Tag Archives: Kenya

President Obama’s Visit to Africa

President Obama arrived in Kenya yesterday, the country where his father was born and where he still has close family. The trip is part of a short, two-nation trip that will also see him visit Ethiopia. The trip appears to be part of broader effort to counter growing Chinese influence in the region, and marks the first time a sitting US President has visited either country. President Obama was quick to make points, noting that Africa is “on the move,” growing economically and will be an important economic center for global trade in the future.

The trip has a broad agenda. China’s growing economic influence is one concern, but Kenya is also seen as a key outpost in preventing the spread of radical Islam in north and central Africa. President Obama is also using the trip as an opportunity to pressure the Kenyan government to improve its record on human rights, particularly gay rights, which have been under threat from a reactionary government.

What do you think? Will President Obama’s effort to improve relation with Kenya and Ethiopia be successful in achieving its multiple goals? Why?

Advertisements

Truth and Reconciliation: The Global Politics of Justice

Bethuel Kiplagat, Chair of Kenya's Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission in 2010.

Bethuel Kiplagat, Chair of Kenya’s Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission in 2010.

The BBC is reporting that a long-awaited report investigating violence and human rights abuses in Kenya will recommend some prosecutions of key officials for their roles. The Truth Reconciliation and Justice Commission was established in the aftermath of post-election violence that rocked Kenya following the 2008 presidential elections. However, its mandate was broader and included looking at past injustices from the Kenyan independence in December 1963 through the disputed February 2008 elections. According to the BBC’s coverage, Ahmed Sheikh Farah, who sat on the committee, indicated that “victims would be happy” with the recommendations but also warned that “we have been centered on reconciliation—healing, unity, that kind of focus.”

The report comes at an interesting time in Kenya’s political history. About six weeks ago, Uhuru Kenyatta won the presidency and was sworn into office. However, Kenyatta has been charged by the International Criminal Court with orchestrating some of the violence following the last presidential election. That violence resulted in more than 1,500 deaths and displaced more than 300,000 people from their homes.

Truth and reconciliation commissions are interesting instruments. They are generally charged with revealing wrongdoing rather than achieving justice per se. And they have been growing in popularity in recent

Archbishop Desmond Tutu presides over South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu presides over South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

years. One of the earliest was Argentina’s National Commission on the Disappearance of Persons (the Comisión Nacional sobre la Desaparición de Personas, or CONADEP). CONADEP was established shortly after the collapse of Argentina’s military government in 1983, and was charged with investigating the fate of the estimated 30,000 persons who were “disappeared” by the Argentine government between 1976 and 1983. Perhaps the most famous was South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), which was established in 1995 and was charged with witnessing and recording the crimes and human rights abuses committed by both state and opposition forces during the apartheid era. Other notable examples include Brazil’s Comissão Nacional da Verdade, which is currently investigating human rights abuses by the country’s former military government, and Canada’s Indian Residential Schools Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which is currently investigating human rights abuses in the country’s residential school system for the Canada’s first nations.

Most truth and reconciliation commissions represent an effort to expand understanding rather that to achieve justice. They generally lack the power to prosecute offenders. Indeed, in many cases, like the South African TRC, individuals offering testimony before the commission were generally granted amnesty for any confessions they offered. The emphasis, in other words, is on promoting transparency and providing a historical record and testimony rather than on achieving justice in the traditional sense. But this also a source of controversy, as victims can sometimes feel as though the perpetrators of violence and human rights abuses can escape punishment.

What do you think? Do truth commissions represent an instrument of justice by witnessing and providing a historical record of human rights abuses? Or do they undermine justice by permitting human rights abusers to escape criminal prosecution? Leave a comment below and let us know what you think.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

Afghan elections took place last week, and both sides are claiming victory at the polls. President Hamid Karzai, who has led Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion which displaced the Taliban government, declared victory on Friday. Meanwhile, his main rival, Abdullah Abdullah, accused Karzai of rigging the poll but said that Karzai would not win enough votes in the first round to avoid an October runoff election. Voter turnout in the election had declined sharply from the previous presidential elections, amid accusations of voter fraud and threats by the Taliban to cut off any fingers marked with the indelible purple ink identifying voters. The election is an important component of President Barack Obama’s strategy in Afghanistan, where the United States has maintained a troop presence for more than seven years. 

