Ringera: Too much noise over small issues

The furore over Justice Aaron Ringer’a reappointment to the Kenya Anti Corruption Commission is an unfortunate piece of drama that has induced a frenzy of euphoria among legislators and the general public.

Justice Aaron Ringera

Justice Aaron Ringera

When the euphoria wears off, most will realize that nothing really changed despite what is billed as an iconic step by Kenya’s Parliament to reject the re appointment done by President Mwai Kibaki.

If anything, the ongoing cheap drama is working out perfectly as a tactic by Kenya’s ruling classes to engage in political bargaining, or horse trading, while hoodwinking the people that democratic space is growing.

Now, legislators are on a blood frenzy as they vow to re-examine previous executive appointments and subject them to a similar fate. If Members of Parliament go through with their threat, there will be total chaos in State Corporations and government departments as it will be difficult to tell who is in charge.

Despite all the hullaballoo about the legality or otherwise of the reappointment, the core of the saga was that the ODM wing of government was not consulted over the appointment. Prime Minister Raila Odinga tried to play down the issue so as not to appear as opposing the President but his allies, James Orengo and Prof Anyang Nyongo, could not have opposed Ringera’s reappointment without Raila’s tacit approval and encouragement.

The Ringera saga is reminiscent of previous tussles over the powers of the two main principles in the Giant Coalition Government, namely President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The Prime Minister has numerously said that he is an equal to the President and therefore should be consulted in every government decision. The result of the impasse over powers has resulted in a divided government.

Confusion in government was evident in parliament during the week as Cabinet Ministers harshly attacked their own government. When challenged to resign for disagreeing with their boss – the President – the ministers argued that they were debating as ordinary legislators and not as Cabinet Ministers.

The principle of an independent prosecution agency to tackle grand corruption was proposed by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) back in 1997. It was then known as the Kenya Anti Corruption Authority (KACA) and was meant to be an independent body that could prosecute top government officials. However, the very concept of a parallel prosecution body was not acceptable to Kenyan authorities and efforts were made to ensure its downfall.

On December 22, 2000, the High Court in the case of Gachiengo Versus Republic (2000) ruled that the existence of KACA undermined the powers conferred on both the Attorney General and the Commissioner of Police by the Constitution of the Republic of Kenya. In addition, the High Court further held that the statutory provisions establishing KACA were in conflict with the Constitution. That spelt the death of KACA.

The present KACC was established in 2003 by enactment of the Anti-Corruption and Economic Crimes Act. Justice Aaron Ringera as Director and three Assistant Directors formally took office on 10th September, 2004.

KACC has been accused of not prosecuting top personalities who have been implicated in corruption and instead going after “small fish.” In its defence, KACC says that it lacks powers to prosecute and it can only investigate and forward the files to the Attorney General. This situation is likely to persist as there are many in government who are uncomfortable with the idea of multiple prosecuting agencies in the country.

Kenyan flees after murder in New Zealand

Moves broadened to have a Kenyan man suspected of killing a fellow countryman in the city of Christ Church taken back to New Zealand as police named the victim.

Lydia Munene is lying in a coma in a New Zealand hospital following the attack.

Lydia Munene is lying in a coma at a New Zealand hospital following the attack.

The slain man was Stephen Mwangi Maina, 38, a close friend of Lydiah Muthoni Munene, 34, who was found badly injured in a dwelling in suburban Avonhead on Monday night. She was covered in a blanket in a bedroom of the house while Mr Maina was found dead on a bed in the same room.

Lydia’s estranged husband, Samuel Ngumo Njuguna, 39, flew out of New Zealand at the weekend (September 13), headed for Kenya. He boarded a Sunday morning flight from Auckland International Airport and is understood to have arrived in Kenya on Tuesday morning (September 15). Mr Njuguna and Ms Lydia Munene have lived in New Zealand for many years.

New Zealand’s Police have alerted Interpol and Kenyan police in an effort to track down Njuguna. However, the move may run into legal challenges as there is no extradition agreement between Kenya and New Zealand.

Read more of this story from the Kenya Stockholm blog >>

Additional reporting from Kim Media Group >>

Kenyans eating wild animals as drought worsens

Wild animals in Kenya face extinction by ending up on dinner tables as the worst drought in a generation takes its toll on a people impoverished by years of poor governance, corruption and political sterility.

Rains have failed in Kenya, 10 million people hit by famine.

Rains have failed in Kenya, 10 million people hit by famine.

People have always poached wild animals for meat. It is a carry over from the old days, long before colonialism, when wildlife roamed the land in huge herds. However, our forefathers resorted to eating wild game only in extreme situations. Some tribes, such as the Maasai and the Somali, looked down on people who ate wild game, viewing such persons as too poor to own livestock.

