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Why Don’t You? Why Do You?

Early evening. You are seated by the counter in a smoky bar somewhere in the city. Just about to kick back and sign off for the day. Exchanging pleasantries with the barman and engaging in small talk here and there. Farther along the counter there is a rather attractive young woman ordering a drink. By her style of dress you figure she’s either a lawyer or works in an audit firm, probably one of the Big Four. Same difference, except that the lawyer will most likely have an air of self-importance, dozens of points to prove, a chip on her shoulder and misplaced feminism to boot. Okay so it’s not the same difference. After a while you notice she’s casting furtive glances your way every so often. When someone walks in and greets you by name, you can see her pretty little ears perk up a little, and the glances increase. In between questions posed to the barman, she finally gathers the courage to speak to you. A year or so back you’d have been the first one to talk to her but now, well, now is now.

She speaks: “Hi. You’re so and so?”

You: “Ummm, errr… Why do you ask?” (You learnt the hard way, the very hard way, long ago, never to answer that question in a hurry. It has too many possibilities behind it, many of which are not pleasant.)

After pushing and pulling for a while, and after judging the situation reasonably safe to continue, you finally admit that you are who she thinks you are. She goes on to gush about your writing, how she follows your blog religiously. Due to the reputation that Kenyan bloggers have achieved of late, you wince at the mention of the word blog – you hate the term blogger. She continues to say things about you and your writing – since people assume they can tell the type of person you are through your writing- saying how she thinks you are intelligent, crazy, humorous, arrogant, chauvinistic, confused, you have a mean streak, but she likes it, thinks you curse too much but it’s okay, she’d like to pick your brain, perhaps, you should write more about this and that… And then the question: “Why don’t you write anymore?”

Hmmmm.

A slightly cold night in the countryside. It’s heading towards midnight and you’re heading towards town to pick up a friend who has arrived late. A roadblock in the distance, the ones mounted with lanterns by the side, and manned by eager young policemen. They flag you down, and you quickly think of ignoring them and speeding past or acknowledging them and still speeding past. You doubt that they have a chase car somewhere waiting to chase after you movie style. Anyway, you slow down to a stop and roll down your window. One policeman walks over to your window, flashlight in hand.

“Habari mkubwa!”

“Mzuri sana baba”

“Naezaangalia gari ndani?”

You allow him to check the car because you have nothing to hide. Plus this is the country side; people tend to be courteous to each other including the police. While he is checking you remember the bottle of whisky on the passenger seat, and the glass, with whisky, in the cup holder next to you. Both you and the police officer notice these things at the same time.

“Unajienjioy, eh?”

“Sio sana afisa. Pole pole tu.”

“Unakunywa ukiendesha?”

“Hapana afande. Hiyo ilikuwa ya rafiki yangu ameisahau hapo.”

He smiles, laughs, and keeps looking at you. After a while it looks like he’s trying to remember you. You’re doing your best not to be remembered. He asks for your license. You hand it to him, and his eyes light up like a little boy.

“Ni wewe? Yaani it is you? Nikuulize, unaandikanga mambo kwa mtandao? Yaani internet? Hii jina na sura ninazijua. Walubengo Den?”

You ashamedly admit that it might be the truth. He goes on to tell you how he follows your blog religiously, and that he is actually currently studying at some college close by, and his lecturer directed all of the students to read your blog to gain some knowledge and improve their language. (You almost burst out laughing at this. Poor students. Poor lecturer.) After getting over his initial excitement the young police officer’s face turns a bit solemn and he asks you: Why don’t you write anymore?

Hmmmm.

You leave the earnest policeman with a glass of liquor to keep him warm, and you head off into the night. Thinking. Why don’t you write anymore? Why don’t you write?

Perhaps in the words below we will attempt, or endeavor to extricate ourselves from this morass. Perchance I will favour the well trained lawyer’s style of writing; Brief, concise, precise, and accurate. Or perhaps I will favour the grandiloquent style of some law professors and speechwriters. Maybe both. Then again, may be none. The author’s style: describing sunsets and sunrises and moons and oceans and landscapes in magnificent, almost numbing words punctuated by suffocating similes and a myriad of metaphors. No. Perhaps I should just say shag it and have a ghostwriter write out all this shit. But I’m not a rapper. I think I’ll just bumble along and wing it.

