Thursday, 14 August 2014

Living Kenya's real politik: 
Of Gladiators, Transitionals and Spectators

Verily, verily I tell you. Hark my voice. If you had anything in any way to do with the installation of President Uhuru, and you haven’t yet gotten your piece of the meat, or bones - YOU ARE TIME BARRED. The King wound up the rewards, rents and favours machinery last night with decorations for the oldies - the likes of Mwakwere, Ongeri etc.

So check yourself; you there. You who were so mad about the 'young' savvy president you were willing to butcher your neighbour, abuse and insult your friends on social media.

DO THE MATH. What have you gotten in return for your loyalty? For your grand standing? For your tribal fiefdom? Maybe chronic insecurity - you and I still living scared in the same Nairobi. Maybe poor public transport – You and I still chocking in dust, traffic jam packed rowdy matatus? Maybe the ingering spectre of poverty - its 15th you and I worried about our pockets?

Next time you go wearing party colours and chanting people’s names and reciting their awesomeness, remember me. I am your countryman, I might not be your brother, or your friend, or your tribe, but I got KENYAN blood running deep down my vena cava. I got the resilience and go get it attitude, same as you, that defines who we are as Kenyans.

Remember me. Remember that we will still share the same Matatu to wok, to town; that we will still share the same dingy pubs downing a Tusker, drowning our sorrows, chanting our frustrations at poorer bar maids and reliving our aspirations in our drunken selves. Remember that they shall have found themselves perks - all friend and foe - somewhere in government, in some state authority, department, embassy etc. sipping on their Moet, Chivas Regals and Hennessies in Karen.

Folks it is never that serious. Politics I mean. It is you and me, lowlies who haven’t gotten the hang of it. It is you and me, desperate with our sorry sore cheap lives that go on hating.

My political science professor at Maseno University, Tom Mboya taught me Basic concepts in political science. He said there are three levels of Political participation: 1) Gladiator stage, 2) Transitional, and 3) Spectator.

Gladiator stage my friend is where you find the folks on the news last night, receiving jobs and accolades. The ones you defended so hard when they were accused of hate mongering – like Makwere, or presiding over misapplication of state funds – like Ongeri. The ones the electorate rejected at the ballot at the ballot like Gitahae. Yes, despite all that, they are in government, ambassadors – the true face of Kenya out there - in DC, India, UN etc.

You my friend, my brother, my countryman – you are down here with me – in our Spectator life. Ordinary Kenyans, cheap, but not too poor to afford 10MBs for hate mongering on face book. Busy hustling for our survival but not too occupied to buy party emblems, red ribbons, oranges and yellow hats to show up at Kamkunji, Uhuru Park, Tononoka, Bukhungu, 54, Afraha, Kericho Green etc. That is our role – showing up for the numbers on TV later on. Singing ‘baba’, ‘shiyenyu ni shiyenyu’, ‘kamwana’. And of course the solemn one, showing up at 4am, standing on long ques for 7 hours to do the sacrosanct duty – VOTE.

I won’t say much about the Transitionals – but take care, they are the ones that look almost like you and me, but they are not us. They have access to the Gladiators and are in ‘transition there’. And they have access to us – so they can peddle all the falsehopes and whip emotions. They are the ones who block you from accessing ‘our man’ – ‘baba’ – ‘omundu khumundu’ when they ascend to power and we need to be rewarded.

My 2pence counsel to you this morning: - Do the arithmetic. Does the math add up? Elect your level of participation and live it, knowing the true consequences and opportunities that come with it.

#Okwaroztake - I am a spectator – at least for now; an open minded one, am I?

Monday, 11 August 2014

The 3 games in the USA - Africa summit:
America playing catch up with the Orient; Obama playing legacy politricks; and Africa playing host

Last week President Obama hosted Africa’s crème de la crème in Washington at the ‘US-Africa summit’. This was by all means a good thing and deserves a round of applause. However, it is imperative that Africans put this meeting into context and reflect on its efficacy.

Ask yourself: who decided the timing and schedule of the US – Africa summit? Who decided the venue? Who elected who to invite and who to alienate? Who determined the agenda?

Symbiosis or clever lopsidedness?
This summit came at a point in time when both the USA and Africa need one another.  Maybe USA needed Africa more. To claw back on Chinese influence in Africa after a lost decade fighting terror in the middle-East, to reassert US hegemony and ‘big-brotherdom’, to tap into Africa natural resources and to increase trade and investment in the region.

