Sunday, January 22, 2012

Have I Got News for You - Part 2

This segment proved very popular last time so I think I’ll make it a regular feature on the blog. Once again here’s a quick overview of what has been making the news here in Kenya over the past couple of weeks.

Election date decided – sort of

On Friday the Kenyan High Court released their decision on when the elections in 2012 should take place. They said they should take place in… 2013.

Over the past few months different members of the Kenyan government and parliament have been arguing as to when the next election should be. The constitution ratified in 2010 said that elections were to be held in the 3rd week of August in election years. It also said the government and president should serve a full five year term, which would bring us up to December of this year.

As the constitution was delightfully obtuse on this matter, the 3 judges from the Kenyan High Court were asked to rule on the matter. After weeks of deliberation they gave two alternatives. The elections could either be held in mid March which would be 60 days after the parliament’s term officially expires on January 14 2013. The other option was that elections could be held 60 days after President Kibaki and Prime Minister agree to dissolve the government.

This decision has prompted massive public outrage. Firstly the general public are unhappy about the lack of a clear date, that the issue of a date remains largely unresolved and the uncertainty that lingers. People are already nervous here about the prospect that Kenya will erupt into violence around these elections, as it did after the elections in late 2007. Everyone had been expecting, and planning for an election this year, most people would like to get it out of the way so that Kenya can focus on stabilising its economy, and its ongoing, well war, with Al Shabaab. There are not many people in Kenya who believe that the President and Prime Minister will relinquish power any earlier than they absolutely have to.

There are few people happy with this decision. I’m sure Raila Odinga, the Prime Minister and one of the main contenders for the Presidency, is delighted as it gives him an enormous amount of power to call the election early if he feels it will benefit him. As it well might as it appears his support is weakening with the passing of time. The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission is also happy with this outcome, as it most likely gives them a year to re-draw constituency boundaries and have all of the election procedures ready in good time.

The only thing that is certain is that this issue is going to dominate politics here for the next 14 months so I’m sure I’ll be returning to it again next time.

International Criminal Court

Any day now the International Criminal Court (ICC) is due to hand down its verdict on whether the ‘Ocampo Six’* (as the media here likes to call them) will be put on trial for crimes against humanity including murder, persecution, the forcible transfer of population, rape and other inhumane acts. These are the six men who are accused of planning, sponsoring and executing much of the post-election violence in 2007/2008.

What makes the case even more interesting, is that two of the accused are running for President,  Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Uhuru Kenyatta is currently deputy Prime Minister and son of Jomo Kenyatta, the first leader of independent Kenya. William Ruto is an popular MP and who just last weekend launched a new political party, the United Republican Party (URP) which will contest the presidential and parliamentary elections here.

What impact will their ICC decision have on the election campaign? Well depending on who you listen to it might make these two candidates unelectable, or wildly popular. Some analysts argue that if the case goes to trial the two candidates will be seen as dangerous and divisive. However, a very interesting op-ed piece from last Tuesday's Daily Nation completed refuted this, arguing that an ICC case will make martyrs of Kenyatta and Ruto, especially within their own tribes, giving them a level of popularity they could not have hoped for without the ruling.

The other question is whether or not these two men will be legally able to contest the elections if they are put on trial. The ICC has already issued a number of statements saying that they the Rome Statute (from which the ICC draws its legal authority) does not intervene on national law on matters such as this. In an paid advert which appeared it many Kenyan newspapers it said 'It is for the Kenyan authorities to interpret and apply the national law in that regard.' There is an argument to be made that the new Kenyan Constitution will be unable to contest the election under Chapter Six of the new Constitution which sets out standards of leadership and ethics for Kenyan politicians and public servants. At the moment it looks like the current Cabinet will decide on whether they should be allowed to run if their case goes to a full trial at the ICC. Since some of the cabinet also hold presidential ambitions will they really allow them to run?

I have absolutely no idea. It certainly looks like the race is wide open, but with political polling not as popular as it is hard to call. Once again I’ll definitely be returning to this as the weeks and months go by.

*The Ocampo referred to is Luis Moreno Ocampo, ICC prosecutor.
** The other 4 defendants are Henry Musgey MP, Francis Muthuara who is Head of the Civil Service, Postmaster General Hussein Ali and Joshua Sang who is a radio presenter on Kass FM.

Terror threat continues to loom

I spoke last time about Operation Linda Nchi, Kenya’s offensive into Somalia in order to put manners on Al Shabaab and create a buffer area along its border. Well the military operation continues with both sides claiming victories every day, in traditional media and increasingly on Twitter (@MajorEChirchir and @HSMPress). It is very hard to see an end in sight for it at the moment and I think this war is going to last at least as long as I'm here. It is only in the past week that I have read an op-ed piece questioning the ‘war’. The article mainly focused on the financial impact of the war, disregarding but it was still interesting to see a critique of the war, from whatever angle.

