a blesser, as these sponsors are called in South Africa. This relationship between young and old is also called generational or transactional sex.

Sugar daddies are not a new phenomenon, but there are on the rise. In the Liberian capital, Monrovia, I once saw a girl in a ragged T-shirt branding the inscription “Your boyfriend is my ATM”. In South Africa girls are looking on special websites for their blessers. “The phenomenon is increasing in both urban and rural areas,” says Kopano Ratele, an influential psychologist and professor at the Institute for Social and Health Sciences in Cape Town.

A study in Kenya earlier this year done by the communications company Well Told Story shows that two out of three respondents have no problem if someone has a secret wealthy lover. One in three does himself have such a “sponsor”.

In neighboring Tanzania previous research shows that a majority of both young people and their parents find transactional sex acceptable. “Girls want security, they want a good providing partner. Therefore they turn towards sugar daddies. They want to be independent of men”, says Maura, a Kenyan student of 25 years. “The problem for us guys is how can we compete with rich and experienced sugar daddies. Can we do better than them in sex?”

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Deep rooted historic schism fuels the fighting in South Sudan

Monday 18th of July:

After the serious fighting that took place around the fifth independence anniversary of South Sudan on the 9th of July some calm has been restored. But all the parties are sharpening their knives once more. The White Army, traditional Nuer forces, is preparing to march on Juba, former rebel leader and Vice-president Riëk Machar is hiding south of Juba, and the government soldiers with maybe their Ugandan allies are willing to go after him. When the resolution of the Igad Plus countries yesterday to send in peace keeping troops is not implemented soon, it is very likely that there will be another round of fighting soon.


Let the battle beginLet the battle begin


Deeply rooted tribal schism underlies the conflict which flared up in July between on one side President Salva Kiir and his ally, army chief Paul Malong – both belonging to the Dinka ethnic group – and their Nuer rival, Vice President Riek Machar. Under the direction of these leaders South Sudan in the past five years has become a land of hatred and revenge. A young nation that is poisoned by feelings of tribal superiority.

“Dinka’s right,” “left Nuer. Even the signs to the UN camp in Malakal did not hide this tribal xenophobia when thousands of displaced people poured in after the outbreak of the first civil war in December 2013. In a UN camp in the capital Juba Nuers saw as the only solution a last fight to the death with the Dinka.

In a displaced persons camp near Bentiu Dinka and Nuers live strictly separated. Nyakuoth, mother of six children, had just removed the mud that entered last night into her hut of plastic sheeting, when I spoke to her. “The Dinka have destroyed my house. They murder us”, she said. They, that are the government soldiers. Nyakuoth did not dare to go outside the camp. “We will be killed if they do to us that quite terrible thing.” She meant rape.
The deep tribal hatred feeds the atrocities. A South Sudanese aid worker, who lived through the decades-long war of independence against (North) Sudan: “The difference with the war against the Arabs is that the supporters of President Kiir also go the countryside to destroy civilians. A war in which civilians are targeted, is a tribal war”.
Therefore, hospitals are burned down in areas of a rival tribe, are grandmothers being raped and children are slain. From the point of human rights the war in South Sudan has become one of the most brutal conflicts on the continent.

Southern Sudan has for centuries been oppressed and exploited by the Arabized north. From the beginning of 1800 onwards there were two million black slaves sold on the market in the northern capital Khartoum. South Sudanese of diverse tribes live together in an extremely rugged and inaccessible area with hardly any infrastructure and without any modern development. Before the arrival of the Arabs they lived peacefully together but the slave trade distributed that peaceful coexistence.

There were tribal conflicts during the first war against the north (1956-1972) and the second (1983-2003). In the interest of the fight against the common enemy they were however settled. Nevertheless from the two million dead in the second war most were victims of the conflict between South Sudanese themselves.

During the second war in the bush all kinds of opportunistic military alliances were formed, which were solidified by marriages and exchange of livestock. Now Army chief and then warlord Paul Malong dominated his region of Bahr el Ghazal, a dominance that he perpetuated by being godfather (and sponsor) of many young couples. Thus he became godfather of President Salva Kiir. Malong recently paid the bride price for the presidents new young wife. Such clan and tribal commitments determine the dynamics of how South Sudanese deal with each other, how they group themselves during conflict and how political alliances are being formed. “A primitive form of tribalism that barely exists elsewhere in Africa anymore,” says a South Sudanese minister. “That’s because the South Sudanese were separated by the war and lived isolated from the outside world.”

Many generations of South Sudanese have been living in tight tribal structures, and they know only violence with other tribes. “All South Sudanese are traumatized, high to low,” lamented a pastor last year. “Fighting it appears is the only way to get that trauma out of the way.”

This article was first published in NRC Handelsblad on Tuesday, July 12th, 2016

Photo Petterik Wiggers

What does Brexit mean for Africa?

Sometimes turkeys do vote for Christmas. And 52% of British voters have just done so.

 Brexit is national suicide. The tribes of Britain will now be at war with each other. The Scots will demand another referendum and will vote to leave. Northern Ireland will be vulnerable to conflict again.

(Are they really going to build a fence along the border? Would Sinn Fein go back to war if they do?) And the Welsh will not be slow to realise they do not want to be tied to an impoverished England.

 Already the world’s capital markets have shown their reaction and fear that Britain is no longer a global leader in finance and international connections. I wonder if all those building sites in the City will remain building sites and whether other gleaming towers of steel and glass may soon bear “vacant” signs.

 What does it mean for Africa? All the reports I have seen show a strong African belief in Britain staying in the EU. Many on the continent saw Britain as an important voice for Africa in Brussels and at the UN in New York. But now, England and Wales – outside the EU and led by little Englanders – will see British influence in the world diminish further. Could Britain even find itself squeezed off the UN Security Council?

 You can be sure that the aid budget will be slashed. I am not a great fan of aid, but it did represent Britain’s commitment to the world’s poor and especially to struggling African countries. Will outgoing PM David Cameron’s brave attempt to raise the issue of global corruption be shelved? Britain’s weight in the world will be so diminished that few will take it seriously anyway.

 The exit will also feed racism in Britain. There is little doubt that many of the Leave voters, frightened by immigration, want to stop foreigners coming to Britain. Africans – more visible than Europeans – will no doubt be targeted.

 The new government – presumably led by former London mayor and leading Leave campaigner Boris Johnson – will try to stop foreigners coming to Britain and be far less willing to accept refugees under the UN Convention. Our universities will suffer as foreign students will find it difficult to get visas and many will turn to American or European alternatives. I also predict there will be a rise in racist attacks on Africans and other “aliens”.

 For centuries, for good and ill, Britain has played a major role in world affairs and particularly in Africa. It is the most international country in the world and for centuries has been open to refugees and migrants generally – not least because they brought expertise, new ideas and ambition which broke through Britain’s class barriers.

 Now it seems doomed to become an impoverished island off Europe. And when the Brexiters – fed false figures and lies by Britain’s right wing press – realise they have made a dreadful mistake, it will be too late.

How a village in Sierra Leone fought effectively against Ebola long before the aid workers arrived


Devils dance madly among the rattling inhabitants of the village of Njala Giema in Sierra Leone. The spirits, who are masked and draped with colourful strings of beads, press their pelvises suggestively against the visitors to welcome them. These rainforests where the three borders of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea meet, formed the epicentre of the Ebola epidemic which swept across West Africa from the end of 2013, killing 11,300 people.

The epidemic is still not completely under control. But residents of Njala Giema managed to bring the disease under control long before international aid workers dressed in moon suits took action.

What did the locals do right, what did the foreigners do wrong? How can Sierra Leone better defend itself against a possible future epidemic? With these questions in mind, researchers from the universities of Wageningen in the Netherlands and Njala in Sierra Leone travelled to Njala Giema. With financial support from the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs they want to research and learn lessons of the indigenous response to the Ebola epidemic, because the international response fell so far short in what was needed.

The welcome ritual belongs the visible world. But who hide behind those devil masks? These are the invisible village leaders. The ancient secret societies in the rainforests of West Africa maintain a parallel power structure, an essential part of the daily management of a well-organized society. But invisible to anyone outside of the village.

DSC01286Devil dancer in Nyala Ngiema

This morning the spirit of an old village man departed this earth. Although everybody is aware of this nobody weeps because his death is not yet official. First, the chief Musa Kallon and members of the secret society will perform the proper rites, so that the deceased makes a peaceful transition to the afterlife. Without touching the body an Ebola test is taken. “That lesson we have learned,” said Musa Kallon. “Soon after the beginning of the outbreak, I told my people not to touch dead bodies and not to shake hands. We took those measures because there were no aid workers. “

DSC01397The play begins

Today in the community hall the villagers perform a play that will show how the epidemic struck Njala Giema. Tears appear in the eyes of the chief when weeping women throw themselves on a fictional Ebola corpse. Musa Kallon’s wife was one of the first victims. Spectators look sombre, the devil dancers do not move, the play has become real. The village has 500 inhabitants, 89 were in 2014 infected by Ebola, of whom 68 died.

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Anas Aremeyaw Anas: My anonymity is my strength

Anas Aremeyaw Anas in Accra 26th of March 2016

He is a world-famous journalist but can’t show his face. To make an appointment one has to use different telephone numbers and go to a secret place in the Ghanaian capital Accra. Then suddenly he stands before me, without a mask. He turns out not to be a very flamboyant man, with his thick glasses he resembles rather the nerd of the school class than the hero of the people. Anas Aremeyaw Anas shows himself to be a real Batman. 

“I fight against the bad guys”, he says while he puts his wig with curly hair on for the interview and his mask with beads hanging from the front.  During the meeting my eyesight pierces through the beads. Anas excuses himself: “I want to be left to tell the next story. Because I do undercover work, I want to keep my anonymity. That has always been my secret weapon, it helps me to get into places and nobody recognises me”. 

Anus has many different appearances since he started work as a undercover journalist in 1999. He dressed like a rock to film smuggling activities along the border. And he acted like a madman to report on abuses in a psychiatric institution. He behaved like a beggar to catch money extorting policemen, or dressed up like an American oil worker in the Middle East to unmask a syndicate of dealers in the sex industry.

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Jirmo, a Kenyan game warden who did his masters on the disappearing lions


Tuqa Jirmo Huqa Tuqa Jirmo HuqaIMG_0868
The lion, a symbol of Africa’s raw wilderness, is disappearing rapidly. The number of lions in Kenya stands at 2000, in the seventies there were 20 000, more than half a century ago 100 000.  Less than 20 000 lions remain in the African wild. Tuqa Jirmo Huqa is the first Kenyan who graduated on the subject of lions. Last year in his final dissertation at Leiden University in the Netherlands Jirmo highlights the impact of climate change on wildlife. “There used to be one drought every ten years, now they’re three”, he says.Jirmo works for the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), a government organization. He leads a group of 450 armed rangers in the 4000 square kilometer Meru Park. The park differs from other game parks in Kenya because of its dense thickets. “This is what the African savannah looked like a long time ago”, says Jirmo. “The original ecosystem has hardly been affected by invading cattle, tourists and other people.”Humans however transformed the landscapes outside the park. The first major challenge for Meru Park can be seen higher up on the densely populated slopes around Mount Kenya. What is more important: the drug mirra (khat) or wild animals? Rainwater for wildlife on the savannah below is increasingly diverted for cultivation in the highlands for the soft drug. The descending road to the plains of sand and rocks below is surrounded by houses and fields, right to the entrance of Meru Park. An electric fence keeps elephants away from the cornfields. Foreign tourists will pay a hefty $ 70 for a day in the wilderness. {read more…}

Museveni has become the very intractable, narrow-minded, authoritarian leader against which he warned

 If Shakespeare were alive today, he would probably be writing plays about African presidents rather than medieval kings. Nowhere else in the world has such dramatic and personal politics. Uganda is a case in point.

 In this East African nation, the re-election of President Yoweri Museveni on 18 February had always been a foregone conclusion. Having ruled for 30 years now, he will almost probably keep extending it until he dies in office.

 Victory was ensured when his two main rivals and former associates – Amama Mbabazi and Kizza Besigye – would not unite. But even if a single opposition candidate had emerged and won a majority, the election would be annulled or a quick “recount” would reverse the results.

 In the early days, Museveni did not mind criticism and discussion; he was sharp enough to debate and defend his rule. But today, anyone who gets close to challenging him gets beaten up, jailed or both. Museveni has become the stereotypical African dictator that he once denounced.

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Kenya is faced with home-grown muslim extremism

Ahmed (32) joined the islamic terrorist movement al-Shabaab in neighboring Somalia two years ago. His sister Halima has not heard from him since. “Fortunately,” she says in the Kenyan port city of Mombasa. “Al-Shabaab will only make contact if your family member has arrived in heaven.”

Ahmed is one of the hundreds of young people in Kenya who have become radicalized in recent years. Most come from Mombasa, or from the slums of Nairobi. “Al-Shabaab recruits them to carry out terrorist attacks in Somalia and increasingly in Kenya itself,” says social worker Phyllis Muema. Muema, who heads Kecosce, a group in Mombasa trying to dissuade youngsters from their radical ideas, calls it “an explosive situation.”

Mombasa has become a hotbed of extremism. About a quarter of the Kenyan population is Muslim. Most live at the coast and in the northeast of the country, in the region bordering Somalia. When the first major terrorist attack took place in Kenya – in 1998 by Al-Qaeda on the US Embassy in Nairobi – the perpetrators were merely foreigners. Now Kenya is faced with home-grown Muslim extremism. President Kenyatta labelled this terror recently as “a threat to the survival of the nation”.

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The bathroom of Kenya in trouble: will climate change destroy Kenya’s tea?


His gaggling geese flee from the water that wildly flows from the battered forests. “Before”, points the old farmer Alfred Soi threateningly to the Mau summit above, “before, when were young, tribal elders warned us that destruction of these forest leads to the destruction of life. Why is it that politicians cannot see that? I wish I could curse them.”

The region of Kericho, in the southwest of the country, is the main tea growing zone of Kenya. Hundreds of workers on the rolling hills pick the leaves from the bushes. A car dangling sacks of jute makes its way through the mud and down the slope. The produce is weighed in the valleys. In the food kiosks in the town of Kericho everyone drinks tea. Almost a century ago the colonialists founded the first plantations. The zone at the foot of the mountain proved ideal for this. Tea became the green gold of Kenya. But for how long will that be the case?

Tea is Kenya’s main export product. The country is the third largest producer and the first exporter in the world, with two million Kenyans working in the sector. Samson Kamunya is deputy director of the Tea Research Institute just outside the city. “The tea varieties of half a century ago no longer grow. If we do not act, soon there will be no more tea around the Mau. The production is already going down”, he says. His institute observes a temperature rise of around 0.2 degrees each year. And it develops new tea plants to adjust to the climate change. “The climate has become unpredictable. For the first time we experience frost and drought. We had never seen that before.”
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Tanzania: Is Magafuli the new anticorruption fighter on the block?

Dr. John Pombe Magufuli’s election in Tanzania in October has sent an electric current through the entire region’s body politick. He was elected as the long serving ruling party’s – Chama Cha Mapinduzi’s – candidate. He promised to get down to kazi (work) immediately. The primary job at hand was as it is for the entire region this week when the world ‘celebrated’ anti-corruption day – graft. He hit the ground running and in a style that has the chattering classes impressed not only in East Africa but around the world.

 Elected in the middle of a cholera outbreak an early move was to cancel the independence day celebrations last week and instruct that part of the funds be used to buy more beds for the main hospital in Dar es Salaam and completing a road. Instead of lavish spending on the celebrations he asked Tanzanians to get out and clean up the country. He led from the front, marching out of State House last Wednesday and mucking in with ordinary wananchi cleaning up enthusiastically with his own hands. “Let us work together to keep our country, cities, homes and workplaces clean, safe and healthy,” he was reported to have told the crowd of surprised onlookers as he picked up rubbish off the street. “Tanzania has changed – this is a new Tanzania,” one resident told AFP, on a break from cleaning up the city’s public beach.

 He moved to quickly dismiss and replace the entire leadership of the ports authority – usually dens of corruption in many developing countries. His rapid-fire actions and humility in approach captured the imagination of Kenyans on Twitter first before the fever spread around the world. The Twitter hash tag #WhatWouldMagufuliDo? was trending in Kenya for days and retains momentum still. It includes a large variety of clever quips of common sense solutions to everyday problems that reflected what the Twitterati at least thought of President Magufuli thus far. He was the subject of admiration and inspiration.

