Walubengo's Den

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Phil Bio

Philip Walubengo is a lawyer, author, writer, public speaker and development worker. He also fancies himself as an artist. He also dabbles in politics from time to time. He likes to think that he has a sense of humour.

He is the editor and publisher of the blog Walubengo’s Den, whose Facebook page is here:


He is also the editor and publisher of the blog known as The Battousai, his alter ego, whose Facebook page is here:


He is the author of the book:  the Himura Chronicles, whose Facebook page is here:


He is also the editor and compiler of a book known as 500 Amazing Quotes, whose Facebook page is here:


Philip Walubengo’s official Facebook page is:





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I Came To Win


I wish today it would rain all day
Maybe that will kinda make the pain go away
Trying to forgive you for abandoning me
Praying but I think I’m still an angel away
Angel away, yeah strange in a way
Maybe that is why I chase strangers away
They got their guns out aiming at me
But I become Neo when they’re aiming at me
Me, me, me against them
Me against enemies, me against friends
Somehow they both seem to become one
A sea full of sharks and they all smell blood
They start coming and I start rising
Must be surprising, I’m just amazing
I win, thrive, soar, higher, higher, higher
More fire

I came to win, to fight, to conquer, to thrive
I came to win, to survive, to prosper, to rise
To fly
To fly

Everybody wanna try to box me in
Suffocating every time it locks me in
Paint their own pictures then they crop me in
But I will remain where the top begins
Cause I am not a word, I am not a line
I am not a girl that can ever be defined
I am not fly, I am levitation
I represent an entire generation
I hear the criticism loud and clear
That is how I know that the time is near
So we become alive in a time of fear
And I ain’t got no motherfucking time to spare
Cry my eyes out for days upon days
Such a heavy burden placed upon me
But when you go hard your nay’s become yay’s
Yankee Stadium with Jay-Z and Kanyes!!!

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2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 11,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 4 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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PAUL KAGAME: A leader that Kenyan Presidents Should Emulate?


I was fortunate enough to spend some time in Rwanda a while back. I was stunned by the cleanliness and adherence to the rule of law, of course after I had finished admiring the women, who are not only astonishingly beautiful but refreshingly respecful as well. Okay I’m lying – I never finished admiring the women. The whole country feels like they are united in the common cause of progress and development. Drivers didn’t speed on the roads, police roadblocks were manned by only two policemen, one female one male. Their speed cameras would capture your speed as well as the details of the vehicle and driver and you would be shipped off immediately to court. Rwandese police are famously unbribable. The streets of Kigali are safe, you can walk undisturbed at any hour of the day and night. All boda boda drivers and their passengers wear helmets, and all the helmets are green. Naturally, being a brilliant and ambitious young man, I possess a healthy dose of curiosity. I had to find out how and why this was so. I soon discovered that it was a top down issue, coming directly from the President himself.

Recently a poll was carried out among the cab drivers in the capitals of East Africa. They were asked whom they would like to be President of East Africa if we all became one country. The results were a landslide: Paul Kagame. From personal experience, the average cab driver is more knowledgeable and is more intelligent than the average citizen, as well as the average middle class person.

Rwanda’s unquestionable ruler is Paul Kagame. Officially, he begun as a thirty seven-year-old was vice president and minister of defense, but he had led the RPF since the early days of the rebellion and had firm control over the government. A gaunt, bony man with wire-rimmed spectacles and a methodical style of speaking, Kagame left an impression on people. He didn’t smoke, drink, or have much time for expensive clothes or beautiful women. He wasn’t given to flowery speech or elaborate protocol. His wardrobe apparently only contained drab, double-breasted suits that hung loosely from his thin frame, plain polo shirts, and combat fatigues. The only entertainment he apparently indulged in was tennis, which he played at the Sports Club with RPF colleagues and diplomats. Passersby would be alarmed by the soldiers standing guard with machine guns.

 Kagame’s obsessions were order and discipline. He personally expropriated his ministers’ vehicles when he thought those public funds could have been used for a better purpose. He exuded ambition, browbeating his ministers when they didn’t live up to his expectations. He complained to a journalist:

 “In the people here, there is something I cannot reconcile with. It’s people taking their time when they should be moving fast, people tolerating mediocrity when things could be done better. I feel they are not bothered, not feeling the pressure of wanting to be far ahead of where we are. That runs my whole system.”

 This asceticism had been forged in the harsh conditions of exile. Kagame’s first memories were of houses burning on the hills and his panicked mother scrambling into a car as a local mob ran after them. This was in 1961, when anticipation of independence from Belgium had led to pogroms against the Tutsi community, which had been privileged by the colonial government. Around 78,000 Tutsi had fled to Uganda, with another 258,000 going to other neighboring countries. Like many RPF leaders, Kagame grew up as a refugee in Uganda, living in a grass-thatched hut while attending school on a scholarship.

 “You will always hear me talking about the importance of dignity,” he later commented. “It is really the key to people’s lives, and obviously for me it relates back to the refugee camp, the lining up for food every day, the rationing. When we started primary school, we used to study under a tree. We used to write on our thighs with a piece of dry, hard grass, and the teacher would come over and look at your thigh, and write his mark with another piece of dry grass. You develop some sense of questioning, some sense of justice, saying, “Why do I live like this? Why should anybody live like this?”

 The squalid conditions of the refugee camps and the animosity of their Ugandan neighbors were constant reminders that this was not his real home. His mother was from the royal family in Rwanda—his great aunt had been the queen—and their stories of royal grandeur and authority were a far cry from the UN handouts they lived on in the camps. When his schoolmates went to play, he preferred to sit with former Tutsi guerrilla fighters and listen to stories about their battle against the Hutu-dominated regime in the 1960s. After he finished high school, Kagame ventured across the border to see for himself what his fabled homeland had become. He was harassed for being a Tutsi, but he felt exhilarated by being among his people on his land. He sat in bars, sipping a soft drink and listening to conversations. He spent several afternoons walking by the presidential palace in Kigali, drawn magnetically to the seat of power that was at the root of his exile in Uganda, until security guards got suspicious and told him to scram.

 Back in Uganda, fellow refugees told him about a Ugandan rebellion that was being formed in Tanzania to overthrow the dictator Idi Amin, who had discriminated against the refugees for years. Led by Yoweri Museveni, the National Resistance Movement (NRM) recruited heavily among the Tutsi refugees. It seemed perfect for the twenty-two-year old Kagame, who was itching to rise up out of the squalor of the camps. His stern and disciplined temperament drew him to work in military intelligence, a branch that shaped his outlook on politics. He received training in Tanzania, in Cuba, and, much later, at Fort Leavenworth in the United States. When the NRM took power in 1986, Kagame’s fierce discipline earned him a position at the head of the military courts, investigating and prosecuting soldiers’ breaches of discipline. Among detractors and supporters alike, he became known as “Pilato,” short for Pontius Pilate, because of the harsh way he dealt with any violation of the military code. Soldiers who stole from civilians or embezzled fuel from military stocks would be locked up; more serious violations could earn a place in front of a firing squad. “He can’t stand venality or indiscipline —it provokes an almost physical reaction of disgust in him,” a Ugandan journalist who knew him during this time, remembered.

