Monday, August 29, 2011

Ghost Winds of Kivu

One late evening, on a chilly night of April 2009, Dieudonne Masha and his friend Innocent Rwagatore staggers home along the shores of Lake Kivu, after a round of drinks in one of Goma’s beer dens. Suddenly two soldiers on patrol confront them, demanding to see their identification cards.

While Rwagatore is still fumbling with his tattered wallet looking for his ID, his friend Masha realises he hasn’t carried his; to save his skin from the military men he escapes to the nearest bushes. However this proves more suicidal. The following morning, his body was found lying in the same rocky ditch that he had sought refuge.
Mr. Masha is believed to have died from suffocation after entering into an invisible carbon dioxide bubble locally known as mazuku, or “evil wind”.

Split between perennial DR Congo and Rwanda in this seismically active region, the waters of Lake Kivu looks as serene and calm as those of any other inland water mass.
But, according to scientists, there lurks a ticking time bomb deep below the surface of these waters in the form of hazardous gases. Over 250 billion cubic meters of carbon dioxide and 55 billion cubic meters of dissolved methane is trapped in the depths of this volcanic lake.

“If the gas concentrations continue to increase or a severe disruption occurs large bubbles of gas could rise to the surface triggering a chain reaction that could lead to a massive gas eruption,” warns Prof Alfred W├╝est, a scientist attached to Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology.

Such a gaseous explosion could have catastrophic consequences for the huge population living along the shores of Lake Kivu in towns like Goma, Bukavu and Gisenyi. Although lava erupting from the nearby Mount Nyiragongo flowed into the lake in 2002, it didn’t go deep enough to set off what scientists call a ‘limnic’ eruption, but next time it could.

A disaster of this nature occurred in Cameroon in 1986, after huge amounts of carbon dioxide fumes emitted by Lake Nyos suffocated more than 1800 people in the surrounding villages.

“The lake was essentially like a bottle of beer that has been shaken up,” said Prof George Kling of the department of ecology and evolutionary biology at Michigan University. “When you opened it, carbon dioxide bubbled up, and the beer frothed over. A glassful is OK. A lakeful is deadly.”

Lake Kivu is 3,000 times the size of Nyos and contains more than 350 times as much gas.To avert the imminent disaster and meet the current power shortages in the region, Rwandan and DR Congo governments have embarked on an ambitious project designed to alleviate the potential disaster as well as exploit the gas reserves for electricity generation.

This will help the two countries exploit the full potential of the deposits which stands at 55 billion litres valued at around $14.3 billion.
The two countries signed a deal last year that is expected to produce 200 megawatts of electricity that will be split equally between the two countries. According to the Rwandese Minister for Energy Dr Albert Butare, the grand energy project is expected to harvest over 250 million cubic meters of methane per year.

“We discussed with Rwanda’s minister and have agreed to produce 200 megawatts together. 100 megawatts will go to Congo, and 100 megawatts will go to Rwanda,” Eugene Serufili, head of Congo’s national electricity company, SNEL, said.
This historic power deal is also being promoted as a centerpiece for the shaky peace deal between the two former enemies.

Apart from the joint venture, Rwanda has also signed a number of agreements with both local and foreign investors to extract the gas. After carrying out several pilot projects through Rwanda Investment Group (RIG), the country entered into agreement with the New York-based group CounterGlobal in 2007 to develop the lake’s gas project.
When complete the project, reported to be worth $325 million, will input an additional 100MW of electricity to the Rwandan national grid.

Christened Project KivuWatt, ContourGlobal is already constructing a platform-based gas extraction system that will be moored off the Rwandan coast. The gas will be processed and transported by pipeline to the firm’s power plant being developed in Kibuye, Rwanda.

“ContourGlobal has been designing and developing the project for two years and has conducted extensive seabed surveys and methane gas sampling in the lower depths of the Lake,” explains Joseph Brandt, president and chief executive officer of ContourGlobal.

Besides these mega projects there are other smaller pilot projects all of which are expected to boost the Rwandan national grid and bring down the cost of electricity per kilowatt, which are currently the highest in the region due to inadequate supply. Only five percent of the central African country’s population has access to electricity.
But even as the two governments prepares to utilize this epic but potentially lethal energy source the ordinary people living around the lake continue to pay the price.
According to Dr. Dario Tedesco, a volcano expert currently designing United Nations contingency plans for Mount Nyiragongo’s next eruption, nearly 100 people die each year from the carbon dioxide vents along Lake Kivu’s northern shores.

“Stories of people feeling breathless and lightheaded while swimming in the lake are common, which could contribute to the many drownings there,” explains Dr. Tedesco.
In the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, many are said to have died after clouds of mazukus descended on packed refugee camps along the lake. Skull signs warning of the mazuku danger are spread all around the area and children are told to stay away from the lake.

But apart from the dreaded mazuku there are many other dangers lurking around the waters of Lake Kivu.

Piracy, deadly volcanic eruptions, armed rebellions and lightning strikes which according to the National geographic Society are more likely to strike here than anywhere else in the world, are some of the perils that locals around this area have to contend with.

Mysterious deaths and incidences inexplicable through the native cultures have led to superstitious tendencies among some local residents.

