Patrick Gathara

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Even at the best of times, Kenyan governments have not shown themselves to be paragons of efficiency. But these are hardly the best of times. In fact, they may very well be the worst — and President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government is living up to the pattern.

When the coronavirus officially arrived in Kenya in mid-March, the government’s initial response was to close all ports of entry and institute a partial lockdown. It closed schools and later instituted a dusk-to-dawn curfew and mandatory quarantines; required people to wear masks in public and to work from home when possible; restricted travel to and from four counties, including the capital Nairobi; and shuttered restaurants and bars.…  Seguir leyendo »

The pedestal for a statue of Queen Victoria that was knocked down in 2015 in Nairobi on June 10. (Khalil Senosi/AP)

On June 11, a significant anniversary quietly passed. It was the centenary of the day Britain officially annexed parts of East Africa to found the Kenya colony, the precursor to today’s Kenyan state. Over the course of the next four and a half decades, the British would consolidate their brutal, parasitic rule and establish a racist, colonial administration that would, in many ways, become the template for the government of the modern Kenyan nation.

It is perhaps not surprising that few Kenyans remember, or wish to be reminded, of that time. At independence in 1963, statues of British monarchs and settlers were hastily taken down and hidden away.…  Seguir leyendo »

A police officer stops a car during lockdown restrictions set by the government to prevent spread of the coronavirus, in Eastleigh district of Nairobi on Wednesday. (Thomas Mukoya/Reuters)

Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, is an unhappy man. A week after the government tentatively allowed restaurants to reopen from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., he seems surprised that Kenyans are actually patronizing these establishments and having beer with sausages. While bars remain closed, eateries can still serve alcohol to their clients. Ordering a token meal with one’s drink has long been one of the tactics used to get around the country’s ill-considered, poorly drafted and widely ignored law restricting the sale and consumption of alcohol, which was enacted in 2010.

Kagwe’s frustrations reflect the approach of a government used to demanding obedience rather than seeking consent.…  Seguir leyendo »

The covid-19 pandemic is now menacing Africa, making its way through the continent and spreading fear. As of this week, the majority of countries on the continent have reported the presence of the virus, with the total number of reported cases rapidly approaching 1,500 and a death toll of 40.

With a vaccine at least 18 months away, states are reacting by taking drastic steps to limit social gatherings such as church sermons, weddings and funerals, closing schools, and encouraging citizens to stop shaking hands, to stay indoors and to maintain “social distance” from each other. But the ways in which governments have communicated these directives and policies have fallen short.…  Seguir leyendo »

The past few weeks have been a wake-up call for pro-democracy activists across Africa — a painful reminder that three decades after the fall of the Berlin Wall precipitated a tidal wave of democratization around the world, the gains made remain precarious. The massacre of protesters by the army on the streets of Sudan’s capital, Khartoum, last week, and the stalemate in Algeria are clear signs that nothing can be taken for granted in the second wave of citizen uprisings.

And it is not just in the regimes of North Africa, which for the most part missed the democracy boat in the 1990s, where concerns are rising.…  Seguir leyendo »

The fire that gutted the roof of the Notre Dame Cathedral this week nearly destroyed a building that had stood since the Middle Ages and had come to embody the soul of Paris and perhaps France itself. The speed with which massive donations were offered toward rebuilding the 856-year-old icon is a testament to its importance. It took less than two days to raise nearly $1 billion of the estimated $1.13 billion to $2.3 billion it will take to fix the church, with much of the money coming from French business leaders and ordinary worshipers.

President Emmanuel Macron also said he wants the cathedral rebuilt within five years, noting that France had in the past seen many towns, ports and churches go up in flames and rebuilt them each time.…  Seguir leyendo »

The ouster of Sudanese dictator Omar Hassan al-Bashir after 30 years in power has been a long time coming. His removal and arrest — by his former military colleagues — were the culmination of popular protests in several Sudanese cities, which have effectively been going on for the past four months, initially sparked by a spiraling cost of living and the deterioration of economic conditions. However, the manner of his departure has left a sour taste in the mouths of many protesters.

