brad brace contemporary culture scrapbook

March 31, 2006

Corruption a hard habit to kick

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 12:52 pm

Nairobi, Kenya – Bus driver Peter Mwathi pulls some dirty bank notes from his shirt pocket and slides them into the hand of a policeman who has pulled him over.

An untrained eye would have missed the transaction, which looks like a friendly handshake, but Kenyans are used to kickbacks and bribes. A few passengers murmur and grumble.

“We call it something small,” Peter said minutes after the payment, one of many he makes each week to Kenya’s notoriously corrupt traffic police as he inches his way across Nairobi’s congested, potholed, city streets.

‘Corruption will cease to be a way of life in Kenya’
For Kenyans, corruption is proving a hard habit to kick.

Three years ago Kenya’s fight against graft caught the public’s imagination, when passengers on a city bus turned on police officers trying to solicit a bribe.

Days earlier, amid the euphoria of his historic election victory, newly elected President Mwai Kibaki declared, “corruption will cease to be a way of life in Kenya.”

But instead of being a model for change that many had hoped for, his beleaguered administration is now dogged by the same kinds of scandals that characterised the 24 year presidency of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi.

Kibaki, formerly Kenya’s longest serving finance minister and Moi’s vice president for a decade, stands accused of paying lip service to the war on graft he promised.

‘We call it something small’
“The government has not delivered on its corruption promises,” said Mwalimu Mati, executive director of the Kenyan chapter of the anti-corruption group Transparency International.”

“The problem is that the example of corruption has been set by those at the top and they are protecting a system that serves them at the expense of the man on the street.”

Business leaders estimate kickbacks are costing the east African nation $3,5-billion (about R21-billion) a year, money that could easily be directed to roads, education, water and health care and that dwarfs the $500-million (about R3,1- billion) in foreign aid Kenya receives each year.

Kibaki’s administration began well enough.

One of his first acts was to re-establish the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission.

Yet longtime anti-corruption campaigner John Githongo, appointed as ombudsman to investigate, quit last February in protest at government inaction to prosecute those accused of graft. He now lives in exile in the UK.

“The war on corruption will only be won once a powerful and unequivocal message is consistently sent to Kenyans that corruption does not pay,” said Aram Mbui, the chairperson of the Federation of Kenya Employers which represents more than 2 500 companies.

“To put it bluntly, what we really need to see is some blood on the floor.”

The government insists it is taking action with 150 anti-corruption cases before the courts.

The Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission insist blood is being spilled but they need more investigators to probe the complex web of grand corruption.

“We are winning the war on corruption but sometimes the process is slow because we have to be extremely thorough,” said the country’s anti-graft director, Aaron Ringera.

“The public have a perception that nothing has changed but this is just a perception.”

Three of Kibaki’s ministers have resigned, one over Kenya’s biggest financial scandal known as Goldenberg, when at least $400-million (about R2,5-billion) was lost from state coffers during Moi’s rule in the 1990s.

And although five former top officials have been charged with fraud and theft as part of the Goldenberg probe – including the country’s ex-spy chief and former Central Bank Governor – no one has ever been convicted for graft.

Two other ministers quit over another scandal involving an estimated $200-million in security contracts with a fictional company called Anglo Leasing.

All insist they are innocent.

The Institute of Economic Affairs says parliament needs more powers to properly scrutinise public funds and how they are spent, citing government borrowing on some security contracts at nearly 28 percent in annual interest rates – four times the prevailing interest at the time.

Peter Mwathi’s bus route takes him through the heart of Nairobi, a sprawling city home to some of Africa’s largest slums with sewage-flooded alleys and rusting iron roofs. Mounds of rubbish litter the road, making rich pickings for rats and the circling Marabou storks that pepper the sky.

He estimates that during the last three years he has paid $600 in kickbacks, a sizable chunk of his annual $1,200 salary.

Among potential charges he has faced are playing his music too loud, overcrowding and putting too many stickers on the windshield.

A bribe, he says, saves him from a protracted court case and the potentially greater loss of time earning his salary.

“For a while when Kibaki got in, the police stopped taking money from us, but gradually it has come back,” he says from behind the wheel of his garishly painted bus.

“Now the police are more discreet because of the fear of being caught, but all that means is we have to pay a bit more. The price for us has gone up.”

March 30, 2006

Thailand quakes

Filed under: thailand — admin @ 2:32 pm

Sat Mar 11, 3:11 AM ET

BANGKOK – A series of moderate earthquakes has shaken the floor of the Andaman Sea off the southern coast of Thailand, although there is no immediate risk of a tsunami, disaster officials said on Saturday.

