Monday, November 25, 2013

The Elephant Graveyard: End of the African Jumbo is Nigh.

The increased poaching in the last three years and the rise of terror activities in the country that crowned by the deadly Westgate Mall attack have led experts in concluding that there is a link between illegal ivory and terrorism.

Spearheaded by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) several organizations, both local and international, have raised the red flag on the possibility that al-Shabaab might be getting some of its money from illicit ivory trade.

“Shabaab’s role is not limited to poaching and brokerage, but is a major link in the chain, enabling them to reap huge profits from the mark-up in the trade,” said an 18-month-long investigative report by The Elephant Action League that also claims that up to 40 percent of the terror group’s activities could be funded through poaching. “The harsh environment in which they operate, deprived of natural resources or infrastructure to raid, makes ivory and rhino horn trade that much more important”.

This coincided with an article in Los Angeles Times, by Laurel Neme, author of Animal Investigators: How the World’s First Wildlife Forensics Lab Is Solving Crimes and Saving Endangered Species that drew the same parallels.
“Our investigation detailed how the Shabaab acts as a middleman, taking orders from agents in Asia or Persian Gulf states and purchasing ivory from small-time brokers to fill those orders,” Neme claims. “The terrorist group, we found, pays better than many middlemen (about $90 a pound in 2012), making it an attractive buyer. The brokers who engage the poachers, pay about $23 per pound, which means they make hefty return in their dealings with Shabaab”.

This, she says, is made worse by the fact that unlike small time poachers, al-Shabaab-backed ivory hunters are more daring and use sophisticated and hi-tech methods that are harder to fight.
In her detailed explanation, Neme traces the bloody path that a piece of ivory follows from the time jumbo is felled, the number of rangers and other personnel that might get killed to the point where the finely polished ivory trinket lands in a collectors trophy board somewhere in an effluent suburb in Beijing.

“What we know is that there are some powerful forces behind the current trade in ivory but whether they are terrorists or not that we are not sure, so we can’t mention names,” Paul Mbugua, Assistant Director and Spokesman for Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS), told Extra. “Judging by the huge size of the consignments that have been nabbed in the recent past and the fact that nobody claims them point to somebody somewhere with huge amounts of resources”.

Mbugua says KWS have captured more than 13.5 tonnes of ivory in 2013 whose destination was somewhere in Asia. 

The most prominent of these consignments is the 3.8 tonnes that were intercepted at the Mombasa Port in July this year.
“Who is the person with such a huge amount of money that he can risk buying tons of ivory and believe they can compromise our systems to get it through,” Mr. Mbugua poses. “It must be somebody with huge amounts of resources and a maze of international connections”.
By the time we were going to press Kenya had lost 267 elephants in 2013. At this rate, some conservationists claims, the pachyderms might be extinct in the next 12 years.

The statistics worryingly resemble the seventies and eighties where the elephant population in Kenyan was depleted from 160,000 to a paltry 16,000 through a vicious poaching.

Rhinos are not doing any better with 24 of them having been felled by poachers so far this year. Of these killings one of the most prominent was the murder of a white rhino at the Nairobi National Park in August. Besides doubling as KWS headquarters the park, the only one in the world next to a capital city, is the most guarded in Kenya.

The companies under whose names the illegal ivory is transported are usually non-existent at the registrar of companies, making it impossible to their owners. 

“For the last one year KWS, Kenya Police and Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) have been working hand in hand to ensure no contraband trophies passes through Kenya,” the KWS official says. “This has drastically discouraged potential smugglers because of fear of losing their loot”.

After the ivory is seized it is usually kept under the custody of Kenya Police until the investigations are done, after which KWS assumes custody. After DNA testing, the ivory is classified into that from within and without Kenya.

Since former President Moi burned 12 million tons of ivory in 1988, the seized ivory stockpile have accumulated to around 80 tons to date according KWS. The cache is stored somewhere the organization is not will to reveal for security reasons.

“According to the law all the wildlife belongs to the government so KWS keeps the ivory for the people of Kenya until such a time that a decision will be reached on what to do with it,” Mbugua says. “We don’t reveal the location to anybody including journalists due to the high value of cargo. It’s like telling Central Bank of Kenya to reveal their currency vaults”.

He cites an example of Zambia where the national ivory bank was raided and several tons lost to unknown individuals.

But why the escalation of poaching especially in the last few years given the huge number of non-governmental organizations and millions of foreign dollars pumped in the country to push the conservation agenda?

“Poaching is like the drug world since there are far too many powerful individuals involved,” laments a local conservationists and wildlife enthusiast who preferred to remain anonymous for fear of her life. “We usually focus on the middle men while the big guns that bankroll the operations remain untouchable. We might shout from here to Moscow and employ everyone in GSU, have our rangers killed left, right and center. But until and unless we address the people who work with, and get paid by poaching big pins, it’s an endless cycle”.

She claims that over the years senior people within KWS, NGOs and other organizations with easy access to security details and information on game reserves and parks are known to work with poachers.

“Best wishes as you write, and please remember if your story is aimed at curbing poaching in this country you have to do a jicho pevu (a popular KTN investigative segment by Mohammed Ali) of sorts,” she warned. “All these advocacy stunts are just to make money and close people’s eyes from the real issue at hand. The real rot is deep within this intricate system of vested interests”.

More than 32 KWS personnel were interdicted early this year for allegedly collaborating with poachers in killing animals in national reserves and game parks.

Soila Soiyale, a senior researcher at Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) and her son Robert Ntawasa were arrested at Emali town in May allegedly trying to sell six pieces of ivory with a street value of Sh1.9 million.

She denied the allegations and claimed that KWS officials implicated her by planting the trophies in her car in a bid to deter her from exposing the poaching syndicate inside Amboseli National Park.

