Friday links

“Are the private sector and civil society natural enemies?”–insightful piece from the Nation Groups’s Pan-African Media Conference by Muthoni Wankeki in Pambazuka.

Meanwhile, a new survey reported in Business Daily indicates that Kenyan business leaders are worried about a repeat of election violence.

“In Defense of the Voice of America” by Alemayehu Mariam in Pambazuka, reprinted from Huffington Post.

Human Rights Watch reports on pre-election environment in Sudan and Ethiopia, says April and May elections unlikely to be “free and fair”. Ethiopia: Repression Rising Ahead of May Elections. Sudan: Government Repression Threatens Fair Elections. Daily Nation story here.

And for the first time a senior SPLM leader has called for Bashir to face the ICC charges against him in The Hague.

Washingtonpost: Sudan prez threatens to expel election observers

Sudan prez threatens to expel election observers

By SARAH EL DEEB
CAIRO — Sudan’s president threatened Monday to expel foreign observers over their recommendations to delay the country’s first multiparty elections in decades due in April.

Kenya–Security News

Another terrorism suspect escapes from Kenyan custody under suspicious circumstances.

KANU leaders right about one thing at least–the Administration Police should be disbanded and merged into the normal police force. The AP has grown to be equivalent in size to the 40,000 member national police, and is obviously a security threat in its own right. This was evident in the deployment of the AP to support the Kibaki re-election effort in December 2007 amid bold-faced denials, and spiraling rumors–helping to lay the groundwork for the post-election violence–as well as participating in it directly. [For Gideon Moi to pledge to tackle corruption is something else again . . . . ]

Carson says US to increase relative focus on food security in Africa policy.

Business leaders plan to use “Prime Minister’s Round Table” discussion to focus on insecurity–one idea: “re-deployment of police from non-core activities such as managing buildings, stadiums and chauffeuring civil servants, freeing them to carry out their core mandate of maintaining law and order.”

Meanwhile, with Sudan’s national elections coming up next month, The East African identifies a potential split between the US and other Western donors on one hand, and Kenya and Uganda on the other, in regard to South Sudanese independence:

The EastAfrican has separately learned that key Western democracies and institutions, fearing that independence for the South in its present state could see the area slide into anarchy, have quietly urged President Salva Kiir’s government to go slow on secession.

“Independence for the South should be put off for a few more years primarily because of lack of capacity in the South to run a stable and secure state,” said a source privy to Western analysis of the evolving situation in Sudan.

He added: “There is no institutional infrastructure to support a state, so there is a high chance that the country will degenerate into a Somalia-like situation. This would open a ‘corridor of terror’ across the region that could be infiltrated by Al Qaeda and its associates to create instability that would run counter to Western interests.” Continue reading

“Offbeat”

“Sudan’s capital sways to hip hop”

On Safari in Chanute, Kansas

Ethiopia’s Zenawi says he will authorize jamming of Voice of America Amharic broadcasts, comparing VOA to Radio Mille Collines

Dysfunctional governance in Kampala–“‘The Bastard Child of Nobody?’–Anti-Planning and the Institutional Crisis in Contemporary Kampala”

The “Nairobi Curse”

This is Kenya’s version of “the oil curse” or “the resource curse”.

Nairobi is the place to be in Sub-Saharan Africa (and outside of South Africa) for international meetings and conferences.  It is a relatively comfortable place to live for middle class or wealthy Westerners, or young aid workers.  An international city with a certain level of cosmopolitanism, yet of manageable size and scope relative to so many burgeoning cities of the less developed “South”.  A headquarters for two UN agencies.  A diplomatic critical mass, with lots of representation from all sorts of countries around the world that have little obvious presence in Africa, but also a crossroads for representation of everyone playing for a major piece of the pie (Iran, Libya, China, India, the Gulf States–as well as obviously the US and Europe).  And you can go on business, and then take a safari on the side.

From the US, soldiers go to Djibouti (the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, at Camp Lemonier) while diplomats go to Nairobi.  The US runs its Somali diplomacy from the Embassy to Kenya rather than Djibouti which would be the more obvious place on paper.  Likewise, Somali politicians tend to live much of the time in Nairobi.   Nairobi is the place to invest cash generated in Somalia.

Nairobi is the “back office”, and in some cases the only office, for much of relatively huge amount of US aid-related effort for Southern Sudan, as well as that from other countries.

Nairobi has something like 8% of the Kenyan population, and perhaps 60% of the GDP (don’t let anyone tell you they know any of these figures too precisely).  Perhaps 50-60 percent of the population lives in informal settlements (“slums”) whereas the other half lives as “the other half”.  Most national level Kenyan politicians holding office live primarily in Nairobi (although they may have homes in a constituency they represent in Parliament as well).

