Another Katrina anniversary, Isaac and Kenya

Sometime tomorrow I will bring in the bottles off the bottle tree.  Not sure yet what else will be involved in final preparations for Hurricane Isaac here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.  The kids have school tomorrow and we have evacuation plans just in case.

It is worth noting that the name Isaac in Hebrew refers to the laughter of Abraham and Sarah at having their first son together in old age.  In this case, we are in the most fertile part of the hurricane season–and it has been unusually quiet since we were decimated by Katrina seven years ago–so no surprises.

This might be the appropriate time to note briefly that it is unlikely that I would have taken a year’s leave to go work “democracy assistance” in East Africa without the Katrina experience.  Going through Katrina here was something of gateway for me in the sense of taking stock of my own reactions and a dissatisfaction with my own limited contributions to the immediate recovery.  There were people I admired that did so much to help others, and we got so much sorely needed help from all over the country, that the seed was planted to more substantially engage in some “service” activity.  Working in democracy support instead of agriculture or some other area was a function of having experience and credentials in practical politics (in the Republican Party)–and in particular I had had a great experience as an election observer in the Ferghana Valley area of Kyrgyzstan the month before Katrina.

The Kenya/Somaliland geography was a coincidence of IRI having a need come up when I was looking at a position in Moldova.

So that’s a little background on how I ended up going from one disaster to another.  Isaac seems pretty manageable in context at this point.  The situation in Kenya now, however, has an uncomfortable sense of familiarity.

“A New Branch of Government on the Gulf”

Since the BP Oil Spill is front page news in Africa, I thought it was time for the AfriCommons Blog to share just a bit of perspective from right here in Katrina-BP Spill Country.

From the Sun Herald, the Knight Ridder daily in Gulfport-Biloxi here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast:

BILOXI — From all appearances, a new branch of government on the Gulf — BP — continues to dictate the response to what is now the nation’s worst man-made disaster.

Coast leaders accustomed to marshaling resources for disaster response are being told BP will clean up any oil that threatens Mississippi marshlands and beaches. After watching the dismal results in Louisiana, mayors and a Harrison County supervisor told the Sun Herald on Thursday they each have their own plans ready and will step in if oil threatens the shoreline.

“Everything that has been told to us is, ‘BP is responsible. BP is going to clean up. BP is going to do this and BP is going to do that,’ ” Biloxi Mayor A.J. Holloway said. “We are not going to depend on that.”

Holloway, Gulfport Mayor George Schloegel, Ocean Springs Mayor Connie Moran and Harrison County Supervisor Windy Swetman said in a meeting at the Sun Herald that DEQ and DMR have not released their near- and onshore response plans and did not seek input from Coast localities in developing them.

Instead, Coast localities have delved into their own solutions.

“We are used to dealing with disaster,” Moran said. “It’s just hard to sit around and do nothing and wait for BP to come to the rescue. Let’s just say we don’t have a warm and fuzzy feeling about that. . . . .

(emphasis added)

Surely if there was an environmental disaster in Kenya caused by private industry, and the Kenyan government deferred to the very company that caused the disaster to govern the response, the US would offer criticism of the lack of autonomy and responsibility shown by the Kenyan government.