In other news from the last week:

1. The Scottish government on Thursday released Abdelbaset Ali Mohamed al-Megrahi from prison, returning him to his native Libya. Al-Megrahi had been extradited from Libya to the United Kingdom in 1999 in exchange for the United Nations agreeing to drop sanctions imposed on Libya. Al-Megrahi was convicted by a Scottish jury of conspiracy for his involvement in the 1988 bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. Although sentenced to life in prison, al-Megrahi served 8 ½ years before being released on compassionate grounds on Thursday. Al-Megrahi has terminal prostate cancer. The United States condemned al-Megrahi’s release and his welcome by Libya’s President, Muammar Gaddafi.

2. Efforts to protect intellectual property gained a boost in China and the United Kingdom last week. In China, the founders and executives of Tomato Garden, a website which that provided free downloads of Microsoft Windows XP and other programs, were convicted of piracy and sentenced to 3 ½ years in prison and a fine of $146,000 each. According to Microsoft, approximately 90 percent of all software sales in China are counterfeit, costing the company an estimated $6.68 billion in sales annually. The Business Software Alliance, the leading lobbying firm for the software industry, celebrated the decision, noting that “This shows that the government [of China] is really taking action.” In the past, the United States has accused the Chinese government of not doing enough to protect intellectual property rights, going so far as to threaten suit before the World Trade Organization.

Meanwhile, the British government has begun consideration of a number of proposals intended to reduce illegal file sharing in the United Kingdom by 70 percent. The proposals under consideration now could slow the speed of internet connections for people found to be downloading protected content, and access to some sites could be blocked altogether.

3. A prolonged drought in Kenya has resulted in a 50 percent increase in the number of people requiring food aid, according to a report released by the World Food Programme. The report also notes that some regions of the country are suffering from shortages of power and water. Although triggered by the ongoing drought, the country’s weak coalition government faces widespread popular discontent as a result of its inability to carry out much needed political and economic reform.

4. Despite some positive developments over the past several weeks in the United States, Germany, and elsewhere, the global economic crisis continues. On Thursday, the government of Mexico announced the economy shrank by a record 10.3 percent in the second quarter of this year, the fastest rate ever for the country. The global economic crisis has affected Mexico particularly had, as the country has been impacted by the U.S. recession, declining oil revenues, and the H1N1 swine flu virus which decimated the country’s tourism industry.

5. A series of bomb attacks killed almost 100 and wounded almost 500 people in Baghdad on Wednesday. The attacks, which mark the deadliest day since the withdrawal of U.S. troops from the city in June, targeted two central locations and the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the U.S. embassy and many Iraqi government buildings are located. Although no one has claimed responsibility for the attacks, they nevertheless illustrate the challenges facing the Iraqi government.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

With the Congress in recess, the U.S. political scene has been dominated by coverage of town hall debates over health care reform. In the debate, the British National Health System (NHS) has been trotted out as representative of the dangers of government-run health care, charges to which the British government has responded. The Financial Times on Friday offered a balanced comparison of the U.S. and British health care systems, which debunks the selective use of statistics in the current debate.

In news from outside the U.S. health care debate last week:

1. The Taliban has stepped up attacks in Afghanistan ahead of nation-wide elections scheduled for Thursday. On Saturday, the Taliban launched a suicide bomb attack against NATO’s heavily fortified Afghanistan headquarters in Kabul, killing eight and wounding nearly 100 people. With observers already worried about the ability of the Afghan government and international elections monitors to conduct a nation-wide poll in the country, observers fear that the Taliban may attempt to disrupt the elections. The relative period of peace which had preceded Saturday’s attack had led some to believe that the Taliban would allow the elections to take place.

