The meaning of tribe and tribal statistics in Kenya

By Samuel Abonyo

“Tribalism will live for at least another fifty years”, Daniel Arap Moi said in 1957, historian Keith Kyle tells us in “The Politics of the Independence of Kenya.”

Moi’s prophesy has been fulfilled, and his contribution to its fulfilment is huge. In the 1950s, his construction of the Kalenjin tribe had begun in earnest, and by the 1990s, Kalenjinisation was an established word in Kenya. Yet the existence of the Kelenjin tribe is still being contested.

But what is tribe?

A tribe, according to Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, is a group of people of the same race, and with the same customs, language, religion, etc., living in a particular area and often led by a chief. Webster’s Dictionary says that a tribe is any aggregate of people united by ties of descent from a common ancestor, community of customs and traditions and adherence to the same leaders. Evidently, the definitions are not of much help, as, according to them, any group of people can conceivably be a tribe.

Peter Skalnik, an anthropologist, believed that tribes were politically defined units having dimensions such as culture, language and territory. To that strange belief, he added the weird opinion that the basic tribal identities are ancient, powerful and closed to amelioration, with the result that hostility and tensions break out when members of different tribes come into contact. Skalnik’s definition of tribe is definitely an exercise in pure futility.

In Ethnic Groups And Boundaries, social anthropologist Fredrik Barth says that, as it is understood in social anthropology, tribal groupings “are categories of ascription and identification by the actors themselves” that structure interaction between people. In the opinion of social anthropologists, tribe has other attributes in addition to that basic one. A tribe, they believe, is largely biologically self-perpetuating, shares fundamental cultural values, makes up a field of communication, and has membership which identifies itself, and is identified by others as constituting a group different from other groups of the same order. I have applied that meaning of tribe to my tribe, the Luo tribe, and it has not worked.

A tribe is a label. A tribe is a logo. A tribe is a categorical identity which classifies you in terms of the biological background assumed to form your ancestry. A tribe is a socially defined biological master status others, who are excluded from it, use to recognize the difference between you and them and which you use to distinguish yourself from them. The other has its own socially defined biological master status. A tribe is a socially defined master status from which, because it is strictly enforced by sanctions of all sorts and the many mechanisms of social control that are the cages in which our lives are kept, those it includes and those it excludes can escape only at the price of achieving the status of social deviants. As we do know, however, most people conform to the rigidities that are our lives, so that the tribe’s stranglehold on us is immensely powerful indeed. Once fully constructed, tribes tend to stick like leeches.

But they are not concrete, they cannot be seen, they cannot be touched, and they cannot be counted. They are not real. But they count. And they have real and palpable consequences.

Transition to tribalism

We are members of our tribes. But tribal membership does not constitute tribalism. The existence of tribes is not a necessary and sufficient condition for tribalism to occur. For tribalism to arise, a tribe in itself must be transformed into a tribe for itself. In pre-colonial Kenya, for example, there was no tribalism, even though we had tribes. But tribes were then not tribes for themselves. Tribalism was at the time not a reality, let alone the paramount reality it is now.

It is needless to say that we fell from tribe to tribalism because of colonialism. The colonialists exploited our cultural pluralism to create tribalism. The colonialists brought with them Western nationalist discourse and ideology. Because of the discourse and ideology of nationalism, and the Western criteria for success and achievement the colonialists transplanted into Kenya, tribesmen began referring to their lots as better than their neighbours, or more advanced or superior in some way. That was tribalism.

To institutionalise tribalism, the colonialists established administrative units that were almost the same as tribal ones. The practice of tribal geography, an effective means of maintaining tribalism is still going on in Kenya.

Colonialists lived in dread of African unity and fought hard to prevent it from arising. As late as the 1930s, for example, colonial administrators sought to control the activities of the Roho Musanda, lest the members of that movement should proselytise among non-Luo communities. The “religion” of Odongo Mango, the founder of the Roho Musanda, shows his theology, was for Africans. As Cynthia Hoehler-Fatton reports in Women of Fire and Spirit: History, Faith, and Gender in Roho Religion in Western Kenya, it was the colonial administration that turned the movement into a Luo thing.