“During the dry season, the lake likes to kill people,” says Marie Bazimuka whose 11 year-old son Abu Bakar disappeared while fetching water from the lake with a friend. “It’s a kind of a demon, a devil.”

Most of these tragedies usually occur in dry months of June to August when the rains, and the town’s water supplies, stops pushing residents to the lake’s rocky beaches with their empty jerry cans and buckets.

“The best protection the government could give us is to provide water,” says Edward Wilondje whose 17 year-old son Fitso drowned while fetching water in August 2006.

(Published at

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gaddafi's Political Orphans: What Next?

“He has a split personality-both parts evil”-Former Sudanese President Gaafar Muhammad Nimeiry on Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Long before the rebel forces made a triumphant march in the capital Libyan the dark side of Gaddafi had emerged with his threats of turning Libya into “rivers of blood” and dying “like a martyr”.

His ranting aside, the ripples of the strongman’s departure are bound to be felt thousands of miles beyond his North African homeland given the huge political and economic networks he has cultivated during his 42 year-long rule.

National economies, corporate entities and individual fortunes are projected to take a plunge with the recent march of the Western-backed rebels through the gates of Tripoli.

After the Arab League spurned off Gaddafi’s quest to lord it over them the self declared “emancipator of humanity” turned his attention and oil dollars to the poverty stricken sub-Saharan Africa nations. In a bid to entrench Libya at the economic and political heartbeat of several African regions the Libyan despot established several investment vehicles bankrolled by the country’s petroleum revenues.

Under the Libyan Investment Authority (LIA), the country’s sovereign wealth fund believed to be capitalized at approximately $65 billion, the North African nation have established numerous subsidiaries whose tentacle of interests touches on all sectors of the economy from hotels, oil exploration, mining, tourism, agriculture, agriculture programmes and infrastructure in at least 31 countries.

Subsidies under LIA includes Libyan Arab Foreign Bank (LAFB), the Libyan African Portfolio for Investments (LAP), the Libyan Arab African Investment Company (LAAICO) and Tamoil whose African operations runs under the OilLibya brand. According to a leak US diplomatic cable from 2010 the scale of investments in Africa is in the region of $5 billion.

These companies avoid investing in labour intensive processes and instead prefer putting their money in state assets undergoing privatization. Where this rule is overstepped, the conglomerates always enter into partnerships with local companies.

Alongside the economic alignments Muammar Gaddafi have been trying to push for a United States of Africa through the AU and later through a group of traditional leaders which he had assembled under the auspices of Forum for African Traditional Leaders (FATL).

As part of his agenda Gaddafi used to host members of FATL in the now fallen city of Benghazi every year where he reportedly spoilt them with gifts and promises of development fund.
As a vote of thanks this congress of chiefs and tribal leaders crowned their flamboyant benefactor “King of kings” of Africa in 2008.

The prospect of losing access to Libyan oil dollars is perhaps the reason why Toro kingdom Queen Mother and FATL secretary general Best Kemigisa is one of the most aggrieved women in Uganda.

Gaddafi spent millions of dollars in renovating the palace of Toro King Oyo Nyimba at Fort Portal. He is also said to have catered for the 19-year-old king’s education at a prestigious London school.
The Queen Mother, who describes Gaddafi as “a revolutionary pan-Africanist who has led from the front in financing development projects across the continent”, has been appealing to African to members of the FATL to support Gaddafi in crushing the rebellion.

How a bunch of powerless traditional monarchs hope to achieve this remains a mystery.

“He needs us more than ever before. As cultural leaders we should not sit and just watch him being hurt,” Kemigisa explained in an interview with Sunday Vision. “He has always been there for us and supported cultural institutions and we need to do something to help him resolve the crisis”.

Gaddafi is also said to have close ties with the kingdom of Buganda where he channels his handouts through Prince Kassim Nakibinge. Kamlesh Pattni, christened “Prince of Peace”, is one of the prominent members of FATL from Kenya.

Apart from money pumped in the country through the traditional leaders, Uganda is one of the countries in Africa that have benefited the most from Libyan largesse in recent years. From investments to philanthropy Col. Gaddafi’s footprints are smeared all over the Pride of Africa.

In March 2008, the Libyan leader visited Uganda amid a huge fanfare to open a multi-billion dollar mosque, famed to be the second largest in Africa with a capacity to hold 15,000 worshippers at a time, whose construction he has bankrolled. Perched atop Old Kampala Hill, Gaddafi Mosque remains one of the most symbolic structures of how eminent the “King of kings” of Africa is in this land of plantains.

With the flamboyant leader having promised to bankroll the refurbishing and maintenance of the gigantic worship center for the next 10 years there are uncertainties as to what will happen after the fall of Tripoli a few days ago.

“May Allah protect and help our brother (Gaddafi) emerge victorious, because I don’t know whether we shall be able to maintain the mosque without his support,”Meddie Akhram, a worshipper, lamented.

Sources in the Ugandan Muslim community say the construction of a Gaddafi-sponsored Islamic university was mooted after “a committee headed by Dr. Badru Kiggundu has acquired land in Mukono”. But with the current situation the project remains highly unfeasible.

According to the New Vision Libya have an estimated $375 million worth of investments in Uganda which have provided thousands of jobs for local people, which perhaps explains why many Ugandans are pro-Gaddafi.

