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OBBO: Nature has become moody but it seems nobody cares

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CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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Not too long, in the wider East Africa the big story was drought. In Kenya, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia cattle were being wiped out, and farmers were selling their animals for pennies to cut their losses.

The photos of gaunt mothers and their children in camps were everywhere. Ethiopia and Somalia were facing the worst drought in over 60 years, and South Sudan was likely to perish in a famine.

Then the rains came, and from the Horn, central Africa, to southern Africa everything was under water. And again hunger, lost livelihoods, and emergency rescues, were the order the day.

Barely had we caught our breaths, than the fearsome locusts joined the action, ravaging every green thing in their way from Ethiopia, Somalia, to Kenya, with fears they could cut a ravenous path to Uganda and South Sudan.

In all these crises, governments and our societies have struggled. Beyond prayers and appeals to the international community for help, we’ve otherwise been out of our depths.

Nature has become moody and even angry, and we are told these calamities will be the order of the day from now on, because we have upset the balance of the Earth’s climate.

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For our survival, many things have to change. For one, national governments can no longer work alone.

They must just ramp up efforts for collective action. Kenya, for example, benefits if Ethiopia and Somalia don’t keep locusts a state secret, and let Nairobi know they are on the way.

The downstream countries along the River Nile, are better served if the upstream ones tell them the river has burst its banks. It means trouble is coming their way. It seems, then, that nature might just once and for all settle the argument over regional co-operation.

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At national level, all our governments have so far given more money to soldiers (defence), than agriculture, early warning systems, or weather.

Some time ago there was a rather shocking story in Uganda that the meteorological service’s regional offices send their reports to a central point by boda boda, then they would be gathered and sent to Kampala.

Hopefully the situation has changed, but that meant the meteorological authority was issuing reports that were several days late — with the weather long changed.

The idea that a weather scientist with a faded suit, thin tie, and seated in a leaking office no one otherwise cares about should start getting more money than a general with a three-car envoy, will for sure be a near-impossible sell. But the countries that survive in the near future, will be those that make the leap.

Environmental ministers can also no longer be just the president’s favourite ruling party clown, whom he is keeping fed in the job until the next election, or the chap who failed as Agriculture minister and is being given the docket as a soft landing in a cabinet reshuffle.

It has to be a clever woman who studied environmental science, and knows the difference between climate change and global warming.

We might also have to accept that the time for charismatic presidents who fill stadiums with crowds will have to end.

To deal with the climate challenges, we will probably need clever but boring chaps who read science journals on vacation, and have crowd phobia, to lead us.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is The author is curator of the “Wall of Great Africans” and publisher of explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]

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Fear of regime derives energy from deep feelings of injustice : The Standard

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The passing on of President Moi (pictured) this week invites us to reflect again on the essence of the Nyayo Era. What is the enduring memory of that regime (1978 – 2002)? Where did it derive its energy? Long after Mzee Moi’s bones have been interred, Kenya will still be talking about him. What will future generations be made to remember most about him?

I deliberately use the expression “be made to remember most,” rather than “remember most.” History records can be very selective. Stories are told from the interest of the storyteller. Its substance, accordingly, only shapes a certain narrative. Even eye witness accounts can be tilted to serve a certain agenda.

Guided by such caution, we must still ask, “What will future generations be made to recall most of the Nyayo Era?” I had only recently stepped out of my teens, when the Nyayo notion happened upon us. It descended suddenly. Soon after his swearing in, as the Acting President on the afternoon of August 22, 1978, the temporary head of state pointed out the way forward.

SEE ALSO :Ruto seemingly missed vital lessons from Moi

He was going to walk in the footsteps of his predecessor. He urged us to embrace the spirit of love, peace and unity – and to be mindful of each other. We would hear so much of  this that it became a formation of words, and hardly much more. Songs were composed to extol love, peace and unity. It was rather increasingly clear that we were a fragile nation. We needed to be reminded of the glue of love. It brought peace and unity. The three idioms quickly transmuted from pleas, into a spirit and on to a philosophy. 

To be asked “to follow Nyayo” was no longer a plea to embrace the spirit of love, peace and unity. It was a philosophy. The challenge was that it was never broken down. As a student of philosophy at the University of Nairobi, a year later, I wrestled with the logic of this mantra – love, peace and unity. The pieces refused to fit. There were gaps in this jigsaw puzzle.

Why was it that the centre could not hold? What was missing? My professor of philosophy was a Dutch, called Joseph Donders. Together with Dismas Massolo, Odera Oruka and Jesse Mugambi, they held the sub-department together. They migrated with our imagination into theoretical spaces. Something solid and practical remained, however. Logic. This was the missing link in Nyayo – logic. What we failed to do practically we attempted to do through a mantra – a cacophony of echoes of love, peace and unity. We chanted without ceasing. The logical thing to do, some thought, was to look for the pillars of love, peace and unity. No, we thought that love, peace and unity were themselves essential pillars that did not need to rest on anything else. We were wrong. And this was the waterloo of the Nyayo Philosophy. 