Once the colonialists had institutionalised tribalism, it now determined the life chances of individuals. Tribes were now politically significant. They now had leaders or spokesmen. They could now be represented as acting agents. They had now gone past beginning to call themselves Luos, Nandis, etc., to borrow a phrase from the nobleman in Bernard Shaw’s SAINT JOAN.

But still, and this is one of the simplest but very effective tricks used to maintain politically important collective identities, and it is to keep our tribal identities alive, the Luo, the Nandi, and so on, have to be continually invoked and pronounced by ”authorised” persons like writers, priests, prophets, politicians, journalists, administrators and tribal statisticians.

And that is how tribal statistics participate in the maintenance of tribalism. But it is not only the role of the statistics in tribalism that is the trouble with them, they are also of poor quality.

The potential benefits of tribal statistics

It must be allowed that, if tribal statistics were up to standard, they would be useful. We know there are ethnic inequalities in Kenya. Those who want to reduce the inequalities may use the statistics to establish their causes so that they design appropriate policies. Even just confirming what we already know would in itself be good enough, since we would be confident that our policies are based on fact.

The problem with counting tribes and their members is that we do not know what we are counting. Nobody really knows what a tribe is. Even the government does not know. And the way tribal membership is defined may also vary from tribe to tribe. For example, is it tribe at birth that is your tribe? Or is it acquired tribe? And if Kenyans were allowed to state more than one tribe, that is, if the question on tribe were open-ended, then we would have cases of dual or multiple tribal identities, even though tribe is a categorical identity.

Further, we inaccurately count what we do not know. And we incorrectly aggregate the figures.

The practices of tribal statistics discriminate on grounds of ethnicity. The statistics do not recognise the identities of tribes like Ogiek, and that is ethic discrimination. The statistics amalgamate diverse tribes into fictional political identities such as the Kalenjin “tribe“. The statistics have for example divided the Luo tribe into the Suba and Luo tribes. The statistics paint a misleading picture of the ethnic composition of the country.

And there is no proper reason to collect the data. The government has not documented its claims that the statistics are used in planning. It has merely asserted falsehood after falsehood.


Raila intellectuals angry with NGOs, diplomats and media

Pro-Raila Odinga intellectuals are accusing Western powers of funding the civil society movement and Kenya’s media in a plot to cut short the ODM leader’s political career.

“It seems these foreign interests don’t mind an openly concerted effort to mobilize a youth-initiated, well-funded, grassroots-based, gender-inclusive movement to stir rebellion against the Grand Coalition Government led by Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga,” explains Dr. Job Obonyo.

Ongoing civic education in Shinyalu Constituency, where a by election will be held on August 27. Picture from the Jukwaa forum.

Ongoing civic education in Shinyalu Constituency, where a by election will be held on August 27. Picture from the Jukwaa forum.

Think tanks working for Prime Minister Raila Odinga are blaming the civil society, diplomats and the media for their candidate’s dwindling popularity. Convinced that their man is infallible, these intellectuals believe that outside forces are working to ensure that Raila never captures Kenya’s highest position. They specifically blame US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger and the Mars Group which is spearheading a campaign titled, “OTNOP”.

The think tanks are furious with civil society for preaching against the “three-piece” voting pattern or “party waves.” The three-piece pattern means that voters elect a councillor, Member of Parliament and a Presidential candidate from a single party regardless of the personal characteristics of the candidate. Civil society wants Kenyans to choose leaders based on a candidate’s viability rather than political party affiliation. Raila academicians see the tactic as a threat to ODM, which took advantage of the “three-piece” system in the 2007 General Elections.

Raila’s political history is characterized by three-piece party waves. First, it was FORD Kenya in 1992, then the National Development Party (NDP) in 1997 followed by the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) in 2002.

Raila’s think tanks are dominated by Marxists who were sympathetic to his father, the late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. As Vice President after Kenya’s independence from Britain, Jaramogi fell out with founding President Jomo Kenyatta due to his communist beliefs and ties to the Soviet Union. Kenyatta was more Westward looking and reconciliatory towards the departing British. There was a brief ideological tussle in the 1960s which culminated with Jaramogi in prison. Since then, Kenya has been openly pro-British and pro-United States, and supports the US-led War on Terror.

