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I’ve taken a long time away from blogging as life has been happening. Its been a crazy tough balance once I got back to work from maternity leave and had to balance full time work, project A, baby, and a marriage.

I’m taking a break from taking a break about blogging to post an email I thought was so incredibly important about the ongoing constitutional debate in Kenya.

It was written by Ngunjiri Wambugu of Kikuyus for Change and I think the point he makes are incredibly relevant at this important moment for Kenya.

I am at Adis Ababa with some colleagues, and we have just been reminded how it feels to be in a ‘controlled’ environment. It also reminded me of a comment I heard that was once made by President Museveni to some Kenyan journalists; he told them that Kenyans have too much democracy.

As we were standing at Adis International Airport waiting for our transportation, we watched the local population milling around & one could feel that ‘feeling’ that you cannot explain; the feeling that tells you someone is watching you on behalf of the state. It is something similar to what Maina & I felt in Nyeri over the weekend when we were showing the ICC movie-and police officers showed up to ask what we were doing, as a guy who claimed to be an AP Officer hovered around Maina with a notebook & pen.

A group of us started reminiscing about where we have come from as a country; & being younger than most of them, I was reminded of stuff that happened before I knew what civil society is.

I was reminded of the mwakenya years when university students and scholars could get thrown out of campus (and that was the easy option), for being friends with ‘undesirable’ elements. I was reminded of Rev Njoya being caned like a child, on a street, with police watching; I was reminded of Kepta and Rev Njoya being followed into All Saints Cathedral by armed police officers, teargased in there & beaten to near death, for daring to demonstrate before Moi; I was reminded of Prof Wangari Maathai standing up to Moi’s plan to build a multi-storey bulding at Uhuru Park, and what she went through: I was reminded of Muite, Orengo et al, being arrested in the middle of the night & airlifted to police cells in their home towns, to be charged there; I was reminded of Saba Saba; of the mothers keeping vigil at Freedom Corner & stripping naked, for their illegally detained sons; I was reminded of KBC; I was reminded of roadside firing & hiring; I was reminded of Saitoti’s humiliation, & the fiasco that was our elections; I was reminded of Moi saying how ‘hawa watu wataokotwa mmoja kwa mmoja, mpaka watetemeke’, and how some of our current leadership clapped at his words: I was reminded of Moi saying ‘kutoka leo sitaki kusikia mambo ya human rights tena’, and people clapping.

Then I was reminded of the optimism of 2002; how we screamt saying Moi has gone, Kenya is saved; I was reminded of Kenyans taking responsibility of their areas of residence, volunteering for community policing: I was reminded of citizens arresting corrupt police officers and taking them to police station; I was reminded of Kenyans travelling from upcountry to bring their taxes to KRA to help the new government; I was reminded of Kenyans walking so that the PSV industry could get streamlined: I was reminded of how we all believed that we now had an opportunity to right old wrongs & that there was nothing that would stop us from rebuilding our country.

Then I was reminded of the Standard raid; I was reminded of the First Lady’s visit to Nation; I was reminded of Michuki saying if you rattle a snake, you should not be surprised if you are bitten; & saying that the last constitution was bad because we had a good president, and how we did not need to change it because we had a good president now; I was reminded of Anglo Leasing: I was reminded of unknown MOUs made & broken; I was reminded of 2005 firings of the whole cabinet; I was reminded of the 2007/2008 PEV violence; and I was reminded of how helpless I felt then.

Then I started asking myself whether Kibaki’s laidback gentleman mien had lulled us to sleep; whether we realized that there was nothing to stop him doing all the things that Moi had done: I wondered whether we appreciated that part of the reason why we were having the open conversations on Kibaki, his government, the constitution, etc was because people had lost their liberty, limbs and lifes so that we could have this space; i wondered whether we realized that what we were enjoying was actually a temporary repreive, that was based on the operating structure of our current president; I wondered whether we realized that were it not for this particular president’s disdain for political posturing, he could do everything Moi had done; I wondered whether we had envisioned Kenya under a new president but this constitution after NO had won; maybe someone as energetic as Raila-active and focused, & who does not take criticism as well as Kibaki.

