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.

Kenya Police chief moved

President Mwai Kibaki yesterday removed Major General Mohammed Hussein Ali from the top command of the Kenya Police. In his place, Kibaki appointed Mathew Iteere in a move likely to be seen as favouring the Mt Kenya bloc.

The move has evoked mixed feelings in Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s ODM party. On one hand, Raila and ODM are happy with Ali’s exit. They believe that Ali’s defence of Kibaki’s controversial election victory back in 2007 helped Kibaki retain the presidency when international mediation resulted in the current coalition government. For this reason, Raila has continually been insisting that Ali be fired as part of “police reforms.”

On the other hand, Ali’s replacement is from the Meru tribe – an ethnic group that has traditionally voted with President Kibaki’s Kikuyu ethnic group. Many in ODM see the President’s move as a consolidation of  Mt Kenya’s dominance of powerful state positions.

Maj Gen Ali is now the new Postmaster General. More reactions are likely to follow in coming days. You can read more here:

Change of guard in Kenya’s police force (Daily Nation)

How Ali’s fate was sealed (The Standard)

Mau Forest politics: a detailed explanation

It is estimated that there are 25,000 people who either legally or illegally have settled in both Mau East and Mau West forests. The Government plans to resettle them elsewhere and fence off the water tower, one of the five in the country.

Destruction of the Mau Forest. Picture source: (see below)

Destruction of the Mau Forest. Picture source: (see below)

The Kipsigis community, the main occupants of the water-catchment area, oppose the eviction, saying they settled in the forest legally. Elders say their community is being punished by the coalition Government following their stand in the 2007 General Election. The elders have warned the Government over the evictions, saying the move was causing panic among residents, some of whom were threatening to disrupt peace.

On the other hand, Maasai community leaders say there should not be any compromise over the evictions. Maasai leaders say that the illegal extension of ranches bordering the forest in 1998 by the Narok County Council was the genesis of the threat to the water-catchment area. They say the area was allocated to powerful individuals in Government who are now opposed to the evictions.

There are fears that the Maasai and Kipisigis ethnic groups, both of whom have stakes in the Mau Forest Complex, might clash violently.

The more than 25,000 settlers, who are mainly farmers, have totally degraded and destroyed the environment to pave way for their settlement and farming. These combined activities have caused several rivers to dry up permanently.

Origins of the current situation

The encroachment and destruction of Kenya’s forests is closely related to many controversial land issues. In Kenya, as in many African countries that experienced colonisation, the issue of access to land is complex and emotive.

During colonialism, white settlers were allocated the most productive and fertile 20 per cent of Kenya’s land mass. When Kenya was declared a British Protectorate in 1895, forest cover was estimated at 30 per cent of total landmass. At independence in 1963 this figure was just 3 per cent. Following independence, there was popular expectation of increased and more equitable access to land for ordinary Kenyans.

However, post- independence governments failed to put in place a land program that met popular expectations. Instead, land was systematically used as a tool of political patronage. Huge tracts of public land were allocated to political elites and to political supporters. Since independence forest cover in Kenya has further shrunk to just 1.7 per cent of the total land mass.

Lack of alternative livelihood opportunities in these areas has left land as the only resource to mine for people’s basic needs. Without a comprehensive approach to sustainable livelihoods, rural communities are degrading the very environment on which they depend.

Specifics of the Mau forest problem

Since 1993, the Kenyan Government has systematically carved out huge parts of Mau Forest for settlement of people from other communities. It is said that local leaders condone the destruction by using land as a political tool, oblivious to the consequences. Even members of the provincial administration were involved in the plunder.

For politicians and senior government officials, the settlement scheme was a political arena in which they promised their people land in return for votes. The majority of people who were settled were supporters of the [former] ruling party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU). They view the land as a political reward for voting their party into power.

On 16th February 2001, the Environment Minister, Mr Francis Nyenze, gave 28 days’ notice of the excision of more than 167,000 ha of forest land from the Mau. This decision caused a serious uproar from a cross-section of Kenyans opposed to the excision.

