Monday, December 27, 2010

Is this the failure of African diplomacy?

This past week, i kept wondering whether or not 'Merry Christmas' would be making any sense to the Ivorian people. The 'two-presidents-one-political-mess' situation is still raging on since the November 28th run-off polls.
The west African regional grouping, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), through its Chairperson, Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, has already issued its 'final warning' to Mr. Gbagbo to leave or face military action. In a rejoinder, Gbagbo's minders pointed out the fact that many West Africans live and work in Ivory Coast's rich cocoa industry, and therefore, in essence, they would be attacking their own citizens.
For me, this points to a deeper fundamental question of the failure of African diplomacy. Within the past hour of my writing this post, the African Union has announced that it has now appointed Kenya's Prime Minister, Mr. Odinga to 'lead the the monitoring of the situation in Ivory Coast and bolster the efforts being undertaken'.
Kenya's Prime Minister, Mr. Odinga

Were the circumstances different, this news would have made me very proud to be a Kenyan citizen. Sadly, Mr. Odinga has already called for the forceful removal of Mr. Gbagbo. This means that the AU may actually be preparing to commence military action.
the stand-off in Ivory Coast

Three years ago this time, the elections in Kenya had gone sour, with both Mr.Odinga and Mr. Kibaki claiming victory, eventually leading to Kenya's worst post-election violence in history. That Mr. Odinga would now be called upon to lead the AU's efforts in Ivory Coast, to me leaves a lot to be desired of the AU's diplomatic strategy.
Let us hope that the AU gets its act together, to help bring the crisis to an end in a peaceful manner....that the Ivorian will finally be able to truly say and have a Happy New Year-2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Obama of Łódź?

Another significant political event has taken place in Europe. 'Dr. John Godson was today sworn in as Poland's first black MP', reported, an English news outlet in Poland. Coming soon after the swearing-in of Dr. Bossman (now nicknamed the 'Obama of Piran') as Mayor of Piran in Slovenia, it was interesting to listen to an interview Dr. Godson gave.

Dr.Godson (right hand raised) at his swearing-in
 One of his main priorities is to improve relations between Poland and Africa especially in the energy sector. This for me is not surprising, considering that the man was born in Nigeria, one of Africa's largest oil producing nations.

Godson with the Polish Premier, Mr. Donald Tusk
 I suspect it will not be easy for him; traveling through Nairobi, it does not take long for anyone to notice that the city has been turned into one huge construction site-the road network is virtually being overhauled and the contractor is (yes you got that right!) a Chinese company. No wonder the leaked cables from Nairobi, as revealed by WikiLeaks, are mainly about US concerns on China's influence in Kenya.

Dr. John Godson
Asked whether he considers Poland his second home, Dr. Godson replied, "..i actually consider Poland my first homeland and Nigeria as my second homeland", going on to say that nowhere else in the world has he felt so at home than in Poland. Ivory Coast is still sailing through turbulent political waters. The European Union is reported to have issued sanctions against Laurent Gbagbo. The African Union is encouraging talks instead of sanctions. Can politicians such as Dr. Bossman and Godson, have a role in helping to resolve Africa's electoral difficulties? Can they help to change for the better the tome adopted by 'Western democracies' in their dealings with African countries? Or would their voices be too faint to be heard in the din that is Africa's political landscape? But what about President Barrack Obama, the son of a Kenyan father and American mother?
Young Obama visiting his grandmother in K'Ogelo village, Western Kenya
 Has he managed to flex his clout from the White House to stream line things in Kenya?

President Obama and Vice-President Joe Biden.
 Or should the allegiance of these 'sons of Africa' be only to their electorate in European and American cities? So many questions that i would like to put to the 'Obama of Łódź', who now joins the 460-member Sejm (lower house of the Polish parliament).

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Peculiar Kenyan: Second Instalment

On the eve of Jamhuri Day, when Kenya gained its independence (12th Dec.1963) and also became a 'Republic' (12th Dec.1964), it seems a good moment to reflect on what makes us Kenyan.
If you are a Kenyan who reads this blog, you probably remember my post in October about 'The Peculiar Kenyan', a book by Sunny Bindra on the things that make us peculiar as Kenyans. Well, if you don't remember, no problem! We Kenyans have very short memories! How else do you explain the fact that we keep re-electing the same buffoons every five years, only for them to rip us off?
"The Peculiar Kenyan"

Last weekend, i made my way to Silverbird Westgate for the launch of the book 'The Peculiar Kenyan'. Choosing not to be peculiar, i bought a copy and had the honor of meeting Sunny again and having him sign it. The peculiar thing would be to wait for someone else to buy it, borrow and never return.
Sunny Bindra author of 'The Peculiar Kenyan"
 From our politics, road-rage, and sense of patriotism (or lack of it) to our ways of doing business and professional hypocrisy, Sunny has a way of holding the reader's attention and getting them to look at their own habits...peculiar habits.

As Christmas approaches, has it ever struck you as peculiar why nyama choma (roasted meat) seems to be the limit of our culinary ambitions?
This book would make a great Christmas/New Year's gift for Kenyans (or anyone who has lived here and observed our peculiarities). Get your copy!
Happy Jamhuri Day!!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Feel the ugali in your hand!

On the 4th of August, 2010, Kenyans went to the polls that would eventually usher in a new "constitutional dispensation" as those 'political commentators' like to say on TV talk shows. Meanwhile,my friends and i were taking part in an international program for young adults, MAGiS2010 Hungary, rooted in the spirituality of St. Ignatius of Loyola, in the Hungarian town of Csobanka. With us were pilgrims from Ireland, Australia and Hungary, making a total of about 20.
The Kenyan group of four was however, very much preoccupied with events taking place in our homeland, hoping that the vote would be peaceful, and thankfully it was. I kept checking the online Kenyan newspapers to get the latest news and exit polls.
That morning, we decided we would share something cultural from Kenya with our friends. First, the main intention for the Eucharistic celebration was for our country.
The Mass
Later that evening we cooked a Kenyan dish; ugali with traditional vegetables (which we found in a farm nearby, and which would pass for weeds in Hungary) and scrambled eggs with tomatoes and onions.
Ugali, pronounced: uuh-gah-lee and not 'you-gah-lie', as most Americans would say, is made from maize flour, in boiling water, stirred until it becomes stiff and left to simmer for a few minutes. This is not a cookery class and so i will not delve into explaining how to prepare it!