In terms of the terror threat here in Nairobi, it doesn't feel any worse than it did when I arrived. But it's interesting to see the press outside of Kenya, particularly in the UK, continue to talk about how dangerous Kenya is at the moment. Yes, parts of the Northern and Eastern regions are very dangerous, ie the areas near the border with Somalia. As is the area around Dadaab Refugee camp, and the camp itself which has seen a number of attacks, and a few kidnappings in recent weeks. But Nairobi itself doesn't feel any different.

PLUS because of the security scares flights to here at cheap at the moment! So get booking your flights while the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office remain super cautious.

Deputy Chief Justice in hot water

And finally, one of the more random stories from the past couple of weeks is that of Chief Justice Nancy Baraza. It is alleged that Justice Baraza harassed a female security guard at the super fancy Village Market shopping centre on New Years Eve. It has been reported that she refused to be searched (as is customary when entering any shopping centre or supermarket in Nairobi).

According to the security guard, a young woman named Rebecca Kerubo verbally abused her, pinching her nose (!) and then threatened to pull a gun on her or actually pulled a gun on her (reports, naturally, contradict each other on this point). Nancy Baraza has admitted to the verbal altercation with the security guard, but denies that she threatened to produce a firearm, or that she pinched her nose. She has been suspended from the judiciary until both the police, and some of her colleagues from the Supreme Court investigate the incident. All a bit mad really!

Wow, this turned into a longer and heavier post than I intended but I hope it's been interesting at the same time. Next time I promise there will be funny anecdotes, and maybe even more pictures!

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Thursday, January 12, 2012

'What Do Writers Do? They Write'

In my last post I referred to a busy and exciting week in work. What was I doing? Well I was in a 5 day workshop hosted by UNICEF, MTV and an organisation called HIV Free Generation, where the overall objective was to write a 12 part radio drama serial for young people dealing with messages around HIV/AIDS to be broadcast in at least 7 African countries.

As you do.

So to give you some background on the project. In 2010 MTV, UNICEF and partners broadcase 'Shuga' a 3 part TV series filmed and based around Nairobi detailing the trials and tribulations of a group of young people in Nairobi. In dealt with issues of sex, relationships, HIV/AIDS, navigating the transition from college to working life. And it was HUGELY successful. Its messages around staying safe, knowing you HIV/AIDS etc reached audiences that seemed to be ignoring traditional On the back of Shuga 1 a second series was commissioned which premieres on MTV channels around the world on Valentine's Day of these year (I've had a sneak preview, it's very good).

And yet, the main audience of the MTV shows thus far has been a largely urban one, those with access to TV and/or the internet. It has been screened at sports tournaments, universities and youth group meetings, but not in any systematic way (though the plan is to do more of such events and screenings with Shuga 2). And so to reach out to more rural audiences a radio spin-off of Shuga was commissioned by UNICEF and partners. The idea is that the drama serial would run on radio stations in 7 countries to begin with - Kenya, Tanzania, Democratic Republic of Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria Lesotho and South Africa - and in 3 languages - English, French and Swahili. And so this workshop was organised to try and put together a plot and characters that would get across the messages we needed to get across in a way that young people found believable and compelling. There would also be 2 'magazine shows' which would include interviews, vox pops etc on the same key messages.

The workshop was facilitated by 3 people from the UK, Lawrence, Russell and Mel. Lawrence and Russell's background is in radio, and radio journalism and Mel has produced radio dramas for British radio (mostly BBC Radio 4) for many years. So we were in safe hands. The participants were 20 young people (17 - 24) drawn from 6 countries (all of the aforementioned countries apart from Nigeria) who were mainly drawn from UNICEF Talent Academy/Mentoring Schemes in their countries.

In the workshops we spent some time developing our 4 main characters, discussing the issues and messages that we needed to weave into the story before getting down to the serious business of writing. After writing, re-writing, and re-writing some more, we finished the 5 days with good drafts of 6 of the episodes, an outline for 6 more, and some ideas around the music and sound effects to be used. Over the next fortnight the scripts will be refined and worked on some more, with the intent that the recording will take place at the end of January. The radio shows will then start to be broadcast at the end of February.

The workshops themselves were an absolute blast. They were tiring and intense but I learned tons. Not only about the key techniques in writing good radio drama (a great but random by-product of this job) but just about young people, and the challenges they face in Africa. Some of them are very similar to the challenges young people face in Ireland, decisions about what to do when they leave school, difficulties in getting jobs/experiences. But some of them are more specific to here. Like the risks around HIV/AIDS or the number of them who spoke about knowing people who engaged in transactional sex. I don't mean prostitution as we know it. But young people who sleep with people, often older than them to get a job, or even just food. 'Sex for fish' is a huge problem in Kisumu and other town along the banks of Lake Victoria where women, usually young women, will have sex with fishermen in order to feed their families. Just one of a number of reasons why the HIV prevalence rate is far higher in that region than it is anywhere else.

In more practical and light-hearted terms I learned about the new cool music and bands that the 'yuff' listen to here, I was given the low-down on the trendy places to go out in Nairobi and where to buy the best 2nd hand clothes.

