“If I laugh too hard, I’ll die” – Sarah Onyango, Barack Obama’s step grandmother



Jubilation at Obama’s Kenyan home
BY Juliet Njeri / BBC News, Kogelo

It took a few minutes for the historic news to register with the
residents of Kogelo, a small village in western Kenya where the father
of the next US president was born and raised. But when the declaration
that Barack Obama had won the US election finally sunk in, loud cheers
and ululations rang out. At least 100 residents had stayed up all
night in the village centre, sheltering from a heavy downpour in tents
set up by the village clinic to watch the results on a giant TV
screen. The sun rose bright and early and a few hours later, one of
the village elders took the microphone to announce that Mr Obama had
won the elections by an overwhelming majority. Although they were
thousands of miles away from the US, it was still a very personal win
for them as they truly consider Mr Obama a son of Kogelo.

“People of Kogelo come and celebrate, Obama has won,” rang out on the
loudspeakers as residents ran from their houses to join in the
jubilant celebrations. Children from the Senator Obama-Nyangoma
Primary School burst out of their classes shouting and screaming with
joy. A prayer of thanksgiving was said – what they had prayed for had
come to pass. About 1.5km from the health centre, Sarah Onyango, the
US president-elect’s 86-year old step-grandmother, could not restrain
herself and darted out of her house singing and dancing. “If I laugh
too hard, I’ll die,” she said. This was the first time she had been
seen since Sunday, when the family announced that they would not be
receiving the media or visitors until the results were released. The
family had been holed up in their heavily guarded home watching the
elections and results in private. But there was nothing guarded about
the euphoria and celebration that broke out after the results were
announced. Crowds of villagers hurriedly broke branches off trees and
waved them wildly in the air as they sang songs of praise for their

Feast planned
The wild cries only died down as they gathered to listen to his
acceptance speech, with periodic shouts and cheers, especially when he
mentioned his family in Kenya. “Yes We Can,” they chanted along with
him, bursting with pride. People kept pouring into the clinic’s
compound, driving the level of joyful noise even higher. A section of
the crowd rushed out of the gate and headed for the Obama homestead.
As they advanced, the gates flew open and finally the crowds could
congratulate the family. They danced around the compound and some
headed straight for the modest, tiled grave of Obama Snr, Mr Obama’s
father, paying honour even in death.

Malik Obama, Mr Obama’s half-brother, was carried shoulder high by the
euphoric crowd as they sang: “Obama has raised the profile of Kogelo”,
in the local Luo language. Then came the moment that everyone had been
waiting for as the family finally emerged to address large group of
local and foreign journalists camped outside the house. Auma Obama
made their excuses – after receiving the results, they had been trying
to come to terms with what it all meant for them as a family. “The
shock hasn’t set in that we’re the first family,” Mr Obama’s half
sister Auma Obama said. “It has been a very tough race and we’re very
happy that he won.”

Mr Obama’s step-grandmother announced that there was going to be a
grand feast, and joked that all types of food from around the country
would be available. A few metres away, tied to a tree, the bull that
will be slaughtered for the feast chewed away at the grass, unaware of
its impending fate. He has done us proud, the family said, and the joy
was evident in their wide smiles and easy manner. They said they are
definitely going to visit the president-elect and his family, although
they had not started making plans. Auma said she was looking forward
to making chapattis – a local flatbread – in the White House with
Michelle Obama. His grandmother says that is his favourite food.

Electricity arrives
She joked that with her brother’s win, every member of the family
could add the word “first” to their title – first sister, first
grandmother, first niece. But the family said it did not expect to be
treated differently from any other in Kenya. “We’re just a normal
family and we don’t expect anything. As my grandmother always says,
Barack is just doing a job, a civil service job,” Auma said. But it
seems the decision is already out of their hands. Soon after the press
conference ended, members of Kenya’s state security team ushered
people out of the compound. And just outside the main compound, 20
teams of technicians from the Kenya Power and Lighting Company were
preparing to lay down power lines to the compound. The Obama family
can expect to have electricity installed within a few days, the
company says. It seems change has come not just to the US and the
White House, but to the simple and sleepy village of Kogelo as well.

Kenya declares holiday for Obama

Kenya has declared Thursday a public holiday to celebrate the election
of Barack Obama to the US presidency. Mr Obama’s father was from Kenya
and his victory has prompted jubilation across the country. “We the
Kenyan people are immensely proud of your Kenyan roots,” President
Mwai Kibaki said. The BBC’s Juliet Njeri says Mr Obama’s step-
grandmother was seen dancing and cheering jubilantly outside her house
after the results were declared. She says Mr Obama’s family stayed up
all night in the western Kenyan village of Kogelo watching the
election count, and they are now preparing for a big party. African
leaders from South Africa to Somalia have sent their congratulations
to the US president-elect. Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first black
president, welcomed Mr Obama’s victory as a sign of hope for everyone.
“Your victory has demonstrated that no person anywhere in the world
should not dare to dream of wanting to change the world for a better
place,” he said in a letter of congratulations.