Recent actions

In 2003, the government set up a commission to investigate land grabbing. The Ndungu Commission, as it is known, reported to the government in June 2004, and the report was made public in December 2004. The report catalogues a staggering level of illegal and irregular allocations of public lands under the administrations of both Presidents Kenyatta and Moi, for largely patronage purposes.

For example, 1,812 ha of forest in Kiptagich, which is part of the Mau Forest complex, was cleared to resettle the Ogiek community, which has traditional rights to the forest, but the Ndungu reports states that the main beneficiaries were not the indigenous Ogiek but prominent individuals and companies.

The Ndungu Commission recommended that the large majority of the land grabbed should be revoked, stating in relation to forests that:

  • All excisions of forestland which were made contrary to the provisions of the Forests Act and the Government Lands Act should be cancelled.
  • All titles which were acquired consequent upon the illegal excisions and allocations of forestland should be revoked. The forestlands affected should be repossessed and restored to their original purpose.

However, the Commission made provision for addressing situations where forest land had been set aside in order to settle landless people. In such cases, where genuine landless people had been settled, the Commission recommended that while the titles should be revoked (given their inherent illegality), the Government should – subject to compliance with other legislation – issue new titles to the landless settlers.

Early efforts to remove people from the forest were stopped, among others, by a High Court injunction granted to seven individuals on the strength of their title deeds. It later appeared that the injunction applied only to the seven applicants. Later, based on increasing consensus among the Cabinet on the need to conserve the Mau, the Government decided to move ahead, evicting 10,290 people in May and June 2005.

In 2007, the decision to evict settlers from the Mau Forest suffered a setback due to the General Elections of December that year. The government of President Mwai Kibaki succumbed to pressure from opposition politicians who were using the Mau Forest evictions as a campaign platform to woo the Kalenjin ethnic group. In a bid to recover lost popularity, the government promised to issue title deeds to the settlers.

After the elections, and with the formation of the Grand Coalition, the government resumed its campaign to evict settlers from the Mau. The Sondu Miriu hydro-electric power station in Nyanza Province was unable to produce at full capacity because the Sondu Miriu River – whose source is the Mau Forest – is drying up. Opposition arose from within the coalition as majority of the Kipsigis settlers had voted for Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which capitalized on local discontent created by the 2005 evictions.

The conflicting positions of cabinet ministers, especially opposition from Kipsigis legislators backed by their Kalenjin compatriots, paralyzed planned evictions. If anything, degradation of the Mau Forest intensified as settlers and loggers sought to make the most of their remaining stay.

Outlook

Protection of the forest and protection of human rights are not mutually exclusive, and in the case of the Mau Forest evictions, the failure to address human rights has undermined protection of the forest. The overall consensus amongst environmentalists in Kenya is that the forced evictions have largely failed to protect the forest – in many cases people have simply returned to their former homes because they have nowhere else to go.

Without an adequate resettlement plan in place, evictions not only violate international human rights law; they fail to provide a solution to forest protection. The Government’s argument that the title deeds are illegitimate fails to recognise that many poor people acted in good faith when they obtained title. Moreover, where people are suspected of having obtained title deeds through corrupt or illegal practices, the burden of proving this rests with the government.

The pressure on land, water, and forested ecosystems is a function of population growth, urbanization processes, increased per capita consumption of forest resources and the failure of previous interventions to adopt approaches aimed at achieving both social and ecological goals. Equitable and sustained poverty alleviation is contingent upon the pursuit of environmental sustainability in the context of implementing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which can be said to have mediated Kenya’s new generational laws.

In truth, the problems being experienced in the Mau Forest complex are a product of the government’s own making. This, therefore, necessitates the humane approach advocated by civil society, scientists and some politicians. There’s no doubt that the settlers must be relocated but considerations regarding the acquisition of title deeds must be kept in mind. While there’s no denying that the settlement was done by previous administrations and a political party which is today at the fringes, government actions supersede individual occupants of high office. A government decision does not become illegal just because the person who made the decision is no longer in office.

