Punditry and trafficking in studied banality.

Done well, as a craft, punditry serves an essential if complimentary role of enhancing and enriching journalism. However, increasingly, punditry in Kenya, especially on TV is nothing but a low-grade weaponized banality packaged as profound, with most of the TV pundits obscuring  rather than illuminating. It is not uncommon to hear people make declarative statement, almost as a badge of honor, “I don’t watch TV” or imploring others to “fast” from the TV because of the “junk” diet.

Liberalization of the airwaves- a transition from having only one TV station- Kenya Broadcasting Corporation (KBC) to now over 20 TV stations has also coincided with the declining quality of political discourse and media analysis.

No one has done more in entrenching the banal sub-genre of junk TV punditry than Jeff Koinange and Mutahi Ngunyi.

Koinange’s career can broadly delineated into two neat broad parts bookending each other; Koinange the serious journalist who interviewed warlords in some of the troubled regions of the world chasing consequential stories, and the latter day Koinange, the circus ringmaster who interviews people with questionable character and standing on the “bench” with his catchphrase, “it is smoking hot in here, call the Fire Department” and other abracadabra.

Koinange’s stellar journalism was followed by awards; he was the first African to win an Emmy for his coverage of the devastating famine in Niger in 2005, he was part of CNN’s Peabody Award winning team that covered the devastation wreaked on New Orleans by Hurricane Katrina in 2006. In 2006, Koinange was also awarded the Prix Bayeaux for War Correspondents for his reporting on the civil war in the Congo. These are no mean achievements to be scoffed at.

Parallel to Koinange’s joining Kenyan TV stations after CNN, Mutahi Ngunyi was emerging as a local analyst effortlessly dispensing his wisdom as the man on the Hill. With his methodical, slow, deliberate and somewhat calculated way of speaking Mutahi established himself as the -go -to political analyst.

Before becoming a pundit Mutahi was an original thinker, analyst and writer. During his early years at Series on Alternative Research in East Africa (SAREAT), Mutahi oversaw some of the perceptive work was on security, governance and the economy.

For instance Alternative Research in East Africa (SAREAT) piece entitled Liberalising the Bandit Economy in Kenya, Mutahi argued, “Crime and corruption generate much more than most sectors of the formal economy in Kenya do. Put together, carjacking, land grabbing, government corruption, bank robberies, cattle rustling, drug and arms trafficking comprise a vibrant bandit economy probably more viable than the formal economy.” While most of these work were done in the background, once he started doing regular media punditry, Mutahi pivoted to edgy, provocative if not counter-intuitive punditry.

In his later years If Koinange invented the manual on self-congratulations where confidence and not competence is the currency, Ngunyi 2.0 earned legion of fans as the high priest of cosmic meaninglessness with his ability to transcend the preconceptions of every day banalities and offer a panoramic view of humanity – as though he’s orbiting the earth from ten thousand miles and transmitting his wisdom. If Koinange is loud and unmissable, Ngunyi is relatively quiet and almost forgettable, yet more potent.

Koinange Interviews

Most of these Koinange’s interviews with the invited pundits are juvenile and in some cases downright crass. Many are a nothing but a PR opportunity to launder their images of people adversely mentioned of involvement in egregious human right violations, like the one he did with the South Sudanese Lawrence Lual Malong Yor Jr, who claimed he was blessed. Even more galling, Jeff does these interviews with nonchalant gleefulness egging on his subjects to double down on one ridiculous statement after another. In this interview with Miguna and Passaris, in which Miguna blatantly engaged in misogynistic and sexist attacks on Passaris. Confident that he can get away with it, Koinange was cheering on and acting like he is helpless while an inebriated Tony Gachoka walked off the show, during a prime time interview. Never mind some of the issues discussed on the show have some significant national bearing.

Koinange’s shows, whether Capital Talk on K24, Jeff Koinange Live on KTN, and Koinange Live on Citizen, all follow the same plot. Koinange introduces the guest with over the top praise, the celebrity or pundit proceeds to under-deliver, rinse, and repeat. It doesn’t matter if the topic is a matter of national important or something mundane, Koinange’s approach is the same. Cheered on by media managers and owners desperate for ratings and hence ad shillings, Koinange has inspired a whole new sub-genre.

