Punditry and trafficking in studied banality.

Done well, as a craft, punditry serves an essential if the complementary 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 a 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 have 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 be 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 workers 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 a legion of fans as the high priest of cosmic meaninglessness with his ability to transcend the preconceptions of everyday 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 nothing but a PR opportunity to launder their images of people adversely mentioned involvement in egregious human rights 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 importance 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 needs a reboot if it ever earns 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 1990s 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 make 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 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 soapbox 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. Personality-driven TV journalism and punditry has had a deleterious effect on governance. At the time when much-hardnosed journalism is required, Mutahi and Koinange have inspired journalism that amuses the audience to death rather than inform and educate.

This form of 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, 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


The African criminal court, a dream comes closer

After four years of discussions, the African Union (AU) has agreed the statute of the African Court of Justice and Human Rights – a merger of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the African Court of Justice. Heads of state adopted the protocol during a summit held in Malabo (Equatorial Guinea) on June 26; but the long-expected dream of an African criminal court may take years to become reality and has already attracted many questions about its effectiveness. http://www.justicetribune.com/article/?tx_ijtarticles_homecarousel%5Barticle%5D=540&tx_ijtarticles_homecarousel%5Baction%5D=show&tx_ijtarticles_homecarousel%5Bcontroller%5D=Article&cHash=c4734c3ac3a24a8db5b90097056e1007


Will the TJRC reported be implemented?

“Forgiving is not forgetting; it is actually remembering – remembering and not using your right to hit back. It is a second chance for a new beginning. And the remembering part is particularly important. Especially if you do not want to repeat what happened,” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Chairperson – South African and Truth Reconciliation Commission.

The Truth Justice and Reconciliation commission spent over a billion shillings and its report could remain un-implemented because of lack of political will

Moi and Kenyatta

Since independence in 1963, Kenya has witness several gross human rights violations, repression of dissent and theft of public funds. Both Kenyatta administration (1963-1978), and Moi administration (1978-2002) oversaw numerous forms of violations to stay in power.

During their administration, any form of dissent was interpreted as a de facto personal affront to the president rather than [a constructive criticism of] the presidency.

Creation of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation in such an environment became untenable, since the state was the biggest purveyor of human rights violation.

The 2002 Elections

But after being in power since independence, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) lost the 2002 elections to the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) – a coalition of opposition parties.

Naturally, since many of them bore the brunt of KANU’s repression, upon assuming power, the new administration wanted to form Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) to inquire into historical injustices, massive or systemic human rights violations, economic crimes and the illegal or irregular acquisition of land committed by the previous ruling party.

Consequently, April 17, 2003, by a special issue of the Kenya Gazette, the Kenyan government through Hon. Kiraitu Murungi, the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs, appointed the Task Force on the Establishment of a Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission.

Makau Mutua, a law professor and the Chairman of Kenya Human Rights Commission- was appointed to chair the Task Force on the establishment of a Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission.

The Mandate of the Task Force

The terms of reference of the Task Force were to recommend to the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs whether the establishment of a truth, justice, and reconciliation Commission was necessary for Kenya.

If so, “the Task Force was mandated to recommend to the Minister how and when such a commission should be established; the membership of such a commission; the terms of reference of such a commission; the powers and privileges that should be conferred upon the commission in the execution of its mandate; and the historical period to be covered by the commission’s investigations. The Task Force was empowered to make such further recommendations incidental to the foregoing, as it may consider necessary”.

After public hearings, the Task Force presented its report the Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs August 26, 2003. The debate about the establishment of Truth, Justice and Reconciliation was shelved since the administration lost the political will until the 2007-2008 electoral violence. However, during the Kofi Annan led mediation, the formation of a Truth and Justice became an imperative.

And October 2008, the Kenyan Parliament unanimously passed the bill for creating Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission to investigate and recommend appropriate action regarding abuses committed between the country’s independence in 1963 and the conclusion of the power-sharing deal of February 28, 2008.

The 2007-2008 electoral violence, and the subsequent mediation by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan gave the formation of the TJRC further impetus. The commission was established as part of the Agenda Four of the National Reconciliation and Dialogue Accord spearheaded by Annan.
According to the TJRC Act- The law that established it, the commission’s objective were promoting peace, justice, national unity, healing, reconciliation and dignity among the people of Kenya.
Specifically, the TJRC was mandated to investigate and recommend appropriate action on “human rights abuses” committed between December 12, 1963 and February 28, 2008, when President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga signed the peace and power-sharing deal.

This included politically motivated violence, assassinations, displacements and major economic crimes such as grand corruption and irregular acquisition of land.

However, after being launched with fanfare, the commission was beset with leadership crisis.

Commission’s work and the leadership crisis

Few months after starting its work, the commission’s chair Bethuel Kiplagat was accused of being a party to some of the atrocities the commission was meant to investigate. The Chairman denied any involvement. This dragged on for a while.