As political leaders and elders have noted, the issue of settlers in the Mau Forest must be handled with extreme sensitivity and through a just mechanism. Unless justice and compensation are handled to the satisfaction of the settlers, the government could easily be laying the grounds for armed conflict that could have major repercussions on the stability of the Kenyan state.

All over the world, the mishandling of problems similar to what we see in the Mau has led to rebel movements and possibly the toppling of government. The Mau Mau crisis of the 1950s was in large part attributed to the manner in which the British colonial authorities mishandled Kikuyu land grievances. We must learn from history so as not to repeat similar mistakes.

Sources

  1. Amnesty International (2007). Nowhere to go: Forced evictions in Mau Forest, Kenya.
  2. Kemei, Kipchumba (2004, February 25). Plunder of Mau Forest a Threat to 3m People. East African Standard.
  3. Masibo, Kennedy. (2008, November 25). Destroy Mau Forest and forget L. Nakuru Park. The Daily Nation.
  4. Nkako F, Lambrechts C, Gachanja M, & Woodley B (2005). Maasai Mau Forest Status Report 2005. Narok. Ewaso Ngiro South Development Authority.
  5. Sang, Joseph K (2001). The Ogiek in Mau Forest.
  6. Sayagie, George (2008, November 9). Groups differ on Mau forest evictions. The Daily Nation.

Kibaki creates 20 provinces; ethnic clashes now feared

UPDATE – 22nd July 2009:

The Standard has reliably learnt that the number of sub-provinces is now 22 after two were added, reportedly to accommodate interests of certain communities in Nyanza and Rift Valley.

Southern Nyanza, which was initially lumped together with Eastern Nyanza, will now have its headquarters in Homa Bay. Eastern Nyanza will be administered from Kisii town and cater for the Gusii and Kuria. Also added to the list is Western Rift, to be governed from Kericho town. It was originally part of Western Rift Valley, which will now be called Eastern Rift with offices in Eldoret.

Read more on this story from the Standard daily >>

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After he was warned against splitting Kenya’s provinces, President Mwai Kibaki has resorted to deceptive tactics to impose 20 new provinces through a bizarre concept of “sub-provinces.”

The new provincial units created by President Mwai Kibaki

The new provincial units created by President Mwai Kibaki

In an unexpected political maneuver last week, the President made far reaching changes in the Provincial administration. Not only did he replace at least 6 Provincial Commissioners, but he also introduced 20 deputy provincial commissioners to be in charge of the 20 “sub-provinces.” Meanwhile, all 210 constituencies have been declared as districts but the final district tally is 254, meaning that some constituencies have more than one district!

The interesting fact is that the President’s Party of National Unity (PNU) had earlier proposed splitting the country into 20 provinces. The proposal was however rejected by majority of legislators. Even ex-President Daniel arap Moi, who lately supports Kibaki, rejected the proposal arguing that it will worsen ethnic tensions especially in the Rift Valley Province.

There are now fears of a resurgence of ethnic clashes as the new provincial borders appear aligned on ethnic lines. For instance, the larger Nyanza Province was split into Kisumu and Kisii sub-provinces. Western Province has been split into Bungoma and Kakamega sub-provinces to separate the Bukusu community from the rest of the Luhyas.

In the Rift Valley, the Maasai have been given Narok sub-province, the Kikuyu have Nakuru sub-province while the Kalenjin have been allocated Eldoret sub-province. The pastoral communities of the Pokot, Turkana and Samburu will be administered from Lodwar sub-province.

Central Province has been split into three: Thika, Nyandarua and Nyeri sub-provinces.

The Kamba ethnic group now have the Machakos sub-province.  Embu sub-province will administer the Embu, Meru, Tharaka and Nithi ethnic groups. The nomadic communities in the northern sector of Eastern Province now fall under the Marsabit sub-province. Likewise, the Somali dominated North Eastern province has been split into Wajir and Garissa sub-provinces.

At the coast, the Taita have a sub-province at Voi, while the Mijikenda will have Mombasa sub-province. The rest of the Coastal communities, including the Pokomo and the Bajuni have been clustered under the Malindi sub-province.