Kagame was soon promoted to become the head of Ugandan military intelligence, a position that provided a perfect vantage point from which to pursue his true ambition: overthrowing the Rwandan government. He plotted together with other Rwandan refugees who had risen to leadership positions in the Ugandan army, positioning stocks of weapons and secretly recruiting other Rwandans to their cause. In 1990, they attacked. The guerrilla struggle in Rwanda was marked by self-sacrifice and harsh conditions. In the early years of the rebellion, the RPF was beaten back into the high-altitude bamboo forests of the volcanoes in north western Rwanda, where temperatures at night dropped to freezing and there was little food or dry firewood. Kagame enforced draconian discipline, executing soldiers suspected of treason or trying to desert.

He perfected his hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, harrying the enemy, attacking convoys, but never engaging in large, conventional battles. People who met Kagame and his RPF colleagues during this time were impressed by the rebels’ dedication. The refugee camps and years in exile had steeled them and made them rely on each other. This ethic was not new to their culture. The precolonial Rwandan kingdom had been forged over centuries of warfare, leading to a central, Tutsi-led royal court with large standing armies. Stories of great Tutsi warriors were embellished and passed down through the generations. The most famous Rwandan dance, intore, was a war dance that the RPF themselves sometimes practiced around the campfire, stamping their feet and mimicking cows’ horns with their arms.


Kagame’s exploits and discipline earned him praise from around the world. General John Shalikashvili, the American chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, studied Kagame’s military tactics and praised him as one of the best guerrilla leaders in decades.

 “Kagame is an intellectual figure. I would rate him as a first rate operational fighter,”

 a former director of the U.S. Army School for Advanced Military Studies said. “He understands discipline. He understands speed. He understands mobility.”

After the overthrow of the Habyarimana regime, RPF leaders celebrated victory in Kigali; Ugandan waragi—a strong gin made out of millet—was a favorite. Mixed with Coca Cola, it was dubbed “Kigali Libre” by RPF officers. Kagame, however, was typically reserved. The war was not yet over, he told his army colleagues. There was merely a truce enforced by an international border with Zaire. A third of the population was still living in camps outside the country, and rebels were regularly caught with grenades and disassembled weapons in the main market in Kigali. Every month brought assassinations of local officials and attacks on army camps. In the meantime, Rwandan frustrations with international donors stewed. Not only had they failed to intervene during the genocide, but they were now feeding the génocidaires and allowing them to rearm. Despite an arms embargo on the government-in-exile, arms traders flew over $8 million in weapons to the defeated Rwandan army in Goma and Bukavu in the months just after the genocide. Hundreds of new recruits were being trained on soccer pitches next to the refugee camps, often within sight of Zairian soldiers. Despite the handwringing and horror at the Rwandan genocide that had finally gripped western capitals, the international community was once again abandoning Rwanda. Kagame fulminated to the press:

 “I think we have learned a lot about the hypocrisy and double standards on the part of people who claim that they want to make this world a better place.”

Kagame built one of the most formidable intelligence outfits in the world. I would posit that it is among the most efficient in Africa, whatever your views are on what they do. I’m not saying anything, but that chap that was under state protection in SA the other day was still assassinated, through a plan that took years to bring to fruition. After the genocide, it was only a matter of time before Rwandese intelligence had operatives throughout the region, infiltrating the Hutu army, refugee camps, the Congolese government as well as Ugandan military and intelligence. It is on record that they engineered at least one coup in the Congo. I would also posit that Rwanda, if the position is not taken up by Kenya, will become the Israel of Africa.

Legend has it that recently when he found out that two of his ministers, who were both married were carrying out an extra marital affair with each other, he caned them himself and instructed them to rectify their ways.

Kagame actually compiled a report on the corruption on Kenyan roads. He presented this report to Mwai Kibaki, showing him the amount and frequency of bribes that truck drivers had to part with while driving through Kenya. Naturally, Kibaki, who can be viewed as the George Bush Junior of East Africa, didn’t give a fuck. Kenyans discussed the report heatedly for a while and then naturally, in line with their general foolishness, selfishness, shallowness, apathy and short term memory, aptly forgot about it.

I think we need our own Paul Kagame.


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THE SCANDAL OF PREDICTION: How Many Lovers Has Rachel Shebesh had?


One March evening, a few men and women were standing on the esplanade overlooking the bay outside the Sydney Opera House. It was close to the end of the summer in Sydney, but the men were wearing jackets despite the warm weather. The women were more thermally comfortable than the men, but they had to suffer the impaired mobility of high heels. They all had come to pay the price of sophistication. Soon they would listen for several hours to a collection of oversize men and women singing endlessly in Russian. Many of the opera-bound people looked like they worked for the local office of J. P. Morgan, or some other financial institution where employees experience differential wealth from the rest of the local population, with concomitant pressures on them to live by a sophisticated script (wine and opera). But I was not there to take a peek at theneosophisticates. I had come to look at the Sydney Opera House, a building that adorns every Australian tourist brochure. Indeed, it is striking, though it looks like the sort of building architects create in order to impress other architects.

That evening walk in the very pleasant part of Sydney called the Rocks was a pilgrimage. While Australians were under the illusion that they had built a monument to distinguish their skyline, what they had really done was to construct a monument to our failure to predict, to plan, and to come to grips with our unknowledge of the future—our systematic underestimation of what the future has in store. The Australians had actually built a symbol of the epistemic arrogance of the human race. The story is as follows. The Sydney Opera House was supposed to open in early 1963 at a cost of AU$ 7 million. It finally opened its doors more than ten years later, and, although it was a less ambitious version than initially envisioned, it ended up costing around AU$ 104 million. While there are far worse cases of planning failures (namely the Soviet Union or the Kenyan Jubilee government’s laptop project), or failures to forecast (all important historical events), the Sydney Opera House provides an aesthetic (at least in principle) illustration of the difficulties. This opera-house story is the mildest of all the distortions (it was only money, and it did not cause the spilling of innocent blood). But it is nevertheless emblematic.

 We are demonstrably arrogant about what we think we know. We certainly know a lot, but we have a built-in tendency to think that we know a little bit more than we actually do, enough of that little bit to occasionally get into serious trouble.  Why on earth do we predict so much? Worse, even, and more interesting: Why don’t we talk about our record in predicting? Why don’t we see how we (almost) always miss the big events? We call this the scandal of prediction.


 Let us examine what I call epistemic arrogance, literally, our hubris concerning the limits of our knowledge. Epistëmê is a Greek word that refers to knowledge; giving a Greek name to an abstract concept makes it sound important. Just the way some of my lecturers at the University of Nairobi Law School felt that saying things in Latin made them look and sound cleverer. I’m not mentioning names like the impudent Professor Ben Sihanya or the amazingly arrogant Dr. Migai Akech. Or the spineless Kipchumba Murkomen who’s Latin sounded more like bad Kalenjin. True, our knowledge does grow, but it is threatened by greater increases in confidence, which make our increase in knowledge at the same time an increase in confusion, ignorance, and conceit.

