We will postpone the obituary of Col. Muamur Gadaffi for a year. The Libyan story is still open. At the start of the hostilities, we reckoned here that Libya is Somalia in slow motion. The jury is still out as is a discussion on what the chalkboard of history was scrawled in blood across the dessert. Am reminded of Shelley’s Ozymandias and woke up wondering what Nelson Mandela thinks about the death of the “King of Kings”
Some Somalia, Kenya stuff
The old rugs.
The ones that raised the child, and the dog and welcomed the rest were taken out and beaten. Laid out in the sun with nowhere to hide for all to see the scratches, the fleas, the tears, smears and the dirt.
In a different arid stretch closer home, the day out for Kenya’s security forces in hot pursuit of allegedly Muslim militants, threatens to angrily shake out and air the establishment’s long smooch with the dirty underworld of illegal money. News is filtering of a Somali shakedown in Nairobi and other areas as a “mother” of all operations.
There is nothing wrong with Kenya’s attempt at securing it’s borders but this present episode may pass as no more than expensive public relations on the eve of elections and in the glare of wide ranging reforms underway there.
Still it raises important questions about attempts at a common security within the EAC region. Those who read the signs said it was only a matter of time before the Kenyan establishment (It’s political and business elite) reacted to the kidnapping of foreigners within the country. The invasion of Somalia confirms for all the power and influence of the hospitality/tourism lobby, a sector that employs thousands and is a major source of revenue in the country.
The seriousness of the response however must have left many Kenyans wondering why after years of co-existing with the “Somali question” including the recruitment by militants across the border of Somali-Kenyans into Al Shabaab ranks, the networks of Al Qaeda with it’s arteries feeding Mogadishu from the Kenyan coast and capital, did the Kenyan establishment pick this time and this response.
It is no secret either that the coast, its neglected estates in Malindi and Lamu and other new places were being given a fresh coat of paint from piracy dollars. Word on the street was long that these towns were a laundering haven for Somali-linked businessmen with links to the huge ransoms being paid from piracy. Now with the threat of ethnic profiling in the hands of Kenya’s famously corrupt cops one wonders if it is really terrorism that lies at the heart of the zeal.
Picture above is from a still developing story of an alleged massacre of AMISOM troops in the last 24 hours
But first, a note on the undiplomatic scramble across the Somali border. In this region countries like Uganda are well aware of the limitations of regional or continent wide mandates under say official United Nations or African Union rules. Operational needs can be held hostage to inflexible rules of engagement as with AMISOM or Monuc in Congo. Still the cover of these mandates injects important resources into drawn out conflicts, bringing legitimacy and funds to the table.
Short-term military goals may survive their exclusion but if Kenya wants to be part of the longer-term solution in Somalia- it will have to get in line. At the time of the announcement of its incursion Kenya was and still is a member of the EAC (its neighbors Uganda and Burundi have troops in Somalia), the African Union (which has mandated a mission in Somalia), the Intergovernmental Authority on Development or IGAD and the United Nations. The question of hot pursuit was a flimsy ground to launch an invasion.
However other domestic considerations notwithstanding, one must keep in mind that unlike its conflict-hardened neighbors, Kenya has the least experience with this sort of thing. Uganda and Rwanda in particular cut their teeth in Congo and Sudan.
Some Uganda stuff
There is bad economic news all around. Crime in Kampala sensitive to prices is emerging as a real problem. A friends car was stolen, 3 had their houses broken into and standing on the street with a phone is a dangerous thing. It’s Friday and many Ugandans will be out having a “blast” but few will be spending as much as they did in the last two months. According to consumer researchers, sales of beer have dropped across all brands, as has that of airtime.
According to Dr. Fred Muhumuza an economist seconded as advisor to the Minister of Finance- the last two quarters of last year saw negative growth in agriculture and industry. “ While consumer spending and the service sector is keeping the economy buoyant, it’s expected that consumer spending will sag” he told me. Some fear worse.One knowledgeable Joe explained the resurgence of old bank notes, that were supposed to be out of circulation, as the equivalent of “printing money”. He said it was a lousy plan to finance the government deficit in light of dwindling revenues.
The gloomy economic news may not be seen with the naked eye. Kampala is full of shiny new cars but there are signs of trouble all around. A friend who runs a tour company is talking of cancellations – partly due to street protests known as Walk to Work. These protests by the group Activists for Change are applying pressure on the government (the ruling party is at the school of political education in Kyankwanzi) and the police are out in force even charging protestors with the unlikely offense of treason.
We need to unpack this in the coming weeks though. Suffice to say the politics of protest will not fix the economy and as long as the economy is broke- there are many reasons to believe protests will continue. Sigh.
On a lighter note – I shared a cup of tea with Uganda’s ex-Vice President (the first woman Vice President in Africa I believe) Specioza Wandera Kazibwe. She is a public health specialist whose new charge is the re-orienting of Uganda’s health care sector. There were some personal stories.
When she was a local doctor in the Bugolobi neighborhood in the early 90’s and I was about to sit my O’levels “Spe” as she is known, a jolly, Uganda Waragi swigging politico wrote me a success card in a bar that my aunt run. I reminded her.
“ You know you have a good team (she was speaking about the ministry of health reforms) when you know what you want and know what you are doing” she said, adding that it was not enough to have qualified people if they were clueless of their mission. “ Ministry of Health is still a ministry of diseases. Not health. Over 70% of Uganda’s diseases are preventable and this is not being addressed,” she said.
She also claimed she had retired from politics ( she had just lead an elections observer mission to Liberia and said it reminded her of Uganda in the mid-80′s) but she did not convince me with statements like that above. All this was just hours before the death of Gadaffi. Someone pointed out later that the Leader of the Jamahiriya in 2001 had famously told Ugandans “ revolutionaries do not retire”. It could be true but they can be both tired and retired.