The fact that poaching could be funding activities that threaten national security like the Westgate incidence have compelled foreign governments to increase their efforts on the war against poaching.

In July, the US President Barack Obama issued an executive order establishing the cabinet-level Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking worth $10 million dollars, with £3million earmarked for Kenya. 

But this is dwarfed by the annual returns from this dark trade estimated to be between $7 to $10billion. The bloody enterprise is sustained by an unrelenting ivory demands from Asia and Middle East where tusks and rhinoceros horns are used to make decorative ornaments and traditional medicine.
“We must address the perception that everyone is poaching and stop those people from becoming engaged in poaching or ivory trafficking because everyone else is doing this,” explained Dr. Paula Kahumba, a Kenyan conservationist and Executive Director of WildlifeDirect, wrote in The Guardian. “By applying behavioural lessons to the problem, we can recognize and empower traditional African courts to honour African values, change perceptions and grow a community that defends elephants despite economic incentives”.

She went on to cite the incidence where a rhino named Omni was killed in Ilingwesi and the culprits caught using local elders networks.

Poaching is not a problem affecting Kenya alone but the whole of the Great Lakes and Southern Africa regions. In September, poachers in Zimbabwe killed more than 90 elephants by poisoning water holes and salt pans with cynide inside Hwange Park.

More than 11 million tons of ivory arrested in Kenya this year is from the surrounding country, mostly Democratic Republic of Congo, Central Africa and Cameroon.
KWS in conjuction with several corporate entities launched a highly publicized campaign dubbed Hands Off Our Elephants that was a trending topic a few months ago.

KTN anchors donned black armbands and did sections of prime time broadcasts from Nairobi National Park to show their solidarity with the war against poaching.

But experts and key players in the conservation sector says that this passionate campaign will be of no good if key policy issues are not addressed locally and abroad where rise in ivory demands have raised the stakes.

Harsher penalties for culprits, tougher fight against corruption and persuading China, Kenya’s newest economic partner with President Uhuru Kenyatta having received Sh425 billion aid pledge during a recent visit, to ban poaching since it provides the biggest single market in the world are some of the recommendations by experts.

Many experts agree that if contents of the Wildlife Conservation and Management 2013, which was approved by the cabinet but is yet to be passed by parliament, are enacted it could provide a huge deterrent to the current poaching tide.

Article 79 under offenses and penalties it states thus “Any person who commits an offence in respect of an endangered or threatened species or in respect of any trophy of that endangered or threatened species shall be liable upon conviction to a fine of not less than ten million shillings or to imprisonment of not less than fifteen years or to both such fine and imprisonment”.

Despite ivory trade being banned globally by the Convention on International Trade in endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITE) way back in 1989, in China and Thailand the trade is still legal. 

This combined with the fact that ivory ornaments are status symbols in the now economically endowed Asian giant explains the huge demand.

“The demand for ivory has never been this high in the history of mankind,” Dr. Kahumba told KTN during one of special coverage on the state of poaching. “The first step will be to compel China, where trade in ivory is legal, to ban it since illegal ivory is being imported in the country and then laundered”.

Even with World Wild Fund ranking China as the biggest market in the world for illegal ivory the country still denies that its unquenchable hunger for elephant tusks is fuelling poaching in Africa.

Chinese authorities claims that only 37 companies, whose annual ivory consumption should not exceed 5,000 kilograms, are allowed to work with ivory and 145 to sell the finished products.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

The Kenyan-Somali Question

NAIROBI—Throngs of traders haggle and jostle for goods along busy streets, constantly interrupted by the hooting of matatus, local public transport vehicles, and the shouting of pushcart drivers, known as mkokotenis. This neighborhood is no place for the squeamish. The matatus and the mkokotenis make their way through deep, water-filled potholes, splashing thick, dark liquid onto crowded sidewalks. Like the badly damaged roads, the sewage system in Nairobi’s Eastleigh district was built by British colonists in the 1920s to service a few hundred working-class Africans and Indians, but now it must bear the waste of over 100,000 residents. Today raw sewage oozes out of thousands of household pipes that have ruptured after decades of neglect. The dark green sludge mixes with runoff in the streets to form a foul porridge of human excrement.

But these pools of unsanitary sludge are not what is deterring thousands of Nairobians from coming to “Little Mogadishu,” as Eastleigh is known due to its Somali population. It is the grenade attacks.
Life has not been the same in Eastleigh since the Kenyan Defense Forces (KDF) invaded war-torn Somalia to hunt down the al-Shabab terror group in 2011. Since then, explosions halt, at times violently, the buying and selling in this market town. So far, the attacks have claimed at least 20 lives, with many more maimed. Nobody is quite sure when or where the terror will strike next, so whatever visitors still come look over their shoulders constantly. While in the past they strolled the aisles, gawking at the displays, now shoppers just grab what they came for and hop quickly into the next matatu.

Thanks to its industrious Somali business owners, Eastleigh is still the only place in Nairobi where people can buy almost anything. From across the Kenyan capital, shoppers arrive with long, varied lists and leave laden with shopping bags. From clothes to contraband, toy pistols to real guns, in this Somali neighborhood legal and illegal trade thrive in equal measure.

The atmosphere is reminiscent of the medieval trans-continental trade centers along the East African coastline. Five-times daily, a muezzin’s call goes out over the loudspeakers of the various mosques here, leading many businesses to close their front doors quickly for prayers.

Al-Shabab and its supporters have been carrying out attacks in Eastleigh and other parts of Kenya in retaliation for the country’s invasion of Somalia. In a recent report, the group warned it may even shift its tactics to target high rise buildings in central Nairobi. The new security threat cannot be fought with the methods used to solve routine street crimes since its perpetrators are not common criminals but religious fanatics. Kenyan authorities need to retrain internal security agents to gather intelligence among Somalis without making them feel intimidated or estranged. The local Somali population needs to be recruited as informers and spies since they are the only ones who can identify al-Shabab elements in their midst. The system of localizing intelligence gathering is bound to be more effective than the indiscriminate large-scale police sweeps that net innocent people and sow seeds of hostility between the security forces and local Somali.