In bars. Restaurants. On the street. On the highway. In the club. Even at work and at home. The world seems to be teeming with people keening to know why you don’t write anymore. Surprisingly, people will read what you write sometimes, and if you are vain enough to include a picture or two of yourself in your articles they will know what you look like. Also, if you have a ‘common’ face (polite way of saying ‘watchman’s face), many people will think they have seen or met you before. Anyway.

Methinks the more important question is: “Why do you write? Why should you write?”

I’ve asked this question to many others, seeking to find out why they write, seeking to know what drives them. Some say it’s money that drives them, others say it’s passion. Some say that writing is a need, it is something you inexplicably need to do. Others of course write for vanity, or for fame or notoriety. Others write to stir unnecessary controversy or to spread hate steeped in mutated feminism like that girl/female/woman (what is the politically correct term?) who was insulting Subarus the other day, specifically Subarus of a blue hue. I never liked Subarus much in the first place, but now I do. I tend to gravitate towards the things which stupid people don’t like. Oh well, to each his own and we haven’t paraded ourselves here to judge.

I still remember someone telling me that I should write because I feel good while writing. But the end results are the words, the sentences, and they will be read by people. So making myself feel good then sharing the results with the reading public. I don’t know about you, but to me that sounds an awful lot like masturbating in public. Some say you can only write and write well when you are sad, or when there is a great cause that one is writing for. I don’t know. Some draw motivation from the bottle and perhaps a pack of cigarettes – Keeps them writing.

Some write to make their voice heard. Some write to make the voices in their head go quiet.

Why do you write? Why should you write? Me I don’t know.
If there’s anyone out there who has an answer to these questions, or ideas, kindly share. They might just help to spark a light.

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TERRORISM IN KENYA

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Terror is the ultimate way to paralyse a people’s will and destroy their ability to plan a strategic response. Such power is gained through sporadic acts of violencethat create a constant feeling of threat, incubating fear which spreads throughout the public sphere. The goal in a terror campaign is not battlefield victory but provoking maximumchaos and prodding the other side into desperate over reaction. Melting invisibly into the population, tailoring their actions for the mass media, the strategists of terror create the illusion that they are everywhere and therefore far more powerful thantheyactually are. It is a war of nerves. The victims of terror must not succumb to fear or even anger; to plot the most effective counter strategies, they must stay balanced. In the face of a terror campaign, one’s rationality is the last line of defense.

Ergo, as a country we need not fear the so called Al Shabaab or whatever banner they appear under. We should go on with our daily lives, go to the movies, parks and all that.
Importantly, as a country we should not target just one ethnic group or religion in the guise of fighting terrorism. One: That would be playing into the terrorists’ hand. Xenophobia is not a Kenyan trait and we should avoid it by all means. Two: It helps to radicalize moderate Muslims in Kenya and world over whom now want would to offer more support to Al Shabaab.
Let us think before we react, and really think well. We also need to be prepared in whichever way we can. I also believe that more Muslim leaders should come out and condemn these heinous acts carried out by people who want to soil the name of Islam. And also find out what is going in their mosques.

Finally we need to take out these terrorists. I don’t believe that Somalia is that big. We need to cut off the head of the snake. Our Special Forces are well able and are trained for this kind of situation, where precision, accuracy and speed are needed; I also have faith in our armed forces. We could also just bomb the shit out of that country, or we colonise it, and annex it and make it a part of Kenya – Russia seems to be setting a good precedent in the Crimea. Hehe.

Anyway, stay strong. Cheers.

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The Truth is A Nasty Prediction

A man who has nothing to die for is not fit to live. ~ Martin Luther King

 

Before we begin, let me assure you. I am well aware of the risks of writing and publishing an article such as this one. Especially in a country like ours.  Let me also assure you: I believe that any day is a good day to die. As a Christian, and a staunch Catholic at that, it would be foolish and arrogant for me to believe that my destiny and life are fully under my control. Brave, yes I am. Do not believe that bravery, or courage, means an absence of fear. It means acknowledging fear but acting in spite of it. It denotes a triumph over fear. Dying is easy, it is living that is hard. In this life The Almighty has seen fit to give me more than my fair share of pain and anguish, but who am I to judge. He has also given me a lion’s share of happiness, fun, love, friendship and pleasure, for which I am eternally grateful. By His Grace we live, and by that same token we are saved.