I pictured Martha Karua as president under this constitution; or Raila Odinga; or Gideon Moi; or, Uhuru Kenyatta; or Peter Kenneth: or Kalonzo Musyoka; or William Ruto, or Paul Muite, or Maina Kiai,….or even myself. Then I asked myself whether we as a country should first sort out issues of kadhi’s courts, abortion, etc, or put in place a structure that ensures that the law, not a person’s personality, is what determines how we are ruled.

That is when I realized that the YES vote is first & foremost all about managing our executive leadership to safeguard our current space. I realized that we were choosing between allowing the state to beat clergy like children on the street walk, & having them hold press conferences to take on the government; I realized that it was about ensuring no single person had the right to tell me I could be his friend & vice president, but not the next president: It was about ensuring appointments were open & transparent; It dawned on me that the new constitution had one primary and overriding benefit;-to expand & permanently secure the democratic space that Kenya was enjoying, and allow us to elect anyone president, without fearing whether he would turn into another Moi.

Folks, we must let the NO campaign run on single issues as it is doing-it is a hard-earned democratic right, and it was earned in ways that some of us cannot even fathom. However, let us also realize that the YES campaign is also single issue-it is about ensuring no-one else can ever do a ‘Moi’ in this country.

At that point I realized that the concerns on the Kadhi courts; was an issues I could deal with latter; I realized that I can afford to not understand the land clause; that I can live with the abortion clause as it is & work to have it worded different latter. I realized that alot that could be improved; but I also realized how dangerous the option we are not talking about was. The current constitution allows Nyayo Dungeons to come back into existence. It allows police to raid media houses; it allows universities to throw out students on political reasons; it allows clergy to be bludgeoned by shadowy security agents; it allows another Moi to exist.

Guys, the YES campaign is actually a single issue campaign;

Everything else can wait, everything else can be sorted out later; but if we do get the benefits in the draft constitution, we wouldnt even have the space to re-discuss the constitutional process again after Kibaki/The Coalition government are no longer at the helm. Without the 90% good we will not even be able to fix the 10% Bad

If we do not say YES this year, we will not even have the space to say NO in future

Goodness!

Honestly, I thought the world had moved on from these pseudo-scientific explanations of race!!

racist newspaper-article in Munich “AZ”: Obama’s “negroid features” and outrageous race theories

“In the long run, people with dark skin tones have little chances of survival under Northern conditions. Also, their birth rates drop. The reason for this lies in the weather’s impact on their bones. Says Professor Schiefenhövel: “Their bones quickly become soft and warped. The womens’ pelvises become distorted which eventually renders child-birth impossible for them.”

“Barack Obama’s victory means that for the first time a Coloured has been elected into the highest office of the US. His frizzy black hair, negroid lips and dark complexion stem from his parentage…”

This is just some of the racist content of a newspaper article that has recently been published in the german newspaper “AZ” (Abendzeitung, Munich) and on AZ’s online presence. The article was motivated by Barck Obama’s election and stayed online despite numerous protests during the commemoration day of the Pogromnacht on November 9 and 10. Scroll down for full translation of the article.

The fact that it appeared in a not specifically right-wing but mainstream newspaper, shows very clearly the lack of awareness in German media.

The response to negative reactions from readers throughout Germany was an e-mail from the author in which he regrets that his article evoked such negative reactions – a reaction far from an apology. The executive board, publisher and editor in chief haven’t found any reaction necessary so far.

Please help Germany’s mediashpere comprehend that the use of racist language and content -even if seemingly ridiculous at first- is harmful and watched with concern from people all over the world.

