more on politics in kenya

Relative calm has returned to Kenya, the Rift Valley saw nearly 1000 people killed and 170,000 flee to their ancestral homes. Business are reopened, roadblocks removed, and armed police patrol the streets. Those who have fled may not face the violence any longer, but life in the camps is made no less difficult by the recent rains. The taxi service has resume, but access to food and medications is a rising issue. The armed patrols that used to be known for ruthless brutality are now seen as protectors. Kisumu, which saw widespread rioting, is back to calm. Maseno University is still not open because it cannot ensure security to its students. The Nairobi slums have remained mostly calm as the negotiations with Kofi Annan are taking place, however the slums saw the worst of the post-election violence. There are some reports that say the slums are now divided by ethnic lines. Mombasa, contributing 15% of Kenya’s economy through tourism, saw no real trouble except for tourists canceling their vacations. While the calm has returned the hopes of the country seem to teeter on Annan’s ability to forge a coalition government. What cannot be forgotten as these talks begin is the political and colonial history of Kenya (read more here).

Kofi Annan arrived in Kenya to broker a deal to bring together the two opposing sides of most recent election. After selling out to large development interests with the Green Revolution in Africa (Gates, Rockefeller) my trust in Annan to work in the best interest of the Kenyan people is not very high. He is calling for a coalition government where both sides will work towards reform for free and fair elections. However, Annan has angered the Kibaki government side in the negotiations. He has made some statements that are said to have undermined the government’s position in the post-election political conflict. The negotiations are now said to be close to an end deal. Annan has said that the idea for a “broad based” government deal is near final stages. Both sides recognize the need for a political solution. However, I feel the call for a coalition or broad based government is not the answer. Along with others I see this as against new and free elections. What is most troubling is that both Kibaki’s government team and Odinga’s ODM party have tabled proposals for power sharing and Annan speaks as if this is the final deal.

Kibaki ran for President with the promise that the government would pay for tuition fees while parents cover boarding and uniform cost in order to provide free secondary education. With ethnic divides flaring up over recent election scandal, 1000 dead and 600,000 displaced, Kenyans now have access to free secondary education. This program now has minimal impact given the recent violence. The government faces an uphill battle to provide this free education access. Children cannot attend school amid conflict and crisis. In 2002 Kibaki’s government provided universal primary education. The Kenya National Union of Teachers has asked the government to first focus on providing for the safety and security of teachers and students as well as reconstructing schools destroyed by the recent violence.

As the violence has subsided, hundreds of thousands displaced, universal secondary education provided, on top of all of this President Bush has begun a tour of Africa. Bush has stated that he is in support of a power-sharing model. The same power-sharing model rejected by both political parties. Bush is set to highlight success in African countries by speaking on democratic reform, economic and military assistance, and combating HIV/AIDS. All of which are topics that Bush has no real place to talk. The notion of democracy in the US is wrought with hypocrisy, economic and military assistance are centered around gaining power and access to resources in Africa, and the Bush administration’s actions to combat HIV/AIDS have been minimal at best (with an abstinence only policy). Bush is using his tour of Liberia, Ghana, Benin, Rwanda and Tanzania to show a compassionate side of US foreign policy. I would argue that no such side exists in our current political system. Bush is supposedly sending the Secretary of State to Kenya to convey his message in support of power-sharing to solve political crisis. The US seems to not be the only international actor concerned with the situation in Kenya. What may be most important here is not to come to a solution that the international community might like to see, but rather a solution that works for the Kenyan people and creates a long-term solution to the political turmoil rooted in the colonial history of Kenya.

the age of the pirate is everlasting

Welcome to neverland! This is the place where you can never grow up. Float away with Peter Pan and the rights of indigenous people. Live the rest of your days under the fantastical sun and steal the knowledge and resources of people who are almost forced to give them up for need of capital to survive. Bio-piracy has been prevalent since the first conquests of Africa. We still have much to learn from Africa. There is a expansive bio-resource wealth left untapped. And as many begin calling for a Green Revoultion for Africa, the accusations of bio-piracy and the breaking of intellectual property rights multiplies.