 The question in a region of jaded cynics who’ve seen many anti-corruption drives, programmes, strategies, movements started by presidents making big promises in smooth speeches was whether President Magufuli’s undoubtedly populist approach was sustainable. Indeed, the regular battery of legal types who’ve hogged the anti-corruption space for decades questioned the legality of some of his actions. In my opinion they are all missing the point.

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The pope’s first visit to Africa. Kenyans easily go on their knees

Daily Nation

A papal serenity hang in the air. Nairobi became inundated with women with white caps and men with white collars: hundreds of thousands of faithful flocked to the capital for the pope. A usual cynical view of the opportunist Kenyan politics was briefly replaced by a moral worldview. President Uhuru Kenyatta declared in the name of the Holy Father a new war on corruption. The pope watched his solemn declaration, as did the two former presidents Moi and Kibaki, who both were embroiled in major corruption scandals.

Kenyans easily go on their knees and cry out for God for earthly political affairs.

Supporters of Uhuru’s ally, Vice President William Ruto, recently organized weekly prayer services for a divine intervention to save the Vice President of “the neocolonial ICC”, the International Criminal Court. Ruto must defend himself in The Hague against charges of crimes against humanity committed during the election violence in 2007/8. Dozens of parliamentarians, tribal and religious leaders and other supporters of William Ruto raised their hands to heaven every week. Against the backdrop of a poster Ruto full of Bible verses.

“An unbridled form of contempt for the ICC”, called Chile Eboe-Osuji, a judge at the ICC, these prayer meetings. Which must cease immediately, he says. President Uhuru Kenyatta hit back: “No judge can deter Kenyans to pray.”

These prayer meetings fit, says the ICC, into a pattern of harassment. In Kenya one witness involved in the case of Ruto was killed and at least two are missing. The ICC issued arrest warrants against some Kenyans for the bribery of six witnesses for the prosecution against Ruto.

Kenyan and later ICC investigators began work immediately after the election violence in 2008. Uhuru Kenyatta, who was deputy prime minister, could count on the cooperation of the Kenyan secret service. But not Ruto, who was still in the camp of the opposition. So probably much evidence against Ruto was handed over to the investigators while potential evidence against Kenyatta was pilfered. The case against Kenyatta has stopped “for lack of evidence” earlier this year.

Prominent human rights lawyer Gibson Kamau Kuria called in a newspaper column the prayers for Ruto contempt of the ICC by Kenya. “The prayers must stop immediately, because they damage the law in Kenya and our international reputation,” wrote the lawyer.

For now, the papal visit, with all it’s blessings and prayers, has polished up Kenya’s international standing .


After the attack in Mali: will increased aid to the Sahel stop terrorism and migrants?

After the recent attack on the Raddison Blu hotel in Bamako new international focus will be put on the Sahel region. “Security” will have the prioritiy. In that lurk imminent dangers. A terror group led by the Algerian Mokhtar Belmokhtar claimed responsibiliy for the Raddison siege. The same group attacked the mines of the French company Arewa in Northern Niger in 2013. Will increased aid stop terrorism and the flow of migrants? A report from Niger.


‘Viva Europa! “, the villagers of Kodo cheer. Neven Mimica, the European Commissioner for International Cooperation and Development, has just visited their village in Niger. Their tribute to Europe does not express the hopes of hundreds of thousands of West Africans for a better future in Europe. No, the villagers praise the sharply increased European aid to Niger. By giving more aid the EU hopes to reduce the breeding ground for terrorism and migration.

But not everyone sees the benefit of it. “You Europeans do not understand Africa”, sneers the Nigerien journalist Boureima Hama. “Migration is big business in Niger, for the police, soldiers, government officials and the government. That you do not stop with additional development. ”

Aid to Africa, and in particular to the countries in the arid Sahel region, is once more high on the international political agenda. The drying region south of the Sahara was in the European perception a vast and remote area with extreme poverty and indigenous rebellions. Bad, but not threatening.

That vision has been adjusted radically within the past two years. The Sahel is now seen in Brussels as a dangerous area on the threshold of Europe. Against this background, the European Development Fund for 2014-2020 has made available almost 600 million Euros for Niger (18 million inhabitants). Western military aid is being increased. The UN sent a peacekeeping force to Mali, France stationed 3,000 soldiers in the region and America delivers drones and military advisers to Niger.

Niger is the main transit country and therefore critical to stem the flow of migrants from West Africa. This year an expected 120 000 immigrants will pass through the country. Last year that number was 80 000. Through the northern city of Agadez, the crossroads of the migrant routes, they migrate to North Africa. A large number tries to stay in Libya and Algeria. Others try to cross the Mediterranean and reach Europe.

All the migrants are young. Hassan Koroma from Sierra Leone is 21 and wants to study law. “My father lost his job and could not afford my tuition fees. I informed myself on the internet about the route to Europe and my football club collected money for me. With $ 700 I started my journey”,he says in the Nigerien capital Niamey.
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Kenyan soccer run by thugs

One of the enduring curiosities of Kenya’s sporting scene has been the inability of our national soccer team Harambee Stars to make a mark on the world stage, despite the country’s sporting prowess in other fields from athletics, to rugby, swimming, rallying, volleyball and lately even some field sports. Clearly the country has the talent to be a multi-disciplinary sports world-beater.

This is not a unique contradiction. The top African club football team is undoubtedly TP Mazambe of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s city of Lubumbashi. Tout Puissant Mazambe (the Almighty Mazembe) was founded in 1939 by Benedictine monks. In 1967 and 1968 they won the African Cup of Champions and took the African Champions Cup in 2003 and 2004. In 2009 they won the CAF Champions League qualifying for the 2009 World Cup. The next year they became the first African club team in history to contest the final of the Fifa World Cup. They won the CAF Champions League again this year.

Coming out of what has historically been one of the most volatile African countries the incredible success of this little but mighty Lubumbashi team has been a tiny indicator of what is possible on the African continent sportswise with good leadership, management and dedication. In the case of the TP Mazembe the businessman Governor of the Province, Moise Katumbi took the team under his wing personally.

Ostensibly ‘more developed’ Kenya has had no such luck. Football in the country has been ran by politicians and thugs for so long that the ability of our national team Harambee Stars to punch anywhere near its weight has been truncated. Kenyans have taken to supporting British Premier League teams while our tribal politics afflicts the ability of genuinely impressive teams like AFC Leopards and Gor Mahia to inspire a reverberating national following. Meanwhile, a slum-based team like Mathare United has been the incubator for some of the outstanding soccer talent Kenya has exported to the rest of the world.

In an episode typifying the incompetence and thuggery that bedevils the management of our national team, they almost missed a crucial 2018 World Cup qualifier against Cape Verde earlier this week. We had beaten them at home in the first leg. While in our typical Kenyan exceptionalism some were asking, “Who is Cape Verde?!”, soccer lovers from the small islands were saying, “Here come the Kenyans. A slam dunk!” It emerged that apparently a disagreement between the Ministry of Sports and Football Kenya Federation almost cost them the return match through bungling.

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The never-ending scandal of the Western Sahara

Forty years ago on the 6th of November, Morocco invaded Western Sahara, a former Spanish colonial possession – mostly made up of desert – in West Africa.

As Spain walked away, Morocco claimed the territory as part of its ancient empire. The UN had declared that it was up to the people of the territory to decide their own future, but before they could do so, King Hassan II of Morocco organised the “Green March” in which hundreds of Moroccans were bussed to the border and – in front of the international press – pushed into Western Sahara waving Moroccan flags.

Meanwhile, many miles away from the media, columns of tanks, armoured cars and truck-loads of Moroccan soldiers swept into the territory. So too did troops from neighbouring Mauritania which also claimed swathes of ground.

These foreign troops were met by indigenous fighters of the Polisario Front who were lightly armed and no match for tanks and artillery. Gradually, the Polisario fighters and thousands of civilians were pushed over the border into Algeria.

Morocco ignored international calls for it to withdraw and even left the Organisation of African Unity (the predecessor to the African Union) when the continent body declared the occupation illegal.

Polisario kept up the fight and by 1979 managed to force Mauritania to retreat. But Morocco refused to be moved and instead constructed a vast wall of sand and rock and planted mines the entire length of it in order to protect its illegally acquired territory.

40 years later, little has changed. Morocco retains control over the area and to this day huge numbers of Sahrawi refugees live in white tents across the border in Algeria. The Government of Algeria estimates that there are now 165,000 people in the camps, but there has never been an agreed registration exercise. The UN refugee agency’s assistance programme is based on a planning figure of just 90,000 refugees.

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A revolution in Maasai land: the great alternative rite of passage

 Photography Anja Ligtenberg

Pink and yellow balloons hanging on the acacia trees sway, under the thump of a disco beat, in the wind.   In the schoolyard shrill voices of Maasai schoolgirls can be heard. They sing to the tune of ancient songs about brave warriors and dangerous lions. But the lyrics are different, because they call for the banishment of female circumcision and ditching the practice into the dustbin of history. While posing for a group portrait they unabashedly jut their pelvis forward. Then under the stars and a waning moon, they light hundreds of candles. The young girls are now ready for the important event tomorrow: the ceremony marking their transition to womanhood. But this time no blood will flow.

A zebra does not despise its stripes. The Maasai pastoralists in Kenya and Tanzania are proud of their tradition. The between one and two million Maasais have a culture of open doors.  In their shelters made of mud and manure every group member is always welcome. Together they undergo rites for the transition from one age group to the next, and together they receive instructions in social skills, sex and martial arts. That community spirit made the Maasai a formidable tribe feared by neighbouring peoples, and until recently protected them against external influences. But now a revolution has begun which is to the benefit of the generally submissive Maasai women. For the past seven years a campaign is being waged in Maasai land against the amputation of clits. The elders have even devised a new way of performing this ceremony for modern day girls: the great alternative rite of passage.

. "Ngai Ngai" they chant – the blessing of God for the girls“Ngai Ngai” they chant

The next morning, a group of colourful warriors waits at the entrance of the kraal fenced with thorny branches. They perform traditional dances, making vertical jumps, their necks swaying like those of camels, to a rhythm of screams emanating from deep within their chest. In a winding snake like fashion the long line of girls approaches. The girls perform their own dance with rhythmic jerky movements of their upper body which makes the beaded necklaces around their necks swing in the air up to their chins. A hollow sound is heard from a kudu horn and the men at the gate start swishing their fly whisks made from wildebeest tails. “Ngai Ngai” they chant – the blessing of God for the girls! Now the girls have become women and it’s time to eat meat and dance.”

The young woman Nice looks fulfilled at the spectacle. “I am the change,” she proudly says. When she was nine, she was almost circumcised. “My grandparents took me out of school for the circumcision. In the early morning I escaped and hid in the bushes. I cried and cried. In the evening, upon returning to my ancestral kraal nobody wanted to relate with me. I had become an outcast”. For months she continued to resist until the family again let her go to school. She received support from the teachers who participated in a campaign by the medical organization Amref Flying Doctors against circumcision.  “So I became a role model for the Maasai”, she enthuses. Within the past seven years up to 7000 girls have been rescued by the campaign of Amref Flying Doctors in a quarter of Maasailand. {read more…}

Stephen Ellis was a cool observer

       Stephen Ellis who died last week was one of the greatest Africanists of his generation. He was also a great friend to me and my family and also to RAS. He edited African Affairs from 1998 to 2006 bringing several bright young academics to the journal.

Stephen was a cool observer of Africa and took on the big themes that dominated Africa after the end of the Cold War. After graduating from Oxford, he was a volunteer teacher in Cameroon and then worked as a civil servant in London for a while before turning to academia to teach in Madagascar and study the rebellion in the 1890s there. He wrote his first book: “The Rising of the Red Shawls” as a result.

When he returned to London he became head of Africa at Amnesty International. This introduced him to the bad side of Africa’s politics during the Cold War. Stephen was a scrupulous researcher but he also became friends with people he had campaigned for and this introduced him to African politics.

We first met when he waited to be interviewed for the editorship of the journal, Africa Confidential. I was disappointed not to get the job but when I realised who I had been up against I realised why. We became good friends and colleagues and worked on several stories together.

But Stephen always wanted to dig deeper than journalism. He was an excellent interviewer, posing simple, almost casual, questions to find the threads that led to the truth. He meticulously unravelled them and pondered on their meaning and implications. Unlike one-dimensional journalism, Stephen hankered after the hidden and obscure, delving deep into topics such as the drug trade in Africa.

In 1991 he became Director of the African Studies Centre in Leiden in Holland and brought together several bright young researchers creating lively debates about African political power and making Leiden an important centre for African studies.

Here he wrote “The Criminalization of the State in Africa” with Jean-François Bayart and Béatrice Hibou. This exposed how the World Bank demand for the privatisation of state assets resulted in their transfer from station institutions to the ownership of the politically powerful. This grab for the national wealth by the politically powerful contributed to the wars and violence of the 1990s. In 2008 he was appointed Desmond Tutu Professor at the Vrije University in Amsterdam.

Stephen took on some of the most shocking and touchiest topics to research such as cannibalism in the Liberian civil war and the African drug trade. He also spent time exploring African traditional spirituality with his partner, Gerrie ter Haar.

Journalists like me were envious of his freedom to spend weeks, even months, in the field following one story. But he always came up with fascinating new tales and insights told with relish at dinner but treated with classic academic detachment in his writing.

This often landed him in hot water, especially when a national newspaper picked up a reference in The Mask of Anarchy to Charles Taylor’s cannibalism as part of traditional ritual practices in Liberia and Sierre Leone. Taylor sued but when several witnesses offered to testify to defend Stephen’s allegation, he did not pursue the case.

For exposing this and the shocking ritual violence deployed in those wars, he was showered with abuse by some and accused of giving Africa a bad name. This saddened him but did not deter him. Many Liberians and Sierra Leoneans were very pleased that the full horror of those wars had been made public.

In 2011 he published Season of Rains, an exploration and overview of politics, culture, and society as well as religion in Africa. But meanwhile he was delving into the secrets of the African National Congress. This infuriated many people who saw the ANC as a heroic organisation led by its saintly leader, Nelson Mandela. He exposed the ANC’s drug dealing in central Africa and also the killing of many young ANC recruits in camps in Angola.

Stephen claimed that the ANC had been run entirely by the South African Communist Party and that Mandela himself had been a member though he was never able to prove it conclusively. Although the ANC were angered by his exposure of less-then-heroic aspects of the party’s past, senior members admitted that the book was broadly accurate.

His last book, yet to be published, is on the Nigerian drug networks whose skill, power and reach across the world amazed even the US Drug Enforcement Agency.

Stephen was a very good man in Africa, positive, honest and brave.

To me he was a wonderful friend.

We have all lost a great Africanist and condole Gerrie and his family.

Stephen Ellis is dead


In Memoriam Stephen Ellis, 1953-2015

We are very sad to report that Prof. Stephen Ellis died on July 29, 2015. Stephen had leukemia, a disease that first manifested itself three years ago, and was treated effectively until three weeks ago. With great admiration we have seen how Stephen coped with his illness, and until very recently worked on a book manuscript about his most recent research, a history of Nigerian organized crime, which is virtually ready. If you want to share your feelings, that can be done through the ASC ( and/or directly to Stephen’s partner Gerrie ter Haar (

Stephen Ellis was born in Nottingham, Great Britain on June 13, 1953. He studied modern history at the University of Oxford and did his doctoral exam there in 1981. He studied a revolt in Madagascar in the late 1890s, that was published by Cambridge University Press (the ‘Rising of the Red Shawls’, in 1985). Later he published a book about Madagascar in French (‘Un Complot à Madagascar’, 1990, Karthala). In 1979-1980 he had worked as a lecturer at the University of Madagascar, but that was not his first time in Africa: when he was eighteen years old he worked as a teacher in Douala, Cameroon.  Between 1982 and 1986 he was head of the African sub-region at the International Secretariat of Amnesty International in London, followed by a position as Editor for the Africa Confidential newsletter. In 1991-1994 Stephen became the General Secretary and later Director of the African Studies Centre in Leiden, followed by an assignment for the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs (for the Global Coalition for Africa; it resulted in his book ‘Africa Now’, published in 1996) and a position as senior researcher at the ASC until now. He was also appointed Desmond Tutu Professor at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam from 2008 onwards for two days per week.