Kenya’s Marxists have blamed capitalism for the widening gap between rich and poor. They also criticize the capitalist system for neglecting low-productivity areas such as Northern and North Eastern Kenya. The 2007 election campaigns revived the ideological conflict of the 1960s, with Raila proposing political and economic reforms that were socialist in everything but name. President Mwai Kibaki, on the other hand, is a firm practitioner of the capitalist model of economic development.

On many occasions, Raila has talked of land redistribution and thereby earned the wrath of the propertied classes. Raila wants the government to control house rents and the prices of consumer goods. Indeed, Raila’s Lang’ata constituency has previously been the scene of rent riots after he called on landlords to cut rents by half. At the Kenyan Coast, Raila wants to take land from Arab owners for redistribution to Africans. More recently, Raila championed a government plan to provide subsidized maize to the poor but the plan did not succeed because the government lacks a retail distribution chain.

During the 2007 elections, Raila was criticized for planning to impoverish the rich instead of empowering the poor to generate wealth. This, say critics, is not the solution to inequality.

Raila’s intellectual wing has named the US Ambassador as the West’s pointman in its strategy for Kenya. “For the past year and a half, US Ambassador Michael Ranneberger, has several times urged the Kenyan youth to mobilize ‘themselves’ and force the grand coalition government to bring reforms,” writes Dr Obonyo in the Jukwaa internet forum.

The pro Raila intelligentsia are convinced that Ranneberger wants a Colour Revolution similar to what happened in Serbia, Ukraine, Georgia and Kyrgyzstan. The colour revolutions are notable for the important role of NGOs and particularly student activists in organising creative nonviolent resistance. So far these movements have been successful in Serbia (the Bulldozer Revolution of 2000), in Georgia’s Rose Revolution (2003), in Ukraine’s Orange Revolution (2004), and Kyrgyzstan’s Tulip Revolution (2005).

In Kenya, Raila’s backers are accusing the Mars Group of undermining the Prime Minister. The Mars Group is running a Partnership for Change and has been distributing T-shirts labelled “OTNOP” (phonetically pronounced “OTPOR”). OTNOP means ‘Non Violent Resistance’ in Serbian – engaging grassroots folks on civic duty. OTNOP is currently teaching Kenyans to avoid the three-piece voting system, reject violence and refuse cash handouts. For this reason, OTNOP is seen in some quarters as a threat.

The Mars Group is associated with anti-corruption activist Mwalimu Mati. Last December, Mati was briefly detained for leading disruptions during Jamhuri Day celebrations and which greatly embarrassed President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Security services are convinced that Mati is inciting disaffection amongst members of the public and questioned him during his three day detention. It is interesting that Raila think tanks have swallowed what the security services have told them.

It is also interesting that both Raila and Kibaki are attacking the civil society and diplomats using language similar to former President Daniel arap Moi’s speeches in the 1990s. Back then, when Kibaki and Raila were in the opposition, Moi warned against Western powers funding civil society and opposition parties for seditious purposes. Kibaki and Raila rejected Moi’s arguments and fiercely championed independence of thought and association. Now, the tables have turned.

The Raila intelligentsia are still convinced that their man is popular. “Polls also show that Raila Odinga is overwhelmingly favoured to lead the country while the same NGOs keep blurting the trumpet sounds that Kibaki-and-Raila need to step down and allow change to happen,” writes Obonyo.

To prove their distaste for the activities of Ranneberger and the Mars Group, Raila academics have dismissed the Colour Revolutions as “fake.”

Click here to see Job Obonyo’s discussion on the Jukwaa website.

Click to read about the Partnership for Change on the Mars Group website.

Kimathi Statue defaced in Nairobi

A monument built in honour of freedom fighter Dedan Kimathi has been defaced by leaflets denigrating his legacy. The authors of the leaflets are as yet unknown.

Statue of Dedan Kimathi showing anonymous posters placed on the night of 20 - 21st August, 2009

The base of Dedan Kimathi's monument showing leaflets placed on the night of 20 - 21st August, 2009


The leaflets were placed on the night of 20 – 21st August. By this evening (21st August), neither the Nairobi City Council nor the Kenya Police had removed the offending posters. Kimathi’s statue is sealed off and it would have been difficult for anyone else to be seen jumping over the barriers to remove the leaflets.

It is not yet clear who is responsible for this action but Mau Mau still remains a controversial era in Kenya’s history. 60 years after British forces defeated Mau Mau, and 45 years after Kenya’s independence, opinion is split over whether to regard Mau Mau as liberation heroes or simply terrorists.