With colonialism and eventual independence, hunting of wild animals for food or, indeed any other purpose, was criminalized. This pushed the trade to the periphery of economic and social activity. Until recently, only a few places along the Nairobi – Mombasa highway and in parts of the Coast and Rift Valley provinces recorded incidences of bush meat trading. In any case, these were places that were in close proximity to wildlife sanctuaries such as the Nairobi, Tsavo, Amboseli, Nakuru and Mt Longonot National Parks.

Today, the situation is different. The country is experiencing a severe drought that has resulted in shortages of maize, wheat, sugar, milk, water, electricity, fruits and other essential commodities. As a result, prices have spiraled upwards in the past two years and made life harder for the majority poor. This explains the desperate situation that is forcing people to resort to bush meat.

Unlike the previous situation when bush meat was relegated to outlaws at the periphery of society, today’s bush meat industry is very much a mainstream affair. Unemployed youths in communities living close to national parks have formed underground syndicates where they sneak into parks to hunt wild animals then sell the meat in villages and towns.

The most popular animals for game meat are buffalo, antelope, impala, dik diks and duikers. These type of animals are popular because they resemble domestic animals both in size and flesh. The buffalo has almost similar characteristics as a cow, while antelopes, gazelles and dik dik look and feel like goats. The guinea fowl resembles the domestic chicken while warthog meat reminds one of pork. Other animals being hunted for food include zebra and giraffes.

Drought and poverty have become so bad that people are eating wild animals that were previously banned in traditional culture. Baboons, monkeys, squirrels, rats, hawks and eagles have become part of the people’s diet in recent days. This is negatively affecting their numbers. In certain parts of Kenya, monkeys that used to run around freely because nobody would disturb them have retreated in fear deep into the bush. A few weeks ago, a television programme highlighted the plight of villagers who admitted to slaughtering baboons for food.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) has tried its best to cope with the phenomenon but it is difficult to fight a hungry, unemployed and desperate population. Despite the dangers of arrest and prison sentences, more and more people are getting into the bush meat trade for lack of alternatives. The current drought has worsened the situation as many farmers have exhausted their food supplies. Cattle, goats and sheep have died in large numbers and even where they still survive, the production of milk is insufficient for the family’s nutritional and financial needs.

People are also lashing out at wildlife, some of which has ventured into human settlements in search for food. Elephants are rampaging through farmland stripping bare any available piece of greenery. In Pokot and Mbeere Districts, homes have been invaded by snakes that are unable to find anything to eat in the bush. This has resulted in an increase in snake bites.

While monkeys and baboons are cowering in fear in certain parts of Kenya, they are very destructive elsewhere. Reports have been made of gangs of primates roaming the landscape in search of food. Nothing can stand in their way as dogs are pounded into mince meat.

Kenya government response to the drought was late and disjointed. Many of the top personalities in government are partly responsible for the current food mess. Post election violence following the disputed 2007 elections severely disrupted farming activity. By the time peace was restored in April 2008, the planting season was all but gone. The maize scandals of late 2008 pointed at a ruling elite greedy enough to make billions of shillings from hungry people. Food prices sky rocketed because cabinet ministers and legislators were buying out government food stocks for export to Southern Sudan where prices were almost three times what they would get in Kenya.

Kenyan leaders continue to engage in a financial orgy of spending. Most of the money is going towards pay hikes, luxury mansions, limousines and extra body guards. The biggest debate in Kenya today is not on how to provide food to the starving masses but on who benefits from political appointments geared towards the next general elections in 2012.

Conflict between Kambas and Taitas brewing

There’s growing tension between the Kamba and Taita ethnic groups following a dispute at the highway township of Mtito Andei. Politicians from Coast Province are exploiting the issue to whip up nationalist sentiment while threatening to secede from the rest of Kenya.

Image showing the source of the border conflict between Makueni and Taita Taveta County Councils. Satellite image by Google Maps

Image showing the source of the border conflict between Makueni and Taita Taveta County Councils. Satellite image by Google Maps

It began as nothing more than a storm in a tea cup, centred around a small highway township by the name of Mtito Andei. For many years, the County Councils of Makueni and Taita Taveta have quarrelled over the provincial border that runs either through or alongside the town.

Taita Taveta County Council puts the border at the Mtito Andei River, which means that Mtito Andei town should be under the jurisdiction of Taita District of Coast Province. On its part, Makueni County Council says the provincial border lies outside the township on the way to Mombasa. Makueni County Council therefore puts Mtito Andei township firmly in Eastern Province.

