Tribal politics in Kenya

At the core of Kenya’s election brouhaha are two mind-boggling questions: What to do with Kenyatta’s war crime charges and secondly, are Kikuyus the only people fit to be president of this multi-ethnic country.

For those who don’t know, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of the first president of Kenya, was declared winner of a contentious March 4th presidential elections. The results, however, are being challenged by the second runner-up, Raila Odinga, who alleges that the electoral commission fixed the outcome. Kenyatta’s camp insists that the election was free and fair, but they can’t be as dismissive about the Hague’s assertion that he orchestrated the mass killings that marred the 2007 election. Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor at the Hague is unwavering about her commitment to have Kenyatta and his cronies stand trial. He has vowed to fight the charges and clear his name.

How does the president of the most economically powerful country in East Africa subject himself to the rigorous examination of the International Criminal Court without losing his international credibility? Most importantly, how can he successfully govern a country bitterly divided along ethnic lines? Kenyatta is a Kikuyu, Raila Odinga is a Luo. Kikuyus are the dominant ethnic group in the nation of 39 million people. Although there other tribes like Kalenjin, Luo, Kamba and Maasai, since independence, every president, except for Arap Moi has been a Kikuyu. This has led to allegations that the country’s political and material wealth is disproportionately concentrated in the hands of Kikuyus - a sentiment that readily lends itself to violence during elections.

It is not entirely clear how Kenyatta who is at the centre of ethnic cleansing charges will unite the entire country. Amongst Kikuyus, he is regarded as a saviour, the rest of Kenya is  waiting to see how he will heal the deep tribal wounds and move the country forward.


Out of the political closet

There is no better way to find out how someone feels about you than to give them the opportunity to vote for you or your arch rival. That is what  typically happens in political elections. Two main parties vie for votes and wait for the surprise. In the case of Ghana’s December 2012 presidential elections, the surprises that popped out were stranger than costumes at a gay pride parade.

Since its conversion to democracy in 1992, every four years, Ghana’s main political parties the New Democratic Congress (NDC) and the New Patriotic Party (NPP) campaign bitterly for the Ghanaian vote. They give out darling favours like pens, T-shirts, flip-flops and of course perishable essentials like rice, cooking oil and of course, hard cash.  Both parties engage in this art of persuasion but because of the NDC’s checkered past, it is often assumed that kicking them out of office is a no-brainer. Afterall, between 1979-1981 and 1981-1992, the PNDC ruled Ghana under the military dictatorship of JJ Rawlings. The earlier years of this rule was dominated by bloodshed, curfews, public flogging of women and confiscation of assets. Facing enormous pressure from various international bodies, in 1992, Rawlings opened the country to multi-party elections. PNDC became NDC, but the reign of terror that Ghanaians had experienced became the single motivating factor to vote against NDC.

Anyone who declared their support for the NDC stood the risk of being chastised as an apologist for murderers and oppressors. As far as some Ghanaians are concerned, any good that Rawlings did is nullified by the role he played in Ghana’s version of the Bolshevik revolution.

It has been sixteen years since the military beret toting Rawlings peacefully exited political office, yet he remains an enigmatic power house. The lean virility of his youth has given way to a rounder but still domineering physique. His sharp jawline which when clenched used to send ministers crawling under tables is now softened with a healthy roll of grey beard. He continues to be undeniably charismatic. He entertains crowds, eviscerates his opponents and still has the ability to make the average Ghanaian believe he is their humble ally.

With these mega watts traits in tow, Rawlings’ endorsement helped his predecessor, a demur civil servant called Atta Mills, win the elections in 2008.  But once he was sworn in as President, Atta Mills needed to show that he was his own man so he went to great lengths to distance himself from Rawlings. Ministers in the previous (P)NDC administration who used to lick Rawlings’ boots now mounted podiums and derided him. Rawlings was alienated from the party he had founded and the post-Rawlings NDC makeover was in full swing.  Yet the political climate still frowned upon private citizens who supported the NDC administration.

By 2012, when NPP was preparing for a political comeback, the NDC’s makeover went into overdrive. Four months prior to the elections, their leader, President Atta Mills died and a relatively new face, John Mahama, sought to lead the NDC to another victory. Oozing charisma and promises of a better Ghana, a new NDC was born under Mahama. Gradually, people started coming out of the woodworks to publicly say the forbidden: I am voting for the NDC. Even individuals whose families have been diehard NPP supporters, side stepped family loyalty and rooted for the NDC. They were out of the political closet.

