On Slippery Rocky Terrain

We are on slippery rocky terrain. It appears that things might get worse before they get better. The Cord protests against the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) have already claimed lives. More could follow.  The protests began in a section of the central business district in Nairobi. They are now spreading to other parts of the country. In Nairobi itself, the theatre of protest has expanded to the rookeries of Kibera.

Thanks to indiscretion in the National Police Service, the drama is likely to engulf other localized communities. Someone within the police service thinks that the best way to stop the demonstrators is to confine them to their homes. “Keep them in their slums,” seems to be the philosophy. The spinoff is that you create more chapters of the demos. The police will need to rethink their tack. I have listened keenly to Government Spokesman, Eric Kiraithe and to Police Spokesman, Owino. I have failed to see their honesty and logic.

TV footage shows buoyant crowds spilling into the streets of Nairobi. The excitement goes into crescendo with the arrival of Cord leader, Raila Odinga. Suddenly, horse pipes are in full throttled piddle. Tear gas gets into the mix. Loud explosions. Smoke. Pandemonium. Gun sound? I don’t know whether it is of live or rubber extraction. But one thing is clear. All hell is loose.

The police strike at virtually every human being in sight. An overwhelmed protester falls flat on the ground. The police have a field day pounding the motionless body. The performance is orgasmic. They take turns to pound the thing on the ground, before racing after other mobile objects.

It is difficult to justify this. Impossible. Assuming that the fellow broke the law, you would expect him to be arrested at the point where he was overwhelmed. No. He was pounded and discarded in the streets. Truncheons bring down people in flight. If this is a harbinger for things to come, the days ahead look bad. The situation is exacerbated by this week’s hardening of positions. The Government has ruled out dialogue with Cord, “outside constitutional provisions.” Cord, on the other hand has ruled out “dialogue through Parliament.” They insist on “direct engagement with the President,” and even then “only after IEBC has been disbanded.” Prepare, therefore, for a drawn out battle of wits.

Ultimately, the two belligerents will do well to attempt to see each other’s perspective. The critical question ought not to be who outperforms the other. It ought to be the professed end the parties crave. Cord, for example, wants the IEBC to be disbanded. Does it matter if this is done through Parliament, or through sitting down with President Kenyatta?

If you were Kenyatta, you would get the impression that they wanted to achieve at least two goals – sinister goals. The first would be to humiliate you. Hence ultimatums come from a senator, telling you that they will only engage with Jubilee at the very highest level. Take note that the ultimatum is not from any one of their three principals. But even if it did, the three principals are not your equals – even if rolled into one. For you are the President. On the other hand, they have no “clearly defined constitutional role.” The Constitution does not even have the words “Opposition” or “Leader of the Opposition.” Their basis for asking to talk to you “one on one” is not clear in law.

But a more poignant reason why Kenyatta would seem hesitant is that Cord is asking him to delegitimize his Presidency, by outlawing the commission that legitimized him. If this is a rogue commission, it must follow that his presidency is also a rogue presidency. On that basis alone, Kenyatta is likely to dig in for the long haul. So, again, what is Cord’s real intention? Do they seem to go into the panic mode each time Jubilee appears to be making space for the change they crave, regardless that Jubilee is only ready to engage them through Parliament?

But what is on the other side of the coin? You have a political minority – as the Constitution calls them – who believe that they were cheated out of victory. They believe that the IEBC was compromised and that it cheated them and the electorate, too. The chairman of the IEBC – and one or two others – habitually mocks the minority and their non-elected leaders. The chairman has said of Raila Odinga, “He is a perennial loser and complainant. He is adept at making others scapegoats for his failures and electoral defeats. He is a man used to ruining others  . . .” These are loaded caustic words from a commission that is supposed to be independent. Even if there is no bond between Jubilee and IEBC, it is impossible to see how Raila could accept to go to an election under this commission.