In the end, the once professional journalist, Koinange has turned into a bland simulacrum of his former self. However, he’s just microcosm of a sector that need a reboot if it ever earn of trust and legitimacy it enjoyed during former times.

For Mutahi, once he took up punditry, he specialized in edgy and provocative in his weekly “soapbox” column, the Transition. His genre bending counterfactual analysis parsing Kenya’s politics was timely during the late 1990’s and early 2000s, TV’s golden age in Kenya. Following the liberalization of the airwaves, TV stations needed to fill airtime and compete, especially on the cheap.  The production costs of interview programs with a studio guest were low; showcasing new angles, fresh faces, and different voices were the ticket; in Ngunyi’s case, his spick and span dressing didn’t hurt either.

One of the things that makes Mutahi tower above his contemporaries is his sharp sense of entrepreneurship. With the growing popularity of social media Mutahi started shifted from the mainstream media to social media. On Twitter Mutahi has 1.22 M followers, but he follows only nine accounts and handles. Twitter has become his pulpit from where he tweets a mixture of aphorism, rebuke and congratulations, mostly targeted at public officials, with Uhuru Kenyatta, Raila Odinga and William Ruto receiving disproportionate attention. Mutahi’s focus on Odinga earned him a wrath once, for his Tweet, “Raila should be put on TRIAL. The JUDGE: poverty stricken LUOs. And LUHYAs craving his bondage. CHARGE: selfishness, selfishness, selfishness.” forcing him to give a goat to the Luo Council of Elders.

As a demonstration of his acumen, Mutahi started a YouTube channel, the 5th Estate, which he manages through the Fort Hall School of Government, a soap box from where he regales his over 61,000 subscribers with an assortment of wannabe young scholars on a weekly basis. On the International Day Of Happiness, Mutahi announced on his Twitter that, “5th Estate is NOW a TV STATION. POSITIVE, and HAPPY. Looking for YOUNG and RAW Talent. No EXPERIENCE NEEDED. If CLEVER, I will train you”.

Koinange and Mutahi have inspired many fellow travelers who have attempted to replicate them with a mixed degree of success. These copycats TV show hosts and pundits have diluted TV journalism and in the process continue to feed viewers junk. The personality driven TV journalism and punditry has had deleterious effect on governance. At the time when much hardnosed journalism is required, Mutahi and Koinange have inspired journalism that amuse audience to death rather to inform and educate.

This form dumbing down journalism imperils the quality governance considering the risks of the outsized role propaganda machines like Cambridge Analytica and online influencers can play

African politics, Asymmetrical Warfare, Book reviews, Horn Watch, Kenya Watch, Kenya-Somalia relations, Uncategorized

Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya Debates, Ideas and Challenges

Immediately after the militarily intervening in Somalia October 2011, Kenya was hit with an increased number of violent attacks domestically. These attacks have been attributed to Al-Shabaab, the Al Qa’ida affiliated Somalia based armed group and its local Kenya cells.

Some of Al Shabaab’s high profile attacks includes the Westgate Shopping Mall attack on September 21, 2013, when four gunmen stormed the shopping mall popular with foreigners and wealthy Kenyans and killed at least 67 people using assault weapons and grenades.

April 2 2015, Al Shabaab again attacked Garissa University College, in Garissa town killing 148 students and injuring many others.

In June 2015, Al Shabaab attacked the Kenya Defense Force’s (KDF) military barrack in Lamu.

In between these attacks, there have been small-scale, yet deadly attacks.

State’s Response

As a response to these attacks, the national government launched a series of counter-terrorism security operations, primarily targeting the “Arc of Terrorism”- North Eastern Kenya, Eastern part of Nairobi with majority Muslims- Eastleigh and Majengo, and coastal Kenya.

However, these operations have been at best ineffective and at worst counter-productive, they have alienated the community and created trust-deficit between the communities and the security agencies. Additionally, there have been evidence the security agencies committed egregious human rights violations during these operations.