Some of the companies in which Libya is said to own substantial shares include Uganda Telecom, Tropical Bank, Laico Lake Victoria Hotel, Tamoil East Africa, OilLibya, House of Dawda, Uganda Pharmaceuticals and Lake Victoria Hotel Entebbe. The Libyan government is also said to be laying the groundwork for the construction of a $300 million oil pipeline from Mombasa to Kampala.

Libya also owns 60 percent of Tristar which exports garments from Uganda to the United States under the Africa Growth and Opportunity Act as well as 49 percent of Uganda’s largest real-estate developer National Housing and Construction Corporation.

Although Gaddafi’s dalliance with traditional kingdoms and push for the highly unpalatable United States of Africa idea have created a rift between him and his Ugandan counterpart, Museveni have come out strongly in defense of his former ally’s against aerial bombardment by NATO warplanes.

“The Western countries always use double standards. In Libya, they are very eager to impose a no-fly zone,” Museveni explained in a newspaper opinion piece. “We have been appealing to the UN to impose a no-fly zone over Somalia so as to impede the free movements of terrorists…without success”.

The Ugandan leader went on to give a list of wrongs that he claims informs his decision to oppose the NATO air raids against Libya.

The two presidents’ topsy-turvy relationship stretches back to the 1970s when Museveni was waging a guerilla war again dictator Idi Amin. Although Gaddafi funded and armed the bloody Amin regime, he later switched sides to support the rebel army that brought Museveni to power in 1986.

As a sign of their friendship the two men have since exchanged high-ranking honorifics. While Gaddafi awarded Museveni the Al-Fatah medal-the country’s highest honour-in 1988, Museveni reciprocated in 2004 by awarding Gaddafi with the Order of Katonga, Uganda’s highest military honour.

But ironically Uganda was among the first countries to enact the UN sanctions against the Maghreb nation. The Ugandan government announced its takeover of Uganda Telecom Limited where Libya holds 69 percent and Tropical Bank where the Libyan Foreign Bank owns 99.7 percent shares. According to Kampala the move was aimed at disconnecting Gaddafi from Libya Africa Investments, the umbrella under which the assets in Uganda falls.

Perhaps as a sign of the fact that the two long serving leaders are still friends Museveni have offered long time friend asylum in case he opts to step down willingly.

“Gaddafi would be allowed to live here if he chooses to do so,” declared presidential spokesman Tamale Mirundi. “We have a soft spot for asylum seekers”.

Observers believe offering an exit route for Gaddafi could help Uganda win favour with Western powers. Although Uganda stands to lose the most economically now that the “King of Kings” of Africa is gone, it’s not the only beneficiary of the Libyan Largesse.

The North African nation has also pumped millions of dollars into the economies of Chad, Niger, Liberia, Sudan, Central Africa Republic, Mozambique and many other countries all of which are bound to feel the heat of a Gaddafi departure.

“If Gaddafi was to fall I can see repercussions for a couple of countries,” observes Isaaka Soure, a senior researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said many months before the fall of Tripoli. “The new government in Guinea, for example, had banked heavily on Libyan funding for some of its developments…if Gaddafi funding does not go through it could have a serious impact”.

Since President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf took over power Liberia’s relationship with Libya have been soaring, a fact underlined by the fact that the two leaders have visited each other several times in recent times. In 2008 LAP, in partnership with the Foundation for Africa Development Aid (ADA), invested $30 million in the country’s rice production, the country’s stable food. The project is meant to make war ravaged country food reliant in the next few years.

Other notable LAP projects in the West African nation includes the establishment of a $15 million rubber processing plant in Bong County, renovating dozens of schools affected by the war, provision of hundred of scholarships to Liberian students and the installation of large power generators for the restoration of electricity to Monrovia.

The Gaddafi regime has also been a major player in the conflicts going on in the Horn of Africa and the surrounding countries hence his departure might drastically realign the region’s power structures.

From propping the governments of Niger and Chad to supporting the rebels in Darfur the self-declared “Brother Leader” has been a patron saint to many regimes around the Horn for the last decade. Lack of Libyan support, military or economic, will leave some of these states vulnerable to internal turmoil.

In line with his desire to install stooges to power across the continent the self proclaimed “guide of humanity” opened the World Revolutionary Center (WRC) near Benghazi to train revolutionaries. WRC graduates in power as of 2011 are Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso and Idriss Deby of Chad. The duos’ regimes rely heavily on Gaddafi’s political and financial goodwill.

Analysts claim connections to this repressive sub-Saharan administrations has provided him with a huge pool from which to recruit mercenaries to sustain his rule and aid him in the fight against the insurgency. The departure of Gaddafi will also leave the fate of the thousands of sub-Saharan Africa immigrants who reside in the country in the hope of making a run for Europe uncertain.

The Gaddafi regime has also been accused of arming the Darfur rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) with rifles, anti-aircrafts guns, satellites phones, vehicles and fuel. In May last year Libya granted asylum to JEM leader Khalil Ibrahim which prompted a rift between Tripoli and Khartoum. The fall of Muammar Gaddafi would not only mean the expulsion or arrest of Khalil but JEM would have to seek support from elsewhere which would end up dragging more players to the Darfur conflict.