Districts with a mixed ethnic composition will experience ethnic tension as controversy emerges over which sub-province will administer those districts. For instance, will the Kalenjin prefer Nakuru sub-province or Eldoret sub-province? In Western Province, which Luhya sub-tribes will want themselves under Bungoma sub-province and which ones will prefer the Kakamega sub-province?

Some districts in Nyanza Province have a mixed Luo and Kisii ethnic composition. Will such districts be placed under the Kisumu sub-province or under the Kisii sub-province? Where will the Kuria ethnic group be placed? Will they demand a sub-province of their own?

In Eastern Province, there will be tension over Isiolo District. The Meru will want it placed under their Embu sub-province but the nomadic groups will want it under Marsabit sub-province. The presence of significant Somali and Samburu populations in Isiolo will complicate the equation.

North Eastern province is ethnically homogeneous but clan affiliation among the Somali is very strong. Which Somali clans will prefer the Wajir sub-province as opposed to the Garissa sub-province?

It appears that President Kibaki does not understand the danger of what he has just done. Everybody – including the international community – warned him against splitting provinces but he has thrown caution to the wind and implemented his diabolical plan. How can a leader get things so wrong?

Should clashes arise from the creation of sub-provinces, Kibaki must bear full responsibility for deaths, injuries and the destruction of property. The beneficiaries of this sinister political strategy should likewise share the blame.

Census should be postponed as political schemes rage

Having forgotten the near civil war they caused in 2008, Kenyan politicians are scheming to manipulate this year’s national population census leading to calls for its postponement.

People in Nairobi.

People in Nairobi.

The national census is scheduled for August 24 and the government has already allocated personnel and finances for the exercise. With politics in Kenya assuming an ethnic dimension, there are fears that the census could spark fresh clashes.

Political forces could engage in ethnic cleansing of their areas so as to portray ethnic homogeneity. Immigrants who have settled into farming and commerce away from their ethnic homelands could be hardest hit with arguments that they don’t “belong.” Some devious politicians are already misleading the public that if immigrants are included in the population count of a particular district, they will have a right to resource allocations for that district.

Politicians want to get as many people as possible counted within their constituencies. This writer, who lives in Nairobi, has been approached by aspiring political candidates from her home district who are “advising” that she travels to be counted with her kinsfolk back there.

Politicians not only wish to inflate the populations of their constituencies but also that of their ethnic groups in general. This will not only determine how much development cash they will get, but could also increase their bargaining power during political negotiations. A politician who is seen as the head of a bigger tribe could get a more prominent government position compared to those politicians from smaller tribes.

A year ago, a member of parliament usually associated with progressive politics was quoted urging constituents to have more children so as to increase the population. Not surprisingly, there was little mention of how those children were going to be fed, educated, clothed and housed.

As signs indicate the possibility of ethnic clashes because of the census, there are calls that the activity be shelved until national stability is restored.

Just this week, former chairman of the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, Maina Kiai, warned against the census due to growing conflict between President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. “We can all see the rising political tension. In Kenya, whenever political tension rises, ethnic tensions also rise,” said Kiai.

Kiai dismissed the August 24 census, saying communities will be trying to manipulate their numbers. “Every community will want to outdo the other. And it is the enumerators who will be trying to increase the numbers of their people. I don’t know how the tallying centre will be managed,” Mr Kiai said.

This is exactly what happened with the December 2007 General Election. Though the actual voting was fair and credible, returning officers and clerks changed the vote count in favor of their preferred political candidates. One returning officer from Mombasa told an Electoral Commission of Inquiry that he decided to create his own figures because he was exhausted from three days of counting.

For these reasons, there are those who want the national census supervised by an international body such as the United Nations in order to ensure the credibility of results. What will happen if the census shows some tribes having surpassed others in population? What will happen if proved that some ethnic groups have a higher living standard than others? Or that some tribes have lower living standards than others?

Clearly, the government has not thought about the consequences of the census amidst the volatile political climate created by cruel and corrupt politicians.