Thursday’s poll will pit incumbent President Hamid Karzai against former foreign minister Abdullah Abdullah. Although many observers believed Karzai’s campaign enjoyed an insurmountable advantage, Abdullah’s campaign has managed to close the gap, and some are now forecasting the need for a run-off election in October. A runoff would be necessary if neither candidate manages to secure an absolute majority of the vote.
 
2. Palestinian authorities in Gaza engaged in a series of small battles against Jund Ansar Allah, on Friday. The shootouts resulted in at least 13 deaths and dozens wounded. The battles represented the latest—and perhaps most serious—challenge to the Hamas-led government in Gaza. Jund Ansar Allah is one of several small extremist groups pushing for the introduction of strict Sharia law in Gaza. Jund Ansar Allah, which claims ties to al-Qaeda, had labeled Gaza an Islamic emirate subject to theocratic law, a claim which Hamas rejects. For its part, the Hamas government has dismissed challenges to its leadership as “Zionist propaganda” sponsored by the Israeli government.

3. The French Minister for Urban Regeneration, Fadela Amara, sparked a national debate last week when she called for a nation-wide ban on wearing the burka in France. Amara, a French national of Algerian decent, said that the burka represents “the oppression of women, their enslavement, their humiliation.” Banning the burka, she said, must be part of a broader effort to welcome moderate Islam while fighting the “gangrene, the cancer of radical Islam which completely distorts the message of Islam.” Amara’s comments are part of a broader debate in France. The national parliament in July established a committee to determine whether the wearing of the burka is “compatible with France’s republican tradition of equality between men and women,” and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in June said the burka “will not be welcome on the territory of the republic.” An estimated 5-10 percent of the French population is Muslim, though only a few thousand wear the burka.

4. South Korean President Lee Myung-bak last week attempted to re-open talks with North Korea, offering to negotiate troop reductions along the border between the two countries. The border between North and South Korea is among the most militarized in the world, with more than one million troops, including 30,000 U.S. troops, based in the area. However, in his offer, Lee reiterated the South Korean position that a comprehensive peace deal between the two countries would be predicated on North Korea abandoning its nuclear efforts, a proposition with the North has consistently rejected in the past.

5. Continuing her Africa tour with visits to Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of the Congo last week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton spoke out on several of the continent’s hot spots. Last week, she urged political reconciliation in Kenya and offered support for Somali efforts to fight piracy and Islamic extremism, During her tour, she has not shied away from provoking controversy. In Nigeria, she criticized “the lack of transparency and accountability [which] has eroded the legitimacy of the government.” She also called for African governments to toughen their stance on Robert Mugabe’s government in Zimbabwe.

The Immigration Debate

On Jon Stewart’s Daily Show the other night, correspondent John Oliver met with Kenyan ambassador to the United Nations, Azchary Muburi-Muita.  Their conversation focused on the need for Kenyan expertise in the United States.  They already gave us a Head of State, Oliver argued.  Now we need a Banking Czar, Car Czar, a new American Idol, and so on.  In the second half of the interview, Oliver raised the question of British recolonization of Kenya–much to the dismay of the Kenyan ambassador. 

The clip is available through the Daily Show website.  The exchange follows the classic formula of other Daily Show interviews, and pointed to some real issues as well.

Perhaps the most important question centers on the political economy of global immigration.  The immigration debate in the United States tends to focus on illegal immigration by unskilled workers.  However, from the perspective of many developing countries, an equally important problem of the out-migration of highly trained professionalize, often referred to as the brain drain. 

It is estimated that 30 percent of sub-Saharan-born doctors and 15 percent of its nurses work outside Africa.  Training a doctor in Mozambique, to pick one example, costs the state approximately U.S. $80,000.  There are some benefits that accrue from immigration–certainly for the individual, who is able to earn much higher wages in working in Western hospitals than African ones; and likely for the family and the economy more generally, largely through wages sent home through remittances.  And, as Michael Clemens points out, we can’t necessarily assume that doctors working in the developing world necessarily translate directly into better health care systems.  That said, the cost of training doctors, nurses, and other professionals represents a real and uncompensated cost for the countries of the developing world.