Stephen Ellis is the ASC’s most prominent scholar, and one of the key researchers in African Studies in the world. The library of the ASC has 82 of his publications. Many of those publications deal with recent or historical political developments in Africa or, often together with Gerrie, about religion in Africa. He wrote most extensively about South Africa, Madagascar, Liberia and Nigeria, but also about Togo, Zambia, and Sierra Leone. Stephen Ellis’ personal page at Google Scholar shows that 4,700 colleagues cited his many publications so far. His most popular book is ‘The Criminalization of the State in Africa’, which he wrote together with Jean-François Bayart and Béatrice Hibou and which was published in 1999 (after a French version that was published two years earlier). Other books that became famous were ‘The Mask of Anarchy: the destruction of Liberia and the religious dimension of an African civil war’ (2001), ‘Worlds of power: Religious thought and political practice in Africa’ (together with Gerrie ter Haar, 2004) and ‘Comrades against apartheid: the ANC & the South African Communist Party in exile’ (together with Tsepo Sechaba, 1992). Among his recent publications are: ‘External Mission: the ANC in exile, 1960-1990’ (2013), ‘Season of rains: Africa in the world’ (2012; there is also a version in Dutch, ‘Het Regenseizoen’) and ‘West Africa’s international drug trade’ (2009).

With sadness in our heart,

Ton Dietz, on behalf of the African Studies Centre and the ASC Community

Oboma, welcome to Kenya, but be aware

Dear President Obama: Karibu! Welcome! Asante for dropping in on us, the country of your father, before you depart the White House. There are those who called you all manner of names when you visited in 2006. I apologise on their behalf. The idea that you’d go ahead and win a presidential election two years later was unthinkable.

But many all over the world got caught out on that one. Asante sana too, because confirmation of your arrival has caused the most rapid road repair programme in the history of our capital city.

You are visiting the country that has consistently been the USA’s closest diplomatic, political and military ally in the region for half a century. This goes way back to when President JF Kennedy’s “airlift” saw your father and others travel to the US for further education. America’s extraordinary soft power – from Hollywood to KFC to Apple – sets global trends. We are no exception in being influenced by the USA in many ways.

We have taken some blows for it too, as your enemies have picked on us for terrorist attacks. Still, we are a resilient lot. We pride ourselves as exemplifying in East Africa the spirit of enterprise and capitalism that we share with the USA. (As I write, you can be sure there are even some hustlers selling tickets to those who want to shake your hand or share a meal with you.) The USA continues to need a stable, democratic friend in East Africa and its best bet continues to be Kenya.

Still, in this part of the world, new realities are serving to transform the relationship between Kenya and the USA. There is a democratic recession underway across the world. It’s playing out here in our region too. This is partly driven by old partnerships, now renewed.

China is now Kenya’s fastest growing and most significant trading partner. It has transformed our roads, skylines and national debt. Dollar for dollar, China’s impact competes with that of the USA – we see its infrastructure even when we choose to ignore some of the less salubrious accompanying aspects.

The discerning amongst us know that China’s attitudes to corruption and democracy are very different to those expressed in our constitution. Externally, the Chinese tend to be permissive towards the first and opposed to the second. China also offers a governance model that the elite finds seductive. Indeed, it’s no longer politically incorrect to hear regime apologists argue ‘we have too much democracy’. This is nonsense of course. In fact devolving – and thus deepening – our democracy saved Kenya from the crisis of a presidency won back-to-back via the dodgiest means possible.

When you visited in 2006, you spoke on corruption and tribalism. As a former Senator from Illinois you will know something about corruption, since Illinois governors are as likely as not to retire to jail. Your recent remarks on systemic racism in the USA demonstrate how well you understand that nations cannot be at peace within themselves as long as their foundations privilege some citizens on the basis on their genetic origins. Here too, we’re still fighting to overcome these two cancers, even though some argue that economic growth should be where we focus our energies as Kenyans.

You will also know that this battle is not new. In the 1990s, Kenyans, led by a coalition of civil society, the church and media, and supported by sympathetic sections of the international community, agitated for multiparty democracy as a conducive environment to fight against these and other ills. The gains of that era are now being rolled back ever so gently.

We lost the Church as an ally along the way while media and civil society chug along in an increasingly hostile environment replete with extrajudicial methods of sanction, intimidation and elimination. Our allies in the international community sometimes seem to have lost their confidence. This has led to a disconcerting ambivalence amongst Kenyans themselves about values and principles that once seemed so crystal clear.

There are concerns in particular that the so-called war on terror has taken precedence over the democracy and anti-corruption agenda. And yet, corruption in Kenya feeds both domestic and jihadist insecurity in very direct ways. Authoritarian extrajudicial reactions too have served to alienate Muslims and radicalise youth.

Sliding back into a Cold War posture where developing world leaders use the war on terror as an excuse to roll back democratic freedoms will backfire. The struggle against communism was once used as an excuse to keep the historical aberration of apartheid going way longer than simple decency demanded.

As we welcome you to the country your ancestors call home, let not your visit be used to rubber-stamp the most far-reaching reversals in the hard-won freedoms enjoyed by media, civil society and Kenyans in general in the past two decades. Thank you. Enjoy the visit and – once again – thanks for the refurbished roads and freshly planted grass!

This article was first published in the (Kenyan) Star on 24-7-2015

In the fight against Shabaab Kenya’s leaders must take their minds off their bank balances, show compassion for the victims and understand the enemy

The first time I saw Uhuru Kenyatta speak was in Addis Ababa at the 2012 World Economic Forum. As he stepped down off the platform, his assistant slipped and tumbled heavily down the steps. Everyone rushed to help him. Kenyatta was closest. He turned, saw the man was not badly hurt and looked away. He did not help him to get up.

 On November 23rd last year Kenyatta was in Dubai watching a Formula 1 race. Meanwhile, twenty-eight Kenyans were taken off a bus in Mandera County and murdered by Islamic fundamentalists. He was told of the incident but did not return to Kenya until the motor racing was finished.

 When the Westgate shopping centre in Nairobi was attacked in September 2013 it took the Kenyan Special Forces three and half hours to arrive. There was then an internal battle over who should be in control between the police chief and the head of the army. Sixty-seven people were killed. The President was strangely absent but he complained angrily about a shocking picture of a wounded woman on the front page of the Nation newspaper the next day.

 It took eleven hours for Kenya’s anti-terrorist unit to get to Garissa – flight time fifty-five minutes. There had been warnings of an attack in the locality, but only two armed guards were posted on the gate at the university where hundreds of Kenyans from all over the country were living. Why did no one in the Kenyan government recognise their vulnerability? No one from Mr Kenyatta’s government has so far visited the wounded or made any comment on the solidarity march that ordinary Kenyans organised in Nairobi.

 But jet fighters bombed camps in Somalia which the government said were terrorist bases. They did the same after the Mandera massacre and claimed they had killed the perpetrators. Vice President Willam Ruto said: “Our retaliatory action left more than 100 fatalities and four camps were destroyed.”

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The Bible says that Jesus died for the sins of mankind but here in Kenya 147 young people have died because of the sins of the Country. It would be unwise to generalize and blame the whole Nation but they died because of the sinful nature of the government, some radicalized citizens and sympathizers from within.

“#147 is not just a number,” is what is currently trending in Kenya. This is the hash tag created in the social media circles in recognition, commemoration and discussion of the 147 students who were mercilessly killed in their university by the Somali terrorist group, Al-Shabbab.
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Nigeria: The most important elections of the decade

This election last weekend in Nigeria is the most important African event of the decade. The ‘Africa Rising’ story can only continue if the continent’s biggest economy is stable and its rulers can transform the lives of its 174 million people, as well as the region and the entire continent.

The choice is stark. Africa is the continent with the most potential, the least development and the greatest underused human talent and neglected potential. Nigeria is the big one: The gateway to Africa’s future. The rest of the world – political, commercial and cultural – is ready to engage and invest. All Nigeria needs is stability, good leadership and governance. This election and the policies of those who win it can either help create that stability or destroy it. Such an opportunity may not come again for another decade.

55 years of wasted opportunities have left 60% of Nigerians living in poverty. Unlike previous generations, the 90 million Nigerians under

14 years old are able to see the reality of how things work in Nigeria and how they are done elsewhere. Connected, they will know what they are entitled to. Denied access to education, healthcare and employment, they will suffer and die in the dark. Gaining these universal rights, they could make Nigeria one of the richest and most powerful countries in the world.



Said Samatar, a Somali icon dies

Said Samatar, who died last week, explained Somalia. A brilliant scholar he used words like swords and clubs wielded with speed and skill to skewer or batter his audience. Not just a Somali expert, but a true exponent of the Somali way: attack first and fast and only concede or retreat as tactical ways of re-launching or advancing his argument. All this was done with that other great Somali talent – humour. I shall treasure his signed copy of Oral Poetry and Somali Nationalism – the history of Sayyid Mahammad Abdille Hassan, a Somali nationalist who battled against the British invasion the early 20th century and defeated them on more than one occasion. He hit them with bullets and sent them handwritten poems. The British called him “The Mad Mullah” but they never caught him.

 I first met Prof Samatar at a small closed conference in Cairo soon after Somalia had effectively disintegrated. He berated the rest of the world for neglecting the country, but then explained how Somali culture – not foreign intervention – had caused the collapse and only Somalis themselves could find a way to reconstitute the Somali world (he hated states) through a kind of clan-based anarcho-syndicalism. He urged his Egyptian hosts not to go to Somalia, but to leave it to the Somalis. To him the Somali culture of contradiction was both the cause and the cure. That was in 1994. He has been proved right. And although he would be wracked with grief at the state of Somalia today he would also be laughing at the seemingly pointless battles and quick-fire wisecracks.

A child soldier who became a monster



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Dominic Ongwen made a confused impression in the fishbowl of a courtroom at the International Criminal Court in The Hague recently. From behind the bulletproof glass a grandstand full of white people spied upon the 40-year-old Ugandan, a rebel leader who  for most of his existence led a wild life in the African bush.  Ongwen listened uncomfortable to the charges against him – heavy crimes of which he himself was a victim.

Perpetrator and victim at the same time. Shortly after his arrest mid-December in the Central African Republic the former child soldier who became a senior commander in the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) had said: “I went to the bush as a blind and deaf person. It is the same way I have come. I am now like a new born child, who you cannot blame for doing anything wrong. I am like a mad man now.

The LRA has been the most murderous rebel group in Africa over the past half century. But also the Ugandan government soldiers committed atrocities. Maybe that’s why nowhere on the continent such fiery debate rages about what to do with perpetrators and victims. What judicial system can alleviate the trauma’s caused by this brutal and bizarre war that took place first in northern Uganda and later fanned out over the Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic? Does peace sometimes contradict with justice, punishment with reconciliation? Do the West and Africa fundamentally entertain different conceptions of justice?

In 2005, the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants against five leaders of the LRA. Of those five LRA leaders Joseph Kony is still on the run. Three others were killed by him or died during fighting. The ICC formulated three counts of crimes against humanity and four counts of war crimes against Ongwen. These accusations are connected to a massacre on May 19, 2004 of more than fifty people in the hamlet of Lukodi in northern Uganda.

In the shadow under the roof of the grocery store in Lukodi all men shake their head resolutely. They say: No, Ongwen should never be released, he must for ever be locked up in The Hague for his committed sins. “At six o’clock in the afternoon the attack began. The LRA fighters shouted and shot,” says the old man Gibson Ogot. “They killed one of my sons. I saw how they threw a child into the fire. Ongwen is a monster.”

From intercepted radio contact between the attackers in Lukodi and the Altar, the command centre of the LRA, it appears that although Ongwen did not lead the attack, he played a major role in it.

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The lessons to be learned about fighting ebola

The number of ebola patients in West Africa is declining.But it will be a daunting task to completely eliminate the epidemic.Epidemiologist Ger Steenbergen works as a health expert at the Dutch Embassy in Ghana.He calculates that around 20 000 people have died last year of ebola. Last year, he travelled extensively in the ebola affected countries Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Steenbergen expects the last patient in June, but he warns against complacency.“We’re not there yet.Every patient with suspected symptoms should be tested.If even one case is overlooked, everything starts from the beginning.Everyone still should stay away from his sick neighbour, because he is potentially dangerous.It remains impossible for someone to give instinctive care to a sick person and touch him. “

Ebola is known since 1976, but this epidemic is unique.“In previous outbreaks in and around the forests of Central Africa, the virus died out by itself because of the remoteness of the affected villages.That does not happen this time, because in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea there were outbreaks simultaneously in villages, towns and slums.Never before has an ebola epidemic raged on such a scale. “

From the beginning the fight was addressed incorrectly.The outbreak began in the place where the three countries of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea meet around the town of Guéckédou.Doctors without Borders (MSF) was first on the spot and used a script that was based on previous outbreaks in remote areas in the Congo.That scenario however was not applicable to the busy trade routes in Guéckédou.“According to the scenario, the patients were isolated.But you cannot just take people out of their home, place them in an internment camp full of nurses dressed in moon suits, to finally put them under the ground without any rituals and without relatives present to say goodbye.That is the reason the population attacked the camp of MSF and freed the patients. On motorbikes, lorries or buses they fled in all directions.Then outbreaks started to happen everywhere.”

In the perception of many West Africans the world consists of good and bad spirits.Purification ceremonies are important for sending the deceased to the magical world of the ancestors.The epidemic exposed the gap between citizens and governments.

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Je suis Nigeria

The great surge of marchers in Paris on Sunday the 10th of January was impressive and very moving but what was it for? We know what it was against:

murdering cartoonists – or anyone else – is a bad thing and should not happen. But what was the message to the world?

 The politicians will welcome this response because they can use it to introduce lots of new security measures which no one will question.

France’s security services will be given lots of money. I suspect we will soon see waves of arrests of Muslim activists in France.

Politically I expect France will swing to the right and become a less tolerant society (especially of Muslims).

 I will not be joining ‘Je Suis Charlie’. Why? Because although I would defend their right to draw and say what they like, these cartoonists did not respect or care about ordinary sincere believers who would have been deeply hurt by the violent dehumanised images of the founders of the great religions of the world. These were not just Muslims, but Christians and Sikhs and Buddhists as well. Some of those images came close to the sort of cartoons that the Nazis drew to depict Jews in the 1930s.

 I am not a believer. I was brought up a Catholic and worked for the Catholic Church in different ways for 10 years but now I would describe myself as a sceptic, an agnostic. As a good liberal I defend the right of everyone to write, draw or compose whatever they want.

Let the adult public decide whether they want to see it or not. They can mock the politicians and the Pope as much as they wish.

 But if writers and cartoonists use the power of their pens to attack and mock the sincerely held beliefs of the poor and voiceless in society who cannot reply, that is not just mean, it is unjust. It is also provocative and will lead to violence. That is not a moral judgement. It is a fact.

 France has a bad history with the Arab world. The vicious war for Algeria in the 1950s and 60s and the murder of many Arabs – some reports say more than 200 – in Paris in 1961 have not been forgotten.Muslims still feel discriminated against in jobs and at schools. Arabs I met – and still meet – in France complain that racism is directed at them far more than other Africans. Arabs remain at the bottom of society.

 But there is a terrible irony here. The Wahhabi Islam that has created Islamic militancy has its origins in a close ally of the West; Saudi Arabia. Wealthy Saudis, such as Osama bin Laden, from a country that grew rich on our need for their cheap oil, fund terrorism against us.

Just as in the 1970s and 80s much of the IRA’s money came from Britain’s ally, the United States.

 Friday’s siege and shoot out and the outpouring of solidarity with those who suffered and the people of France in general was deeply moving. The world will have sympathy for France. But was it also a nationalist march making a statement about the strength of France?

Will France now swing to the right and use the march to create a less open society?


Kenya shoots itself in the foot with new security law

THE STORY IS told of how on September 11th 2001 (9/11), somewhere in Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, Al Qaeda’s leader Osama bin Laden, and the elusive leader of the Taliban Mullah Omar, sat around a television with their closest aides. Even though the Taliban had banned television this was a special occasion. They had gathered in a hideout to watch al Qaeda’s attack on the Twin Towers, Pentagon and other American symbols of power and global influence. The success of this most spectacular terrorist attack ever changed the world.


In short order, America and her allies invaded Afghanistan and deposed the Taliban. This campaign enjoyed sympathy across the globe. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 was a more dubiously justified one. However, it soon became clear that the real motive behind Osama bin Laden’s attack – first tested successfully on us and the Tanzanians when the US embassies in Nairobi and Dar were bombed in August 1998 – was to drag the US and ‘the West’ into a quagmire in Afghanistan. Iraq was a tremendous bonus. The quagmire transpired. Indeed, the Middle East continues to convulse today.

