Developing countries urged to pull out of the WTO

Kenyan farmer

A farmer in the Kibirichia area of Mount Kenya. Small-scale farmers are unlikely to benefit from any new deals struck at the WTO conference this week. CIAT under a Creative Commons Licence

Ahead of the World Trade Organization conference that starts in Nairobi today, lobbyists have urged developing countries to pull out of the WTO because it serves only the interests of developed countries.

An alliance of civil-society groups calling itself People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) said that developing countries should not expect solutions on food shortage from the developed world, because rich countries are using the WTO to benefit themselves.

The activists made their position known as the 10th Ministerial Conference of the WTO began in Nairobi. They blamed the WTO for failing to reach a deal on food production in the past because of vested interests on the part of developed countries.

‘Achieving a genuine food security deal will not be possible within the WTO. You can’t expect solutions from a system that breeds the world’s problems,’ the activists said yesterday.

PCFS blamed the US, European Union, Canada and Australia for blocking a long-lasting agreement on public stockholding programmes for food security, which it said could benefit developing countries.

These programmes allow developing countries to provide subsidies for domestic agricultural products as long as they don’t exceed certain levels. Agriculture is a big issue for developing countries, because many of their economies depend on it.

A brief issued by Kenya last week said developing countries expect to argue for a review of agricultural subsidies offered by developed nations to their farmers, which create an unfair trade environment for farmers in poorer nations.

Former Kenya ambassador to the US Elkanah Odembo acknowledged that the global trading system favours rich countries, adding that ‘where there have been opportunities for the countries in the South to take advantage of the trading system, we simply have not been able to do so. The G7, without exception, will continue to subsidize their farmers and agricultural systems. They will continue to do so because it makes local political and economic sense.’

The Nairobi conference is expected to attract more than 5,000 delegates from 163 WTO member states. The Nairobi conference will also see two new members join the WTO – Liberia and Afghanistan.

It will discuss the Doha Development Agenda, agriculture, and market-access services, among other trade issues, with a view to leveraging trade between the least-developed countries and the developed countries.

Kenya’s minister for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohammed was expectant that a successful outcome of the talks should include a work programme that modernizes the WTO negotiating agenda. She said distortions in agricultural trade, caused by high tariffs and other barriers, export subsidies in developed countries, and domestic support have been on the WTO agenda for a long time.

Meanwhile, the Social Movements Working Group Against WTO will hold demonstrations against the WTO. The movements claim WTO agreements are killing small-scale farmers, destroying local innovations and indigenous technologies, and promoting modern economic slavery.

In a statement, the group said that seeking to push issues like trade facilitation will not address the skewed nature of the WTO agreements.

‘They will only serve to facilitate the multinationals to continue dominating the fragile Kenyan market at the expense of local entrepreneurs,’ it said.

The Working Group, which includes Kenyan and international NGOs, charged that the issues Kenya is proposing are more market-driven and not driven by the urge to protect local farmers and consumers. Further, they say that the WTO negotiations are only targeting sectors that are of particular interest to developed countries’ corporations.

However, former Kenyan ambassador to the UN David Kikaya says developing countries should not only focus on subsidies. He says developing countries have previously failed to take advantage of available opportunities such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act, because of misguided economic policies.

‘What we should be asking our trading partners is to help us to add value to our goods so that we can now be able to export them,’ he said in an interview.

Earlier, Kenya’s Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala said he anticipated the event to inject about Sh2.6 billion ($25 million) into the Kenyan economy. The event is a big boost to the country, coming at a time when the Kenyan economy is reeling from the negative effects of terrorism.

The WTO 10th ministerial conference is the first of its kind in Africa. Most analysts and WTO officials agree that the Nairobi talks will largely extend negotiations on the Doha round, rather than achieve consensus on any contentious issues that are likely to bring down trade barriers, which is what many developing countries are advocating for.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta was expected to open the conference today by addressing the ministerial conference. The outcome of the conference will be dubbed the ‘Nairobi Declaration’.

The error of fighting terror with terror

Members of the Kenyan Defense Forces

The Kenyan Defense Forces have been heavily criticized by a recent report investigating human rights violations. AMISOM Public Information under a Creative Commons Licence

A Kenyan government agency has released a report documenting grave human rights violations by government security forces against individuals and groups whom they suspect to be associated with terrorism.

The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) says preliminary evidence suggests that more than 100 people have been ‘disappeared’, several killed and scores of others tortured in an ongoing operation by government security agencies.

The report finds that counterterrorism operations are being conducted by a combined contingent of Kenya Defense Forces, the National Intelligence Service, and other units of the security sector.

‘This report documents over 120 cases of egregious human rights violations that include 25 extrajudicial killings and 81 enforced disappearances,’ says George Morara, vice-chair of the KNCHR.

The report reveals that the violations are widespread, systematic and well co-ordinated, including arbitrary arrests, extortion, illegal detention, torture, killings and disappearances.