The meal
 Anyway, back to the story; the meal was served and i had to introduce it, and in a few minutes, the bowls and plates were cleared by some hungry souls, who said it was very delicious. Most importantly, no one reported any stomach discomforts the next day! My Australian rafiki, James O'Brien, was so kind to send me the link to the video he recorded when i was explaining away-and it gives me great pleasure to now share it with you here:

Friday, December 3, 2010

The country with two presidents

Didier Drogba, Yaya Toure, Kolo Toure and 'Les Elephants' is what most people would associate with Cote d'ivoire. Less than 24 hours after my last post, which featured an article, 'A practical guide to stealing elections in Africa', events in Cote d'ivoire or Ivory Coast have been unfolding dramatically. The results of the presidential run-off between Laurent Gbagbo and Alassane Ouattara are in contention.

Left: Laurent Gbagbo, Right: Alasanne Outtara
The electoral commission chairperson announced that Alassane Outtara had won 54% of the vote to Gbagbo's 46%. The Constitutional Council has since overturned the result and instead declared Gbagbo winner with 51% to Outtara's 41%, citing electoral irregularities in the North, Ouattara's stronghold.
Ivory Coast, one of the world's major cocoa producers (over 15000 tonnes in 2003/04) finds itself with two presidents.
Abidjan by night
Tension is reportedly high in the country, and with my personal experience of living through the nightmare of Kenya's post-election troubles at the end of 2007/08, i have great empathy for the citizens of Ivory Coast, who already have experienced civil strife.

As i retire to bed, i think of the residents of the beautiful city of Abidjan, whose anxiety levels simply cannot allow them to nod-off even for a split-second. I hope and pray that peace prevails. And that the two gentlemen, their supporters and those unseen international forces pulling strings in different directions realize that its time the voice of the people of Cote d'ivoire to be respected.

Abidjan Cathedral

God Bless Cote d'ivoire, God Bless Africa!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

"The most loyal voters are the dead ones" - A practical guide to stealing elections in Africa; by Charles Onyango-Obbo

Strange events have characterized the beginning of December, and from the look of things, it seems to me that 2010 might just end on a most dramatic note. My only hope and prayer is that whatever the drama, no lives are lost and no one loses their limbs.
In Nairobi, Luis Moreno Ocampo ( the most powerful prosecutor in the world) and Kofi Annan (former UN Sec.General and Chief African village elder) have been making speeches that have been rattling many many snakes. The fall-out of Kenya's botched elections in 2007. In Abidjan, Alassane Outtara has been declared winner of presidential elections-but its far from over; the Constitutional Council is challenging the
Mr.Alassane Outtara
declaration.While i was mulling over these events, my favorite columnist and blogger on African politics, Charles Onyango-Obbo penned a piece, titled ' A practical guide to stealing elections in Africa'. It needs no summary or me he couldn't have said it any better, but i'd love to read your thoughts on it and so here it is,in full:

A practical guide to stealing elections in Africa

WARNING: This article is written with a very cynical tongue-in-cheek, and could be bad for your health. Please seek the medical advice before reading it.
Something strange is happening in Africa. The governments of today seem to have lost the art of doing something their predecessors had mastered – stealing elections.
We had elections in Egypt a few days ago. The ruling National Democratic Party swept the first round of parliamentary, but in the process, it mugged the opposition Muslim Brotherhood by yanking away nearly all the 88 seats the latter had in the 508-member house. The Brotherhood is screaming murder.
On October 31, Tanzania voted and President Jakaya Kikwete and his Cha Cha Mapinduzi (Party of Revolution or CCM) won.  Kikwete was returned with 61.17 per cent of the total votes cast (down from about 80 per cent in 2005), against runner-up Dr Wilbroard Slaa's 26.34 per cent.
Slaa rubbished the vote as stolen. The Tanzanians took a week to count the votes, forcing impatient pro-opposition youth to take to the streets in protest.
One of the strangest elections of the year just took place in Guinea. In the second round, it seems the “wrong” man won. Former premier Alpha Conde defeated the favourite Cellou Dalein Diallo. Now both men are in court alleging fraud, as their supporters battle out in the street alleys.
Also, in June, the good people of Burundi voted. The opposition boycotted the election, leaving President Pierre Nkurunziza to run largely alone, and defeat himself.
Our strongmen
Where did things go wrong? The first mistake our strongmen leaders make is that they forget the value of honesty. A big man who does not believe in a free vote and therefore doesn’t bother with elections, never comes under pressure to be democratic. A good example is Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi.
Gaddafi doesn’t believe in competitive elections, and doesn’t hold them. When is the last time you heard the international community demanding that he holds elections?
So, the first lesson is that you are better off not having an election, than having one and stealing it. You show the whole world that you are a vote thief – and a dictator. If you don’t hold elections, you are better off, because then you are only a dictator.
The second rule of election rigging is that you can’t steal an election efficiently on voting day. You do so months before. One of the things you do is negotiate in advance with your main threat, and agree the terms of his defeat.
The idea is to get him to concede defeat on the day results are announced, instead of going to court or holding subversive press conferences.
Usually, a villa on the Riviera, a 500 class Mercedes Benz, and $25m in a secret account for the opposition leader will buy you cooperation.
Create a martyr
Otherwise, you make one of the worst mistakes of all and break the third rule—you create a martyr of the fellow you have robbed. One good example is opposition leader Dr Kizza Besigye in Uganda. Even the courts agreed with him that he was swindled in 2001 and 2006, not to mention that he was beaten, imprisoned falsely, and his relatives run of town or imprisoned. Besigye became a martyr, which gave him  pride of place in Uganda’s election history.
Fourthly, is the counting of the votes. Everywhere in Africa, and the world, counting the vote is taking too long, resulting in results being announced from two to 30 days after the vote (as in Zimbabwe). You see when you delay counting the vote, you create the impression that you are actually seriously adding them up. It often also suggests that the vote is close.
The trick is to announce the winner immediately after the polling stations close, thus catching the opposition by surprise, and preventing any unreasonable expectations that you are serious about counting the votes taking hold.
Fifth, some of our leaders have this wrong idea that you can win an election with only living voters. Crazy. The most loyal voters are the dead ones. Resurrected voters, even if they return to the ballot box 15 years after they died, are very consistent pro-government voters. At least, they are grateful that they got a piece of land to be buried in.
Living voters, seeing the politicians grabbing forests, road reserves, school grounds, and encroaching on ordinary folks’ land tend to think there will no land left to bury them. Right there you have an anti-incumbent voter.
So, never forget to register ghost voters. The art of election stealing needs to be taken seriously. Many big men are giving other poll fraudsters a bad name by messing up the great game.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Africa,by Africans..for Africans...Really??