Taita leaders say that during President Jomo Kenyatta’s administration, they used to stand at the Mtito Andei River to welcome the presidential convoy as it drove from Nairobi to Mombasa (See above map). This, they say, is clear evidence that the border between Coast and Eastern lies at the river. The location of the Mtito Andei State Lodge has also added to the controversy.

The root of the dispute between Makueni and Taita Taveta is the collection of revenue from highway businesses at Mtito Andei. The township is located halfway between Nairobi and Mombasa, making it an ideal resting place for truck drivers, tourists and long distance buses. The town’s economy is based on restaurants, lodging houses, bars and petrol stations.

At the moment, control of Mtito Andei and its revenues lies with the Makueni County Council. Taita Taveta Council will find it very difficult to argue its case, considering that 95% of Mtito Andei’s inhabitants are Kamba and prefer living under Makueni County Council rather than Taita Taveta. Besides, the vast Tsavo National Park has created a huge barrier between Mtito Andei and the rest of Taita District, with the nearest Taita villages located at the Taita Hills almost 100km away.

Early this year, Makueni County Council officials worsened tensions by placing a border sign at the Tsavo River bridge, thereby pushing the provincial boundaries 50 kilometres deep into Coast Province. The border sign has since been defaced by persons believed to be allied to the Taita side.

The border dispute has attracted the attention of politicians at the national scene. Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka was at Mtito Andei recently and called for peace. He did not make any concrete statement over the issue but told the local people to await the government’s verdict.

Tourism Minister Najib Balala last week led other legislators from Coast in a scathing attack of the government over this and other issues. Balala claimed that Coast Province had deliberately been left poor and underdeveloped despite contributing to the national economy through the tourism industry and the Port of Mombasa. Balala and his allies accused the government of neglecting the Coastal tribes especially with regards to appointments to top government positions. They pointed at the Mtito Andei dispute as an example of “oppression of the Coast by up-country tribes.”

The group vowed to secede Coast Province from the rest of Kenya in order to keep tourism and port funds to develop the region. They said they will start a movement to that effect. Though these are treasonable words, there is little the government can do against Balala without whipping up ethnic animosity. The situation is complicated because Balala and his group are members of Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM party.

Balala was close to Raila in the run-up to the 2007 elections, but of late, the two do not see eye-to-eye. Balala has maintained a low profile in the past year as he seethes with anger over what he sees as Raila’s betrayal. Balala believes that Raila is sponsoring opponents to challenge him for the Mvita Parliamentary seat in 2012. Balala sees himself as a senior player in Coast politics and has not been happy with Raila’s ties to East African Co-operation Minister Amason Kingi Jeffah (MP for Magarini) and Ali Hassan Joho of Kisauni.

Najib Balala is among those mentioned in the Waki Commission of Inquiry into Post Election Violence. He is accused of paying youths Shs300 per day (US$4) to engage in looting and ethnic clashes in Mombasa. It was Balala who made the infamous “we will confine them to Lesotho” remarks against the Kikuyu tribe. By threatening to confine the Kikuyu to a Lesotho-like enclave, Balala was seen as supporting the forceful eviction of the Kikuyu from wherever they had settled, including Coast Province.

The Mtito Andei issue has given Balala a fresh lifeline to revive his waning popularity by doing what he does best: inciting ethnic hatred.

US executive jailed for child sex

An American executive has received a 15 year prison sentence from a Kenyan court after he was found guilty of having sex with minors.

John Cardon Wagner was found guilty of defiling three girls aged between 13 and 14 years at his house in an upper class Nairobi suburb. Two women – Judy Nyaguthii and Faith Nyawira – were jailed for 10 years each. They were accused of bringing the girls to Wagner and therefore facilitating prostitution.

Mr Wagner was the Chief Executive for the exclusive Java chain of coffee houses. The case first came to light in June 2008 and prosecution has been ongoing for over a year. During the trial, Wagner was granted bail but had to deposit his passport with police to prevent him from fleeing the country.

The trial was a drama of sorts, with allegations that the prosecution was bungled. There were reports that the defilement allegations were instigated by persons or organizations extorting money from Wagner. At the end, though, the judge seemed convinced enough by the evidence to convict Wagner.

Cases of child sex abuse have reached alarming levels in Kenya, fuelled by an erosion in traditional values, the growth of urban slums and poverty.

Wagner is going to face a difficult time in Kenya’s notorious jails where violence, sodomy, drug dealing and disease are the order of the day.

Ali: a very effective police boss

Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali is, without doubt, the most effective police chief Kenya has seen in a long time.