 

From Njoro to Marsabit, from Mombasa to Embu, from The Congo to Somalia, from Rwanda to South Sudan, I have looked into the abyss and it has looked into me. I have laughed in the face of the devil, and wept in his presence as well. I have nightmares and sleepless nights, begging, yearning, for daylight to arrive. I’m haunted by voices and memories of things I did and shouldn’t have done, and things I didn’t do and should have done. It is not an extraordinary thing for me to cry and laugh in one day like a baby coming from God’s hands, fully aware of what this despicable and delightful planet has in store for him. I am as intimate with man’s capacity for evil, as I am familiar with his propensity for good. But this article is not about me. It is about my country, the land of my brothers and forefathers, the land our people have shed precious blood, sweat and tears for, the land I love.

 

 I am not a prophet and will not claim that I am prophesizing the coming of doom. I have not seen any vision, not had any dreams, not looked into any crystal balls, not burnt incense, and not had any commune with the spirits of the deceased and I am not even interested in the idea of fortune tellers. Anyone who has read some of my more serious articles will know my opinion on the fallibility of prediction; but will also know about my belief in the unexpected, what we refer to as the Black Swan. My argument stems from deductive reasoning, adding up the signs right in front of everyone, reading the headlines in the Kenyan newspapers and observing reactions of Kenyans to various issues. I have no prognostic aptitude for the future and there is nothing quite definite about the way the future will behave. The only conclusion possible by looking at the current state of this country and policies and politics being actively promoted by its leaders is an eminent conflagration; a war of immense proportions that will destroy what is left of the country after 50 years of active political mismanagement. That conclusion is not a scare-mongering attempt; it is as a result of objective analysis.

 

For some Kenyans the possibility of war is not breaking news. They know their country is on the fast lane to civil war but they are not prepared to concede it. Acknowledging that a problem is at hand confers upon the individual the responsibility to procure a solution and Kenyans are not willing to take that responsibility. There is an eminent war and the discussion about its likelihood has replaced boardroom banter on politics and business. The citizens of this country believe that it cannot happen here and want to solidify that belief with complete denial of the slippery slope we are on whose bottom lies the burning coal of civil strife.

Many countries in Africa have been overtaken by conflict and reduced to failed states. The war did not come overnight; it brewed over a long period of time. The embers of fire were sown first through colonialism, tribalism, corruption, class war between the poor and the rich and then through appeasement of foreign entities that create their own stooges in Government. By the time a war breaks out a country is so weakened by institutional inefficiencies that it is no longer able to serve its people. The rule of law breaks down completely, citizens take matters into their own hands leading to public lynching of criminals and those suspected of petty crimes. Extra-judicial killings by security forces become common place. Corruption is mainstreamed breeding tribalism, nepotism, favouritism and other isms that are used to describe unequal treatment of citizens because of either tribal, demographic, sex or some other likeness.

In failed states politics is an end game in itself. The players have no other goal other the political game they are playing. The political game is played at the elite level; the population is far removed from the politics of their country. Either the country is governed by a weak dictator ruling through symbols or a superficial democracy with degraded moral sense. Weak dictators are probed up by foreign Governments and corporations engaged in business or natural resource exploitation. The dictators hang onto power for themselves and the interest of their foreign backers. Where the country is ruled by an elected Government, its politics is perverted, infected by tribalism and corruption. The state suffers weak and ineffective governance systems and institutional failure. These are the ominous signs that something is afoot in an African country. Countries like Somalia of Siad Barre, Uganda of Obote and Amin, Zaire of Mobutu and Rwanda of Habriyamana fall in the first category while Ivory Coast, Mauritania, Senegal, Zimbabwe and Kenya fall in the second category.[i]

A Government is created by choice of the governed to protect their life, livelihood, property and pride. This means a Government that does not protect the citizens life is not worthy of existence. One that does not take care of its citizens by guaranteeing their basic survival should not exist. A Government in which private property legally acquired by a citizen is not protected has failed its basic duties. Governments are supposed to create conditions for the citizen to live a comfortable life. It may not be the role of the Government to feed its citizens but it should not block them from feeding themselves. A Government can block a citizen from feeding himself through actions or omissions. Access to common facilities like roads, railways, airports, hospitals, schools, recreational facilities and other infrastructure should be taken for granted by a citizen. The actions of Governments to provide these facilities ensure that the individual citizen is able to aspire to improvement of his life. If a citizen cannot have an access road to a market for his products, this means the state is in fact blocking the citizen’s right to feed himself and his family. The state is the facilitator of business and professional life. Citizenry vote and pay tax to establish the structures and fund the administration of the state. This is the social contract, an implicit agreement between the state and the citizen in which the citizen accepts to live under the rules of the state and the state enforces the rules. The relationship collapses once one party fails to honour its part.