The KNCHR is a body mandated to monitor, investigate and report on human rights in the country, and to take steps to seek redress where human rights have been violated.

The commission’s investigation reveals that torture methods used by the violators include beatings, water-boarding, electric shocks, genital mutilation, exposure to extreme cold or heat, hanging on trees, mock executions, exposure to stinging by ants in the wild, and denial of sleep and food.

The commission is concerned that the security force’s ongoing crackdown targets ethnic Somalis and members of the Muslim faith, which may actually be counter-productive to government efforts to combat terrorism.

‘This profiling of people along ethnic or religious lines constitute[s] discrimination and is therefore unconstitutional and against international norms,’ the report, ‘The Error of Fighting Terror with Terror’, says.

In the recent past, Muslim leaders have condemned security agencies for targeting Muslims in the ‘war against terrorism’. They have accused security agents of being complicit in the disappearance and death of members of the Muslim community.

The commission is now demanding that the president acknowledge and condemn the abuses by security agencies and ensure respect for the rule of law and human rights in the fight against terrorism.

Further, the report says that the president should issue an official public apology to the survivors and families of victims of the abuses. Families of those who have disappeared have received no assistance from the government and they continue to agonize as they desperately search for their kin, the report explains.

The commission recommends that the government desist from criminalizing legitimate human rights and civil-society work unless there is evidence of misconduct and a breach of the law.

Last month, the chair of Muslims for Human Rights (MUHURI), Khelef Khalifah, spoke of the difficulties faced by the organization in its quest to address the violations of human rights among Muslims.

‘We have been frustrated by the government while conducting our duties as a rights group. Security officers have also been frustrating our efforts in the name of fighting terror,’ he explained.

The Muslim organization expressed concern that the number of disappeared people has sharply increased, from 15 in 2013 to more than 30 people in 2015. These disappearances occurred along the Kenyan coast, which is predominantly Muslim.

Together with another rights lobby group Haki Africa, MUHURI had its activities shut down by the government for allegedly having links with terrorist organizations, accusations which they have vehemently denied.

During his July visit to Kenya, US President Barack Obama urged the Kenyan government to collaborate with Muslims in its campaign against violent extremism. The KNCHR report echoed Obama’s suggestion.

A fickle peace in South Sudan


Salva Kiir, president of South Sudan. Stein Ove Korneliussen under a Creative Commons Licence

The warring parties in South Sudan finally penned a peace deal last week, on 26 August, despite President Salva Kiir expressing reservations. While signing the deal at Freedom Hall in Juba, the capital, he urged regional leaders to help in its implementation and co-operate with each other.

President Kiir signed the deal in the presence of leaders from the region, with reports emerging that fighting was continuing in Magwi County between government and rebel forces.

‘With all those reservations that we have, we will sign this document,’ Kiir said, adding that some parts of the document were not in the interest of just and lasting peace.

‘We had only one of the two options: the option of an imposed peace or the option of a continued war,’ he said.

There are reports that many senior officials on the government side were strongly opposed to the deal, saying that the president should only sign it if the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) includes the government’s reservations in the document.

The minister for information and broadcasting, Michael Makuei, is said to have walked out of the hotel where the peace-signing ceremony was taking place, apparently not in agreement with its contents.

Earlier, it was unclear whether the president would put his signature to the peace agreement, after unconfirmed reports emerged that the military high command in Juba had threatened to rebel if Kiir signed the deal, which it felt was not in its favour.

Joseph Oduha, a journalist in Juba who attended the function, also expressed reservations.

‘My view is that the peace signed today is not a lasting peace. It may break at any time. As for now in Juba, it is like there is nothing important happening today… many officials were unhappy with the president for signing the document,’ he said.

‘There is information that the minister [for information] left the hall just as the president was inking the document. So, there is no guarantee for sustainability of this peace,’ he added.

Samuel Marial, a religious leader, wrote on social media that it was necessary for the two sides to agree before signing the deal, saying that a peace induced from outside will not hold.

‘If it is a peace agreement, then the warring sides have to agree first before signing; but this is like a forced marriage with an interest to get a huge bride price. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement [signed in 2005] held on and bore fruit because it was amicably negotiated,’ he said.

Earlier in the month, rebel leader Riek Machar, of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-in-Opposition, signed the peace document in Addis Ababa, while President Kiir refused to sign, saying he had to consult with his people first.

Machar, now designated first vice-president, told local media that his group also had reservations, but had signed the peace agreement for the sake of peace, further calling on the president to agree to the signed document.

The peace agreement outlines what role the international community and the regional actors should play in the implementation of the peace process. The document states that Juba will be demilitarized within a radius of 25 kilometres, with the formation of a joint integrated police force from both sides, with assistance from the United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS).

According to the agreement, a permanent ceasefire is to take effect within 72 hours of the signing of the deal. President Kiir issued a decree a day after the peace-signing ceremony, declaring a permanent ceasefire which came into effect at midnight on 29 August.

