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IRIN - Kenya


Oil-rich yet on edge in Turkana

Mon, 06 Nov 2017 16:49:58 +0000

Rebecca Ekale doesn’t believe anything good can come from the black gold bonanza that will bring untold riches to arid Turkana, the poorest county in Kenya. “I have no interest in oil,” the mother of six told IRIN outside her brick-and-thatch home in the village of Lomokamar. Like many pastoralist herders, Ekale has been hit hard by a fierce and prolonged drought: the bones of 16 goats lie on the ground nearby. But life here is hard at the best of times. Around 90 percent of the county’s 1.3 million inhabitants live below the poverty line and some 80 percent have never attended school. Chronic marginalisation has left Turkana with a dearth of basic services, and there are few opportunities in the private sector for making a living outside the precarious realm of pastoralism. Yet unimaginable wealth lies beneath the county’s soil: an estimated 750 million recoverable barrels of oil. In early 2021, construction is set to begin on an 820-kilometre, $2.1 billion pipeline from Turkana to the Kenyan coast. Within a few years, this is expected to start generating billions of dollars annually for the Kenyan state, with at least five percent (there is an almighty row over the figure) earmarked for local communities and 20 percent going to the county government – an entity set up in a landmark devolutionary constitution adopted in 2010. Opinion is divided between those who think the oil boom will provide Turkana with an economic lifeline and those who fear production will exacerbate existing conflicts driven by competition over scarce pasture and water resources. “Nothing but a curse” Ekale already seems to have made her mind up. “It has brought us nothing but a curse,” she said, as a pungent smell wafted through her homestead. Ekale said the stench came from a tailings dump just two kilometres away. “It’s killing our goats and I have not seen the national or county government coming to our rescue,” she complained. Other local residents told IRIN that when it rains, chemicals enter water sources and make their animals sick. Tullow Oil, the British firm that discovered Turkana’s oil in 2012, operates (in some blocs in partnership with Africa Oil) across 48,000 square kilometres of Kenya leased from various county governments. Exploration and appraisal is taking place in several dozen sites located within community-owned land in Turkana. One of these sites lies 14 kilometres from Ekale’s home. Tullow denies releasing toxic waste, but told IRIN it temporarily stores mud residue from drill sites in a manner approved by the National Environmental Management Authority, and that it conducts environmental and social impact assessments before starting any new projects. Restricted mobility Aside from the disputed issue of waste, a common complaint about the oil installations is that they get in the way. “Our animals have no access to pasture,” explained Ekale. To keep their millions of animals healthy, Turkana’s pastoralists have to be able to herd them across long distances to reach water and, since they are picky eaters, the right kind and sufficient quantity of grass. Oil is just one of many barriers to this “strategic mobility”. Sites where oil is already being extracted – in the South Lokichar Basin – have been fenced off (Tullow didn’t specify exactly how much land is involved). According to Thomas Nyapid, a livestock herder who also runs a peacebuilding and sustainability programme in Lodwar, the county capital, Tullow has failed to fully take into account local dynamics. For instance, he said, South Lokichar Basin has long been used as a dry-season grazing reserve. Sophia Mbugua/IRIN Rebecca Ekale, who lost 16 goats to drought, doubts oil will make her life easier Ahead of the oil operations, “no one took an interest in telling us what was happening, or understanding how we used the land and how it would affect us in the end,” he told IRIN. Francis Opiyo, a Nairobi-based specialist in resilience, climate change,[...]

Who owns Kenya?