Besides designing systems to crush terrorist cells inside the country, the government should increase patrols along the Kenya-Somalia border to ensure al-Shabab elements do not cross over. The government also needs to tighten its monitoring systems around Kakuma and Dadaab refugee centers to ensure Somali asylum seekers remain in the camps, while those absorbed into the population are carefully screened. There is no single cure-all for terrorism, but taken together, this set of reforms will curb terror attacks while improving the lives of Somalis in Kenya, who currently face constant harassment from the state.

When the heavily armed special police units land in Eastleigh, every young or youthful-looking Somali is a target. Often, Somalis are beaten, arrested, and bundled into police cars for detention where they languish for days or weeks with no charges ever leveled against them. Abdi Dhahir is a 27-year-old Somali trader who sells  clothes on 12th Street, a busy section of Eastleigh. He came to Kenya from Somalia with his parents at the age of five. After staying in the Dadaab refugee camp for five years, his family found their way to Eastleigh, and he became a Kenyan citizen. Since al-Shabab started carrying out attacks in Kenya, Abdi has been on the lookout— not for terrorists, but for the Kenyan police.

“We Somalis are now living in fear not knowing when we will be arrested. It can happen any time—during the day or at night,” Abdi says. “When they arrest you, the detention is indefinite. You can be locked in as long as they want.” Abdi says he has been arrested numerous times, spending days at Pangani and Central police stations, where it took the intervention of his family members to secure his release.

“The threat is now not only from the police but also from the native population who view Somalis with a lot of suspicion since the terror attacks started in the capital,” Abdi says. “Sometimes when I board a matatu people look at me suspiciously. The conductor can even refuse to grant me entry on suspicion that I might be a suicide bomber.” It is traumatic, he adds, for innocent people to be labeled as terrorists. Abdi admits that there are al-Shabaab cells in Eastleigh, most of them abetted by local Islamic clergy. “Even Somalis like me are not safe from these terror operatives since they can eliminate you if they suspect that you might expose them to the police,” the second-hand clothes trader explains. “Therefore it’s a very delicate situation, because sometimes we feel trapped between a rock (the national security system) and a hard place (the bad guys).”

With the porous Kenya-Somalia border and corrupt Kenyan immigration officials and security personnel, Somali refugees have been flowing freely into Kenya to escape fighting between African Union troops and al-Shabab, and a 2011 famine. According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, as of August 2012, Kenya hosted the world’s largest single group of refugees and asylum seekers—more than 630,000 Somalis.

 “An in-depth television documentary showed how
 a Somali refugee buys his way from the Dadaab refugee center, through corrupt Kenyan security personnel manning road blocks up to the point where they disappear into the populous Eastleigh,” says Hudson Gumbihi, a Kenyan crime journalist for the weekly newspaper The Nairobian. Gumbihi suggests that one way to stem the infiltration of terrorists is caring for security personnel and dissuading them from the temptation of bribes. “The Kenyan government should also give Kenyan Somalis incentives like easy access to personal documents, like identification cards in order for them to feel patriotic,” he continues. “This will ensure they report terror suspects since they will have a sense of patriotic duty.”

The situation of Kenyan Somalis is not unlike that of Japanese Americans in the United States after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. There is state and public distrust, detention, prejudice, and general harassment. Just like the wartime Japanese-Americans, Kenyan Somalis are described as “hardworking and intelligent,” but also as “treacherous, sly, cruel, and warlike,” Gumbihi says.
Tiberius Barasa, a public policy and administration lecturer at Maseno University in Kenya, says Kenyan Somalis “are now viewed as suspects by other Kenyans and whenever there is a terror attack, they become the first victims of police arrests.” Barasa adds that Somalis’ businesses have taken a huge beating. “Most of the businesses in Eastleigh were getting their supplies from towns in Somalia like Kismayo where there was no taxation. Hence, they attracted a lot of customers since they were cheaper,” observes the Maseno University scholar who is researching Kenyan Somalis. “But since the invasion of Somalia by the Kenya Defense Forces, supplies from these towns have been cut.”

Although the current suspicion of Somalis by other Kenyans has been attributed to the rise in terror incidents, some have used the situation to express their long running anti-Somali sentiments. The fact that many Somalis are successful business people, a few with connections to Red Sea pirates, means they have millions of shillings to spend, which have enabled them to acquire property in the Nairobi central business district at very high prices.

Moreover, in a bid to rid the area around Jamia Mosque, the major prayer center in the city, of bars and nightclubs, Somalis campaigned to buy out entertainment establishments. Several have been bought, closed, and reopened as Somali-owned restaurants and cafes. As for Kenyan landlords, many rent or sell their houses to Somalis at inflated prices, leading some locals to blame wealthy Somalis for rising property rates, further fueling xenophobic tendencies.

In June 2012, two police officers died when a hand grenade was thrown at them while they were on routine patrol duty in Eastleigh, prompting a massive security operation that saw residents without identity cards rounded up and detained. Last November and December, Eastleigh became a no-go zone for many Nairobians after a series of bomb attacks claimed more than 15 lives and left dozens injured. Among those seriously wounded were a member of parliament for the area—Yusuf Haji, himself a Kenyan Somali—and his bodyguard. These attacks triggered two days of inter-ethnic riots where Kenyans from other communities clashed with Somalis, leaving several people injured.