However, the National Disaster Warning center said Thais should monitor the news after the string of 31 earthquakes, measuring magnitude 4.0 to 5.3, hit about 400 to 600 kilometers of the southwest coast over the last two days.

The five southern provinces of Ranong, Phuket, Krabi, Satun and Phang-nga were those with the highest risk of being affected.

“We have informed people to watch out and follow the news closely,” an official said. “We‘re closely watching the overall situation.”

Scientists say undersea quakes have to measure in excess of at least 7.0 Richter in order to generate a tsunami.

March 29, 2006

Kenyans the Losers in Row With Global Fund

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 4:28 pm

Today is the last day for the Government to account for the Sh9.6 billion grant from the Global Fund for combating malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/Aids. At stake is Sh7 billion, which is part of the money that was released two years ago for seven projects; two for malaria, two for tuberculosis and three for HIV/Aids.

However, the Government has been too slow in disbursing money to the civil society and submitting returns to the fund’s head office in Geneva, Switzerland. In the last two years, only Sh2.5 billion has been disbursed.

The Global Fund is now demanding a technical and financial audit from the Treasury on how the money was used. The Treasury is the principal recipient of the grant, while the Health ministry is responsible for distribution of life-prolonging drugs. However, what was principally a routine accounting procedure has opened a can of worms, leaving the Government shamelessly exposed.

The nagging question that the mandarins at Treasury cannot escape is why they are playing poker with the lives of thousands of Kenyans. It would also be interesting to know why the Ministry of Health has taken a back seat when money meant for strengthening community health structures and capacity for the civil society to combat the three diseases is unaccounted for.

That is why only two projects (both on Aids), out of seven, have been implemented despite the availability of the funds. The point here is that if the funding is suspended the whole anti-Aids campaign, which relies heavily on donor funding, could collapse. This would jeopardise the lives of up to 53,000 people living with Aids and who are depending on antiretroviral (ARV) therapy and many others waiting to join the programme.

Then there is the question of incomplete dosages and drug resistance. The anti-Aids therapy and treatment of TB is wholly tailored on completion of dosages, any interruptions render it useless. That is why the global focus is on linking the management of Aids and co-infections like TB, which is found in a third of the 40 million people living with Aids.

Community based organisations, faith-groups and other non-governmental institutions have been in the forefront of creating awareness on the two diseases and providing support services to the infected. A big portion of the money used has been from donors, including the Global Fund. Yesterday, the Ministry of Health launched the Second National Health Sector Strategic Plan, which is a five-year plan premised on health for all.

The plan has very ambitious targets that cannot be realised if this situation continues. Aids being a national disaster, wholly dependent on donor largesse, it is imperative that the Government lives up to its word. This is especially so because apart from disbursing funds, it is supposed to monitor how the money is used by secondary recipients. If the Government itself can flout the rules, especially on accountability, it is setting a bad and dangerous precedent.

A lot has been said about political interference in disbursement of funds, but what is needed is a strategy and manpower to co-ordinate and oversee such funding. A liaison unit should be established at the Treasury to oversee the implementation of grant programmes. There is also need for a focal point for the civil society, Treasury and Global Fund to assess progress.

The way the current crisis is handled will influence how other donors will treat us. Given the many national disasters facing us it would be a disservice to the nation if the Treasury remains indifferent and the country loses the Sh7 billion funding. The trust of donors and the lives of Kenyans must never be taken for granted.

March 25, 2006

“Kenya spent $124m on secret security”

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 4:07 pm

KENYA’S government has spent millions on contracts for security projects that lawmakers and the public were barred from scrutinising, leaving a loophole for corruption, according to a report published yesterday.

The government borrowed money at nearly 28 percent in annual interest rates to pay for some of the contracts – four times the prevailing interest at the time, according to a report by the independent Institute of Economic Affairs. This year, the government has set aside millions of dollars to repay loans for security contracts, the report said.

“It should be noted that such contracts are not subject to public scrutiny, neither are they subjected to parliamentary scrutiny. Often they are not subjected to established government procurement procedures,” according to the report.

“These omissions make them very prone to corruption.”

President Mwai Kibaki has come under increasing pressure to crack down on corruption by key allies accused of crafting some of the security contracts in an effort to raise funds for next year’s election.

Two of the schemes, involving a fictitious company known as Anglo Leasing, have led to the resignation or firing of three Cabinet ministers.

Another minister resigned from Kibaki’s government after accusations that he was involved in Kenya’s biggest financial scandal, one orchestrated under the notoriously corrupt regime of former President Daniel arap Moi.