Fri, 03 Nov 2017 16:04:08 +0000

Two elections in two months have not settled Kenya’s political crisis. But the impasse is not really about who will sit in State House. It’s a deeper question: it’s about who owns Kenya – its citizens or a historically entrenched political elite. Kenya went back to the polls on 26 October after the Supreme Court annulled the first attempt in August. Incumbent President Uhuru Kenyatta won easily after his main opponent, Raila Odinga, withdrew from the race alleging the inability of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission to carry out a credible poll. Some have proposed that the political crisis is nothing more than a dispute between two of Kenya’s famously power-hungry politicians, each accusing the other of trying to vault into office by fraudulent means. Others blame the ethnicisation of Kenya’s politics and the deep tribal fault lines within Kenyan society. Still others maintain that the country’s winner-take-all political system, which does not allow those rejected by voters a cushy and safe landing. All these diagnoses fail to identify the central conflict that connects all these issues – the struggle to bend the country’s post-colonial extractive state to the will of a new and progressive constitution. It is a war that has been silently waged for at least 55 years. Colonial constitution In 1962, Kenyan representatives to the Lancaster Constitutional Conference agreed on a constitution broadly similar to the one the country finally adopted in 2010. It established a Bill of Rights. It created regional assemblies and local government in an effort to devolve power from the centre. It even had a Supreme Court. Yet in less than a decade, it would be so mangled through amendments that in 1969 it was officially recognised as a different document. Kenya’s current attorney-general, Githu Muigai, noted way back in 1992 that the independence constitution was incompatible with the inherited authoritarian colonial administrative structure. “Unhappily, instead of the latter being amended to fit the former, the former was altered to fit the latter, with the result that the constitution was effectively downgraded,” Muigai wrote. In short, under the ruling KANU party, the colonial state and its logic of extraction of resources from the many to enrich the few – initially British colonials, but now a similarly tiny African political elite – prevailed and undid the constitution. What followed was an “eating” binge as politicians and senior officials and their families and friends grabbed whatever they could lay their hands on. By the late 1980s, the looting and oppression sparked a reaction from citizen groups, media, and churchmen who pushed hard for a new constitution, even in the face of violent government crackdowns as well as state-led attempts to co-opt and hollow out their demands. The popular agitation came to fruition in August 2010 when the current constitution was finally promulgated. Yet the colonial state did not just fade away. Its more egregious aspects were simply renamed and allowed to hide in plain sight. The hated provincial administrators became county commissioners; the police, though nominally independent, still remained “a citizen containment squad”, as an official report into police reforms had labelled them. Under Kenyatta, the state retained its authoritarian character but with a fresh, likable face. Its violence, however, was never far below the surface, as was witnessed in the aftermath of its bungled responses to extremist attacks such as the Westgate Mall in Nairobi in September 2013, when the government scapegoated entire communities to cover up its failures. And, more recently, in the brutal crackdown on people protesting the two elections in which nearly 70 people have died. Where to now? The Supreme Court annulment of the August poll came as a real shock to a political and economic elite who had assumed the ballot would be a coronation of their chosen candidate. It was the first real attempt to use the 2010 constitution to [...]