At the time, a government security operation swept up more than 600 suspects, mostly refugees without legal documentation. Intelligence reports linked the attacks that touched off the sweep to al-Shabab militants, who were protesting the presence of Kenya Defense Forces in Somalia.
Since the terror attacks began, Kenyan traders who buy wares in Eastleigh are frightened. “These explosions scared many of us who usually get our stocks from Eastleigh on a daily basis to an extent that when we go there, we do so hurriedly, like going into a war zone,” explains Wilfred Karang’e, who buys shoes and carpets from Eastleigh for resale in the nearby Thika town. “The ethnic skirmishes greatly affected my business since I couldn’t replenish my stocks for some days.”
Little Mogadishu is one of the most important landmarks, not only for Kenyan Somalis but for Somalis everywhere. Thousands of dollars are reportedly transferred daily through an informal but intricate social network called hawala. The Kenyan security apparatus and a host of other governments have singled out this global system as making it easy for terrorists to finance their global operations and engage in other illegal operations like drug trafficking.

Basically hawala works by transferring money through a network of brokers, called hawaladars, who transfer funds without moving them physically. A transaction starts by a customer giving a hawala broker money to transfer to a recipient. When the sender books the transfer, he also gives the broker a special password. The hawaladar calls his counterpart at the destination and tells him the amount of money and password, details that the receiver of the transferred cash must provide before being paid. This system can be exploited by terrorists and other black market merchants because no documents are involved, which makes tracing those involved almost impossible.

This system can also boost trade in curios, qat, and other goods from the informal sector, but unfair and illegal business practices should be curbed to ensure that unscrupulous Somali business people cannot use the Kenyan economy to sanitize money originating in dark trades like piracy and smuggling in Somalia. Kenya could tap into this multimillion dollar transfer system by registering the hawaladars such that the government profits each transfer. Like the mobile money transfer system called M-Pesa, hawala could be harnessed to contribute legally to the economy while ensuring terror elements don’t use it for their own selfish ends.

During the colonial period, British officials allocated neighborhoods to Kenyans according to race and class, with Eastleigh being established in 1921 for Indians and African clerks and shoemakers. Many Somalis found themselves in Kenya in 1925, after the British hived off a chunk of the Jubaland region in modern day southern Somalia to form part of Kenya known as the Northern Frontier District (NFD). The rest of Somalia was ceded to Italy as a reward for its support of the Allies during World War I. But despite recommendations by the British that all regions of East Africa inhabited by Somalis be joined into one country and the desire of NFD residents to join their countrymen in the newly created Somali Republic, the Kenyan nationalists who took over from Britain were unwilling to relinquish the region. NFD residents launched a vigorous campaign to join Somalia through the Northern Province People’s Progressive Party.

The government of newly independent Kenya brutally crushed the Somali secession efforts during the Shifta War from 1963 to 1967—and it was not the last time Kenya would violently crack down on a Somali population. In 1984, a military operation to disarm members of the Somali Degodia clan led to the seizure of more than 5,000 men who were assembled at the Wagalla Airstrip in Wajir District in NFD. After brutal beatings and torture, more than 3,000 were murdered and many more maimed in what became known as the Wagalla Massacre. The United Nations later described the incident as the worst human rights abuse in Kenya’s history.

Long before the Shifta War and Wagallah, however, Somalis had begun coming to Nairobi from NFD as railway builders and guards of such British Empire figures as Lord Delamere, one of the earliest settlers in Kenya, and Lord Frederick Lugard, who had served as governor of Hong Kong and governor-general of Nigeria. Colonial administrators must have held Somalis in high regard, because they were at first allowed to live in Kileleshwa, near the Europeans’ neighborhood. They were later relocated to Eastleigh, which was known as Kambi ya Somali (Somali Camp) until the arrival of the Royal Air Force (RAF) in the 1930s. The suburb was named Eastleigh, because most of the RAF personnel came from the town of Eastleigh in Hampshire, England.

Police reports say a broad and vibrant illicit trade thrives beneath the bustle of normal business in this densely populated area. Apart from al-Shabab using Eastleigh as a hideout and launching pad for attacks across the city,  police reports allege gun runners from Somalia also collude with their agents in Kenya to bring small arms to Eastleigh. From here, police sources say, the smugglers sell the weapons to Kenyan criminal elements, fueling crime across the city. “The presence of Kenyan Somalis makes it quite hard for the Kenyan security forces to fight terrorism effectively because it’s impossible to differentiate between a Kenya Somali and Somalia Somali,” explains George Musamali, a former police officer who now works as a security consultant. “These people share culture, religion, and language, and therefore they help each other.”

He says that from his experience on the police force, Kenyan Somalis help their countrymen from Somalia acquire Kenyan passports and live in the country illegally, making it difficult for security personnel to track criminal elements. “This is made worse by human rights groups who instantly come to the defense of the Somalis whenever there is an operation in Eastleigh or other places, claiming the Somalis are being harassed by the government.”

Instead of mass sweeps, Musamali says the police should instead focus on unmasking al-Shabab operatives, who find it easy to fade into the native Somali population. “We need to use Israeli methods to identify friendly Kenyan Somalis and train them in undercover intelligence gathering techniques, then release them into the population,” the security expert explains. “This will help our forces beat the cover and be able to identify the terrorist elements from the general  Somali population.”

Currently, the Kenyan government uses grass-roots administrators, known as chiefs, to gather information on the ground. This method is ineffective since few Somalis open up to government officials.

Besides being considered a security threat, Kenyan Somalis have also suffered from an identity crisis. The line between citizens and refugees is sometimes as thin as the identification papers on which they base their legitimacy. The 2009 national census figures from nine Somali-dominated districts in the nation’s northeastern region were cancelled after it emerged that Somalis had become the sixth most populous groups in Kenya. Many government officials and non-governmental organizations claimed the data was doctored since it indicated the Somali population had risen by 140 percent in barely 10 years. The figures from 1999 census showed 800,000 citizens of Somali origin while the number in 2009 soared to 2,385,572.