In Kisumu city, near the Obamas’ home village, there is a carnival
atmosphere and people have poured onto the streets singing Mr Obama’s
praises, our reporter says. Political leaders are expected to join
massive celebrations planned in the city, which considers Mr Obama
their chosen son, she says. In January, Kisumu was the scene of
running battles between members of the public and police after riots
broke out over the Kenya’s contested elections. But correspondents say
the US election seems to be a unifying moment for the country, with
people reported to be saying that Mr Obama’s victory is a victory for
all Kenyans. In the capital, crowds were seen singing and dancing,
waving branches and carrying posters of Mr Obama along Ngong Road, one
of Nairobi’s major highways. “Your victory is not only an inspiration
to millions of people all over the world, but it has special resonance
with us here in Kenya,” Mr Kibaki said.

Mr Obama’s victory is being celebrated across the continent. South
African Archbishop Desmond Tutu said it showed “that for people of
colour, the sky is the limit”. The BBC’s world affairs correspondent
Adam Mynott says Mr Obama will inherit a foreign policy legacy in
Africa that has been one of the high points of the George Bush
administration. Earlier this year President Bush toured through five
African nations and people greeted him in their thousands to applaud
him for America’s huge contribution in the fight against HIV/Aids.
Since its launch five years ago, his Aids relief programme has spent
more than $15bn dollars (£9.5bn) on the continent and saved many
thousands of lives. He says Africans will look to Mr Obama to deliver
more when he takes office in January, and his difficulty will lie in
matching the soaring expectations.


Sarah Obama was getting hungry. Her step-grandson had just been
elected US president and she was going to celebrate “with a feast”.
But what would she eat? “Chapo”, Mama Sarah said – slang for chapatis
– to roars of laughter from relatives gathered on the lawn in front of
her house.

It was perhaps an apt choice for a woman who has always maintained
that the reflected glory of her grandson would not change her simple
way of life; waking at dawn, tending her vegetables, going to market,
going to bed. Even last night, when other members of the family camped
at her house could not sleep for all the excitement, she turned in
early, woke at 3am to find the result was still some way off and rose
again once the sun was up.

Only when the generator-powered television tuned to CNN announced that
Obama had won at 7am did she allow herself to get caught in the
emotion, rushing out of the family compound with a group of family
members, past a group of startled policemen guarding her gate, to
serenade the waiting media. “We are going to the White House,” they
sang, hugging and dancing. A few hours later, once the reality of
Obama’s victory had sunk in, she said: “I don’t know if I will die of

By then the euphoria spread across Kenya, where people consider Obama
to be one of their own. There were impromptu celebrations in the
eastern port city of Mombasa, the western lakeside town Kisumu and the
capital Nairobi, where some youths marched through a slum singing:
“Obama don’t sleep. The struggle is still on.”

A decision by President Mwai Kibaki to declare tomorrow a bank holiday
only added to the party mood. Elsewhere Obama’s win was seen as one
for all of Africa; in Uganda students burned tyres in celebration,
while in South Africa the former Archbishop of Cape Town Desmond Tutu
likened the US poll to Nelson Mandela’s election win in 1994. “We have
a new spring in our walk and our shoulders are straighter,” Tutu said.

At the village dispensary near Mama Sarah’s house in Kogelo, the
village in western Kenya where she raised Barack Obama’s late father,
hundreds of people had stayed awake through the night, dancing and
watching al-Jazeera’s election coverage on a large screen. Soon after
the result was announced they ran down the dirt road to Mama Sarah’s
homestead, where police had kept the media locked behind the gate.

Waving branches, beating drums and singing the refrain: “The Champion
has stepped into the arena, and everybody is watching,” they insisted
the police allow them into the compound. “We cannot be intimidated by
the Kenyan police,” a man shouted, threatening to tear the gate down.
“We are now under the US government.”

A policeman opened the gate and they stormed inside, dancing for
several minutes around the graves of Barack Obama Sr and his father
Hussein Onyango Obama. The police, who set up a post inside the
compound a few months ago, are likely to remain a permanent fixture
there now that Mama Sarah is a member of America’s first family. “They
will surely have to stay for security reasons,” said Wycliffe Obama,
22, a son of Barack Obama’s cousin, who spends most weekends at the
homestead and was yesterday draped in an American flag. “If Barack is
the president of the US then anything could happen here.”

Other changes are more welcome. Today workers were erecting
electricity poles outside the compound – preparing to connect Mama
Sarah’s three-bedroom house to the national grid for the first time.
For the past week government construction workers have been
frantically smoothing the road to her home, aware that a US
presidential visit may not be too far off.

But Auma Obama, the half-sister who Obama thanked in his victory
speech today, said that his Kenyan family already lived a “good life”
and were not anticipating any more favours from the local authorities,
or the US. “As a family we support Barack, but we have not got
expectations [of him helping us in Kenya]. He is an American … if
there are any changes they will be in America and the world.”

Before journalists were requested to leave the compound to allow the
Obamas to prepare for the feast – beside the chapatis, fleshly
slaughtered beef and chicken was on the menu – Mama Sarah had time for
a few more questions. Her advice to the new president? “He should work
very well globally, especially for global peace.” And would she be
travelling to the US for the inauguration?