You may very well ask, “So why does he not stay out?” Why should he stay out? He has a right to compete and to be confident about the umpire’s neutrality. Beyond this, you cannot ignore the fact that nearly half of the electorate voted for him. This is what legitimizes Cord’s request for dialogue. It is not about Raila. It is about half of the electorate – half of Kenya’s population. This is why Jubilee may want to loosen up.  But for Jubilee to loosen up, Cord must stop looking like their goal is to humiliate the President, or to delegitimize his presidency this late in the day. There is little, if anything, to be gained.

Together, Jubilee and Cord will do well to remember that they are not the only stakeholders. That is why instead of expanding the theatre of violent confrontation, they should expand the theatre of consultation. To Jubilee: if the violence escalates, you may soon lose grip of things. You will have no capacity to provide the leadership they are asking you to give. This is music to Cord.

Perched On The Brink Of A Catastrophe

Kenya may very well be perched on the brink of a catastrophe, if we are not there already. We are edging in towards a general election as a hugely divided and ethnically polarized people. Mutual hate is the energy fueling the hearts, minds, words and actions of political leaders. The rest of us follow religiously, like victims of the Stockholm syndrome. Things are only made worse by an elections commission that nobody believes in, except the commissioners themselves.

Elections are about legitimacy and perceptions of fairness. There is widespread perception that the Isaack Hassan led Independent Elections and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) cannot be trusted to deliver a free, fair and peaceful election next year. This may not necessarily be true. However, this perception has now taken traction. It cannot be wished away. The question   now is not whether this commission should be disbanded, but rather how and when. Next to this is the question of how a new commission should be reconstituted.

The Forum for Reform and Democracy (Cord) is determined to disband the commission by any means. Jubilee on the other hand says, “Follow the law.” For some reason, Cord thinks it is not necessary to follow the law. The impasse has violently burst it the streets, complete with bewildering police brutality from a gone age. This standoff, put together with this week’s unbridled show of wild police ferocity can only sink the country deeper in the abysm of disaster.

Spearheaded by the Leader of the Majority in the National Assembly, Aden Duale and his counterpart in the Senate, Kithure Kindiki, Jubilee is popularizing the narrative that Cord has smelt defeat in next year’s elections. Cord leaders would therefore like to precipitate an electoral crisis so that there will be no elections and that Government will instead be formed through negotiation. Cord has laughed this off and insisted that there is a pact between the Jubilee Government and the IEBC “to steal the election.”

The IEBC itself has not made things any better. Chairman Isaack Hassan’s comportment and attitude towards his critics is one of disdain. The chairman sneers openly at Cord leaders and all others calling for disbandment of the commission. He contemptuously throws snide remarks at them at every opportunity. While restating his now famous refrain that the commissioners will not quit, he has gone on to threaten Cord leaders with barring them from next year’s elections. He seems to enjoy this game very much. Yet this is not a game. It is a grave matter. It could bury the country.

Are there compelling reasons why the IEBC should be disbanded? Perhaps the question does not even need an answer, beyond the fact that the commissioners’ integrity has been doubted. The importance of an electoral authority is such that its reputation must at all times be beyond reproach. It is bad enough that the commissioners could even be suspected of crookedness. The Ethics and Anti Corruption Commission (EACC) reports that it has now completed investigations in the chicken gate scandal, in which some commissioners are accused of taking bribes from a UK company in exchange for a tender award. We don’t know what they found out. Yet the fact that the commissioners are under investigation for something that has jailed their alleged UK collaborators ought to have been haunting enough to make them resign. They did not.

Then there are all those allegations that Cord and ODM have been making. Now these are neither here nor there. What matters is that a key player has vehemently questioned your integrity. You cannot insist that you will be there by hook or crook. You owe it to yourself to quit. You cannot use resistance of “destruction of careers” as your reason for not budging. The only career that seems to be on the line at the IEBC is that of the CEO, Ezra Chiloba, who came on board when the reputation of the commission was already in trouble. Indeed, he came on board to give the commission a breath of fresh air. Now he is at risk of ignominiously going down with the rest. It is such careers that ought to prick people’s consciences at the IEBC.