Outside of the workshops I attended meetings with the UNICEF and partner organisations' representatives to discuss how best we could integrate the Shuga shows into our existing programmes for young people and how we could measure the impact of the shows. From the first TV show we know that lots of the audience stated an intention to get HIV tested but we have no evidence to tell us whether we did or not. The hope is that the more screening sessions of Shuga that are run alongside Counselling and Testing Services, the more people we'll definitely know have been tested.

To watch Shuga 1, or to find out more about the Shuga project please go to

(The title of the post comes from a catchphrase that the facilitator Mel would use to rouse our enthusiasm in the (rare) moments we were lagging. I thought Claire H in particular would appreciate it)

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Christmas and New Years in Magical Kenya

First of all, major apologies for the lateness of this post. It has been a very busy and exciting week for me in work (which I will detail fully in my next update) which had led to me having no time for blogging.

So yes back to it. How was my Christmas in Kenya? In a word, wonderful. It was certainly very different from Christmas in Ireland. The weather for example was a little warmer than I'm used to in December. I think the temperatures were about 26 degrees on the day itself.

Our make-shift Mountain View Christmas tree. Made from branches,
string, newspaper, a gas cannister  and a Maasai blanket.

I definitely missed home, especially on the day itself, but thanks to Vodafone (which had free calls to anywhere in the world all day) and Skype I got to spend lots of time speaking to my family, and even seeing the contents of my stocking!

So what did we do? Well our visitors from up-country arrived on Christmas eve, Catherine, Simon and Chin -other VSO volunteers who arrived as part of the November intake - and we spent that evening catching up on our adventures over the past 6 weeks, washed down with pizza and beer.
Chin and Simon making pizza on our very snazzy pizza maker.

Christmas morning, the Mumbu Court gang had an early start as we prepared a full English/Irish for our guests. Two hours of cooking, and some electricity black-outs later we had prepared this feast complete with bacon, 3 types of sausages (pork, chicken and veg), eggs, toast, beans, tomatoes, and boxty which was my special contribution.That and the Irish coffees which washed down the epic breakfast!

Table laden down with yummy food!

Then to the business of the day, present swapping and parlour games. Our secret Santa with a limit of 500 KSh (approx €5) led to some great presents being swopped. A lot of them were food related which says a lot for our cravings here in Kenya. I got the most beautiful green Kanga thanks to Nicole, which has now got pride of place on the wall in my room until I find an occasion to wear it. Parlour games for Christmas day involved a monster game of Christmas-themed charades, Scrabble slam (which is a short, fast version of Scrabble which brought out all of our competitive sides)
Nick and Catherine are delighted to exchange gifts

Our day finished with dinner, Filipino style, thanks to Harvey and Chin. We didn't end up eating until after 9pm as we'd been snacking non-stop all day.  

And then it was back to work on the 27th. I've never had to work over the Christmas holidays before but it wasn't as painful as it could have been. For a start there was very little do, so I got to catch up on both work, and extra curricular reading. I also got a chance to have long lunches with some of my colleagues. There was definite a sense of solidarity amongst those of us who were there over the holidays and getting a chance to talk to people while the office was quiet was great.

On the 30th I then drove up to Lake Naivasha. Well I didn't drive, I am definitely no brave enough to face the Nairobi roads. My housemate Sandy drove Simon and I in a car she'd been loaned by her friend, and driving in a private car, after weeks of matatus and Star Buses was a great luxury. This was my first trip out of Nairobi since I'd arrived in November and it was long, long overdue. Lake Naivasha is situated at the southern end of the Rift Valley, so on the drive up I got my first ever view of the valley itself, which was just breath-taking.

The Rift Valley - this picture does not do it
 any justice. It is magnificent.

We stayed at Camp Carnelley's, which is right on the lake itself. Unfortunately because of a water hyacinth problem (long story) we could not get out on the lake itself so I didn't get to do much hippo-spotting. But no matter. Thanks to Sandy's borrowed Toyota Yaris, Sandy, Dr Bob and I went on an impromptu game drive at Crater Lake Game Reserve and I got to see... giraffes, zebras, impala, grant's gazelles, dik diks, eland, baboons, vervet monkeys, colobus monkeys, water buffalo...   The full set of pictures are up on my Facebook profile but here are a couple of pictures to whet your appetite (and enduce some of you to get booking your flights out here!)

Zebras and Giraffes!

New Years Eve itself was spent in the bar onsite at Camp Carnelley's. I think we had about 15 of us in total between VSO volunteers, friends, partners and parents. We played charades, we drank, we danced. As someone who is not normally a big fan of New Years I had a great time.

The Victorious Girls Team after a game of
Name Game aka Epic Charades

Chilling by the Camp Carnelley's campfire

And then it was back to Nairobi life on the 2nd, and UNICEF life on the 3rd. 

Hope you all had lovely Christmas' where you were!