However, one of the biggest losers in the continent will probably be the AU and its peacekeeping missions around the continent. Libya currently provides 15 percent of AU funding which translates to $40 million annually.

Losing this funding will have numerous repercussions for regional stability since the AU and UN supported 20,000-troop peacekeeping mission in Darfur will be greatly hampered which might weaken the peace efforts. The same fate might befall the AU peacekeeping mission in Somalia whose 8,000 soldiers are crucial in the battle against Islamic radicals in that country.

From his 42-year stay in power Col. Muammar Gaddafi seems to have godfathered many “sons’ and “daughters” across the continent hence now that his guns and tanks have been overwhelmed by those he once termed as “rats”, the strongman of Tripoli is bound to leave behind millions of “orphans”.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Diaries of Deutschland

Throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover

This Mark Twain words were singing in my head through the nine-hour flight from Nairobi to Berlin. Being my maiden out of Africa experience my heart was pounding with the excitement and expectation that only a traveler can tell.
Besides the thrill of tingling my taste buds with alien cuisines and making new friends in far away lands, there was also the prospect of interacting with cultures that I had only read in books.

And Deutschland meted no disappointments.

Before I could say guten tag I found myself pushing and shoving among spectators in the world famous Berlin Gay Parade. This came as a hard blow to my attitude fortress since in Kenya, and many other African countries, homosexuality is discussed in whispers and utmost contempt.

At first, the sight of thousands of semi-nude men snaking through crowded streets caressing and groping each other’s gonads made my insides boil with an acute desire to puke. But after a short while my journalistic instincts took over and I started clicking rapidly on my flashgun.

Seminude couples kissing, caressing, squeezing and grinding tightly in a gross version of bendova dominated the proceedings in this event that is oddly named after a St. Christopher. Onlookers were not spared either as uninvited hands tried to squeeze or pinch their nether regions.

The experience greatly revolutionized my conservative attitude towards gays. Although I would still develop huge Goosebumps, and probably run for my dear life, if I was to find myself alone in their midst I now view homos as human beings who urgently need some kind of mental therapy or extreme tolerance.
However, there were other conventional festivities besides this display of unrestrained carnal appetite.

One of them was the Carnival of Cultures where people from different parts of the world gather to celebrate the diversity of global cultural heritage every summer. Groups from as far as Colombia, Africa and Papua New Guinea marched through the streets of Berlin performing traditional dances and showcasing their cultural attire.
From vigorously gyrating dancers from Angola and Nigeria, samba drummers from Brazil and Argentina to majestically clad ladies from Scandinavia, the six continents were generously represented here. The merrymaking went on deep in the night creating a huge mess of drunken revelers and heaps of garbage.

With a love of beer that is world famous Germans always find an excuse to indulge in the frothy waters, especially in summer. Fete de la Music, St. Christopher’s Day, Carnival of Cultures, picnics and house parties are some of the gatherings where alcohol is gloriously embraced. And there being more than a 1,500 beer brands to chose from sometimes the debauchery that take place in these festivities is, to say the least, way above the rim.

Apart from booze the 84 million plus inhabitants of Deutschland also have a zealous attachment to their bikes and dogs. These lucky canines are so babied that they ride in buses, trains and most celebrate birthdays in a sea of gifts.

After exploring the capital for several weeks it was time to hit the countryside. But just as in Berlin, many shocks awaited me here. Unlike in most African countries where towns away from the capital enjoy less glamour and glitz in Germany, and many other western countries, this is not the case. The lifestyle and economic standard of people living in far-flung cities like Freiburg, Nuremberg, Frankfurt and Heidelberg is the same as their counterparts in the capital, or even better.

Besides sampling life in the various cities, cruising through the German countryside is one of the most thrilling experiences that a tourist can bargain for. From green hills dotted with gigantic windmills, the marvels of the Black Forest with its majestically tall trees to the thousands of acres of wheat, corn and rye fields rolling as far as the eye can see on both sides of the road, the picturesque scenery kept me awake for long hours.

Apart from being a famous tourist zone the Black Forest is also the origin of the world famous cake that goes by the same name.
Another amazing discovery for a third world visitor here is the nation’s ability to perfectly blend modernity with tradition. Scenes of tiny storybook-like rural villages tucked deep in the valleys of the Black Forest momentarily give me African flashbacks.

But any attempt to compare these dwellings with my village in the far away rural Kenya is instantly thwarted by the fact that here there are public swimming pools, the roads are smoothly tarmacked and each of the artistically designed timber and brick houses is connected to power.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Father Factor

A report released several months ago by a religious organization showed that a huge majority of men in Kenyan jails grew up without their fathers, which emphasizes the role of the male parent in the family setup.

But long before this survey, experts had already observed that the father-son relationship is more often than not defined by bittersweet emotions. For instance lions and leopards are known to kill their he-cubs immediately after birth to avoid future territorial battles.

In human society this gender conflict has far reaching implications since it goes beyond individual friction to personality development. It’s not by coincidence that most dynasties are established and sustained through paternity rather than maternity.

A highly achieving father can be both a blessing and a curse rolled into one for his ambitious offspring. The constant comparison of the son’s endevours to the father’s achievement condemns the former to a perpetual shadow of perceived mediocrity, which can hinder progress.