Kenya’s plunge into ethnic-driven politics has not made matters any easier. The fact that Mau Mau was dominated by the Kikuyu, Embu and Meru ethnic groups has raised further controversy regarding the intepretation of Kenya’s history.

Dedan Kimathi was a Mau Mau leader, who rose to the rank of Field Marshall. He was captured by British colonial forces and executed on 18th February 1957. His remains have never been traced. The Kimathi monument was erected on Kimathi Street, Nairobi to commemorate 50 years of his execution.

Many of the Africans that collaborated with British forces in defeating Mau Mau took over the reigns of power after independence. They remain extremely influential in Kenyan politics and probably see the erection of Kimathi’s statue as an insult.

Update August 23:

It is Saturday and the leaflets are yet to be removed. It has been more than 24 hours since they first appeared at the base of the monument.

Raila, Ruto clash not surprising at all

Deep ideological differences between Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Agriculture Minister William Ruto are responsible for the split in the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

raila_rutoIn their eagerness, or perhaps desperation, to win power in the 2007 General Elections, Raila and Ruto disguised their personal differences to unite under the ODM party. Both men knew that they could not get into government by themselves. This was more the case when Kalonzo Musyoka left ODM in mid 2007.

Immediately after Kalonzo’s exit, Raila and Ruto got into a very strong alliance that helped bring the Luo and Kalenjin votes directly to Raila’s presidential candidacy. Come the elections, the Luo and Kalenjin voted for Raila en-masse. When President Mwai Kibaki was declared the winner, the Luo and Kalenjin were at the forefront in protesting the election results. The Prime Minister himself has acknowledged the role of Kalenjin warriors in forcing Kibaki to the negotiating table.

Today, that alliance lies in tatters. Raila and Ruto have inevitably parted ways and are both seeking alternative allies in readiness for the 2012 elections. While Raila is an obvious candidate, Ruto sees himself as presidential material for Kenya’s future. He will either run for the office or support somebody else in exchange for the Vice Presidency or the Premiership. Those mentioned as Ruto’s possible allies in 2012 are current Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka and Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta. Meanwhile, Raila is talking to politicians from Central Kenya in a bid to woo Kikuyu, Embu and Meru votes.

Raila and Ruto come from opposing schools of political thought. Raila is a socialist who learnt politics from his father, former Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. Due to Communist leanings, Jaramogi fell out with President Jomo Kenyatta in 1966 and became a perpetual opposition to the Kenyatta and Moi administrations until his death in 1994. Jaramogi inculcated socialism in Raila by sending him to study Engineering in the former East Germany which was a Communist state. In the 1980s, Raila was tortured for involvement in the 1982 coup attempt. It was almost as though President Daniel arap Moi was deliberately targeting Raila in order to cause psychological anguish to Jaramogi.

Ruto, on the other hand, was an ardent student of the Moi brand of politics. Picked from obscurity before the 1992 General Elections, Ruto was appointed second in command of a new organization called “Youth for KANU 1992” or YK92 in short. YK92 had only one goal: to use any means necessary to ensure the victory of Moi and the KANU party. YK92 received an unlimited amount of funds to buy support for KANU. The source of the cash was a mystery but it is believed that the government engaged in massive printing of money. The Goldenberg scandal could have provided more slush funds.

Moi and KANU managed to win the 1992 elections but, needless to say, the operations of YK92 had flooded the economy with paper money. The years 1993 – 1994 witnessed the highest inflation in Kenya’s history as prices of basic commodities doubled and trebled. This was when the Shs500 currency note was introduced.

Come the 1997 elections, Moi supported William Ruto’s candidacy in Eldoret North constituency against the late Reuben Chesire. The interesting angle is that Reuben Chesire was related to Moi. However, friendship counts for little in politics and Moi is the master of use-and-dump strategies. With Moi’s backing, Ruto won the elections and was appointed to the cabinet. By 2002, Ruto was a powerful Minister for Internal Security and an ardent defender of Moi.