Election leaves western Kenya angry and bitter

Thu, 26 Oct 2017 17:28:04 +0000

After tyres finish burning, what is left is a matted mesh of singed black wire. In Kenya’s western city of Kisumu, they hug curbs and roundabouts, leaving dark, circular footprints where the road melted underneath.   This is the Nyanza heartland of opposition leader Raila Odinga, where demonstrations have erupted since August against the Independent Electoral and Borders Commission’s perceived bias, and again today as Kenyans go to re-run elections – polls the opposition have boycotted.   The protracted election crisis has accustomed people in Nyanza to defiance. Here, the explosion of a tear gas canister is met with cheers. Protesters run into the white fumes. They salvage undetonated canisters and throw them back at police the next time. Even as live rounds crack into the air, in the distance a spinning slingshot always emerges.   It was in some ways no surprise then that on the eve of the 26 October election, Odinga – twice a losing presidential candidate – announced he was transforming his National Super Alliance (NASA) into a National Resistance Movement to confront the “electoral dictatorship” of the ruling Jubilee Party.   The trigger was the inability of the Supreme Court, in dramatic televised failure on Wednesday, to reach a quorum and rule on a petition to postpone the poll re-run.   The court had earlier nullified the August presidential election over procedural failures. Few neutral observers believed a divided IEBC had been able to fix its problems over the past 56 days.   Residents of Mamboleo, a neighbourhood outside Kisumu City, certainly did not. Like protestors throughout Nyanza, they set up roadblocks to prevent ballot papers from being delivered on Wednesday. All along the shoddy, pot-holed dirt road, piles of stones and bricks – even a telephone pole – were laid out.   As paramilitary GSU escorted a convoy of vehicles, screams and hoots, wild and crude, came from protesters hiding behind gates and in between corrugated metal shacks – and from police themselves. Tear gas and rocks were exchanged, insults too. Doors were kicked in and shots fired in the air.   Turnout was so low today in four counties in Nyanza that the IEBC postponed the vote.   These are alien scenes for Kenya, a middle-income regional leader. But they offer a disturbing glimpse into the possibility of the abyss beyond this disputed election. April Zhu/IRIN Raila Odinga addresses a NASA rally Victims   Odinga has voiced an anger that has been swirling here over the perceived manipulation of the institutions of the state by President Uhuru Kenyatta, and the alleged victimisation of a region and people seen as opposing him.   You hear it at the People’s Parliament in Kisumu’s city square where the supposed words of Thomas Jefferson are approvingly repeated: “When injustice becomes law, resistance becomes duty”.   The “resistance” already has its martyrs. Last week, 18-year-old Michael Okoth Okello was killed in the violent aftermath of anti-IEBC demonstrations in Kisumu – shot in the neck by police.   The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights released a report highlighting cases of violence in the wake of the annulled 8 August election. The report documents 37 deaths, 35 of them committed by the police.   Kenyans living in NASA strongholds like Nyanza and pockets of Nairobi – especially those like Odinga of Luo ethnicity – were disproportionately represented among the victims.   There have been high-profile condemnations of ethnically targeted police brutality, like the campaign “Luo Lives Matter” championed by Kisumu Governor Anyang’ Nyong’o.   Many here in Kisumu point to the difference in police response when Kikuyus – the country’s largest ethnic group and generally seen as supportive of Kenyatta – demonstrate.   “You don’t see police shooting the ‘Nairobi Business Community’ who come out armed to defend their businesses, fa[...]

Pastoralism and its future

Tue, 24 Oct 2017 07:26:56 +0000

In dryland areas across the world, tens of millions of people raise domesticated animals on open rangeland. Extreme variations in weather mean such pastoralists have to be highly adaptive and deploy a range of specialised skills. Climate change is making this way of life increasingly precarious. This factfile sets out some of the key issues: What is pastoralism? Pastoralism is a type of livelihood in which income and social status depend mostly on livestock grazed on communal open rangeland where the availability of nutrients and water vary greatly over both time and space. In other words, pastoralists are herders (mostly of cows, sheep, goats and camels, but also of yaks, horses, llamas, alpacas, reindeer and vicunas) who are frequently on the move in inherently unstable environments. This defining characteristic of pastoralism is known as “strategic mobility.” It’s “strategic” because, while appearing aimless or haphazard to the untrained eye, its motive is to enhance production and herd size by ensuring livestock consumes the most nutritional grass available. When this mobility takes the form of regular back-and-forth trips between the same departure and destination areas, it is known as “transhumance”, whereas “nomadism” describes journeys that vary according to the location of the best resources. Pastoralism is therefore a very specialised system that requires extensive social networks and deep knowledge – honed over centuries – of weather patterns, breeding techniques, herd management, and the intricate characteristics of different species of animal and vegetation. Put in economic terms, pastoralism is a complex exercise in the perpetual analysis and management of costs, risks, and benefits. But what is being tested now more than ever is the ability of pastoralists to constantly adapt to changing circumstances. Why is it important? What chiefly distinguishes pastoralism from sedentary agriculture is that, thanks to strategic mobility, environmental variations are (except in times of drought) seen as an asset rather than a problem: If you can move, good grass is always within reach. In dryland environments, pastoralism tends to deliver better food security than crops and produces edible proteins more efficiently than intensive livestock systems. Pastoralist regions are often undervalued or even ignored by national governments. As African countries decolonised in the 1960s, development policies tended to borrow from European models, emphasising “modernisation” and the commercialisation of agriculture and privatisation of pastoral rangelands. Yet the contributions pastoralist systems make to national economies are frequently considerable: As well as supplying meat and milk to growing urban populations, they often provide jobs in the transport and food sectors, for example. How many pastoralists are there? Estimates of the total number of people living a pastoral livelihood vary widely. A 2006 study published by the Food and Agriculture Organization put the number at 120 million, which includes some people who also grow crops (known as “agro-pastoralists”). Of these, 50 million are in sub-Saharan Africa, 31 million in the Middle East and North Africa, 25 million in Central Asia, 10 million in South Asia, and five million in South and Central America. Not long after the FAO published its study the International Fund for Agricultural Development said there were 200 million pastoralists in the world. A 2007 estimate put the number of animals raised in pastoral production systems in Kenya alone at 14.1 million, with a value of $860 million. Why is it under threat? In many parts of the world, government policy poses significant hurdles for pastoralists. For example, a 2015 paper by the Forced Migration Review explains how the governments of Oman and Mongolia “encourage settlement or provide only limited support for customary mobile lifestyles whilst favouring extractive industries for tax revenue.” [...]