The then Minister of Planning Wycliffe Oparanya explained that the decision to cancel the results was taken after inconsistencies emerged. “The rate of increase is higher than the population dynamics. If you look at birth and death rates, they cannot support those figures,” he said. “Age and sex profiles also deviate from the norm.” There were triple the number of men than women, and population growth did not reflect an increase in the number of households, which was among the lowest in the country.

This Kenyan Somali population explosion was likely fueled by illegal Somali immigration and facilitated by corrupt Kenyan officials. The ease of receiving Kenyan citizenship papers increases the ability of al-Shabab members to operate in Kenya. Part of the solution lies in streamlining the naturalization process and eradicating corruption among immigration officials. A more transparent, legal path to citizenship would make it easier for Somalis without ties to terrorism to become productive Kenyan citizens and make it harder for corruption to enter the process. Streamlining the naturalization process will also ensure suspicious elements find it hard to acquire personal documents. Through better pay and stricter punishment, like dismissal and jail terms for those found registering people illegally, the Kenyan government could also deter its officials from accepting bribes and looking the other way when Somalis, some of whom have connections to criminal groups, enter the country.

After the Kenyans invaded Somalia and brought some semblance of order following the defeat of al-Shabab, the two countries established a joint task force to begin repatriating refugees. Repatriation, however, has become a thorny issue with many Somali refugees saying they have settled and established businesses in Kenya and do not want to return. Still, repatriating refugees will reduce the congestion in refugee camps and cut the major route the al-Shabab have been using to enter the country. Most criminal elements from Somalia hide in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. While there, they deal ruthlessly with any who dare report them to the police, which helps explain the abductions and killings in these refugee centers in the last few months. With Somalia’s relative stability, the Kenyan government should halt the entry of refugees and continue to plan the repatriation of those living in Kenya.

The government of Kenya should also increase its patrols along the Somalia-Kenya border to control the infiltration of terrorists and illegal small arms into the country’s North Eastern region. The Kenyan government, says Tiberius Barasa, a public policy and administration lecturer at Maseno University in Kenya, should increase its military’s border presence, ensuring that terrorists cannot enter the country so easily.

The Kenyan government’s effort to fight crime and terror should not be perceived as a systematic anti-Somali campaign but rather a means of removing the bad elements from its Somali population. “The Kenyan government should also take the security operations in the Somali-dominated northern Kenya seriously,” says Barasa. “They should deploy the military there just like they did in the Operation Linda Nchi”—code name for the Kenyan invasion of Somalia in 2011 that led to the removal of al-Shabab from its strongholds in cities like Kismayo and Afmadow near the Kenyan border. In its war against terror and ethnic violence among Somali clans in North Eastern province, which borders Somalia, the Kenyan government sent elite police divisions to expel or kill al-Shabab fighters.

For now, Kenyan Somalis remain embedded in a climate of festering hostility. The takeover of the Somalia operation by a joint pan-African force is certainly a step in the right direction since al-Shabab will no longer have Kenya alone as a target for revenge. They will have to attack Uganda, Burundi, and a host of other countries who have contributed to the African Union’s military mission.
Kenya should consider rewarding Kenyan Somalis who provide vital information leading to the arrest of terror suspects or smugglers. Rewards should range from government scholarships to job placements and citizenship for those who have lived here for more than 10 years. Though not an absolute remedy to the perpetual threat of terrorism, these measures will create a sense of patriotism and belonging among Somalis living in Kenya. It will also restore the status of Eastleigh as a shoppers paradise, where buyers can stroll without the fear and worry of grenade attacks. And business will boom again.

This article was punblished in the World Policy Journal, hence they reserve all the rights. The original version can be accessed through

Monday, October 7, 2013

Singapore: Leadership Lessons for Kenya and Africa

 Photos of Singapore - Featured Images
This photo of Singapore is courtesy of TripAdvisor

 Singapore, having gained independence from the British the same year as Kenya, is often cited in comparing and contrasting between visionary and short sighted leadership.

While the Asian Tiger rose from the doldrums of an un-developed country grappling with Third Word problems like unemployment, corruption, insecurity, traffic jams and garbage to First World in three decades Kenya have stagnated in a socio-economic rut for half a century.

Even with the hatching of the ambitious Vision 2030 that meant to lift Kenya to second world in seventeen years Tiberious Barasa, lecturer and researcher in Maseno University, says this will remain a pipe dream unless we learn from the examples of the like Singapore and South Korea who were our equals at independence.

“Integrity and sincerity among both regional and national leaders so that they are committed to the promises they make to the people during elections,” Dr. Tiberius Barasa explains. “Selflessness, brutal war against corruption and long term visionary policies is what defined the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew for three decades”.

Unlike Kenya which boasts of 581, 309 square kilometer of land, vast forests, larger population and other physical resources Singapore is a mere 640 square kilometers man-made country of slightly more than five million people established by the British colonialists as a gateway to the South East Asian trade corridors in 1819. 

At independence the country grappled with the issue of patriotism since majority of the population were Chinese, Malaysians and Indians most of whom still pledged their loyalties to their ancestral fatherlands. Singapore was also licking the wounds of a devastating Japanese occupation during the World War Two besides living under the constant threat of an imminent attack by expansionist neighbours like Indonesia and Malaysia. 

 “Our greatest asset was the trust and confidence of the people…these we had earned by the fight we had put up on their behalf against the communists and the Malay Utras,” Yew explains in his mercurial book From Third Word To First, termed a leadership bible for all third world leaders aspiring to lift the welfare of their nations. “It was crucial to keep united Singapore’s multilingual, multicultural, multi-religious society and make it rugged and dynamic enough in world markets. But how to get into these market? I did not know the answer”.

