It’s that time of the year… On Africa’s eleven top posts in 2011

The end of the year brings with it all sorts of compilations, lists and summaries of the good, the bad and the ugly of the year that’s coming to an end. And On Africa is no exception to this – see here the top-10 stories of 2009 (in English and in Spanish/español), and the ten photos that summarise 2010 (although without photos 😦 since the links broke when I transferred from Maneno to WordPress earlier this year and I have not fixed it yet…).

This year, I have compiled a list of the most viewed original posts written this year (according to WordPress). What this means is that the list excludes posts written in the past (the post most viewed this year is this one on Conguitos, a politically incorrect Spanish brand of sweets, written in march 2010). Also excluded are those posts that serve as self-promotion for pieces published for other media but to which I have made reference here.

So, whilst technically incorrect, the list makes this up in relevance, for these posts reflect better some of the most important news and stories in the African continent and beyond; with some exceptions – South Sudan independence, the war in Côte d’Ivoire (both these stories have op-ed pieces devoted to them and can be viewed on the «Other Work» section), as well as cultural notes. What is there includes: Zambia’s presidential election, Bin Laden’s death, Kenya’s invasion of Somalia and the «Arab spring» among others…

Enjoy these stories, leave below any comments you may have, and have a wonderful festive season and end of the year and beginning of 2012! Seguir leyendo

There’s a new war raging in the Horn of Africa, does the EU know about this?

Catherine Ashton addresses the media after an EU foreign ministers meeting yesterday (Yves Logghe / AP)

We, Europeans, often feel frustrated at the way the EU – the most important and cohesive regional body in the world – is unable to punch its weight on international affairs. And all the more so at present, given our internal economic and political woes. However, when reading things like Catherine Ashton’s remarks following yesterday’s Foreign Affairs Council, the surprising thing is that the EU is able to do anything at all. The Foreign Affairs Council discussed: Syria, Libya, Tunisia, the Common Security and Defense Policy, and the Horn of Africa. Here’s the extract on what Baroness Ashton had to say on the topic of the Horn: Seguir leyendo

27 year old Oxford graduate wants to be Kenya’s next President – will she succeed?

27 year old Kingwa Kamencu has just launched her bid to become Kenya’s President in next year’s elections.
Kamencu, a poet, winner of the Kenyatta Prize for Literature in 2007, was awarded the Rhodes Scholarship to Oxford in 2009. Now, the self-described «driven, passionate, intense, seeking soul» wants to become Kenya’s next (and first female) President.
And over 3,000 people support her Facebook group.

Taking the plunge greatly deserves an applause, and I wish her best of luck. The question is, on a notoriously fierce political arena like Kenya’s, does she stand a chance?

To help you decide, have a look at her recent interview with Citizen TV.

A stark and terrible reminder of why development is important

Often debates about international development (especially among practitioners) swiftly turn towards the shortcomings of the development system, the huge challenges ahead, and the question of whether it all matters. Among this talk, it is often forgotten that the ultimate purpose of development is to improve the lives of people.
Two terrible pieces of news coming from East Africa this weekend have provided a stark reminder that, very often, more development means not only better quality of life, but also more safety for the population and less likelyhood of things like this happenning:

Zanzibar ferry death toll could rise sharply: VP

Photo Reuters: Beatrice Spadacini

The death toll from Tanzania’s ferry disaster could significantly rise after it emerged there were more than 1,000 passengers aboard the vessel when it capsized last week, a senior Zanzibar official said on Monday.

Initial reports suggested the MV Spice Islander was carrying 800 people, well above the ferry’s 600 passenger capacity, when it sank in the east African nation’s worst maritime disaster for 15 years.

«We are expecting some more bodies between now, tomorrow or the day after. We managed to recover 197 bodies, but because the ship took more than 1,000 people, we expect more bodies,» Zanzibar’s second vice-president, Seif Ali Iddi, told Reuters.

More than 600 passengers were rescued from the ferry and the vice president of the semi-autonomous archipelago said he does not expect any more survivors to be found.


Kenyan police find 75 bodies in slum fire

Photo: REUTERS/via Reuters TV

At least 75 bodies have been recovered after petrol that had spilled into an open sewer caught fire and sent a wave of flame through a densely populated slum in the Kenyan capital, police said on Monday.

Kenyan media said more than 100 people were burnt to death and a similar number were taken to hospital. Police said it was proving difficult to establish the exact number of dead among the charred remains.

Residents said petrol spilled from a fuel depot owned by the Kenya Pipeline Company (KPC) and ran into a sewage dyke that runs under the slum, known as Sinai. The petrol ignited, causing an inferno.