Citizens wage wars to get rid of bad Governments. The major cause of civil conflict therefore is the citizens’ grievance against the state. The tools employed for such wars maybe just an excuse. A tribal strife in a country means the state has created conditions in which the tribes feel that other communities are denying them their rightful share of the national resources. The basic demand for warmongers initially is equity and equality before the law and common participation in Government. If favouritism related to tribalism is suspected by tribes then that dissatisfaction may brew into a war.

In Kenya, mismanagement of national affairs has been going on for fifty years. Change at the top level of leadership has changed nothing. Introduction of multiparty system has worsened the situation by balkanizing the country into regional and tribal fiefdoms under snobby tribal chiefs. The elites and the rich have amassed unprecedented level of wealth and power through dubious practices at the expense of the population. Their sole objective is the need to consolidate their power and wealth. Criminals are holding the reigns of national affairs and they have insulated themselves against the law using the strength of their tribes.

The judiciary has all but collapsed. Chief Justice Willy Mutunga is doing an excellent job, but there are too many forces against him, both within and without. Despite the enormous number of political criminals, corrupt civil servants and powerful individuals being caught on the wrong side of the law, Kenya remains without even one successful high profile conviction of a celebrity criminal.[ii] The courts are as scared as the police are of the criminals in civil service. The politicians aligned their tribes behind them and are daring anybody to take any action. The consequences for the country of any challenge on these tribal chiefs will be calamitous. The tribes themselves have become enlightened to their own paltry status. They are blaming their fellow tribes as scapegoats since they are powerless against their own tribal chief.

The governance structure in Kenya itself is untenable. There is no separation of powers. The parliament is also the executive. The civil servants are political appointees whose loyalty is to those who appointed them. What is worse is that the civil service is frustrating the noble ideas and goals of the current government. The Jubilee Manifesto, if implemented, will change this country greatly for the better. But the civil service is trying to create a parallel government, which as as dangerous as a black market or a powerful Mafia. When a senior civil servant can say, to no less a person than the President’s speech writer himself, that the President should tone down his anti-corruption rhetoric because it is lowering the morale of the civil service, what kind of country do we live in? Where the morale of corrupt incompetents is more important than progress? Who is in control? Who is backing such civil servants? They think they are untouchable, but we will touch you where you have never been touched before. If we fall before we carry out this noble and patriotic endeavour, others like us will finish the job; rest assured.

The constitution is still a piece of dictatorial mumbo jumbo that means nothing to the citizens. Constitutional change has become almost impossible because vested interests will not allow any change in governance.

This is the country we have at this moment in our history. Increasingly the citizens are taking matters into their own hands and attempting to change this despoliation state. The war will become a reality the day the large numbers of security forces become tangled in the political and tribal quagmire. If the security forces feel that they are being discriminated against on tribal or other orientations, war is eminent. There is no way the security forces will be immune to the state of affairs of the citizenry. There are already murmurs that recruitment has been corrupted and tribalized, promotions are no longer on merit and institutional deficiencies are affecting the armed forces. The weakness of the laws that make extra judicial killings and mafia style targeting of witnesses possible make it impossible for honesty and impartiality in the keeping of the peace. The security forces will only be disciplined if there is a law to be upheld, a judiciary to punish offenders and a Government to fund this process. If these pillars are undermined there is a real risk of collapse.

My view is that all these factors are ganging up against this country and making it possible for a war to break out unless some circumstance or someone changes Kenya’s direction. Any challenges to the political cobwebs pulling the country apart may in themselves lead to war.[iii] There is no hope that the political class will look up and see the ominous clouds gathering overhead. The raindrops of blood fell in December 2007 claiming 1500 lives in the violence that followed the stolen elections. The blood of Kenyans is already oozing all over the place with gangs slaughtering villagers in Central province, Kisii and Mount Elgon, gun trotting bandits rustling livestock in Isiolo and run away crime taking over all major urban centres. Terrorists lobbying grenades and planting IEDs with abandon. Westgate happens and months later we have no meaningful response or change? There are hidden daggers drawn, arms are coming in from all major borders with neighbouring countries.[iv] While politicians are acting like they are in control, the country is already out of control. Kenya is spinning fast off course. The wave of mistrust and hatred between the 39 Kenyan tribes and the other 3 is very high. Politicians are practicing funeral politics, where they make political speeches over dead bodies before they are interned; an ominous sign of things to come. There is an agreement among experts that there is a grave concern of persisting political and ethnic strife, that there is pervasive public anger by the majority poor citizens and ethnic mistrust is deepening and all these will lead to an almost assured outcome of war come… Who knows when?[v] [vi] [vii] [viii]