My own cousin came out. A real Ashanti man whose family has long supported NPP changed his Facebook profile picture to that of NDC emblem. The family was up in arms, but he stuck to his guns and voted NDC. What is behind this coming out parade for the NDC? At an engagement party last December, I turned to a friend whose family has financed several NPP campaigns and asked:

“Who did you vote for?”  Without flinching she replied “I voted skirt and blouse. CPP for my constituency and Mahama for president.  I rotated to another girl whose family was scathed by the excesses of the Rawlings era.

“Who did you vote for?”

“NDC all the way.”

“What? But your family is NPP, I thought you were NPP. Why are all you traditional NPP supporters voting NDC?”

“Maybe we are rebelling against our parents who have always supported NPP simply because of what Rawlings did. But we, we have moved on.”

I smiled inwardly, maybe Ghana has finally reached a stage where votes are not driven by ‘who did what to my family 30 years ago’… Then her voice jarred into my thoughts again.

“Plus, the NDC is more open. They will give me some of the government contracts. E dye be k3k3.” My smile is widened sardonically. In Africa’s popularity contest, votes are influenced by politics of the stomach and rarely by policy.  With the NDC makeover complete, their supporters can now chop without guilt.

Photo credit:

John Mahama; Ghana’s saviour?


On the heels of a hotly contested presidential campaign, Ghana‘s electoral commission announced the winner of the December 2012 elections. His name is John Dramani Mahama but I call him ‘Teflon John’ because  like high quality frying pan, nothing sticks on him. No allegation or scandal, regardless of how close it is to his office can be pinned to him.

To grasp the significance of this pseudonym, a bit of history is required. John Mahama was the former Vice-President in President Atta Mill’s administration.  When Atta Mills died unexpectedly from an undisclosed illness, Mahama was sworn in as president. By default he also became the flag bearer for the ruling NDC* party which meant he had to lead a campaign against the main opposition, the NPP**, and 5 other political parties. According to the electoral commission, 5,574,761 votes were cast for NDC and 5,248,898 votes were for the NPP.

Although Mahama was declared the winner, his victory was tainted with allegations of fraud. The NPP petitioned Ghana’s Supreme Court, that 1,340,000 votes were illegally recorded. The objective of their case is  to remove John Mahama from office and replace him with opposition leader Nana Akufo Addo. An ordinary politician would have called a press conference to address this serious allegation. Not Teflon John, he boarded a plane to South Africa to attend to ‘private matters’.

The press was rife with speculation. Why would Mahama surreptitiously leave the country days after an election whose results were still being disputed? What was the ‘private matter?’ Was Mahama hiding something from Ghanaians the same way his predecessor Atta Mills had? In Ghana, when a government official ‘goes to South Africa’ on a ‘private visit’ it is usually code for seeking medical treatment that Accra’s crumbling healthcare system cannot support. The rumor gathered steam and certain newspapers publicly declared that Mahama was suffering from kidney disease. Privately, Ghanaians wondered if he was suffering from the effects of an NPP juju curse… Amidst allegations, rumors and political tension, Teflon John returned to Ghana, donned a sparkling white Batakari and was sworn in as President of the 4th republic of Ghana.  

Allow me to go and record and state that there is no political leader (present or past) as slick skilled as John Mahama. Except for his cool temperament, facts about his personal life are blurry. Nobody can say for sure the number of children he has or if they were all born by one woman. He is from the Northern region which is predominantly Muslim, but he is a practicing catholic and a rumored polygamist. We see a charming woman by his side, her name is Lordina and she is an enthusiastic supporter of her husband. She is mighty convincing when she says her husband is going to do a great job for Ghana. The jury is still out on that verdict, but so far, Mahama’s government appointments hint at an extremely bloated government with an excessive number of ministers and fancy titles awarded to a wide variety of people.

If Ghanaians turned a blind eye to Mahama’s obese cabinet, they showed unreserved anger at his nomination of Nana Oye Lithur, as Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection. Their ire was not directed at the fact that she is a woman, but because she publicly stated that ‘she would protect the rights of gays and lesbians in Ghana’. Leaders of prominent religious and secular organizations lashed out at Mahama and warned him of dire political consequences if he did not withdraw his nomination. In a country that is irrationally homophobic and defiantly against same-sex relations, Nana Oye Lithur was appointed Minister of Youth and Social. Kudos on this one Teflon John!