Trade: - Over the past decade, US-Africa trade declined substantially when some of US arch rivals and Africa’s trading partners like the European Union, China and Japan expanded their portfolio of trade and investment in the continent. Notably, EU-Africa trade expanded to an all-time high of about US$200 billion in 2013. Chinese – Africa trade likewise increased exponentially from just about US$10 billion in 2000 to US$ 170 billion in 2013 (largely exports to Africa - 70%). Meanwhile big brother USA’s trade that stood at US$80 billion (US$ 40 billion imports from Africa due to AGOA and US$ 20 billion exports to Africa) in 2011 declined to US$ 60 billion (US$ 40 imports from Africa and US$ 20 billion exports to Africa) in 2013. It is important to note that even the small portfolio of trade with Africa (US$ 20 billion exports) was very crucial for American jobs – supporting over 100,000 jobs. Therefore for America, this summit could not have been for a better reason than to explore and expand export opportunities for American goods and services in Africa.
 For Africa, this summit came at a time when the continent was ripe with opportunity and required strategic partnerships for trade, investment and for combating some of the ills that have perennially hamstrung economic, social and political progress in the continent like terrorism and violent conflict. It’s important to note that Africa’s trade with the rest of the globe accounts for only about 2%. Yet Africa is home to 14% of the global population; has an increasing middleclass population which will expand to 100 million by the end of 2015 and has consumer spending projected to increase to 80% by 2020.  This means market, that the continent could bargain with or leverage for intra-Africa trade. Moreover, African countries are prospecting or already exploiting and commercialising substantive natural resources, oil and gas, in Ghana, Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania, Kenya, Uganda, and South Sudan for example. African countries have also made considerable progress in regional integration and cooperation. The East African community for example was one of the fastest growing regional blocks in 2013. All this is evidence to the economic and political opportunities that Africa is realising that require strategic partnership and cooperation (multilateral or bilateral) like with the USA.
Just a playing ground or real prospects?
Africa is now undoubtedly a pot of gold, and a beehive of economic and political activity that could be a tipping point in global political economy. How the super powers like China and USA handle Africa could mean great opportunities or their greatest undoing. Could Africa be merely the amphitheatre for deep seated political and economic wrangles between the West and the Orient? Are African leaders alive to this reality? How could Africans exploit this for the best interest of the continent? These are difficult questions that require reflection amongst Africans.

Nonetheless, three possible good things that I hoped the summit could herald. Maybe Africans should check with their Presidents and entourage if any of these came through:  
·         Increasing USA Africa trade and investment through a strengthen and extended AGOA.  
·      Enhancing trade competitiveness in Africa: - African countries can exploit partnerships with USA to speed up progress towards meeting the Bali agreements on trade facilitation for example. This could also pave the way for useful Public Private Partnerships under AGOA that enhance competitiveness. Such links could also help build the capacity of private sector in African countries to promote investment in key sectors like energy, agriculture and other trade related infrastructure.

·   Africa US cooperation could also support and deepen regional integration in many of Africa’s mushrooming regional blocks like the EAC, ECOWAS, SADC, and COMESA. US partnership in Trade Mark East Africa is a good example of how strategic cooperation could facilitate integration.

Tricky partnerships
Nonetheless, the flipside is that this manner of cooperation or partnerships between the USA and Africa could as well have been detrimental to Africa or yield dismal returns. The summit itself could just have been another of the many conferences of ‘nothing’ that have been witnessed in the past. The agreements and pronouncements made also risk benefiting the USA more, judging by the lopsidedness of the conduct of the meeting.

However, one thing poses a greater threat to possibilities of a favourable outcome both for the USA and African countries. Both the USA and African (as individual states and as AU) appear to be ill prepared for the outcomes of the conference. Why? The US is not the only country that has noticed that potential opportunities in Africa. China has, and adapted quickly, fronting innovative modalities for development financing (that some African countries are warming up to), pursuing fewer restrictions on credit/loans and assistance strategies. The USA on the other hand is stuck in idealist modalities for development cooperation. Further, while China is actively and aggressively engaging Africa in all corners, US infrastructure for economic diplomacy in Africa appears lame and ill suited to succeed. China currently has over 150 commercial attaches in different corners of Africa while the US department for commerce has presence in just about four countries in the continent each of which supported by no more than two officers.

Africa on the other hand has failed to determine a common political-economic agenda and framework for haggling with potential partners in the international arena. The continent (AU) was unable to meaningfully influence the conduct of the summit in terms of setting the agenda, agreeing the modalities for engagement and so on. However, it is fair to note that some regional blocks like the East African Community met ahead of the summit in Nairobi and compromised to front some of the EAC’s infrastructure projects like Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) Corridor project as a block instead of individual bilateral engagements. In fact the architecture of the summit was in such a way that it couldn’t allow serious bilateral or even multilateral dialogue for substantive action.