Ok, so this is probably the 3rd or 4th post on Africa since i started this blog. Conscious that there are readers from outside the continent, i sincerely apologize for the biased and one-sided reporting...oh sorry, blogging! On second thought, i take back my apology.

I live here, so i shouldn't be and i am not apologizing. In any case, its difficult to avoid writing something on Africa, if you happen to spend a month living with passport holders and bona fide citizens of Nigeria, Madagascar, Democratic Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic and every two or three days, having visitors from Tanzania, Uganda and Ghana. Surely, doesn't a continent that attracts significant Chinese attention merit adequate blog-time and space? Besides, i consider myself a Pan Africanist. Enough reasons to continue with this post. If you are still not convinced, then you'd better stop reading now.

The AU flag

Difficult to avoid, as well, have been discussions on Africa's problems, from democracy (or lack of it) to poverty (and its abundance); and possible solutions.
African countries should colonize themselves. Sounds like a rather harsh and retrogressive statement to make. Well, 50 years after independence, more than a dozen African countries have little to show for it. A number of African 'scholars' will in fact be willing to demonstrate, just how deeply Africa is still reeling under new forms of colonization, or in academic parlance, 'neo-colonialism'. To these scholars, fora such as the ongoing 3rd Africa-EU summit on 'Investment, Economic Growth and Job Creation', is just another talk shop, meant to subtly expand the neo-colonial grip.

Why would the European powers care, they might ask, when they have to deal with serious economic issues that Ireland, Greece and Portugal are facing? If African countries took the initiative to colonize those countries on the continent that seem to have no clue how to get their house in order-like Somalia, Zimbabwe and a few others-then it would ensure that Africa's resources are not plundered. And if they are, at least they would remain within the continent. Instead of going to study in Europe or the United States, African students would go to universities in other African countries. It is already happening, but this could be ramped up. Brain drain would be consigned within the continent's borders and countries with food surplus would be made to share with their famine-stricken relatives. Think of it working more or less akin to the way traditional African societies functioned. If a man neglected his family, then the village elders would summon the fellow and question him, after which they would issue ultimatums and sanctions, getting the culprit back in line. It would not be an entirely new invention. When Kenya was in trouble, end of 2007/beginning of 2008, the African Union appointed former UN-Secretary General, Koffi Annan as chief mediator (chief village elder).
L - R:Kofi Annan, President Kibaki and PM Odinga.( Annan seems to be saying,"Button up your jackets boys!"

In turn, he crafted a panel of' 'Eminent African personalities' (other village elders) and showed up in Nairobi. In two to three weeks of 'negotiations', President Kibaki was shaking hands with Raila Odinga (now Prime Minister). The welcome message on the African Union web page states: 'An Effective and Efficient African Union for a New Africa'. Many pundits would argue that the AU is far from being effective and  efficient, and therefore a New Africa remains a pipe-dream. In deed, the AU is considered to be an exclusive club of old-geezers who have no clue how to run bakeries, let alone countries. They would never criticize or admonish each other, even in the face of obvious 'human rights' abuses. That may explain why Omar el Bashir confidently waltzed into and out of Nairobi one cold August morning, with an International Criminal Court arrest warrant over his head. But i have a different take. Methinks these 'old-geezers' are very clever fellows. Otherwise how do you explain the fact that many of them have managed to stay in power for so long? I refuse to believe that it is because their citizens are stupid. No! These guys are geniuses. They are not just using their wiliness to produce the much needed effect. My hypothesis: If South Africa could team up with Malawi, Namibia and Zambia to hammer sense into the regime in Zimbabwe...if Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti could agree to keep the Somalis in check....if the North Africans conspired to use their oil wealth to drive economic growth in Burundi...then we would have an Africa, by Africans...for Africans...or would we?...Really??

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Where Mali meets Cuba...Music is spoken!!

Its Saturday night and i want to go catch a good movie on Movie Magic 1 or 2, while sipping a cold Tusker. But then there this story i have been following on the BBC recently, that i just had to write about before. Few things separate me from cold Tuskers (Africa's finest quality lager) and good movies. The headline read 'Second chance for Buena Vista Social Club'. I am big fan of the Cuban group (which is testified by the fact that one of the few things i did at Istanbul's Ataturk International airport while waiting for my connecting flight to Nairobi in September was to buy a Compay Segundo album), so my attention was definitely caught.
According to the BBC story, Malian musicians Djelimady Tounkara and Bassekou Kouyat were in 1996 supposed to travel to Cuba to record music with local musicians. It never happened. Visa problems (i wonder just how many dreams have been shattered by embassy officials who deny visas on flimsy grounds...but that's a story for another day) conspired to deny music lovers what in my opinion is the greatest collaboration of all time. Still the session in Havana went ahead, and produced the best selling Buena Vista Social Club.

Finally, in 2010, British producer Nick Gold has managed to get the Malians and Cubans together in a Spanish studio. The Malians speak English and French. The Cubans Spanish. And so the only common language between them is music! And boy, aren't they fluent!!

Its delightfully wonderful to sit back and listen to them. I hope they can come and play in Nairobi soon. In fact, the next step for me is to write to the Cuban embassy in Nairobi and Nick Gold, with a proposal that they facilitate a show in Nairobi next year.