Kibaki’s government had set aside nearly nine billion shillings (US$124 million) to service loans taken to pay Anglo Leasing and other companies that had won security contracts, according to yesterday’s report.

March 13, 2006

‘There’s nothing to eat. The cows are finished, we have nothing’

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 5:38 am

THE sandy track through Kenya’s empty north is silent. Nothing stirs in the midday heat. Then a Nissan truck appears, carrying a human cargo across the bumps and ruts of the B8 towards the Somali border, and the road comes to life.

Tiny figures emerge from the bush, barely able to carry the old vegetable oil bottles that their mothers have entrusted to them. Women wrapped in bright cloths and wearing headscarves leave the shade of the acacia trees along the verge.

The truck shudders to a halt and a 100-litre barrel of water is retrieved from beneath the passengers crammed aboard.

With a minimum of greeting, the vegetable oil containers and jerry cans are filled and the truck is on its way again.

Fetching water is women’s work in this part of the world. But in parched northern Kenya — where a two-year drought is threatening to plunge the country into famine and change for ever an age-old pastoral way of life — fetching water means begging at the side of the road.

Bishara Muhammad, 40, hefts a half-filled bottle on to her hip. “There’s nothing to eat,” she says.

“The cows are finished, the goats are finished. We have no work, nothing. Even the camels are finished which means there can be little chance for us. Our only hope is the road.”

Her family’s 50 camels have been reduced to two. All the cattle are dead. Only a handful of goats survive.

Her husband and male relatives have led the hardiest animals over the border into Somalia in search of pasture. The women and children are left to fend for themselves.

“Our biggest worry is the children, getting enough maize for them,” Bishara says.

Around her, the other women and the stick-thin children slip silently away to wait in the shadows for the next truck.

The story is the same all along the track from Wajir to El Wak, a stone’s throw from Somalia. It cuts through a dusty land, where only termite mounds and leafless acacias grow. This is the epicentre of the drought in Kenya. About 3.5 million people need food aid to survive the year.

The aid agency Médecins Sans Frontières has determined that 20 per cent of children around El Wak are malnourished — well above the 15 per cent emergency threshold.

Across the Horn of Africa about 11.5 million people are at risk of starvation, according to the World Food Programme (WFP) of the UN. Five successive rains have failed, making this Kenya’s worst drought since independence, and the start of the March-to-May rainy season has made no impression. Aid agencies say that death rates will soar if the rains fail again.

So far the WFP has raised only $50 million (£29 million) of the $225 million that it says it needs to feed Kenya this year, and it says that it will run out of some essential foodstuffs, such as vegetable oil and pulses, by the end of the month. People living near the road to El Wak are getting used to the aid convoys travelling from the tropical south into the dry northeast. The trucks travel with armed escorts for protection against Somali bandits.

For centuries the people here have eked out a life as pastoralists, nomadic herders who follow their animals for hundreds of miles from waterhole to pasture. Aid agencies struggle to keep track of a mobile population that roams through Kenya and into Somalia.

“There is a constant problem with trying to move the food to the right places,” Peter Smerdon, a spokesman for the WFP in Nairobi, says.

It is also difficult to get food through northern Kenya to Somalia because of poor roads. “We have had trucks go missing for more than a week,” Mr Smerdon says.

The last stretch of road before El Wak is the worst. The hard dirt road becomes sand, sending 4x4s slipping one way then the other. Here you can smell the villages before you see them. A thick, sweet stench, like a rubbish dump, hangs in the air ahead of Gode. The carcasses of hundreds of cows, donkeys and goats lie in unnatural poses, rotting in the sun.

Some are fresh, their hides still brown or white. A donkey lies with his head twisted, chest heaving. Others are little more than a pile of bleached bones crumbling into the sand.

Gode is home to hundreds of “dropouts”, as they have become known, herders whose animals have died, forcing them to stay in one place.

Ibrahim Abdi Amoy, 50, arrived here with the youngest of his ten children last month. He still carries the gnarled wooden stick that marks him out as a man of influence. But the 45 camels and 50 cows that marked him out as a man of means are dead.

He says: “One time I was wealthy, but now . . .” He picks thoughtfully at his thin beard and looks around at the handful of surviving goats. He walked for three days to reach the relative safety of Gode, close to a borehole.

“Maybe there will be rain from Allah but, for now, maybe the NGOs will help us here with food and water,” he says.

One day he hopes to return to the lifestyle of his ancestors. “I don’t like to stay here in one place. I didn’t choose this.”

March 4, 2006

africa note8

Filed under: art,General,kenya — admin @ 5:30 am


in Africa I felt: no achievements, no successes, the place
is only bigger and darker and worse. I began to fantasize that
this world was often like a parallel universe, the dark star
image in my mind, in which everyone existed as a sort of shadow
counterpart to someone in the brighter world

Goziba Island: no police, no government people, No taxes. Just in
the middle of nowhere.