School of Journalism conning students

As the Kenyan government enacts unprecedented media laws aimed at ‘restoring sanity’ to the journalism profession, its media training institutions should be scrutinized for minting millions of shillings while churning out half-baked graduates.

Wambui Kiai, School of Journalism Director. Picture by University of Nairobi.

Wambui Kiai, School of Journalism Director. Picture by University of Nairobi.

The School of Journalism at the publicly-funded University of Nairobi has admitted over 500 students since 2006 without investing in vital training equipment.

Its amazing that the once-respected media institution lacks video and still cameras. There are neither digital recorders nor studios. The School of Journalism lacks a training newspaper for aspiring print journalists. Its library is a pale shadow of what it is supposed to be.

School of Journalism has only 16 computers to cater for hundreds of students who need to finish assignments on time. The computers are allegedly of poor quality and students – who are already paying through the nose for the facilities – have little choice but to visit commercial cybercafes to complete their papers on time.

There are fears that School of Journalism graduates will not gain the requisite skills to cope with global reporting standards. The prospects of graduating without handling a video camera is raising concern among students. Three years of empty promises has forced them to blow the whistle on a complacent administration.

Students writing to the Nairobi Chronicle say that the School of Journalism charges among the highest fees at the University of Nairobi without providing value for money.

“We are paying Kshs11,500 (US$147) for every unit while other courses are charging less than that. In order to graduate, you should have done 50 units. The total cost including examination fees, library, computer use and medical insurance adds up to more than Shs500,000 ($6410) for the degree.”

“We don’t have broadcast equipment, classrooms are in a pathetic state and the administration of the institution has been a disappointment. The management does not communicate with students and many times we are ambushed with decisions that affect us,” the students lament.

The students further add that the institution sometimes hires rooms at the nearby Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) but the structures are reportedly worse than the main campus.

Students complain about lecturers missing classes with impunity and leaving early when they show up. “Classes that are supposed to end at 8:30pm end at 7:00 and there are no make ups.”

The affected students say that pleas to the School’s Director, Wambui Kiai, continue to yield empty promises. In any case, the soft-spoken Director is unaccessible.

Following student threats to petition Vice Chancellor George Magoha, the Director issued a circular stating that grievances should be submitted through class representatives. The move did not go down well with the aspiring scribes, majority of whom are clamoring for major reforms at the media training facility.

Students are wondering what the institution is doing with millions of shillings collected since 2006 and yet a modern digital studio could easily have been acquired with the money. Students stated that activity fees have not been utilized. Not a single trip has been organized by the institution in recent memory.

Students reveal that the school has not cultivated linkages with Kenya’s media industry. Media personalities have never been invited to provide mentorship or talks as would normally be expected. The rival Department of Literature is doing much better because it regularly hosts editors, diplomats and other personalities to share useful career experiences.

The Anvil newspaper, supposed to train journalists, has suffered a quiet death. Only one issue has been published in the past five years and that was because a visiting American professor donated her own money. It is rumored that a senior lecturer at the institution has refused to let go of the Anvil’s management.

Students are urging the Ministry of Education to intervene and stop further enrollments at the School of Journalism until the necessary facilities are in place. Otherwise, more Kenyans will be short-changed.

The other public journalism school, the Kenya Institute of Mass Communication, is not faring much better.

Kenyan Ambassador to US rejects recall notice

By kenyanobserver on December 9, 2008

Kenya’s ambassador to the US, His Excellency Peter Ogego, has refused to go back home after being recalled by the Kenyan government. And he’s not the only one. Apparently, Joseph Muchemi (United Kingdom) and Raychelle Owuor Omamo (France) have also decided they are staying put.

It’s no coincidence that these are considered some of the “plummiest” appointments a Kenyan civil servant can ever hope to get, but to refuse to go back after being recalled is unheard of.

Here’s the clincher (quoted from a Kenya Times article);

The sources further said some ambassadors who have continued to cling in office claimed they paid a lot of money to the Narc Government to secure such positions and they have not recovered the amount they spent.