In their own words: How drought is bringing despair to Kenyan herders

Tue, 17 Oct 2017 12:29:34 +0000

Turkana is one of several arid counties in Kenya in the throes of a prolonged and extreme drought. Most people in these areas raise livestock for a living, grazing their sheep, goats, cows, and camels on open rangeland. Usually, two annual rainy seasons ensure there’s enough grass to keep the millions of animals healthy. But this year, hundreds of thousands of animals have died of hunger, thirst, and disease. IRIN spoke to several Turkana residents about the impact the drought was having on their lives.   Lucas Lotieng Fredrik Lerneryd/IRIN Since we met four years ago most of my livestock has died, I only have five animals left. I had 250 goats and 50 sheep. They died because of the drought – they had nothing to eat. Normally, we take our animals to graze on the hills, but you can see there is no grass there now. When I was young, we could predict when the rains would come – we knew it would fall after six months. When I had animals, we had enough to eat. We used to eat meat and drink milk and sometimes the blood of sheep and goats. We would only sell livestock when we were hungry – during the good times when they could graze well we did not sell them. There has always been drought, but this one is the worst in my lifetime because it has killed so many animals, and the problem is spreading to humans – we are getting sick. Recently, there were showers for just three days, and the grass started growing for about a month. But that was not enough for the animals to grow healthy. It is like this everywhere in Turkana. If it rains, I will get more animals if my daughter gets married and I get a bride price. If it doesn’t rain, I will be left with nothing. If I could talk to the county governor, I would tell [him] about our way of life and ask him to help us with maize. We need development, to have more bore holes so that we can start farming. I would like to both farm and raise livestock. I see things are changing and the changes that are coming make me sad. If we old ones die, everything will change, the younger ones will move away from the life we have lived. The way we used to live was good. We lived a free life. We could go where we wanted.   Ewoton Epeot   Your browser does not support the video tag. I was born in 1947 and I grew up here. My father worked this plot of land and also raised livestock. Now my husband is dead and I have no sons to help me. There are only widows who work this land. Sometimes, animals come and destroy our work so we have to chase them away. Before, I also had livestock. I would buy animals by selling the surplus from my crops. But over the past three years, when the drought came, it took all my animals; they died of hunger, including the newborns, so I stopped being a pastoralist, and I only farm now. When there was no drought and I had livestock, life was good. When the animals gave birth, we had milk. We ate our crops and gave the chaff to the animals. Now there is only hunger – I have nothing to eat. We receive a cash transfer of Ksh5,000 ($50) every three months – I am not sure who pays it. We would like to get the money more often. People depending only on that money will die of hunger. Earlier this year I planted maize on this plot but it became infested with insects, so we had to dig up the maize and destroy it. Now we will plant sorghum. When we have finished working the soil, we will open up the channels to let in water [from a nearby borehole]. It’s hard work – it takes two months just to plough and sow the land. When I feel hungry I go and look for wild fruit. But when you eat that every day, you get diarrhoea. We only eat it because we are hungry. If the government wants to support us, they should buy livestock for us or give us some food. But they should give it to us directly, not to the village elders who, when food aid is given, often only distribute it to their relatives. Sometimes, when we hear that som[...]