Meanwhile, i will enjoy watching clips of their performances online, hoping that their album will soon be available in Nairobi's music stores. And now, off to catch the movie and cold Tusker!!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

I Black

I stumbled upon this poem online (supposedly written by an African child) and would like to share it with you:

When I born, I Black,
When I grow up, I Black,
When I go in Sun, I Black,
When I scared, I Black,
When I sick, I Black,
And when I die, I still black..
And you White fella,
When you born, you Pink,
When you grow up, you White,
When you go in Sun, you Red,
When you cold, you Blue,
When you scared, you Yellow,
When you sick, you Green,
And when you die, you Gray..
And you calling me Colored?!

Have a colorful day!!

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Viva Cristo Rey!

On Tuesday evening, 22nd November, i picked up my copy of 'Hearts on Fire', a booklet that contains prayers by Jesuits, collected and edited by Michael Harter S.J. Quite randomly i found myself on page 38, and was struck by the line, "Viva Cristo Rey - Long Live Christ the King", attributed to Blessed Miguel Agustin Pro Juarez.

I decided to look up his biography, and astonishingly for me, found that the 23rd November is his memorial. He was executed on November 23rd 1927. The same morning i had just heard reports that the Mexican government had issued an advisory to its citizens traveling home for the winter holidays, to drive in convoys and during daylight hours. Quite difficult to imagine, for a country that shares a border with a powerful neighbor-the United States of America. The kind of advisory given by the Mexican government, is very similar to the situation in Northern Kenya-close to the border with Somalia. Mexico has been rocked by deadly violence, pitting security forces against drug gangs.

The execution of Miguel Agustin Pro

 Miguel Pro's execution was dramatic too, as explained in the account given on the 'Jesuit Saints and Blesseds' page of the website of the Society of Jesus:

"Soldiers escorted the unsuspecting Jesuit priest into the prison yard the morning of Nov. 23. When he saw the spectators and the firing squad, he asked for a few moments to pray, and then refused the blindfold when it was offered. Holding his rosary in his hand, he stood in front of the bullet-chipped wall and stretched his arms out in the form of a cross. When the order came to fire, he cried out, "Vivo Cristo Rey! Long live Christ the King." 

The shots of the firing squad failed to kill him, and a soldier had to shoot him at point-blank range.
I am certain that the resolve of the Mexican people for a peaceful and a drug-society, will not die.

"Viva Cristo Rey-Long Live Christ the King!"

Sunday, November 14, 2010

If only they could deliver, half as well as they sing and dance...

It is election season in Africa. Tanzania just concluded their elections, with the incumbent CCM party candidate, President Jakaya Kikwete, or 'JK', as they fondly call him, getting re-elected. No surprises there. CCM has been in power since independence in the 60's.
Cote d'ivoire has just gone through round one, with the run-off expected on the 28th November. In Guinea, they are counting the votes, amid controversy and accusations of electoral fraud. Museveni is still campaigning in Uganda and the Nigerians will start party nominations soon.
Just when i thought Museveni was innovative in his campaign, bringing his new-found 'rap' music talents to spice up his vote-hunting antics, i stumbled upon BBC's Africa correspondent, Andrew Harding's piece titled 'Africa's presidential rap idol?'.
South African president, Jacob Zuma, or 'Jay Z' (no relation to the American hiphop artiste), showed off his dancing and singing skills during the last elections in SA. I had more or less forgotten about it, so here you go, for those who did not have a chance to see this:

Critics were quick to point out that the song, "Umshini wam", which means 'give me my machine gun', was akin to hate speech, since it was used during the anti-apartheid struggle. In any case, you've got to hand it to him-the man is a good dancer.
In West Africa, Mr. Ali Ben Bongo succeeded his late father, Omar Bongo. But during the election campaigns, he too had a chance to explore his musical talent, with the assistance of local rap musicians. I like rap and hip hop music, and even though my knowledge of the French language is below kindergarten, it seems to me that they had a good party, as you will see in the next clip:

I only hope that Gabon will have a 'good party' in terms of human growth and development, provision of basic utilities and creation of employment during Mr. Bongo's regime. All in all, it seems that African politicians, from the West to the East, have understood the power of music and dance in African life, and are using it to their advantage.It makes living in Africa a very interesting experience-never a dull moment!
If only they could deliver, half as well as they sing and dance......

Friday, November 12, 2010

Africa is not hopeless...Our destiny is in our hands

In October 2009, the Second Special Assembly for Africa of the Synod of Bishops, gathered 33 cardinals, 79 archbishops, 156 bishops, a number of priests, nuns and lay people, men and women, to consider the theme "The Church in Africa at the Service of Reconciliation, Justice and Peace."

For three straight weeks, the assembly made their way through a series of weighty matters, ranging from migrants and refugees, elections, politics, environmental evangelization, family, international aid and trade, inculturation and Mary, Our Lady of Africa.

A section of bishops at the opening Mass of the Synod

Scanning through the draft version of the final message released at the end of the assembly, i get a strong sense that this is one of the most comprehensive and in-depth analysis of the picture that is Africa today.

The last few years have been for me very intense to live in Africa, and to be an African. This intensity has perhaps been enhanced by the fact that i have had the opportunity to meet people from different parts of Africa, and the world, and often we would be sharing life from different perspectives.

For a continent that has witnessed both the ruthlessness of apartheid...and the magnanimity and courage of leaders such as Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu in South Africa..a continent that has endured the horrors of the genocide in Rwanda in 1994, and ongoing violence in Darfur and Eastern Congo...while hosting the World Cup soccer tournament in is impossible to imagine the two faces of the continent - suffering and beauty.

While acknowledging the myriad of problems that Africa as a continent is faced with, Fr.Kieran O’Reilly, a missionary priest, in his presentation to the Synod had this to say about the image of Africa that is seldom seen in the media:

"...the Africa of immense beauty, of open spaces and luminous skies, the Africa of ordinary people who humble us by their stoicism, selflessness and exuberant delight in company. This is not the Africa of helpless victims, worthy only of pity. It is rather the Africa of song and dance, of laughter and celebration, of energy, creativity and resilience. It is an Africa that can teach us a lot about what it means to be human about reconciliation about achieving Justice and establishing Peace despite many images to the contrary, and remind us of values that are fast disappearing from the developed countries of the world."

