Wednesday, August 5, 2009

from the NY Times on Kenya

People I talk to on the ground in Nairobi find that corruption and incompetence are so great that it is all but impossible to get anything done there. If we don't dig in, to get past the surface of stories like the following which deal with superficial government to government concerns, in order to see the lives of real people trying to make a go, then it becomes hard to see why we should make any effort. I hope to add to the dialogue on Africa by sharing things like the art post I did a few days ago along with other work and reading I've done to help us push past the corruption and the common view of Africa as consisting solely of the corrupt and the starving.

August 6, 2009
Kenya’s Past Shadows Start of Clinton’s Trip
NAIROBI, Kenya — There was an elephant in the room on Wednesday during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s first full day in Africa.
Her visit to Kenya — like much of the rest of her seven nation Africa tour — is supposed to be about trade and friendship, and bolstering America’s ties to its key African allies.
But wherever Mrs. Clinton (and her enormous entourage) turned, it seemed that she kept bumping into Kenya’s messy — and often combustible — politics.
In the morning, she delivered a lengthy policy speech about America’s new approach to aid in Africa, saying the United States wants to channel more development dollars to agriculture and infrastructure and boost support for African entrepreneurs.
“We want to be your partner, not your patron,” she said.
But as soon as she finished, Kenya’s prime minister, Raila Odinga, took the podium and made not-so-vague references to the bloody political crisis that convulsed Kenya last year and cost him the job that many people here believe was rightly his.
“In Africa, in many countries, elections are never won, they are rigged,” Mr. Odinga said, drawing a long, uncomfortable laugh.
He then cracked a grin, paused for a moment and went on to introduce the man widely accused of stealing the election from him, Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki.
Some of the headlines greeting Mrs. Clinton that morning raised the issue even more squarely, focusing on the pressure America has put on Kenya to set up a special tribunal to try the perpetrators of the election-driven bloodshed last year, in which more than 1,000 people were killed.
“Clinton lands as U.S. breathes fire,” one said. “Quit lecturing Africa on politics, says Raila,” said another.
Despite the insistence of its own citizens and Western donors, the Kenyan government has rejected a separate tribunal, saying that it would try perpetrators through its existing institutions, which are notoriously corrupt and ineffective.
“We are waiting; we are disappointed,” Mrs. Clinton told a news conference.
This may be a theme of Mrs. Clinton’s Africa mission: How to use the United States’ enormous leverage on the continent to hold African leaders accountable for the reforms their own people are urging, while still trying to come across as a friend.
It probably won’t be easy. South Africa, Angola, Congo and Nigeria (Mrs. Clinton’s next stops) are all countries that are both friendly and at times prickly, countries that admire the United States as a bastion of prosperity and opportunity, but resent neocolonialism and being told what to do.
The role Mrs. Clinton and the United States find themselves in here in Africa is trying to squeeze between recalcitrant leaders and a populace that is eager for change and often in sync with American values. Analysts say that with billions of dollars in foreign aid, a long legacy of involvement in Africa and a new president of Kenyan heritage, the United States is positioned, possibly more than ever, to play a guiding role in Africa. But it is often a delicate balancing act, and as Kenya showed, it can get very awkward.
Later that day, Mrs. Clinton toured an agricultural research center with William Samoei Ruto by her side. Mr. Ruto, Kenya’s agricultural minister, delivered a velvety smooth, 10-minute speech, packed with facts and figures, all without glancing at any notes.
But Mr. Ruto is also one of the prime suspects in the post-election violence, a divisive figure considered by many Kenyans to be an ethnic warlord. Kenyan human rights groups recently named him as a suspect who could be hauled off to the International Criminal Court at the Hague.
Many of the veteran American diplomats aware of Mr. Ruto’s reputation in Kenya were uneasy about the apparent chumminess on display, especially in front of a bank of television cameras.
“There was a lot of back and forth about his participation today, for all the obvious reasons,” one American diplomat confided on condition of anonymity.
But at the end of the afternoon, Mrs. Clinton stood with Mr. Ruto on a small stage bathed in the warm equatorial sun. Mr. Ruto cast her a smile and said: “Almost 50 percent of my senior staff have been trained, courtesy of the United States government. It’s only myself who hasn’t been trained in the U.S.”
Mrs. Clinton beamed back, “There’s still time, minister,” and rubbed him jovially on the back.
No issue in Kenya is trickier — and potentially more violent — than the question of what to do about Mr. Ruto and other suspected perpetrators of the post-election violence. Kenyan human rights groups and Western diplomats say that unless Kenya ends its long culture of impunity, the ethnic and political tensions that tore this country apart last year will explode during the next major election, in 2012. But trouble could come sooner. Ethnic militias are already rearming themselves in the hinterland and as some Kenyans say, there’s not so much peace right now as a ceasefire.
Mrs. Clinton hinted at the complexities on Wednesday.
“I know this is not easy,” she said at a news conference. “How do you go about prosecuting the perpetrators without engendering more violence?”
But when asked what specific actions the American government would take if the Kenyan government failed to prosecute the killers from last year’s mayhem — sanctions? travel bans? a reduction in aid? — Mrs. Clinton demurred, saying only that “we believe this is an issue best handled by the Kenyans themselves.”
Alan Cowell contributed reporting from London.