But along the way Yew assembled a team of the best brains in the country, sort of Singaporean “John Michuki’s”, to implement the pragmatic socio-economic programs hatched through brainstorming sessions with his team. They included people like Goh Chok Tong, who succeeded Yew as premier in 2004, Goh Keng Swee, Eddie Barker and his eldest son Lee Hsien Loong who is the country’s current Prime Minister.

So successful was this team that by the time Yew was leaving office in 1990 Singapore’s GDP was among the highest in the world up from $511 in 1965. Today Singapore has the highest trade-to-GDP ratio in the world at 407.9 percent compared to Kenya’s 67.1 in 2011.

Unlike Kenya’s situation where most ordinary folks never felt the personal impacts even when the economic growth was said to be seven percent in 2007, in Singapore growth have trickled down to the population. 87 percent of Singaporeans are homeowners, unemployment rate was less than two percent in 2011 and the country has the highest ratio of millionaires to the population in the world.

For these reasons the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP) have won each general elections since 1959, clinching all the parliamentary seats in the unicameral parliament in four consecutive polls from 1968 to 1980 which unheard of in many parts of the world.

“People had full confidence in the PAP leadership and were not interested in having an opposition,” the legendary leader narrates. “They wanted to get on with the economic growth, leave their squatter huts for new homes they would buy with rising incomes from well-paid jobs, and send their children to the better schools we were building”.

But given our equal footing to Singapore during independence, where did the rains of stagnation start beating Kenya?

“The problem started when leaders started using their positions for self enrichment and lacked a vision that envisaged the country beyond their lifetimes,” Barasa explains. “While Singapore embraced servant leadership, in Kenya leadership became a vehicle to quick riches and self gratification which led to social and economic stagnation”.

Some of the programmes that turned on the magic for Singapore have also been initiated in Kenya but, according to Barasa, the only difference is they were never implemented with the commitment and thoroughness as was the case in the Asian country. They included the Central Providence Fund, equivalent to the NSSF, and the Housing and Development Board (HDB), equivalent to the National Housing Corporation (NHC), which enabled thousands of Singaporeans to own homes in government-built high rise buildings.
“The highly successful Economic Recovery Strategy (ERS) implemented between 2002 and 2007 was borrowed from the Singapore strategy,” Barasa points. “It was successful enough to register a national growth of 7 percent until the leaders lost the vision due to petty interparty political wrangles in the NARC government”.

Unlike the NSSF, the CPF was managed in such a way that workers contributions gradually increased with their income, aided by the rapidly growing national economy. At one point, members were contributing as high as 40 percent of their incomes to CPF, which inculcated a stringent culture of saving in the national psyche.

Today, around 87 percent, among the highest number in the world, of Singaporeans are home owners. But, as Yew explains, such a drastic change will not always be easily acceptable to people used to peasant and slum dwellings.

 “There were enormous problems, especially in the early stages when we resettled farmers and others from almost rent-free wooden squatter huts with no water, power, or modern sanitation, and therefore no utility bills into high-rise buildings with all these amenities but also a monthly bill to pay,” he recalls. “Several pig farmers could not bear to part with their pigs and reared them in their high-rise apartments”.

From a paltry 3,000 in 1967, by which time Singapore was still at the same footing with Kenya, the number of HDB flats rose to a staggering 750,000 in 1996, out of which 91 percent were owned by their occupants.
Given the huge number of congested slums in urban centers in Kenyan cities today, what can the country learn from the Singaporean HDB program?
“If run properly the NSSF, which is the equivalent of CPF, could drastically transform the lives of millions of Kenyans through home ownership programs that are ideally supposed to be implemented through National Housing Corporation (NHC),” Barasa explains. “But the tragedy is some powerful politicians have a stake in the real estate sector, hence they draft policies and laws that ensure most urban Kenyans remains tenants”.

This, he says, ensures the real estate sector, owned by powerful individuals, remains profitable by housing millions of Kenyans who can’t afford to buy a house. 

“Corruption is the biggest enemy of NSSF and other government entities where top managers at the pension fund are always being taken to court for embezzling funds,” the Maseno University based economists says. 

“Corruption, the biggest hurdle in Kenya’s development agenda estimated to gobble more than Sh400 billion annually, is our biggest undoing”.

Unlike the Ethics and Anti-Corruption (EAAC) which have been termed by a many as a toothless publicity entity and a waste of taxpayers’ money, Singapore used the hugely powerful and dreaded Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) to purge graft both in the public and private sector. In a span of ten years, corruption in the police and government inspectorate departments was literary decimated. 

The Singaporean anti-corruption campaign spared no one with three key ministers being pushed out of office by graft cases between 1960s and 1980s.

Today the country is consistently ranked among the least corrupt in the world by the respected Corruption Perception Index (CPI). The same institution ranked Kenya as the fourth most corrupt country in the world in 2013.

“When we took the oath of office at the ceremony in the city council chamber in June 1959, we all wore white shirts and white slacks to symbolize purity and honesty in our personal behavior and our public life,” Lee Kuan Yew recalls. “We made sure from the day we took office that every dollar in revenue would be properly accounted for and would reach the beneficiaries at the grassroots as one dollar, without being siphoned off along the way”.

To successfully wage the anti-graft war the CPIB boss was given sweeping powers to investigate and prosecute and the legal system drastically reformed to deal heavy fines and long jail terms to convicted individuals. Another key strategy was to remunerate ministers and other senior government officials two thirds of what their colleagues in the private sector were earning to deter the allure of taking bribes.

“For any country to fight corruption successfully there
 has to be a political goodwill,” Barasa says. “As long as the Kenya’s leadership does not display a political will to prosecute its own, corruption will continue eat through the fabric of our society like a cancerous tumour, stagnating every development initiative”.

Another area that Kenya can imitate Singapore, Barasa says, is the issue of traffic jams in Nairobi and other urban centers. 