 Take a room full of people. Randomly pick a number. The number could correspond to anything: the proportion of psychopathic stockbrokers in Nairobi, the sales of Philip Walubengo’s soon to be published book during the months with r in them, the average IQ of business-book editors (or business writers), the number of lovers of Rachel Shebesh, et cetera. Ask each person inthe room to independently estimate a range of possible values for that number set in such a way that they believe that they have a 98 percent chance of being right, and less than 2 percent chance of being wrong. In other words, whatever they are guessing has about a 2 percent chance to fall outside their range. For example:

 “I am 98 percent confident that the population of Rajastan is between 15 and 23 million.”

“I am 98 percent confident that Rachel Shebesh has had between 34 and 63 lovers.”

 You can make inferences about human nature by counting how many people in your sample guessed wrong; it is not expected to be too much higher than two out of a hundred participants. Note that the subjects (your victims) are free to set their range as wide as they want: you are not trying to gauge their knowledge but rather their evaluation of their own knowledge.

 Now, the results. Like many things in life, the discovery was unplanned, serendipitous, surprising, and took a while to digest. Legend has it that Albert and Raiffa, the researchers who noticed it, were actually looking for something quite different, and more boring: how humans figure out probabilities in their decision making when uncertainty is involved (what the learned call calibrating). The researchers came out befuddled.

 The 2 percent error rate turned out to be close to 45 percent in the population being tested! It is quite telling that the first sample consisted of Harvard Business School students, a breed not particularly renowned for their humility or introspective orientation. MB As are particularly nasty in this regard, which might explain their business success. Later studies document more humility, or rather a smaller degree of arrogance, in other populations. Janitors and cabdrivers are rather humble. Politicians and corporate executives, alas . . . I’ll leave them for later.

 Are we twenty-two times too comfortable with what we know? It seems so.

 Our human race is affected by a chronic underestimation of the possibility of the future straying from the course initially envisioned (in addition to other biases that sometimes exert a compounding effect). To take an obvious example, think about how many people divorce. Almost all of them are acquainted with the statistic that between one-third and one-half of all marriages fail, something the parties involved did not forecast while tying the knot. Of course, “not us,” because “we get along so well” (as if others tying the knot got along poorly).

 Guessing and Predicting

There is no effective difference between my guessing a variable that is not random, but for which my information is partial or deficient, such as the number of lovers who have transited through the bed of Rachel Shebesh, and predicting a random one, like tomorrow’s unemployment rate or next year’s stock market. In this sense, guessing (what I don’t know, but what someone else may know) and predicting (what has not taken place yet) are the same thing.

 To further appreciate the connection between guessing and predicting, assume that instead of trying to gauge the number of lovers of Rachel Shebesh, or Lillian Muli, since Shebesh’s example is getting tiring, you are estimating the less interesting but, for some, more important question of the population growth for the next century, the stock market returns, the social-security deficit, the price of oil, the results of your great-uncle’s estate sale, or the environmental conditions of Kenyatwo decades from now. Or, if you are the publisher of Philip Walubengo’s book, you may need to produce an estimate of the possible future sales.

 We are now getting into dangerous waters: just consider that most professionals who make forecasts are also afflicted with the mental impediment discussed above. Furthermore, people who make forecasts professionally are often more affected by such impediments than those who don’t.

Let us discuss one main effect of information: impediment to knowledge. Aristotle Onassis, perhaps the first mediatised tycoon, was principally famous for being rich—and for exhibiting it. An ethnic Greek refugee from southern Turkey, he went to Argentina, made a lump of cash by importing Turkish tobacco then became a shipping magnate. He was reviled when he married Jacqueline Kennedy, the widow of the American president John F. Kennedy, which drove the heartbroken opera singer Maria Callas to immure herself in a Paris apartment to await death.

 If you study Onassis’s life, which I spent some time doing, you would notice an interesting regularity: “work,” in the conventional sense, was not his thing. He did not even bother to have a desk, let alone an office. He was not just a dealmaker, which does not necessitate having an office, but he also ran a shipping empire, which requires day-today monitoring. Yet his main tool was a notebook, which contained all the information he needed. Onassis spent his life trying to socialize with the rich and famous, and to pursue (and collect) women. He generally woke up at noon. If he needed legal advice, he would summon his lawyers to some nightclub in Paris at two a.m. He was said to have an irresistible charm, which helped him take advantage of people.

 Let us go beyond the anecdote. There may be a “fooled by randomness” effect here, of making a causal link between Onassis’s success and his modus operandi. I may never know if Onassis was skilled or lucky, though I am convinced that his charm opened doors for him, but I can subject his modus to a rigorous examination by looking at empirical research on the link between information and understanding. So this statement, additional knowledge of the minutiae of daily business can be useless, even actually toxic, is indirectly but quite effectively testable.

 Show two groups of people a blurry image of a fire hydrant, blurry enough for them not to recognize what it is. For one group, increase the resolution slowly, in ten steps. For the second, do it faster, in five steps. Stop at a point where both groups have been presented an identical image and ask each of them to identify what they see. The members of the group that saw fewer intermediate steps are likely to recognize the hydrant much faster. Moral? The more information you give someone, the more hypotheses they will formulate along the way, and the worse off they will be. They see more random noise and mistake it for information. The problem is that our ideas are sticky: once we produce a theory, we are not likely to change our minds—so those who delay developing their theories are better off.

 When you develop your opinions on the basis of weak evidence, you will have difficulty interpreting subsequent information that contradicts these opinions, even if this new information is obviously more accurate. Two mechanisms are at play here: confirmation bias and belief perseverance, the tendency not to reverse opinions you already have. Remember that we treat ideas like possessions, and it will be hard for us to part with them.

 The fire hydrant experiment was first done in the sixties, and replicated several times since. I have also studied this effect using the mathematics of information: the more detailed knowledge one gets of empirical reality, the more one will see the noise (i.e., the anecdote) and mistake it for actual information. Remember that we are swayed by the sensational. Listening to the news on the radio every hour is far worse for you than reading a weekly magazine, because the longer interval allows information to be filtered a bit. That’s why in a precious article I posited that reading the newspaper everyday actually decreases your knowledge of the world.

In 1965, Stuart Oskamp supplied clinical psychologists with successive files, each containing an increasing amount of information about patients; the psychologists’ diagnostic abilities did not grow with the additional supply of information. They just got more confident in their original diagnosis.Granted, one may not expect too much of psychologists of the 1965 variety, but these findings seem to hold across disciplines.

Finally, in another telling experiment, the psychologist Paul Slovic asked bookmakers to select from eighty-eight variables in past horse races those that they found useful in computing the odds. These variables included all manner of statistical information about past performances. The bookmakers were given the ten most useful variables, then asked to predict the outcome of races. Then they were given ten more and asked to predict again. The increase in the information set did not lead to an increase in their accuracy; their confidence in their choices, on the other hand, went up markedly. Information proved to be toxic.

 I’ve struggled much of my life with the common middlebrow belief that “more is better”—more is sometimes, but not always, better. This toxicity of knowledge will show in our investigation of the so-called expert.