However, barely a month into his presidency, yet another scandal threatened the Mahama administration. 80 million dollars worth of gold being transported from Ghana to Iran was intercepted by Turkey. Who authorized this transaction between Ghana and the principal member of the Axis of Evil? What was oil-producing Ghana going to get in return for the 1.5 tons of gold? The opposition party’s demand for answers was met with silence. Just as quietly, Turkey released the gilded cargo with a fine of $1019 for lack of proper documentation.

John Mahama has stepped into the political limelight at a time when Ghana is experiencing unprecedented growth. Ghana’s economy continues to be on a steady climb, the middle class is expanding, real estate is booming and its coast is bubbling with oil. Mahama has managed to cement fissures within his party and seemingly mended the tattered relationship between his caucus and the founder of the NDC, JJ Rawlings. However, questions still remain on whether Teflon John will secure a Supreme Court victory and sustain real growth in the country. Your guess is as good as mine.  

NDC* New Democratic Congress

NPP** New Patriotic Party

The undecided voters

Dear Americans,

I wonder if you know how this election is critical not just to America, but indeed to the rest of the world? If so, how do many of you comfortably label yourself as ‘undecided voters’ - two weeks before election day. On Monday, President Obama and Governor Romney appeared at their final debate to reiterate their individual vision for America.

In articulate language whisked with a tinge of urgency, each candidate laid out out their plans for the next four years. But the truth is, the policies that Obama and Romney shared will have long term impact on people who live in places that even Google maps can’t locate. So I hope that when you step away from the noise of pundits and super pacs and sit at your kitchen tables, you will remember the key points both candidates shared  and make a sound decision. If I were at the table with you, I would urge you to vote for President Barack Obama. What this President has been able to achieve in the last four years with a bitterly uncooperative congress gives me hope that given a second term, he is going to do even more. Currently, unemployment is down to 7.8%, 5 million jobs have been added to the economy, the stock market is no longer in a free fall, healthcare reform has been passed, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been repealed and steps are underway to deal with America’s undocumented immigrants. His unwavering agenda for America’s foreign policy is an inclusive approach which draws on the involvement of Allies to tackle the world’s most complex situations.

Let me draw your attention to places like Greece, Spain and Italy where poor leadership has resulted in record unemployment and sea-deep deficit. The world looks to America to lead so I want your country in the steady hands of someone who will go after the terrorists and still possesses the restraint to not flare emotions with unnecessary talk of war. Presently, al-Qaeda has been decimated in the Arab region but they are making inroads in Northern Africa and they are also involved in efforts to destabilize Mali in West Africa.  I trust the vision that Obama has for the world and I believe in the comprehensive and balanced approach he wants to deal with issues such as terrorism, illegal immigration and the environment. After four years of handwork, there is credible evidence that the American economy is turning the curve and I am convinced that President Obama’s plan to grow America’s economy from the middle will return America to the level of prosperity it once enjoyed.

It is for these reasons, that I want President Barack Obama back in office for four more years. I realize that this may seem like I am meddling in your internal affairs, but this election is too important for me to sit it out and pretend I am a undecided global citizen.


Beautiful Senegal

With probably the most beautiful coastlines along the Atlantic, here are a few interesting nuggets of facts about African hotspot, Senegal. It was colonised by the French around the 17th century and remained a well controlled colony until September 1960 when it became an independent country. Capital City: Dakar Politics: Democratic multi-party system Current President: Macky Sall Population: 13 million 
Official language: French, Wolof Religion: 94% Islam Economy: Stable and Progressive. GDP 
per capita: $1028  National assets: Gold, diamond, Youssou Ndour. Hotspots: The popular resort bay Saly is known for its beautiful hotels and beaches.  Goree Island is about a 20 minutes ferry ride from Dakar. It offers tourists gripping   evidence of the transatlantic slave trade.                                                                                                                                                                                      

Flag of Senegal

Beware of smiling politicians

Omar al-bashir of Sudan and Salvo Kiir of South Sudan just concluded a meeting to resolve a bitter dispute about oil production. After four days of talks in Addis Ababa, the two leaders emerged to announce that an economic and security agreement had been reached. Flanked by their delegates, Kiir and Bashir hugged and smiled at the flashing cameras. Yet beneath their confident smiles lies a contentious issue that has riled both leaders for months.