However, increasingly, the government is acknowledging to be successful “hard” approach has to be coupled with a “softer” approach.  As part of that, the national government launched a national Countering Violence Extremism (CVE) strategy on 7 September 2016, after years of consultation with various stakeholders.

This was followed by select counties crafting their respective CVE plans through a broadly consultative process with the national government and other none-state actors including human rights groups.

Pivot towards CVE

While there is no universal consensus on the definition of CVE, there is an emerging understanding that, it is a mix of security and development approaches provide an important platform to build bridges across divergent areas of policy and practice that focus on the prevention and mitigation of violence.

In the past security agencies saw themselves as the primary and exclusive actor in security management. In 2014, Cabinet Secretary for Interior the late Major-General Joseph Nkaissery said, “We cannot have civilians commanding uniformed people. It cannot happen, it has never happened anywhere in the world. It is only the activists and civil society which brought this law and it is what is affecting the command structure”.

But with County CVE plans, there has been discernible shift from Nkaissery’s posture to a more inclusive approach involving civilians into security management.

Localising CVE

CVE’s chief gap in Kenya is the lack of locally-generated empirical evidence to guide public policy. Most of the policy interventions crafted or suggested are hardly anchored in best practises and accompanied by tested evidence. Some verge on derogation of parts of constitution, especially those relating to individual and group freedom.

Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya, Debates, Ideas and Challenges a compendium produced by Centre for Human Rights and Policy studies, a Kenyan think tank, is arguably the first locally produced multi-disciplinary output combining theory and praxis, in dealing with CVE.

The Horn of Africa is beset with incessant and multiplying cycles of conflict, especially Post the Cold War. However, most of the CVE discussions in Kenya hardly acknowledge the linkages between Kenya and the Horn of Africa.

Gendering CVE

 Masculine warrior culture in security discourse has exclude many women from peace and security arena, when they are involved, they cast as agency-less victims. In Countering Violent Extremism: A Gender Perspective, Nerida Nthamburi disabuses the notion women as just victims she argues they are also perpetrators of violence. In most groups, women not only play the traditional “soft” roles of cooking, and serving as sext slaves, they take part in actual combat.

Understanding of the duality of the role of women in extremist groups will help in policy and programming.

Samar Al-Bulushi & Mohammed Daghar, Rehabilitation or Indefinite Detention? A Critical Examination of an Emerging Approach to ‘CVE’  provides a good sequel, but further atomizes the role of men in violence extremism; “young Muslim men become homogenised figures who are interested only in jihad and politics; their private lives, rendered inconsequential, are abstracted from their social, political and religious commitments, and from broader historical processes”

The chapter also is a useful examination of CVE’s discourse that has been uncritically embraced spurning a subgenre of experts servicing multi-national, regional organizations and national and county government, all working on CVE. Regardless of the fact that what CVE aspires to achieve is not new, Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration, (DDR) in post-conflict situation was designed precisely to address what CVE is intending to do.

CVE’s long term success is predicated on empirical evidence, participation of local communities and customised context-specific intervention. Thus, Centre for Human Rights and Policy studies’, Confronting Violent Extremism in Kenya, Debates, Ideas and Challenges is a useful contribution to the CVE academic and public policy discussion.

One quibble, the chapters started as an inverted pyramid, starting from the macro and distilling down to the micro, but changed somewhere along the line; Paul Goldsmith Horn of Africa’s regional context was correct, but that should have been followed by “Operation Sanitize Eastleigh”: Rethinking Interventions to Counter Violent Extremism by Kamau Wairuri because, in some ways, it shows the limits of Counter-Terrorism (CT) and hence CVE. That should have been followed by Kenya: Fighting Terrorism Within and Without the Law by  Ken Nyaundi. Countering Violent Extremism: A Gender Perspective – Nerida Nthamburi and Online Radicalisation and Recruitment: Al-Shabaab Luring Strategies with New Technology – Fathima Azmiya Badurdeen, should follow each other since they are addressing specific issues.

Countering Violent Extremism: Lessons from Lamu, Kenya by Patrick Mutahi and Nathaniel Kabala and Rehabilitation or Indefinite Detention? A Critical Examination of an Emerging Approach to ‘CVE’- Samar Al-Bulushi and Mohammed Daghar and Returnees and Justice: Alternative Justice System as a Mechanism for Amnesty in Kwale County of Kenya – Steve Ouma Akoth, should have been of similar cluster.