 However, as al Qaeda evolved, bin Laden and his team seemed to conjure up a more malevolent strategic objective – to force the West into a type of conflict that would cause the US to abandon some of the core values that make America the unique superpower it is. America prides itself on building a society whose core values are based around the principle of the freedom of the individual. However, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Gharib, collateral damage from drone attacks, the CIA’s systematic use of torture, and corruption in these war zones on a massive scale did much to undermine the moral standing of the US in the world. It is as an idea that extremist intolerant Islam has proven itself globally most potent and dangerous. It is heavily reliant on provoking the leadership of fear-gripped countries to respond against their own people along brittle fault-lines that may already exist, such as that between Christian and Muslim.

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Give value to the spirits in the fight against ebola

Roadblock in Sierra Leone

“Mi no dae” – I do not want to die – says Alpha through the window of the isolation room. The doctor of the small hospital in Yele, a little town in the heart of Sierra Leone, tries to comfort her. But the doctor knows her chances of survival are small: Alpha has diarrhoea, blood in her stool and she vomits. All symptom of ebola.

Yesterday, Alpha and five other suspected ebola patients were brought from neighbouring Maraka to the hospital. One of them died last night. Several weeks ago, the first ebola workers travelled over the dirt road, lined with long grass and towering palms, to Maraka village to spread the news. None of the 700 inhabitants took them seriously. Not even when a little boy died. They buried him in the dead of night, many villagers touched his body. Then his brother became ill too, followed by his mother.

It’s dead silent in Maraka. Terror has stuck. This morning the deceased child’s grandmother died. Ebola, the invisible enemy, has become real. Everyone hides indoors. “Finally they believe us,” grumbles an ebola officer dressed in plastic jacket and helmet.

Village head Fodo Tulli, who wears an orange hat decorated with two tassels, peeks through a wooden shutter. The ebola workers persuade him to gather his people under the big mango tree, where he sits on a bench. Some bewildered men rally around, each keeping a distance from one other. “Are you infected?” whispers one to the other. When the ebola officers tell them everyone could be infected and everybody should stay home for three weeks, some people start to grumble. “I still have to get the harvest in,” protests an old man.

Villagers are being told by ebola workers that Maraka has been hit by ebola              The head of the village calls a meeting. The ebola workers on the left inform the inhabitants of Maraka, while keeeping a distance


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Fear without borders: You are brain-fucking me

The UN flight stewardess puts her goggles on and places a guard over her a mouth. “Welcome aboard,” she says, and aims a digital thermometer at each passenger’s forehead. “Do not sit in the front rows. We like to keep a distance from you.”

Almost all airlines have suspended flights to ebola affected Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea. Experts had advised against a no-fly zone, because the virus does not spread through the air. But ebola has caused wide spread panic. A fear without borders. So the UN set up its own air service to allow aid workers to shuttle in an out. Cargo planes are unloaded at Monrovia airport by men in space suits. The crew aboard the Karel Doorman, a transport ship sent by the Netherlands, have orders not to set foot ashore when calling at the ports of the ebola countries.

“We are in the frontline,” shouts an American soldier in his camp at the Monrovia airport. Armoured vehicles pass by; a helicopter takes off for a patrol flight. More than 2,000 American soldiers are leading the fight against ebola in Liberia. In Sierra Leone, far fewer British soldiers do a similar job. Infections are on the wane in Liberia, thanks to a well-coordinated campaign, in Sierra Leone the aid agencies stumble over each other and the epidemic is not in retreat.

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Lest We Forget The Hundreds Of Thousands Who Perished In SALVA KIIR’S Juba Genocide!!


By Peter Adwok Nyaba

Today, December 15, 2014, marks the first anniversary of the Juba massacre of ethnic Nuers ordered by President Salva Kiir Mayardit. It remains the saddest day in the history of South Sudan for it triggered the worst animal instincts, dehumanized us, that in a matter of moments we began to discriminate and decimate ourselves on the basis of ethnicity. Initially, the Nuers alone were marked for death at the hands of ‘dutku beny’ or the auxiliary presidential guards recruited specifically for that purpose at the behest of President Kiir by Paul Malong Awan. Nevertheless, any Dinka with facial marks as the Nuers suffered the same brutal fate. The village boys from Warrap and Awiel did not know that other Dinka people existed in Upper Nile or Jonglei. They also murdered a Chollo judge because they wanted to possess the Toyota V8 he drove.

Then, in a few days the mayhem spread like bush fire to other towns Bor, Bentiu, Malakal, Renk, etc., where now the Nuer in a similar fashion avenged their beloved ones against the Shilluk, Dinka, Nuer, Maaban, etc. The Shilluk also took on the Nuer; the Dinka took on the Shilluk, Nuer and Maaban. In his desperation, President Salva Kiir Mayardit invited the Dar Furi Sudanese rebels [Tora Bora], the Justice and Equality Movement to join the war against Dr. Riek Machar. He also invited the Ugandan People’s Defence Forces [UPDF] and their Helicopter Gunships whose gunners could not differentiate between the Nuers, Dinka, SPLA or White Army and bombed them without segregation, in a civil turned regional war with ill-defined political objective. Nevertheless, characterized by vengeance and counter-vengeance, for no reason, in which innocent women, elderly and children without distinction, perished in a manner unprecedented in our wars not even when we fought the mujahedeen and the muralieen.

December 15, 2013 is the day for which, we must invariably lower our heads in shame to deflate our individual inordinately enlarged ego. For that day imperceptibly exposed our five decades pretense and collective self-deception that we were one people fighting for liberation, equality, freedom and justice. On that day, inadvertently we denied our commonality, collective heritage and we forgot about neighborhood or neighbour standing up to defend the neighbour in danger.

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A recession in democracy in Kenya and beyond

 In truth across Africa and many other parts of the world the situation vis-à-vis basic human rights has been in decline. A democratic recession has gripped entire parts of the African continent even as we celebrate the narrative of ‘Africa Rising’ that is driven by consistently high levels of economic growth over the last two decades; a growing vibrant middle class; a massive bulge of educated energetic, healthy and globalized youth with the potential to power our economies to unprecedented levels. Africa’s tremendous wealth in natural resources and the world’s huge hunger for them has been a major factor in creating potential confluence of positive factors. Add to this the fact that most of Africa democratized in the early 1990s then on paper the conditions are beginning to come together that would create for a situation of countries that are stable and governed via systems of that have the principles of social justice embedded in them.

Unfortunately over the last two years we have endured the reversals in human rights in some areas and the current Kenyan government has often made it clear that some of the rights Kenyans have come to take for granted are at best an inconvenience and at worst a risk to national security. While the messages are often mixed and confusing it would seem that there are those within the regime – a minority it would seem – determined to craft Kenya into a militarized authoritarian state wrapped in the national flag and all the rituals and propagandised narratives of a kind of a kind of proto fascism.

 And so there are specific reasons why we should be concerned about the general environment with regard to rights and freedoms in Kenya.

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Little evidence of ‘Africa Rising’ in Index of African Governance

Next time you pick up a glossy document from one of the global consultancy companies promoting investment opportunities in Africa, count the number of times the word ‘could’ appears. Also the phrase “potential to become…”.

These global megafirms, whose word is life or death to small countries, give the impression that Africa has only just been discovered, a hidden El Dorado of investment opportunity. Get on a plane to Ouagadougou tomorrow and make your fortune.

The worst examples of this grotesque hype have been the Renaissance Capital’s book The Fastest Billion – about “Africa’s Economic Revolution” and The Economist’s Hopeful Continent cover with trite article written by a tourist.

They should be more careful. There is no doubt that there is wider space for commerce in most African countries than there was 10 years ago but in no way is it like doing business in Norway. And it wont be for a while. If these organisations blow the bubble up too big and too fast it will burst and we will be back to The Hopeless Continent days.

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Battle against islamism brings back international real politics to Africa

A loosely interconnected Islamist uprising is spreading from Syria in northern Arabia to Mali in West Africa and threatens to produce terrorism in Europe and the US. That is the clear and immediate danger. But the Western response to it may signal the demise of the American-led global prescription which followed the end of the Cold War in 1989. Washington proclaimed democracy, human rights and the free market. But from now on those values may be trumped by one simple demand: security.

When the West shifted its position on President Assad of Syria the new message was clear: “If you are on our side in the fight against global jihad then we do not mind who you are or what you do.” In other words, 25 years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, we are back in a new global war in which the absolute need to win trumps our basic values.

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Africa’s reliable disappointments: Football

The 2014 FIFA World Cup is over and as the fever dies in the rest of the World, congratulations are in order for the Germans who emerged the champions. They indeed have proved that like their BMW’s and Mercedes, their machines if well oiled, can deliver wonders.
As the curtains are brought down and focus now goes to domestic leagues, African player’s transfers are taking a center stage in the International transfer market with huge expensive sales. This is a stark contrast of the heartaches and headaches many of the players put their Countries and the entire African continent through in Brazil.
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One hundred years on, we must not forget Africa’s role in the First World War

One hundred years ago this week, self regarding, ignorant and weak leaders with the primitive belief that God was on their side, ancient tribal hatreds and total disregard for human life, combined to make decisions that killed an estimated 16 million people and wounded at least 20 million. These decisions wrecked the lives of millions more, setting economies back decades, including in Africa which is often forgotten. A hundred years ago this week Europe was indeed The Hopeless Continent.

Then they did it again 21 years later. The second round was about something important; a battle not between tribes but ideologies. But the First World War was purely tribal rivalry – who is to be top dog in Europe. Like many however, my parents always referred to the enemies as Germans, not Nazis.

The media will devote much time over the next four years to recall and debate the reasons why. My fear is that each country will only cover it from its own perspective of victory or loss.

In Britain the First World War is predominantly viewed today through the eyes of the poets, particularly Wilfred Owen. The recollection on Armistice Day is for remembering the fallen, not an acclamation of victory. The delight of Winston Churchill and others like him who reveled in war is quietly forgotten.

The first war was a ghastly meaningless mistake whose chief significance was that it led to the Second World War. For France however the war was about survival. It was fought largely on French territory and despite horrific losses France held on. But the vengeful settlement the country insisted on imposing on Germany in the aftermath led to the rise of Nazism and the second war.

The Russian attitude was interesting because its revolution in 1917 took it out of the war. It is interesting to hear Mr Putin blaming the Bolsheviks for withdrawing from the war. He said this week: “it was called an imperialist war in Soviet times…. there is no difference between the first and second world wars” because in both cases “people gave their lives for their country and should not be forgotten”. There is, he pointed out, not a single First World War memorial in Russia.

For Germany the stress is on regret. President Joachim Gauck said this week that his country was “completely unjustified” in invading Belgium. He called it the “triumph of extreme nationalism over empathy and of propaganda that knew no bounds”.

The war was the first remembered peoples’ war. All previous wars are remembered by official accounts and the occasional writer who happened to be there. The First World War is remembered in millions of family letters and photos and an excellent archive of personal memories that the BBC has collected over the decades.

My great aunt who lived in Paris in 1914 told me that when she heard the gunfire as the Germans advanced she decided to go home to London. When she got to Calais she found the piers lined with hundreds of stretchers bearing wounded soldiers waiting to be shipped back to Britain. Shortly after, her fiancé was killed.

My grandfather left his wife, two children and his job as a civil servant and signed up for the navy on the day war was declared. He was sent with the Naval Division to defend Antwerp but the train which took them from Dunkirk was stopped by a German patrol and they surrendered. He never fired a shot and spent four miserable years in a prisoner of war camp.

A disabled old man called Henry who lived in a flat in Paddington who I visited as a student had been on the Western Front. He showed me a note written in German. He had been guarding some prisoners and asked them to write the note in German saying he had them well and sign it with their names and unit so that if he was ever captured he might give it to his captors and be treated well. Amid the industrial slaughter and careless killing, there were moments of amazing humanity.

Who remembers the First World War in Africa? The accounts of the time were about the exploits of British and white South African troops but thanks to Edward Paice who wrote Tip and Run: The Untold Tragedy of the Great War in Africa we have a far clearer picture of what happened when Africa became a battleground for the Germans, British and French.

He points out that the official death toll was more than 105,000 of whom only 11,189 were British troops. The rest, 95,000, were mainly African carriers who were at first paid but later press-ganged into carrying supplies for the troops. The full figure was higher but may never be known as many of those forced to carry were not registered. Disease was their biggest killer. 50% of the Gold Coast (Ghana) Regiment died of exhaustion, starvation or disease. Some 50,000 Kenyans died. The Germans kept no record of their African carriers who were not paid.

Of course, with so many men forced to leave their villages farming collapsed in some areas and in many places there was mass starvation. Paice reckons the toll of African civilians on the German side was at least 300,000. But, as in Europe, the end of the war was accompanied by the outbreak of influenza, a new disease in Africa. It killed between 1.5 and 2 million Africans. “The scale and scope of the Great War in East Africa, in particular, was gargantuan” writes Paice.

The only monument in Africa that I know of which commemorates the war is a grave of a young British soldier near the Uganda-Tanzania border. The local people still tend it. There is also a memorial in Nairobi. But where are the monuments in Berlin, Paris, Brussels and London to the Africans who died in Europe’s appalling outbreak of tribal mass murder?

Richard Dowden is Director of the Royal African Society and author of Africa; altered states, ordinary miracles. Follow Richard on twitter: @DowdenAfrica

Has Kenya Destroyed the ICC?

When the supporters of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto began systematically attacking the International Criminal Court (ICC) as a neo-colonialist institution biased against Africans in the run-up to Kenya’s 2013 election, their prime concern was domestic: to ensure their champions escaped prosecution at The Hague. A publicity campaign that made clever use of social media was transformed into government policy once the two men were inaugurated president and deputy president, respectively. It then acquired diplomatic wings, with envoys from Nairobi crisscrossing the continent to drum up support, culminating with an extraordinary African Union summit last October at which it was agreed that African heads of state would no longer face ICC prosecution during terms in office.

So effective has the anti-ICC campaign proved that it is now having repercussions its originators probably never foresaw: South Sudan is likely to be just the first in a series of new African conflict zones where human rights groups and civil society organizations find themselves nonplussed, unsure what to advocate in light of the body blows dealt the ICC.

“The ICC backlash has created a major dilemma for us, no doubt about it,” acknowledged the head of one human rights organization I spoke to, who asked not to be named. “Deciding the appropriate course of action has become a very difficult question.”
Their quandary, however, is no philosophical abstraction — the privilege of Western-funded NGOs with headquarters in Washington and Brussels. Every journalist is familiar with the experience of returning to the scene of an atrocity and interviewing a cowed survivor who quietly mentions that, in the street, they regularly pass men who raped a daughter, killed a father. If the ICC no longer holds out even the slim hope of eventual retribution for those who funded and armed such thugs, what alternatives exist?

In many ways, the series of abuses committed in South Sudan after fighting broke out in mid-December would be well suited for referral to the ICC, which currently can prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide. First in Juba and then in dusty towns like Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal, opposing forces loyal to President Salva Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, carried out tit-for-tat massacres and gang rapes, with atrocities targeted along ethnic lines. Victims were shot in hospital beds, outside churches, and within sight of United Nations compounds.

For human rights activists, the sheer brutality of the violence, in a region scarred by 22 years of civil war between Khartoum and southern rebels, confirms a long-voiced argument that preventing fresh abuses means ending impunity. It is vital, many argue, to avoid the example set by Sudan’s Comprehensive Peace Agreement, which gave birth to Africa’s newest state in 2011 while largely sidestepping the issue of accountability for past crimes.

“We’ve had 10,000 dead in less than three months. It’s been very fast, very aggressive, and the massacres have been ethnically targeted because that’s the way the leadership presented it,” says Wani Mathias Jumi, secretary-general of the South Sudan Law Society. “In the past there was no accountability at all, and that has been carried forward. If this country is to exist anywhere but on paper, we have to see redress this time.”

South Sudan possesses other characteristics that make it suitable for ICC referral. The three-year-old country’s judicial system is still in embryonic form. No legal provision for crimes against humanity exists, and legal aid and witness protection programs have yet to be established. Judges, prosecutors, investigators, and clerks are in short supply and were often trained in the north, and so are accustomed to legal documents written in Arabic and the workings of sharia law. In South Sudan, where most inhabitants are either Christian or animist, the official language is English and the legal system is based on common law.

