Murithi Mutiga

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The Crisis of African Democracy

These days, a question crops up when African officials gather to discuss governance: Which president will be ousted by his military next? In the first two decades of this century, 13 successful coups took place in Africa. But from August 2020 to November 2023, seven African leaders were toppled by their own militaries. While these military takeovers have so far primarily occurred in a belt of instability that stretches from Niger to Sudan, the risk of broader contagion is real. In already fragile states, coups tend to reverse economic and political progress, and so stemming their rise may be the most urgent task for Africa in the coming decade.…  Seguir leyendo »

Cameroon’s Anglophone conflict: Children should be able to return to school

At the start of Cameroon’s academic year on 5 September, schools in the two Anglophone regions kept their doors shut to comply with a general strike (locally known as a “ghost town” operation) imposed by separatist militias combating the government in Yaoundé. The following day, only a handful of schools offered classes, primarily in the relatively safe towns of Buea and Limbe.

School’s out

Some separatist groups have ordered public schools in the Anglophone regions to remain closed until at least 1 October. On that day five years ago, separatists proclaimed the independent Federal Republic of Ambazonia, as they call the North West and South West regions.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Nigerian soldier patrols on the outskirts of the town of Damask in North East Nigeria on 25 April 2017. Florian PLAUCHEUR / AFP

Since mid-July, when the Taliban march toward the Afghan capital accelerated at an astonishing pace, the Somalia-based jihadist group Al-Shabaab’s media channels have covered little else. Not without reason. One of al-Qaeda’s wealthiest and most tenacious affiliates, Al-Shabaab doubtless hopes that it, too, can outwait the large international troop deployment that props up Somalia’s government and one day capture power throughout the country. Al-Shabaab’s enduring influence – it retains a capacity to levy taxes essentially unchallenged in as much as 80 per cent of the country – sums up a key lesson from two decades of the U.S.-led “war on terror” in Africa: the investment in military efforts to contain jihadism, in places where governments enjoy dismal levels of public credibility, and in situations where elites in distant capitals deliver few services to the people, has hardly helped row back the threat of jihadist militancy.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Kenyan woman casts her vote at a mock polling station during a pre-election exhibition in Nairobi, Kenya, on 12 June 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Kenya is scheduled to hold a general election on 8 August. The vote comes ten years after a disputed presidential poll brought the key East African country to the brink of civil war. Hundreds of thousands were uprooted from their homes and 1,100 killed in weeks of ethnic fighting and street protests that were met by a brutal police response following the election in December 2007. The next election in 2013 passed off relatively peacefully. In 2017, the presidential race between two scions of Kenya’s most prominent political families has drawn the most attention. But local elections for powerful elected governors are also likely to be bitterly contested.…  Seguir leyendo »

A Samburu tribesman and cattle herder looks on as cows walk through a fence destroyed by other Samburu tribesmen in Mugui conservancy, Kenya, on 11 February 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

Clashes between pastoralists, farmers and conservationists in the central Kenyan county of Laikipia – triggered initially by drought but worsened by political tensions linked to local elections scheduled for August – could escalate into a wider, even more damaging conflict unless authorities act quickly to defuse tensions.

Laikipia has long been contested land. It sits at the foot of Mount Kenya, Africa’s second highest mountain. In recent decades, its sweeping Savanna vistas have made it one of the country’s most important tourist destinations while its ample fertile land has attracted commercial agriculture. For centuries before this, however, the region’s permanent springs, basalt hills and open grassland supported the semi-nomadic lifestyles of local pastoralist communities.…  Seguir leyendo »

Riot policemen run to take cover after dispersing residents during protests to oust Narok county Governor Samuel Tunai in Narok, Kenya on January 26 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

The county of Narok is one of Kenya’s most economically important regions, home to wildlife sanctuaries like the world-famous Maasai Mara reserve, vast agricultural plantations, and highways linking the East African coast to the interior.

Narok is also one of a number of Kenyan counties expected to witness heavily contested, potentially violent, local elections due in August under a system of devolved government that confers considerable power and resources to elected county-level administrators.