UN Myanmar overhaul, Congo crisis economics, and a humanitarian handbook: The Cheat Sheet

Fri, 13 Oct 2017 13:04:47 +0000

Every week, IRIN’s team of specialist editors scans the humanitarian horizon to curate a reading list on important and unfolding trends and events around the globe:   Congo – follow the money   The Democratic Republic of the Congo’s presidential poll won’t happen until mid-2019, the country’s electoral authority said this week. That’s well beyond the agreed end of year deadline for President Joseph Kabila to step down. What to do? There will be much international deliberation on that. But the Congo Research Group points out that what’s rarely discussed are the economic enablers that influence and shape the current crisis. Large multinational companies are implicated in questionable mining deals, which have included big contracts to members of Kabila’s family. Any substantial financial support to the government by the IMF and World Bank should be conditioned on far greater transparency, the CRG argues. That goes for the election as well. The enormous cost of the exercise – at between $800m and $1.8 billion it’s more than 20 percent of Congo’s annual budget – should give donors pause, the group notes. Not only does the process provide an opportunity for lucrative kickbacks, but also the potential skewing of the final result at this initial registration phase. We’ve been running early warning stories on this topic for a while but look out for our upcoming report on unrest in eastern Congo and an in-depth page dedicated to the crisis, complete with timeline.   What next for UN leadership in Myanmar?   The UN’s resident coordinator in Myanmar, Renata Lok-Dessallien, will finish her assignment by the end of October, the UN announced this week amid a refugee crisis that has seen more than 536,000 Rohingya surge into Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine State since 25 August. Lok-Dessallien’s time as the UN’s top official in Myanmar has been controversial, with accusations that she has overseen and contributed to a divided and dysfunctional mission. In July, IRIN reported on a growing schism in the UN system in Myanmar, with accusations that Lok-Dessallien had prioritised a development-focused agenda over one that stressed human rights first – particularly when it came to the Rohingya, who have long faced marginalisation and persecution. So who will replace Lok-Dessallien, and how will that person interact with a Myanmar government that has bristled against international condemnation over the Rohingya issue? The UN plans to convert the resident coordinator role into that of an assistant secretary-general, who would report directly to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. But Myanmar has previously objected to the plan, and Lok-Dessallien’s departure, announced earlier this year, was reportedly delayed because the UN and Myanmar could not agree on a replacement. The UN’s under-secretary-general for political affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, is scheduled to be in Myanmar until 17 October. Perhaps this visit will yield the answer about who will replace Lok-Dessallien.   Pacific leaders prepare for COP23   Senior ministers and climate change officials from across the Pacific Islands are meeting next week in Fiji – a last chance for Pacific nations to solidify their priorities ahead of key global climate talks in November. Pacific Island nations are among the most vulnerable countries in the world when it comes to the effects of climate change. With Fiji chairing November’s UN Climate Change Conference, or COP23, countries in the Pacific Islands  – including several that are facing debilitating drought or recovering from the impacts of tropical cyclones – are hoping to bring a sense of urgency to the yearly meetings. Pacific Island nations are expected to renew calls to push forward with implementing global commitments made under 2015’s Paris Agreement, while also calling for greater access to adaptation and mitigation funds promised as part of [...]

