Museveni defends Gaddafi while inflation soars in Uganda

Museveni reiterated his defense of Gaddafi this week in The Daily Monitor:

President Museveni has reiterated his criticism of the West and attacked Nato for disorganising a friend, whose 42-year rule faces a humbling end.

Speaking at the annual Muslims Iftar dinner at State House, Entebbe on Saturday, Mr Museveni addressed himself on two fundamental issues: The economic crisis at home and the battle for Libya. He accused the West of greed and defended Col. Gaddafi’s mistakes even though, he said, the Libyan leader attempted to go behind his back to hijack his chiefs in Kampala.

“Gaddafi had his own mistakes, he came here and organised my chiefs without telling me. We cancelled that meeting and I warned chiefs because it was wrong,” Mr Museveni said. “But Gaddafi built a mosque for us and as a leader, he had his mistakes, but those Europeans have more mistakes and problems. They think the rest of us are fools except themselves. When there are riots in Africa, they call them pro-democracy and in London, they call them, criminals.”

While inflation in Uganda has hit a 20-year high of 21.4%:

Ugandans will be bracing themselves for even harder times ahead as the continued depreciation of the local currency, rising prices for fuel, essential commodities and food combined to push inflation to a new 20-year high, further threatening the economy’s growth.The Consumer Price Index (CPI) released by the Uganda Bureau of Statistics yesterday indicates that inflation rose from a revised rate of 18.8 per cent in July to 21.4 per cent in August.

This represents a 2.6 percentage point rise, which, though lower than the 3.1 percentage point increase registered in July, still dragged the battered economy over another double digit threshold.

The Director for Macro-Economics Statistics at Ubos, Dr Chris Ndatira Mukiza, said food inflation, which rose to 42.9 per cent from 40.7 per cent, remains the main driver of inflation.

Back in May when Museveni was sworn in for another five year term after 25 years in power, Think Africa Press noted “For the first time in decades, inflation has hit the two digit mark to settle at 11%,” and asked “President Museveni:  Africa’s Marie Antoinette?

One is reminded of Marie-Antoinette of France. Are these leaders in touch with reality? Do they understand the condition of ordinary people of Uganda? And how many Ugandans really depend on land, and how productive is that land? What percentage of farmers are producing for the market? Even for those who have access to land, can they get all that they need from that land? In any case, the root of this inflation can be traced to the colossal amount of money poured into the country during the recent election campaigns. And this was largely by President Museveni himself.

IRIN Africa | KENYA: “Perfect storm” brewing among urban poor

IRIN Africa | KENYA: “Perfect storm” brewing among urban poor | Kenya | Children | East African Food Crisis | Economy | Food Security | Urban Risk.

Enough: Menkhaus on Somali Famine–Somaliland, al-Shabaab and TFG

Here are excerpts from  “Q&A:  Somalia Expert Ken Menkhaus on the Famine”, at the “Enough Said” blog (h/t to AidNews)

How are independently governed areas like Somaliland and Puntland faring? I understand the crisis hasn’t been as severe in those areas, but it’s interesting to consider how governance factors in to either prevention or response to the famine.

MENKHAUS: Actually, the drought has been quite severe in the north of Somalia as well, but what is interesting is that the north is generally much more arid than the south. The south has rivers and generally has better rainfall. But the north, despite being more arid and being affected by the drought, has not seen famine. The reason for that is pretty straightforward: There is a social peace, [managed by clan elders]. There is governance. The Somaliland government has been able to maintain a reasonable level of security and stability that has allows for the flow of commercial food, and as the drought hit, for the flow of international assistance. As a result, they have been hosting more and more displaced people from the south.

There have been conflicting reports on whether the militant group al-Shabaab would let aid groups into the most gravely affected parts of Somalia or not. But you’re in touch with people in the region all the time – local sources, aid groups, governmental entities. How has the group’s presence impacted the response?

MENKHAUS: We’re pretty sure that Shabaab is splintering now. The famine has been a source of tension within the organization, and the hope is that we’ll see some breakaway wings again that would say, ‘our people are starving, and we welcome aid.’ It would be very risky for those splinter groups, but desperate times call for desperate measures. That could open some space for aid groups to come in. That’s the last best-case scenario we’ve got left, because right now we have people flooding the Kenyan border, and that creates a massive, long-term refugee crisis that will haunt us.