The Special Envoys of IGAD, the regional bloc that mediated the peace process, welcomed the peace deal and hailed the two leaders for signing the agreement. The regional leaders who witnessed the signing ceremony – Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Hailemarian Desalegn of Ethiopia – said the move will improve security in the region.

The peace deal comes after US warnings that there would be dire consequences for any side that decided to go back to fighting. US President Barack Obama, while on a tour of Africa this July, gave the two sides 17 August as a deadline to sign for peace.

But signing the peace deal was the easy part of the process. Implementing it may be more challenging, if the mistrust between the two sides persists.

Don’t ‘beautify’ Nairobi just for Barack!


ninara under a Creative Commons Licence

In anticipation of the visit of US President Barack Obama to Nairobi this week, the government is spending almost $500,000 to ‘clean up’ the city.

In what will be his first visit to Kenya since becoming president, Obama is scheduled to attend the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, a White House initiative that brings together entrepreneurs and investors from around the world, which will run from 24 to 26 July.

To beef up security, the US will fly in 800 of its own officers and Kenya will provide 2,000 additional elite officers from the Recce Squad, especially trained by the US. Vehicles and other special communication equipment have begun arriving in Nairobi. More than 50 of the 60 vehicles that the US president and his team will use are said to be in the country already.

To create a ‘good impression’, the Kenyan government announced that it will move poor families from the streets ahead of Obama’s visit, while also erecting CCTV security cameras.

According to Kenya’s presidential spokesperson, Manoah Esipisu, at least 1,500 investors from all over the world, including 250 Kenyans, are expected to participate in the summit.

He said the meeting would help in the creation of jobs and result in bilateral agreements with the potential to scale up entrepreneurship in Kenya, particularly in the technology and financial-service sectors. In addition, the summit will boost small-scale businesses, especially those run by the youth.

But Nairobi County government insists that the current ‘clean-up’ is not about Obama’s imminent arrival. County minister for the environment Evans Ondieki says the beautification is part of the government’s Nairobi Integrated Urban Development Master Plan, with a budget of $1.8 million for development of infrastructure within the city.

‘This is not about Obama; it is about making Nairobi the city of the future,’ Ondieki said. He says the programme was put in place because the city will host a cancer conference this month, the Pope in November, and a World Health Organization meeting in December.

But these statements do not seem convincing to many Kenyans, who believe the ‘beautification’ is aimed at pleasing the US entourage.

‘Rains will expose the fakeness of this unplanned, superficial “beautification”. It’s like putting lipstick and makeup on a pig because guests are coming,’ said social-media commentator KenyaRenaissance.

Abraham Rugo, a public-sector researcher, says Obama’s visit is more beneficial to the US than to Kenya.

‘The opportunities are more for the West to benefit from than for Kenya, unless the Kenyan government has a very firm system of promoting Kenya businesses abroad… I see Obama’s visit as being more symbolism that the US still holds Kenya as a strategic partner, and not so much the economic value it will bring,’ he argues.

Rugo adds that the value of Obama’s visit is in the investment opportunities that are likely to come from the perceived endorsement of the Kenyatta government, which Obama had so strongly opposed.
Kenyan security expert Ben Muoki says that Obama’s visit will come with lots of inconveniences for Nairobians.

‘I would advise that people keep completely away [from the city]. If I have an office or home near there [the city centre], the expected disruptions are sufficient for me to plan for the weekend upcountry,’ Muoki warns.

He predicts that even though terrorists may not attempt to attack the US president directly because of tight security, they may attempt to stage disruptive attacks in other Kenyan towns. ‘Remember, the world media will be here and people like al-Shabaab will all want to be covered by them in relation to this event,’ he says.

Enock Opuka, a lecturer at Africa International University, says Kenyans should be more concerned about their everyday security and development as a nation instead of focusing so much on Obama.
‘Nothing will change. The political leaders with the vitriol against Obama will spoil the visit… The visit will not increase trade or anything. It will be business as usual.’

He was alluding to the fact that last week a group of religious leaders and parliamentarians, including the speaker of the National Assembly, warned President Obama against speaking on the issue of gay rights during his visit. He is expected to address Kenya’s parliament during his 3-day visit.

It is still unclear whether the US president will meet Kenya’s vice-president, William Ruto, who is under investigation at the International Criminal Court at The Hague. When he was in Kenya recently, US Secretary of State John Kerry avoided the vice-president.

Since his itinerary is not yet out, it is also uncertain whether Obama will visit his grandmother in his late father’s home. Obama’s Kenyan kin have requested him to do so.

Gay rights group secures legal victory in Kenya

Citizen Weekly front page

The recent victory for a Kenyan LGBT rights group has led to a backlash in Kenya. The Citizen Weekly paper printed the names and photos of prominent memberse of the gay community.

A decision by a Kenyan court to order the government to register a gay rights organization is facing stiff opposition from the Church and some members of parliament.

A three-judge bench last month ordered the Kenyan government to allow the registration of the National Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (NGLHRC), a human rights group that represents the rights of the gay community.