Drought pushes Kenya’s pastoralists to the brink

Thu, 12 Oct 2017 12:12:11 +0000

Even at the best of times, the people of Turkana live on the edge. Almost all of the 1.3 million inhabitants of this arid county in northwest Kenya endure extreme poverty. Malnutrition rates are among the highest in the country. Since much of the land here is unsuitable for agriculture, most of the population raises livestock, herding animals long distances to find good pasture and plentiful water. These days, both resources are in catastrophically short supply. Long dry spells and occasional droughts have always been part of the rhythm of pastoralism here, but Turkana, like much of east Africa, is currently nine months into one of severest droughts in living memory.   Your browser does not support the video tag. In February, when 23 of the country’s 47 counties were affected, and after the number of food insecure people had more than doubled, from 1.3 million to 2.7 million, the Kenyan government declared a national drought emergency. Since then, the situation has worsened considerably. The annual “long rains”, which usually fall between March and May, ended early. It was the third successive poor or failed rainy season. By August the number of food insecure Kenyans – those lacking access to food sufficient to live a healthy life – had risen to 3.4 million. According to a flash appeal published in early September by OCHA, the UN’s humanitarian aid coordination body, half a million Kenyans fall into the category of “emergency” food insecurity. In Turkana, “very critical” rates of global acute malnutrition (one of the key indicators of humanitarian crises) of up to 37 percent or above have been recorded in some areas – more than double the emergency threshold of 15 percent. This is largely a result of higher food prices and a reduction in milk and food supplies. Dying animals and vanishing vegetation “Turkana is the epicentre of the drought,” Chris Ajele, director of the county’s ministry of pastoral economy, told IRIN in late September in Lodwar, the county capital. The drought “has rendered some families destitute”, he said. “In Turkana, the economy revolves around pastoralism,” he explained. “People attain their daily requirements through the sale and consumption of livestock.” In arid counties like Turkana livestock usually accounts for some 80 percent of a household’s income through sales of animals and milk. Livestock also represents a considerable store of wealth: Many herders with few other possessions aside from a wooden stool, a knife, and some cooking utensils own 100 or more goats and sheep, each worth around $60. Camels are worth more than 10 times as much. “We have lost about half a million head of livestock [in Turkana] – mostly sheep and goats, as well as cattle and some camels,” Ajele said. High rates of livestock death have also been recorded in the counties of Isiolo, Laikipia, Marsabit, and Samburu. This is mainly because the animals don’t have enough to eat. According to a chart complied by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, things are only going to get worse in the months to come: In the map for November 2017, almost the entire country is shaded red, indicating “extreme vegetation deficit”. Just last year, foraging conditions in most of the country were either “normal” or “very good”. Food and Agriculture Organization Forage conditions worsened dramatically in 2017 And the longer a drought lasts, especially when coupled with over-grazing, the greater the risk that subsequent growth and reproduction of the grasses eaten by livestock will be compromised. There is strong correlation between foraging conditions and levels of human malnutrition. “Drought is a part of life for pastoralists, but whereas they used to happen every 10 years, now, because of climate change, the gap is narrowing and the[...]