The citizens have a right to be warned, to take heed to refuse to be drawn into the eminent war. That is easier said than done. The war is likely to spar citizen against citizen. The only option is massive revolt by the people of Kenya against the political class, a revolution whose leaders will be aligned to no specific tribe.


[i] In “State Driven Conflict in the Greater Horn of Africa” Professor Peter Wayande of the University of Nairobi analyses the causes and costs of wars in Kenya, Somalia, Eritrea, Sudan and other regions in the greater Horn of Africa. Richard Joseph in Challenges of a Frontier Region says, “Contemporary African leaders may govern as autocrats (Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, Hassan al-Bashir of Sudan, Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea) or as democrats (John Kufuor of Ghana, Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali, Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania)—or else may oscillate between these two models”  

[ii] There have been no high profile prosecutions for the political murders of J. M Kariuki, Tom Mboya, Gama Pia Pinto, Robert Ouko and Professor Mbai. No one was prosecuted for Goldenberg scandal, The Anglo-leasing scandal, the Mahindra Debacle, the Artur Brothers scandal, the Maize scandal, the Triton Scandal and the many other high profile cases of grand larceny. There has been no attempt to conclude the genocide case of the Wagalla Massacre victims. In fact Kenya has never successfully prosecuted a high profile criminal for any crime civil or criminal.

[iii] The report “On the Edge of a Precipice compiled by Kenya National Commission on Human Rights make pointed conclusions about the perpetrators of the 2007 election violence. The report names top tribal chiefs and their political supporters, people whose are able to dare anybody to touch them.

[iv] A source that needs to remain anonymous corroborates this statement. People living in various border points in Kenya have confirmed that they have witnessed unusual movements of arms destined for sale in Kenya.  

[v] Kiai, M. & Gladwell Otieno, One year on: Kenya on a knife-edge Action points for US policy-makers on current risks to Kenya’s stability, a briefing for US Policymakers, March 2009.

[vi] Professor Bethwell Ogot, a prominent Kenyan Scholar and Chairman of Moi University council was quoted in the Daily Nation saying that the post election crisis has exposed the falsity of Kenya’s calm as a peaceful state.

[vii] Professor Ali Mazrui writing in Pambazuka News argues that ‘The Kenya presidential elections of December 2007 are potentially the most damaging episode to national unity since the assassination of Tom Mboya in July 1969’

[viii] Korir Sing’oei, Kenya: Unfinished Business – Moving Forward, 18 June 2009, www.allafrica.com

 


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PAUL KAGAME: A leader that Kenyan Presidents Should Emulate?

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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.

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

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

—FRANTZ FANON

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.

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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!

—KOFFI OLOMIDE

 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.

—CONGOLESE SAYING

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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Of Adversity

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It was a high speech of Seneca (after the manner of the Stoics), that the good things which belong to prosperity are to be wished, but the good things that belong to adversity are to be admired. Bona rerum secundarum optabilia, adversarum mirabilia. Certainly if miracles be the command over nature, they appear most in adversity. It is yet a higher speech of his than the other (much too high for a heathen): It is true greatness to have in one the frailty of a man and the security of a god. Vere magnum, habere fragilitatem hominis, securitatem dei. This would have done better in poesy, where transcendenices are more allowed. And the poets indeed have been busy with it, for it is in effect the thing which is figured in that strange fiction of the ancient poets, which seemeth not to be without mystery; nay, and to have some approach to the state of a Christian: that Hercules, when he went to unbind Prometheus (by whom human nature is represented) sailed the length of the great ocean in an earthen pot or pitcher; lively decribing Christian resolution, that saileth in the frail bark of the flesh thorough the waves of the world. But to speak in a mean.

The virtue of prosperity is temperance; the virtue of adversity is fortitude, which in morals is the more heroical virtue. Prosperity is the blessing of the Old Testament; adversity is the blessing of the New, which carrieth the greater benediction and the clearer revelation of God’s favour.