Kenya’s Attorney General has appealed against the court’s decision, with churches denouncing the court’s order as un-African and anti-family.

The NGO Co-ordination Board (the government body which monitors non-governmental organizations in Kenya) had refused to register the rights group on ‘religious and moral’ grounds. Along with the Attorney General and various religious groups, the NGO Board had opposed the registration of the NGLHRC, but the judges said that the Kenyan Constitution did not allow a limitation of rights on moral or religious grounds.

A group of members of parliament have also opposed the move, urging the Attorney General and the NGO Board to appeal against the decision.

One of them, Irungu Kang’ata, was quoted as saying that the judges’ argument was ‘shallow and misguided’. He added that Kenya’s Penal Code criminalizes homosexuality.

The High Court had ruled that the Constitution allows recognition and protection of the rights of ‘every person’, including minority groups such as gays and lesbians, but the churches have associated the court’s decision with US President Barack Obama’s upcoming visit to Kenya this July.

Deputy President William Ruto is the latest to wade into the controversial debate. A week after the ruling, he said on national television that the government would not allow the registration of an organization for gays. ‘The Republic of Kenya is a republic that worships God. We have no room for gays and those others,’ Ruto told a Nairobi church congregation.

Like most of sub-Saharan Africa, Kenya has a strongly religious and socially conservative society. Anti-gay remarks by African leaders like Kenya’s deputy president often resonate with the majority of the public. Last week, the Kenyan weekly newspaper Citizen Weekly printed the names and faces of 12 gay leaders on its front page. This may endanger their lives in a country that does not readily embrace gay rights.

Denis Nzioka, one of the gay activists named in the newspaper, says he now fears for his life, and accuses the newspaper for its unethical practice of using their names and pictures without their consent.

‘By publishing our faces, people have now put a face [to a name]. We are walking targets. At the moment, we want to ensure those mentioned are safe. We hope that this debate is not fuelled by hate or ignorance, but acceptance, dialogue and equality.’

Activists like Denis are afraid that this incident might trigger violence similar to that seen in Uganda in 2010, when a ‘name and shame’ campaign led to gay activist David Kato being beaten to death.

No answers to shopping mall massacre


Kenya's President, Uhuru Kenyatta, talking to former Foreign Secretary William Hague, during a conference in London, 2013. Foreign and Commonwealth office under a Creative Commons Licence

On 21 September, as Kenyans commemorated the one-year anniversary of the 2013 Westgate attack, government officials were largely missing from the memorial ceremonies.

Well-wishers, relatives and friends of those who lost their loved ones gathered at Westgate, the Nairobi mall where the terrorist siege took place, and later moved to a conservation area, Karura forest, where they planted trees and unveiled a plaque with the names of the 67 people who died in the attack.

Last year, gunmen linked to al-Shabaab terrorist group raided the Westgate shopping mall, killing a total of 67 people (six security officers and 61 civilians). It was one of the most daring attacks by terrorists in Kenya, comparable only to the 1998 attack on the US embassy in Nairobi.

As Kenyans remembered this event, much is still not known about what exactly happened. At the time, president Uhuru Kenyatta announced that the government would launch an inquiry commission to establish the facts. Now, the president’s spokesperson, Manoah Esipisu, has said that the government is still waiting for forensic reports from Israel and the US Federal Bureau of Investigations.

Until then, Kenyans would like to know how many terrorists were involved in the siege and where their bodies were taken, if they were killed at all. They would like to know what the security agencies knew before the attack and what they did with the information they had.

Only a public inquiry will help citizens get answers to these questions and in turn, renew confidence in the country’s security agencies.

The Westgate issue is still a mystery to many Kenyans. This is the feeling that one gets after watching the recently released documentary, Terror in the Mall, with survivors, interviewed by British filmmaker Dan Reed, saying that the number of casualties would have been much smaller if security forces had acted on time and in a coordinated manner.

A report prepared by a joint parliamentary committee on National Security and Defence was ignored by members of Kenya’s parliament, and its recommendations were not adopted, with parliamentarians saying the work was shoddy.

Immediately after the attack, Kenyans from all walks of life called for the resignation of senior security officers for bungling the operation. Closed Circuit TV cameras in the mall showed that there were only four armed terrorists, who held off hundreds of security officers for four solid days.

Security experts have said the lack of cooperation and coordination was one of the things that made the security operation in Westgate to take that long.

Unconfirmed reports indicated at the time that there were turf wars between the regular police and the army, over who should be in charge of the rescue operation.

In the end, the president announced that the army would take charge, but that the inspector general of police would lead the operation. This did not make matters any better.

In the wake of the attack, the Kenyan government took a number of measures aimed at combating terrorism and security issues.Their impact is yet to be felt.

One such government initiative is Nyumba Kumi, which involves the community cooperating with the police: every 10 households in a locality come together and meet regularly, with the aim of sharing information and reporting any suspicious persons or activities.