 So far we have not questioned the authority of the professionals involved but rather their ability to gauge the boundaries of their own knowledge. Epistemic arrogance does not preclude skills. A plumber will almost always know more about plumbing than a stubborn essayist and mathematical trader. A hernia surgeon will rarely know less about hernias than a belly dancer. But their probabilities, on the other hand, will be off—and, this is the disturbing point, you may know much more on that score than the expert. No matter what anyone tells you, it is a good idea to question the error rate of an expert’s procedure. Do not question his procedure, only his confidence.

I will separate the two cases as follows. The mild case: arrogance in the presence of (some) competence, and the severe case: arrogance mixed with incompetence (the empty suit). There are some professions in which you know more than the experts, who are, alas, people for whose opinions you are paying—instead of them paying you to listen to them. Which ones?

 What Moves and What Does Not Move

There is a very rich literature on the so-called expert problem, running empirical testing on experts to verify their record. But it seems to be confusing at first. On one hand, we are shown by a class of expert-busting researchers such as Paul Meehl and Robyn Dawes that the “expert” is the closest thing to a fraud, performing no better than a computer using a single metric, their intuition getting in the way and blinding them. (As an example of a computer using a single metric, the ratio of liquid assets to debt fares better than the majority of credit analysts.) On the other hand, there is abundant literature showing that many people can beat computers thanks to their intuition. Which one is correct?

 There must be some disciplines with true experts. Let us ask the following questions: Would you rather have your upcoming brain surgery performed by a newspaper’s science reporter or by a certified brain surgeon? On the other hand, would you prefer to listen to an economic forecast by someone with a PhD in finance from some “prominent” institution such as the University of Nairobi (cough cough), or by a newspaper’s business writer? While the answer to the first question is empirically obvious, the answer to the second one isn’t at all. We can already see the difference between “knowhow” and “know-what.” The Greeks made a distinction between technë and epistèmê. The empirical school of medicine of Menodotus of Nicomedia and Heraclites of Tarentum wanted its practitioners to stay closest to technë (i.e., “craft”), and away from epistèmê (i.e., “knowledge,” “science”).

 The psychologist James Shanteau undertook the task of finding out which disciplines have experts and which have none. Note the confirmation problem here: if you want to prove that there are no experts, then you will be able to find a profession in which experts are useless. And you can prove the opposite just as well. But there is a regularity: there are professions where experts play a role, and others where there is no evidence of skills. Which are which?

 Experts who tend to be experts: livestock judges, astronomers, test pilots, soil judges, chess masters, physicists, mathematicians (when they deal with mathematical problems, not empirical ones), accountants, grain inspectors, photo interpreters, insurance analysts (dealing with bell curve style statistics).

 Experts who tend to be… not experts: stockbrokers, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, college admissions officers, court judges, councillors, personnel selectors, intelligence analysts (the CIA’s record, in spite of its costs, is pitiful), Kenyan Military Intelligence (I’ve always believed the phrase ‘military intelligence’ is an oxymoron – but the exception to this are my friends who are in the military, who are astute thinkers and exceptional gentlemen. That plus the fact that they know how and where to find me and beat me up, so I must kiss ass. Yes Dmitry, Fadamullah and Ndolo I’m talking about you.) I would add these results from my own examination of the literature: economists, financial forecasters, finance professors, political scientists, (think Mutahi Ngunyi, Makau Mutua) “risk experts,” of course the IMF and personal financial advisers.

So beware of experts and also beware of people who are too sure of their own opinions.

Have a wonderful day.




DANCING IN THE GLORY OF MONSTERS: Where Kenya is Headed if We don’t Curtail this Tribalism Bullshit


Africa has the shape of a pistol, and Congo is its trigger.


For a long time, I was always extremely curious about the Congo. Firstly, I was told by my teachers in school that my ancestors, i.e. the Luhyas, migrated to Kenya from the Congo and Cameroon. Secondly, unlike most people, Joseph Conrad’s book about the Congo; Heart of Darkness, made me more interested in it. I also wanted to visit this place that Che Guevara had seen fit to live and fight in for seven months, this place that V.S Naipaul wrote of, this place of wonderful music and beautiful women with impossible dance moves. This place of immense wealth and abject poverty, the land of Mobutu Sese Seko and the Rumble in the Jungle. Ali Bumaye!! Luckily a while ago I got the chance to spend some time in this land of mystery and paradox. I was also fascinated by one of the longest and bloodiest wars in Africa, and wanted to find out as much as I could about this place. My experience was both exciting and terrifying.

We landed in Kigali, Rwanda and drove to the border with Congo, a town called Cyangugu. The Congolese border town is known as Bukavu. There are some who claim that in Luhya this means ‘The Place of Stupid People’ and that is why they migrated from there. My ability to speak French came in handy, and I could tell I felt more at home than my colleagues. The guards at the border were positively overjoyed to meet a Kenyan fluent in French, and swore that I must be Congolese. Plus I really had a blast ordering the wrong dishes for my workmates when we would go out to eat.

These towns are situated next to Lake Kivu, one of the most beautiful lakes I have ever seen. Strangely, in the mornings and evenings, when you look out over the hills and valleys and over the serene waters of the lake, you feel a tugging in your heart, like the place has seen more than its fair share of sadness and bloodshed.


The food was excellent, and I wondered as usual why our Kenyan diet seems so limited and bereft of imagination. A lot of the restaurants there make their own mayonnaise, but ironically, have no milk. They import their milk powder from Europe. When I asked as to why this was, I was told simply: “The Rwandese stole all our cows.”

Bukavu during the day was chaotic, full of cars hooting, (I’ve always believed that the less civilised a society is, the more hooting you will hear in traffic. Yes Nairobi I am talking about you) music blaring and women skipping across the road. The potholes were amazing, and during my whole stay there I only saw a policeman twice and both times he was hustling a hapless motorist for a bribe. There were soldiers everywhere though, marching, jogging, singing and dancing. Yes, dancing. One of the pleasant surprises I encountered is that most Congolese actually like Kenyans and admire our country- admire our peace, stability, development and work ethic. Not like Ugandans, Tanzanians and South Africans who instinctively seem to hate our guts. Or these idiots in South Sudan who don’t know how to give thanks to a nation which babysat, birthed and midwifed them.

Of course I had to visit the nightclubs, which I dutifully sampled from day one. There I met an interesting array of characters whom I finally managed to get to open up and talk to me about their country. It wasn’t easy for me, as most clubs there sell a shit Rwandese brand of beer called Primus which doesn’t give you a buzz, it gives you gas instead. God bless Tusker. I found out that at that particular time soldiers were being paid a salary of roughly 20 dollars a month. Yes 20. And they hadn’t been paid for 6 months. One soldier told me that if I ever wanted anyone murdered or assassinated in Bukavu, he would do the job for me for 100 dollars. He wasn’t kidding.

My brother sent me an excellent book by one Jason K. Stearns on the collapse of the Congo and the great war of Africa. Very illuminating. I would easily call it the most thorough examination of the Congo that I am yet to come across. This article is a report of my personal experiences in the Congo as well as secondary research that I have carried out. And of course my opinions. It will be up to you, dear reader, to see the similarities and draw parallels with the Kenyan State.