According to an article the green revolution is characterised by:

“The green revolution of the 1970s promoted increased yields, based on a model of industrial agriculture defined as a monoculture of one or two crops, which requires massive amounts of both fertilizer and pesticide as well as the purchase of seed. Although this approach to food production might feed more people in the short term, it also quickly destroys the earth through extensive soil degradation and water pollution from pesticides and fertilizers. It ruined small-scale farmers in Asia and Latin America, who could not afford to purchase the fertilizers, pesticides, and water necessary for the hybrid seed or apply these inputs in the exact proportions and at the exact times. To pay their debts, the farmers had to sell their land.”

At the end of Kofi Annan’s term he took a position to head the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. Surprisingly this is contrary to all that he had researched and learned about the Green Revolution for Africa. In 2002, he had called together a group of experts from Brazil, China, South Africa, Mexico, and others to figure out if a ‘green revolution’ could help Africa. The group of experts came back and said that a green revolution for Africa, “would not provide food security because of the diverse types of farming systems across the continent. There is ‘no single magic technological bullet…for radically improving African agriculture, the expert panel reported in its strategic recommendations. ‘African agriculture is more likely to experience numerous ‘rainbow evolutions’ that differ in nature and extent among the many systems, rather than one Green Revolution as in Asia.’ Annan’s reasoning is still unknown, but what can be inferred is that he is looking to keep money in the bank. How can you sell out to an entire continent?

There are so many examples of crops that have been destroyed by ideals of the green revolution. From sorghum, wheat and wild rice. One food product that is trapped in politics is amaranth. The sacred plant of the aztecs, destroyed by Cortez for its symbolism and extreme nutritional value. The seeds grow everywhere, the grain is the most nutritious, even the plants leaves are more nutritious than spinach. Mildly off topic, but hails back to the beginning of bio-piracy.

“Sorghum is one example of a crop lost to markets in the global North but not to Africa. On the continent, it is planted in more hectares than all other food crops combined. As nutritious as maize for carbohydrates, vitamin B6, and food energy, sorghum is more nutritious in protein, ash, pantothenic acid, calcium, copper, iron, phosphorus, isoleucine, and leucine. One of the most versatile foods in the world, sorghum can be boiled like rice, cracked like oats for porridge, baked like wheat into flatbreads, popped like popcorn for snacks, or brewed for nutritious beer.”

Piracy lives on, it is not just a great theme for the movies. Pirates sail our seas, but this time they come with organizations, false legitimacy, and more money than most pirates. The green revolution is growing as well, but support is waning in Africa. African countries are denying genetically modified (GM) foods and pushing to keep their bio-diversity away from bio-piracy.

interesting things to note in the new year for africa

The $100 laptop computer project was launched this year. The goal is to put computers in the hands of people in the ‘developing’ world. The inventor, Nicholas Negroponte, says, “I’m 62 years old. I’ve seen massive changes in people’s lives through technology over the years.” In the next two weeks three more African countries are expected to sign on to the plan. The laptop has built in wireless capabilities. Maybe Mr. Negroponte can partner with American Millionaire, Greg Wyler, who is working to make Africa wireless starting with Rwanda. (post) Many note, as I do as well, that when you are starving and hungry, striken by disease, and have no clean water – what good is the internet or a laptop. I am not one to say that the internet does not hold great educational possibilities, but how many people will die before even accessing the webpage on wikipedia about their own country?

Keeping a promise to Nelson Mandela, Oprah has opened her ‘Leadership’ Academy for girls in South Africa. Girls are selected based on their potential from families with a monthly income less than $700. With a huge showing from Western celebrities I wonder if this initiative will be copied. The access to education in South Africa is the best of any African country being nearly universal, why is there a need for what some call an ‘elitist’ academy that cost over $40 million to build? A very good question as still thousands of African children do not even have books, pens, paper, classrooms, teachers, healthcare or security to become educated. “We have to change the way they think,” she said. Time out – we need to change the way we think? With a beauty salon shoving American materialist values at these 152 South African girls how can she believe that their minds are the ones needing change. We may need to help their minds develop with access to good education, but we do not need to change them. Yet another example of the Western mindset. Oprah is to open a school for 1000 boys later this month. I hope Oprah will begin to focus on reaching the unreached people in her next African venture.