The initiative has not taken off well, as Kenyans are reluctant to co-operate with the police because there is a general distrust of security officials. The concept was borrowed from Tanzania, where it has been working well for many years.

In December 2013, the president announced the formation of the Nairobi Metropolitan Command, a move which meant involving the military in anti-terrorism and routine crime-fighting operations. Since then, nothing more has been publicly revealed about the new programme’s leadership structure.

Additionally, the government has initiated the process of registering all Kenyans afresh in a new national digital database. The registration addresses security issues and would assist the government with identifying persons with forged or fake identification documents. It has yet to kick off properly.

On the other hand, the chairman of the Foreign Relations and Defence Committee, Mbuthia Gethenji, says the government has done a lot, pointing out that someone with a military background has been appointed in charge of immigration, as per his committee’s recommendations. He says loopholes in the immigration department have been aiding illegal immigrants come into the country undetected.

On top of everything, the chief of Kenya’s National Intelligence Service, Maj-Gen Michael Gichangi, retired, and General Phillip Kameru previously the director of Military Intelligence, has now taken his place.

He has cited the recent death of al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane, killed by US forces in Somalia, as an example of success by Kenyan forces working with regional and international security players.

‘Our intelligence and security forces should collaborate better with international agencies... the taking out of Godane was a collaboration between Kenyan Defence Forces (KDF) and the United States government,’ he claimed in an interview.

Nyambura Wambugu, a researcher at Leeds University, says that in order to address terrorism, Kenya needs to look at much broader issues.

‘We have to start addressing petty corruption, things that have actually contributed to the bigger problem that is very well illustrated by Westgate. It [Westgate] is endemic and it is indicative of complacencies within our own structures domestically’, she says.

Terrorism is still a big threat in the region. Last week, Ugandan authorities announced that they had thwarted an attempted terror attack, just days after the al-Shabaab vowed revenge for the US air strikes that killed their leader earlier in the month. The Uganda police also arrested several suspects and recovered explosives in Kampala.

Earlier, the US embassy in Uganda had warned its citizens in the country to stay indoors as an attack was ‘imminent’.

For now, Kenyans are still waiting for their government to reassure them about their safety

Uganda anti-gay law elicits mixed reactions from the rest of Africa

Pride South Africa participants

Participants at South Africa's Gay Pride March, 2013. Niko Knigge under a Creative Commons Licence

Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni signed an anti-gay bill into law last week, opening a can of worms in neighbouring nations.

In Nairobi, Kenya, anti-gay activists lauded the Ugandan president for signing the bill into law, saying the move reflected the view of Africans against homosexuality. They say that the move is positive and a true reflection of African cultures, traditions and religions.

A group of Kenyan members of parliament has also strongly condemned the gay rights movement, claiming it is illegal and against African morality. They have called for the enforcement of existing anti-gay laws that have been largely ignored.

Gay rights groups, meanwhile, have reported that some members of Uganda’s LGBT community have fled to Kenya, fearing for their lives. The Kenyan gay community is itself deeply worried, fearing that the action taken by Uganda will encourage other governments to strengthen penalties, increase harassment, and make it impossible for them to live an openly gay life. They say that if the same law were implemented in Kenya, it would be counterproductive in the fight against HIV and AIDS and would create grounds for hostility, stigma and discrimination.

John Mathenge, Executive Director of Health Options for Young Men on HIV, AIDs and sexually transmitted infections (HOYMAS), says that gay people are worried because they are not sure what is going to happen to them. He explains that since the Kenyan MPs announced their support for the Ugandan law, they are being hunted down in their houses, their places of work and social settings by those opposed to homosexuality.

Mathenge believes that MPs should defend the constitution, which gives everyone a right to associate with whomsoever they want.

‘We are working on a strategy on how to defend ourselves,’ he says, a strategy that will be revealed soon.

Dr Peter Cherutich of Public Health Society of Kenya says his organization does not support legislating anti-gay laws, not least because of the impact they would have on the fight against HIV and AIDS: ‘This is an issue that should be discussed by Kenyans in order to find common ground,’ he explains.

Africa divided

The pro- or anti-gay debate has elicited varied passionate comments from across the African continent.

From South Africa, Nobel Laureate Desmond Tutu condemned the move, warning that Uganda’s controversial anti-gay law was similar to attempts by the former apartheid regime in South Africa to legislate against love. He urged the Ugandan president to clamp down on rape, child abuse and the sex trade instead. Same-sex marriages are allowed under South African law.

In Lagos, Nigeria, writer Sunday Oguntola says Western countries may withhold aid if they think it will make Uganda and other African countries back down.

‘But the law will also enable us to assert our cultural beliefs and sovereignty as black people. It will help us look inwards and not abroad for developmental funds and resources... Any strings attached to any assistance already question its usefulness,’ he says.