“Even before the latest conflict, South Sudan was struggling to cope with prosecuting ordinary crimes,” says Amnesty International’s Elizabeth Ashamu Deng. “It’s clear that the normal justice system would not be able to deal with this latest challenge without significant external input.” Daniel Bekele, the director of the Africa division at Human Rights Watch, describes South Sudan’s judiciary as “one of the weakest in the region,” adding, “In a new country, that’s not surprising.”

Always envisaged as a “court of last resort,” the ICC was set up in 1998 with precisely such circumstances in mind, offering justice to people in states too fractured to deliver it themselves. South Sudan may not be a signatory to the Rome Statute that established the ICC (neither, of course, is the United States), but the U.N. Security Council can refer a situation to the ICC, thereby establishing jurisdiction.

Yet in spite of South Sudan’s apparently meeting many ICC criteria, leading human rights and policy advocacy groups are skirting calls for the court’s involvement. Human Rights Watch says it is still assessing the situation. The International Crisis Group is calling instead for a tribunal on the lines of that staged in Sierra Leone after its civil war. Amnesty International, for its part, says it is waiting on the final recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry on South Sudan, set up by the African Union.

This wariness is rooted in recent, scarring experience. Shocked human rights groups are still digesting the African Union’s decision to rally behind Kenyatta and Ruto, accused by the ICC of organizing the violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives in the wake of Kenya’s 2007 elections and nearly tore the country apart.

“The ICC has, unfortunately, become a toxic brand in much of Africa,” says John Ryle, of the Rift Valley Institute think tank. “This is due to the ineptitude of its former chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, and to the skillful political maneuverings of a number of ICC indictees, who have managed to represent the court as an instrument of Western intervention in the affairs of sovereign nations. The vulnerability of the ICC to this backlash has been a blow for African civil society activists who seek justice and accountability from their leaders.”

Indeed, aware that three of the regional states now attempting to mediate a peace deal between Kiir and Machar — Sudan proper (where President Omar al-Bashir himself faces ICC prosecution), Kenya, and Uganda — have been particularly vocal in their hostility toward the ICC, many human rights groups are seeking cover behind the African Union’s commission of inquiry, which is seen as a classic “African solution to an African problem.” Led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo and launched in March, the commission includes Ugandan academic Mahmood Mamdani, who has made his impatience with the ICC clear, arguing that a fixation with delivering pure justice can clash with the political accommodations necessary for peace. Influenced by South Africa’s post-apartheid experience, the commission’s members see reconciliation as their overriding priority. It is already running months behind schedule, but its final report, due in September, is expected to reiterate initial support for a “hybrid court” as the most appropriate way of delivering justice to South Sudan.

Hybrid, or “ad hoc,” courts usually involve a mix of domestic judges and international magistrates, prosecutors, and investigators flown in to bolster a weak local legal system. The aim would clearly be to deliver a form of justice that would be both credible and recognizably local.

But many in the human rights sector see the championing of the hybrid-court model as deeply ironic — history turning full circle. Ad hoc courts of various kinds were experimented with in Africa during the 1990s as reactions to abuses committed in Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and, more recently, Chad. The ICC formula came to be seen as far preferable as a result.

“It seems we’ve gone right back to the 1990s,” says Casie Copeland, an analyst with the International Crisis Group. “The problem with the ad hoc courts was that they were tremendously expensive and that cash” — usually provided by the United States, European Union, or United Kingdom — “just isn’t on the table now.”

“Decisions to appoint ad hoc courts were often highly political, whereas with the ICC system everyone knew they were dealing with international treaty bodies,” she adds. It can sometimes prove impossible to set up a hybrid court in the country where the atrocities were committed, leaving proceedings looking just as remote to the local population as those in The Hague. Another problem with hybrid courts has proved to be the often-tense relationships that develop between internationally funded employees and local staff working in cash-strapped, demoralized courts — tensions that undermined the ambition to build up a legacy of skills, resources, and legal expertise.

“The hybrid-court approach might be one useful model, but it is no panacea for all situations,” warns Human Rights Watch’s Bekele. “The relevance of a hybrid-court model needs to be assessed on a case-by-case basis.”

Wary of being associated with another high-profile ICC debacle — one many observers predict could effectively spell the end of the court — human rights workers say the ball on South Sudan is now in the African Union’s court. But they privately express concerns about the commission of inquiry’s scarce resources and the modest amount of time spent on the ground. “The African Union really needs to step up to the plate on this and demonstrate it can push for accountability,” said one activist who wished to remain anonymous.

History may well come to see Kenya as the place where an idealistic — but perhaps naive — drive for universal justice was checked by the realities of entrenched elite power. The notion that sitting heads of state or popular ethnic champions would meekly allow themselves to be prosecuted seems extraordinarily starry-eyed now. But that realization still leaves unanswered the practical question of what is to be done when fresh conflicts break out and abuses are committed in traumatized African states that lack either infrastructure or political will to deliver accountability. This question is immediately pressing in South Sudan, as well as the Central African Republic, but will inevitably arise in other parts of the continent before too long.

Expect years of debate. “The end goal is that there should be justice,” says Copeland. “If there’s a way of achieving that without involving the ICC, then let’s do it. But we’re going to see plenty of efforts to find ways of working around the ICC that will be confronted with the same facts that motivated the establishment of the ICC in the first place.”

Aging African leaders should make space for the younger generation

Telling Africans and their leaders what to do – or not do – is not in my nature. Outsiders do not have a good record in this area.

But sometimes situations and events become so precarious and decisions taken are so obviously going to lead to disaster that you have no choice but to say something. This is Africa’s moment and the world is slowly but surely recognizing that the continent is no longer all about dictators, tribalism, wars and corruption. But some presidents – throwbacks to the age of dictators – are threatening this new perception.

When Thabo Mbeki was President of South Africa, he cast doubt over the accepted wisdom on HIV/AIDS. South Africa was pilloried and rightly so. But many South Africans quietly got on with combatting the spread of the disease. One of them was Jacob Zuma, the Deputy President, in charge of the national Aids project. In an interview I did with him in 2002 he quietly dissociated himself from his president’s views on aidssaying: “…what has happened is that people have mixed the president’s thinking with the policy of the government… he is a thinker, a political scientist… government policy is based on the premise that HIV causes Aids.”

Later however, he admitted that he had sex with a woman who was HIV positive but took a shower afterwards. Perhaps he did not really believe in the campaign he had headed after all. At his recent re-inauguration the President did not look well. He has had to cancel so many engagements and meetings that it is now clear that Cyril Ramaphosa is running things. Since being open about one’s HIV status was one of the main policies of his government’s anti Aids strategy, it would be a great act of leadership for President Zuma to now declare his own status.

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Football: God does not Love Africa!

Every four years the World is treated to a congregation that the United Nations, all Religions and Politicians are enviable of. This is a meeting of hearts and souls from all corners of the World congregating in a Country to witness and be part of the Football World Cup celebrations.

The FIFA World Cup is one of the international associations where affirmative action does not exist. As the World looks at giving more opportunities to underprivileged persons or over populated areas, FIFA does the opposite.
Europe with 47 Countries has the Lions share at the Football spectacle with 13 representatives whereas Africa with 54 countries only has 5 representatives at the tournament and has hosted it only once. Sadly Africa with all its prayers and footballing witchcraft has never advanced past the quarter final.
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The war against terror in Kenya could turn into a success for al Shabaab


THE PAST COUPLE of weeks have seen the government implement the most dramatic combination of an anti-terror operation and a crackdown against illegal immigrants in decades – Operation Linda Usalama.

Broadly it seems aimed at responding the security meltdown underway across the country and more specifically at the threat posed by ‘Islamic extremism’.

This operation has been accompanied by a series of massive sweeps in Nairobi and other towns seeking out illegal immigrants and terrorists supposedly associated with the originally Somali al Shabaab terror group.

Initially, these sweeps were aimed mainly at members of the Somali community and other Muslims in the context of a steadily and intensifying number of terrorist attacks over the past couple of years. By last week security forces were going house-to-house in an invasive (and for many expensive) graduation of the operation.

From grenades being thrown into churches, eateries and matatus killing and wounding a rapidly growing number of innocents; to the discovery of sophisticated improvised explosive devices (one of them in a car parked in a police station after being driven thousands of kilometres from Kismayo to the Coast) – its clear Kenya is under attack. Fear and anger have grown with every attack.

The most shocking was the brazen violent strike on the high-end Westgate Mall in Nairobi last September that resulted in 67 deaths and over 170 injuries. Most of the victims were middle class that lent events a resonance far more profound than would otherwise have been the case.

All this has been accompanied by the extra judicial assassination of some of the more outspoken Coast-based radical Muslim preachers over the same period.

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Is Someone Trying To Kill Devolution?

I am one of those who insist that Kenyans did not choose to adopt a devolved system of government because they had thought it through rationally, weighed all the options at hand, before deciding on it as the most efficient and desirable governance system given our circumstances. Rather, decades of centralised, ethnicised, authoritarian, corrupt, deeply discriminatory and unequal development as a result of the national government policies favouring Nairobi and the elites that dominate it, forced the hand of the majority who voted for it.

The attitude was, “We’ve tried everything else –political pluralism, successful agitation for basic freedoms and rights etc – and those who have controlled the center of power in Nairobi since independence continue to make off with a hugely disproportionate chunk of national cake.” On the ground, this developed into a powerful narrative that has in turn been ethnicised and politicised to the extent that it has helped define the outcome of elections in the multi-party era; the only policy pillar that stood out in ODM’s 2007 campaign, for example, was ugatuzi.

As a slogan, this was read by many Kenyans as essentially a political instrument to correct ethnic discrimination in development, especially as regards access to justice and economic opportunity. Devolution remains, in effect, the biggest rungu in the arsenal of those communities who aren’t, and probably will never be, part of the so-called “tyranny of numbers”.

A similar underlying rationale informed the ‘District Focus for Rural Development’ initiative of the Moi administration that kicked off in October 1982. In essence, this was in actual fact Kenya’s first real attempt at an affirmative action programme to more equitably distribute resources and opportunities to parts of the country that had historically been economically and politically marginalized. However, a mixture of incompetence, graft and the politics of patronage scuttled the potential of the initiative.

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Chaos, chaos everywhere in Central African Republic

Koert Lindijer returns to the village of Zèré, where in November he saw how Christians had been attacked and slain by Muslim gangs. Now the roles are reversed.

Amidst the rubble of the destroyed mosque of Zèré, in the middle of the Central African Republic, kids make mockery of the Muslim mode of praying. They push their butts in the air and jeer: “Allah, get the hell out of here “. The elderly also join in and shout: “We never want to see them here anymore.”

Deep hateful cries sound in all corners of the country. Christian youths with machetes cleanse the land of Muslims. More than a thousand mosques and Koranic schools have been smashed into ruins; more than a hundred imams have been killed. A handful of remaining Muslims has become trapped, and are sheltered in enclaves guarded by international peacekeepers. The roles are reversed in the Central African Republic. The country hidden in the heart of Africa, with the approximate size of France, is in an even greater chaos than it was a few months ago. The terror of one group has been replaced by that of the other.

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Homosexuality is worse than Terrorism!

It was on a cold evening on March 26, 2014.The evening quietness and tranquility was broken by a loud shriek of a woman and wails from others as they shouted, help help help this guy will kill us! Mr. Duale jumped to his feet and dashed out carrying an axe and knife, all that was on his mind was to save his neighbors.

Outside he met a lady who in between gasps of breath told him that there was a terrorist shooting wildly and wrapped in bombs and was about to blow himself up. He ordered the woman to lock herself in a house and promised to take care of the terrorist. He was soon joined by other armed persons and moved towards the direction where the terrorist was, the neighborhood’s public square.

As they came to the clearing, he organized the gathered crowd on how they would attack the guy and either disarm or kill him. Duale was an extremely vocal person in the community and his perceived wise council was rated highly. As he took up his position besides a house, he heard some giggling, whispers and moans coming from inside the house.

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Uhuru Must Step Up To Tackle Rhino Poaching

We were getting together for a Lewa Wildlife Conservancy board meeting and as a newcomer I was excited to be part of this world-class operation. Lewa is a prestigious private conservation area in northern Kenya, famed for its rhinos and its annual marathon.

I had been thrilled when the chairman, Michael Joseph called me to his office last year and asked me “Will you join the Lewa board?”

I had always wanted to learn from Lewa’s enormous body of knowledge, and to contribute to its successful rhino conservation programme. He didn’t need to ask.

Now in my first board meeting meeting, Mike Watson, CEO of Lewa Conservancy, took an urgent phone call, then returned and informed us that gunshots had been heard at nearby Ol Pejeta Conservancy.

I called Richard Vigne, CEO of Ol Pejeta. He confirmed one black rhino bull was dead, his horns gone. There was no need for words to describe the anger, defeat, upset and sorrow he was feeling. It was not lost on any of us that the events at Ol Pejeta, just a few dozen kilometres away, might well have been here at Lewa.

Despite the news, we went ahead with our board meeting, which was upbeat and concluded on a positive note. But all I was thinking about was how to get to Ol Pejeta, and I invited others to come with me.

At first nobody wanted to. It would be depressing and besides, they said they all had other plans. I’m used to this reaction. Nobody wants to confront the horror of what is happening in its bloody face.

But after a few minutes of explaining why this is relevant to Lewa, I had a full car with members of board from both Kenya and the US.

None of them had ever seen a freshly butchered rhino before. I didn’t tell them that neither had I. But I’ve seen enough dead elephants to know that it’s a life-changing experience.

We drove to Ol Pejeta, where Martin Mulama and his chief of security Serem welcomed us. Their faces revealed a despondency rarely seen in conservation. We set off for the rhino under a heavy cloud of dark emotions.

Some of us stood in the back of a pick-up which crashed ahead through the bush followed closely by all the others in a Land Rover.

I asked Martin about the incident. As the vehicle bounced around, and branches caught my hair, Martin explained that gunshots were heard at 6 pm the previous evening somewhere deep inside the conservancy. Security was scrambled and the perimeter of Ol Pejeta sealed with road blocks. But it was too late. The killers had already gone.

The carcass was deep inside the middle of the 75,000 acre conservancy, and several kilometres off any track. Whoever killed this rhino knew the terrain.

We ploughed through thick bush, zigzagging around hyena holes and ant hills and following the muddy tracks of cars that had gone before us.

Then the car came to an abrupt halt and I jumped down. Serem pointed. The rhino was somewhere in the bush only a hundred metres away.

I walked quickly to where I knew he would be, anger and sadness driving me to look at the face of the lifeless animal. And there he lay, silently on his side, his massive grey body slightly bloated, his left legs suspended up in the air.

He had died in deep bush and was lying in a pool of his own blood that looked like black oil. His left eye was open staring unseeingly at us, a few flies buzzed around him. Bubbles of red frothy blood oozed his nose. His pointed white lips were slightly open.

It was hard to look at his face, his eye was staring up at me. His two horns had been cut off at the base with an extremely sharp instrument. They appeared almost surgically removed. His hornless face seemed misshapen – without his horns he hardly looked like a rhino.

Rhino killed by poachers with horns removed on Ol Pejeta Conservancy, Kenya. Photograph: Paula Kahumbu

Martin explained the cuts on the rhino’s ear. Two precise notches had been cut into his ears when he was a calf to help identify him.

All the rhinos here are notched. The notches told us that this was 15 year old Sheria. Ironically his name in Kiswahili means Law. After a pause Martin said “Law is dead”.

Apart from the bloody gashes where his horns once were, he seemed unharmed. There were no other wounds. I was confused, wasn’t he shot?

If it wasn’t for Serem I would have missed the tiny bullet wounds that were almost impossible to see. He had been sprayed with bullets from an AK 47 but the entry points had closed over his thick grey-black rough skin.

Once I knew what I was looking I could see there were dozens of these wounds and I pictured the events of the night before. The deafening sound of gun shots, the acrid smell of gunfire, Sheria screaming and crashing through the bushes in a state of terror as he tried to escape the hail of bullets before he fell. I imagined that Sheria was still alive when they cut off his horns – he was probably watching them helplessly with his one open eye.

It would have taken a few minutes to cut off the horn, an eternity to Sheria. There were two murderers, one shooter and one guide. They worked quickly, silently, and escaped completely unnoticed save for the sound of bullets.

