The political soap opera in Kenya has taken some exciting turns in previous weeks and I am sorry that I failed to blog about them. Here's a post to make up for lost time:
1. Prime minister Raila Odinga was hospitalized last Tuesday. Apparently he was suffering from persistant headaches. A CT scan revealed he had a haematoma on his head. He remembered that some time before he had banged his head on the inside of his car causing the bump. By the end of the week he was photographed well again but in hospital wearing a shower cap. He was discharged on Sunday and was photographed again, wearing a hat (this time one of his funny flat caps). The rumour mill has it that the scar is fairly large and might shock us, though apparently he has made a full recovery from the minor surgery.
2. While the Prime Minister was in hospital, Kenyan MPs quickly voted to vastly increase their salaries to a whopping 1.2million shillings per month (including allowances). The snakes. This would make them amongst the most well paid MPs in the world - to say nothing of their number - there are currently 222 MPs in this coalition government.
Fortunately there was an immediate outcry by Civil Society and the public and by Friday, Finance Minister Uhuru Kenyatta pointed out that there's actually no money in the pot for these increases. On leaving hospital, Raila Odinga also called the pay hikes unfair.
3. The stage is set for an August 4th referendum on the new constitution. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga are on the 'yes' side of the campaign, while the 'no' side is led by William Ruto. In spite of initial hopes, the campaigns have got ugly and political with a 2012 election in sharp focus for many of the politicians.
A couple of weeks ago, the detonating of grenades in a large church/prayer meeting in Uhuru Park caused some deaths and multiple casualties. In addition, 2 MPs and a junior minister on the 'no' side were arrested and brought before the courts for peddling 'hate' speech, ie manipulating rural communities by using tribe in their arguments to persuade the public to vote no. I hope that this scares politicians to pull their socks up and use clean tactics in their campaigns.
4. In an attempt to control crime and monitor hate speech/incitement etc. all pre-pay sim cards in Kenya must now be registered by 30th July. (must get around to taking mine along). It's particularly relevant to the serial killer case that has had Kenyans gripped. A young, good looking man in his thirties who was killing victims to 'drink their blood' was finally tracked down and arrested due to a traceable mobile phone trail of SMS messages.
Last week I was cooking fillet steak for supper (it's surprisingly cheap here), the delicious smells were wafting from the kitchen after dark, when the night watchman banged on the window right above the cooker to ask for more sugar. It happens all the time but, as usual, I got the fright of my life. Having to employ night security guards is the thing I hate most about living here. The injustice of somebody having to patrol outside out house all night while we sleep cosy in our beds (and it's pretty cold here in Nairobi now), pricks my concience all the time. It's terrible, but unavoidable it seems.
The response on this blog to the aid to Africa debate has been fascinating.
One interesting issue that emerged from the comments was the concept that, historically, whites living in Africa have set themselves up as 'little Gods', ie. better than everybody else.
A reader sent me the link to this interesting article by Rasna Warah in yesterday's Nation newspaper (see previous comments). Here Rasna points out how harmful the persistant circulation of pictures or photographs of starving or dying Africans is in the West. She says that you wouldn't see dying US soldiers or dying white people in photographs and she wishes that 'Time' photographers would just leave off their cheap, emotion fuelled tricks to draw readers.
I am ashamed to say that when I moved to East Africa 11 years ago, my naive preconceptions of Africa were shaped entirely by Live Aid footage of famine in Ethiopia. Skeletal children with flies in their noses. When we arrived in Zanzibar I was very surpised, almost shocked, to find that the landscape was lush and tropical plus the Zanzibaris in local villages looked well, were flourishing and above all were happily going about their business! As I said, I was very naive.
I still have high hopes that South Africa hosting the 2010 World Cup has adjusted the world view of Africa a little, with any luck, casting it in a more positive light.
Meanwhile, the UK/Sunday Telegraph carried an interesting article on Dfid yesterday. Read it and weep.
'A study carried out by the Department for International Development (DFID) found that a quarter of its projects do not "achieve" or even "largely achieve" their aims – even by the assessment of staff involved in the schemes.'