Realizing that the more economically endowed the nation became the more people bought cars, Singapore introduced certificate of entitlement (COE) whereby to own a car one had to apply for a government license. The licensing system is planned in such a way that the COEs are increased according to the road network capacity, which have drastically cut traffic congestion and left the roads in good shape.

“No matter how many underground passes, flyovers, and expressways we built, the car population would increase to clog them all up,” Yew observed. “I believed the answer was to limit the growth of the car population to the rate the roads could take without massive traffic jams”.

The government also introduced digital tall stations which exempted cars with more than four occupants which encouraged people to use the underground train, called mass rapid transit (MRT).

But Barasa says that although this is a good strategy it can’t work in Kenya for the moment because there are no alternatives like MRT to absorb the more than a million commuters who transit to and from the Nairobi CBD daily.

Negative ethnicity is blamed for the 2007/8 post-electoral violence that killed more than a 1000 Kenyans and displaced more than 600,000. Being an ethnic Chinese, who consists of 75 percent of the population, Lee Kuan Yew was keen to introduce an egalitarian system that favoured everyone. 

“Being a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society the country comprising of a majority people of Chinese descent and Indian and Malaysian minorities, the country experienced very many race riots in the sixties and fifties,” Barasa observes. “But Lee Kuan Yew introduced fairness where buy all races are represented in all levels of government and all enjoyed the fruits of economic progress”.

Other key issues that Kenya can learn and adopt from the fairy-tale Singapore include taxation and the maintenance of law and order. 

“At one point value added tax (VAT) in Singapore was only three percent compared to our sixteen percent. This should provide an ideal model for our financial experts who recently implemented an outrageous VAT regime,” Barasa conclude. “Crime rate in Singapore is among the lowest in the world which was achieved through the purging of corruption in the police and judiciary and introducing caning and community work for petty crimes like vandalism”.

Monday, July 22, 2013

The Miraa Question: To Ban or to Ban?

The declaration by the British Home Secretary Theresa May that the UK government will ban khat, popularly known as miraa, have triggered an uproar especially among those directly involved with the multimillion shillings business.

Farmers representatives and politicians have vowed to petition the UK in the same way the Mau Mau veterans did a few months ago and won. This is besides going to court to force National Authority for the Campaign Against Alcohol and Drug Abuse (NACADA) to stop calling coveted shrub a drug.

“The implementation of this ban will be an economic death sentence to not only the hundreds of thousands of miraa growers in Meru County but also many more who depends on the industry like sellers, tranporters and exporters,” says the National Treasurer and Spokesman for Nyambene Miraa Traders Association (NYAMITA) Kimathi M’munjuri. “It will also crush institutions like schools and churches in Meru who depends on their miraa plantations for economic survival”.

More than sixty tons of miraa is exported to the United Kingdom weekly, sustaining millions of livelihoods. If implemented the ban will cost Kenya around Sh2 billion per year.

The Advisory Council on Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) did a research that established that there was “insufficient evidence” that miraa caused health problems, but the Home Secretary insisted the findings might have overlooked some issues.

If London implements the ban Khat, whose scientific name is catha edulis, will be classified as class C drug alongside substances like cannabis and ketamine.
Sources who talked to Extra on conditions of anonimity claimed that the ban could be implemented as early as next Monday.
After Netherlands banned the shrub on grounds that its usage was leading to littering, noise and public nuisance, London became the major hub for miraa exports to Europe. Others Western countries like the United States and Canada have also banned the substance on health grounds.

The case of Kenyan miraa farmers is being complicated by an robust campaign by UK anti-khat activists led by Abukar Awale, a Briton of Somali descent.

“The word qaad somali term for miraa) in itself linguistically means to “take” in that once one consumes it, that individual is therefore “taken” under its influence”, Awale protested in a personal letter to UK Prime Minister David Cameron after the release of the ACMD report. “The reference to the mosque in Cardiff that deems Khat to be permissible from an Islamic perspective is laughable and i feel confident enough to claim that you would be hard pressed to find any segment of Somali society prepared to speak for it”.

Unknown to many Kenyans, this is not the first war that Britain have waged against miraa. The colonial government banned the shrub in 1939 before it was reinstated by Jomo Kenyatta in 1974.

But how did miraa become a high earning cash crop for Meru County and the country at large?
“During Moi’s era the government sytematically killed the coffee industry which was the main cash crop in this area. By then miraa was not very commercial,” M’munjuri told Extra. “The collapse of coffee as a cash crop and the fall of Somalia in 1991 elevated miraa into a high earning export commodity”.
Being Muslims most Somalis dont drink alcohol hence most of their recreational time is spent chewing miraa. After dictator Siad Barre was deposed many Somalis were scattered across the world where they have to get their khat, hence the rise in exports.

“Exported Miraa is consumed by the Somali Diaspora and other immigrants from the Horn of Africa,” explains the NYAMITA spokesman. “Native Europeans rarely use the shrub”.

The export component have made miraa a “green gold” with farmers in areas like Nyambene growing nothing else but the coveted shrub. This means they have to purchase their food crops from farmers in the surrounding areas, hence  creating a regional economic symbiosis.

With most average farmers in Nyambene having between twenty and fifty trees of khat, the harvesting is done in three-week cycles by which time the shrubs are green-red in colour and of desired chewing quality.

“With such a number of trees the farmer gets around Sh50,000 per harvest after every twenty one days,” M’munjuri, a farmer with fifty trees, explains. “The ban will drastically interupt the earning patterns of these farmers who relies entirely on the plant for economic survival”.

Miraa is sometimes bought before maturity by brokers which means crop owners can have their money long before the actual harvest. 

Its during the harvesting season that child labour thrives since young miraa trees are not strong enough to sustain big adult weights. Children are preferred due to their light weight.