Fascinating...but true. Many first time visitors to Africa that i have met, have said to me that their whole perspective towards life has changed. I hear them trying to express in words, something that must be very deep...that only they truly understand. It is no wonder that many of them have been back or dream to come back.
In my own country, after being literary on the brink of collapse at the end of 2007, Kenya is now on what seems to be the path to renewed nationhood, one of unity and hope.
In about 8 or so weeks, Africa might give birth to its youngest child, South Sudan. I pray that the referendum works out peacefully. Sudan has been through more than 2 decades of civil war, between the north and the south.

Flag of South Sudan
You only have to go to Sunday Mass at Nairobi's Hekima college (Jesuit Theologate), and see the number of people belonging to the Sudanese community, to understand what war does to a country. In Guinea Conakry, the military junta has organized elections and has pledged to support whoever is democratically elected by the people. The Ivorians have just been through the first round of elections after a 10-year period. The incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo will face-off with Alasanne Outtara in the second round. I hope that this will mark the return of Ivory Coast to its former prosperous past.

When i speak to my friends, i see in them a young generation of Africans who have no prejudice for their peers based on tribe or religion. I see in them people full of positive hope, amazing talent and potential...and more importantly people full of human values.
But what is even more encouraging, is the fact that Africa is not alone.At the concluding Mass of the Synod, Pope Benedict XVI assured the continent that "...The whole Catholic Church is near you with prayer and active solidarity, and you are accompanied from heaven by the men and women saints of Africa, who with their life -- sometimes to the point of martyrdom -- have witnessed to total fidelity to Christ."
I can personally witness to this fact: after their experience in Kenya and Tanzania in July/August of 2009, a group of young Polish friends meet every month to pray for and with Africa. I bet many such groups exist across the world. I hope that this new generation will bring about a new international solidarity, that can show 'clubs' such as the 'G20' what solidarity really means.
Here is a prayer that concludes the Synod's message:

Africa, rise up, take up your pallet, and walk! (Jn 5:8)
"In the meantime, brothers,
We wish you happiness.
Try to grow perfect,
Help one another.
Be united; live in peace
And the God of love
And peace will be with you."
(2 Cor 13:11)

Nkosi Sikelel' iAfrika! God Bless Africa! Mungu ibariki Afrika!

The tale of two Mayors..Part II

Here's an update on an earlier post. Remember the case of the two Mayors?
Dr.Bossman and his supporters
Well, one is still smiling.By the time i finish writing this piece, the swearing-in ceremony of Ghanaian-born Dr. Peter Bossman, as Mayor of the Slovenian city of Piran, will begin at Piran City Hall.
Piran City Hall
Already the media have nick-named him 'Obama of Piran', never mind all the troubles that Obama has had to cope with in the last couple of months in the mid-term elections. In Nairobi, Mr.Geoffrey Majiwa is no longer Mayor, and is quite busy consulting his lawyers and attending court sessions.
Mr.Majiwa leaves court
And now there is a third entrant! In Uganda, interesting things are happening. Dr. Ian Clarke, an Irish-born doctor who runs the International Hospital Kampala, has announced his intention to run for a council seat in Kampala, that represents approximately 400,000 people.
Dr.Clarke and his adopted daughter Rose
From my scanty research, it seems that Dr. Clarke has a good track-record in community development, not only in Uganda, but in the East African region. It will be interesting to see what the voters decide.
Dr.Clarke at work
 Who knows, maybe Dr. Clarke will go on to become Mayor of Kampala in a few years! The world really is a global village!
I hope there will be a part three to this story...i strongly suspect there will be...but it all depends on the citizens of Piran, Kampala...and the judicial system of Kenya!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Narodowe Święto Niepodległości

National Independence Day is the most important Polish national holiday. On November 11, 1918, after 123 years of captivity, Poland regained its independence.

After years of partitions done by Austria, Prussia and Russia between 1772 and 1795, national uprisings (November Uprising of 1830 and January Uprising of 1863), struggles and efforts in various fields, Poles, owing to their steadfastness, patriotism and heroism, managed to regain their freedom.

Statue of Piłsudski on Warsaw's Piłsudski Square
Józef Piłsudski, “First Marshal of Poland”, played an enormous role in Poland’s recovery of sovereignty.
On 31st December 2010, many Kenyans will look back to the month of August 2010, as the most momentous in their country's history. A peaceful referendum and a new constitution, revamping the governance structures of the country. In many ways, August 2010 reminded Kenyans of the day their country gained independence from Britain.
Missing out on taking part in the process, would be for many Kenyans, a misfortune to say the least. I mean, how often do you get to vote for a new constitution, that has been arrived at through fairly *democratic and consultative processes (*by standards of Western democracies)?
However, on the last day of 2010, i will be remembering the month of August for completely different reasons. After being part of an amazing Ignatian young adult program, MAGiS 2010, Hungary, i had the opportunity to travel together with a group of Polish friends, across Hungary and Slovakia and into Poland. When Pope John Paul II visited Kenya on three different occasions, I was probably too young or disinterested (or both) in what was happening, and so never got to see him. Then in 2005, I signed up for World Youth Day, and besides the excitement of going abroad to an international event for the first time, I was very much hoping to finally see JPII. It never happened. He died in April, 4 months before the event. Setting foot in Poland (and eventually in Wadowice, JPII's birthplace!)
In Wadowice,JPII's hometown

was therefore a great consolation and in many ways the fulfillment of a dream, albeit through different means.
Trying to summarize my two-week experience in Poland in a single blog post would be next to impossible. But on the eve of Poland’s National Independence Day, I feel and strongly want to write something. What then, with so much to write about? From the beauty of the Polish countryside to the vibrancy of its cities, from Krakow to Bialystok to Czestochowa to Warsaw…
Coming from a country that prides itself in its ‘legendary’ hospitality, my experience in Poland was truly extraordinary. The warmth, friendship, love and welcome that was extended to me by my immediate hosts, acquaintances, people I met for the first time and in the homes that I was welcomed into, was so profound, that many are the times I felt close to tears of joy and gratitude.
And so today, I say Dziękuję bardzo and szczęśliwy dzień niepodległości, to all my dear Polish friends. I keep you in my prayer and God willing I will come back. Then again, it’s a good thing that the new Kenyan constitution allows for dual citizenship!