Meanwhile Cord’s own sincerity about finding a quick solution to the impasse is questionable. Having sunk into a lull after the loss of the presidential poll in 2013, Cord seems to have found the political magic wand at last. Cord leaders are finally acting while the government reacts. Any quick exit from the present crises is not in their interest. They have poured scorn on parliamentary initiatives to address the IEBC question. They know that success along this line will take the wind out of their sails. They would have to find a new strategy to give them momentum until election time. They probably will not want this.

Does Jubilee therefore shoot itself in the foot with its own hardline stand against the calls for dialogue? The more they dig in, the more advantage they seem to hand their adversaries.  Things only get better for Cord with the police brutality that is becoming the trademark in scattering the demonstrators. This is precisely what Cord leaders would seem to be after. And so every Monday, they will come into the streets to provoke the police. The police will go berserk and clobber every moving object in sight. The police will look bad, as they ought to. But Jubilee will also look bad.

But the agenda could be more sinister than just making Jubilee look bad and therefore losing the election. Cord may indeed be contemplating disbanding IEBC irregularly and making it impossible for other
commissioners to be appointed. This way, the life of the present government will end without existence of an authority to supervise elections. The next step is obvious – negotiated government of national unity. But what happens to County Government? Do you also negotiate at that level? Clearly, we are hurtling towards a cul de sac.

Closure Of Daadab Refuge Camp

Possible closure of the Daadab Refugee Camp is causing concern, and even panic and consternation. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the Western diplomatic community in Kenya and the Somali Government have all expressed profound reservations.

The camp has become a part of us. Talking about closing it is therefore shocking. Such is the nature of hardcore refugee situations. Lessons from elsewhere in Northern Tanzania show that disturbing a hardcore refugee population always attracts disapproval.  Everyone has memorialized this place as the exiles’ residence. They therefore wonder which “other home” you want them to return to.

The UN Charter for Refugees (1951), and the attendant Protocol of 1967, recognizes that refugees cannot trust their government’s ability, or even willingness, to protect them. Indeed, the government could even be the author of their misery. They have often run away from state led persecution. This could be because of their religion, political beliefs, ethnicity, or some other affiliation.

Throughout history, troubled people have left their homes and settled elsewhere. The story of humankind is a portrait of migration – often permanently. We read of many seasons of migration in Africa. Such times created the Luba Lunda Dispersion in Central Africa (15th – 18th centuries) and the migrations of such communities as the Ngoni, Ndebele, Shona and others due to the activities of Shaka Zulu in Southern Africa (19th century).

Almost concomitant with the troubled Zulu times, christened the Mfecane (1814 – 1840), there was the Great Trek by the Afrikaner community from the Cape (1835 – 1846). Indeed, even the peopling of East Africa is believed to have been the outcome of instability in the places of origin. Unlike today, people left their homes without the intent to return. They found new homes.

But all that changed with the emergence of what is called the Westphalian state in the 17th century. The Peace Treaty of Westphalia (1648) was in fact a series of treaties. One of the defining characteristics was introduction of territorialism. Nation states were from now defined within very clear physical coordinates. Citizenship laws and the international system that came into existence after the two World Wars in the first half of the 20th century completed the picture. If Westphalia was the father of refugees, the refugees’ charter and the protocol of 1967 were the twin mothers. This love triangle is the progenitor of the forced migrant we call the refugee.

The charter’s primary objective is refugee protection. It is recognized that in the territorialized world that we live in today, being displaced in foreign space can be very traumatizing; hence the need for the protective instrument that is the charter. One of the protections is against being returned to an unsafe place of origin. This is captured in the principal of non-refoulment. The principal forbids the rendering of a victim of persecution to his or her persecutor. It is generally understood that the persecutor will be a state actor. It could even be a pseudo state actor, in situations in which the state has collapsed, as happened in Somalia, in 1991.

