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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  1. Oh, I love this line: "Kenya’s offensive into Somalia in order to put manners on Al Shabaab". I've never before heard international anti-terrorism efforts described as 'putting manners on someone' and it made me laugh.

    Hope you're enjoying the adventure,

    1. Haha, this is the exact reason why I could never be involved in security or conflict matters of any kind, I'd think they're all a bunch of messers.

      All's going really well here, hope all's well with you too!