Two incidents which – at least in Spain – have got almost no media attention despite the terrible loss of lives (at least 320 people), proving again how cheap African lives have become in the present world, and which could have been easily prevented if safety measures and quality controls had been in place. Something that requires economic and political development, and more accountability to those responsible for this.

Run, Kenya, Run!

With the ongoing Libyan civil war and famine in the Horn, it is good to remember that there are plenty of positive things coming out of the African continent. And not only things which show that “Africa is the future” (although indeed it is…), but also things that show that there are many ways in which the present is African (and it has been so for a while!).
Last week provided us with two important reminders of one thing at which African countries – most notably Kenya and Ethiopia – excel: long-distance running.
First, last Saturday The Prince of Asturias Award for Sport was announced, and it went to Haile Gebrselassie, according to the jury,

for his sporting and human excellence. Considered the best distance runner of all time, his own people called him “Naftanga, the chief”. Raised on a farm, he had to travel twenty kilometres each day to school, a circumstance that served as his training and influenced the way he runs: with his left arm crooked as if still holding his schoolbooks. He always ran the most demanding of races with a permanent smile on his face. Right up to the end of his career, he has been a myth, challenging his own legend. The athlete is also involved in humanitarian and mediation work in the many conflicts that have raged for years in Ethiopia.

Haile Gebrselassie, born in Arssi (Ethiopia) in 1973

And then on Sunday, the 2011 World Athletics Championships concluded in Dageu (South Korea). This is the final standing at the medal table:

It is not very often that one sees an African country coming third in world standings, only behind the US and Russia.
As well as the silver medal won by South Africa’s Caster Semenya (about whom this blog wrote one of its firsts posts), and Botswana’s first gold medalist, Amantle Montsho, Ethiopia and, especially Kenya, had an impressive performance.

Amantle Montsho and Allyson Felix during 2011 World championships Athletics in Daegu

Below are other images capturing the triumphs of these athletes:

Vivian Cheruiyot winner of the 5.000 m race at the 2011 World championships Athletics
Edna Ngeringwony Kiplagat (r), Priscah Jeptoo (l) and Sharon Jemutai Cherop (c) celebrate winning Gold, Silver & Bronze at Daegu. Photo:EFE
Asbel Kiprop (C) sprints through a corner ahead of teammate Silas Kiplagat (L) on his way to winning the men's 1,500 metres final at Daegu Photo: REUTERS/Lee Jae-Won
Abel Kirui bows after winning the men's marathon in Daegu Photo: REUTERS/Mark Blinch (SOUTH KOREA - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

Torture victims can sue British government over Mau Mau / Las víctimas pueden denunciar al gobierno británico por las torturas durante el Mau Mau

Photograph: Carl Court/AFP/Getty Images

A small victory for justice.

Torture victims can sue British government for the atrocities committed during Mau Mau upraising (Reuters)


Una pequeña victoria de la justicia.

Víctimas de tortura por parte de la administración británica ganan el derecho a reclamar compensación al Gobierno británico (Reuters – inglés)

Supporting Africa’s new civil society: the case of Kenya (Nairobi Notes part II)

Never actually got down to finish posting more entries after my visit to Nairobi back in April/May. One of the reasons for this was that, among other things, I was busy putting together some of the insights I got during the visit and the interviews I has there into a publication for FRIDE. This was centred of the role wich new technologies are playing in helping a new «generation» of activists and organisations promote better governance and push for democratic consolidation.This is the teaser:

Supporting Africa’s new civil society: the case of Kenya

The spread of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) and other socio-economic dynamics are contributing to the formation of a new Kenyan civil society. This includes potentially key drivers of democratisation which remain largely invisible to donors. International actors need to re-examine their engagement with civil society in order to support these emerging organisations which may be essential to achieve real democratic consolidation in Kenya and the rest of Africa.

The policy brief,  was finally published a couple of weeks ago, and I passed it on to some people on Twitter and via email;  some got back with their views. This is for example what Robert commented:

  • You need to take note that this years budget will have 13% component of external borrowing (from 5-10% component in the policy brief). Institute of Economic Affairs does provide concise info on the economic front. This is their site
  • Bunge la Wananchi is certainly something we need to watch out. i would be interested to know if they will be competing in next elections under independent candidates. I have had discussions with some of their members BUT I tend to think there are some of them who have socialist ideals. Hope you have contact on that end. I would be interested to know what is their end game
Recently also the new Kenyan Open Data Initiative platform (which I mention on the brief but assumed would take longet to be up and running to be up and running) has been launched, which has generated plenty of comment from White African & Kenyangriot among others. These are extremely exciting times regarding ICTs and governance in Kenya, so  I woud be extremely interested to get any comments on the policy brief, or ICTs generally from Kenyans and other people interested on the topic of new technologies.
The full text (pdf) of the policy brief «Supporting Africa’s new civil society: the case of Kenya», can be accessed here.