Such is the background behind which we need to look at the Kenya Government’s decision to dissolve Daadab. A useful rider here is that just as refugees are protected, they also have obligations. First they must register as refugees. Second, they will stay in restricted communities, except in very special cases. Third, they will obey the laws of the host community. Next, they will not become a security risk to the host country. Finally, it is expected that they will return to their homes, once the dangers they ran away from no longer exist.

The Kenya Government has made a plausible case. The dangers that saddled her with Somali refugees no longer exist. Kenya has also presented a convincing case about insecurity. Indeed, even as the United States, among others, urges the government to rethink the closure of Daadab, Washington has advised her aviation fraternity about what she considers to be “unsafe Kenyan airspace,” because of Somali refugees. On all other occasions, the US is at the forefront in adverse travel advisories against Kenya – because of these refugees.

Now, it is confounding that the US would concurrently urge Kenya not to close a refuge camp and equally cite her for insecurity because of the same camp. Is this a perfect case of doublespeak? You would understand why Kenya would want to close the camp – and with it the said insecurity. Moreover, Kenya also says that while international partners are quick at pledging assistance with funding the camps, they don’t keep their word. And so Kenya wants Daadab closed. So what next?

Refugee situations as we have seen can be hardcore. Dissolving them is easier said than done. You have whole adult generations that were born in exile. They know no other home. They have no affinity whatsoever with the place you want them to return to. They have no idea about where to begin – and no means to resettle. They have recreated and redefined their world. Burundi refugees have sojourned in Northern Tanzania for well over four decades now. The Governments of the two countries are coming to terms with the reality that most of these people don’t want to go back. Indeed, they often ask, “Go back to where?”

But the Kenya Government’s case is just as valid. We cannot have a refugee camp forever. Going forward, Kenya may want to borrow from Tanzania. Maybe there is a case for giving Kenyan citizenship to these people? While they remain refugees, many have infiltrated society. Some even bear Kenyan national identity cards. When it befits them, they are refugees. When it doesn’t, they are Kenyans. Why not regularize their citizenship? These people are going nowhere. Yet they are allover the place, putting up constructions, trading, getting rich, yet not paying taxes. The solution would seem to be to loop them in. Those who don’t want to be citizens can be asked to go away. That way, we could close the camps.

The Writing Is On The Wall

The Americans say, smell the coffee and the Christians that the writing is on the wall. A wise person does not wait to be thrown out of office in ignominy. He reads the signs of the time and vacates that space when there is some dignity left to salvage. A wise person also learns from other people’s examples. But wisdom is rare and does not always find residence in the same chamber as power. That is why Independent Electoral Commission (IEBC) Isaack Hassan and his team is likely to go packing in disgrace.

I don’t know about the allegations that IEBC has a secret pact with the Jubilee Alliance to rig them back into power, as claimed by Cord leader, Raila Odinga. Some of these remarks border on the alarming and extreme.

Rumba On The River

I am rereading Gary Stewart’s gem titled Rumba on the River: A History of the Popular Music of the Two Congos. Published in 2000, Stewart’s book is an encyclopedic portrait of the flowering of Congolese music in Brazzaville and Kinshasa – or Léopoldville, as it was originally known. Some readers have problems with Stewart’s detailed historical style. Yet as Wes Freeman, a reader, says, “reading it is like absorbing a whole new paradigm.” The book presents Congolese music as fully formed and yet still evolving.

But Stewart’s story is not just about music. It is also an depiction of the debilitating social, economic and political environment that is the canvas for this portrait. As this music – once shipped to Latin America on slave ships – was discovering its way back to Africa, the continent was at a cultural crossroads. Africa and Europe were fighting over space in the emerging African urban environment, in the first half of the 20th century. Stewart observes, “Africans entering colonial cities on their own continent were urged to leave Africa at the door. This was the white man’s world of clocks and order, of identity cards and regular jobs.”

