Friday, April 18, 2008

Speaking of Mungiki

Another Kenyan blogger, Lost White Kenyan Chick, has a good on-the-ground update about the Mungiki situation these days.

You can read her post here, and here's an excerpt:

I was talking to someone in the morning who lives in Dandora. Now personally I would have said that Dandora was really one of the better areas of Nairobi in which to live. Rents are far from being the cheapest and it is most definitely not a "bad" area of town with minimal violence, thuggery or anything else going down there - even in the post-election skirmishes - but now it seems Dandora is not the place you wish to be calling "home" anymore.

Now it seems that if you live in Dandora, first of all, you'll be lucky if you can find transport at all, as all the matatus (or mini buses) that run around the area into and out of town have been warned off the roads, and those that are operating are charging over 150/- (over US$2) per trip, which when most wanainchi make not much over that in a day is not exactly conducive to bother going to work at all. Then she tells me that all the ladies in the area have been given leaflets telling them what to wear.

It must be a skirt and the length must reach below the knee. Penalty for not following the dress code is a humiliating stripping and public beating.

Last night, SMS's were sent round all over saying that you must leave the city centre by 7.30pm or you shall be killed. Then this morning new SMS's stated that all those who work in the Industrial Area should not go into work.

It's all just fear mongering but hey how much is your life worth, and is it worth ignoring these warnings because by doing so Eric Kiraithe [the police spokesman] says you're doing the right thing ??

The public demands from the Mungiki are that they are mourning the death of the wife of their leader (who is currently inside being entertained at the country's expense), who was shot last week together with her driver, and they believe the police were involved and should be brought to book for it, and that they want some police force group that has been formed to crack down on them all, to be disbanded.

However, the leaflets now circulating on the ground "explaining" this reign of terror go with a slightly different, yet more realistic reasoning, and that is that the "Mungiki" say they have not been paid their "protection" monies from various government ministers for the last few months. They had no part in the general election and therefore gained no rewards from that, and now that the Kikuyus have not taken a majority in the parliament and just to prove how powerful they are, they are going to paralyse operations in Kenya just to show that "all is not normal" just because a cabinet has been named and all is "apparently well".

That said, there is a story in the Standard newspaper today that the Mungiki have ordered members to stop fighting. The call for ceasefire came after Prime Minister Odinga made a public request for the group to stop its protests. Public statements from Mungiki leaders promised to work with Odinga. It's a curious turn of allegiances, since the dominant public perception is that Mungiki is partially aligned with the Kikuyus and the so-called Mt. Kenya Mafia.

But maybe the Mungiki are turning into politicians, shifting allegiances and all. The group has even been holding press conferences over the past week!

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

"Let them eat cake"

Food has been on my mind a lot lately. Food prices in particular, and food scarcity.

The World Bank, the UN and countless other organizations are attempting to sound the alarm about rising food prices around the globe.

Here in Kenya, the food prices have already risen significantly over the past three months. That inflation is precipitated and exacerbated by domestic politics, climate and many other factors.

An op-ed in Monday's Daily Nation sums it up nicely. Rasna Warah writes:

Food_fears_oped_0408A researcher at the Institute of Security Studies in South Africa has noted that the impact of the food crisis will be felt most acutely in African countries, where there is already a lot of anger in urban areas around issues such as unemployment and lack of basic services, especially among the poor.

Kenyans are not known to protest over food prices - we tend to take to the streets only to voice our support or opposition to a political party or leader, not because we cannot afford to feed ourselves or our families.

But given our fragile political situation, rising inflation (now at more than 20 per cent), high unemployment, an impending drought and a declining economy, it won't be long before people begin to protest in other ways - through crime, looting and violence.

High food prices can thus lead to other forms of social instability and anarchy. The scenario is too horrific to even imagine.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Peeling the onion

There is a resolution, in principle, on the question of how to shape the Kenyan cabinet. Other questions remain about how these leaders will work together to run government. If it's taken them six weeks to agree on the cabinet matter...

Despite the weekend announcement of the cabinet decision, there are disturbances around the country today. We woke this morning to phone calls and SMSs about fighting in Nairobi neighbourhoods. Word on the street is that the fighting is retaliatory violency following the apparent murder of the wife of the Mungiki leader last week.

Mungiki is tough to define. They're a group with many faces: organized crime, religious sect, Kikuyu-led gang, political agitants for hire. The violence in Kenya that followed the December elections has increased the powerbase of Mungiki. The fighting along tribal lines also stimulated the growth of rival gangs who began by promising protection to members of certain tribes.

So although the cabinet question is resolved for now, this morning's violence is a reminder of the multiple layers of Kenyan politics. Here's hoping not every peel of that onion will bring tears.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Two steps forward, too many steps back

Standard_tuesdayIt's been a wildly winding road toward the establishment of a functional government in Kenya.

As Kenyans watch the post-election confusion and violence in Zimbabwe, things are not much brighter at home. Although there are agreements in principle on powersharing in Kenya, the actual act of sharing power seems to be difficult.

The sticking points in the current round of talks are the size of the shared cabinet, and which party will control which portoflios.

Cabinet_division As recently as last Friday, there seemed to be an agreement. The cabinet would include 40 seats: 20 for ODM, 20 for PNU. The posts were doled out.

But a meeting on Sunday to finalize the details over five key posts broke down. The questions were over who will run Foreign Affairs, Cabinet Affairs, Local Government, Transport and Energy. The parties did not agree and this week Kenyans are back to: Cabinet, question mark.

Nation_todayAs the leaders retreated from face-to-face talks to memos and envoys, protests in a few isolated parts of Kenya turned violent yesterday. Once again, PNU is pointing to the constitution while ODM is protesting that Kibaki's party must abide by the deal signed a month ago. PNU is threatening to dissolve parliament and call for new elections.

As in February, international figures are making public statements calling for a resolution to the dispute.

The Kenyan shilling is falling against the dollar. In a country where inflation is ongoing - where a cabbage that cost 20 shillings in December is now selling for 60 - the political instability is bad news for Kenyans.

If you want to keep track of what kind of agreements have been made, and the reconciliation efforts, here is the site to visit.