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Unity, we discovered, was as good as the purpose for which we united. You could not ask the horse and the horse rider to unite. The relationship was unequal, the unity a distortion. That challenge remains today. Peace, equally, required justice as its logical foundation. Provided that people sensed injustice in the management and distribution of opportunities, it would be difficult to have peace. Was a just and equitable way of doing things the missing link? Does this legacy remain with us today? Do we rob the masses to feed the classes? Do we push segments of the population to the wall, so that they begin to believe that they have nothing to lose, in the event that “peace” collapses?

Love, on the other hand, refused to define itself as sentimental outpouring. It was a practical selfless desire to defeat wickedness. We seem to have missed this train in the Nyayo Age, however. Everyone strived to justify himself and to defeat everyone else in showing how they were more Nyayo than the rest. We bred hate. In the end what reigned was not love, peace and unity. It was hate, suspicion and fear. But we had migrated from the Kenyatta years to the Moi Age with these things. Those who had made hay under the Kenyatta sunshine were afraid of losing it under a President that did not belong to their club. They tried but failed to block him from ascending to power.

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SEE ALSO :Former President Daniel Moi is dead

Their fears did not go away, however. Those who had lived outside the circle of opportunities in the Kenyatta Age were afraid of being pushed to the extremes of poverty. They nervously barricaded Moi. They did not brook any criticism. So long as the centre of power and opportunities moved, they could live with anything else. They urged the President to crack the Nyayo staff, and he often did.

Yet, even the new centre of power was itself afraid. It was afraid of those desperate to snatch the power. We staggered and stumbled from one conspiracy theory to another. The notion of persons perceived to be “anti-Nyayo” was itself a betrayal of fear, by those in power. Those who did not like this state of affairs were afraid of talking about it. They feared that state apparatus would come down on them.

The fear was here, the fear was there. The fear was everywhere. Everyone said the problem was everyone else. In the end, we said Moi must go. We said all was possible without Moi. Moi has eventually heard and heeded the sound of distant drums . . . Far away. He’s gone. The fear that ruled us in the Nyayo Era remains, however. Across the ridges, regions, tribes and classes, fear reigns still. It is the essence of our lives. It derives its energy from deep feelings of injustice across our divides.

— The writer is a strategic public communications adviser. www.barrackmuluka.co.ke



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Moi’s demise should goad Kenyans to reflect on economic and political past — and future

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TEE NGUGI

By TEE NGUGI
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In many commentaries after Robert Mugabe’s death, there was little gloating over his demise. Instead, there was a sad sense that Mugabe had ended up being just another African despot.

The commentators rued the lost opportunity to not only be great but also make Zimbabwe an example that would inspire Africa out of political and financial decay.

Mugabe’s demise, therefore, was not an occasion to rejoice over the passing of a former tormentor. Rather, it was an opportunity to reflect on the missed historical opportunity.
At the passing of Kenya’s former President Daniel arap Moi, commentators, too, will rue the lost opportunity to lift Kenya out of the political and economic mess it had sunk to by the time he took power in 1978. Kenya under Jomo Kenyatta had morphed into just another corrupt and deeply tribal African country.

Kenyatta had failed to grasp the almost impossible task of creating a nation-state from a multitude of ethnic nationalities. He also failed to understand what Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore so well knew—that freedom was only the beginning of another more arduous journey.

No one captures the gravity of the historical task that comes with freedom better than Nelson Mandela. In Long Walk to Freedom, he writes: “I have walked that long road to freedom…but I can only rest for a moment, for with freedom come responsibilities, and I dare not linger, for my long walk is not ended.”
After independence, a process which Kenyan political scientist, the late Ali Mazrui, calls the “deification of political authority” began. Jomo Kenyatta was likened to the biblical Moses. Schools and streets were named after him. His face was on the currency and on the walls of every government and private office.

Those who protested the diversion of national purpose to the building of a cult of personality were jailed, tortured or eliminated. Secret police lurked everywhere, waiting to pounce on those suspected of harbouring independent thought.

