Independence Day, snakes and freedom

I spent part of Independence Day during my year in Kenya at the party at the American Embassy residence. I had a nice time and appreciated the Ambassador’s courtesy in inviting me, but I was a bit surprised at the choice of featured speaker from the Kenyan government, the then-Minister of Internal Security John Michuki. Also on the dias where Vice President Moody Awori and the “Leader of the Opposition” Uhuru Kenyatta. Michuki talked about his recent “security cooperation” visit to the U.S.

Michuki struck me as a particularly ironic choice of headliner for such an event celebrating American democracy because of his notoriety in regard to a high profile and highly symbolic act reflecting a deteriorating state of respect for political freedoms in Kenya not much more than a year earlier. Here is how Canada’s diplomatic magazine Embassy described the Kenyan government’s raid on the Standard Media Group in March 2006:

The malignant designs against the media took centre-stage in Kenyan politics two weeks ago when a dozen hooded policemen raided the newsroom and printing press of Kenya’s oldest daily newspaper, The East African Standard, and its television station, Kenya Television Network (KTN). 

It was a commando-style midnight raid. Printed copies of the newspaper ready for morning dispatch were burnt and the printing press dismantled. The police squad, code named Quick Response Unit (QRU), then switched off KTN and took away computers and accessories. Upon their arrival at the media group’s premises, they ordered staff to lie down and robbed them of money and cellular phones. All those items have not been returned. 

The Kenyan Minister for Internal Security, John Michuki, justified the raid on the following day with a proverb: “When you rattle a snake, the snake will bite you.” 

Indeed “the snake” may have been rattled lately in that the raid came as Kenyan media exposed a high-level multi-million dollar scam in which senior government ministers were accused of successive embezzlements of public funds. The scam, which stunned the nation for the huge amounts looted, involved a fictitious company named as Anglo-Leasing Company that was awarded several government contracts and paid upfront. It is still a running story.

However, the exposures prompted public pressure against the government leading to the sacking of four government ministers. The heat is still on against Vice President Moody Awori to step aside for facilitation of investigations against him. 

I don’t know the real reason for the Standard raid, although I have read arguments that it was triggered by reporting regarding allegations that Kalonzo Musyoka, then a contender for the ODM presidential nomination and now the Vice President, had met secretly with President Kibaki. Regardless, the raid was vigorously condemned by the diplomatic community at that time, including by U.S. Ambassador Mark Bellamy. Just before the December election Bellamy was removed as a delegate from the IRI International Election Observation team after Ranneberger made threats that he would, inter alia, pull funding for the mission at the last minute if Bellamy was included, because he was seen by the Kenyan government as critical.

Happy 4th of July. To celebrate, do something to uphold democratic values.

[Originally published July 4, 2010]

Raila on the Kenyan elections at CSIS

Catch the webcast, live Thursday morning 9:30-11:00 EST:

“Raila Odinga on the Kenyan Elections” with Amb. Mark Bellamy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

The link will also take you to the video for CSIS Africa programs addressing the Kenyan election in June, July, August and September.

Meanwhile, the AP has a story out this afternoon widely re-published in American newspapers: “After Kenyan vote drama, successionist talk hits the mainstream“.

The succession concern may likely have resonance in Washington given U.S. interests, although my sense is that the economic boycotts are the most salient message in Nairobi.  During the PEV period following the corrupted 2007 election, ODM backed off on threats of such economic boycotts which seemed risky as unprecedented and perhaps perceived to be “over the top”.

Vogue gives us “Three Nairobi Fitness Excursions Prove There’s Plenty of Life Beyond the Safari” for Americans who want to play around the city after their “humanitarian” trip to Kakamega from the U.S.

And the Carter Center has released a statement on the October 26 re-vote mirroring the State Department’s call for “national dialogue”: “Repeat poll polarized Kenya: Carter Center” headlined the Daily Nation.

Update: A Thursday story in The Star reports that  “British Army may pull out of Kenya, decision by end of month“.  The issue is KDF approval for leases of private land in Laikipia, the established practice, as opposed to a restriction to using only Kenyan government property.

For a good overview, see “The Kenya Election Crisis, Explained” at UNDispatch         by Kimberly Curtis.