News reports from the Congo still usually reduce the conflict to a simplistic drama. An array of caricatures is often presented: the corrupt, brutal African warlord with his savage soldiers, raping and looting the country. Pictures of child soldiers high on amphetamines and marijuana—sometimes  from Liberia and Sierra Leone, a thousand miles from the Congo. Poor, black victims: children with shiny snot dried on their faces, flies buzzing around them, often in camps for refugees or internally displaced. Between these images of killers and victims, there is little room to challenge the clichés, let alone try to offer a rational explanation for a truly chaotic conflict. The Congo wars are not stories that can be explained through such stereotypes. They are the product of a deep history, often unknown to outside observers. The principal actors are far from just savages, mindlessly killing and being killed, but thinking, breathing Homo sapiens, whose actions, however abhorrent, are underpinned by political rationales and motives. In 1996, a conflict began that has thus far cost the lives of over five million people.

The Congolese war must be put among the other great human cataclysms of our time: the World Wars, the Great Leap Forward in China, the Rwandan and Cambodian genocides. And yet, despite its epic proportions, the war has received little sustained attention from the rest of the world. The mortality figures are so immense that they become absurd, almost meaningless. From the outside, the war seems to possess no overarching narrative or ideology to explain it, no easy tribal conflict or socialist revolution to use as a peg in a news piece. In Cambodia, there was the despotic Khmer Rouge; in Rwanda one could cast the genocidal Hutu militias as the villains. In the Congo these roles are more difficult to fill. There is no Hitler, Mussolini, or Stalin. Instead it is a war of the ordinary person, with many combatants unknown and unnamed, who fight for complex reasons that are difficult to distil in a few sentences—much to the frustration of the international media. How do you cover a war that involves at least twenty different rebel groups and the armies of nine countries, yet does not seem to have a clear cause or objective? How do you put a human face on a figure like “four million” when most of the casualties perish unsensationally, as a result of disease, far away from television cameras?

 The conflict is a conceptual mess that eludes simple definition, with many interlocking narrative strands. The New York Times, one of the few American newspapers with extensive foreign coverage, gave Darfur nearly four times the coverage it gave the Congo in 2006, when Congolese were dying of war-related causes at nearly ten times the rate of those in Darfur.Even Nicholas Kristof, the Times columnist who has campaigned vigorously for humanitarian crises around the world, initially used the confusion of the Congo as a justification for reporting on it less—it is less evil because it is less ideologically defined. He writes:

 Darfur is a case of genocide, while Congo is a tragedy of war

and poverty…. Militias slaughter each other, but it’s not about an

ethnic group in the government using its military force to kill

other groups. And that is what Darfur has been about: An Arab

government in Khartoum arming Arab militias to kill members of

black African tribes. We all have within us a moral compass,

and that is moved partly by the level of human suffering. I grant

that the suffering is greater in Congo. But our compass is also

moved by human evil, and that is greater in Darfur. There’s no

greater crime than genocide, and that is Sudan’s specialty.

 What is the evil in the Congo? How can we explain the millions of deaths? In 1961, the philosopher Hannah Arendt travelled to Jerusalem to witness the trial of a great Nazi war criminal, Adolph Eichmann, who had been in charge of sending hundreds of thousands of Jews to their deaths. Herself a Jewish escapee from the Holocaust, Arendt was above all interested in the nature of evil. For her, the mass killing of Jews had been possible through a massive bureaucracy that dehumanized the victims and dispersed responsibility through the administrative apparatus. Eichmann was not a psychopath but a conformist. “I was just doing my job,” he told the court in Jerusalem. This, Arendt argued, was the banality of evil.

 The Congo obviously does not have the anonymous bureaucracy that the Third Reich did. Most of the killing and rape have been carried out at close range, often with hatchets, knives, and machetes. It is difficult not to attribute personal responsibility to the killers and leaders of the wars. It is not, however, helpful to personalize the evil and suggest that somehow those involved in the war harboured a superhuman capacity for evil. It is more useful to ask what political system produced this kind of violence. This article tries to see the conflict through the eyes of its protagonists and understand why war made more sense than peace, why the regional political elites seem to be so rich in opportunism and so lacking in virtue. I ask the reader to compare this with the Kenyan situation.

Yo likaku, obebisi mbuma, bilei na ya moko!

You monkey, you are destroying the seeds, that will be your food!


 There were local dimensions to the Congo conflict, which resulted perhaps in the greatest bloodshed. The weakness of the state had allowed ethnic rivalries and conflicts over access to land to fester, especially in the densely populated eastern regions on the border with Rwanda and Uganda. During Mobutu’s final years, he and other leaders cynically stoked these ethnic tensions in order to distract from challenges to their power and to rally support.

 Even Laurent Kabila, who as president would be stereotyped by many as the quintessential Congolese big-man politician, was acutely aware of how deeply entrenched in society the Congolese  crisis had become. An inveterate lecturer, he often turned his speeches into morality lessons. “Vous, Zairois … ,” he would begin, a finger thrusting upward, berating the crowd for having put up with the country’s moral decline for so long. “Who has not been Mobutist in this country?” he asked during one press conference. “Three-quarters of this country became part of it! We saw you all dancing in the glory of the monster.”

 Papy Kamanzi  is an example of how easy it is to be drawn into the deepest moral corruption. A thirty-year-old, mid-level army commander from the minority Tutsi community, he had fought for four different armed groups.  In one of our last talks, he broke down and started telling me about how he had worked for a Rwandan death squad in the eastern border town of Goma in 1997. Together with sixty other soldiers, they had been tasked with rounding up dissidents; often the definition of “dissident” was stretched to include any Hutu refugee. Papy could kill up to a hundred of these dissidents—sometimes old women and young children—a day, usually using a rope to crush their windpipes and strangle them.

“Why did you do it?”

“I had to. If I hadn’t, it would have been suspicious,” he replied, but then looked at me. “You know, you can’t really explain these things. For us soldiers, killing comes easy. It has become part of our lives. I have lost five members of my family during the war. You have to understand that. You have to understand the history of my family—how we were persecuted, then favoured by Mobutu, how we were denied citizenship and laughed at at school. How they spat in my face. Then you can judge me.” But it was clear that he didn’t think I could ever understand.

 Since the Middle Ages, Europeans had studied Africa through the lens of the Bible, trying to find divine design in nature and human society. One of the passages of most interest was from Genesis 9 and 10. Just before a description of how Noah’s sons peopled the earth after the flood, the text tells the story of when Noah, drunk from wine, falls asleep naked. His sons Shem and Japheth avert their eyes and cover him, but their brother, Ham, stares at his naked body. When he awakes, Noah is furious at Ham and condemns Ham’s son, Canaan, to slavery: “a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.”