Some governments in Africa depended on
underdevelopment to survive– bad schools, poor communications, a
feeble press, and ragged people.. The leaders needed poverty to
obtain foreign aid, needed an uneducated and passive populace to
to keep themselves in office for decades, A great education
system in an open society would produce rivals, competitors, and
an effective opposition to people who only wanted to cling to power.

The friction had been necessary, the challenges had made people
think harder, the pluralism had forced people to become
considerate. doris lessing the grass is singing r.k narayan jorge
amado v.s. pritchett shusaku endo naguib mahfouz yasar kemal his
sense of history was immediate and aggrieved you go away a for a
long time and return a different person–you never come all the
way back. Like Rimbaud you think, I is someone else

March 3, 2006

Outrage as Kenya gags media

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 2:23 pm

DOZENS of masked police officers forced a television station off the air in an early morning raid in the Kenyan capital, Nairobi, before moving to a newspaper plant, where they disabled the printing press and burned thousands of papers, witnesses said.

The crackdown on the country’s second-largest media company came after the Government jailed three of its journalists over a recent article about political intrigue involving President Mwai Kibaki.

Mr Kibaki, elected in 2002, has experienced a flurry of critical press coverage in recent months as his administration has grappled with accusations of corruption and political infighting.

Thousands of Kenyans rallied outside the downtown headquarters of the newspaper, The Standard, to express outrage that a government that came to office criticising the abuses of the past would take such action. “Go!” they yelled in Swahili, calling on Mr Kibaki to step down.

“We believe this is a direct and blatant attempt to undermine the freedom of the press in this country as guaranteed by the constitution,” said Tom Mshindi, chief executive officer of the Standard Group, which owns the television station and newspaper.

Police spokesman Jaspher Ombati said the police raided the two properties just after midnight as part of a national security investigation that involved “inciting ethnic hate and animosity” as well as “a breach of the peace”.

He accused Standard journalists of receiving a $5000 bribe to print “a series of fabricated articles aimed at achieving instability”, an allegation the newspaper denied.

The three detained journalists were charged with “publishing false rumour with intent to cause alarm to the public”. They pleaded not guilty and were released on bail.

During the raids, the heavily armed police officers, who presented no warrant, smashed doors, broke padlocks and roughed up employees, workers at the scenes said.

The police spokesman denied that officers set newspapers on fire during the raid, although copies of The Standard were still smouldering outside the printing press on Thursday afternoon.

The story that set off the Government’s ire, which ran last Saturday in The Standard, said that Mr Kibaki had met secretly with a major political foe, Kalonzo Musyoka, in an attempt to mend fences.

Both Mr Kibaki and Mr Musyoka, a former minister in the President’s cabinet who has since broken with him, denied that the meeting had taken place.

But Mr Musyoka, a member of Parliament, was one of those condemning the Government for overreacting.

He said that there were legal ways of dealing with falsehoods in the press.

“I am absolutely dismayed to have woken up this morning to one of the saddest mornings we have had as a country,” Mr Musyoka said.

The Kenya Television Network, the country’s oldest independent station, returned to the air about 12 hours after the raid. The Standard made repairs to its press and managed to produce a special edition devoted to the police action.

africa note7

Filed under: kenya — admin @ 8:26 am

Created 01/31/2006 6:43 am

The adaptations which facilitated the evolution and survival of humans
in Africa also pre-adapted the species for speech and language.
The evolution of speech had important social implications for all
of humanity. The most ancient characteristics of language worldwide
are rooted in surviving African languages. — Khoisan: from the
phonetic point of view these are the world’s most complex
languages. To speak one of them fluently is to exploit human
phonetic ability to the full.

148 is the group size at which human societies appear to function
most effectively.