Legacy politricks?
The question that cannot escape being asked is that about the timing of the summit. Why did the Obama administration choose 2014 to host this meeting? Why so late in the course of his tenure? Was Africa ever seriously on his agenda? Was this Obama’s clever way of making peace with his clearly underwhelmed kins? Is this summit for Obama’s memoirs? Every US president has had something to take home to the books in their sunset days. Bill Clinton penned the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA), that though not been fully exploited was something both for Africa and for the Democrat. George Bush, despite the bad name took the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) to his memoirs as one of the greatest initiatives for Africa. PEPFAR was very successful in supporting programming and interventions for combating HIV/AIDS. So, when all is said and done, was this Obama’s legacy card for Africa?

Beyond selfies, cowboy boots and statesons, what?
In summary, when all the picture ops are exploited, when all the dinning and winning on White house south lawn are done; when all the interviews with CNN and curtains drawn o the US-Africa summit, what have African leaders brought back home? Beyond selfies, cowboy boots and Stetsons; what should they have returned to Africa with? May be three things:
·     Extension and strengthening of the Africa Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) beyond its expiry date in 2016. Strengthen the Act and encourage African countries to fully exploit the opportunities it offers. There are some countries that exported very little to the USA despite the provisions of AGOA.

·     A road map to a US-Africa trade and investment treaty: - The leaders could have laid the ground work for a bold move towards ratifying a treaty of partnerships (not necessarily of equals as many African leaders demand). They could have left Washington with a framework of action towards actualising this in the future.

·     From aid to partnerships: - This summit should have ignited the departure from more of aid or Official Development Assistance (ODA) or Humanitarian Assistance towards more of meaningful and inclusive partnerships for development financing, for combating terrorism and violent conflict, and addressing food insecurity and disasters like Ebola and HIV/AIDS. 

You do the math; sum up the expense of summoning 50 heads of state to the US for some 72 hrs and the returns. Check the bag of goodies that your ‘leader’ brought back home. Was it worth the hype? Are the prospects real?

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

You kill me Kenya!
You kill me Kenyans; with your shameless double standing, with your selective reasoning; with your insolence and ethnic chauvinism. You are poor (just like me). You own no land (just like me). You will die poor (just like me). Your children will inherit nothing (just like mine). But you are rich in your ethnicity – you are Luo, Kikuyu, kalenjin, Kamba, Luhya, Gussii, Ogiel bla bla. If ethnicity were monetized we would be billionaires! But you will die for your tribesman; what he owns you own too right? When you go home to your humility, you dine with him right?

Kenyans hark my voice. What your president and his company want you to do (and he's sure you will), is resign to the cheap lazy conversation of chest thumping and ethnocentrism and forget the real issue. How the point shifted from the chronic land grievances in the Coast instigated by historical land injustices to the guilt of former Lands Minister James Orango for not detecting illegal allocations, I wonder.

The point that people want to bury their heads in the sand and wish never existed is how a group of people found themselves in the Coast, settled in land that never belonged to them, but to people who were originally there, born there, displacing and disenfranchising them.

Kenyans it happened, all these will not end until we acknowledge that these injustices occurred. They have been well documented in the Truth Justice and Reconcilliation Commission report and the Ndungu report - of the Commission of Inquiry into the illegal/iregular allocation of public land. They will have to be addressed my fellow countrymen.

We all love Kenya. If you are young, take note that these folks in high office today will tear down this country to dust and leave us and our children this filth that they call Kenya and we will have to live in it or die in it. Wake up, we all hustle today to own 1/8ths of land in Nairobi when people are talking of thousands of hectares of land. But you are willing to defend them on social media, abuse, and murder and kill your 'facebook friends' because they are your fathers? Your brothers? Your mothers? Your tribe? Painful indeed!

Uhuru and Ruto are doing a great disservice to this nation. If they had no interest in addressing the 'sensitive' land issue - they should have kept off it and let Kenyans deal with it like we always have - accepted and moved on. Not open up a dangerous conversation they are not willing to honestly engage in. 

I hope no one finds this - hate mongering'. Am poor, I cannot afford 5 million Kshs bail. I only got my voice, my mind. Those are free, bequeathed to me by Ochieng Okwaroh (who never owned land) - no law, no man, can ever alienate or take them away, so long as they are just. I got no land and am not obsessed with land.

I am Okwaroh Ja' Paprombe. Good day Kenyans