That Bashir has basically been removed by his second in command, Awad Ibn Auf, implies that little has actually changed.…  Seguir leyendo »

Protesters hold banners during a demonstration against the suspension of governorship elections in Port Harcourt, Nigeria, on March 11. (Pius Utomi Ekpei/AFP/Getty Images)

In the run-up to the recent elections in Nigeria, an article in Quartz Africa declared that “it’s become much harder to rig elections in Nigeria thanks to technology.” Looking on from about 3,000 miles away, Kenyans would be excused for stifling a laugh. The two countries share a history of electoral malpractice, and technology had been hailed as a guarantor of the credibility and integrity of the election in Kenya as well. The reality, however, turned out to be quite different. As the dust settles on Nigeria’s elections amid reports of technology failures and violence, it is clear that digital elections are no panacea.…  Seguir leyendo »

On Tuesday afternoon, terrorists stormed DusitD2, an upscale hotel and office complex in the heart of Nairobi. Within an hour, security forces had cordoned off the area, evacuated nearby buildings and launched an operation to confront the attackers and rescue people.

Given the security forces’ performance during previous attacks, this was a huge improvement. Five years ago, during a terrorist attack on the Westgate Mall, it was a different story. As described in a reconstruction by Tristan McConnell, by the time security agencies organized a response, “most of those who would escape had already escaped; most of those who would be wounded had already been struck; and most of those who would die were already dead”.…  Seguir leyendo »

Beatrice Anyango, center, leads her grandson, Eugene, 3, by the hand as they walk from school to their home in Kibra, the largest slum in Nairobi. (Roberto Schmidt/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the past few days, tens of thousands of Kenyans have been made homeless. This is not the result of some terrible natural disaster, but rather, the deliberate action of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s administration. Nearly 10,000 have been kicked out of their homes in the Mau forest in a bid to protect the country’s largest water tower. Another community of 30,000 in Kibra, the largest slum in Nairobi, saw their homes, hospitals, shops and schools flattened to make room for a road.

“Development” and “conservation” have always been pretexts for displacing Kenyans. One-hundred twenty years ago, the so-called Lunatic Line was built.…  Seguir leyendo »

A public mini-bus is filled with tear gas from canisters launched by the police during a protest in Nairobi on Jan. 30. (Daniel Irungu/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock)

For the second time in three years, Kenyans have found themselves staring at blank TV screens when switching to any of the top three independent TV stations to watch the news. The government shut down three of the country’s top TV stations — a move now blocked by the courts. In February 2015, KTN News, NTV and Citizen TV went off air for two weeks following a dispute with the government over digital migration. Today, however, the reasons for the media shutdown are, however, much darker.

It is the latest act in Kenya’s long-running, slow-motion crisis over last year’s presidential elections.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kenya’s opposition National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga, right, and Kalonzo Musyoka, left, former vice-president of Kenya, NASA principal and Wiper Democratic Movement leader. (Brian Ongoro, Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

Like President Trump, Kenya’s opposition leader, Raila Odinga, has a nuclear button, one that he now says he is not afraid to use. He has refused to recognize President Uhuru Kenyatta’s controversial reelection and has vowed to have himself sworn in as president by the end of the month. This has drawn a predictably alarmed reaction from within the government with Attorney General Githu Muigai having warned Odinga that he risks being put to death for treason if he goes ahead.

The standoff over the presidency — now into its sixth month — has witnessed the first annulment of a presidential election in the continent’s history and has taken a terrible toll.…  Seguir leyendo »

Kenya’s opposition National Super Alliance leader Raila Odinga (center) and other National Resistance Movement leaders hold crosses of people allegedly killed by police in recent demonstrations during their memorial service at Kibera Slum in Nairobi, on Nov. 28, the day of Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s inauguration ceremony. (Brian Otieno/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

This week Kenyans are going through a replay of their disastrous 2007 election, only in super-slow motion. A decade ago, the country endured a disputed election in which the incumbent president, Mwai Kibaki, was running for re-election against opposition leader Raila Odinga. Under intense pressure from the state and surrounded by armed paramilitary police, the head of the electoral commission declared Kibaki the president-elect. (The commissioner would later say that he did not know who had won.)

Within half an hour, as the sun was setting and darkness fell over the grounds of State House, Kibaki was hurriedly sworn in. “With the election now behind us,” he declared, “it’s time for healing and reconciliation.”…  Seguir leyendo »