“For the father to have gained prominence there might have been a price one of which might have included spending less time with their sons,” explains John Gacheru, a psychotherapist at Amani Counseling Centre. “This might have left the children with a “stay at home” mothers dumped their desires to be like their father”.

Mr. Gicheru adds that with the father’s accomplishments being used as a benchmark against which the children’s achievements are gauged, most often than not the son’s life is shrouded in a perpetual shadow of perceived mediocrity.

“The huge expectations on the off springs raises the bar too high for the children to attain the mark,” the psychotherapist explains.

A classic example is Bob Marley’s children who despite being gifted musicians have never attained the iconic status of their legendary father.

According to Hilda Oburu, a lecturer in early childhood psychology at the University of Nairobi, “the reason why people who attained godlike personalities like Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein and Che Guevara never had a successor from their next of kin is either because of their dominant character or an inside knowledge”.

Inside knowledge refers to a trait the family knows about their father that might make them strive to distance themselves from his legacy. For instance children of Elvis Presley not wanting to be associated with their father due to his addiction to drugs.

To outshine the larger than life father figure, Oburu says, you have to beat the man at his own game or chose a different career path altogether. The first alternative entails being so efficient and successful that his legacy and personality is completely annihilated from the public mind.

Former American President George W. Bush was perceived as the family underdog from childhood due to his purportedly low intellectual abilities. But despite this supposed weaknesses, he managed to obliterate his father’s legacy by storming into the exclusive club of men who lasted two times in the White House.

Locally, the best example is Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Despite being born to a doyen of Kenyan opposition, Raila have managed to step out of his father’s shadow by displaying a legacy of political acumen and wittiness that would have made the older Odinga blue with envy.

On the other hand, the PM’s deputy and political rival Uhuru Kenyatta have a long way to go if at all he wants to outdo his famous father. Besides the Herculean task of having to ascend to the presidency Uhuru will also need a minor miracle to cultivate the assertive, authoritative and commanding personality that was Jomo’s trademark. Assuming that he somehow manages get these qualities, the Minister of Finance will never beat his father’s 12-year stay at State House due to a constitutional requirement limiting presidential terms to ten years.

Analysts claim that the easiest way to beat a highflying dad is by choosing a career path totally different from his. Bearing an easily recognizable surname will more often than not open new doors. Locally, its not uncommon to find sons and daughters of prominent people in politics and the corporate world thriving in the entertainment industry.

In South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s grandson and President Zuma’s nephew came together last year to jointly start Aurora Empowerment Systems, an investment vehicle through which they hope to invest in African emerging markets. Realizing they would always be overshadowed by their father figure legacies if they ever ventured in politics the two young men have chosen a totally different career path.

Zondwa Mandela, 25, and Khulubuse Zuma, 39, say they are determined to convince the world that theirs is a serious business venture and not merely two scions of prominent families trading on a famous surname. The duo has already acquired two firms one of which is listed in the prestigious Johannesburg Stock Exchange.

“We want to find something, improve it, and expand on it,” Zondwa told Chairman King, a South African business magazine. “But we want to do something for Africa and empower its people”.

The young Mandela’s Pan-African vision somehow echoes with the idealism that led his famous grandfather to sacrifice the best of his years fighting apartheid. Apart from being backed by their prominent families and a group of Malaysian and United Arab Emirates businessmen, the duo’s powerful surnames will definitely play a huge role in the future success of Aurora Empowerment Systems.

However, Zondwa Mandela’s cousin Mandla seems hell-bent in the quest to inherit the most revered surname in South African politics if events in the recent past are anything to go by. The 36 year-old have been on a roll since being endorsed by Nelson Mandela as the chief of the Traditional Council in Mvezo, the birthplace of the iconic anti-apartheid.

Mandla was hugely involved with the bitterly contested 2009 presidential elections where he threw his behind ANC’s Jacob Zuma, the reward of which was a nomination to parliament. The legislator is said to wield so much influence on his grandfather that he managed to tag the old man to one of the ANC political rallies, defying a warning by the Nelson Mandela Foundation against dragging the nonagenarian into the highly divisive campaigns.

“He (Mr. Mandela) gave his life to the party and he decides for himself,” Mandla told the Mail & Guardian newspaper. “And who is Jakes Gerwel (chairman of the board of trustees of the Nelson Mandela Foundation) to tell me where to take my grandfather?”.

However, Peter Vale, who lectured Mandla at South Africa’s Rhodes University, says it would be mission impossible for the ambitious youngman to go far politically due to old Mandela’s shadow.

“This is not like the Gandhi-Nehru dynasty in India. There was sort of a tradition there that the children will follow,” the don told the Daily Mail during an interview. “I don’t think that will happen (in South Africa). The ANC is too contested”.

Whether Mandla will manage to rise above his grandfather’s legendary legacy remains to be seen.

Research has proven that an individual’s potential is hugely influenced by the socializing that they undergoes in childhood. For boys, the absence of fathers at this critical age implies that they are bound to miss some vital lessons on some aspects of manhood which in turn affects their self actualization as adults.

According to the Eriksonian theory of social analysis an individual’s development entails eight stages. The most important one is said to be the initiative stage which occurs between six and 11 years when the ego, self-esteem and the qualities of undertaking and planning are built and nurtured.

