While mourning, and One_dering . . .

A piece that you might have missed on the Westgate attack that touches more of the bases than most: The Real Reason al-Shabab Attacked a Mall in Kenya by Bronwyn Bruton at DefenseOne.com.
Also: “Terror Strikes Nairobi, Crossing Borders” from Lauren Hutton at the Netherlands Institute of International Affairs (Clingendael).

And if you missed a wise perspective on the human context, here is Karen Rothmyer in The Nation: “Reflections on the Kenya Terror Attack”

Other lessons so far: from Abdul Haji, son of the Garissa Senator and former Defense Minister, who drove from another shopping mall (Yaya Centre) and helped rescue many at Westgate after a cell call from his brother who was stranded by the attackers, we learn that real heroes drink Dormans (and pack a pistol), and leave notes for the owners of cars they back into while rushing to rescue their brothers.  The story of the Haji-on-the-spot collaboration with the Kenyan Red Cross, a handful of plainclothes police and a kitted out group of what we might call “neighborhood watchmen” is just so deeply “Kenyan”.

Ambassador David Shinn appropriately noted on his blog that his biggest surprise about the Westgate attack is that it hadn’t happened sooner.  People I touch base with expect more, and we have additional attacks in Mandera and Wajir.  In order to stay safe and protect each other, it seems to me that Kenyans need to calmly but firmly and persistently press to get as much truthful information as possible about what happened at Westgate and take responsibility for their neighborhoods and surroundings.

The #WeAreOne_dering hashtag on Twitter has brought people from all over the world into the conversation about what really has really happened with this attack.

The United States, in particular, has spent millions on an ongoing basis, through the State Department and the Defense Department directly and indirectly on  “capacity building”, training, etc. for Kenyan security.  Given the meager preparation for and response to an attack like Westgate, we need to quickly recalibrate to account for the present reality and the immediate threat.

Here is my post from 2009 “Corruption and Terrorism/Security”. And from 2010 “U.S.-Kenya Relations: A counterterrorism versus reform tradeoff?”

And to address the religious dimension, here is an important post from African Arguments via allAfrica.com: “Somalia: To Beat Al Shabaab Kenya Must Expel its Religious Leader “Sheikh Hassaan” From Nairobi”.  And the National Council of Churches of Kenya has posted this flyer from the Inter-Religious Council of Kenya announcing a “We Are One in Prayer” event on October 1.

A Closer Look at Journalism and NGOs

Karen Rothmyer has a “terrific and necessary” piece in the Columbia Journalism Review headlined “Hiding the Real Africa; why NGOs prefer bad news” about stereotyped images of Africans in poverty in the U.S. media and the influence of NGOs working on aid projects on this coverage (with comments from Jina Moore and I so far).  Linked is the full research paper for Harvard’s Shorenstein Center.

Also at CJR is a review of Rebecca Hamilton’s Fighting for DarfurPublic Action and the Struggle to Stop Genocide.

In The Star Andrea Bohnstedt explains that “Kibera Slum is Now the face of Kenya Abroad.”

In “Good News is No News, and that’s Bad News”, Terrance Wood writes at the Development Policy Blog that the media cover aid failures and problems, rather than success stories, and that this gives a misleadingly negative impression about the effectiveness of aid.

“Social media and the Uganda election 2011”

Karen Rothmyer insight on “Afro-optimism”, gloom and the media

Karen Rothmyer writes her latest insightful dispatch from Nairobi in the current issue of The Nation, discussing perceptions of the dire state of Africa surrounding the reporting on the status of the Millennium Development Goals against the recent Sala-i-Martin and Pinkovskiy study concluding that there is significant progress in poverty reduction.

Sitting here in Kenya, I find it hard to believe that the situation is really as grim as portrayed by the UN, the World Bank and most of the NGO crowd. OK, maybe the rapid growth of Nairobi shopping malls, complete with fake waterfalls and expensive dress shops, is mainly a middle-class phenomenon. But whenever I travel in the countryside I am equally struck by the fact that so many rural women sport stylish braids or other hair designs—a far cry from the simple head scarves of forty years ago.

So I was very excited a couple of months ago when I read a Reuters story about a new study by two academics, Xavier Sala-i-Martin, a Catalan economist who teaches at Columbia, and Maxim Pinkovskiy, an MIT doctoral student, titled “African Poverty Is Falling… Much Faster Than You Think!” In the paper, published under the auspices of the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER, the sober outfit that decrees when recessions have begun and ended), the two argue that “the conventional wisdom that Africa is not reducing poverty is wrong…. In fact, since 1995, African poverty has been falling steadily.” The reductions have occurred, Sala-i-Martin and Pinkovskiy report, in all types of countries and all regions. Moreover, economic growth hasn’t benefited only the elites; inequality within countries has declined throughout the continent.

For several days after reading the Reuters piece, I checked the Internet to see how other major news organizations, especially those in the United States and Britain, would follow Reuters’s lead. Given the media’s appetite for provocative news from the world of science and health—whether on how fast the polar ice caps are melting or the value of drinking a glass of wine a day—I assumed that sooner or later everyone would want to report on this latest case of man-bites-dog. But apart from mentions in a couple of blogs and one piece in the Guardian, there was hardly a squeak. (I did find some earlier references to a possible fall in African poverty, but none so definitive or high-profile as the Sala-i-Martin and Pinkovskiy paper.)

Karen is a very perceptive observer from a long career as a reporter, and writes with a degree of care and understatement that may also reflect her experience as an editor and journalism teacher. She has a frame of reference in Kenya that goes back to the Peace Corp and she always seems to know who to talk to, so I give her thoughts on these things great weight.

Part of what is going on here really is the basic problem that too much of the information that we hear about Africa is generated through or at least influenced by a thick filter of self-interest, if nothing other than that of people looking out for their own perceived career circumstances. It’s not as if that is not the case in whatever policy area domestically in “the West”, but it may be harder to spot in regard to the state of economies in Africa.

Another factor, at least for people like me in the U.S., is the realization that most of us are relatively oblivious and complacent–so those of us who have experienced a bit of Africa do tend to want to whack people over the head a bit in hopes of generating just a bit of interest or awareness.