Fact file: Unfair cop – why African police forces make violent extremism worse

Thu, 28 Sep 2017 11:16:20 +0000

Undermanned, underfunded, underwhelming: African police forces struggle to contain regular crime, and they are even further out of their depth when it comes to tackling violent extremism. The best way to identify threats to public safety is a policing model that promotes trust and collaboration with the community, say the policy manuals on preventing violent extremism, better known as PVE. A positive relationship is believed to help build resilience to radicalisation. But the reality in much of the world is that the police are viewed as corrupt, violent, and people best avoided. “In African culture the police are there to intimidate, to coerce,” acknowledged Kenyan senior sergeant Francis Mwangi. He is trying his best to change that perception. Sharp and articulate, Mwangi is the face of a new policing initiative in the Nairobi slum of Kamakunji, which aims to build a partnership with the community to help blunt radicalisation of the youth. Traditional policing – far too often based on brutality and arbitrary arrest rather than proper detective work – can create more fear of the security services than the insurgents and is clearly counter-productive. A new UNDP study based on interviews with more than 500 jihadists –  drawn mainly from Kenya, Nigeria, and Somalia­ – found that in over 70 percent of cases “government action”, including the killing or arrest of a family member or friend, was the tipping point that prompted them to join. Why is the culture of human rights abuse and resistance to reform so deeply ingrained? Citizen or subject Part of the problem is history. African police forces were set up by the colonial powers to maintain control over the local population. Independence didn’t really change that function. Their role largely remains regime protection and representation rather than serving the public. As a result, most police forces are seriously undermanned. The UN recommends a ratio of 300 officers per 100,000 citizens. It’s a rough guide – force levels are influenced by a range of factors. But Kenya manages a ratio of only 203, Nigeria 187, and Mali – another country facing an Islamist insurgency – just 38. Police forces are also underequipped. From vehicles and the fuel to run them, to paper, pens, and printing ink. The barest of necessities are in short supply, before you get to functioning forensic labs and national fingerprint databases. Unsurprisingly, conviction rates are low. In South Africa, one of the more advanced police forces on the continent, only an estimated 10 percent of murder cases end in conviction. In crimes of sexual violence, it falls to between four and eight percent. The temptation, then, is to turn to forced confessions. In Nigeria, torture has become such an integral part of policing that many stations have an informal torture officer, according to a 2014 Amnesty International report. The prevalence of shoot-to-kill policies are also a reflection of the failure of the criminal justice system, with sections of the community seeing themselves as targets of persecution. Police hit squads take that logic one step further. In the Kenyan port city of Mombasa, they are known to operate against so-called radical elements, whose deaths only serve to stoke the anger of Muslim youth, who view themselves as already marginalised. Nigeria provides a stark example of the impact of the failure of due process. In 2009 the police killed Boko Haram founder Mohamed Yusuf while he was in custody. It did not stop his movement, and his successor, Abubakar Shakau, has proved a far more brutal and implacable enemy. The impunity of the police commanders involved in the murder undermines the moral authority of the Nigerian state. Governance failure is key in the tolerance of abuse. A corrupt political system breeds corrupt cops. If states are unwilling to provide opportunities, services[...]

Why I’m proud to be African today

Fri, 01 Sep 2017 21:34:06 +0000

It’s not easy to get a sitting president to leave office. In some cases, corruption, violence, and institutional inertia have conspired to keep some African presidents in office for decades.   In other cases, the sheer weight of going up against a person who knows the system, has the theoretically unlimited resources of the state at their disposal, and to whom political appointees owe their allegiance is often too much for opposition parties.   So, elections are held, but there is rarely a surprise. Hence why today’s annulment of the election victory of President Uhuru Kenyatta by Kenya’s supreme court is such a landmark moment.   Change certainly can happen at the end of a constitutional term in office. But the power of incumbency means that it is rare for a sitting president to be turfed out if he or she is not ready to retire.   But in the last three years some significant shifts seem to be occurring. A quick survey of the status of incumbency across the continent suggests a growing political maturity – not in African voters, who have always turned out in big numbers to make their voices heard – but in African politicians who are increasingly willing to accept defeat.   In a world where generalisations and trends about Africa tend to be negative, this resurgence of democratic spirit is an important one to note.   Steps forward   It began in Nigeria in 2015 when Muhammadu Buhari beat then-president Goodluck Jonathan in a hotly contested poll. Given Nigeria’s chequered political history there was real apprehension over whether Jonathan would concede. But he not only conceded, but congratulated Buhari for his win.   Then John Dramini Mahama became Ghana’s first one-term president. He happily handed over to Nana Akufo-Addo in 2017, that man he defeated in the 2012 vote.   A slightly different set of circumstances led to an unexpected transition in the Gambia. Self-proclaimed ruler-for-life Yahya Jammeh surprisingly accepted electoral defeat after 22 years in office.   Granted Jammeh did try and walk back his concession after the opposition threatened to prosecute him for crimes committed in office, but in the end he fled into exile in Equatorial Guinea.   And then in Somalia, Mohamed Farmaajo took over from Hassan Sheikh Mahmood in February this year in a peaceful transition that defied the logic of the country’s ongoing civil war.   Status quo   Of course, it’s not all been smooth sailing. In Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza’s tampering with the constitution to stay in office has thrown that country into chaos. In Gabon, Omar Ali Bongo needed one of those last-minute 99 percent turnouts in his home constituencies in order to secure his stay in power.   Elections in Chad and in Guinea led to violent boycotts that did nothing to shift the status quo, while in Angola, although Jose dos Santos is nominally stepping aside, his hand-picked successor is about to slip into his shoes.   And while the victories of perennial presidents Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda) were never in doubt, there was still a measure of disappointment that neither made any serious effort to at least sustain the illusion of democracy.   In Uganda, perpetual oppositionist Kizza Bessigye has been repeatedly detained and harassed, while Diane Rwigara, one of Kagame’s challengers, has lately gone missing.   Asante Kenya!   That’s what makes the news from Kenya so astonishing, and the court’s judges such unlikely heroes.   The commission that runs the elections had declared incumbent Kenyatta the winner of the 8 August election – despite loud protest by the opposition party, NASA. The opposition insisted that though the vote had been free and fair, the tallying of the results had been fiddled with.   So certain was NASA that it would not get a fair court hearing that it initially [...]