This is also the stage where dreams of early childhood are developed and attached to goals of an active life. Children start saying they would like to be this or that when they grow up, which more often than not is a reflection of the parent of the same sex. In the absence of a father figure in the family a boy experiences what experts call “gender role confusion” where he may easily project his identity towards farfetched characters like movie stars, story heroes or a popular figure in society.

“Fathers have a good degree of influence when it comes to the boys sense of confidence,” explains Florence Mueni, a psychologist at Amani Counseling Centre. “From about two years male children show the tendency to identify with and imitate male figures in manners like walking, talking, dressing and even mimicking shaving”.

The father figure influence over the child begins in subtle ways long before the parents embark on deliberate efforts to influence their off springs, hence, according to Mueni, children who grow up without a father might miss a very crucial stage in human development.

But the situation could also be to the advantage of the children, experts argue, because besides not having a legacy to safeguard individuals from such backgrounds could be spurred to excellence by an inner desire to prove a point to their abdicating fathers and over-compensate for what they lacked in childhood.

In Dreams From My Father, a book inspired by “a boy’s search for his father”, US President Barack Obama spends many pages explaining how the mystery of his absent father fueled his quest for self-actualization.

“At the time of his death, my father remained a myth to me, both more and less than a man…I knew him only through the stories that my mother and grandparents told,” President Obama writes. “It was only many years later, after I had sat at my father’s grave and spoken to him through Africa’s red soil, that I could circle back and evaluate these early stories for myself”.

Abuse of a child at this critical stage of growth might spearhead the development of dangerous character, a factor some psychologists attribute to criminals, murderers and dictators. Many historians have concluded that Hitler suffered psychological distress partly brought by an unhappy childhood, notably his relationship with his father, a domineering and at times cruel man.

“A father’s contribution is seen more in the cognitive development of children like influencing the way of thinking and reasoning as well as academic achievement as opposed to the mother’s role which is more on emotional aspects of child development”, Mueni says.

Fathers tend to insist more on pushing children, especially the boy child, to take risks, to achieve the impossible while mothers are more cautious in their goading. When it comes to career choices daddies play a huge part since they are the role models of masculinity, a trait associated with resilience and determination.

“Though fathers do not spend a lot of time with their children when they interact with them it is about specific things like careers and achievements,” Mueni explains. “Fathers do take the role of family disciplinarian which provide the necessary self control for the boy child to achieve his goal”.

The psychologists allegations are confirmed by a research conducted recently by a religious organization which indicates that 78 percent of inmates in two Kenyan Prisons, Kamiti and Industrial Area, grew up in fatherless homes.

But the Amani counselor insists that “boys tend to want to be like fathers especially if that father figure is someone they like, respect, admire and have a warm relationship with. It is the quality of the father-son relationship and not masculinity that influences ambition and career choices”.

John F. Kennedy, the charismatic former US President whose popularity and influence have been compared to Obama’s, is one of the best examples where a son career is molded around the father’s dreams. After realizing he won’t achieve his political ambitions his father Joseph Kennedy successfully embarked on an aggressive plan to have his son elected to the White House.

On the other hand, the mother figure, just like the Madonna, is said to symbolize love, protection, posterity and freedom of self-expression which perhaps explains why most famous artists, both performing and non-performing, are products of single mother households.

Bob Marley, Tupac Shakur, Lucky Dube, Mariah Carey, Brenda Fassie and 50 Cent are some of the shining examples. Others are Frederic Bartholdi, the designer of Statue of Liberty, and Leonardo da Vinci, the great thinker of the Renaissance and the painter of the famous Mona Lisa portrait.

As a testimony to the attachment they had for their mothers many of these distinguished artists have produced prominent works glorifying the female entity.

In The Concise 48 Laws of Power Renowned author Robert Green apparently confirms the so-called huge father-figure theory by saying “only after the father-figure has been properly done away with will you have the necessary space to create and establish a new order”.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nairobi at Night

NAMED AFTER DEDANI Kimathi, the legendary Mau Mau leader and the icon of African struggle against colonialism, Kimathi Street should embody freedom, human dignity and liberty.

But whatever transpires here from dawn to dusk on weekends would make Dedan Kimathi stir in his yet-to-be-identified grave.

Kimathi Street, thanks to the numerous bars, banks, take-away food joints and a five-star hotel, is already a 24- hour business hub.

Not even the fire that gutted the popular Nakumatt shopping store a few years ago could slow the street’s nocturnal pacee.

On Fridays and weekends, people start thronging pubs along this zone as early as 4pm such that by 7pm, they are fully packed. Those places lucky enough to have a spacious sidewalk like Tropez and Giggles accommodate more patrons by setting up tables outside.

“There are those who prefer sitting outside even when there is space inside. They either want to enjoy fresh air or just watch people, cars and life pass by,” comments a club manager.

As the night advances both human and vehicular traffic rises with the intensity of an excited heartbeat as more people pour into this pleasure zone.

“The good thing with Kimathi Street is that one is always spoilt for choice. If for instance the music being played at Seasons is not to my taste I can easily change venue to Riviera or Bettyz within a few minutes,” explains a reveller, Lee Mwandiki.

As the evening progresses, vendors set up stalls hawking sweets, biscuits, cigarettes, movies and, as expected, condoms.