It’s important to flag the breaking news that Shabaab has pulled out of Mogadishu. We’re still trying to make sense of that – Is it a tactical measure? Do they want to launch more hit-and-run attacks instead? There are a lot of possible explanations, but it could be that the social pressure now is so great that clans are rebelling, that the group is fragmenting and actually being pushed out by local Somali communities. That would be a major break for the famine response. Regardless, Shabaab’s in trouble. [The famine] is just disastrous for this group – by blocking food aid, blocking people from getting out, they have just shredded what little credibility they had left with Somalis and jihadist around the world.

What lessons should the international community take away from this present humanitarian crisis? How should the U.S. government revamp its approach to Somalia or to the Horn more broadly to help prevent crises from continuing to occur in regular intervals?

MENKHAUS: This crisis is a potential opening, both for humanitarian response and for new policy directions on Somalia. The scale of this crisis has forced people to do a fundamental rethink of all of our policies and assumptions.  .  .  .But the broader question is what do we do about governance in this country. Shabaab may be crumbling, but the TFG remains irrelevant and is just a source of massive corruption. I think what we’re going to see over the next year is a rethink about continuing to support the TFG versus finding alternatives. But it’s difficult to get people to think about alternatives when we’ve got such immediate problems.

Let them eat cake . . .

From the “Corridors of Power” feature in Nairobi’s The Star:

Caddies at Muthaiga Golf Club have reportedly appealed to the club management to rescind their decision to suspend Ugali from the menu. Our mole tells us that the attendants who carry golf clubs for players have been begging to have the staple food reinstated on the menu at least once a week. The golfers banned the meal a few weeks ago when Kenyans under the banner “Unga Revolution” took to the streets to protest high food prices. …

Sorry, but you don’t have to be at all politically to the “left” in the way that would be understood in the United States (or in France today for that matter) to recognize that Kenya has a problem with the divide between the lingering neo-colonial elite and the other, say 99% of Kenyans.  Skyrocketing food prices have continued to be one of the major factors that prevents the typical hard-working, entrepreneurial Kenyan from being able to make it into the new “middle class”.  Poor performance in government over years by officials who, by virtue of their political power have great resources at their personal disposal (and use those resources to perpetuate that power) is a big part of the reason access to affordable food is so unreliable relative to Kenya’s agricultural potential–and in fact, relative to Kenya’s actual agricultural output.  The Muthaiga Club is one of the places these officials like to separate themselves from their constituents.

Ongoing East African Food Crisis Continues to Worsen

“Famine in East Africa: A Catastrophe in the Making,” Der Speigel:

Eastern Africa is baking under a merciless sun; the last two rainy seasons have brought no precipitation at all. It is said to be the worst drought since 1950. And hunger comes at its the heels. In Somalia, Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, and Uganda, people are suffering like they haven’t in a long while. The UN estimates that some 12 million people are already faced with hunger. And that is likely just the beginning.

There are many indications that the situation will only worsen in the coming weeks. For the moment, many of the regions in eastern Africa are classified by the UNHCR as “emergency” areas. But on Wednesday, the UNHCR declared famine in two regions in southern Somalia and said that it could spread unless enough donors can be found to help those in need. “If we don’t act now, famine will spread to all eight regions of southern Somalia within two months,” said Mark Bowden, humanitarian coordinator for Somalia.

It is a catastrophe that has been a long time in coming. Experts have been warning of the approaching famine for months and the causes are clear. They also know that the current disaster won’t be the last. As a result of climate change, it has become increasingly the case that rainy seasons fail to materialize in the region. Adding to the problem, the population in the countries currently suffering has quadrupled in recent decades, from 41 million to 167 million. Plus, aid organizations tend to budget most of their money for emergency situations, leaving little left over for wells, fertilizer, seeds and efforts to teach farmers how to make the most from their plots of land — all measures that could forestall the next disaster.