Since Kenyan MPs announced their support for the Ugandan law, gay people are being hunted down in their houses, their places of work and social settings by those opposed to homosexuality

Reporter Nkechi Onyedika in Abuja, Nigeria is afraid that African countries may suffer the consequences of aid cuts by Western countries:

‘It will have some impact on the economy, considering the problem of inadequate financial resources at the disposal of (African) governments and the competing needs… but it is a wake-up call for African leaders to explore the abundant natural and material resources available in their various countries and to stop depending on aid from the West,’ she says.

Speaking to the media in Kampala after signing the anti-gay bill into law, President Museveni argued that there was no genetic basis for homosexuality.

‘I advise friends from the West not to make this an issue because if they [do] they will lose. This is social imperialism – to impose social values of one group on our society,’ he said.

Homosexuality is not illegal in Rwanda, but Pierre Afadhali says it is not practised openly because Rwandan culture doesn’t accept it. Meanwhile, Akol Miyen says the gay debate is not a priority for Africa’s newest country, South Sudan, and argues that the issue is being discussed out of context.

While not supporting the Ugandan law directly, Jonathan Gandari in Zimbabwe says that he thinks other African countries should approach the issue with flexibility, adding that the Ugandan case was extreme and not helpful to anyone: ‘Zimbabwe has not imprisoned anyone [for homosexual acts] unless someone complains that they have been forced into it. With Uganda, the government is the complainant even if two adults are consenting. That is different, because it clashes with individual freedoms and individual rights.’

Homosexuality is taboo in almost all African countries and illegal in 37 – including Uganda – where rights groups say gay people have long risked jail. Fear of violence, imprisonment and loss of jobs means very few gay people in Africa will come out, thus complicating the fight against AIDS, which is a major health problem in the continent.

In response to the passing of the bill, the World Bank postponed a $90-million loan which had been intended to boost Uganda’s health services. World Bank officials said they wanted to guarantee that the projects the loan was destined to support were not going to be adversely affected by the law.

Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands and other Western countries have expressed their displeasure at the law. The US announced that it would review its relationship with Uganda in the wake of the signing of the bill. Foreign Secretary William Hague said Britain strongly opposed all discrimination on any grounds, adding that his government would continue to press Uganda to defend human rights for all.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said he intends to raise the issue of the anti-gay law in a meeting with Uganda’s ambassador to the UN.

Though many African countries are opposed to gay relationships, they are responding to the issue in different ways: some liberally, like South Africa and Rwanda, and some aggressively, like the governments of Uganda and Nigeria. One thing they many have in common, however, is the likely rise of anti-Western feeling and rhetoric should the West continue to push for recognition of same-sex relationships.

Tension among South Sudanese spills over into neighbouring states

South Sudan refugees

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled South Sudan. DfID under a Creative Commons Licence

For John Riek, a priest with the Presbyterian Church in South Sudan, Sunday 15 December 2013 started out just like any other Sunday. He woke up, went to Church in Juba then went back home to be with his family and friends.

At around 10 pm, he heard gunshots outside and assumed that it was coming from the military barracks nearby; maybe there was a misunderstanding between soldiers, he reasoned. No-one thought that that night’s incident would turn out to be part of the nightmarish violence that has engulfed South Sudan ever since.

On Monday 16 December, John and his friends came to learn that the gunshots they heard the previous night were from forces loyal to President Salva Kiir battling with soldiers loyal to ousted vice-president Riek Machar.

John Riek has sought refuge in Kenya.

Moses Wasamu

This power struggle has led to the loss of life and destruction of property.

‘Until a Presbyterian pastor and an army brigadier were killed, we did not think that it was a serious fight,’ says John, when I meet him in Nairobi, where he is taking refuge after fleeing from the violence in his country.

That December Sunday is a day that many South Sudanese would like to erase from their memories. It is a day that brought sad memories to many of them.

‘I lost a friend; so many people that I know died. Many died around the UN compound in Juba,’ John remembers sadly. ‘There were places you couldn’t visit in Juba, because of the stench of dead bodies in the air.’

He says that between 15 and 23 December the situation in Juba was so bad that he could not take a shower or change clothes. He tells me that there were gunshots everywhere, people were being killed, and even children were killed by security personnel.

‘I lost four people who were very close to me,’ he adds. ‘What I have gone through is too much… I am confused… I have been counselling and crying with people… It is too much!’

Many South Sudanese have been forced to flee into Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia and Sudan. Aid agencies report that more than 10,000 people have been killed and more than 400,000 others displaced in the crisis.

John is now safely in Kenya; his flight from Juba mirrors the story of many other South Sudanese who had to flee from their country.

With the help of a friend, he first went to Kampala, Uganda, where he stayed in a hotel for a number of days, before finding his way to Kenya – his second home when he was a student a number of years back.

Ethnic lines

Bad blood has been stirred by this war, which has taken on an ethnic dimension and spilled into neighbouring countries. In Kenya, a meeting called earlier this month took place in an atmosphere of tension. John Penn De Ngong of the South Sudan Peace Coalition (SSPC) says groupings have developed along ethnic lines, especially among the two main rival ethnic groups, the Dinka and the Nuer, who are now refusing to associate with each other.