Unlike in the daytime when buying a condom is a secret and closely guarded affair, at night the condoms are not only displayed openly but they also come in their multi-flavoured splendour — vanilla, strawberry and mint.

“The most selling products at night are cigarettes, followed closely by condoms. Although almost all pubs sell cigarettes not all of them sell condolms.” said James Muchoki, a nocturnal hawker. For many, night life in Nairobi begins and ends at Kimathi Street.

“I like this place is because the parking along the street is quite safe and you can walk from the club to the car and back without encountering muggers,” says Peter Mwabili, a regular patron at Giggles and Riviera.

In an ironic way, Dedan Kimathi’s name will remain exalted among Kenyans not only by his heroic acts or his statue but by the fact that the street named in his honour stands out as the heartbeat of Nairobi at night.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Papal Mysteries

As one of the oldest religious thrones in the history of man, the papacy has generated many mysteries and contraversies through the ages. Sometimes almost as many as the number of Haile Maries chanted on a Sunday morning. Below are examples in recent history.

“Santo Subito”-make him a saint right now-thousands of mourners chanted at the St Peters Square during the late Pope John Paul II’s funeral in April 2005. Similar sentiments were echoed by millions of Catholics around the globe.

Born in Krakow Poland 91 years ago, Karol Josef Wojtyla has been hailed as one of the forces behind the fall of communism in his motherland and the rest of Europe and lifting the Catholic Church’s relations with other religions to an all time high.

He prayed at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, Jewish holiest site, and became the first pope in history to visit a synagogue. Karol Wojtyla was also the first non-Italian pope since the election of Dutchman Adrian VI 455 years ago.

Among the issues the late pope took a strong stand against includes abortion, birth control, use of condoms to prevent AIDS, homosexuality, divorce, ordination of women and America’s attack on Iraq.

He is also said to have been fluent in 13 languages, traveled to more than 125 countries before his death, beatified 1,340 people and canonized 483 saints-more than a combined tally of his predecessors in the last five centuries.

With such a phenomenal record under his belt it was no surprise that there have been suggestions to hurry through the process to John Paul II’s canonization. Ironically, his beatification ceremony fell on May Day this year, a date marked by socialists whose ideology the late Holy See is said to have greatly abhorred.

Beatification is a critical step towards sainthood since this revered spiritual leader now only needs the verification of one more miracle to his credit for him to be elevated to highest echelons of holiness in the Roman Catholic order. To be a saint one needs to have performed at least two miracles.

The “miracle” that led to Josef Wojtyla’s beatification is said to have happened when a nun ailing from Parkinson’s Disease claimed to have been cured after the late pope’s intercession. Church officials and church-appointed doctors have insisted John Paul II, who suffered from the same medical condition, “cured” Marie Simon-Pierre.

But skeptics believe otherwise.

A report published in a polish newspaper claimed that a doctor who scrutinized the nun’s case concluded that she might not have been suffering from Parkinson’s, but from a nervous disorder from which temporary recovery is medically possible.

Miss Simon-Pierre was among the key speakers during the beatification ceremony in Rome. Due to his appeal John Paul II’s path to sainthood was fast tracked by wavering the mandatory five-year waiting period after the death of the candidate that it takes before the official process could start.

According to the National Catholic Reporter, an independent US weekly, this apparent haste to push the process through is likely to evoke criticisms from many quarters.

“The overly conservative have suggested that his cause is being fast tracked in order to score points in internal Catholic debates,” the US newspaper claims adding that the haste “risks cheapening the canonization process if there is a perception that it has been short circuited” to favour an individual.

The National Catholic Reporter also notes that “some victims of clerical sexual abuse and their advocates believes that beatifying him now risks giving offence to victims who associate the late pope with a mixed response to the crisis”.

Beatification, which installs the title “Blessed” upon the beatified, implies the candidate led an infallibly holy life and is now in heaven where they can intercede in the prayers others. To mark this important step, the late pontiff’s sarcophagus was moved from the grottos, the labyrinth of papal tombs under St Peters Square, and placed inside the St Peter’s Basilica.

Although his intelligent use of the media and ability to connect with the masses endeared him to millions around the globe as confirmed by the unprecedented outpouring of grief after his death, John Paul II’s reign was never short of critics.

In his book The Power And The Glory, David Yallop quashes many achievements that popular history have attributed to the late pope under what he calls “the dark heart of John Paul II’s Vatican”. The British writer claims that his allegations are based on evidence accessed from the Vatican, CIA, KGB and Polish Secret Service.

“When the beatification process involves a figure as controversial as the late Pope, a rigorous investigation which lays open every facet of Karol Wojtyla’s entire life is paramount,” Yallop says. “Demonstrably the current rush to sainthood does not envisage exhaustive inquiry”.

In many chapters of the book, the agnostic author goes to great detail to demonstrate how the Vatican, and consequently the Church, “hobnobbed” with despots and dictators in Europe, Africa and Latin America during the Pole’s tenure.

Among the autocratic regimes who opened their doors for a papal visit during John Paul II’s reign includes Cuba, El Salvador, Philippines, Nicaragua, Argentina, Panama, Togo and Zaire where he embraced and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Mobutu Sese Seko, Ferdinand Marcos, Omar Bongo and Manuel Noriega.