 Although the Bible remains vague about Ham and Canaan’s destiny, well into the nineteenth century biblical scholars and scientists alike categorized the nations of the world as the descendents of Noah’s sons: the Semitic races of the Middle East, the Japhetic races of Europe, and the Hamitic races of Africa. Turned on its head, this theory explained the advanced civilizations found in Africa: Rock-cut wells, complex political organization, and irrigation systems were all creations of a Hamitic race that traced its lineage back to the Middle East. In Speke’s view, this explanation placed the continent’s Negroid races firmly where they belonged: on the bottom of the racial hierarchy, incapable of advanced civilization, and open game for slavery. Elsewhere, in the Muslim world, leaders also used the Hamitic theory to justify the enslavement of black Africans. The Belgians following this theory considered the Tutsi as more Caucasian and/or Asiatic, and thus preferred them to rule over the Hutus and non-Tutsi tribes on their behalf. This decision made many see the Tutsi as turncoat collaborators, just like the home guards in Kenya.

 In south-western Rwanda, the Hutu flight was stalled by the deployment of a UN-mandated French military mission, dubbed Operation Turquoise, intended to protect the few remaining Tutsi in that region as well as aid workers. It was one of the many absurdities of the Rwandan crisis: The French government and its contractors had made thirty-six shipments of weapons to Habyarimana’s government between 1990 and 1994, worth $11 million, and had deployed seven hundred fifty French troops, who helped with military training, planning, and even interrogation of RPF prisoners.Just months after they had finished helping to train the Interahamwe, the French, wolves turned shepherds, announced a humanitarian intervention to bring an end to the killing.

 The French troops did save Tutsi lives. They also, however, refused to arrest the Habyarimana government and army officials in their territory who were known to have organized massacres. Hate radio continued broadcasting unhindered from the area controlled by the French, exhorting the population to continue the extermination of Tutsi. Meanwhile, across the Zairian border in Goma, the base of French operations, at least five shipments of weapons from France were delivered to the ex-FAR leadership who had fled from Kigali.To add insult to injury, French president François Mitterrand personally authorized a donation of $40,000 to Habyarimana’s wife, one of the most extremist members of the president’s inner circle, when she arrived in Paris fleeing the violence in her country. The donation was labelled as “urgent assistance to Rwandan refugees.”

 When asked about discrimination, many Tutsi in the Congo immediately bring up schoolyard taunts. As everywhere, schools were places of socialization, where the ground rules were laid out. The most common insult was bor, which was local slang for “thing” as well as “penis.” “For them, we were no better than objects,” Someone remembered. Across the border, in Burundi, where many Banyamulenge fled, they were called kijuju after a local plant that looked like cassava but couldn’t be eaten—a useless, treacherous substance. “They had songs they used to sing about us,” He said. “They were all variations on ‘Banyamulenge, go home to Rwanda.’ They also called us ‘RRR’: ‘Rwandans Return to Rwanda,’ or kafiri, uncircumcised—that was a huge insult for us. We aren’t Rwandans.” For many communities in the eastern Congo and elsewhere in Africa, elaborate circumcision rituals mark the graduation to manhood; Banyamulenge are usually not circumcised.

 With over half a million Tutsi massacred in Rwanda, the threat to the Congolese Tutsi was not hypothetical. Hutu militia posted a sign at the Cyangugu/ Bukavu border as a reminder: “Attention Zaireans and Bantu people! The Tutsi assassins are out to exterminate us. For centuries, the ungrateful and unmerciful Tutsi have used their powers, daughters and corruption to subject the Bantu. But we know the Tutsi, that race of vipers, drinkers of untrue blood. We will never allow them to fulfil their dreams in Kivuland.”

 I never knew what to make of Papy. He was friendly and open, but rarely laughed or showed much emotion. His voice was a steady monotone, his body lacking the gesticulations typical of many Congolese. “The war sucked the life out of me,” he told me as I lit his cigarette one evening. He told the story of the wars by way of scars on his body—a shiny splotch on the back of his head from a piece of Zimbabwean shrapnel in 1999, a long thick scar that bunched up the flesh on his lower thigh from an ex-FAR bullet in 1996. He lifted up his T-shirt to show me a welt on his ribcage where a bullet had perforated his lung. Still, he smoked. “I’m not going to live long anyway, no need talking to me about cancer.”

 It is amazing to what extent the ethnic stereotypes and conflicts that were born in Rwanda have contaminated the rest of the region. No other image plagues the Congolese imagination as much as that of the Tutsi aggressor. No other sentiment has justified as much violence in the Congo as anti-Tutsi ideology. Again and again, in the various waves of conflict in the Congo, the Tutsi community has taken centre stage, as victims and killers. This antagonism is fuelled by struggles over land tenure, citizenship, and access to resources, but also and most directly by popular prejudice and a vicious circle of revenge.

 One day, when I was arguing that you had to understand Tutsi paranoia, as it had its roots in the massacre of up to 800,000 Tutsi in Rwanda during the genocide, a lady told me: “Eight hundred thousand? Obviously it wasn’t enough. There are still some left.”

 A Congolese friend once described the curse of Congolese politics as “the reverse Midas effect.” “Anything touched by politics in the Congo turns to shit,” he told me. “It doesn’t matter if the Holy Father himself decides to run for president, he will inevitably come out corrupt, power hungry, and guilty of breaking all ten of the holy commandments.”

 If the fiercest ideology or ethics that can be found in the country is ethnic, that is because no other institution has been strong enough for the people to rally around. Unfortunately, ethnic mobilization is usually exclusive in nature and does not form an equitable or truly democratic basis for the distribution of state resources; also, given the manipulation of customary chiefs, even this vessel has been corrupted. It will take generations to rebuild institutions or social organizations that can challenge the current predatory state without resorting to ethnicity.

 Death does not sound a trumpet.


Let me tell you a story. This happened somewhere in the Congo not too long ago. I would advise readers who are faint of heart to skip this part or stop reading this article altogether. At least fourteen people were in the chief’s house when the soldiers arrived. The rebels killed all of them. Villagers who had run into the bushes came back the next morning and found the chief’s pregnant wife eviscerated, her dead foetus on the ground next to her. The infants of the chief’s younger brother had been beaten to death against the brick walls of the house. The way the victims were killed said as much as the number of dead; they displayed a macabre fascination with human anatomy. The survivors said the chief’s heart had been cut out and his wife’s genitals were gone. The soldiers had taken them. It wasn’t enough to kill their victims; they disfigured and played with the bodies. They disembowelled one woman by cutting her open between her anus and vagina, then propped up the dead body on all fours and left her with her buttocks facing upwards. Another corpse was given two slits on either side of his belly, where his hands were inserted. “Anavaa koti—they made him look like he was wearing a suit,” the villagers told me. Another man had his mouth slit open to his ears, was put in a chair and had a cigarette dangling from his lips when he was found.

The killers wanted to show the villagers that this would be the consequence of any resistance. There were no limits to their revenge—they would kill the priests, rape the nuns, rip babies from their mothers’ wombs, and twist the corpses into origami figures. “We had seen people killed before,” One of the survivors told me. “But this was worse than killing. It was like they killed them, and then killed them again. And again.”

 Former Tanzanian president Julius Nyerere observed, “The biggest obstacle is that those who are in power, the minority …, they are like one riding on the back of a tiger. And they really want almost a water-tight assurance before they get off the back of the tiger because they feel if they get off the back of the tiger, it will eat them.”