When he got the job back in 2003, the Kenya Police had practically ceased funtioning as an institution. While there is currently lots of talk about police reforms, the situation back then was extremely bad.

Police patrols had stopped. There were no vehicles as most lay grounded in government yards across the country. The few police stations with vehicles did not have money for fuel. Police housing was in a deplorable state. The police command was not working thanks to corruption, under-funding, political interference and plain incompetence.

Crime was at an all time high, as Kenyans got used to car-jackings, robberies, burglaries, cattle rustling and political violence. There seemed little that anybody could do about it, as the Police Commissioner’s office became a revolving door of top cops leaving in frustration.

Critics of Ali would argue that nothing much has changed. For sure, Kenya still experiences a relatively higher crime level compared to similar countries in the region. Robberies, burglaries, cattle rustling and political violence plague the nation. Memories of the 2007 – 2008 political and ethnic clashes are fresh in the minds of many, and have provided ample ammunition for Ali’s critics who describe him as a failure because of the bloodshed.

Police housing has only witnessed a marginal improvement despite billions invested in new units. It seems there was such a huge backlog of housing that it will be a long time before police officers can live in comfort.

However, the problems of crime, cattle rustling, political violence and ethnic militias are a result of structural problems in Kenyan society and should not be blamed on one man. Indeed, some of Ali’s critics have been implicated in the violence that left over 1,500 people dead after the 2007 elections.

Crime is caused by a growing youthful population that cannot find enough jobs, and therefore joins criminal gangs to gain psychological and financial security. This is why groups like Mungiki and others exist. Extreme income inequalities between Kenya’s elite and the majority poor have worsened the bitterness felt by disenfranchised youth.

Cattle rustling is a result of competition for pasture and water mostly in the arid and semi arid areas of Kenya. Since communities see little chance of growing their herds in the face of climate change, the obvious solution is to raid their neighbours for more livestock. Politicians have worsened cattle rustling by either inciting their constituents or defending them from arrest.

Political violence is another structural failure in Kenya that Maj Gen Ali could not solve. Politicians and their parties are quick to play the ethnic card whenever they are arrested for criminal activity. They make it seem as though their tribe is under attack.

Without comprehensive reforms in Kenya’s political, economic and social dimensions, no police commissioner can salvage the situation.

Nevertheless, Maj Gen Ali did his best. Under his six year tenure, Ali re-introduced police patrols across the country. He re-equipped the police force with new patrol vehicles and trucks. He helped supply officers with modern policing equipment. He increased the recruitment of police officers as part of a long-term revitalization strategy. He improved the flow of information between the police and the public, with the best highlight being a video on the Mount Elgon operations against the Sabaot Land Defence Force.

Maj Gen Ali was a no-nonsense police chief who believed in using all available means to get the job done. For this reason, he got in trouble with the international community for ordering the abduction and execution of thousands of people in 2006 as part of the “War against Mungiki.” This will remain a blot on Ali’s career. (Search the Nairobi Chronicle for articles on extra judicial killings)

It is unfortunate that Ali’s tenure at the helm of the police force has become victim to the Kibaki – Raila and Grand Coalition Government political intrigues. Kenyans are wondering how far politicians will go to destroy the country’s vital institutions for purely selfish reasons.

For sure, the new police chief has a tough job living up to the standards of his predecessor. Mathew Iteere has an even tougher job living up to the expectations of politicians and their demagoguery.

Lions facing extinction in Kenya

Just a few decades ago, nobody thought that the lion would face extinction in Kenya. Its roar, audible from miles away, struck terror into many people across rural, as well as urban Kenya. Just like the sun always rises in the east each morning, it seemed like lions would be there for eternity.

lion_statues_nrb_plaque

Alas, the lion is facing extinction in Kenya. From over 30,000 in the years following independence, there are today just about 2,000 lions. What happened to this fearsome creature otherwise called the King of the Jungle?

As the King lost his domains to human settlement, so did he lose his livelihood, his health and his virility. In short, lions have suffered from smaller and smaller territories, poaching and a shortage of prey. Diseases, such as the Feline Immuno Deficiency Virus – the lion’s version of HIV/Aids – have also taken their toll.

Some of the lion artwork placed around Nairobi to draw awareness to the plight of lions.

Some of the lion artwork placed around Nairobi to draw awareness to the plight of lions.

Conservationists in Kenya, including the Kenya Wildlife Service, have launched a publicity campaign to draw attention to the diminishing fortunes of lions in the country. The campaign involves placing statues of lions at strategic corners of Nairobi with plaques telling passers-by of the rather precarious future for lions.

More information can be obtained from the Wildlife Direct Baraza >>

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