You could do so for example by writing an e-Mail to the AZ’s editor-in-chief with cc to us for documentation of your reactions. Or cover the issue in your blog and forward it to counter-racist-organisations.

Mail contact to the newspaper:
chefredaktion@abendzeitung.de

full article translation:

Publication: Abendzeitung
Author: Michael Heinrich (Editor at Abendzeitung)
Publishing Date: November 5th, 2008
Circulation print version: 148,000 sold copies, 290,000 readers
Circulation online version: not known
Circulation areas: mainly Munich and Nuremberg

The Mystery of Skin Colour

In the past, all people were black. The fact that at one point they turned white, red or yellow, is due to the duration of sunshine

Barack Obama’s victory means that for the first time a Coloured has been elected into the highest office of the US. His frizzy black hair, negroid lips and dark complexion stem from his parentage: his father is a black African from Kenya, his mother is white. A good occasion to pose the question: Why is it, actually, that people have such diverse skin complexions?

In the past we were all black. The undisputed scholarly opinion is that humans originated in Eastern Africa – and this region had massive sun exposures already millions of years ago. “In that region those humans had better chances of survival whose strong pigmentation protected them from harmful ultraviolet rays”, Wulf Schiefenhövel told Abendzeitung. Schiefenhövel is a Munich based Professor of Anthropology. During the course of thousands of years skins turned ever darker until they were black. Until today, the populations of some parts of Africa and also Melanesia are nearly inky.

In the long run, people with dark skin tones have little chances of survival under Northern conditions. Also, their birth rates drop. The reason for this lies in the weather’s impact on their bones. Says Professor Schiefenhövel: “Their bones quickly become soft and warped. The womens’ pelvises become distorted which eventually renders child-birth impossible for them.”

All other skin complexions are hybrid forms of black and white. Schiefenhövel explains: “People always call the Chinese yellow, and the Native Americans Redskins. Obviously, that is wrong.” Both these groups have simply developed skin complexions that had the “right” mixing ratio for their respective habitats. I.e., their skins would sufficiently protect them from the ultraviolet rays while at the same time absorbing just the right amount of sunlight.

By the way, the skin shade only plays a minor role in the definition of human “races” or “populations”. Decisive factors are, amongst others, the shape of the head and the body height.

Links:

– our coverage of the article in german (with more contact information): Here and Here

– view the original article

A while back I blogged about how annoyed I was getting by Kenyans’ refusal to recognize that we have very little to claim for Obama’s success and that indeed we were acting like the deadbeat Dad who only returns many years later to claim credit for his son’s success.

I mean, how conveniently we forget that Obama’s Kenyan dad had the nerve to leave the boy at a tender age, and proceeded to start an entirely new family.  We have been so quick to forget that Barack endured having to grow up without his biological father and that there are enough similar stories in the U.S. and in Kenya!

Finally someone else has dared voice the same opinion in a much more public manner. I couldn’t agree more with Edwin Okong’o’s sentiments!

Indeed I think that even as we celebrate Obama’s impending victory (note I said even as, not instead of,) we should take the opportunity to think about how not only our country works as a deadbeat dad to all the brilliant minds and entrepreneurs out there who get screwed by the system and are never able to achieve their potential, but about all the literal deadbeat dads in the country.  Oh yea, and deadbeat moms too.  Because there are plenty of those as well.

So mzee and I have been talking about getting a second car for a couple of years now.  We’ve been quite unconventional for Californians by sharing the one car since we’ve been married.  Yesterday, almost quite on a whim we ended up buying a new car.  Not any old car, but my dream car!  (I’m trying to convince mzee that he’s quite lucky that my dream car isn’t a pricey merc or beemer!).  I’ve been salivating over the Prius for years and now I’m the proud owner of a 45/48 miles per gallon (aprox 20 km per liter!) powder blue prius!!
my new baby!

my new baby!