Somalia has been especially hard hit because the Islamists from the al-Shabab militia, who are fighting against the country’s government, have chased almost all aid organizations out of the country.  .  .  .

.  .  .  .

Despite the difficulties, the WFP has managed to more or less rebuild the harbor in recent years. Warships from the European Union anti-piracy mission Atalanta guide freighters full of aid supplies through the pirate infested waters and into the harbor.  .  .  .

. . . .

An equally large problem is the phenomenon known in aid circles as “donor fatigue.” People around the world are becoming tired of sending money to Africa, where nothing ever seems to change. Just last year, the WFP asked rich countries for $500 million to combat hunger on the Horn of Africa. They were unable to raise even half of that. And that despite the fact that the scientists working for the US-based Famine Early Warning System have long been warning that first the crops, then the animals and finally the people themselves would begin dying should the rainy season fail to materialize.

“Refugees flee famine stricken Somalia”, NPR

“Incredible Shrinking Kibera”–a lesson that should inspire humility in Western capitals

When we see popular uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya that no one in the United States or the West more generally seems to have anticipated we ought naturally to be drawn to some soul searching about how much we really know about societies and countries in Africa–and how what we do know gets filtered and reported back to policy makers and the public at home.

My experience in East Africa and what I have learned since certainly suggested caution and humility to me.  One particular glaring example I can highlight is the fiasco of what I will call “Incredible Shrinking Kibera”.  First let’s start with the setting:  right in the heart of Nairobi, one of the most cosmopolitan African capitals in many respects–a city that is a magnet for Western expats, in particular offices of international organizations and NGOs on a regional or Africa-wide basis, as well as a huge regional diplomatic presence.  Lots of tourists from the UK and the US in particular.  Yet, it has turned out that Western conventional wisdom about Nairobi has included numbers for the population of the Kibera informal settlement (“the largest slum in Africa”) that are vastly beyond those cited in Kenya’s new census.  Either the conventional wisdom about 1 million people, or perhaps many more, living in Kibera was vastly inflated, or the new Kenya census finding only a fraction of that population is completely flawed–or both if the real population is, say, double the census figure and less than half the “conventional wisdom”.   If Kenya can’t get anywhere close in a census, even in Nairobi, then how serious can we really be about drawing new boundaries and electoral districts and free and fair elections with equal voting rights for all citizens next year?  If the census is close, then a lot of us in the West have been shown to be either seriously misinformed about something that shouldn’t be so hard to know, or of “spinning” beyond the bounds of a fair representation of the facts.  I myself have referenced the “conventional wisdom” without the skepticism that I should have had.

I was fortunate to have a friend in Kibera and thus an introduction to one family and community in one neighborhood there, as well as being involved in a pre-election survey of the Langata parliamentary constituency in December 2007 and in observing a bit of the voting in one of the more upscale areas on election day with our international delegates.  I started to scratch the surface.  Personally, my family and I had more connection to Kawangware.  Wherever you live in Nairobi, if you are interested, you can pick a nearby informal settlement and start getting acquainted.

Here is a good blog about Kibera:

“Slum Tourism in Kibera: Education or Exploitation?” Brian Ekdale

4) Don’t assume you understand Kibera after spending a couple of hours there. I’ve been there 10 months and still learn new things every day. Kibera is a very complex place. People like to say 1 million residents, but population figures are contested. Not every organization is doing what they say they are doing. Not everyone is impoverished (I know some who have good jobs but would rather financially support their families and neighbors than move to a wealthy area and leave behind those that helped raise them). Now that you’ve been there, go back and read those articles and watch those videos I mentioned in #2.

5) Don’t think Nairobi is a city of contradictions. Sure, you can get a mocha and french toast at Nairobi Java House, go on a Kibera tour in the late morning, and then grab some upscale Indian food at Yaya Centre for lunch without traveling very far. But understand the Java House/Yaya/Westgate life does not exist in spite of Nairobi’s slum population, they exist because of Nairobi’s slum population. Cheap labor built those massive structures. Cheap labor stocked the shelves. And cheap labor keeps them running. That labor walks home at night to sleep in Kibera, or Korogocho, or Mathare, etc.