 The Congo casts a spell on many visitors. It cast a spell on me. It is difficult to explain why. The author Philip Gourevitch once wrote:

 “Oh Congo, what a wreck. It hurts to look and listen. It hurts to turn away.”

 The Congolese tragedy certainly has something of a car-wreck attraction to it. Nine governments battled through a country the size of western Europe, walking thousands of miles on foot through jungles and swamps. Over five million people have died, and hundreds of thousands of women have been raped.If anything should be important, it is the deaths of five million people. Or is it? The Congo war is actually rarely seen as a problem of joint humanity. Instead, it is either portrayed in western media as an abject mess—a morass of rebel groups fighting over minerals in the ruins of a failed state—or as a war of good versus evil, with the role of villain played alternatively by the Rwandan government, Ugandan government, international mining companies, the U.S. government, or Congolese warlords. In the twenty-four-hour news cycle, in which international news is devoted largely to the war on terror and its spin-offs, there is little interest in a deeper understanding of the conflict, little appetite for numbers as unimaginably large as five million. Instead, a few shocking individual images command the headlines.

 Activist and Vagina Monologues founder Eve Ensler wrote in the Huffington Post that she had heard horrific stories ranging from “women being raped by fifty men in one day to women being forced to eat dead babies,”while the New York Times reported how a woman was “kidnapped by bandits in the forest, strapped to a tree and repeatedly gang-raped. The bandits did unspeakable things, she said, like disembowelling a pregnant woman right in front of her.”

All of these stories are true. The conflict has seen acts of cannibalism, girls as young as five being raped with gun barrels and sticks, and women buried alive. Journalists have a responsibility to report on these atrocities, and people are often jolted awake by such horrors. In addition, millions of dollars have gone to dedicated organizations and health centres in the region that are helping survivors cope and restart their lives. These advocacy efforts have also, however, had unintended effects. They reinforce the impression that the Congo is filled with wanton savages, crazed by power and greed. This view, by focusing on the utter horror of the violence, distracts from the politics that gave rise to the conflict and from the reasons behind the bloodshed. If all we see is black men raping and killing in the most outlandish ways imaginable, we might find it hard to believe that there is any logic to this conflict. We are returned to Joseph Conrad’s notion that the Congo takes you to the heart of darkness, an inscrutable and unimprovable mess. If we want to change the political dynamics in the country, we have above all to understand the conflict on its own terms. That starts with understanding how political power is managed.

Congolese state and society have not always been so weak. In the fifteenth century, large kingdoms with sophisticated governance structures began forming in the savannahs in the centre and west of the country. The Kongo kingdom, based in the far west along the Atlantic coast, at one point was able to field over 20,000 infantrymen and archers in battle, funded through an elaborate system of taxes, and had diplomatic representatives at the Portuguese, Spanish, and Papal courts. The Lunda and Luba kingdoms, based in the centre of today’s Congo, in the savannahs along the Angolan border, developed a successful model of government based on sacred kingship and local councils that spread through neighbouring regions.

 Since independence, the story of political power from Joseph Mobutu to Joseph Kabila has been about staying in power, not about creating a strong, accountable state. This is understandable. In the Congo, everything flows from political office: the best business deals, influence, and status. For those outside of power, there is scant opportunity to prosper. These rulers have treated strong public institutions as threats, eroding the capacity of the army so as to maintain tight control over key units and undermining an independent judiciary and parliament. The biggest fear of Mobutu’s and Kabila’s regimes has not been a foreign invasion—Mobutu was incredulous to the end that a neighbouring country could oust him—but internal collapse. They feared even their own bodyguards and ministers would stab them in the back.

 The Congo of today is in some ways more similar to the sixteenth century Italy of Machiavelli—and its court intrigues comparable—than to any modern twenty-first-century state. A central reason, therefore, for the lack of visionary leadership in the Congo is because its political system rewards ruthless behaviour and marginalizes scrupulous leaders. It privileges loyalty over competence, wealth and power over moral character. Well-intentioned (albeit misguided) leaders like Wamba dia Wamba are spun to the outside of this centrifuge, while the more guileful ones stay at the centre. Spend some time in the Grand Hotel in Kinshasa, where politicians mingle and deals are struck, and you will realize that the welfare of the Congolese people is absent from their conversations, while court intrigues and battles for power are a matter of obsession. This is not to say there is no ideology in the Congo. It is full of firebrand nationalists who are tired of the humiliation of being “the doormat of Central Africa, on which visiting armies clean their shoes,” as one friend griped.

 But the political system has failed to channel this ideology into responsible leadership. The only viable means of popular mobilization remains ethnicity, although even that has been gutted of much of its moral content by generations of customary rulers co-opted and repressed by the state. These ethnicity-based organizations, whether political parties or armed groups, mobilize for greater resources for their own narrow community, not for the public good. This in turn fuels corrupt systems of patronage, whereby ethnic leaders embezzle public funds in order to reward their supporters.

 We should give the Congolese an opportunity to decide on how to deal with their violent past. A key fallacy of international engagement has been the idea that justice is an impediment to peace in the region. Time and time again, diplomats have actively shied away from creating an international court to prosecute those responsible for the many atrocities committed during the war. One of the most disheartening moments in my research, repeated countless times, was hearing survivors explain that they didn’t have anything to help them address their loss—the killers hadn’t been brought to justice, and often they didn’t even know where their loved ones were buried. The Congo is something of an outlier in this sense: Sierra Leone, Kosovo, East Timor, Rwanda, and the former Yugoslavia have all had tribunals to deal with the past. Yet in the Congo, where many of the perpetrators are still in power, the victims are left to stew in their frustration.

 It is precisely because many former warlords are still in power that diplomats have been wary of launching prosecutions. This has resulted in an army and government replete with criminals who have little deterrent to keep them from resorting to violence again. In October 2010 the United Nations released a report summarizing the most egregious war crimes committed in the country between 1993 and 2003 and recommending that a special court be established. This time, donors and the Congolese government must seize the opportunity. This is not to say that we should impose an international tribunal on the Congo; it may not be the best solution. But the Congolese people should be given the chance to know some of the truth of what happened during the war and to hold accountable those responsible. Two hundred and twenty Congolese civil society organizations have written in support of the UN report and have called for a conference to decide on how best to proceed. Such an initiative would be an important signal to the elite, proving that impunity is not the glue of the political system.

 The Congo war had no one cause, no clear conceptual essence that can be easily distilled in a couple of paragraphs. Like an ancient Greek epic, it is a mess of different narrative strands—some heroic, some venal, all combined in a narrative that is not straightforward but layered, shifting, and incomplete. It is not a war of great mechanical precision but of ragged human edges.

 This article is an exhortation to raise the bar and try harder to understand this layered complexity. The Congo’s suffering is intensely human; it has experienced trauma on a massive and prolonged scale, and the victims are our neighbours, our trading partners, our political confreres and rivals. They are not alien; they are not evil; they are not beyond our comprehension. They are not inferior. The story of the Congo is dense and complicated. It demands that all involved think hard. This means diving into the nuts and bolts of Congolese politics and working to help the more legitimate and responsible leaders rise to the top. This means better, more aggressive, and smarter peacekeeping and conflict resolution; more foreign aid that is conditional on political reforms and not just on fiscal performance; and more responsible corporate investment and trade with the Congo. We should not despair. If there is one thing I know after having worked, lived and partied in the Congo, it is the extreme resilience and energy of the Congolese people. As the eccentric singer Koffi Olomide sings, referring to his country:

 “This is hell’s system here. The fire is raging, and yet we don’t get burned.”