The wrangle impeded the smooth operation of the commission because it brought unnecessary spotlight. After a while, to facilitate the smooth operation of the commission, the Chair was asked to step aside until his name was cleared.

The law that established the commission- the 2008 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act, envisaged such a situation. And the remedy was, the Chief Justice will form a tribunal to establish the veracity of allegation against the accused individual, and declare whether he’s either fit or unfit to lead the commission.

Eroded goodwill

The fight to force the chair to step down until he clears his names paralyzed the commission, with some commissioners threatening to quite unless he steps aside. Indeed the Commission Vice Chair, Betty Murungi, one of the most qualified to serve, resigned from the commission over the controversy. The parliament stepped in and gave the commission an ultimatum, either put your house in order or they’ll be disbanded in 72 hours.

After intense public pressure the embattled Chairman stepped aside, but he went to the High Court and obtained an injunction against the tribunal, which as a result never commenced its work. Subsequently, after the tribunal had lapsed, he approached the court again, which ruled that without a tribunal in place to investigate him, the court cannot decide on the matter. This gave the embattled chair a reprieve and he resumed his position.

By this stage majority of Kenyans were tired of ceaseless fight surrounding the commission. This lost the commission a great deal of public goodwill.

Further, amidst the wrangling, the commission’s constant seeking of extension of its terms also engendered public fatigue. Initially, the commission’s term was meant to expire November 3 2011. However, the commission sought an extension, which it was granted.

This meant the commission would release its report May 3rd 2012. But commission again failed to release its report as per this deadline, and was given a further extension to November 3rd 2012. This extension was contrary to the law that established the commission.

Altering the substance of the report

Compounding the cloud of suspect leadership that besieged the work of the commission, altering of the commission’s report contrary to the 2008 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act, raised serious questions about the integrity of the commission’s final report. In particular, the reported interference in the land section- a central driver of electoral conflict In Kenya, by the present administration, casts a significant integrity question on the commission’s work.

Additionally, the subsequent amendment of the 2008 Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Act by the Parliament to give itself the power to amend the report flies in the face of addressing impunity which is central to the formation of the commission in the first place.

While the TJRC Act doesn’t explicitly provides for the Parliament to adopt the report in its entirety, but reports of such commissions are tabled in parliament such that it can take note. This is because the Executive will approach Parliament to allocate funding for implementation of the recommendations.

Above all, despite the president receiving the commissions’ report May 21 2013, and the report being published in the Kenyan Gazette- the official government, June 7 2013, and tabled in parliament, albeit perfunctorily act, but instead of being debated and adopted as is required by the TJRC Act, the Parliament focused on changing the TJRC law to give themselves power to ‘consider’ the report. This means that the requirement for the appointment of an implementation committee and the deadline of six months given in the Act during which implementation should commence have all been missed.

Despite all its failings, the TJRC formation and its report form a reasonable basis for a debate and subsequent policy intervention.


To prevent more Mpeketonis Kenya must define Somalia exit plan

Since Kenya intervened in Somalia in October 2011, insecurity has spiraled out of control, with attacks (largely targeting Kenyans) becoming commonplace occurrences in Nairobi, the coast, and parts of North Eastern. These fall into two broad categories: large-scale and sophisticated (some foiled, some successful), and amateurish low-grade and low casualty.

Last September’s attack on the Westgate shopping mall, and more recently that on the village of Mpeketoni in Lamu County, fall into the large-scale category. Sandwiched between these are those targeting Matatus – public transport taxis in Eastleigh, a Nairobi suburb popular with the Somalis – and other public facilities like the Gikomba (East Africa’s largest open air market).

The government’s response to the attacks has been at best impotent and at worst, misguided. First, they instituted ‘Nyumba Kumi’ (know thy neighbor) – the ten houses initiative. The concept of Nyumba Kumi, borrowed from Tanzania, was predicated on dividing the households into groups of ten, and people in those households hold each other accountable through sharing information on any suspicious activities.

While the concept looks neat in theory, in practice, it is not the most effective way of addressing the ever-mutating threat of terrorists – people with no return address. It might work in some rural settings where the residents tend to be less mobile, but not in urban areas like Nairobi and Mombasa where residency is fluid and transient due to the economic pressures.

Second, the government conducted what it called Operation Usalama Watch. This was a large state-led profiling of the Kenya-Somali community. The community became the de facto scapegoat for all the attacks, despite the fact that it bore the brunt of most of them. This tactic also ignored the debatable efficacy of collectively punishing an entire community for the crimes of a few.

During the operation over 4000 Somalis were arrested and held in Kasarani football stadium. Over two months later some are still there in dehumanizing conditions. The security sweep touched a raw nerve and exacerbated the already fraught relations between the community and the state. The security situation also barely improved.

Travel advisories

The recent attack in Mpeketoni Lamu was preceded by Western travel advisories recommending that tourists avoid certain popular coastal regions. This was interpreted by the Kenyan authorities as being a cynical effort by Western countries to sabotage the country’s already ailing tourism industry.