In a sense, Ruto symbolized the arrogance and corruption of Moi’s last years of office. He displayed a great deal of single-mindedness when defending Moi’s choice of Uhuru Kenyatta as successor in the 2002 elections. Ruto virulently opposed the constitutional review process led by Professor Yash Pal Ghai and which culminated in the Bomas conference. Often, Ruto appeared on national television frothing at the mouth as he dismissed constitutional reforms as an attack on the Moi presidency. To Ruto’s credit, Kibaki ally John Michuki confirmed in 2003 that constitutional reforms were meant to remove Moi and KANU from power.

Ruto has never subscribed to Raila’s populist approach to politics. Ruto is a hardcore conservative more comfortable with Mwai Kibaki than with Raila Odinga. It was naked opportunism that brought Raila and Ruto together. Raila needed the Kalenjin vote and Ruto wanted to get back into government after KANU’s loss in 2002.

Ruto is among politicians who believe that Raila is a reckless activist who cannot be trusted with leading Kenya. Ruto is certainly not a socialist. He is an extremely wealth man who made lots of money through his connections to Moi. Apart from unlimited access to YK92 funds, Ruto was allocated government land which he afterwards sold to state-owned corporations at a huge profit. For instance, Ruto made hundreds of millions of shillings selling land to the National Social Security Fund (NSSF). Ruto’s companies won tenders to supply government departments and state corporations.

In 2007, Moi decided to support President Mwai Kibaki’s candidacy and told Ruto to follow suit. Ruto was convinced that Raila had the best chance of winning and refused to heed Moi’s calling. Now, it looks like Ruto is going back home to Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta as Raila’s political fortunes dwindle by the day.

One final point to consider: Did Ruto really fall out with Moi in 2007 or was it part of Moi’s political strategy of ensuring he had a stake in government regardless of who won the election? The hard fact is that if Raila had won the presidency, Ruto would have taken care of Moi’s interests.

Today, with Moi firmly on Kibaki’s side, Ruto doesn’t seem to be doing badly either. Early this year, Ruto survived a no-confidence motion in Parliament thanks to support from pro-Kibaki legislators.

Mutula Kilonzo an agent of confusion

Typical of Kenyan politicians, Justice Minister Mutula Kilonzo is sowing seeds of confusion in a vain attempt at winning popularity. Mutula’s history, however, suggests that he has little empathy for ordinary people.

Mutula Kilonzo

Mutula Kilonzo

Professionalism in Kenya is fast declining, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Grand Coalition Cabinet. The principles of confidentiality and collective responsibility have been thrown out the window as each individual seeks to advance their own interests.

All over the world, cabinet bodies are supposed to exhibit unity to the public regardless of the actual situation in private. This is because a divided cabinet signifies a divided government. A divided government can never deliver anything tangible to the people. In Kenya, though, the lack of professionalism means that cabinet ministers tear into each other in public without caring how it affects the government’s public image. This is causing unnecessary confusion as regards the true government position on anything important.

Mutula Kilonzo has become the latest agent of chaos, opposing a government decision made at a cabinet meeting which he attended. Mutula is currently championing the formation of a Special Tribunal to prosecute those who planned and participated in the 2008 post election violence. His change in stance came after the cabinet decided to adopt a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) in order to avoid prosecuting anyone.

By adopting the TJRC route, the cabinet wanted to appease those within its ranks implicated in planning and funding the mayhem that resulted in over 1,300 deaths and half a million homeless. Among those linked to the violence are Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta, Agriculture Minister William Ruto, Tourism Minister Najib Balala and Culture Minister William ole Ntimama. Faced with a choice between establishing a Special Tribunal or taking the suspects to the International Criminal Court at The Hague, the Cabinet opted on Truth and Reconciliation in exchange for confession.

As a professional, Mutula should have voiced his reservations during the 6 hours that the Cabinet took to decide on TJRC. Instead, he is now playing to the public gallery in a pathetic attempt at winning public popularity. Perhaps he is hoping to emulate his predecessor at the Justice Ministry, Martha Karua, who resigned after falling out with President Mwai Kibaki. However, while Karua has been a consistent defender of human rights and democracy, the same cannot be said of Mutula.

Mutula was the blue-eyed boy of former President Daniel arap Moi and made billions of shillings in corrupt deals that cost the country massive amounts of money. Today, Mutula is among the richest people in Kenya. According to the Kumekucha website, Mutula was introduced to Moi in the 1980s by former Machakos KANU leader, the late Mulu Mutisya.