I squatted beside Sheria and leaned against his body. My arm on his massive leg, I reached out to touch his face. His body was warm, it felt as if he was still alive. I almost expected to feel him breathing.

The only smell was fresh blood. I don’t recall any sounds, the world was utterly silent. We stayed there for an hour talking in low tones, touching, feeling.

Now Sheria’s name and photograph will be removed from the rhino monitoring list for Ol Pejeta, where every rhino is sighted by security officers each day. This incident comes exactly one month after another rhino shooting. That rhino was injured and miraculously is still alive.

The escalation of poaching at Ol Pejeta is surprising because this sanctuary has some of the best rhino protection found anywhere in the world.

The population is completely fenced and anti-poaching investments include sniffer dogs, attack dogs, SAS-trained armed rangers, helicopters on standby, aircraft support, even military vehicles.

But the poachers are somehow outwitting us. They move with stealth, and are smarter and swifter. Even when they get caught they somehow subvert justice. Motivated by cash they will take huge risks – few poachers survive an encounter with KWS rangers nowadays.

Sheria was one of two rhinos poached this weekend, the other in Ngulia rhino sanctuary. These incidents are a reflection of a national and continental crisis.

Sixteen of Kenya’s rhinos have fallen to poachers in Kenya this year already. KWS says we have over 1,000 remaining but few conservationists believe these figures.

Even if we have 1,000, we could lose them all – South Africa lost over 1,000 last year alone. In Kenya all rhinos are in protected sanctuaries, yet none are safe. Rhinos are being gunned down everywhere in increasingly brazen and daring attacks in national parks and private sanctuaries like Lewa and Ol Pejeta.

Kenyans fear that the problem reflects a breakdown in governance. The people charged with protecting these invaluable creatures are turning their guns on them instead. And, the government is silent.

Kenyans are furious and determined to change things. They are now calling on the president, His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta to declare elephants and rhinos national treasures and to make it his personal crusade to stop the poaching. Without political will, the game is over for these magnificent species.

Some people think it is too late, but we did recover from similar threats in the 1980s under President Moi’s leadership. And in Nepal, rhino poaching has been reduced to nil due to the personal interventions of President Baran Yadav. Kenyans want President Uhuru to step up to this challenge – we simply cannot afford to give up.

Paula Kahumbu is the CEO of WildlifeDirect.

This article was originally published on the Kenyan newspaper The Star

Gay Africa: casualty of a different power struggle

Uganda’s war over homosexuality threatens to spread to other African countries and has further damaged the increasingly strained relationship between Africa and Western donors. For the donors it is a matter of human rights for minorities – a corner stone of democracy. For Africa it is part of the push back against the Western donors and the assertion of an African agenda. In Africa’s very religious – Christian or Muslim – societies, it is a matter of morality. At best it is a battle between Western human rights and African morality but both suspect the other – quite rightly – of more cynical agendas.

How did we get here? In the mid 1980s when Aids became front page news it was at first an American story from San Francisco dubbed “The Gay Plague”. Then there were the reports from Southern Uganda – the area I had lived in more than a decade earlier. A particular hard-nosed news editor asked me: “So are they all bumming each other in Africa?” My reply was that in all the time I had been working in Africa I had never come across homosexuality. That was true. Nobody talked about it.

In the United States Aids had begun to spread through the gay community while in Africa it was spread through heterosexual relationships, but my assertion that there was no gay sex in Africa was absurd. In fact teaching in a Catholic school in Buganda it was staring me in the face. The Uganda Martyrs, 22 young men executed by the Kabaka, the Baganda king, Mutesa II in 1886 and canonised by Pope Paul VI in 1964, were burned to death because they refused to have sex with him. But in the school, this was played down. We taught that they were executed because they converted to Christianity. Homosexuality was not talked about in Africa.

If it came up in conversation Ugandans and many other Africans would tell you that homosexuality is not African. They say it was introduced to Africa by the Arabs or the Europeans who forced Africans to do it – all part of the imperial takeover of Africa. It is true that African cultures tend to be very patriarchal and often macho. Part of that culture is the refusal to accept that some people, male and female, are gay and that they are just made that way.

Of course the mainstream religions (Christianity and Islam) which have traditionally denounced homosexuality were mostly introduced to Africa by Europeans and Arabs. Their new well-funded fundamentalist counterparts – Wahabi Islam from Saudi Arabia and born again Christianity funded by theologically primitive churches in America – are killing off Africa’s traditional tolerance of otherness. There is much evidence that historically many African societies tolerated homosexuality and found ways of accommodating gay people.

If anything it was the Christian churches and Islamic preachers who suppressed it. Many years after I left Uganda I heard that the head boy of the school I taught in had committed suicide. He was a very sensible, mild mannered boy who worked hard and never did anything wrong. The girls loved him because he handsome and never hit on them – or hit them – as other boys did. I learned that he had become a well-respected priest but one day he had gone to the forest and hanged himself. I am now sure he was gay and had become a priest in the belief that God would give him the strength to resist these heinous feelings.

There was the bizarre case in 1997 of the first president of Zimbabwe, the Reverend Canaan Sodindo Banana. His male bodyguard accused him of forcing him to have sex. At first his denials were believed but the case came to court and other victims came forward as witnesses. Banana was convicted and served a prison sentence. When he died in 2003 he was not given a state funeral but Robert Mugabe called him “a rare gift to the nation.”

Since then there have been other reports of gay groups throughout Africa including at senior levels of the Nigerian army but until recently not many Africans have admitted they are gay. It can be a death sentence in some societies. I fear for Binyavanga Wainaina, the gay Kenyan writer who movingly came out in public earlier this year. Since the new law in Uganda bans the promotion of gay literature, presumably his books are banned there now.

But wait a moment. There is another side to this apparently simple story of backward primitive Africa confronting progressive Western morality. I grew up in a world which was very similar to where Uganda is at the moment. In the Catholic boarding school I went to homosexuality was the worst crime in the book and boys were beaten for it. It was not just a matter of school discipline. We were told we would definitely go to hell for it too.

And that was pretty much the view of society too. Homosexuality was illegal and gay people discriminated against in the UK until a series of laws began to be passed in 1967. Even then it was tolerated as long as it didn’t “frighten the horses” – cause a public problem. So people like Oscar Wilde were destroyed by those laws and, in my lifetime, Alun Turing, the man who broke the German enigma code in World II, committed suicide after being convicted of homosexual acts. He was also forced to have chemical hormone treatment to “cure” him. Until recently a prominent psychiatrist I know believed it was a “disorder”.

The fact is that in Britain it has only been 30 years since being gay has been OK thanks to a concentrated campaign to change the public attitude. Africa may not have been exposed to that debate and even then we must not assume its people will simply follow what Western governments tell them to do. Why should we expect African countries to automatically follow suit and change their minds and their laws, just because we tell them to? That does sound like neo-imperialism to me. With China and other countries now engaged in Africa, African people and their rulers are becoming more self-confident and are able to push back against the western agenda – including western liberal values.

It is tragic that this new self-confidence and ability to assert African values has started with the issue of gay rights but we should be neither surprised, nor smug about it.

South Sudan: Mediocre fighters from the guerrilla crush their new state

South Sudan has only a one paved highway, the one linking Nimule on the border with Uganda to the capital Juba, two hundred kilometres further north. Along the road wrecks are scattered everywhere, of overturned busses, mangled cars and trucks. The two years old country with the size of France had until recently no paved road at all. “We are not used to asphalt, it feels slippery”, says Richard my driver. “That’s why we drive recklessly. On the paths in the bush we felt much safer.”

A van loaded with Dinka’s rushes over the road to Nimule. A power struggle in December within the ruling party SPLM between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president Riëk Machar degenerated in a civil war. Factions of the disintegrated government army have been fighting each other for two months. Feelings of revenge between the two largest tribes, the Dinka and the Nuer, have free rein. President Kiir is a Dinka, his opponent Machar a Nuer. Probably more than ten thousand people are dead because of this political fight. More than 700,000 people have been driven from their homes.

Like the occupants of the van, many Dinka’s have fled from Bor, a town two hundred kilometres north of Juba. The fighting in recent weeks razed the town to the ground. “Life was good when independence came in 2011,” says James Kuol who with 17,000 other Dinka’s has sought refuge in Nimule. “I had a wife and a couple of goats and sheep. Old wounds of the conflict with the Nuer were healed.” Kuol is referring to 1991, when another tragedy occurred in Bor. Then as now, the resistance movement SPLM had fallen apart. With the tacit consent of Riëk Machar Nuers attacked Bor. And like now, the city was reduced to ashes and hundreds of Dinka’s were slain.

James Kuol tells how at the end of last year Nuers attacked his house near Bor, how they burnt the granary and killed his brother and two children. “The vice-governor invited my brother and other elders to a meeting to discuss ways to avoid a tribal fight. But my brother walked into a trap: the Nuers killed all those present. ”

Suddenly children start throwing stones. “Go away, you strangers,” they shout to James Kuol and his family. South Sudan has no national identity. Inhabitants anxiously protect their own tribal home land. It is a country full of distrust, with politicians inciting mass murder. “I feel stateless,” sighs James, “during the war of independence against the Arabs in the north at least we had an enemy in common.”

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South Sudanese in the grip of fear and anger

Behind the gate of the compound of the United Nations in Juba, South Sudan, an odour of decay hangs around thousands of displaced people, birds of prey swarming over their heads. Children relieve themselves next to the tap where women fetch drinking water. At the entrance a man jostles with a suitcase on wheels, a woman with a laundry tub. Aid agencies cars push for space with a military tank of the UN peacekeeping force.

In the UN camp near the capital Juba airport stay around 17,000 people, all members of the Nuer tribe. All speak of killings in Juba by Dinka’s in the government army.  Most sleep in the open air, others under staircases for airplanes and some in small tents. “President Kiir,a Dinka , ordered the murder of all Nuers after he got into a political power struggle on December 15 with his former vice president Riëk Machar, a Nuer ” says Paul . Until recently Paul was an aid worker, now he’s a victim. “I live two miles away from here, but my neighbours are Dinka’s. I cannot go home anymore”.

The displaced are in de grip of fear and anger. And sorrow. Frank is a singer. “I, my brother and my sister lived on a church compound in Juba. The day after the fight in the ruling party SPLM broke out, Dinka soldiers arrived in the parish. They demanded that all Nuers come forward and they started shooting. The pastor tried to intervene and he was slain”.

Frank swallows. “And then it was the turn of my sister. They dragged her to an abandoned building, I could hear her scream. They raped her”. Frank cannot continue anymore. He walks over to the shade of a blanked hung in a tree and starts pampering a young baby.  He cries. “That’s the baby of his murdered sister,” says his friend Patrick.

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Kenya celebrated its 50th anniversary as an independent country in december. I was struck by how low-key it was considering the scale of the milestone.

This was partly because of Nelson Mandela’s death and subsequent funeral. It isn’t in the best of taste to throw too big a party when the continent is mourning its most respected and beloved son.

However, it is also the case that the past nine months since the Jubilee coalition controversially won the election have been challenging ones.

The swagger and hubris of May to September has been somewhat tempered. One simple reason for this is that it is easier to run a campaign than a government; especially a government that you know contains within it a massive bloc of officials whose resentment of you is virulent and seethes below the surface.

Thus it is that those who were thumping their chests in May today plead to be given time to deliver; for the public to cut them some slack as they grapple with multiple governance challenges.

That has not, however, tempered the hubris of commercial types unable to smell the political coffee, who continue to believe that Kenya can grow its way out of its unresolved fundamental political contradictions.

This administration has emerged to be an alliance between the Gikuyu and Kalenjin elites, their followers and the corporate sector narrowly defined.

The youthful Nandi Hills MP, Alfred Keter, has been persistent in warning Deputy President William Ruto essentially that ‘the Gikuyu are out to use and dump’ the Kalenjin in the political alliance that is Jubilee.

While there are some observers who have dismissed this as the mere posturing of coalition partners grumbling that they aren’t being allowed to ‘eat’ enough (partly true), others have argued its indicative of a deeper malaise among the Kalenjin vis-à-vis their already totally unlikely and deeply uncomfortable political marriage. I tend towards the former view.

The alliance’s durability is heavily dependent on impunity with regard to grand corruption. The more the pigs can gorge themselves at the trough, the less whining one will hear out of this regime.

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It is war once more in South Sudan

The communiqués of aid workers and armed groups in recent days sound like déjà vu for anyone who followed the war in Sudan between 1983 and 2005. “Our brave warriors, clobbered the opponents (the supporters of President Kiir) and will take Malakal within 24 hours,” was a statement this week in the name of the dissident forces of Riëk Machar. The current Vice President of South Sudan, James Wani Igga, while touring his home region Equatoria for new recruits urged civilians “to fight against Riëk Machar, to defend our democracy.”

The number of deaths since the outbreak of the conflict in mid-December is now estimated at 10,000. An estimated 400,000 people have been displaced. Aid agencies report 32,000 refugees who fled to Uganda and 10,000 to Sudan. Kenya receives 800 South Sudanese daily.

Optimism about a quick end to the conflict which began in mid-December has evaporated. The country which became independent in 2011 is now embroiled in civil war. The chance of a speedy peace between the warring parties of President Salva Kiir and his former vice-president Riëk Machar seems nil for now.

“There’s no way out. South Sudan has started a new war, “says Daniel Deng. He was a minor in the nineties when forced to fight in the war of independence against the Arabized northern Sudan. When in 1991 the then liberation movement SPLA did disintegrate, his family became the target of reprisals in Bor. History has repeated itself in the last weeks.

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We need to stop worshipping Mandela and start emulating him

I took a complete break over Christmas and New Year but instead of going somewhere sensible like Scotland or Sri Lanka I went to South Africa and Lesotho. Sunshine everyday and magnificent scenery with lots of Braais, Boerewors and wine, but it was impossible to switch off completely.

South Africa reminds me of the line in Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s great novel The Leopard when the Risorgimento hits Sicily and the old order is under threat: “If we want things to stay as they are, things will have to change” says the prince.

There were moments on this trip when I struggled to spot the difference between 1979 when I first visited the country and now. At that time there were still some houses in rich areas that were not surrounded by high walls and razor wire. Now there are none. The whites have retreated deeper into their bunkers and have been joined by some richer blacks.

The poor – even a few whites these days – still live in ‘townships’. Some have been rebuilt, but the rambling conglomerations of shacks made from random boards and corrugated iron are still visible everywhere and new ones are continually popping up. At a social level not much has changed. Social events, except at the highest level, are rarely racially mixed.

The death of Nelson Mandela might have reminded people of where he had come from and where he was trying to take the country, but there is little sign of it in today’s South Africa. The best line to come from the coverage of his funeral was: “we need to stop worshipping him and start emulating him”.

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The greatest leader of the 20th century

Almost no one in the late 1980s believed apartheid would end peacefully. The government was in trouble but the core of its system that kept the whites in power looked solid. It was under attack on the streets of townships – but children with stones and burning tyres, though persistent, were no match for a brutal well-armed police force. And the government was becoming more and more aggressive in killing or imprisoning opponents at home and attacking its enemies abroad. As the country looked increasingly like an archipelago of white-ruled bastions amid a turbulent black population, the rhetoric was becoming more and more paranoid. However, the main opposition organization, the African National Congress, was suppressed in South Africa, ineffective except as an inspiration. Based in Lusaka, Zambia, it poured out aggressive Soviet-styled propaganda about revolution but could do little else.

However, the ground was shifting beneath the feet of both the apartheid government and the ANC. In 1988 I was summoned by one of its senior members and told that there were rumours that Nelson Mandela was talking to the government. There had been an unsubstantiated report that he had held a discussion with some of its senior members. The official hinted that the ANC leadership in exile was no longer sure that Mandela was keeping to the ANC line. The implication was that Mandela was no longer a reliable representative.

The rumour turned out to be true. Mandela had broken the fundamental rule of the ANC: never to have contact with the enemy. He had done it entirely on his own initiative, disclosing it to no one. In 1987 he met Kobie Coetzee, the Justice Minister, and two years later, President P.W. Botha. He offered talks about talks but said that only the ANC itself could authorise negotiations. It was as if he, completely removed from the political scene for more than 20 years, cut off from his followers who dared not even speak his name, had seen a spark of light in a very dark tunnel.

In secretly agreeing to that meeting Mandela gambled everything. Already a prisoner for 24 years, he had second or third hand information about events in South Africa and even less information about the intentions of the South African government or the US and Europe. He knew that the Central Committee of the ANC would have forbidden it if they knew and would have expelled him if he went ahead. It was an extraordinary gamble. That vision and courage displayed here made him a great leader.