 “As an association we discourage the use of child labour among our members and those found breaking this regulation are usually discipline, which involves being expelled and reported to the authorities,” says the NYAMITA Spokesman. “Even the Meru Council of Elders or Nchuri Njeke have spoken against and condemned the use of child labour”.

He says its upon the provincial administration to ensure such practises curbed and their perpetrators punished.
Meru County Woman Representative Florence Kajuju have moved a motion to parliament seeking the establishment of a task force to investigate the issue of miraa in its entirety, among them the issue of child labour.

“We want to invite the ministry of labour to explain in details about child labour in miraa industry, and if at all it exists what they are doing about it,” Kajuju, who will head the 29-member parliamentary task force, says. “We believe by the end of its ninety-day life time the team will have answered a lot of questions”.

Miraa farming is not limited to individuals. Institutions like churches and schools have khat farms from where they suppliment their conventional cash sources.
The plant is so attached to the Meru culture that some christians use it as an offertory in church or during harambees.

“The quality and quantity of the harvest can be affected by dynamics like weather and crime,” M’munjuri says. “Every farmer ensures there is a watchman to guard against thieves especially when the crop is just about to be harvested, a task usually relegated to young men”.

After the harvesting boda bodas and old Land Rovers trucks are used to ferry the crop from the farms to centers like Kiengu, Mutuati, Atheru, Kimongoro, Lare and others for grading and packing.

The grading or classification of miraa is dictated by the length of the twig and the age of the tree. These classes are the long twigged kangeta which is the most preffered for exports since its highly succulent and is still in good state for the hours it take to get abroad.

“The short twigged is popularly referred to as giza, while the long twigged version with leaves is known as alele,” explains the NYAMITA official. “Kata is from old tree and is consumed in Meru and dry areas of Mandera since its hardy due to its dry nature”.

Miraa holds a special place in the Meru culture with a variety called mbaire being reserved for respected elders when they visit a homestead. Its the version common in Eastleigh shops.

After being sorted out all the miraa harvested is taken to Maua, the unacknowledged capital of khat business in Kenya, where it is packaged and loaded into the legendary Hiluxes and Land Cruisers that are famed for their lightening speed along the Meru-Nairobi route.
The packing, done with banana leaves, is done by women and thousands of women in Maua town depends on it for their livelihood.

From this point the business is dominated by Somali merchants who are also the ones in charge of exporting the commodity to Somalia and European markets. 
“Those who blames miraa trucks for overspeeding are ignorant to the fact that each one of these vehicles usually carries the financial destiny of up to three villages,” M’munjuri told Extra. “Small scale farmers have their small bundles packed together in big sacks and they have to reach their markets in good quality, especially those for export”.

If traffic cops, he wonders, can allow a cash escort vehicle carrying Sh500, 000 to break traffic rules around the city why interfere with a truck carrying more than a million worth of miraa from the far-away Meru.

Cruising at between 150 to 180 kilometers per hour, the first wave of Land Cruisers, leaving Maua at around noon, are loaded with khat meant for local markets like Nairobi and Mombasa. They are followed at around two oclock by the Hiluxes which ferry the miraa meant for export.
“United Nations complained that the trucks were being used to ferry small arms from North Eastern so as a rule no miraa vehicle leaves after dark,” M’munjuri explains.

Products coming to Nairobi land in Eastleigh where they are unpacked, sorted and then re-packed according to their destination. Khat for export is put in bundles of forty, called maraduf or itondo, in six-kilogram boxes and ferried to the airport in lorries and taxes.

The NYAMITA official says the Eastleigh deport employs more than two thousand people for unpacking the product, repackaging for export and distribution to small scale Nairobi sellers.
Due to the huge amount of money involved the export end of the business is dominated by Somali families with links in London and other foreign  capitals.

Just like the matatu industry, the miraa business is self regulatory where individuals or groups run things using unwritten rules.

“All these are jobs that stands to be lost if the UK government makes good its threat of banning the crop,” says William Kimathi, a librarian and information analyst who have done several research projects on miraa for various non-governmental organisations. “Besides all these both Kenyan and the United Kingdom get tax from the miraa export”.

NYAMITA says the crop is getting a lot of bad publicity because of its unethical users who mixes it with other substances. This ends up giving miraa a bad a reputation and condemnation as a drug.

“When somebody uses sugar, sweets or soda to chew miraa its obvious that it will stain or destroy their teeth. You cant blame this on the plant,” M’munjuri protests. “Research have shown tobacco, a legal substance, killed 100 million in twentieth century and its still killing 10 million every year”.
He says tobacco, a confirmed carcinogen, should be banned and not miraa

According to the NACADA website 3.9 percent of Kenyans chew khat with the biggest number being in North Eastern region. The agency says the problem should be addressed as a developmental issue where those who benefit from the industry are given alternatives.

“As NACADA we dont say it should be banned because it has its own cultural and economic significant in society,” claims the organisations Chief Executive Officer Dr. William Okendi. “But the issue of khat should be addressed critical by all stakehold with the intention of providing its beneficiary with an alternative”.

“The 29 team committee is going to investigate the issue of miraa in a way that have never be done before,” Kajuju says. “We are going to talk to all the stake holders, from farmers to the ministries of health, labour, medical experts and scientists who might have done a study on the herb”.

This, she says, is going to be done through field trips with the first planned on Monday where the team will have a seating in Meru County. Several people are invited to give their views.

“Afterwards we will want to have a seating with NACADA and find out whjy they have labelled miraa as a drug which can be used by other countries to classify it as a drug,” the Meru County legislator says. “We will also visit the UK, Netherlands and other countries and try to find out why they are banning the shrub”.

Dependiong on the task force’s findings they will compel the ministry of agriculture to classify it alongside other cash cash crops like coffee and tea.