Maziwa Fresh by AfriCommons
Maziwa Fresh, a photo by AfriCommons on Flickr.

Does KSh4,500 for a bag of maize approach a “tipping point”?

There are a lot of good things happening in Kenya that are helping to lay the groundwork for a positive future.   Right now, however, the combination of the plummeting shilling and high inflation focused especially on basic food items and other household necessities, along with an especially severe regional drought is causing suffering and raises questions for the intermediate future as we head into another election year.

Increasing numbers of refugees are flowing to Kenya from Somalia due to drought aside from the fighting, in a situation in which Kenya is already well beyond current capacity under existing refugee arrangements.

The basic situation of high and inflating cost of food staples, drought and refugees is “the usual crisis” in Kenya–its not less severe because it doesn’t get solved but we all somewhat get used to it as “background” and pay more attention to “the next new thing”.  Now however, it is getting worse.  Will Kenyan politicians continue to see this as a challenge primarily for Western donors while focusing on the election?  Is there a “tipping point” where this moves out of the background and disrupts the usual course of things in Nairobi, for better or worse?

“Severe food crisis hits region”, IRIN Global

In Kenya, rising inflation rates have also adversely affected poor households’ ability to buy food. Prices of the main staple, maize, have tripled from about 1,300 shillings (US$14.4) in January to 4,500 ($50) for a 90kg bag.

Recently, the government announced the removal of tax on imported maize in a bid to cushion consumers. But millers say rising global maize prices mean the measure will have little impact on the commodity’s prices locally.

“The problem has been compounded by the fact that the Kenyan shilling has been on a free-fall, trading at an all-time low [about 90 shillings to the US dollar] not experienced in the country for almost two decades. I do not see the cost of maize dropping any time soon,” said a miller who requested anonymity.

The recent March to May “long rains” in Kenya were poor for the second or third successive season in most rangelands and cropping lowlands, with many of these areas receiving 10-50 percent of normal rains, noted the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET).

The consequences include declining water and pasture, and subsequent livestock deaths. In the predominantly pastoralist north, a low milk supply has contributed to malnutrition levels soaring above 35 percent. The GAM rate in northwestern Turkana has hit 37.4 percent, the highest ever in the district.

Nationally, at least 3.2 million people are currently food insecure – up from a projection of 2.4 and 1.6 million in April and January, respectively.

Even in Kenya’s coastal region, thousands are food insecure, says the Kenya Red Cross Society’s (KRCS) region manager, Gerald Bombe.

“There is a need to import maize and distribute food and water to the hardest hit areas,” added Kevin Lunani, a local leader in the coastal Kisauni region.

Figures I read recently would place Kenya as the largest recipient of U.S. aid outside the greater Middle East/North Africa and Afghanistan/Pakistan–in other words greater than any other country in Latin America, Sub Saharan Africa or elsewhere in Asia, for the 2008-2011 period.  I don’t have time to dive into the numbers for serious comparisons, but accepting the general point that Kenya is a particular favorite as a major target of aid for the U.S. we need to ask whether we are accomplishing what we want to accomplish.

UK Cuts Education Aid Once Again in Lastest Round on Kenyan Education Scandals (Updated)

Update, June 16: The Irish Times reports that the U.K. will “push hard” for return of its share of stolen education aid funds.

The country’s finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta said the names of officials investigated had been given to the police, but analysts said the chances of prosecutions were low.

“Handing over reports to the criminal investigations department of the Kenyan police force is a good way of shelving investigations,” said Mwalimu Mati, chief executive officer at the corruption watchdog Mars Group Kenya. “It is hard to see how such a discredited police force can bring about justice when they are still investing in Anglo Leasing and Goldenberg.”

The Goldenberg scandal, which cost the country over 10 per cent of GDP, dates back to the early 1990s. It saw the government of Kenya pay out hundreds of millions of dollars of public money in a bogus gold export scheme. No government officials have been prosecuted for their part in it.

Despite coming to power in December 2002 on a strong anti-graft platform, President Mwai Kibaki has failed to stamp out corruption in east Africa’s largest economy. Kenya has slipped down the rankings of Transparency International’s 2010 corruption perceptions index, falling to 154 out of 178 countries.