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Collect friends instead of material things

Excitement...anxiety...nervousness...confusion...fascination! The English language simply does not have enough words to describe the feelings and emotions that characterized the morning of the 23rd July 2010.
Two days earlier i had set foot at Népliget, bus stop of the bus 901, Könyves Kálmán körút, in Budapest, Hungary, under a stifling 36 degrees-Celcius heat; and that after a 16-hour bus ride from Frankfurt, across the Czech republic and Slovakia. Six of my Kenyan friends had already arrived a couple of days earlier-and more efficiently-an Egypt air flight from Nairobi to Budapest, via Cairo. I was visiting Hungary for the second time in 3 years. But i would never have been prepared for what awaited me this time round.
I have been around now, on planet earth, for slightly more than two and a half decades., during which time (before 23/07/2010) the closest i had ever gotten to a high-ranking politician was through television, when i watched political talk shows, or those other shows that people call 'the news'.
President of the Republic of Hungary, Mr. Pál Schmitt
On the eve of the 23rd July, Mercy Thomas, the team leader our Hungarian hosts, announced to my friends and i that we had an appointment the next day with the outgoing Speaker of the Hungarian parliament, who had since been elected the President of the Republic Of Hungary, Mr. Pál Schmitt.  This threw our little Kenyan group into a spin. We argued and debated over what to wear among many other questions. I was supposed to present a fly-whisk, as a gift to President-elect Schmitt. And there-in lay the dilemma. I tried to rewind hours of TV-footage in my head, trying to find those clips where i had seen people meeting and presenting gifts to heads of state. The more i 'rewinded', the more it seemed as if it was all getting erased! So i went to sleep, hoping for divine inspiration to sorting out my 'presidential address' problems for the following morning.
The bus ride from Piliscsaba, to the parliament buildings in Lajos Kossuth square, on the banks of the Danube, cutting across the morning Budapest traffic, seemed very short. Adrenaline was rising.
The group outside the Hungarian parliament, before the grand entrance!
 Delays in getting through security did not help matters. Finally we made it inside the parliament, but first for a guided tour of the imposing historical legislative building, one of Europe's oldest.
As the guide explained away the significance of the fascinating and seemingly strange things we were feasting our eyes on, i kept wondering to myself,probably to distract myself from the impending meeting that i felt ill-prepared for, where they trained guides and cabin crew and others in this kind of profession, to speak the way they do-almost like machines-and always with standard words and smiles.

Inside the parliament chambers
Towards the final part of our tour, just as our guide was explaining the seating arrangements of the cabinet members and members of parliament in the chambers, a presidential aide showed up, half-running, half-walking. "The President is waiting!", she declared.
I am a very poor dancer. So when my group decided they were going to make their grand entrance into the President's-elect office singing and dancing, i gleefully volunteered to take charge of the handy-cam, to record the proceedings. I followed our Hungarian friends as they were ushered through the door in single file, and went ahead to shake the hand of a smiling, tall, athletic-built man standing in the centre of the room. The President-elect, Mr. Pál Schmitt! My friends followed, dancing and singing, while Mr. Schmitt watched seemingly bemused. Then totally unexpectedly, he joined in the dancing! This would hardly happen with President Kibaki, i thought to myself. Finally, the group ended their entertainment session with the popular 'Jambo' song, which has the refrain 'hakuna matata', Kiswahili for 'no problem'.

President Schmitt joins in a dance
 It was finally time to present the gifts. As the leader of the group, i was up first. I stepped forward, my heart racing faster than Hamilton's McLaren. I don't remember exactly what i said, but with the fly-whisk clutched firmly in my hands, i must have said the following, " Mr. President, on behalf on of my friends here today, i would like to present to you this fly-whisk. The first President of our country, Jomo Kenyatta...' at which point he interjected and said "Mzee Jomo Kenyatta!", "Mzee Jomo Kenyatta", i continued, "...would wave his fly-whisk while addressing the Kenyan people. It is a symbol of wisdom and leadership, and i am sure that it represents your wisdom in leading the great Hungarian nation." Then with a handshake, i presented the fly-whisk. Mission accomplished! The rest of my group members then stepped forward to present various other gifts.

Presenting the fly-whisk to President Schmitt
 Before we left, President Schmitt had interesting things to say. That he knew Mombasa (Kenya's second largest city and coastal town); that he is friends with Kipchoge Keino, Kenya's most famous athlete and then followed the bombshell." One thing is not true about that song", he said, "and that is hakuna matata!" He was alluding to that he has visited Kenya and knows that it is not an island of peace and prosperity as we had made it look in the song.While that might be true, i thought it was not a very benevolent thing to say to people who had just entertained him and showered him with gifts from East Africa. But what do i know, the man is a seasoned diplomat!

the Presidential 'address'
 Since then, i have had a chance to do some research about the man. I couldn't find anything about his stay or visit in Kenya. But i was glad to read an interview published by, that apart from being addicted to his new iPod, President Schmitt found India, Kenya and Canada to be among the most fascinating places, of the nearly 100 countries he has traveled to.

President Schmitt proudly displays a gift from the Kenyan group
 One thing i found very inspirational the two-time Olympic and world champion fencer said in the Xpat interview, was that his personal motto is, "Collect friends instead of material things."
Isn't it amazing to have a head of state as a friend!!

Friday, October 29, 2010

You want another rap?...Museveni's got talent!!!