As a response, the government announced rafts of measures to encourage local tourism to offset the departure of many foreigners. The anti-western rhetoric from the Kenyatta government is largely a continuation of the Jubilee Alliance election campaign – the Kenyatta/Ruto ticket was carried to State House on the crest of an anti-ICC and anti-western wave.

The nature of these attacks can be divided into three categories: First, some are the work of Al Shabaab Central. They bear all the hallmarks of the group’s previous work, and they have claimed responsibility. For example, the Westgate attack.

Second, some are carried out by Al Shabaab cells in Kenya – hence their amateurish and ineffective nature. They achieve little apart from sowing fear.

Third are attacks which are the work of opportunistic criminal groups that take advantage of the prevailing situation to act against a business rival, or similar.

Until we work out which attack was undertaken by which groups – which can only be achieved through a thorough and meticulous study – all are too easily bundled together as ‘Al Shabaab’.

A shift in tactics

Since Westgate, Al Shabaab has carried out two sophisticated attacks – one was foiled, and another one missed its target. In one incident on 23rd April two militants detonated a Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device (VBIED) in Pangani Police station (near Eastleigh). Two police officers were killed. According to the authorities, the target was not the police station, but elsewhere in the Central Business District.

On 11th March, Kenya’s Anti-Terror Police detonated a pick-up laden with explosives in Chamgamwe Mombasa. The target of the attack was the police station. The police found six pipe bombs attached to a mobile phone detonator, and plastic explosives.

These two unsuccessful attacks demonstrate that the group has found Kenya to be vulnerable and that they are keen to carry out more ‘spectacular’ attacks. The regional military intervention in Somalia pushed Al Shabaab out of Mogadishu and diminished its capacity by denying them their critical revenue source – the port of Kismayo. However, the supposed defeat of the group was greatly exaggerated.

The great existential threat to Al Shabaab was the internal contest between the transnational jihadis and the Somali nationalists. But the battle for the ‘soul’ of Al Shabaab was won by the current leader, Ahmed Godane, who is aligned with the former group. He gained the leadership by expelling all he disagreed with regarding the group’s strategic vision. Al Shabaab is now a de facto transnational jihadi movement.

However, despite its diminished capacity, conducting an attack in a neighbouring country is a low cost affair. Bleeding Kenya through multiple attacks in far-flung vulnerable areas like Mpeketoni will make the country look unsafe, at least from the all-important outsider perspective.

Domestic political implications

After the recent attacks the Kenyan president addressed the nation and said; “The attack in Lamu was well planned, orchestrated, and politically motivated ethnic violence against a Kenyan community, with the intention of profiling and evicting them for political reasons… This therefore, was not an Al Shabaab terrorist attack. Evidence indicates that local political networks were involved in the planning and execution of the heinous attacks.”

However, Al Shabaab had already claimed responsibility, saying; “The Kenyan government is fighting a losing war and has turned its vengeance on the Muslims in Kenya. As such, the Mpeketoni Raid was carried out in response to:

(a) Kenyan government’s brutal oppression of Muslims in Kenya through coercion, intimidation and extrajudicial killings of Muslim scholars, particularly in Mombasa, and the violation of Muslim honour and sanctity.
(b) Kenyan military’s continued invasion and occupation of our Muslim lands and the massacre of innocent Muslims in Somalia.
(c) In addition to that, the town raided by the Mujahideen was originally a Muslim town before it was invaded and occupied by Christian settlers”.

The statement from the president was curious considering the prevailing tense political/ethnic climate in Kenya.

The opposition leader Raila Odinga arrived in Kenya after three months stay at Boston University, upon his return he demanded a national dialogue, something the president initially accepted, before changing his mind. This occurred after his deputy William Ruto poured cold water on the plan, reckoning that what Odinga is was after was not talks but a coalition government. Odinga has replied that his group will be touring the country holding rallies and, more specifically, coordinating Kenyans to attend a ‘Saba Saba’-style rally on July 7th – a date that has great historical significance in Kenya’s democratic struggle.

The president’s address after Mpeketoni added fuel to an already polarized national political fire. But, ironically, he has contributed to a situation that he, in the aftermath of Westgate, identified was what terrorist were after: “[a] closed, fearful and fractured society where trust, unity and enterprise are hard to muster.”

The leadership’s blatant political point scoring on matters of national security is not only gratuitous, but also dangerous, and will only hand the initiative to a group that is facing multiple threats. This is not an effective way to fight terrorism.

Effective counter-terrorism

Throwing accusations at the political opposition, large-scale ethnic profiling and detainment of Somalis cannot solve what is a serious security problem in Kenya. Instead, any counter-terrorism effort should be linked with a clearly defined Somalia exit plan. The current open-ended stay by Kenya forces will only lead to mission creep and the window between when Kenya was seen as a liberator and invader closed a long time ago.

The president needs to define what the end-state in Somalia looks like. Insisting that we shall stay the course may sound like an admirable policy; in practice it is unsustainable given growing domestic insecurity.