Same old problems for Kenya’s newest refugee settlement

Tue, 29 Aug 2017 16:35:18 +0000

Kalobeyei was supposed to be different. Refugees here would be self-reliant. They would be integrated with the local community in a mutually beneficial arrangement of shared services and bustling markets. And it would all cost a lot less for Western aid donors.   But it hasn’t quite worked as planned.   Kalobeyei, in Kenya’s remote northwest, was built to decongest nearby Kakuma camp and attract the more entrepreneurially-minded refugees who could take advantage of the tiny plots of land on offer and trade with the local community.   The World Food Programme provides a $14 monthly cash allowance to each refugee*, which it says is enough to cover 80 percent of minimum needs. The 40,000 refugees are expected to supplement that stipend.   The problem is that Kalobeyei was established just as South Sudan’s civil war intensified. With Kakuma full, people have been arriving in Kalobeyei with little more than the clothes on their backs – and without the resources to make a go of it.   Jean-Marie Shamalima, who fled Burundi’s brutal civil war last year, is the kind of refugee Kalobeyei was designed to accommodate.   Beside his shack, constructed out of tarpaulin and corrugated iron, are rows of okra, beans, and spinach growing in a small sunken bed. It’s an incongruous sight in the middle of the arid Turkana region.   He arrived when the settlement opened, and his seeds were among the few possessions he brought with him.   Integration   Kalobeyei, built by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in conjunction with the local Turkana county government is an “integrated settlement”. That means it aims to provide economic benefits and services to host and refugee communities alike, including schools, hospitals, and marketplaces where Shamalima can sell his produce.   "It was difficult when we first arrived. There wasn't a lot of water available. But now things are improving and I'm growing lots of different vegetables," Shamalima said, gesturing proudly to his five-by-six-metre plot.   “I sell my spinach and okra in the market place,” he explained. “It provides me with an extra income so that I can buy clothes and seeds to grow more crops to sell.”   But even he struggles to make ends meet.   For other refugees it’s harder still. A 20-kilo bag of just maize flour, the staple carbohydrate – enough to last a family of five for a month – costs around $9 and one litre of oil is $2.50. Then there's all the other ingredients that go into a meal, plus the charcoal to cook the food, and the WFP allowance becomes increasingly stretched.   “I buy maize, beans, onions and oil with the money I get and it's barely enough for us to eat," South Sudanese refugee Mary Naduru, a mother of four, told IRIN.   Kalobeyei is a new model for Kenya. It is an acknowledgment that Kakuma, and the larger Dadaab camp in the northeast, are outmoded. They are in effect refugee islands sucking up dwindling donor aid.   Although the new looser settlement model doesn’t go as far as neighbouring Uganda, where refugees have free movement, the right to work, and access social services anywhere in the county, Kalobeyei offers a part-solution in a country where the politics of asylum is highly charged.   "The ultimate aim is to make Kalobeyei a self-serving, self-reliant settlement,” Neville Agoro of the Danish Refugee Council told IRIN. “The idea wasn't to make people rely on humanitarian agencies from the start.”   But there is a large wrinkle. “So long as we keep on bringing people who've just arrived from South Sudan, bringing them to Kalobeyei and trying to [introduce] self-reliance is not possible,” he added.   New arrivals get a patch of ground to grow food on, and that’s it – not even seeds and tools or training.   “They just tell us 'this is your house, th[...]