On the belief that the “Media Pope” played a significant role in the downfall of the Soviet Union and communism, Yallop holds a view radically different from what is common in the pages of popular history.

“He has been portrayed by the Vatican, by numerous journalists and countless biographers as a man who stood resolute against the Communists and fought them tooth and nail in the years leading to his papacy,” the controversial scribe notes. “But facts reveals a man who successfully survived the Polish Communists as he had survived the Second World War, namely by prudence and a complete absence of any heroics”.

The book traces the new Catholic saint-to-be from his village of birth in Poland to his death in the papal bedroom at the Apostolic Palace, “exposing” and explaining events so implicating that in its review the British newspaper the Herald prophesize that “Yallop may go to hell for this”

An effort to reach the Catholic Church Secretariat, the body mandated to speak on behalf of the church, or the Papal Nuncio in Kenya for comments before the publication of this article proved futile.

While John Paul II served the second longest documented papal tenure in history, his predecessor Albino Luciani-Pope John Paul I- reigned the shortest. He held office for 33 days before dying under what several authors and journalists have termed “mysterious circumstances”.

“It was rumoured he was deliberately elected by cardinals keeping secrets that he was too weak to bother and his health would cause him to die prematurely in office,” Gregory Christiano, a historian, writes in an article entitled The Mysterious Death of Pope John Paul I (A Treatise). To the surprise and consternation of those very cardinals, Pope John Paul I immediately investigated the Vatican bank and wanted to clean the house of any prominent prelates who were Freemasons”.

This theory is also backed by Yallop who claims that at the time of his death John Paul I was at the verge of implementing some radical changes, a fact he says didn’t augur well with a section of the Vatican corridors of power.

“One month after his elections, Albino Luciani received an extensive and very detailed interim report that had been carried out on his request,” Yallop writes adding that “he reached a number of decisions which were certain to have a dramatic effect on the Church”.

The new pope never lived to implement the “number of decisions” because he was found dead in his bedroom a few days later.

Christiano also claims that enemies of the “Smiling Pope” might have also be multiplied by his liberal approach towards the use of birth control pills and acknowledging children born by in-vitro fertilization.

His reign may have attracted criticism but John Paul II’s road to beatification has been swift and smooth. Those that might have wanted to object or stall the process will never get the opportunity or the platform since the late pontiff, either by coincidence or an act of providence, abolished promotor fidei-the “devil’s advocate”. As the fifth step towards beatification the “devil’s advocate” was an individual whose duty was “to point out any flaw or weak points in the evidence adduced, and raised all kind of objections”.

Unlike Karol Wojtyla’s apparently easy promotion to holiness the proposal to canonize Pope Pius XII, the man who occupied the throne of St. Peter during the World War II, has been riddled with controversies emanating from his purported indifference to the suffering of Jews during the Holocaust.

Documentary evidence quoted by indicates that although the pope was constantly besieged with pleas to help millions of Jews escape Nazi-occupied Europe he did “very little” in a bid to ensure the church remained “neutral” during the war.

The International Catholic-Jewish Historical Commission (ICJHC) comprising of three Jewish and three Catholic scholars was established by the Holy See’s Commission for Relations with the Jews in 1999 to establish the role of Vatican during the World War II.

In October 2000 the group of scholars concluded their findings and came up with a report entitled The Vatican and the Holocaust which refuted many explanations that have been put forth by defenders of Pope Pius XII.

“The often-espoused view that the pontiff was unaware of the seriousness of the situation of European Jewry during the war was definitely found to be inaccurate,” writes “Numerous documents demonstrated that the Pope was well-informed about the full extent of the Nazi’s anti-Semitic practices”.

Although Benedict XVI have recognized his “heroic virtues” and declared him “vulnerable” in 2009 alongside John Paul II he decided to “shelve” the controversial pontiff’s path to sainthood until archives from his wartime papacy are opened to independent researchers in 2014.

Being declared “vulnerable” is an important step to sainthood since this implies that the person is admired and recognized as a model of Christian virtues by the Holy See. The next step after “vulnerable” will be for Vatican to identify one scientifically inexplicable miracle interceded by the “Pope of Mary” after which beatification will be initiated. He will then be declared a saint after the identification of a second miracle.

The Business Week, an American magazine which compared the urgency displayed by the church to canonize Pius XII to the speed with which the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to Barack Obama, minced no words in its observation.

“So what is the rush? The answer is politics…which does not make for an edifying religious spectacle,” the magazine says. “The common perception, disputed by the Vatican, is that by pairing Pius XII with John Paul II in the Dec. 20 decree, Benedict had hoped to satisfy both the conservative and the liberal wings of the Catholic Church”.

The relevance of the papacy in modern times have been questioned with Americans being classified as some of the most skeptical Catholics in the world.

According to a report in Newsweek, a survey conducted by Catholic University sociologist William D’Antonio and his colleagues 58 percent of American Catholics say they can practice their faith and disregard the church’s teachings on abortion while 78 percent say they can disregard birth control.

Pope Benedict VXI still have a lot to do since the Church is currently contending with the decline in the priesthood and church attendance in Western countries, inroads made by evangelicals and Pentecostals in Latin America and Africa and the debate over decentralization of power to local parishes.