Yet that was not all. Léopoldville was racially segregated. The white lived in what was called “the ville,” while Africans lived in “the cite.” We read, “Only Africans who worked as servants for white families could stay legally in the ville between 9.00 pm and 4.30 the next morning, and then only as long as they lived on the property of their employers. Even in the cite, Africans were forbidden to move about from ten until four.”

Stewart afflicts us at once with new knowledge, sweet memories and painful reflections. We get to know of such founders of Congolese rumba as Henri Bowane, Antoine Wendo, Nicolas Kasanda, Joseph Kabasele and Leon Bukasa, among other luminaries of yesteryear. If you belong to my generation, you will recall such hits as Dr. Nico’s Na Keyi Abidjan, Tu m’a Decu and Asalam Aleikum with a tinge of nostalgia. You recall Kirikiri Mabina Ya Sika. A gone world. You appreciate how age robs us of our youth – leaving us only with the shadow of memory to kiss and cling upon.

Then there is the pain of exclusion. White people locked us out of certain spaces in their cities on our continent. You are reminded of the theme of the colour bar in the literatures you have read. When your read white writers in Africa; such Karen Blixen, Ernest Hemingway and Elspeth Huxley on the one hand and on the other hand such Africans as Ezekiel Mphalele, Alex La Guma, Peter Abrahams, Sembene Ousmane, Ngugi, Ferdinand Oyono and Wole Soyinka, you are treated to a contradistinction of perspectives on the colour bar. While Soyinka and Ousmane are colour barred in Europe, Henri Bowane and his compatriots are colour barred in European spaces in Africa.

Independence in the 1950’s to the ‘70s broke the bar. And yet six decades after independence, do I begin – unfortunately – to understand why white people thought we should not get into their spaces? Does it pay, sometimes, to look in the mirror and wonder why the face is dirty, worse still ugly? In 1977, Africa showcased her culture to the world in Lagos, Nigeria. Dubbed the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC ’77), the month-long fiesta was a veritable galaxy of African virtuosos in fine art, literature, music, religion and philosophy. Nigeria built the FESTAC Estate, to accommodate 17, 000 people and 11, 000 houses. Three years ago I visited this village. The first thing that greets you is a giant flag with the words, “To all customers you are hereby restricted of urinating and defecating on this lawn henceforth be warn – order by management (sic).” You can see a photo on my Twitter handle @barrackM.
In Nairobi, areas like Karen, Lavington Green, Kileleshwa, Muthaiga and Westlands were the equivalent of “la ville” in Léopoldville. Africans went to these places on similar terms as their compatriots in Congo. But independence opened up these places. David Amunga, a Kenyan artiste, melodiously celebrated this with the words of the song “Goodbye Colonialism.” Said he, “The African has got the chance. He will guide the continent. No more oppression now. Goodbye colonialists. Goodbye imperialists  . . .”

Chinua Achebe has told us in the foreword to Henry Chakava’s Publishing in Africa: One Man’s Perspective that colonialism is not redeemed even by its most philanthropic acts in Africa. Yet do we sometimes need to honest enough to admit failure, at least in the City of Nairobi and in our other capitals and towns across Africa? There was a time when Nairobi functioned – and I was there. I have told you this story before. I see no need to repeat it. Something went awfully wrong, however.

In the place of rumba on the river, we have ghastly slums, veritably twitching on the banks of a dirty river. Rickety things pretending to be human habitation precariously tower heavenwards. They literally promise to take you there. The city fathers are only too aware. When disaster strikes, even the Governor will spend two days at the site. I don’t know to what good end. A few weeks later, our crocodile tears dry. The noise dies. We move on. We wait for the next disaster.

And now the whole city is degenerating into a mega slum. In Westlands we drive through raw sewage on Muthithi Road and on Chiromo Road for months. Potholes have given way to trenches in the roads, everywhere. Salubrious suburbs of yesteryear are transforming into dingy shantytowns under unregulated construction. Some have not a drop of water. You understand why white people used to blow the bugle to get us out of their spaces?  You get it? Clocks, order, regular jobs and abracadabra?