Certainly something to think about next time the immigration debate reheats.

Five Stories You Might Have Missed

The biggest story of the week has to be the breakdown of the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip.  Since last week, when we discussed the termination of the Egyptian-brokered ceasefire, the two sides have increased cross-border attacks.  Civilians on both sides of the border are preparing for an increase in violence, as Hamas threatens a dramatic increase in rocket attacks against Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip in response to the dramatic increase in Israeli air strikes over the weekend.  So far, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has refused to launch an all-out ground attack, but many are speculating that Israel is preparing to follow the massive air strikes with some kind of ground assault.  The United States has given tacit approval to the Israeli strikes, calling on Hamas to cease its activities.  The Europeans are calling for a stop in the violence, and Libya has called an emergency session of the UN Security Council to address the crisis.  However, any solution to the crisis must also involve Egypt, which has so far failed to develop an initiative both sides can accept. 

In other news from the last week:

1.  On Friday, Pakistan began shifting large portions of its military forces from its northern border with Afghanistan to its eastern border with India.  Pakistani military officials are downplaying the move, which so far has involved an estimated 20,000 soldiers.  But the Pakistani government has raised concerns that India may launch a strike in response to the Mumbai terrorist attacks.  The United States and the European Union are urging restraint on both sides, noting that Pakistan’s move undermines the ability of coalition forces to wage the war against al Qaeda in Afghanistan.  India and Pakistan have long been at odds over the disputed territory of Kashmir.  Both are also nuclear powers.

2.  Somalia’s President, Abdullahi Yusuf, may be close to resigning.   Earlier this month, a political crisis emerged when Yusuf attempted to force the resignation of the country’s Prime Minister, Nur Hassan Hussein.  Hussein had been appointed as part of a power-sharing agreement supported by the West and by neighboring governments.  Since the attempt, Kenya has announced its intentions to move forward with sanctions against Somalia.  The resignation of Abdullahi Yusuf may increase instability in the embattled country, already home to a number of pirates and warlords.  Alternatively, it may result in greater stability if the Islamic insurgency with close ties to al Qaeda is able to establish control over the country. 

3.  The Russian government is bracing for an increase in unrest as the ruble fell to a four-year low against the euro and the dollar on Friday.  In early December, the Russian government put down protests in Vladivostok as it increased duties on imported cars in an attempt to protect domestic auto manufactures.  The opposition has criticized the government, and the liberal People’s Democratic Union leader Mikhail Kasyanov, has argued that the implicit social contract, under which the Russian people exchanged political freedoms for economic prosperity and consumer goods, had broken down.  The global economic crisis has hit Russia particularly hard, with industrial output falling and unemployment increasing at the same time the price of the country’s most important product, oil, has collapsed. 

4.  The December 23 death of Lansana Conté, left a power vacuum in Guinea  which was filled on Friday by a military junta.  Conté had ruled the West African nation for 24 years, after seizing power in a coup in 1984.  The military group which seized power on Friday is led by Moussa Camara, a captain who served in a logistics unit.  The junta has appealed to the international community for recognition and assistance.  But so far, the international community has been slow to recognize the new government, as the United States, the European Union, the African Union, and France have all condemned the coup.  Guinea is the world’s largest exporter of bauxite, a precoursor in the production of aluminum, and the coup has raised concerns about the stability of world alumunum markets.  It also has a key role to play in ensuring the stability of its neighbors, Sierra Leone and Liberia, which experienced a long civil war in the 1990s fueled by trade in illicit diamonds.

5.  The budget of the United Nations was passed on Tuesday.  The new budget increases spending by $700 million (from $4.17 billion to $4.87 billion), excluding the cost of peacekeeping operations.  Passing the budget of the United Nations has become an increasingly politicized affair, as developing countries push for an expansion of the international institution’s role while the developed countries attempt to limit it.  This year, compromise was reached when the developed countries agreed to fund an additional 92 positions in exchange for increasing UN missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.