When I was the East Africa Director, based in Nairobi, for IRI (where our much bigger Sudan program was also  headquartered) as an American I felt that my government at that time (2007-2008) was falling into the trap of recreating a Cold War paradigm for our international relations by looking around through our “War on Terrorism” telescope.  And that in Kenya there were a lot of international interests that valued stability over reforms for reasons that related more to the current role of Nairobi than the long term interests of Kenyan development.

Certainly Nairobi is a resource that has great value–as does oil, for instance–it’s just a question of whether Kenyans can find a way to use it to the broad advantage of the nation or whether it will continue to be exploited to disproportionately benefit the most powerful.  Including being used to help keep them in power when more Kenyans want democratic change.

Just this past week Kenya hosted an IGAD meeting on Sudan–and flouted its obligations as a party to the Rome Treaty on the ICC by inviting President Bashir of Sudan while under indictment.  Meanwhile the ICC is considering whether to allow formal  investigation of key Kenyan leaders for the post-election violence from 2007-08.  But Nairobi is such a great place to have these conferences . . . and Sudan is so important (Khartoum is no Nairobi, but it has oil).

Nairobi Kenya Microsoft billboard "We see Africa's potential"
“We see Africa’s potential”

Corruption and Geopolitics

The Economist has highlighted the ongoing competition in Africa, including in Kenya, between Iran and Israel: “A Search For Allies in a Hostile World“.  In the East Africa/Greater Horn region, Sudan is Iran’s key ally and Ethiopia is Israel’s.

With diplomatic battles approaching over sanctions for Iran’s nuclear program in the context of all of the existing competition for influence, resources and business opportunities, the leverage for existing African players to extract corrupt rents are likely to increase. The Kenya Publicity Tour to Washington last week invited the US to once again move away from a strong stand on corruption and move on with greater government to government support and incentives for investment without waiting to see actual reforms in light of the 2007 election debacle.

To date we haven’t seen accountability for the multi-year theft of public education funds that triggered first the UK and then the US to freeze a small amount of education assistance.  While the PM and others are pressing for the resignation of the Education Minister, the funds have gone missing each year of the first Kibaki Administration as well, as indicated in the report from Transparency International.  Removing the current minister (who presumably would remain a Member of Parliament and, if patterns hold, soon enough get another ministerial appointment in another agency) is not a substantive answer.

Likewise, action on the Rift Valley Railroad concession remains elusive and deferred.  And accounting for the “Internally Displaced Funds” associated with the “Internally Displaced Persons” from the post-election violence remains outstanding. And the bills continue to come due, literally, from the Anglo Leasing scandal (you may remember this as the scandal that was supposedly caught in time to prevent major loss to the taxpayers–doesn’t seem to be working out that way).

Key players, at least, in the US government supported Kibaki’s re-election in 2007 in spite of the corruption concerns. Is Kenya better off now? What US interests were actually advanced? In particular, how is the situation in Somalia better now than it was in the fall of 2007? Let’s “don’t get fooled again” and maintain a focus on helping Kenyans who share the values to which we aspire to build a stronger and more prosperous country–by maintaining a strong and steady focus on improved governance and fighting corruption. We have a bad record on the geopolitical gamesmanship in Kenya, in my estimation, and values aside, I don’t think it has worked very well.

Updated: Some other African presidential election developments

In Sudan, BBC reports that former Prime Minister Sadiq al-Mahdi is entering the April race for President against Bashir.  Al-Mahdi promises action on Darfur.  This should be interesting.  BBC’s take is that this raises prospects for the legitimacy of the election (in which the SPLA chose not to offer its strongest challenge).  Maybe.  It might also raise the stakes for Bashir–is he willing to lose an election and leave office based on how the votes are actually cast?  While under ICC indictment?

Across the continent, perhaps the West’s and America’s very favorite African president has–wait for it–announced that she is running for a second 6 year term in next year’s election despite having pledged originally that she would only serve one term.

Good business for Johnson-Sirleaf’s American lobbyists and consultants anyway–hope it is good for Liberia.  Perhaps this is a positive development from a gender equality angle anyway:  maybe women are just as inclined to hang on to power, and just as disinclined to leave the presidency as men.

When Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was running for office, she boldly told this programme that once elected into office, she would only serve one six year term.

But a week in politics is a long time and 5 years is an eternity.

Yesterday, president Johnson-Sirleaf made a major U-turn when she announced that she will seek a second six-year term in next year’s elections.

And The Economist reports that “worries about Ethiopia’s election, due in May, are growing” while noting that “most Western governments seem keen to downplay Mr. Mele’s human-rights record, hoping his re-election will keep his country stable.”

Sudan Divestment

From Roubini Global Economics:

Pressure on China to Divest from Sudan

  • In early 2010, TIAA-Cref, which manages funds for many U.S. pensions, sold its stake in PetroChina, several other Chinese oil companies, and the Indian National Oil company that operate in Sudan. TIAA-Cref had tried to convince the companies to cut their ties with the country, arguing that the agreements prop up the Sudanese government, which has contributed to human rights violations.