Friday, September 29, 2006

The KACC of Corruption

So now Justice Aaron Ringera and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission want Kshs. 9 billion more to fight corruption eh? In four years, the KACC has not achieved a single conviction of note. Actually, ever since he was appointed to lead the anti-corruption crusade, first as head of the defunct KACA and now its successor, Ringera has singularly distinguished himself by his failures. Why doesn't he provide us with a breakdown of all the money he has received since his KACA days and then tell us what exactly we have been paying for? Why should we believe that it's going to deliver the big fish this time round? In my book, he's either negligent of his duties or incompetent. Either way, he should go.

Perhaps whoever wrote today's editorial in the Daily Nation had a look at my post on Somalia. If so, they came, they saw, they concurred.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Is Kibwana High on NARCotics?

A precious piece of sophistry and unbridled sycophancy from Prof. Kibutha Kibwana in today's Daily Nation: "The Narc experiment has failed. President Kibaki’s gallant attempt to contain the LDP, DP, NPK, and Ford Kenya together proved to be a Herculean task. He had presumably thought that Kenya’s political and other elite would see the sense in coalescing into a national party capable of transforming Kenya within a short period. The collapse of the ruling party forced President Kibaki to craft a government of national unity. He decided to work with all politicians of good will so as to create a broad-based government. As a result, the distinction between those from the old regime, those who left Kanu in 1992 and the 2002 entrants, had to be abandoned. Pragmatism took centre-stage."
While it is obvious that Narc has failed, to cite Kibaki's "gallantry" in trying to unite the feuding factions is a mind-boggling stretch. To further state that he "decided to work with all politicians of goodwill" is to attribute industry and goodwill to the President, none of which have been his strong points. Finally, the Prof takes leave of all common sense when he implies that Narc had maintained a distinction between "those who left Kanu in 1992 and the 2002 entrants." That is patently false. In fact, the LDP, a member party of the NARC coalition was almost exclusively composed of "the 2002 entrants" and they seemed to be right at home with "those who left Kanu in 1992" such as Kibaki himself. The NARC government at inception included such former KANU stalwarts as Prof. George Saitoti and Fred Gumo, both not particularly famous for their anti-corruption and human rights advocacy, and both named in Musikari Kombo's "List of Shame", which Kibaki had fraudulently promised to implement if elected in 2002.
What is the minister for Environment and Natural Resources smoking?

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Preaching Water, Drinking Wine?

After correctly insisting on the resignations of government ministers implicated in the Anglo-leasing type scandals, shouldn't the ODM call upon Musalia Mudavadi and other ODM luminaries who have also been named as suspects to publicly put their presidential ambitions on hold till they are cleared of any wrongdoing? After all, this same group of politicians who supposedly place a high premium on the appearance of ethics and integrity in the public sphere. The ODM has promised not to not "interfere nor politicise" prosecutions made on the basis of law and order but has so far failed to require that the potential subjects of those prosecutions do the honourable thing. This do-as-I-say-not-as-I-do generation of politicians is just as bad as those they seek to depose.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Real Al Jazeera and Ahmadinejad on the Web

Having heard a lot about Al Jazeera's supposed anti-Western and pro-Al Qaida bent, imagine my surprise when I found out the names of the people behind the network. According to the Daily Nation, Al Jazeera's Managing Director is a Mr. Nigel Parsons and the Director of News is a Mr. Steve Clark. One of their bureau chiefs is called Andrew Simons. Hardly the sort of names one would associate with radical Islam!

By the way, the President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has his own personal blog (Hat Tip: Abdurahman Warsame). You can find it here.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

The Devil at the UN

For all of you who missed it. All the ranting aside, Chavez does make a good point about the imperialism of the US and the neo-cons' propensity to see the extremist in all who disagree with their worldview. Kenyanentrepreneur says much the same thing though I would respectfully remind him that Chavez and his new pal Ahmadinejad are hardly paragons of virtue. And while the latter did win an election, it was a deeply flawed one with many candidates denied the opportunity to run by the ruling Mullahs. Iran imports up to 40% of its petroleum despite having the 2nd largest oil reserves in the world. Ahmadinejad's views on Israel are anachronistic and the last time he addressed the UN, he embarassed many Iranians by claiming afterwards that a divine halo had enveloped him during the course of his speech.

Yes, we are not corrupt!

The Daily Nation is up in arms against a reported meeting between US President George Bush and Tanzania's President Jakaya Kikwete " during which Kenya's supposed "political instability" incongruously featured." The Nation complains that "all we get to hear is that we are a failed state, that our governance system is either corrupt or inept or both." Their advise: "If President Bush is keen to know the state of our nation, there are established channels from which he can access the correct information." Surely that's like telling Sen. Obama that he should have asked the Government's Spokesman for accurate information about the graft situation in Kenya. And while we are far from a failed state, it is hardly an exaggeration to say "that our governance system is either corrupt or inept or both."