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It is eery in the Central African Republic

It is eerily quit in Zèré. Until, in this empty village with burned houses in the west of the Central African Republic, the hammering of a piece of iron on a car rim tears apart the silence. The signal that the coast is clear. The village chief had told the team of Doctors without Borders – Holland (MSF-H) to ring a church bell, but there is no church, not anymore. Out of the elephant grass and from thick forest of mango trees people appear. First, one by one, and then large groups. Babies whose mouths had been gagged by their mothers start screaming. Men tap their foreheads against each other in greeting. Some of them carry machetes, spears, or an antique shotgun. After ten minutes, there is a cacophony of excited voices.

An old man grabs the arm of a MSF nurse. “We hide around the village, living like animals in the bush,” he wails. “We have no clothes, no salt, no soap, nothing to survive. The soldiers looted all our belongings. Our chickens, goats, our grain. “He shows me around. In the clinic, needles and pills lie in the grit. In the church charred roof beams have fallen on the pulpit. Some people were burned in their homes when, on the afternoon of 7 September, fighters set the village alight. Near the remains of a house lies a corpse partly eaten by pigs.

In the Central African Republic, a country lost in the heart of Africa, Militias have for several months been preying upon the population. This nation of four and a half million people is trapped in a cycle of revenge and crime. Several militias without any ideology are fighting each other and the population. It is chaos for personal benefit. Even compared to earlier nasty conflicts, like in Northern Uganda, Liberia and Sierra Leone, these thugs are motivated by sheer greed.

Marauding militias, looting gangs and foreign mercenaries fight for control of gold and diamond mines and squabble over villagers’paltry assets. Religious and ideological motives barely played any role when the fighting first broke out earlier this year, but after several months of chaos there appears now a dividing line between Christians and Muslims. The looters pulled a small Muslim minority – 15 percent of the population – gradually into their camp. Christians responded by setting up self-defence militias. They are increasingly out to eradicate Muslims.

A small and ineffective army of regional African peacekeepers fails to create even a semblance of order. Tens of thousands of civilians have been fleeing. They hide in the bush or seek safety in churches. Priests and imams warn of a potential genocide, if the fury among Christians against Muslims will further increase.

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Kenya and the ICC: “Don’t be vague, go to The Hague,” (but send Bush and Blair too)

This is a crucial moment for the International Criminal Court. If it drops the ball or the UN Security Council (UNSC) kicks the Kenyan cases into the long grass, the ICC is finished. At present the Court has agreed – reluctantly – to a postponement of the cases against President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice-President William Ruto until February. Interestingly it has done so because the prosecutors did not object – they wanted more time to present witnesses. The Court did not believe that Kenyatta’s presidential duties were a reason to delay the trial.

African heads of government have denounced the ICC as disproportionately focusing on the continent. In terms of numbers, they are right. All eight current cases before the ICC are African. Four of them are at the request of the African governments themselves and two were begun with the full support of African governments. The other two were referred to the court by the UN Security Council. Of the seven other cases being investigated by the ICC two are African.

So what on earth were the African presidents going on about when they complained at their recent meeting in Addis Ababa that Africa was being unfairly targeted? This is a specious, self-serving argument that assumes they are above the law. I was shocked to see Mrs Nkosasana Zuma, Chair of the African Union, joining in. My question to them is where else in the world are atrocities happening and why aren’t you bringing them to the attention of the ICC? Syria? It is being investigated already.

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Westgate: “our turn eat” costs national security

During my brief tenure in government I clashed with senior colleagues who insisted that ‘eating’ from security contracts in particular was okay because the money was essential to pay for democracy that we all know is messy and expensive.

‘National security’ became the final refuge of the corrupt. My repost then and now was: when you eat from procurement deals meant for the police, military, customs, immigration at the top, then bureaucrats below watch and learn.

Like termites munching at the wooden foundations of the house of State everything soon becomes porous. Driving along a pretty rough road deep in a rural part of Pwani we once turned a corner to find ourselves staring at a magnificent palace of a residence in an area where the next best nearby house was the one that had corrugated iron on the roof.

When I asked whom the first house belonged to, I was told: “Oh, he works for Customs at the port of Mombasa”. And the house owner was a relatively junior civil servant.

That beautiful house was a bricks and mortar illustration of how systemic graft in Kenya makes a mockery of national security. Additionally, the networks used by money launderers, drug traffickers, modern day slavers and participants in grand corruption in the 21st Century are increasingly the same.


Then on September 21 terrorists linked to al Shabaab and possibly al Qaeda too attacked the Westgate Mall in the high-end suburb of Westlands in our capital.

Their stand-off with our security services lasted four days that were collectively infuriating, traumatising, saddening and utterly confusing to us Kenyans. At least 67 were killed, more than 170 injured and it remains unclear how many bodies remain under the rubble.

The truth was quickly the first victim of the attack. Today, most people I speak to treat government statements related to these key facts with scepticism. Many are in fact more inclined to believe the international press and even Twitter!

It’s embarrassing that the Guardian in the UK has emerged as the paper of record on Westgate and international broadcast platforms are now considered by many Kenyans as more reliable than the local press.

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Blood is thicker than reason

By Charles Wanguhu


The Kenyan 2013 election was to be one of lessons: an election in which, having looked back at the folly of our mistakes of 2007, we would take a different direction. It was to be a reflection on the ethnic question, on hate, on violence meted out to innocent individuals, on broken relationships and on the building of a new state.

We undertook massive reconstruction of the state called Kenya after the 2007 election: we passed a new constitution, set up several institutions and radically restructured some old ones. A central theme of this restructuring focused on integrity, professionalism and other key ideals we espose as a nation.

As is the tradition in Kenya every new election results in the induction of new words into the day to day Kenyan lingo; in 2002 it was ‘unbwogable’, 2005, ‘chungwa’ and banana and 2007 became the abbreviations  year with the resultant IDP,PEV and ICC; 2010 was ‘watermelons’. In 2013 the word tyranny stands out, together with the Latin ‘amicus’ after the supreme court proceedings.

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How Islam from the north spreads once more into the Sahel

In the narrow streets of Mopti, the sweet smell of cow dung mingles with that of the exhaust fumes from mopeds. Opposite the mosque, some youngsters play a game of table football.  Mamoudou Fané strolls with his work tools into the house of prayer. “There goes the Wahhabi plumber”, the young people mock at him. An irritated Fane throws back his arms. “In the mosques of Wahabites I get work and food,” he retorts. “I am poor and have to feed a family.”

“Turncoat!”  shout the boys.

Mali witnesses a steady religious revolution that may have dire consequences for the entire Sahel, and may eventually also pose a danger to Europe. The predominantly Muslim country was once a cradle of religious tolerance.  In recent years there has been an insidious change with the advent of the fundamentalist Wahhabism from Saudi Arabia. The religious situation in Mali last year came under stress because of the rise of armed Muslim extremist groups from the north which had the whole country in their grip. It was only the military intervention of France that contained it.

Centuries ago trading empires developed around the cities of Djenné, Mopti and Timbuktu. The basis of the wealth was their geographical position which lay between Africa above the Sahara and sub-Saharan Africa.  Islam arrived with the traders from the north. The black population absorbed the faith and merged it with their own religions, an interaction of religious and spiritual influences, and thus created an African Sufi form of Islam.

Hundreds of years later, Islam again comes to the Sahel, this time with an unstoppable mission mentality and the way paved by money from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Pakistan. Foreigners, and also Malians who received scholarships to study in Saudi Arabia, introduce this strict form of Islam, and condemn the sufi’s.

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Do not upset a Big Man

I knew from the moment that President Robert Mugabe said he would step down from the presidency of Zimbabwe if he lost the election that he knew he would win it. If he had not been certain of winning, he would not have called the election. Power – military, political, bureaucratic – is what he understands, loves and has enjoyed for 33 years. It’s more than love – it’s an addiction. Other African presidents try to cajole him. He charms and patronises them. British Prime Ministers and American presidents lecture him. He swats away their words and plays the colonialist card. Opposition movements challenge him. He crushes them with violence. Then he charms them.

Mugabe will leave power when he wants to – or when his body gives out.

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From Mungo Park to the UN invasion of Mali

“Hello mate,” writes Matt in an email. “Welcome! You can come back to the Sleeping Camel. I’ve decided to stay open. Because the UN has arrived in Mali the hotel is full again “. Matt, the Australian manager of a cheap hotel for backpackers in Bamako is filled with optimism once more.

After the capture of northern Mali by Muslim extremists from North Africa last year, the tourism sector died in one stroke. No traveller, not even the adventurer riding on a motorbike through the Sahara, comes to a land of terror groups and crumbling government authority.

After the French intervention against the Islamic radicals in January, a manager of a large hotel had predicted to me: “First will come the journalists, then follow the hordes of aid workers until finally the United Nations will arrive and take over. And that will mean a much better business than tourists”.

In November 2011, Sjaak Rijke, a Dutchman, stayed at the Sleeping Camel. A few days later he travelled north and was kidnapped in Timbuktu, together with two other foreigners. The train driver from Woerden remains in captivity up till today. A group of white Africans now occupies some rooms at the Sleeping Camel. They work with a private company hired by the United Nations to remove landmines. “We come from Rhodesia”, says one of them standing under a huge painting of a classic hippie whose artistic brains are exploding all over the wall.

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Son ignores family and hangs out with Neighbours…

Kenya’s greatest, most famous and popular expatriate, American President Barack Obama is on his first major African tour. Fortunately or unfortunately depending on which section and tribal affiliation you belong to in this powerful East African Country he won’t even make a stopover for some Lake Victoria Tilapia in his Fatherland.
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Out of Love with Africa

The Last Train to Zona Verde: Overland from Cape Town to Angola

By Paul Theroux

(Hamish Hamilton 353pp £20)


‘I am not an Afro-pessimist,’ writes Paul Theroux, looking back on a journey that has taken him from the slums of Cape Town to the musseques of Luanda. You could have fooled me. The Last Train to Zona Verde is imbued with a pessimism that verges on Afrophobia, peppered with sweeping, doom-laden conclusions about the state of Africa, triggered by a trip that takes in but a fraction of a vast continent.


Given the nature of most of the stops on Theroux’s journey, the gloomy tone is not surprising. It begins with Khayelitsha and Guguletu, the Cape’s two sinkholes of humanity; takes in northern Namibia, ‘a land of drunken men, idle boys and overworked women’; visits the Kalahari home of what an eminent anthropologist calls ‘the most victimized and brutalized people in the bloody history that is southern Africa’; and ends up in Angola, a country cursed by its huge oil wealth, which has been siphoned off to personal overseas accounts by members of a regime as corrupt as any in Africa.


If the destinations are depressing, the manner of travel seems intended to make things worse. Theroux relishes his discomfort, which he wears like a hair shirt, chronicling nights spent in seedy dosshouses; hour upon hour in miserable buses with shouting, jostling passengers, peeing children and dying chickens; and unpleasant encounters with aggressive border officials.

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The Case of Kenya and the ICC: Diplomatic Earthquake

Everyone is so relieved that the Kenyan election this year did not result in a repeat of ethnic violence after the 2007 election, that we seem to have forgotten that both President Uhuru Kenyatta and Vice President William Ruto have been summoned to appear at the International Criminal Court in The Hague charged with crimes against humanity.

This week Kenyatta was invited to London to attend the conference on Somalia, Kenya’s troublesome northern neighbour. Everyone else charged with crimes against humanity by the ICC has been arrested on sight and locked up to await trial.  But instead of slipping on the handcuffs this week, Mr Cameron grasped Mr Kenyatta warmly by the hand and welcomed him to London. He argues that Mr Kenyatta is cooperating with the court. That remains to be seen. Kenyatta must report to the ICC in The Hague on July 9th, Ruto on May 28th.

There are precedents here. Mrs Thatcher embraced Augusto Pinochet of Chile, another murderous dictator but one who helped Britain during the Falklands war, because he too was an enemy of Argentina. And Tony Blair embraced Colonel Gadaffi when he dropped his nuclear programme. But their crimes were committed before the ICC was established. {read more…}

Tax havens and Africa: Will the G8 deal with the real issue?

If you hadn’t noticed it is the United Kingdom’s turn to host the G8 again. Not as important these days as the G20 but, as a gathering of the old capitalist nations, it takes serious decisions (and sometimes implements them).

The last time Britain hosted the Summit in 2005, Tony Blair dedicated the event to Africa and persuaded all the G8 leaders to sign a pledge that they would give 0.7% of their GDP in aid to poor countries.

Britain is the only one still keeping the pledge. Even though I am an aid sceptic I am quite proud of that. Aid sometimes works well at a local level but we haven’t worked out how to make big aid work at a government to government level.

More important than giving aid would be to stop doing bad things to poor countries. The worst thing we – the British – do is to maintain the world’s most iniquitous secret tax havens.

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The controversial legacy of Thatcher in Africa

cartoon Daily Nation


Mrs Thatcher played a pivotal role in the ending of Apartheid in spite of herself. She once declared the African National Congress to be a “typical terrorist organisation… Anyone who thinks it is going to run the government in South Africa is living in cloud-cuckoo land”.


But she gave these “terrorists” diplomatic protection. In the mid 1980s the South African government blew up the ANC offices in London and tried to kidnap its members in London including Thabo Mbeki and Oliver Tambo. She was obliged to provide armed bodyguards for their most senior officials.


A close aide once told me that she opposed Apartheid more on the grounds that it was a sin against economic liberalism rather than a crime against humanity. She also was bitterly against sanctions of any sort – they were a crime against free trade. She even went on denouncing them after Britain and the rest of the Commonwealth had imposed a ban on sporting contacts and other marginal sanctions. She boasted that she alone had managed to fight off demands for stronger sanctions.


Advised by her husband Dennis who had business interests in South Africa, she felt that anything that damaged wealth creation must be bad for South Africa. She was also a great admirer of Laurens van der Post, the South African writer and traveller later exposed as a fraud, who also opposed sanctions on the country. He introduced her to Mangosuthu Buthelezi, the Zulu leader, who played an ambivalent role in the struggle against apartheid, splitting from the ANC in 1979 and accepting “homeland” status for Kwazulu. His movement, Inkatha, helped the South African police repress ANC rebellion in the townships.

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No easy solution for a divided Mali

Proud ladies in expensive, colourful costumes ride on mopeds through the blue smoke hanging above the streets of the Malian capital Bamako. The perky presence of women in public life in Mali is very common. In the Sahel, along the thriving transit route for trade caravans from north to south, because of the cultural communication back and forth for centuries a very specific lifestyle, religion and politics developed. But nine months of occupation of the north by extremist Muslims, has put on edge the divisions between North and South Mali, between currents within Islam and between tribal and racial groups.

Mali has a liberal Islam and a secular constitution, but conservative groups strive for more influence and the establishment of the Islamic Shari’a criminal law. There are signboards everywhere, with the inscription “donated by Saudi Arabia”, near the mosques in the cities or villages, and near new the water wells and schools in rural areas.

“For about 25 years we have noticed among us the Wahabites with their long beards,” says the MP Baba Haidara. “They have us pitted, with money and by the training of our marabous in Saudi Arabia.” Haidara hastens to distinguish between the Wahabi movement of conservative Muslims and the extremist fighters who impose their beliefs by force.

Many long beards were shaved off after the French intervention. Out of fear for revenge, light colored Malians in Bamako also keep a low profile. Many fled from northern Mali to Bamako through neighbouring Burkina Faso, because they do not trust their own countrymen anymore.

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Will elections in Kenya be the road to hell again, or a new beginning?

President Mwai Kibaki leaves with a $200,000 golden handshake, but what kind of political settlement will he leave in his wake? Everyone is strapped in and the Kenyan election roller coaster has begun. A cacophony of electioneering propaganda is being blasted out through every medium. The political godfathers are flying around the country firing up their supporters, screwing down the vote, constituency by constituency and promising heaven after the March 4th poll. Kenya is poised at the top of a ride that could fling the country violently off the rails and send it to hell – as it did after the 2007 election. Or it could take the country elegantly into a dynamic new era, a transformation that would make it one of the most democratic countries in the world.