Last year the government said it could be losing $4 billion, nearly one-third of the national budget, to kickbacks and other forms of corruption.

“Kenya is good at talking about corruption cases,” Teresa Omondi, the deputy executive director of Transparency International – Kenya, said, “but not at prosecuting anyone in them. The fact that no stringent action is ever taken means there is a risk of us hearing about all this again next year.”

“UK cuts education aid by Sh300m”, Daily Nation:

The government was on Tuesday put under pressure to rein in corruption within its ranks, with the United Kingdom announcing a Sh300 million education budget cut.

British High Commissioner Rob Macaire said that they will continue funding education, but only through non-governmental channels until the Ministry of Education adopted prudent financial management systems.

This year, the British Government has allocated Sh1.3 billion to fund various educational programmes through these channels.

“It is shocking that civil servants in trusted positions in the government would steal such an amount of money.

“We share in the outrage of Kenyans about this, because there is UK taxpayers money involved too,” Mr Macaire said.

He was responding to fresh investigations by Treasury over a Sh4.2 billion fraud in the Education ministry.

“This should not be allowed, neither tolerated,” he said, adding that the culprits should be prosecuted.

So far, the Department for International Development (DfID) has supplied 320,000 children in slums with textbooks in 1,100 selected schools.

Mr Mike Harrison, deputy director at DfID, said unless financial transactions are electronic, they would not fund the ministry.

“We need some concrete proof that the financial management in the ministry are turned around.

“Electronic money transfer will have to be at the heart of the system unlike today where paper transfer is easily doctored.”

.  .  .  .

See, “Treasury audit reveals Sh5.8bn fraud”, Daily Nation.  “Education and Medical Services staff probed over Sh 6.2bn loss“, The Star.

Investing in Southern Africa–MCC Webchat

Register for a webchat about Millennium Challenge Corporation programs, AGOA and investment opportunities in Southern Africa.

Event is Thursday, April 21, 11:30am Washington/EDT; 1530 GMT.

Odinga in Washington; U.S. in Libya; “Kinetic Action” v. MCC

Here is the link to a multimedia page for Raila Odinga’s speech and Q & A last week at CSIS in Washington.  Nothing newsmaking in itself that I saw, but a good speech of interest to those following governance and democratization issues in Africa and especially Kenya and Ivory Coast.

In the meantime, one of the most telling things I have read about how our actions in participating in the Libyan mission are viewed by others is from Bruce Reidel at Brookings:

The Indians are puzzled that some in the West who had embraced Qaddafi less than a hundred days ago are now so shocked by his cruelty. Qaddafi did not change in 2011. Some former Indian diplomats are quick to suggest that the Libyan war shows America’s “unreliability” and a tendency to over react to the last news broadcast. Who are the rebels in Benghazi, they ask, that are now your allies? Why do you rush to help them, and not the shia protesters in Manama?

As one Indian observer put it, “the U.S. is both promiscuous and flighty” with its relationships.

“A Letter from Agra:  How India Views U.S. Actions in Libya”

These observations on the Indian view were published almost a month ago.  If the NATO effort in Libya bogs down, we may find ourselves asking more rigorously, “why exactly did we decide to do this?” and “what specifically were we trying to accomplish originally and what specifically are we trying to accomplish now?”.  Those same questions that eventually became “known unknowns” in Iraq.

In the meantime, The Hill caries a piece by Paul O’Brian of OxFam America on potentially critical budget cuts for the Millennium Challenge Corporation.  No one at the MCC could afford to make the comparison politically I am sure, but let me make it for them:  look at the cost of the Libya action versus the cost of the MCC.  The MCC would seem to have bipartisan support if any area of development can.  A George W. Bush initiative originally, but very compatible with Democratic “soft power” thinking and led by Obama appointees now.   A relatively small staff and bureaucratic footprint.

In geopolitics, and in longer term development, we need to pay some real attention to states, but if this is a humanitarian effort don’t we need to look also at the numbers of people involved: is this worth the cost relative to the cost of other “kinetic” or “non-kinetic” endeavors?  Ivory Coast, for instance, is a much more populous country.