Africa never ceases to amaze me. Especially the politicians and the kind of pranks they keep pulling. Most of the pranks would be really funny...were it not for the tragic consequences they result in. Still, African leaders have a side to them that is completely hilarious.
Well, recently i wrote about the Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, declaring his presidential bid on Facebook. I wished him good-luck then...i still do. I did not think much about it afterwards, until yesterday, when i received a call from my friend Martin, asking me to check out Museveni's 'new rap hit single' on YouTube. Another prank, i thought to myself, promising to check it out after the conversation, and promptly returned to my other concerns for the day.
It was only until i saw an article in a local Kenyan newspaper, about Museveni's lawyers filing to copyright the song 'You want another rap', that i took Martin's call seriously and set to finding out what it was all about. After watching the video 3 times, i thought about many things that i could write. What is Lieutenant General Museveni's campaign strategy for the upcoming 2011 elections? What is the percentage of young voters in Uganda, that he is trying to reach? What will be the role of 'new media' in African electoral politics?But i changed my mind and decided that i will not bore you with facts and details and analysis of African politics. I will simply leave you to enjoy President Museveni's new hit single 'You want another rap'. Since i am impartial and have no direct interest in the outcome of the elections in Uganda, i will also post the video of Museveni's Democratic Party rival, if and when he releases it, and which according to sources will be titled 'Your rap is crap'.

Still i cannot desist from sharing one fact: The NRM leader and Presidential flag bearer was born in 1944, which should put him at 66 years of age. The average age of African heads of state is about 76 years. That means Lt. Gen. Yoweri Kaguta Museveni is 10 years below the average age of his colleagues. Maybe he should be considered for 'another rap'

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Born in Ghana...Married to a Croat...and Mayor in Slovenia!

On Monday morning, 25th October, 2010 A.D, two African men woke up and found themselves in very unique circumstances. The common unique thing between these two men, is that they are both Mayors of the cities in which they live. But that is where it ends.
Mr. Peter Bossman, woke up as the Mayor of Piran, a city and municipality located in southwest Slovenia. About 5700 kilometers away, Mr. Geoffrey Majiwa, also woke up as the Mayor of Nairobi, the capital city of Kenya, East Africa's largest economy.

Mr. Peter Bossman, Mayor-elect of Piran, Slovenia

However, only one of the two men was smiling. Mr. Bossman. He has just made history as the 'first black Mayor in Eastern Europe', as reported by mainstream news outlets. I prefer to say the first Mayor of African descent, in Eastern Europe'. According to a BBC report, Mr. Bossman was born in Ghana and moved to present day Slovenia in 1980, which at the time was still part of former Yugoslavia. He then studied medicine and decided to practice and settle in Slovenia, eventually getting married to a fellow doctor of Croatian origin.

Mr.Geoffrey Majiwa, Mayor of Nairobi

Closer home, Mr. Majiwa woke, was awaken by the not-so-gentle knocks of detectives from the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, who apparently, were determined that he, Mayor Majiwa, was not going to 'boss' his way out of corruption allegations involving acquisition of land by the City Council of Nairobi, meant for use as a cemetery.

Reports in the Kenyan local dailies indicate that the City Council of Nairobi 'lost' about Kenya Shillings 253 million, or about USDollars 3.1 million in the transaction. 'His Worship' the Mayor of Nairobi is set to appear in court tomorrow, during which time, i suppose, his colleague in Piran will be busy preparing himself to take up with gusto, his responsibilities as Mayor.
Explaining how he managed to convince 'Piranians' to vote for him, Mr. Bossman told how he used dialogue,"...i based my campaign on a dialogue, and i think the dialogue has won".Unlike our current crop of Kenyan politicians who have perfected the art of 'bossing' their way into power.

City of Piran

Heaping praise on the level of Slovenian democracy, Mr. Bossman went on to add that the people did not focus on the color of his skin, but rather on his track-record as a good doctor, and on the policies he presented.And that for me was the crux of the whole episode of the two Mayors. The electorate. This episode was a poignant reminder of the state of the Kenyan electorate...we who vote on the basis of tribal affiliation, handouts from candidates and petty political rumor-mongering. You get the leadership that you elect! The apathy of professionals towards politics is also another major concern. Until doctors, lawyers, management experts stop complaining about 'those politicians'...until they stop offering commentaries and 'analysis' from the sidelines...unless good people of integrity offer themselves as candidates for Mayor, Governor, Senator, Members of Parliament and so on, i am afraid that even in 2030, we will still have detectives from Integrity Center knocking on the door of the Mayor of Nairobi, (and other politicians who will have among other ways, 'bossed' their way to power) to 'unearth' yet another corruption scandal.
So, you can either get involved in changing your leadership, or migrate to Latvia...marry a Lithuanian...and become the Mayor of Jelgava! Pun intended!I hope you get my point!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

...and on the 8th day..after He had rested..God created KENYA!

To all my fellow compatriots, both in Kenya and in the diaspora...Happy Mashujaa Day!!!

The most beautiful flag in the world!!!

Our country is truly going through momentous times. Just under over two months ago, Kenyans went to the polls and cast their vote, to decide on a new constitution, and with it, the direction that they wished their country to take. I am not a student of political science, but the few pieces of analysis i read from time to time seem to agree, that few countries, not just in Africa, but in the world, have ever overhauled their constitutions in peace time. Kenyans did it...even though it took us two decades. In my opinion, that's the stuff "Mashujaa" are made of!!!

One hot and humid morning, in July of 2006, i presented my passport to the guy at the Emirates check-in counter in Dubai. The first question he asked me when he saw the words, 'Republic of Kenya', emblazoned on my passport, was, "Do you run?" Without a doubt, Kenyan athletes have confounded both friend and foe, with their prowess on the track. One of my favorite columnist, Charles Onyango-Obbo, had this to say about Kenyan athletes: "Every week there is news of a Kenyan winning a marathon, an 800m dash, the 1,500m, 10,000m race, and everything in the world. Occasionally they throw in a world record-breaking performance.
In fact, David Rudisha has turned the 800m world record into a personal plaything, breaking and setting new ones whenever he is in a good mood." True Heroes!!!
There are so many things to be proud of about Kenya and being "Kenyan". In the same breath, there is a lot to be depressed about - like the fact that our Members of Parliament (majority of whom are not so honorable) earn about USD 11,000 a month and do not pay tax - in a country that has been for a long time been touted as being home to the largest slum in Africa (a title that we seem to have lost recently, with recent statistics from the National Census 2009, providing evidence to the contrary).
Still, Kenyan people exude so much optimism and hope...resilience that can be matched in few places.