Ngong says that when his group called for a prayer meeting for all South Sudanese to gather in Nairobi to pray for peace, some kept away because they feared an open confrontation among the different communities. He adds that some received alarming text messages, which stopped them attending.

John Riek (a Nuer), tells me that relations between the Nuer and Dinka have been severely strained.

‘I met some friends from the other tribe but they were not willing to greet me. I had to force myself to speak to them,’ he tells me, recalling an incident that happened on his way to our interview in a restaurant in Nairobi.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees says an estimated 1,000 South Sudanese are streaming into Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya every day. A crisis looms

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says an estimated 1,000 South Sudanese are streaming into Kakuma refugee camp in northern Kenya every day, mostly women, children and unaccompanied minors. A crisis looms.

The UNHCR says it is working to establish new refugee camps and expand existing ones in Uganda, Ethiopia and Kenya, to cope with the influx of refugees from South Sudan. Since the conflict erupted, more than 86,000 South Sudanese have crossed into neighbouring countries. The UNHCR estimates refugee numbers could exceed 100,000 by the end of January.

John Chol Daau, a Dinka, tells me that he has encountered such a situation. He has some Nuer friends whom he remembers helping when they were back in Juba. But ironically, when he met them this month in Nairobi, they were not willing to even shake his hand.

‘There is a lot of tension and mistrust between the two tribes,’ he says.

Samuel Marial, a Bible school teacher in Juba who fled at the height of the violence late last year, tells me that he is going back to Juba this week. Samuel says the relationship between Dinkas and Nuers is so bad that it ‘will require a number of years to heal’.

John Riek says there is an irony in this situation: among all the South Sudanese ethnic groups, the Nuer and the Dinka are the closest, through many intermarriages, yet at the same time they dislike each other the most.

He says the two groups must learn to live with each other as members of one community.

‘They need to come together and discuss and find out why they are the victims… They need to reconcile and forgive one another. Why is it always the two tribes?’

One of the things that he has embarked on is facilitating a conference in Juba that will bring together members of the two communities, for them to discuss ways of ironing out their differences, and not to make the current strained relationship a generational problem.

Meanwhile, though John is in Kenya, his wife and children remain holed up in Uganda.

Kenya’s political cyber war

social media icons on a mobile phone
Social media has been a prominent location of ‘hate speech’ around the election Jason A. Howie, under a CC License

‘Peace is not merely the absence of war but the presence of justice’ – Martin Luther King, Jnr.

After the 2007 general election, some Kenyans went after each other with clubs and machetes. For the 2013 poll, the war has taken a different shape; it has gone online, in the form of ‘hate speech’.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), the body charged with facilitating and promoting peaceful co-existence, describes hate speech as ‘the use of threatening, inciting, abusive or insulting words or behaviour, or display of any written material with the intention of stirring up ethnic hatred.’ The penalty is a fine, imprisonment for up to three years, or both.

But the potential punishments have not seemed to deter people from spewing hate on social media. The NCIC recently announced that it was investigating four individuals for hate speech and incitement.

In the last week of March, a blogger by the name of Robert Alai presented himself at the Criminal Investigation Department headquarters. He was allegedly being sought to answer to claims that he participated and promoted hate speech and made false accusations against Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary and head of the civil service.

The hate speech exhibited on social media is especially fierce between the supporters of Uhuru Kenyatta (sworn in as president on 9 April 2013) and his election rival, Raila Odinga. Unfortunately in Kenya, political contests always take an ethnic dimension and the online hate speech has reflected this.

In January, the government named blogs, Facebook groups and individuals who are allegedly perpetrating hate speech. The government has said it  will work with Interpol to track those outside the country spreading hate speech. In response, the Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE), while lauding the government’s efforts, added that tracking hate-mongers must not be done at the expense of bloggers’ right to exercise freedom of expression.

‘A distinction, however, must be placed between a blogger and a commenter. A commenter is not necessarily a blogger,’ said the statement.

Blogger, Rayhab Wangari, says that she is shocked by what people will post on social media: ‘I believe people are angry or jubilant, I do not dispute that. But that doesn’t mean that people should vent out their anger on the whole population…I am worried because the election is over, but people’s friendships of many years have ended. Why? Because of the things that they have posted on social media.

Wangari added that she thinks Kenya needs a nationwide counselling and reconciliation process.

Psychologist Patrick Obel, a student counselor at Pan Africa Christian University in Nairobi, believes there is a number of reasons for the rise of hate speech. He said the country has failed to provide safe avenues for people to express themselves without fear of being blacklisted by security agents.

‘We failed to empower our law enforcement systems and institutions. This is evidenced by the fact that we have not had any serious prosecutions of the high and mighty even when it seems clear that someone needed to be prosecuted after the post election violence (in 2007/ 08),’ he said.

He added that the cost of pursuing the legal process is limiting, quite technical and mysterious to most ordinary people which makes it more attractive to speak out and find appeasement on social media.