While a cut-throat competition for the presidency is garnering most attention, the subnational vote will be hotly contested and deserves more focus from the government and international partners.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kenyans go to the polls in August, and fierce contests are likely in the race for the presidency and other elections the same day to county governorships and other senior posts. Electoral commission preparations are dangerously behind schedule amid political polarisation, growing distrust and lack of communication between parties. Given the country’s troubled electoral history, it is essential that politicians and other key stakeholders discuss and agree on the measures necessary for credible polls and a way forward on the electoral timeline.

The elections matter well beyond Kenya’s borders. The country is the transport and commercial hub of East Africa, so a protracted crisis would result in significant disruptions further afield.…  Seguir leyendo »

When prosecutors at the International Criminal Court declared in late 2009 that they would pursue those most responsible for the violence that swept Kenya following the 2007 election, many people rejoiced: Kenyans, long accustomed to seeing their leaders get away with almost anything, staked their hopes for a new accountability on the I.C.C. Unfortunately, those high hopes have been dashed. In a curious irony, the Hague-based court has inadvertently stoked tensions in the Rift Valley, the ethnically divided tinderbox that saw the worst fighting in that contentious election period.

On Dec. 5, I.C.C. prosecutors announced they would drop their case against President Uhuru Kenyatta, admitting that they had no reasonable prospect of securing a conviction on charges of crimes against humanity during the 2007 bloodletting.…  Seguir leyendo »

One of the thriving sectors of the tourism industry here is also one that no government would want to put on brochures inviting visitors to the country. For a small fee, companies operated by entrepreneurs like the young rapper Henry Ohanga (Octopizzo to his fans) offer guided walks through Kibera, a sprawling slum in the heart of the capital. Tourists get to see up close the mountains of garbage and dense rows of low-slung wattle-and-mud houses that have made that township one of the most notorious urban settlements on the continent.

Mr. Ohanga is an investor in “poorism” — the business of taking well-off tourists off the beaten track to see how the destitute of this world live.…  Seguir leyendo »

At ceremonies here to mark the first anniversary of the shooting rampage at the Westgate Mall by four Al Shabab gunmen that left 67 people dead, Sgt. Godfrey Emojong offered a remarkable tale of survival. He was one of the first policemen to arrive at the scene that Sept. 21, one of the lightly armed officers who believed they were responding to a robbery.

But the sight of the dead bodies piling up told a different story. Minutes later, as he was helping to move people out of the line of fire, Sergeant Emojong was hit, downed with 15 bullet wounds.…  Seguir leyendo »

Laments about corruption, physical insecurity and unresponsive bureaucrats are a staple of life in many countries in East and Central Africa, with one notable exception: Rwanda.

The streets of its capital, Kigali, are impeccable, the roads are good, lights work and, unlike the traffic cops in Nairobi, Kampala or Dar es Salaam, police officers do not stop drivers simply to coerce bribes. Yet the architect of this miracle, President Paul Kagame, is in danger of reversing the gains that have made Rwanda a beacon of progress on the continent.

For the most part, Mr. Kagame gets laudatory media coverage, especially in Africa, and it’s easy to see why.…  Seguir leyendo »

For much of the past half century, Kenya has cultivated an image as a peaceful oasis in a region dogged by violence and unrest. “Kenya, hakuna matata” (“No worries in Kenya”) is the unofficial motto on T-shirts peddled to the thousands of tourists who flock the East African country’s sandy beaches and safari parks every year.

But the image has frayed. The frightening brutality of the Shabab terrorists who killed 67 shoppers during the four-day siege of the Westgate Mall in Nairobi last September shocked the nation. Then, in another brutal rampage, on the night of June 15, dozens of attackers swept into Mpeketoni, a town near the tourist resort of Lamu Island, and mowed down 48 people, many of them dragged from a hotel where they had been watching a World Cup soccer match.…  Seguir leyendo »

African soccer fans always seem to have a story about where they were when the Ghanaian national team came achingly close to qualifying for the semifinal stage of the 2010 World Cup, which was held for the first time on African soil.

No African team had ever made it past the quarterfinal round of the world’s most-watched sporting event. And in Johannesburg’s Soccer City stadium that July 2, Ghana came within a hair’s breadth of making history, before crashing out in controversial circumstances when a Uruguayan player’s outstretched arm stopped a near-certain Ghana goal as the clock ticked down.