I think this is exactly the kind of car that would do really really well in Kenya especially as fuel prices continue to soar.  What are the chances of hybrid technology being introduced there in the form of new cars though?  Pretty darn low according to an industry player I had a chat with when I was there.  In fact it sounded like there were absolutely no plans to go that route.  The only hope is for Kenyans to be able to import used hybrid cars from Europe and Asia where i gather their production and sale is not government subsidized and so prices remain high.  Which is all too unfortunate because with the growing pollution problem, mass adoption of hybrid cars (which i’m sure would happen if Kenyans had access to them) could really make a difference.

Haki Kenyans hatuna adabu.

You would think from the way we are celebrating Barack Obama’s nomination that Kenya has been a kind place for the man. Now, I completely celebrate his success and am in no way Obama-hating. My point is about Kenyans and our lack of hindsight.

It seems to me no Kenyan is remembering how horribly his alcoholic and abusive father treated his mother and that the man actually left his mother to raise a young child by herself.

How many other Kenyan men have done the same? There is nothing to be celebrated in this behavior!

No, we’re happy to forget all that and claim the man without as much as an apology for how badly he had to suffer as a result of Kenyans’ understanding of masculinity.

Instead of his success causing us to ask deep questions about masculinity and fatherhood, we go ahead claiming him for ourselves and seeming to forget our unfortunate part in his difficult childhood.

Shame on us!

So the lady who writes African Expat Wives club was fretting over negative comments left on her very insightful blog. I urge you to check out the story over there. One of the more telling posts includes the lines; “Living in East Africa today is not unlike a British 1950’s middle class existence for many expatriates”. and “Moving to Africa fast tracked my husband and I from renting a tiny flat in London to living comfortably in a three bedroom house with a four wheel drive, sizeable garden, a dog and reliable house help within one year” just to give you a taste.

Anyway, I posted a comment on her blog that I wanted to share. This is what I said:

The thing is, your blog reminds us Kenyans of how far we have to go before we eliminate the disparities in wealth and the racial segregation that those disparities manifest in Kenya.

Do I think you’re racist? No. But it shouldn’t matter. You should still keep blogging.

I do get put off by how unaware you seem of the ways that your lifestyle is a reflection of the problems that Kenyans have been trying to get over since the first White man landed on our soil (heck, we weren’t even Kenyan then, but how we all became Kenyans is a long story that I hope they taught in British schools).

I’m idealistic and I’d like to think that for all the lavish lifestyles that expats enjoy in Kenya they have a keen awareness of their privileged location in an exploitative international economic and political system. Your blog reminds us Kenyangs that you (expats) are all not driven by that awareness and few of you have a deep desire to subvert the system that has you at the top of the heap.

Question is; what should my reaction be? To post abusive comments on your blog? NO, thats just petty and mean.

My reaction needs to be to learn as much about, and understand your perspective so that when its time to turn the heap in favour of equitable distribution, I am able to treat you in a manner that respects your dignity.

Kenyans committed to change and social equity can either demonize expats for their lavishness, or be committed to every human being’s dignity; both the expat and her housegirl. That is a much more difficult and complicated task.

So blog on. No insults from me here. Dissapointment? Yes.

But if some day you decide to live for more than being at the top of the heap, meander on over to my blog or drop me an email and I can share some ideas for things you can do to help that will not overwhelm your delicate constitution. (this is in response to her understandable claim about down and dirty work in the slums that, “we are not all cut out for that kind of work”)

And I don’t say any of this meanly. Its just that I firmly believe that privilege brings with it responsibility to pay it forward and to undermine the very system that put you on top at the expense of others. I should know, I’m a Kenyan living most often in the U.S. but also in Kenya for parts of the year.
Be well and blog on!

NO TO OIL FOR LAND!
February 2008
Merti Range Users Association

The following memorandum was prepared by members of the Merti Range
Users Association in northern Isiolo, Kenya. It expresses their
concern about concessions recently granted to a Chinese company to
prospect for oil in the rangelands. It illustrates the potential
threats of this kind of external investment on the ecosystem and
local livelihoods, and the lack of transparency in the negotiations.