However, Obel said the long term effect could be disillusionment because the users will quickly realize that their opinions will not receive corresponding response or actions from the bigger system.

‘When required in future to raise any crucial concerns or suggestions, they will have no incentive for it. This will only promote impunity on the one hand, and apathy on the other,’ explained the psychologist.

Obel is against the use of the law to silence the people. He thinks there should be a forum where people can air their views and express their feelings, where they feel safe and protected: ‘The law only seems to protect a small minority of the rich and powerful in society. It is intimidating and dominating on the weak that have no means to seek for legal services to defend their cases in a court of law.

‘Kenyans should not just be used to accumulate votes for those who will in turn use the law to intimidate them.’

The wounds that have been opened will be hard to heal.

KENYA VOTES: Peaceniks use mobiles to cool election tempers

Moses Omondi holds a megaphone on a peace demonstration in Kibera
Moses Omondi leads a peace demonstration in Kibera. Moses Wasamu

A lot has happened since 2007, when Kenya last held a presidential election. The violent aftermath, which left more than 1,300 people dead and over 600,000 displaced, has taught our citizens vital lessons which they are now using to avoid such unrest happening again.

On 4 March 2013, Kenyans will cast their votes for president, among six other elective positions. They have eight presidential candidates to choose from in a race that will be closely fought.

Election expert and consultant on conflict analysis Dr Makodingo Washington says that there is a greater threat of violence now, compared to before the 2007 election. Human Rights Watch has reported that some communities have armed themselves with guns in readiness to defend themselves. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC) says it has identified potential hot spots and is asking citizens to exercise restraint.

Caught in the centre of the row in 2007 and 2008 were young people, many of whom were the perpetrators of the violence. In response, many youth-centred groups and initiatives have been formed to campaign for peace in the country.

Recognizing the potential of SMS technology to spread violence quickly and efficiently, some local groups now want to use the power of mobile phones to support peace efforts in a more effective and efficient way.

Leading communications service provider Safaricom, in partnership with Sisi Ni Amani-Kenya (SNA-K) (We are Peace-Kenya), a community-based organization, has launched a unique short text message-based project. The company has donated 50 million free SMSs (text messages) for the purpose of sending messages during the campaign and election period, aimed at preventing, reducing and stopping election-related violence.

A woman holds a banner calling for peace
A woman holds a banner which reads: 'Peace is Justice, Justice is Peace' Moses Wasamu

Other partners in the initiative include the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), Communications Commission of Kenya (CCK), NCIC and the Kenya Police Service (KPS).

According to Sisi Ni Amani founder Rachel Brown, at the height of the post-election violence in Kenya in 2007-08, peace actors made many attempts to bring calm to events, but they were hampered by a lack of proper communications tools.

‘This initiative therefore aims to bridge that gap and promote the usage of the mobile phone as a gateway to promoting peace and participatory elections,’ she said at the launch of the campaign in Nairobi.

Brown added that in addition to sending messages for peace and civic education, SNA-K also advertises local peace events through the platform for free in order to increase participation in peace activities. They currently have over 50,000 subscribers in the 14 target areas and hope that between now and the election, they will increase the number and cover a much broader portion of the country.

The Kenyan election has drawn interest from both local and international players. UWIANO, which means ‘cohesion’ in Swahili, is another peace initiative which brings together local peace groups and the United Nations Development Programme. It is running media campaigns to sensitize citizens to the need of maintaining peace during and after the elections.

In Kibera, one of the most volatile slums in Nairobi, Moses Omondi, a community mobilizer and peace campaigner, goes around shouting on a megaphone, calling for peaceful campaigns and elections. Recently, he had to move around the slum at night urging residents to calm down, after skirmishes broke out over party nomination results. He is a member of the district peace committee in the area. Speaking about peace is not just hot air to him. His grassroots peace efforts enabled him to participate in the London School of Economics Equipping Emerging Young African Leaders programme last year in Britain.

‘Tuvuke Initiative’ (Let us Cross Over), is a consortium of 17 groups, funded by the Ford Foundation, that work to forestall any violence during and after the elections, and gives Kenyans skills and information to help them work for peace and justice. It targets young people, who are most vulnerable to manipulation by politicians.

Another similar initiative, ‘Mkenya Daima’ (Kenyan Forever) is being spearheaded by players in the private sector. The initiative preaches the message ‘we are all Kenyans first and should by no means allow anyone to plant seeds of discord amongst our people’. The private sector bore the brunt of the 2007 post-election violence, during which millions of properties and livelihoods were destroyed. They don’t want to be found sleeping this time round!

Brown’s message to Kenyans is to remember their identity as one Kenya, ‘so that we can work together to have a peaceful election and move towards development. We also urge individuals to interact carefully with information and not to make assumptions, always to ask and use dialogue and peaceful procedures for conflict resolution.’

Join us for our live blog ‘Kenya Votes’, during the presidential polls on 4 March 2013. We will be working with Radar and citizen journalists reporting on events from all over the country, via SMS.


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