Hunting and gathering was the founding economy on which human
society is based, but hunters and gatherers were not “the original
affluent society” as is popularly supposed; their numbers and
distribution were determined by the “law of the minimum.” —
Nutritional Limitations kept the human population of Africa at
minimal levels for extended periods, but the population expanded
rapidly when conditions permitted. Cycles of “boom and bust” were a
commonplace factor of human experience. — Pronounced climatic
change prompted cultural responses. Evidence of hunting first
occurs in Africa from 18,000 years ago, when the last ice age
brought dry conditions to the continent, and the world’s
earliest-known evidence of organized human-on-human violence dates
from 14,000 years ago in Africa, when deteriorating conditions
provoked competition for resources among populations whose numbers
had expanded during the intervening period of benign conditions.
— Deliberate control of plant productivity dates back to 70,000
years ago in southern Africa, and the world’s’s earliest-known
centrally organized food-Production system was established along
the Nile 15,000 years ago–long before the Pharaohs–then swept away
by calamitous changes in the river’s flow-pattern. — Domestic
livestock were present in the Sahara during a wet phase 9,000-7,000
years ago, when African cereals were also domesticated in the
region. The first villages are evident from this period, indicating
the beginnings of a sedentary farming lifestyle, for which the
invention of pottery was a crucial development. In particular,
pots enable people to make substitutes for mother’s milk, thus
shortening the weaning period and birth intervals and fuelling a
growth in population. — The domestication of livestock enhanced
early food production economies, but lactose intolerance and the
tsetse fly reduced the spread of pastoralism among the people and
habitats of Africa. — In less than 3,000 years the Bantu-speaking
peoples expanded from their cradle-land that straddles the borders
of present-day Nigeria and Cameroon and colonized virtually all of
sub-Saharan Africa. The development of iron-smelting technology
played an important role in their dispersal. — While
civilizations rose and fell along the Nile, their influence on
sub-Saharan Africa was one of exploitation only– African
commodities were traded north, but nothing of the Nile’s culture
and technology moved south.

— electrum: a natural alloy of gold
containing about 20 percent silver

A mariner’s handbook from the first century AD indicates that
although trading vessels from Roman Egypt sailed to sub-Saharan
Africa, the region offed meagre profits an attracted little
interest. — The unique environmental circumstances of northern
Ethiopia combined with the trading opportunities of the Red Sea to
fuel the rise of sub-Saharn Africa’s first indigenous state. —

boustrophedon– script: as the ox turns in ploughing

While Aksum was distinguished by the conspicuous consumption of a
ruling elite and its subjects toiled under the rule of despotic
kings, the large, complex societies of the inland Niger delta
developed a more egalitarian and less coercive political system.
— If cities are founded by people from different social
and occupational backgrounds congregating to live in close
proximity of one another, is a hierarchical social system and
coercive centralized control the only way of managing the group’s
increasingly complex economic and social interactions? In the
classic definition of the urbanization process, centralized-often
despotic-control is deemed to have been the norm, with the many
ruled by the few and the ideology of the city state reinforced by
monumental architecture. Does the prevalence of one interpretation
obscure even the possibility of an alternative? Is there perhaps
an alternative management strategy, more practical than
ideological, that would direct the growth the complex societies
along routes than rendered monumental “signposts of permanence”
(totems of failure) unnecessary? The history of people exploiting
the resources of tee inland delta of the Niger River in West Africa
suggest that there is an alternative route. West Africa history was
“unshackled from the Arab stimulus paradigm” in the 1970s when
evidence of “cities without citadels” was uncovered, wherein the
transformation to a complex urban society began 1,000 years before
the arrival of Arab traders from across the Sahara, and a large
urban center, Jenne-jeno, remained active for centuries… there is
no evidence of hierarchical social system and centralized
control, no monumental architecture, no citadel.

Foolish-African-Never-Takes-Alcohol FANTA

The demand for diversification is incompatible with requirements
of specialization; yet each is fundamental to survival. Special
relationships between specialists: People know how to behave
because they know they are different and this mutual respect
allows specialization to flourish and material symbols of group
identity to develop. Together, myths and material symbols remind
all involved of the expectations that bind the regional community,
Herein lies the origin of in situ ethnic elaboration, and the
device that maintains ethnic boundaries. The counteracting forces
of ethnic identity where the demands of specialization pushed
groups apart while the requirements of a generalized economy pulled
them together– created a dynamism that ensured growth and the
establishment of urban settlements. And they were non-coercive
settlements. Groups congregated by choice. This is an instance of
transformation from a rural to an urban society that did not
establish a hierarchical society and coercive centralized control,
with the many ruled by the despotic few. The process in the delta
and at Jenne-jeno in particular, was once one of “complexification”
rather than centralization. They settled within shouting distance of
each other, but avoided assimilation into a single urban entity.
Clustering allowed a diverse population to congregate for
economies of scale and to draw upon the services of other
specialists without surrendering their independent identities,
the whose thereby functioning as a city and provide a variety of
services and products to a vast hinterland. In effect, the ‘push’
of specialization produced occupational castes and ethnic
distinction, while the ‘pull’ of economic integration produced a
web of share myth and belief that emphasized both individual ethnic
identity AND mutual interdependence. Not a whiff of disaster is
evident at Jenne-Jeno throughout its 1,600 years of occupation.

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