The Nutty Professor

Prof. Makau Mutua, writing in the Nation, once again demonstrates the folly of seeing a new constitution as a panacea for all that ails Kenya. He correctly characterises the current machinations for miimum reforms as "an ideologically empty battle for raw political power" and goes to great lengths to demonstrate why the proposed reforms would neither deliver a democratised state nor address the critical problems at the heart of our disfunctional democracy. His proposed magic pill? "Holistic and comprehensive constitutional reform" of the sort that we have been chasing for the last twenty years.

In arguing against the minimum changes, he mistakes constitutionalism for a constitution and assumes that our ethnic-based political system is a liability that can be solved through legislative means. He also leads us into a political and intellectual cul-de-sac by implying that the imperial presidency, which is the main obstacle to reform, can be done away with in one fell blow by the enactment of a new constitution.

According to Joel Ngugi, an Assistant Professor of Law at the University of Washington, "a constitution does not mythically solve contested political problems. It provides a shared framework to rework, re-organise, re-funnel, re-think and re-frame these political problems. It is a product of political compromise." The tribal nature of our politics is not something that can be legislated into oblivion. It is a function of our diversity. While our political parties may be ideologically bereft, they do have real ethnic constituencies. The contest for political power is also a struggle by these constituencies for their rightful share of the national cake. Any good constitution would only provide a level playing field for that struggle not change the terms of it. In the light of this, any attempts to regulate the competition for power and make it a fair contest should be welcomed. While recognising that the IPPG compromise was instrumental in ejecting the KANU kleptocrats from State House, Prof. Mutua, by opposing electoral reform, sets the stage for the perpetuation of the equally kleptocratic Kibaki regime in power and further dilution of the prospect of real reform.

Secondly, Prof Mutua states that "the reason for Mr Kibaki’s failure to reform the state is that he inherited an imperial presidency" (a poor choice of words as one would think that an "imperial presidency" would afford, rather than deny, Kibaki an opportunity to change the system, if he so wished). The kind Professor does not, however, burden us with his views on how we would go about dismantling that institution before embarking on constitutional reform considering that the presidency would itself be the main target of those reforms. It is a classic catch 22: we have to remove the powers of the president, so we can have the necessary reforms to remove the powers of the president. I see things differently. The overaching presidency is the product of numerous constitutional amendments. Why not use the same process to cut it down? The sorry history of constitutional reform in Kenya has demonstrated that no incumbent will willingly cede the power of his office, literally at the stroke of a pen, by promulgating a new constitution. However, the same history shows that it is possible to extract a series of minimal compromises that when put together have the effect of instituting a new constitutional order. The ODM's (or LDP's or whatever-meaningless-acronym-they-chose-to-be-known-by's) clamour for minimum changes before the elections, while undoudtedly sef-serving, provides an opprtunity to do just that.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

In Jesus' Name

Evangelical Christian fanatics (Savedies) are really starting to scare me. In this ABC News report (Hat Tip: Andrew Sullivan), US kids are openly taught to worship before an image of the Great Leader, George Bush. The extreme right looks intent on breeding its own bunch of suicide-bombers and even seems to admire the teachings of the madrasas in Pakistan from which came the Taliban and Al Qaida. Pastor Becky Fisher, whose "Bible Camp" is featured here and who is actively promoting the "Jesus Camp" documentary, says she wants "to see [the kids] as radically laying down their lives for the Gospel as they do in Pakistan and Palestine."
These are the very "Christians" who, under the pretext of fighting terror, support Bush's attempt to legalize torture, his attempts to subvert the US constitution and set up an imperial messianic presidency. They sound much like the Muslim extremists they claim to oppose. Both groups seek to impose their religion through the tactics of terror, indoctrination and manipulation of the instruments of State.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Croc Hunter's Scream

The recent death of “Crocodile Hunter” Steve Irwin at the extremities of a sting ray has got me thinking about the dangers of wildlife conservation. Not in the sense of wildlife as a threat to us (though it clearly is if we do not let it alone), but in the sense of human beings tampering with nature’s age-old mechanism for getting rid of the evolutionary chaff –extinction.

According to Dr. Richard Leakey, former head of the Kenya Wildlife Service and world-renowned conservationist, since life first appeared, apparently more than 99% of all species that ever existed have become extinct. From the dodo to the dinosaur, all who didn’t get with the evolutionary programme brought upon themselves the indignity of having their graves dug up by archaeologists and their naked bones displayed to all. The afterlife for these poor creatures consists of a museum exhibit where they serve as reminders of extinction’s cruel efficiency. While its agents –meteorites, climate change, disease and other animals- have never been particularly welcome, special condemnation has been reserved for the latest recruit.