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Kenyatta was surrounded by a powerful clique later called the “Kiambu Mafia” who were a law unto themselves. Fear reigned and the nation sank into despair.
It was in this context that Daniel Moi assumed power. His ascendancy to the presidency effectively brought the nefarious ambitions of the “Kiambu Mafia” to a screeching halt. It does not take much imagination to figure out what would have become of Kenya had this group taken power. The group’s character had a lot in common with fascist praxis and ideology.
Would Moi restore democracy and rescue the country from a cult of personality and reorient it towards the goals of the national struggle for independence? Like Kenyatta before him, Moi failed to understand the Herculean task history had placed on him.
Within no time, Moi began to build his own cult of personality. His face appeared on the currency. Roads and schools were named after him. Like Kenyatta, he created a national day to celebrate his person.
The “Kiambu Mafia” was replaced by a “Rift Valley Mafia” who, like their Kikuyu counterparts, were a law unto themselves. Specially-built torture chambers were constructed in Nyayo House to add to the existing ones in Nyati House.

Voting by secret ballot was abolished. Secretive night-time trials were held for those who did not “sing like a parrot”. Sycophancy became the only legitimate form of political expression.

Epic corruption suffocated the economic life of the country, trapping millions in poverty. Development experts refer to the 80s in Kenya and elsewhere in Africa as the “Lost Decade”.
This week, however, what you will hear is historical revisionism taken to a reckless extreme. In his official statement on Moi’s passing, Deputy President William Ruto claimed that Moi led the reforms that restored democracy to Kenya! That claim is a mockery of those who endured jail, torture and death in order to restore democracy.

We will be told that his philosophy of “Peace, Love and Unity” turned Kenya into a paradise. A paradise from which thousands fled? We will be reminded of his projects that brought great benefits, even when economic data from that period indicate a comatose economy.
We will be told that he abhorred tribalism even when his regime, just like his predecessor’s, was thoroughly tribal. We will be told he hated corruption, even when it is a fact that the most crippling corruption was hatched and executed during his reign.

In reality, Daniel arap Moi is another chapter in Africa’s history of repression and failure, adding to those of Mugabe, Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Tragic!

Tee Ngugi is a Nairobi-based political commentator

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OBBO: Is democracy measured by number of living ex-rulers?

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CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO
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Whenever an African president retires or steps down; or an ex-president passes on as Kenya’s former President Daniel arap Moi did on February 4, there is always an image that Ugandans on social media are sure to circulate.

It’s a photograph of former Tanzanian presidents Hassan Mwinyi, Ben Mkapa, and Jakaya Kikwete, holdings hands with President John Magufuli. They will then make the point that while there have been many presidential goings and comings elsewhere, over the same period, the scene has remained unchanged in Uganda, with the country firmly in the grip of President Yoweri Museveni. In power for 34 years now, Museveni continues to shatter the East African Big Man longevity record.
With Moi’s departure, Ugandan wags posted the picture of the Tanzanian former leaders to make the point that the country can look forward to many years of extravagant mourning of their dead ex-rulers and national catharsis, while their Ugandan peers continue to endure dry eyes only.

Uganda’s last living president, the jocular Godfrey Binaisa, died on August 5, 2010.

What these chaps were doing was trying to offer up some a kind of “Living African Former Leaders Index”, as some kind of measure of a nation’s democratic health and political stability. It is a seductive idea, which at first glance looks promising, but in the end problematic.

Still, we need to look at the seductive bits. To begin with, if Moi had retired and passed on February 4, 1985, he would have been referred to “one of only two surviving former East African civilian presidents” (the other being Binaisa).

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And if you had cast your net over the wider East Africa, there would have been only one former military dictator alive—Uganda’s Field Marshal Idi Amin, who was in exile somewhere in Saudi Arabia.

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The fact that it is even meaningless to refer to Moi as one of the surviving executive former president or prime ministers in East Africa, because they are many of them, points to the fact that politically and democratically, the region has made giant strides.

The wrinkle though is that you can have a stable country, which is not democratic, and a generally democratic one, which is unstable.

Secondly, Burundi has three living ex-presidents, but also had a high turnover because between 1993 and 1994 two of them were assassinated. And though it’s richer in exes than Uganda (or Kenya) it is less free and democratic than both.

Tanzania is richer in living ex-presidents than Kenya, which is now down to Mwai Kibaki only, and is definitely more stable. It is also a democracy of sorts, though a fast-dying one, but Kenya is far more democratic and freer—especially since Magufuli set foot in State House.

We shall not count South Sudan, it’s too young and still struggling to get its act together.

The winner in ex-presidents/PMs in the wider East Africa is, wait for it, Somalia with four. Everyone has something; Rwanda one, Sudan one (who’s in jail), Ethiopia one; DR Congo has the relatively freshly-minted and marvellously bearded Joseph Kabila.

What Moi’s passing has reminded us, though, is that the Ugandan presidential wheel is the slowest turning object in East Africa. Moi, an extremely reluctant last-minute democrat, must have been very pleased.

Charles Onyango-Obbo is is curator of the “Wall of Great Africans” and publisher of explainer site Roguechiefs.com. [email protected]

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