Effective as of the new year, United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, a Ghanian native, is no longer the head man for the UN. Annan served two terms as Secretary General and many say he quietly and effectively brought Africa to the forefront. As an African he worked to raise issues in Africa without being too baised to one side (not giving too much to African leaders and not sucking up to the West). His tenure saw the creation of the Human Rights Council to take over human rights monitoring, the US’s diplomatically unilateral approach to the Iraq War, and the current test of Darfur, Sudan for the UN’s new powers to act, along with many reforms and calls for reform of the UN system. His tenure was not without scandal or missed opportunities, but I am sure no one during his term would have faced any different challenges. With Annan now gone I wonder if the UN will remain as focused on the Darfur genocide and other African and ‘developing’ world issues, such as the Millennium Development Goals. However, with hope, the new UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, has set the conflict in Darfur as a priority of his term. Kofi Annan will be greatly missed, and not missed by some, but I still feel he has much greatness to offer Africa.

Lastly, Somalia – the only true failed state? (Failed states are based on Western ideas and ideals, but Somalia seems trapped in conflict) What will come of the country as US military trained Ethiopian government forces supporting the ‘Somalian Government’ take control from the Islamic leaders? How will the peace be kept and how many refugees will flood surrounding countries? How will aid agencies and the UN respond? Be sure to read your news and from multiple sources to get the full view, which sadly is not possibly unless you are actually in Somalia, but at least be knowledgable. Here is the latest BBC article.

what, are you serious?

I was going to be done for the year with the annual report, but recent events do not allow me to leave this year with something unsaid.

Today I had a dentist appointment. My teeth were first checked out and cleaned by the dentist’s assistant and as you all know, while they have those metal tools and the nifty little mirror in your mouth, they ask you questions and try to hold a conversation with you. You, the one with everything in your mouth. It started out normally – I was wearing my Michigan State University sweatshirt so I was first asked about college, how it was going, and then my major – International Relations and Global Area Studies: Africa specializing in International Development. Well now that changes the conversation to Africa. “Wow Africa, so what do you plan to do with that degree after college?” I said I was planning on doing the Peace Corps for two years and then whatever comes after. (most likely the Master International Program with the Peace Corps)

The assistant then told me some very interesting stories about people she knew who did related work in Africa. She talked about a co-worker who was a photographer and was about to go on safari in Africa to take pictures of wildlife, ‘wouldn’t that be fun?’ Then she noted with a degree of disdain in her voice that she would never go to such a dirty, sticky, tropical place with a bunch of mosquitoes and stuff. All I could think was ‘you have got to be kidding me!’ Is this still how most people think of Africa? I could not say much because of the tools occupying my mouth. Then she said something to the effect of ‘well whatever you want to do.’ To be honest I could not believe it and I was slightly taken aback by her perceptions of Africa. Thanks so much American mass media! That is a topic for another time, but this event has given me a sense that more people need to travel to Africa and see first hand the wonder and beauty and people. More people need to understand that actual people like you and me live in Africa everyday – they may not have as much ‘stuff’ as we do, but nevertheless they live incredible lives in that dirty, sticky, mosquito filled tropical wonder land that I have come to love.

On a more up-beat note, UN personnel arrived in the Darfur region of Sudan to support the African Union force, which is attempting to keep the peace as government backed militias spread destruction and terror with ‘rebel’ groups battling to keep the people safe. This is a large step towards a much debated hybrid UN force, backed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, being sent to the region to keep the peace. The African Union troops are under equipped and understaffed in this conflict. With the UN personnel also came equipment, including night vision goggles and armored personnel carriers. The goal is to eventually move to a hybrid UN-AU force of roughly 20,000 personnel. I believe that a positive step has been made here and it gives me hope for a future resolution of the Darfur conflict and the lives of those affected.

Have a Happy New Year everyone!