According to the World Conservation Union, 784 extinctions have been recorded since the year 1500, the arbitrary date selected to define "modern" extinctions, with many more likely to have gone unnoticed. Most of these have been attributed directly or indirectly to Homo sapiens. A 1998 survey by the American Museum of Natural History found that 70% of biologists view the present era as part of a mass extinction event, the fastest to have ever occurred. Some, such as E. O. Wilson of Harvard University, predict that man's destruction of the biosphere could cause the extinction of one-half of all species in the next 100 years. While in the grand scheme of evolutionary things, this is not a lot (other Extinction-Level Events (ELEs) such as the Permian-Triassic have decimated up to 96% of all marine and 70% of land species; Leakey considers “our role in this extraordinary [extinction] saga has been minuscule and so far it is not statistically significant”), nonetheless it has incurred the wrath of another species –the conservationist. Across the globe, millions of trees have been martyred to provide the paper upon which man’s inhumanity to nature is recorded. Shows like “The Crocodile Hunter” have proliferated on air, telling us in gore-inspiring detail why each and every one of nature’s creatures is special, lovable and deserving of protection. Even the animals on which a particular species preys are said to be glad for the family planning options the predators avail.

I have no beef with many of the conservation movement’s goals. However, sometimes I think they go too far in trying to save everything. The idea that because a species exists, it deserves protection from the consequences of human activity is a clear challenge to nature’s idiom of survival for the fittest. In humanity’s insatiable consumption and material progress, Mother Nature is once again wielding her broom and sweeping away species that have overstayed their welcome. By fighting this, the conservationists are striving against the wind.

Better, I think, to go with the flow and accept that some, even many, species will have to go. The evolutionary New World Order with mankind at the top of the food chain is unlikely to collapse any time soon. This means that species that cannot adapt to our destructive ways will either have to hide and wait until we are spent or they will be exterminated. Evolution has never been a democracy. It respects neither human, animal nor vegetable rights. As its agents, we should be similarly ruthless.

However, we are not. We are endowed with a similarly natural appetite for love and empathy. We abhor the waste of thousands of elephant lives in the service of our baser need to kill and our higher appreciation of beauty and the good things money can buy. We protect these “gentle giants” even when they destroy the livelihoods of the peasant farmers who see nothing gentle in the behemoth’s manner. So I think a balance has to be struck between our role as nature’s hangmen and our compassion for those in her gallows.

Extinction is not necessarily a bad thing. It creates room for better adapted animals to develop and survive and also affords us the opportunity to rid this planet of any species that make our lives a living hell such as mosquitoes, bedbugs, cockroaches and tse-tse flies.

As Leakey rhetorically asked in his famous ‘bunny huggers” speech, “Given the inevitability of extinctions, and bearing in mind that most of these losses will come about as a consequence of activities beyond the control of individual nations or their conventions, should we really be concerned about the loss of a few species that results from international trade? Will the world be any worse off if there are no longer pangolins, brown hyenas or pandas? The Europeans don't seem to have suffered from the loss of the woolly rhinoceros and how many Americans even remember the giant sloth that slipped into extinction some ten thousand years ago? Will Africans miss the elephant or the rhino if these too disappear? Is the elephant any more important than an orchid that grows near tropical wetlands? What about the extinction of hundreds and thousands of species that we humans have not yet even discovered? Does it matter if they become extinct before we even know that they exist?”

Though he clearly believes that it does, it is not apparent to me why. He rejects the idea of wild animals “paying their way” but doesn’t offer an alternative rationale for why we should expend our scarce resources in protecting them. He further states that government policy should be based on the non-negotiable premise that “species which are the stuff of nature are priceless, as are human dignity and freedom.” While I definitely agree that human dignity and liberty are undoubtedly priceless, I think even he would have a hard time defending the priceless nature of the Ebola virus or the Guinea worm.

That other species on this planet exist at our pleasure has been proven time and time again. Through genetic tampering, we have created never-before seen specimens of cows, sheep, tomatoes etc. We have also striven to eradicate any animal/plant that has posed a threat to our way of life. The smallpox bacterium and the saber-toothed tiger are just a few examples. Others we have locked up in zoos, reserves and parks for profit, academic study or just the joy of having them around as a kind of exotic pet. In a very real sense, we have been playing God for a long time.

Not all living things deserve our protection. And even those that do should not take it for granted. When they become inconvenient or pose a barrier to our material progress, then they will be vulnerable.

Now, none of this should be interpreted as an excuse for wanton destruction of species. It is a call for the articulation of a comprehensive rationale for conservation.