Mutisya is said to have heaped praises about Mutula’s exemplary ability to argue for his clients and his loyalty to Moi’s KANU party. The rest is history, Mutula became one of the president’s many lawyers and in the process got some of the most lucrative briefs including the NSSF (National Social Security Fund) where Kilonzo is known to have made Sh 900 million from the Fund in two deals. Towards the end of Moi’s tenure in office, Mutula was nominated to parliament by KANU.

A philanderer and notorious womanizer, Mutula’s amorous escapades are legendary as he is known to prefer women of light skin ranging from as young as 16 years. The man is now 62.

During President Mwai Kibaki’s first tenure of office, Mutula joined Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto in aligning KANU with the Raila Odinga faction of Kibaki’s NARC party. Together, they campaigned against Kibaki during the 2005 Referendum on a proposed new constitution. This marked the beginnings of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).

In 2007, Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto fell out after Moi shifted his support to President Kibaki. Uhuru joined Kibaki’s side while Mutula Kilonzo stuck with Ruto and Raila. Later on, ODM split into the Raila Odinga and the Kalonzo Musyoka factions. Mutula shifted to the Kalonzo Musyoka side as Ruto continued supporting Raila. By some strange fate, all these personalities are now in government.

Due to Mutula’s allegiance to Kalonzo Musyoka (they are both from the Kamba ethnic group), his opposition to the Cabinet’s stand on TJRC has been interpreted as an attempt to eliminate Kalonzo’s rivals in the 2012 Presidential race. If Mutula’s wish for a Special Tribunal were to become a reality, then Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto will be eliminated as presidential candidates as they will be busy fighting criminal prosecution for the 2008 post election violence. Prime Minister Raila Odinga, having lost the support of William Ruto, Ntimama and Balala, will be in a weakened state. Infact, Ruto has vowed to bring down Raila should he be taken either before a Special Tribunal or to The Hague. That will leave Kalonzo at an optimal position to walk into State House.

Of course, Mutula has denied the allegations. He told the Standard newspaper that his determination to establish a Special Tribunal of international standards was not politically motivated. “That is laughable,” said the Mbooni MP, “I am a firm believer that reforms cannot be tied to an individual or any political party. Individuals come and go but the country will be there forever. Why would I want to cut my cloth just to suit 2012?”

“I am not going to make any amendments to these Bills and I can repeat this a thousand times. The Cabinet has a right to reject them but I will have no apologies. I have offered what is good for this country,” emphasized Mutula.

Good for the country? Coming from Mutula, that sounds like a sick joke.

Windows XP: outdated software prone to viruses

Computer users formerly using Microsoft Windows XP are now resorting to alternative operating systems after suffering incessant attacks by viruses. Hefty software fees charged by Microsoft for its products have not made matters any easier.

The ubiquitous Windows XP logo.

The ubiquitous Windows XP logo.

When it was launched in 2001, Windows XP truly put Microsoft Corporation way ahead of the pack. The soft, rounded appearance of XP was radically different from previous versions of Windows. The new operating system offered full plug-and-play features, making it very easy to connect and use new hardware. In terms of viruses, XP was more secure than Windows 98 (Windows 2000 never really became popular).

At the time, Apple Macintosh was having marketing problems, having been walloped by Windows with the launch of Windows 95 back in 1995. Linux still had a long way to go. Though it had already carved a niche in the internet server market, Linux was not user friendly. It required a knowledge of the command line while the Linux desktop was comparatively unattractive and prone to crashing.

Windows XP has become synonymous with computing. With rapid growth in computer literacy in Kenya, most people learnt computers with Windows XP. A great percentage of computer engineers learnt the ropes on Windows XP. That perhaps explains why Microsoft Corporation has difficulty selling the Windows Vista operating system since it was launched in 2007.

However, Microsoft is to blame for getting computer users addicted to Windows XP. There was a very long interval between Windows XP and Vista (2001 – 2007) amidst numerous broken promises. Indeed, Windows Vista began life as Windows Longhorn and was scheduled for release in 2004.

The fact that XP was in use for so long is a double-edged sword for Microsoft. The giant software firm continues reaping millions of dollars from XP especially after cracking down on software pirates in Asia, Africa and Latin America. On the other hand, XP has become too prone to computer viruses, trojans, worms and other forms of malicious software.