Memorandum submitted by the Merti Range Users Association of Isiolo,
Kenya, in relation to a Chinese company undertaking oil prospecting
activities in the area

To: Hon. Kiraitu Murungi, Minister for Energy
Hon. Mohamed Abdi Kuti, MP Isiolo North
The Director, NEMA
The District Commissioner, Isiolo District
All Councillors, Isiolo County Council

Whereas Rangeland Users Association is an institutional framework
developed for the purpose of the welfare of the pastoralist people
living in Merti division of Isiolo district;

Recognizing that pastoralism is the mainstay of the economy of the
area and thus the majority of the population are therefore members of
the association;

Further noting that a Chinese company is now said to engage in
undertaking oil prospecting activities in the heartland of the
rangeland on which the pastoralists raise their livestock and manage
the environment, its fauna and flora;

Apprehensive that the said prospecting activities will lead to
massive environmental destruction, thereby destabilizing an already
fragile ecosystem that is constantly pressurized by the vagaries of
ever-changing climatic conditions;

Further noting that the said Chinese company is undertaking these
activities in total exclusion of the local people and its leadership;

Realizing that this oil prospecting activity will ultimately lead to
not only destroying the existing ecosystem, its economy and the
people depending on it but have serious long-term negative effects on
the environment on which we derive our livelihood;

And having further realized that the said Chinese company is not
willing to engage the local population, its leadership and
institutions on any of the issues,

We therefore submit the following:

1. That an urgent immediate action be taken by the elected leadership
to engage the relevant government organ/department to ensure the
above-raised concerns are addressed in the following manner.
2. That the Chinese company is practising unethical labour procedure
in total contravention of international labour conventions, Kenyan
labour laws and rules of natural justice. This they do by engaging
persons without any signed papers, not informing them of their
renumerations, working long extensive hours without commensurate
overtime payments, tight social restrictions bordering on enslavement
and human rights abuse. This is all supposedly happening in your own
country and village. This must be urgently redressed and corrected.
3. That any further employment opportunities must be given to the
local people unless such expertise cannot be sourced locally.
4. All sourcing of goods and services must also be given to the local
people as propriety.
5. That the oil company should pay for the havoc they will cause to
the local economy in view of the destruction their activities are
going to occasion to the environment, economy and infrastructure in
the area such as roads.
6. That the process of granting concessions and rights by the
government must involve the local pastoralist communities whose
livelihood depends wholly on this land and the natural resources
found thereon.
7. That these are grave matters touching on lives and livelihoods and
should be addressed with the urgency they deserve.

*Signed for and on behalf of 68 elders representing all the
localities of Merti division, Diba Golicha Galma, Chairman, Range
Users Association, Merti.

**Please send comments to editor@pambazuka.org or comment online at
http://www.pambazuka.org

Joseph Karoki has taken a personal interest in this family and has launched an effort to find the child and help the family out.

Please visit his Blog

While we are busy klobering each other to death, elsewhere in Kenya China is making inroads.

I”m keen to see if this story will go the way of Tiomin in Coast province or if having an EPZ opposed to the construction of a cement factory will actually make a difference for the residents of Kitengela.

Ushahidi now has a local number where you can SMS incidents of violence or report on peace efforts. The number is 6007 (normal SMS costs apply).

Ushahidi.com is a tool for people who witness acts of violence in Kenya in these post-election times. You can report the incident that you have seen, and it will appear on a map-based view for others to see. We are working with local Kenyan NGO’s to get information and to verify each incident.

What you can do is get the word out about Ushahidi so that it’s utilized to it’s full potential. This especially extends to talking to the people that you know who have seen things in Kenya and getting them to the site as well. You can also help by using the contact form to volunteer to help with the tracking and verifying of each incident.