 With all of their hardships, one would imagine the Congolese to be less vibrant and more cynical. Yet they are not.

 There are no easy solutions for the Congo, no silver bullets to produce accountable government and peace. The ultimate fate of the country rests with the Congolese people themselves. Westerners also have a role to play, in part because of their historical debt to the country, in part because it is the right thing to do. This does not mean imposing a foreign vision on the country or simply sending food and money. It means understanding it and its politics and rhythms on their own terms, and then doing our part in providing an environment conducive to growth and stability.

 Cheers and have a great day.

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Let me tell you a story. In the Lord of the Rings, when Frodo and his companion are almost done in, they are miraculously saved by giant birds. In the Avengers, when Earth is about to be conquered and colonised, our team of superheroes led by my nigga Thor, Hulk and the irritating Iron Man come together and save the day. In the Dark Knight Rises our masked hero finds his strength and saves Gotham from catastrophe at the last minute. In Star Wars, before Luke Skywalker is dispatched to the afterlife by his father Darth Vader (not Gladys Boss Shollei, hehe) he triumphs. It is almost always a common feature in literature, theatre and film. When everything seems impossible, and the hero or heroes are at their wit’s end with no hope in sight, something or someone miraculously swoops in and saves the day. Perhaps it is based on truth and experience; perhaps it is normally included to satisfy that very human need for a happy ending. This stylistic device is normally known as Deus ex machina; which is Latin for God in the machine.

Kenya finds herself in a similar state. The trials at The Hague, terrorist attacks on our very own territory, a pending renewal of war,  tremendous corruption, a struggling economy, overt and covert tribalism, domestic and international pressure etc etc.  We are, it seems, in our very own movie, our very own story which will be recorded in the annals of history. Now this is the question: If things go badly for us, is our story going to be a tragedy or a misfortune? Allow me to explain the difference. In a misfortune, bad things happen to the protagonist through forces beyond his or her control. On the other hand, in a tragedy the seeds of destruction lie within the protagonist himself and he brings about his own downfall. Think Achilles, Samson, King David, Alexander the Great, Luanda Magere, et al and many others that are not so glamorous or well known.

In this article, I will focus on the issue of Kenya and the International Criminal Court, or depending on your vantage point, Uhuru, Ruto and the ICC. Allow me to firstly state that the ICC grossly underestimated Kenya. They underestimated the capacity of our body politic. They underestimated our capacity for bribery, intimidation, propaganda and concerted slipperiness. We even actualised the term ‘shuttle diplomacy’ for heaven’s sake. The thing is, after this particular episode one of the two parties will be irreparably changed. Perhaps there is not enough room on the planet for both Kenya and the ICC. Both have their flaws; the ICC has dragged its feet – it would have been easier to expedite the trials and try our ‘Big Two’ before they ascended to the leadership of this country. The ICC could also have handled the issue of witnesses better. Kenya on the other hand, or rather our political leaders, lie, shape shift and avoid responsibility with unmatched zeal. It has taken me a while to admit it, but the issue of the court being seen as anti-African and neo-colonialist is real. On the other hand, it will do us well to remember that more often than not it is dictators and despots who trump the sovereignty card. Idi Amin claimed sovereignty while massacring and literally eating his people. Apartheid South Africa did the same while oppressing a whole race. Bashir did the same while committing and/or abetting genocide in Darfur.

We spit in the face of Europe and America, yet the truth is as foreign partners they have helped us more than any other nations have. Did you see any Chinese Special Forces or forensic teams at Westgate during or after the terrorist attack? The aid we have gotten in terms of food, medicine and military expertise is from the west, our so called enemies. But allow me to make this clear, I do not believe the west has the moral locus standi, the moral ground to lecture us on issues of human rights and justice. Not after the atrocities they committed through colonialism, slavery, unjustified war and economic exploitation. But another simple truth is that no court in Kenya, will try, let alone convict, Uhuru Kenyatta.

On the other hand, Mr. President, methinks that currently you are surrounded by sycophants and yes men. Everyone in your government, parliament and senate seems only too eager to bow down, kow-tow and kiss your feet. Recipe for disaster, this is. It surprises and pains me to see intellectuals like Senator Kithure Kindiki, who was an admired teacher of mine in law school, and Kipchumba Murkomen, who I believe also lectured at some point (though his impact was neither here nor there, in my humble opinion), changing their ideals to suit the political climate. Let me make it clear that it does not augur well for me for my President to be tried in court, especially a foreign court. To be honest, I don’t want this to happen. But what about the 1,300 dead post election violence victims? There was murder, persecution, horrible assault, rape and destruction. Shall we pretend it never happened? And please save me all the bullshit about moving on, and accepting results as our impotent and spectacularly mindless media tirelessly begs us to. The bible, if you believe in it, says that peace will reign in the land when there is justice. As my priest asked me just a few days back, should we sacrifice the rule of law at the altar of power? As a country we have hardly prosecuted anyone in connection with that dark period in our history. The Department of Public Prosecution is too busy trying to convince us that Kethi Kilonzo stole a voter acknowledgment slip to be bothered with such trivial matters. Our judiciary is too busy battling Darth Vader and giving the ‘Shah’ Ahmednasir Abdullahi airtime, as they jostle and push to figure out who will replace the venerable chief justice Willy Mutunga, who I think has done an admirable job by the way.

The ICC has already made Kenya better. They have done what we would never have done on our own. There is a clear message to all who think they are above the law. As the erudite Charles Kanjama wrote in a recent article, and I paraphrase, is there anyone who is above the law? Is the law not meant to be our last and most solid refuge? Shall it apply to some and not to others? But on the other hand, should we allow our democratically elected President to be tried in a foreign court? Let us ignore the knee-jerk utterances of our foreign secretary Amina Mohammed and the meaningless barking of our legislators led by Aden Duale, and overseen by the boorish Justin Muturi (Do we know that he is third in line to the presidency? God forbid, if anything happens to our prez and his deputy we are stuck with this clownish bully for at least 90 days, God help us). These are the questions we need to ask ourselves, the issues we need to weigh, and they are indeed weighty. If an arrest warrant is issued for our Commander in Chief, sanctions are sure to follow. And it is you and I, the common man, who will suffer. Not the prince raised in state house (No disrespect intended) and not the ‘Hustler’.

I honestly do not know the answer to these questions, and I won’t pretend to. In my pedestrian mind, I would advise the President and his deputy to attend the hearings, but not show up on the day that judgement is issued. Yeah I said it.

We cannot rely on Deus ex machina. It might be a true miracle, or it might just be nonsense. But either way we have to rely on Kenya ex machina, Kenya in the machine. We must craft our own destiny, we must be the God that saves us; we must be our own salvation.