Organizations are having to deploy dozens of technicians just to keep their systems free from viruses. At any given time within a typical organization, at least a handful of computers will be down because of a virus. The fact that XP takes several hours to re-install makes for a nightmare experience.

New viruses are coming up so fast that anti-virus programmes simply cannot keep up. Besides, computer viruses have become extremely sophisticated and can update themselves in order to evade detection. With most anti-virus programmers located in the United States and Europe, viruses made in Kenya or other localized environments cannot be easily detected by anti-virus programmes. This was the case with the notorious Kibaki, Raila and Kalonzo viruses of 2007. These viruses were created by Kenyan hackers and, since they did not affect the major computer markets of the world, it was months before anti-virus programmes had the necessary patches to deal with them.

Since 2001, competitors to the Windows operating system have been working hard to challenge XP, and the results are simply stunning. Apple’s latest Macintosh is way ahead of even Windows Vista and is greatly loved by graphics editors.

An Ubuntu Linux help menu.

An Ubuntu Linux help menu.

On the consumer front, Linux has really matured as a desktop operating system capable of doing a wide range of work. Linux can run word processing software, graphics and film editors, music players, internet browsers and more. In addition, any Linux computer can be configured to run as a low cost server. Most importantly, Linux is rarely affected by computer viruses. There are probably less than 100 viruses that can attack Linux, compared to almost 100,000 for Windows!

But what really is Linux? And how many different types of Linux exist out there? What is the difference between Ubuntu, Suse Linux or Red Hat?

Linux is a Unix-like operating system developed in 1989 by Linus Torvalds, a university student in Finland. According to his biography, Torvalds was developing an operating system that could be used on desktop computers. At the time, Unix was the main computing software for mainframe computers, those giant machines that took up an entire room. The fact that Linux evolved from Unix means that they have a lot in common.

By the early 1990s, the Free Software Foundation – based in the United States – decided to adopt Linux as a licence-free and royalty-free operating system. The growth of the internet played a great role in spreading Linux. People from all over the world could download Linux, examine it, modify it and present their own versions. To this day, Linux remains free unlike Microsoft products. The fact that Linux is free means that organizations are saving millions that would have been paid as licensing fees.

The development of the Linux Window system – or the X-Window system – means that Linux is getting better with each release. While it takes 3 – 5 years for Microsoft to upgrade Windows, there is a new release of Linux virtually every week. Big Linux distributions, such as Ubuntu, release new versions twice a year.

Organizations in Kenya are installing Linux in their computers to eliminate the costs of cleaning viruses from Windows computers. The most popular distributions used by companies are Ubuntu and Suse Linux. These two have great technical support from such reknowned software dealers as Canonical and Novell. There is also a wide pool of technicians already familiar with Ubuntu and Suse. Both operating systems are easy to upgrade and its possible to install new programmes from just the click of a button.

Cyber-cafes across the country are installing Linux in order to reduce software maintenance costs. At first, it was difficult convincing clients of the merits of the new software but with time, Linux has gained a steady appreciation as a reliable software. As a result, Linux is spreading to homes and schools.

US police blame Kenyans over cold murder case

A homicide detective in the United States has criticized the Kenyan community for failing to provide crucial information that could lead to the arrest of persons responsible for killing a Kenyan woman and her two daughters in August 2007.

Jane Kuria and her two daughters, Isabella and Annabel: brutally murdered in the US.

Jane Kuria (centre) and her two daughters, Isabella and Annabel: brutally murdered in the US.

“We strongly believe the Kenyan community in metro Atlanta can be invaluable in helping us unravel this case”, said lead investigator Detective John Dawes. He appealed to anyone with information to share it with the police.

On August 1st 2007, Kenyans woke up to the sad news of the murder of Jane Kuria, 45 and her two daughters, Isabella, 19 and Annabel, 16 in their Powder Springs home. Jane’s last born son Jeremy Kuria, who was seven years old and who was seriously injured during the attack, has since recovered and relocated to Kenya. His visiting cousin, Peter Thande, 10, was also beaten by the attackers.

Two years on, questions still linger as the waiting continues but the ferocity of the attack clearly shows that whoever was behind the killings was, “very angry with Jane,” according to Det. Dawes.

More details on this story from the Kenya Empowerment Newspaper >>