Continue reading

African politics, Uncategorized

Museveni, Besigye are Uganda’s past, Bobi Wine is Uganda’s future

Like with many stories, the story of Yoweri Museveni and Kizza Besigye was consummated and nurtured by idealism. Similarly like many stories built on idealism, inevitably, it ended in betrayal, real or imagined.

The story of Ugandan politics over the past two decades has been dominated by two personalities – Yoweri Museveni, the incumbent president, and Kizza Besigye, his main challenger. In many ways, the political vision of both men has been marked by a certain idealism inspired by their participation in the 1981-86 liberation war, but whose relevance is increasingly coming into question by many Ugandans

Though they are widely seen as polar opposite, consciously or unconsciously, over the years, Museveni and Besigye have needed each other to maintain relevance among their respective constituents. Museveni cannot operate without Besigye, and vice versa.

The two are, thus, stuck in a historical time warp of unfulfilled revolutionary utopia.

In dealing with Besigye, the most formidable opponent yet, Museveni is guided by a sense of entitlement, while Besigye is led by grievances, both individual and collective. Museveni believes that he rid Uganda of dictators and tyrants and, therefore, that he should rule as he wills, unencumbered.

Besigye on the other hand is convinced that Museveni has perverted the ideals of the revolution they fought for together, and similar to the dictator and tyrants they fought, he should be fought, as a matter of principle.

The difference between the two, one could argue, is that Museveni is “flexible” and Besigye is “obdurate”. Museveni, sees himself as the grand patriarch of Uganda’s revolution, but with sheds of flexibility that allow him to stay in power. Besigye on the other hand sees himself as an egalitarian moral crusader, a position born of his days as the National Resistance Movement’s Political Commissar. In his unbending vision, he saw National Resistance Army as a movement to end all of the Uganda’s ill. He was and still remains a doctrinaire ideologue.

Besigye sees NRM as incurably corrupt, inimically unaccountable and a one man-circus- show. Museveni however sees NRM as the heir to the rich revolutionary tradition of restoring dignity and improving lives of the citizens.

Besigye’s obduracy- even if it costs him power and friends, in essence, is the difference between the two men- one a successful Uganda’s President and another the ‘People’s President.’

In real terms, Museveni is undoubtedly the winner- he has defeated Besigye in three straight elections, although, some may argue unfairly. But in symbolic terms, every Museveni’s electoral victory felt hollow, and insecure- the more he won, the more he and Uganda lost. In the end, Museveni’s victory looks increasingly pyrrhic, while Besigye’s electoral and personal losses – innumerable as they are, look like a victory for him and for Uganda.

But Besigye has reached the elastic limits of his defiance, he needs to give space, support and share his wisdom with the younger leaders because his cosmic ego war with Museveni is not good for Uganda.

But recent political trends seem to suggest that the egoistic contests between Museveni and Besigye, both drawing on revolutionary mantra, are fast losing their appeal among the younger generation.

Enter Bobi Wine

Kyaddondo East MP Robert Kyagulanyi, popularly known by his artiste name Bobi Wine, was 4 years old when the NRM came to power in 1986.

While Museveni’s and Besigye’s world view and program of action is mostly about history – fear, Bobi Wine’s world few is shaped by the future – hope. His background as a ghetto kid, figuratively and metaphorically, has more resonance with the majority of Ugandans, who identify with his story of triumph over adversity. Over 60 percent of Ugandans are under the age of 30. To this group, Amin and Obote’s horror stories which Besigye and Museveni are is wont to use, sounds like an old-lady’s myths. They would like to be entrepreneurs, music moguls and successful civic leaders.

Bobi Wine’s combination of a remarkable personal story of rising from the Ghetto to become an independent MP, defeating candidates sponsored by both Besigye’s Forum for Democratic Change Party and Museveni’s national Resistance Movement, should be illustrative.

His campaign was funded by common people. Or, at least, it seemed to be so. Once the voting ended, they were willing to protect the votes by staying at the polling station. Even Besigye, with all his appeal to the masses, and Museveni, with all his state power, cannot inspire people to defend their votes.