Over a year ago, South Sudan seceded from Sudan and became an independent country. However it attained this status without reaching a categoric agreement on how the 1200 mile border it shares with the North should be demarcated. Under the terms of independence, South Sudan maintained ownership of two thirds of the crude oil whilst Sudan controlled the oil refineries. But in January 2012, a dispute over oil transit fees and the unresolved border issue almost thrust the two countries into war. South Sudan shut down oil production forcing Bashir to implement austerity measures which sparked uprisings in Khartoum. In South Sudan, the lack off oil production also weakened their economy. To avert a financial crisis, the two leaders met in Addis and brought an end to the economic and security stalemate.

The newly signed agreement resolved three core issues: The two countries agreed to reopen oil exports from the South to Northern Sudan. They also agreed to demilitarize the zone between the border and end all hostilities that almost led to war in April. Inspite of these significant achievements Bashir and Kiir were not able to reach a decision about how to mark their border or how to resolve the disputed border region of Ayebi. Without a clearly demarcated border which shows where Sudan ends and where  Sudan begins, dazzling smiles and firm handshakes are insincere and irrelevant. All it will take is another skirmish at Ayebi for the former foes to draw their guns again.

Progress in Somalia

In a boost to Somalia’s rocky path towards peace, over 200 agents of the militant islamist group al -shabaab have surrendered to the African Union peace keeping mission to Somalia (AMISOM).

For the last two decades, the absence of a central government in Somalia, has galvanized al-shabaab’s control of the southern and central parts of the country . They  implemented a radical form of Sharia law in the region and vigilantly recruited Somalis from North America and around the world to terrorize people that they deemed to be enemies of islam. For five years al-shabaab held Mogadishu at hostage, pirating the high seas and extorting money from locals farmers to fund their guerilla war tactics. However since 2010, al-Shabaab’s strength has been weakened by the growing presence of  AMISOM which has intensified measures to bring stability to the country.

AMISOM’s efforts have been rewarded with significant successes; by 2011, al-Shabaab had been driven out of Mogadishu. In June 2012, Somalia held it first elections in two decades and Hassan Sheikh Mohamud was sworn in as president. Al-Shabaab has retaliated with several suicide attacks including a brazen assasination of a local MP early in September. Nonetheless, there are growing signs that the morale of this extremist group has been weakened. On September 24th, over 200 al-shabaab militants surrendered to the  AMISOM. Stephen Mugerwa, the commander of AMISOM has urged other militants to lay down their weapons. Heeding this call, the Ahmad Ali Militant militant group also surrendered to the AU (African Union) and Somali government troops. In yet another setback to al-shahaab, on Tuesday morning, Kenya military working with the AU bombed Kisamoya airport destroying al-shabaab’s cache of ammunition.

Undoubtedly, the newly formed Somali government is determined to cap the power of militant groups who want to destabilize the nation. With the assistance of the armed troops from the AU, calm is being restored to Somalia. Although this period of uneasy peace is viewed skeptically by the world, it has has led to a steady influx of Somalis who are returning to Mogadishu to rebuild their country. Liban Egal used to live in Maryland, he returned to Somalia in 2011 and opened the first commercial bank in Mogadishu. Ilwad Elman has also returned to Somalia. She runs a centre which rehabilitates child soldiers and equips them with skills to help them reintegerate into society. Ilwad and Liban represent the greater majority of Somalis who want militants like al-shabaab erased so Somalia can be healed and rebuilt.


Young Parliamentarian

Here’s a name to remember: Proscovia Oromait - the youngest person to win a parliamentary seat in Uganda. Proscovia contested elections in Usuk located in eastern Uganda after her father died. Her win is a major boost to President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling party which has been plagued with accusations of human rights abuses and elections rigging.

Whilst some see this as a milestone for Uganda, many wonder if this college bound student has what it takes to represent a town where access to decent schools and health care is still limited. Proscovia confidently responds to this criticism by saying that ‘Its not about the age… its the brain.” Criticism not withstanding, Priscovia has her work cut out for her.