When Ghana missed the resulting penalty shot, African spirits plunged.…  Seguir leyendo »

Every two or three years, African heads of state travel to a foreign capital to be wooed by one or another of the major powers jockeying for position on the continent. China has been among the more prominent organizers of these “Africa summits,” while Japan, India, Turkey, Brazil and the European Union have all held their own versions. In August, President Obama will join the fray when he invites 47 African leaders to talks on trade and security in Washington.

These forums have their merits: They reflect the rising importance of a continent that is home to six of the world’s fastest-growing economies and can provide a platform for the discussion of development plans that can benefit everyone concerned.…  Seguir leyendo »

The staggering rise in the illegal slaughter of elephants, rhinos and other protected animals across Africa and Asia has ignited widespread outrage and prompted official measures to combat poaching — efforts that are certainly well-intentioned but mostly misdirected.

In February, the Obama administration announced that it would move to ban all trade in elephant ivory in the United States. That same month, an international conference in Britain resolved to make poaching and wildlife trafficking “serious crimes” under the United Nations Convention against Transnational Organized Crime. Moreover, Google and the World Wide Fund for Nature announced a partnership to supply the authorities in Namibia with drones to patrol the wilds.…  Seguir leyendo »

It was not without reason that President Bill Clinton lavished praise on African leaders like President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda back in the late 1990s.

Mr. Museveni, like Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, had come to office through the barrel of a gun, a depressingly familiar means of gaining power in Africa during the first three decades of independence. But after ending a cycle of murderous rule by despots steeped in human rights abuses and financial corruption, the young leaders proved to be different from their predecessors. Both introduced rational governance structures, presided over economic turnarounds and brought much-needed stability to their countries.…  Seguir leyendo »

African leaders are often asked to look to countries like Singapore and Taiwan for examples of the transformative impact that clean, effective government can have in turning around a nation’s economy. But they might do better to look closer to home.

Those models are certainly valid: The “Asian Tigers” lifted millions of people out of poverty by relying on an efficient public sector based on rigid meritocracy and little tolerance for corruption. But, oddly enough, it was the reverse of these very conditions in Kenya — the realities of corruption, nepotism and sheer inefficiency of the state telecommunications monopoly — that helped inspire a banking and finance revolution that is spreading from sub-Saharan Africa to India, Afghanistan and beyond.…  Seguir leyendo »

The Kamba people of Kenya claim they were warned about the evils of colonialism long before the first colonialist arrived. The legend goes that the prophet Syokimau, back in the early 19th century, told her people of “a long narrow snake spitting fire” that would make its way up from the East African Coast, bringing with it “red people” who would take away their land. She was right; it was the railroads more than anything else that enabled European colonialists to exploit Kenya’s people and extract its wealth during the first half of the 20th century.

The 1,000-kilometer track stretching from the Kenyan port of Mombasa to Uganda was Britain’s most ambitious project in Sub-Saharan Africa.…  Seguir leyendo »

Few Robert Mugabe speeches over the past 10 years have failed to include some blazing rhetorical flourish against the West. “Shame, shame, shame to the United States of America. Shame, shame, shame to Britain and its allies,” he declared at the United Nations General Assembly in September. “Zimbabwe is for Zimbabweans, so are its resources. Please remove your illegal and filthy sanctions from my peaceful country.”

It was hardly surprising that American diplomats walked out. What’s perhaps more striking, however, is that some of Africa’s more moderate voices have lately joined the Zimbabwean leader in denouncing the policies of the European Union and the United States toward his country.…  Seguir leyendo »

On one of Kenya’s main television networks on Wednesday night, the news announcer wore a funereal expression as she called the fire that destroyed the arrivals terminal of our main airport earlier that morning a national “calamity.”

The response to the blaze was slow. There was a shortage of fire engines and a lack of sufficient water for the fire hoses. Soldiers resorted to carrying buckets of water to douse the flames, which took four hours to put out. There are reports that emergency responders may have engaged in looting.

A third of Europe’s flower imports, a majority of Kenya’s tea exports and millions of tons of fresh produce pass through the airport each year.…  Seguir leyendo »