Bobi Wine’s rise could also upset the regional ‘balance of power.’ Museveni and Besigye both come from Western Uganda. Bobi Wine is from Central Uganda, a region that has been a thorn in the side of Museveni, and which the president has attempted to subdue using all means necessary fair and foul, the land question being his latest assault.

If he would like to transcend the Museveni and Besigye duopoly, Bobi Wine needs to expand his base beyond the urban areas to the rural areas. Like every wily politician, Museveni has ignored the urban areas, and instead concentrated all his efforts on the rural areas. This has been lucrative for him politically. Bobi Wine needs to speak to the youth in Kampala as well as those in Kitgum.

The musician-cum-politician needs to be aware of economic ruin that Museveni visited upon those who threatened him. Amama Mbabazi- the super Minister, is a recent and poignant example. In the meantime, he should hire a tax attorney to ensure his tax returns with Uganda Revenue Authority (URA) are up to date, including from his days in the music industry.

The land question and the age limit have sufficiently radicalised a significant constituency in Uganda. And there is a significant number of the younger constituency in need of direction. To win them over, Bobi Wine will need to proactively and innovatively capture their issues and provide them with leadership.

Whether he will succeed in doing so is another matter, but that his rise so far marks the beginning of a turn from liberation war politics in Uganda is beyond doubt.

African politics, Horn Watch

America and China’s arms race in Africa

Africa has become an unlikely Ground Zero in China’s attempt to break America’s global hegemony. Nothing demonstrate this than two tiny African countries with a combined population of less than 3 Million- Namibia 2.303,000 and Djibouti 886, 313 that have become the epicentre of the Sino- American competition.

For comparison, Kansas State, 34th in terms of population, has more people than the combined population of Namibia and Djibouti. In terms of the size Djibouti is the same size as New Jersey.

Remarkably, Africa which until recently was regarded as the backwater of global diplomatic game, a poster child for conflict, famine and coups, because of decades of sustained economic growth and the search for the next frontier by the global powers, placed Africa at the sharp end of geostrategic contest.



As an emerging power, everything China does attracts attention, and therefore, the South China Sea tension rightly hogs the major news headlines- because it ticks off all the necessary diplomatic boxes. However, another equally high octane diplo-maritime competition between China and America is taking place behind the headlines.

Decades of sustained economic growth

Over the last few years, Africa has recorded remarkable stable economic growth; in 2010, Africa had a middle class of about 313 million people, or 34 percent of the population, according to the African Development Bank— almost three times the count in 1980, when they made up 26 percent.

Seven of the world’s 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa. Seventy percent of the continent’s people live in countries that posted average growth rates in excess of 4 percent over the past decade, has made the continent as the next frontier of business/political and diplomatic.



According to African Development Bank’s 2015 Economic Outlook “many African countries have improved their investment climate and conditions for doing business, which enhance long-term growth prospects. Benin, Côte d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Senegal and Togo are even in the top ten countries worldwide with the most reforms making it easier to do business”.

However, major African currencies have been performing poorly against the major global currencies. Nonetheless, this and many other impressive statistics has made Africa the next frontier of economic growth. The nexus between Africa’s economic growths, hence a decent return on investment, and global powers search for the next place to invest has made the continent a perfect candidate for the competition, with each wooing, as opposed to conditionality- a modus operandi decades ago.

Djibouti’s “Arc of Democracy” or “String of Pearls?

Djibouti has assumed an outsized strategic importance in the Indian Ocean pitting China and United States and its allies. While the United States and its allies would want to make Djibouti part of the Arc of Democracy connecting Djibouti to Port Blair to Yokosuka, China wants Djibouti to be under its Strings of Pearls orbit.

According to reports, China will in the next few years build naval bases in Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Mynanmar in the northern Indian Ocean; Djibouti, Yemen, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique in the western Indian Ocean; and Seychelles and Madagascar in the central South Indian Ocean. Most of these primarily target the lucrative Indian Ocean trade route.