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The enemy has become invisible

The old man Lamine Traore comes chuffing towards an army roadblock, sixty kilometres from the western frontline in the city of Diabaly. Malian soldiers at the roadblock watch a French television channel to get the latest news about the war. Traore gives “un petit cadeau”, corruption money, to the soldiers to pass. It’s war time, but old habits don’t die. “Almost everyone has left Diabaly”, says the old man. “We fear the extremists, but I also rather stay away if the Malian army returns. The insurgents withdrew into the rice fields. Or they fused with the population in the surrounding villages. They have become invisible. ” The government soldier stops journalists. “We do not know where the Islamic extremists are hiding,” he says. “It’s too dangerous for you to continue, they can take you hostage.” Does he have an idea when his army will advance to Diabaly? “When the French army tells us to”.

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Africa’s image and reality

© Petterik Wiggers

© Petterik Wiggers

The debate about the “image of Africa” seems to be reaching a consensus. The starving African child represents a reality that is rare and local. We must clear our minds of that image as representative of Africa, all of it, always. The growth figures show that Africa is apparently doing well economically and many of the conflicts, which were always local, often quite small but created terrible suffering, have come to an end. Medication for AIDS and other diseases has become more widely available. No one speaks of the hopeless continent any more.

Some people have tried to say that the image of the starving child was “wrong”. But it wasn’t invented. From Biafra, to Ethiopia and more recently Somalia and Niger, it is an occasional shocking reality which we will almost certainly see again. On the other hand there is a new image which projects Africa as the new China, the driver of the world economy in a few years time. This image shows Africa as young, smart, dripping in bling and driving a flashy car. These are simplistic reversals of the old image, and as unrealistic as the hopeless continent.

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Caroline Mutoko: A Critical Look at Kenyan Media

Caroline Mutoko is one of Kenya’s most-famous and most-popular radio show hosts. She writes columns as well in “The Star”. That newspaper refused to publish the below column Caroline wrote. She decided, instead, to publish it on her Facebook page.

Ninety days to Kenya’s Next general election and counting. I know we shouldn’t put numerical items in written articles, but just for emphasis – let me say this again – 90 days to go.

Sometime towards the end of last week, I saw several articles in the dailies talking about the poor turnout in the ongoing voter registration exercise. It’s news, infact it’s big news, but once again we missed the story. The IEBC is quoted as saying it might not be possible to meet the target of registering 18 million voters if the electorate is not educated on the importance of listing.

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The Challenges of Retaking Northern Mali

All photos: © Petterik Wiggers
(Click to enlarge)

Once considered Africa’s flagship of democracy, Mali has turned into a shipwreck of anarchy seemingly overnight. A military coup ousted Malian President Amadou Toumani Touré in March 2012, and within weeks state authority completely withered in the northern regions of Gao, Timbuktu and Kidal. Covering an area as large as the state of Texas, these regions are currently controlled by three “hybrid organizations” blending Islamic radicalism with transnational crime. Deeply concerned by the security threats posed by such a sizeable sanctuary for terrorists, the international community has pressured the Malian government and military to overcome internal wrangles as preparations for an international military intervention are underway.

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UK and US must play more consistent hand to end world’s worst war

Africa is covered in epithets, like graffiti. It has been labelled dark, lost, hopeless. But generalisations about Africa are dangerous.

The only certainty is its size: it could contain the United States, China and India and still have room to spare. Recently it has been dubbed rising, hopeful, the continent of the future. But Africa cannot be declared successful until its vast, rich heart, the Congo, is peaceful and prosperous.

Most other African countries have more or less emerged from the uprisings and chaos of the 1990s that followed the end of the Cold War. But Congo lies broken and wasting. The last two elections have not produced a government capable of delivering services or security.
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Kenya coast boiling of anger

Mombasa (Photo Ilona Eveleens)

Mombasa (Photo Ilona Eveleens)

Trucks and tourist buses race down the highway from the port of Mombasa to the African interior. The road is a symbol of economic progress. Turning away from this highway of progress, every sign of prosperity goes immediately up into dust. Barefoot women and bored teenagers are hanging around in the shade along a dirt road. “We do not belong in Kenya”, complains Hamisi Kanona, a motorcycle mechanic in the hamlet of Kasemeni, near Mombasa.

Mopeds serve as public transport. “With a moped young people can earn two euro’s per day,” says Hamisi. “There is no other work here. The government in Nairobi does nothing for us. Why would I still vote? We young people do not talk about elections anymore; we don’t belong to Kenya anyway. On the coast an election means fight and die. ”
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Boko Haram: The root cause of the conflict is ideological

Northern Nigeria. © Petterik Wiggers

©Petterik Wiggers

Terror initiated bomb blasts from the Jama’atu Ahlus-Sunnah Lidda’Awati Wal Jihad sect in Nigeria otherwise known as the Boko Haram, may decline or escalate for any period of time but the indicators for overall peace may truly be farfetched. The sense of engagement beyond unleashing military combatants in the hugely affected and now paralysed North Eastern parts of the country is utterly undefined. Indications in military circles and indeed conventional military wisdom do not suggest that the Nigeria Military has the capacity to utterly and decisively defeat the terror band.

The brand of terror introduced into Nigeria by the insurgents is not an affliction that is proverbially skin deep. It is deeper beyond the skin and requires even much deeper strategic and sophisticated engagement. Sadly, all that has been seen from players at the policy level has been anything but out-of-control techniques. There’s been so much opportunism, so much of personal profit and so much shadow acting. The superficial is at the driving seat where professionalism is in dire need.

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The Nuba Crisis: A Continuing Assault

Dry weather means war in the Nuba Mountains. News from the front comes almost every day: shelling of Kadugli, clashes at Um Heitan, an assault on Daldogo. A steady trickle of refugees moves south, wearing their households on their heads: pots, pans, a radio, some flour and sometimes a whole bed.

Valley after valley lies desolate where rich crops used to grow, the seedbeds now in disarray and the stalks bruised. Market after market is depleted, but for some produce from the highlands. On mats no bigger than bath towels traders lay out their fare: piles of little tomatoes, okra, potatoes or three to four lemons, sometimes mangoes. Almost nobody buys.

Unmistakable overhead comes the swelling hum of engines. No more than a glint between rock and sky, the Antonov is the most widely recognized aircraft type in Sudan. More cargo plane than bomber, its creators in the Ukraine must have never imagined that it would be used in such a place, over and over again, bringing more than 2000 bombs this year, according to Montasir Nasir, head of the region’s human rights commission.

On a Sunday morning in Buram the church is emptying, stirred up by the sound overhead. The service will be held in the rocks. Through the tall grass the congregation searches toward the mountain, a group diminished by so many departed – those at the front, those in the camps, those who have died.

The deacon Isaac Kafi Nahal leads the ones that remain: Women in scarves almost neon bright, drab barefoot children, men in flamboyant shirts. The sermon is from Revelation: “Outside are the dogs and murderers. But God will come soon.” In the rock cave there is cheering, dancing and prayer. When the time comes for the collection, the congregation produces a corncob and two Sudanese pounds – half a dollar.

I expect the worst famine that this generation has experienced’

There is only one real hospital in the Nuba Mountains. It is run by Dr. Tom Catena, a 52-year old Catholic mission doctor from New York state. He has more than 300 patients.

“Over the past three years I have seen the number of malnourished children grow,” says Dr. Catena. “Within a few months, I expect the worst famine that this generation has experienced. The people have no more reserves. The rain in the past year was so bad, that they hardly made it through the year. Due to the air bombardments there is not enough harvest in November. This will lead to a great shortage of food.”

His assertion appears to be backed up by survey data collected in August by a hybrid group of local civil society and foreign aid workers. The group, which prefers anonymity owing to fears for their security, conducted a household survey in August that showed “high levels of ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’ hunger in all SPLM-N-held localities.”

“The levels of ‘severe’ hunger reported in Kadugli are particularly high, at 85.4 percent for resident households and 87.5 percent for displaced households,” the group noted in a report which was given to Radio Tamazuj in late October.

Little relief will come from the ongoing harvest, according to the survey, largely because security in many areas was too poor for planting or harvesting. The result of this is evident at the local markets: “Wheat and millet were not available in any of the locality markets surveyed and availability of maize was also limited. … The situation is notably worse in Kadugli [locality], where staple commodities are much less readily available. Indeed, sorghum, the key staple food for poor households, was only found in one market in Kadugli.”

Malnutrition rates have worsened, according to a separate August survey conducted by an international NGO that that likewise prefers anonymity, fearing retribution from the Sudan government.

The ‘Rapid Food Security and Nutrition Assessment’ report, which was vetted by the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, showed that food security in the Nuba Mountains “has dramatically deteriorated, with 81.5 percent of households surviving on one meal per day, compared to only 9.5 percent one year ago, and 0 percent two years ago.”

The report concludes that the nutrition situation is serious, verging on critical, with a current global acute malnutrition rate in children 6-59 months of 14.9 percent and a severe acute malnutrition rate of 3.6 percent with the presence of aggravating factors such as endemic malaria.


Nobody is counting exactly how many Nuba have fled. There are three UN peacekeeping missions in Sudan and South Sudan – in Darfur, South Sudan and in the disputed Abyei area – costing some $2.4 billion per year. But none has a mandate for the Nuba Mountains. The UN pulled its bases from the Nuba Mountains of South Kordofan when the conflict began in June 2011.

The UN Coordination Agency (OCHA), however, sketches out some rough estimates. It says in an October report that the number of ‘displaced and severely affected’ people, including refugees, is 207,000 within government-held areas of South Kordofan, 350,000 within the SPLM-North territory, and 65,000 refugees in camps South Sudan.

That puts the total figure at more than 600,000, a quarter of the state’s population of 2.5 million according to the 2010 census, but a far higher percentage if one excludes the western, Misseriya-inhabited counties of the state, which have not been directly affected by the conflict.

Adrian Edwards, UN Refugee Agency spokesman in Geneva, says that a new influx is expected at refugee camps in South Sudan as the rains come to an end. He says that the agency is preparing new sites to settle refugees to relieve pressure on the already massive Yida camp. At least 100 refugees are still arriving every day at the camp, a far lower intake than earlier this year but what is taken to be only a temporary lull.

Some Nuba, on the other hand, head north, crossing the front line into government towns. They risk recrimination or abuse in the hope of accessing food and labor opportunities. Dr. Catena explains: “Here in the Nuba Mountains it is a matter of starving or you walk over to the Khartoum-controlled areas. Read the reports. What happens if you do not choose their side: torture, rape, abuse, or you will be treated as a spy.

“They are draining the Nuba Mountains of humans as one would drain a swamp. Food is in government-controlled areas, like in Talodi and Kadugli. It does not come from the government of Khartoum, it is provided by WFP,” he adds.

Other Nuba stay behind anyway. For some, they would rather die than join the enemy. For others, the journey to South Sudan is too long, and there is little chance of help along the way. International organizations that are caught providing assistance in the rebel-held region will be thrown out from northern Sudan, so less than a handful of organizations help secretely by providing medicines or food. Among them are Americans, Germans, French and Dutch.

The remnant of the Nuba still clinging to their homeland try to bring supplies from the outside. But the roads to the south are so poor that it’s cheaper, though far more dangerous, to smuggle goods from the north. At Kurchi market, for instance, a truck pulls in carrying sesame, sorghum and diesel. Nomad traders bring the goods from across government lines. The prices are less than they are at Yida refugee camp.

But virtually no one in the Nuba Mountains carries money: 73.2 percent of all households have no income, according to the Rapid Food Security and Nutrition Assessment carried out last August.

‘Language and culture are systematically destroyed’

Montasir Nasir, a chemical engineer with a calling for human rights, lists churches, schools and farms that have been hit by bombs. He shows little anger, just grief. Since the Christian Nubian kingdoms were overrun in the 14th century, “the culture of the Nuba peoples and especially the Christians is restricted,” he says.

Nasir says that the conflict is about identities: “The politics of Khartoum toward the Nuba peoples is to Arabize and Islamize. The local language and culture are systematically destroyed. In all bombings, the government is trying to hit schools and churches. By hitting the cornfields, they cause a famine.”

Any opposition to this programme – real or perceived – is met with brutality, according to Martin Boulis, a refugee working with the Sudan Council of Churches. He recalls the day he lost a friend, 32-year-old Nemeiri Phillip Kallo: “Right in front of the gates of the UN peacekeeping mission in the capital Kadugli my friend who worked for the UN was executed.”

Nemeiri was in Kadugli, the state capital and a government garrison, when the first fighting broke out on June 5, 2011. Ethnically Nuba and fighting age, he feared for his life. He headed to the base of the UN, which was preparing its exit but still had a troupe of Egyptian peacekeepers.

Pulling up near the gates of the base, in a car driven by a friend, he was stopped by security officers and taken from the car. The Egyptian UN officers at the gate did not dare to intervene, says Boulis. “A soldier pointed his gun at Nemeiri’s head. Someone shouted: ‘Do not shoot here.’”

“So they threw him in the truck, tore away around the corner and then we heard the gunshots. Soldiers threw him out of the car on the side of the road.” The account of this murder is corroborated by a former employee of the UN who was an eyewitness and driver of the car from which Nimeiri was taken.

Wounded, sick

Dr. Tom Catena lifts the shirt of a boy he operated earlier in the day. The boy has a temporary stoma surgically created because there is a shard in his bowel and abdominal cut: “No problem, it can later be removed.”

He takes the sheet off a woman. Her abdomen is covered in gauze. “I removed nothing but grass and stones from the inside,” he says. She was hit by debris from a bomb while crossing the fields near Heiban. “She has a family of seven children, and they have twice already given here a chicken. She’ll make it.”

The doctor continues his round. He is worried about the man who turned his hand to ‘spaghetti’ in an accident with a grenade launcher. He fears amputation will be necessary. Then there is a prostate patient, and a woman who miscarried twins, and a woman with a leg traction expertly mounted to the bed frame.

Doctor Tom smiles at a small man standing in the ward: “I thought he had appendicitis. I cut him open this morning. Then I found two bullets. He had forgotten that he had been shot a year earlier.”

“Look around you here in this hospital. Are these rebels? Here, look at this boy, he lost his arm. That girl is a paraplegic because of a bombardment. These are dangerous people? Are malnourished babies guilty of fighting? Help me out here, these people just live in this area,” he says.


The doctor strokes his shaved head: “Instead of giving assistance to the region, the world watches the bombs falling. We are ruled by criminals, but the international community still does business with them. President Omar al Bashir and Governor Ahmed Haroun are both indicted by the International Criminal Court in The Hague wanted for war crimes. But they can quietly continue their destruction of the Nuba people. ”

“This is ethnic cleansing, chasing people from their area because of their political, ethnic and religious beliefs. They had the right to fair elections, which have not been held. According to the peace agreement, the Nuba peoples had the right to a popular consultation on what form of government they wanted. Khartoum denied it,” he adds.

“Normally international organizations come in to help. The government and rebels had even reached an agreement with the UN, African Union and the Arab League to give help. But until today there is no grain that arrived in the rebel areas. But meanwhile the UN Food Programme, WFP, gives food aid to the government-controlled region.”

The lone doctor in the Nuba Mountains shakes his head: “This is a classic example of the use of food as a weapon… I don’t get it. Why don’t people understand the logic of this?”

Nuba soldiers, meanwhile, expect that more attacks are imminent. The government is preparing its dry season offensive. Montasir Nasir looks up at the sky: “Make it stop.”

Hildebrand Bijleveld is a journalist working since 1994 in Sudan. He is the founder and director of Radio Dabanga and Radio Tamazuj, shortwave broadcasters for Darfur and the other conflict zones in Sudan. Edited by Daniel van Oudenaren.

Related: Photos: The Nuba in Crisis

You can contact the director of Radio Tamazuj, Hildebrand B. Bijleveld:


Flower farms in ancestral Ethiopia: a choice between large or small

Flower farm in Ethiopia(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Flower farm in Ethiopia(Photo Petterik Wiggers)

Amentu, Ethiopia. The Rift Valley in Eastern Africa is our hole in the ground, where we all come from. Not far from here our earliest ancestors stopped hanging out in the trees and started to use their rear limbs to get around on. From here we began to migrate and multiply all over the world. Today a line of worn tarmac runs along the valley floor, fed by earth tracks through fields of stubble lying brown and empty after the harvest. Wriggling lines of green mark streams which lead to the Awash River. The east and west horizons are bordered with crazy grey mountains jagging into a light blue sky. Flashing like mirrors in the sun are the valley’s huge blue lakes and, in recent years, vast rigid squares of plastic sheeting have sprung up.

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