Nairobi Notes part I – Labour Day at Uhuru Park

OK, I have been back from Kenya since Monday but I have been catching up with a number of things and haven’t had time to post anything here all week. I hope I will have a bit more time now, so normal posting will resume.

For the next few weeks I will alternate normal commentary and posts, with some relevant and interesting things from the few days I was in Kenya. It was my first time there, and it was a great experience. Work-related activities, especially our main event, the presentation of FRIDE’s report on «Assessing Democracy Assistance» went well – here you can see some pictures of the day. And we managed to do some more interesting stuff like visiting the iHub, attending a seminar on Africa and the ICC, etc.

Throughout the week, I spent quite a bit of time walking around in Nairobi, a city which greatly surprised me. All throughout I had the feeling it was remarkably safe and friendly, at least in comparison to the horror stories people had told me about it… The worst thing – by far – was the traffic, but besides this I greatly enjoyed walking around the centre of town to different places.

And then – last Sunday – before I flew back to Europe I took the opportunity to visit that landmark of Nairobi that it Uhuru Park. Furthermore, it was Labour Day, so I went down to see the  celebrations. There were not many people there (somebody told me more people attended the Ocampo 6 prayers some weeks earlier), and the mood was not either festive, nor angry. The complaints against high fuel and food prices had partly been met when the government announced a tax break for kerosene and diesel, so people chose to stay home as there was not much more to get. Also, the announcement of 12% minimum wage increase is not much when compared to the 25% food inflation since January, so there was nothing to celebrate either. And, to signal how low-profile the celebrations were, neither President Kibaki, nor PM Odinga attended the meeting.

In any case, even without the political charge, it was a lovely day, and many people just went down the park to enjoy the day with their families – so people selling face-paints, balloons, photographs and fun-rides (in ferry-whhels, cars or even a camel) did have something to celebrate.

And I took the opportunity to see some of the colourful floats workers had put together for the occasion. Here’s a small slideshow (I’m not a good photographer but I hope with these images – and the small descriptions – at least you can get an idea of the celebrations).

El pase de diapositivas requiere JavaScript.

Nairobi bleg

In exactly two weeks time I’ll be landing in Nairobi! This will be the first time I visit Kenya – and the first time I’ll be in Africa in almost six and a half years – way too long!

I’ll be there for work – presenting a FRIDE report on “Assessing Democracy Assistance: Kenya” that was published last year. But besides this, I wanted to use my time in Nairobi (I’ll be there for five days) to get in touch and talk to people based there. My idea is to talk to people involved with new technologies and with a political angle – anyone who is using new media in the civil/political arena, really. I want this to be a first step on a broader project on how ICTs are changing (for good, bad, or not at all) how people view their position and views within society.

So far, I have contacted some of the people at the Research arm of the iHub – who have been extremely friendly and helpful – with the idea of putting together some sort of meeting (as soon as there are more details, I’ll let you know). Given how little time I will be in Kenya I know this first contact will necessarily be shallow and incomplete – but I hope to make the most of it and use this as a starting point for a wider and more extensive project.

So (as the “bleg” part of the title promised), if you happen to be in Nairobi in late april and working on/ interested in politics and/or ITCs, or more generally activism, civic mobilisation, new technologies, development, ICT4D, or whatever else you are doing, and would like to meet for a beer (looking forward to taste the much talked about Tusker), I would love to hear from you.

Leave a comment below, or drop me an email! Asante!

An important day for Ghana and Kenya

Important day for Ghana, as the country is set to pump its first oil out of the ground. The discovery of such natural resources should be something to celebrate, as it will increase the economy of the country.
Nonetheless, this also carries a potential danger, as some analysts have pointed out, given the absence of a clear legal framework (the Petroleum Bill drafted was scrapped by the new government when came to power) and an independent regulator. All of which can increase the potential for non-transparent activities and for oil revenues not to benefit the Ghanaian people as much as it should (or even increasing the country’s debt). And adding to the concerns about the accountability of Ghanaian public officials, the Guardian reveals today “wikileaked” documents that detail the extent to which drug trafficking affect the country’s institutions.

And, all the way across the continent, another exciting day. Kenya expectantly awaits, as the ICC’s Ocampo will announce (at 2 pm) the names of the six people suspect of organising the post-electoral violence.

Ghanaians, Kenyans, how do you feel about these two important days? Are these events positive moves for your countries? Or do they carry more danger than benefit?