Bab-el-Mandeb Strait.gif


China is in discussions with Djibouti to build a naval base in the town of Obock where lucrative and strategic Bab-el-Mandeb Strait acts as a strategic link between the Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea via the Red Sea and the Sauz Canal.

According to the US Energy Information Administration’s (EIA) fact-sheet on global oil chokepoints, 3.8 million barrels of oil and “refined petroleum products” passed through the Bab el-Mandeb each day on its way to Europe, Asia, and the US, making it the world’s fourth-busiest chokepoint.

According to World Oil Transit Chokepoints, Energy Information Administration, US Department of Energy, In 2006, an estimated 3.3 million barrels (520,000 m3) of oil passed through the strait per day, out of a world total of about 43 million barrels per day (6,800,000 m3/d) moved by tankers.

China’s Djibouti overture is back on the heel of United States signing of a 20 years lease for Camp Lemonnier, the Naval Expeditionary Base, situated at Djibouti’s Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport and home to the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa of the U.S. Africa Command, the face of the United States presence in Africa.

The terms of the lease renewal is about $70 million a year — $63 million in lease fees and the rest in development aid — more than double the current leasing fees of roughly $30 million a year. A clean demonstration of the value the United States attaches to the base.

While in the past China looked at Africa largely through the economic lens as a counter weight to the West, here, stealthy, China is guided by security more than trade, and Djibouti ticks the dual security and trade box.


In Namibia China is exploring building a naval base in Walvis Bay. “The South Atlantic, while below the radar of most policy makers today, has played an outsized role in modern naval history. Therein lies the importance of Walvis Bay’




The Walvis Bay will provide China with the ‘ability to patrol the critical Cape of Good Hope around Africa and Cape Horn around South America. The approaches to the key North Atlantic sea lanes linking the Americas, Africa and Europe would be nearby’

Walvis Bay and Bab-el-Mandeb Strait gives China a significant naval leverage and control of the major routes.

Recognising the critical utility of Walvis Bay, the United States, has embarked on charm offensive; barely three months in office, President Hage Geingob Ray Mabus of Namibia met United State Secretary of the Navy at the Pentagon.

With Facing East- being in China’s sphere of influence, or West being a choice most countries have to make, a stark throwback to the Cold War era, how this two African countries negotiate the tricky ‘double dipping’, will in the future form the template of how to accommodate the West and its technological prowess, and the East, with trade first approach. Either way, the sea change of Africa’s relations with the outsider needs to anchored on a solid mutually beneficial foundation, rather than one way traffic; whether that involves China- the most significant player in recent years, the West- that is playing catch up, or both at the same time.


Five ways to make our African cities places we will all love living in

DEMOGRAPHIC pressures associated with rural urban migration, massive urbanisation on the back of recent economic growth and failure to expand urban facilities in tandem with the increasing population has led to not only the ubiquitous traffic problem, but also a huge strain on other urban facilities – hospitals, housing and schools.

If endless rants in the morning and evening radio shows and persistent social media chatter about traffic jam during the work commute is the barometer, then traffic has become a major problem in most African cities.

According to a new UN report, The State of African Cities (2014)—Re-imagining sustainable urban transitions, “Africa is projected to experience a 16% rise in its urban population by 2050 – making it the most rapidly urbanising region on the planet – as the number of people living in its cities soars to 56%.”

This massive urbanisation, while impressive, unless properly and adequately planned for would make cities the next frontier of sharp social and political contestation.

To avoid such African cities, we need to do the following;  to continue reading click here http:// http://mgafrica.com/article/2014-07-31-five-ways-to-shape-african-cities-we-can-all-live-in/

African politics

On-off-not-there-at-all electricity is Africa’s curse, but watch out for these dams

THE world has caught the new sweet smell of Africa, and it has fired the collective imagination of Africans themselves.

The undoubtedly impressive economic numbers coming out most of the continent are slowly but surely replacing the ubiquitous negative headlines that had marked headlines about the continent for decades – famine, war and poverty.

However, to maintain the present economic upswing and to address poverty sustainably, Africa has to fix its poor and erratic power production and distribution.

read more http://mgafrica.com/article/2014-07-21-on-off-not-there-at-all-electricity-is-africas-curse-but-watch-out-for-these-dams