20th October, 2010 - Heroes Day - wherever you are - in your own way - be a Hero! Because on the 8th Day, after He had rested..God created KENYA!!!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Baby 'Esperanza' waits above

"...It started as a tragedy...and ended as a blessing." These were the words that Chilean President, Sebastián Piñera, chose to describe the story of the rescue of the 33 miners, who were trapped, 700 meters below ground for 69 days.

For the first 17 of the 69 days, there was no contact between the trapped men and rescue teams. The men were alone. What kept them going? What kept the rescue teams searching?

In mid-September, just about 40 days after the collapse of the San Jose mine shaft, Elizabeth Segovia, wife to Ariel Ticona Yanez, gave birth to a baby girl. The parents decided to name her, "Esperanza", Spanish word for 'Hope', instead of Carolina, their first choice.

In his book, 'Liberation from Life's Shadows', J.Maurus explains that "...hope is an indispensable ingredient of daily life and changes a grey world into one of warmth and brightness."
Indeed, what would life be without hope? At the beginning of this week, i would like to share with you, some reflections on hope, in the words of Fr. James Keller, an American priest.

Fr.James Keller, MM

Hope looks for the good in people instead of harping on the worst.
Hope opens doors where despair closes them.
Hope discovers what can be done, instead of grumbling about what cannot.
Hope draws it power from a deep trust in God and the basic goodness of humankind.
Hope "lights a candle" instead of "cursing the darkness".
Hope regards problems, small or large, as opportunities.
Hope cherishes no illusion, nor does it yield to criticism.
Hope sets big goals and is not frustrated by repeated difficulties or setbacks.
Hope pushes ahead when it would be easy to quit.
Hope puts up with modest gains, realizing that "the longest journey starts with one step".
Hope is a good loser, because it has the divine assurance of final victory.

Have a hope-filled week! Nunca perder la esperanza

Friday, October 15, 2010

Is there blood on your mobile phone?

The world's attention has this week been centered on the 'dramatic rescue' of 33 men, who for 69 days were trapped underground in a mine in Chile. This episode has brought to the fore the sad reality, of the hazards...the dangers...that many people around the world put their lives on the line to earn a living...and for the rest of us to enjoy the conveniences of our modern lifestyles.

The mobile phone you own...that laptop from which you are probably reading this post right now...the DVD player from which you will most likely be enjoying movies from this weekend - gadgets that we cannot imagine living without - all carry electronic capacitors, manufactured from tantalum - which is extracted from the mineral Coltan.

Some of the largest reserves of coltan in the world, are to be found in the Democratic Republic of Congo. In fact, the DR Congo is estimated to have $24trillion ( equivalent to the combined Gross Domestic Product of Europe and the United States) worth of untapped deposits of raw mineral ores. The provinces of North and South Kivu in the eastern DRC are filled with mines of cassiterite, wolframite, coltan and gold - minerals needed to manufacture everything from lightbulbs to laptops, from MP3 players to Playstations. According to the Global Witness report (July 2009), armed conflict in the eastern region of DRC, has for the past 12 years been funded by the exploitation of these valuable natural resources. Often, the supply chain of these minerals from the armed militias, to the middlemen to international buyers is difficult to track. This means that by the time metals reach electronic companies, they may have changed hands as much as seven times.

So; without a clear supply chain -  when you go to that important meeting and set your cell-phone to vibrate, a function enabled by the mineral wolframite-it is virtually impossible for you to know whether you are using wolframite mined by children in the eastern DRC, the site of horrific fighting, rape and massacre. It is estimated that between 6 and 7 million people have been killed since the conflict started in 1996. Armed groups frequently force civilians, many of them children, to mine the minerals, extorting taxes and refusing to pay wages.

DR Congo is rich in minerals but much of it has been plundered over the years
DR Congo is rich in minerals but much of it has been plundered over the years
A UNICEF report notes that almost an entire generation of Congolese children have missed out on an education, and concludes that "children in the DRC have suffered far too much and, if this situation is allowed to continue, there is a risk that a new generation will be created that has known nothing but violence...thus compromising the country's chances of achieving lasting peace." An entire generation? Now that is frightening. It implies that 20 to 30 years from now, we might still be talking about the conflict in the DR Congo. This is as long as there is a thirst for more sophisticated electronic devices.

What can we do? What can you do? I don't know. I haven't any answers. But after the events in Chile, i have resolved to learn as much as i can about the conflict in Congo, what fuels it, and what my responsibility, as a consumer of electronic products is - and to let others know. I will be sharing these reflections, reports, and on my Facebook page.

Please watch this documentary, 'Blood Coltan" :

If you are reading this...please...spread the word. Its probably the least you can do. Ideas are welcome though! When you make that phone call...or receive that text message..or make that important power point presentation...spare a thought and say a prayer for the children of the DRC.
Is there blood on your mobile phone? Probably.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

"They marched in Capetown...and apartheid fell"

"...The time has now come to slow sip Roiboos tea with my beloved wife in the watch travel to visit my children and grandchildren...rather than to conferences and conventions and university campuses."
Most Reverend Desmond Mpilo Tutu - is a man who needs no introduction. Listening to him announcing his retirement from public life last Thursday, 7th October 2010, on his 79th birthday, my mind went back to January 2008. Kenya was burning. And quite literary so. Apparently no one in Kenya at the time had enough credibility to even attempt to bring the two political camps, each claiming victory, to the negotiation table.
I remember very well, how the presence of Archbishop Tutu in Nairobi, helped to raise the hopes many Kenyans, that at last the politicians would start contemplating negotiations; urged on by the Archbishop.
Mandela and Desmond Tutu

At the Copenhagen climate-change talks, Archbishop Tutu spoke very passionately, about the need for justice; the need to get 'the real deal'.

During the opening ceremony for the World Cup in South Africa, the way he charged up the crowds, made me truly feel proud to be an African. His retirement now means that we will; see less of him in the press...i will surely miss his wonderfully infectious giggles!