Yet even in the Old Testament, if you listen to David’s harp, you shall hear as many hearse-like airs as carols; and the pencil of the Holy Ghost hath labuored more in describing the afflictions of Job than the felicities of Solomon. prosperity is not without many fears and distastes, and adversity is not without comforts and hopes.

We see in needleworks and embroideries, it is more pleasing to have a lively work upon a sad and solemn ground, than to have a dark and melancholy work upon a lightsome ground: judge therefore of the pleasure of the heart by the pleasure of the eye. Certainly virtue is like precious odours, most fragrant when they are incensed or crushed; for prosperity doth best discover vice, but adversity doth best discover virtue.

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DEUS EX MACHINA, KENYA EX MACHINA? PART II

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In the prequel to this article, I already explained what Deus ex machina means.

We pray to a God we don’t really believe in.

As a country, we have no soul, no heart; we are bereft of conscience and our moral compass is defunct.

Despite the tragedy and sadness, the Westgate massacre has brought the reality of Kenya to many in the upper middle class and the rich. The hens have come home to roost. The fruits of our apathy are here with us now. This is what corruption and tribalism does to a country. This and many more, are and will be recompense for the ills that you have simply seen as slights.

Who cares anyway? After all, all you need to become Cabinet Secretary in Charge of Defense is for your brother to have gone to school with the president and a consistent ability to wear sunglasses.

To our non-caring elite, and those who aspire to be like them: you are like Loki, the Nordic god of evil; it seems there is no pain that would prise your need for greed and power from you. But trust me, a lot of people think that until the pain starts.

We court chaos, and yet when chaos responds to our song and dance and comes upon us, we are surprised. Do we not realise that we lie in the bed we have made for ourselves?

We lie and kill, in the service of liars and killers.

When a child is shot down in church and in Westgate and angels weep, and that child’s death is directly linked to your tribalism and corruption, not only are you on the wrong side of history, but you are on the wrong side of me and others like me.

Just because we disagree does not mean we must insult and tear each other down. Let someone teach this lesson to Aden Duale, Justin Muturi, and Jakoyo Midiwo. Teach it to the Americans as well.

And if we must insult, can we at least put some effort and thought into our insults? From issuing witty barbs, we have descended to witless barbarism.

One of the reasons I support Uhuru Kenyatta, though I did not vote for him, is this; first, he is our President. Second, Uhuru has the opportunity and ability to fix this country. He can fix tribalism, corruption, and poverty. And if he fixes the first two the third will solve itself. In my opinion, he has done great so far. Many criticise him, but the truth of the matter is that it is easier to criticise and tear down than to build. But Mr. President, please de-tribalise your government and the civil service. Despite what many of your supporters may say in terms of ‘so and so is well qualified to hold the job’- justice must be done and be seen to be done.

I might sound like a broken record, but it is because the truth is simple. I believe the principle of Occam’s razor says something to the effect that the best solution is the simplest one. The problem with security in our country, as with everything else, is tribalism and corruption. We are dancing in the glory of monsters, and you only need to visit the Congo to see what tribalism and corruption can do to a country. De-link the NIS from politics. Give them the power to arrest and detain. And terminate where necessary. But keep them answerable to the law. I spoke with a contemporary of mine in the NIS and he asked me: If you were President, would not like to know what your political allies and rivals are up to? And my answer was; yes I would, but not at the expense of the taxpayer.

 Pay the police better. Give them better equipment, training, and housing. Let go of knee jerk reactions and shoot to kill orders from hoteliers. And by the way, when that particular hotelier who now happens to be Cabinet Secretary of the Interior said that there was an insignificant number of hostages left, unlike many Kenyans I was not offended. The problem is English. He thought that insignificant means the same as a few. But that’s what happens when you are used to counting plates and saucers, and your mind is limited.

De-tribalise the military. On the other hand, I don’t see why Kenyans are raising such a hue and cry, or in more pedestrian terms, raising such a beef over the looting that KDF seems to have done at Westgate. Most of us would have done the same. That is who we are as a country and to deny it is to be a hypocrite and full of shit. We glorify wealth, no matter how ill gotten it is. Everyone wants theirs. We believe that the end justifies the means.

As you idly fret and facilitate our destruction, realise there is blood on your hands. There is red in your ledger. And you need to wipe it out.

And if you destroy or continue to destroy our country in the fashion that you and your ilk have done, you can be damn sure that there are some among us who will avenge it, and hold you to account for your sins. This is not a threat; it is a promise.

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