“Do you really think I am going to be left behind?”

Kenya eyes US tourist boost after Obama win
BY Helen Nyambura-Mwaura  /   5 Nov 2008

NAIROBI (Reuters) – Kenya’s ailing tourism industry plans to ride on
Barack Obama’s U.S. election victory to attract more American
visitors, an industry official said on Wednesday. Fighting at the
start of 2008 after a disputed presidential election in east Africa’s
largest economy led to a downturn in tourism, Kenya’s second biggest
hard currency earner in 2007. But tourism authorities hope Obama’s
highly-publicised campaign, victory and his ties to Kenya will draw
tourists to the country’s sunny beaches and famed wildlife reserves.

“We’ll be looking at our strategy for marketing so that we give
greater attention to the U.S. market to respond to the greater
attention and interest being shown,” said Jake Grieves-Cook, chairman
of the Kenya Tourist Board (KTB). “It has very positive implications
for tourism. Kenya now is in the spotlight internationally. We are
bound to see an increased interest in Kenya,” he told Reuters in an
interview. Obama was born to a white mother from Kansas and a Kenyan
father, who hails from the western hamlet of Kogelo.

Within hours of Obama’s win, workers from the country’s electricity
distributor were surveying the area near his paternal grandmother’s
house for a possible connection. Kenyan police have tightened security
at the humble homestead and yellow graders have been smoothing the
dirt road to her home for several days.

Travel Warnings
Grieves-Cook said the United States is Kenya’s second biggest source
of tourists, after Britain. A total of 25,000 Americans visited Kenya
in the first nine months 2008, down from more than 100,000 in 2007,
according to KTB.

He said the United States should soften a warning to its citizens
about visiting Kenya in the light of continuing threats from terrorism
and crime. “For a long time, we have been the subject of a fairly
strong advisory by the U.S. State Department. It’s high time that the
travel warning is reviewed because of the increased interest in
Kenya,” he said.

The State Department has warned of potential terrorist attacks since
an al Qaeda truck bomb killed at least 225 people at the U.S. Embassy
in the capital Nairobi 10 years ago. A second attack in November 2002
killed 15 people at the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel resort near
Mombasa on Kenya’s coast, bringing the key tourism sector to its

Grieves-Cook said he did not expect Kenya to be a terrorist target on
account of Obama. “There is a great deal of good will toward Kenya.
The U.S. policy is likely to change with the new president,” he said.
Kenyan tourism recovered after the two attacks to record earnings of
65.4 billion kenya shillings last year, but the ethnic and political
bloodshed in early 2008 has scared off many foreign holidaymakers.

Tourism earnings in the first nine months slumped to $435 million
compared with $620 million in the same period last year. Analysts
predict Kenya’s economy will grow by about 4.5 percent this year, down
from 7.0 percent in 2007. “Tourism has been very poor in the last 10
months as a result of the fighting,” he said. “We are now faced by the
problem of the credit crunch.”

Annan backs Kenya violence probe

Kofi Annan has urged the Kenyan government to set up a tribunal for
people accused of involvement in violence after last year’s elections.
The former UN secretary general brokered a power-sharing deal which
ended the violence in February. Establishing such a tribunal was a
central recommendation of a commission headed by a senior judge,
Philip Waki, which submitted its report last week. The commission
found that politicians on all sides had stirred up violence. Mr Waki
also said that the police had used excessive force against protestors.

‘No impunity’
The commission gave Mr Annan a sealed envelope containing the names of
suspects and he told the BBC he would pass on the information to
prosecutors at the appropriate time. “I think it is important that the
government acts on it,” he told the BBC’s Network Africa. “The victims
demand justice too.”

“The tendency sometimes to protect the perpetrators for the sake of
peace – ‘forget and let’s move on’ – doesn’t help society. Impunity
should not be allowed to stand.” More than 1,500 people were killed
and some 300,000 more fled their homes after then opposition leader
Raila Odinga said he had been cheated of victory by President Mwai

Under the deal brokered by Mr Annan, Mr Odinga became prime minister
and his Orange Democratic Movement took an equal share of cabinet
posts with Mr Kibaki’s party. Mr Annan dismissed the idea that the
Kenyan example had set a dangerous precedent for Africa, by
encouraging the idea that even if you lose you can still enter a power-
sharing coalition. “The concept of winning or losing elections is
something that we should internalise,” he said. “We cannot go and
create problems and expect to share power.” He said he thought that Mr
Kibaki and Mr Odinga had both gone into the elections hoping to win,
but the vote had resulted in an “almost perfect political gridlock”.

“I had come the conclusion during the negotiations that any attempt to
re-run the elections, to re-tally, to re-count, would have led to more
killings, and there was no certainty that either side would accept the
results,” Mr Annan said.

Politicians, the police and the electoral commission are all being pilloried
Spread the blame
Oct 23rd 2008 | NAIROBI

TWO reports examining the violence that ravaged Kenya early this year
after a disputed election have challenged the leaders on both sides of
the political divide to clean up their act and even to let some of
their biggest figures go before a tribunal for their alleged part in
fomenting the strife. If the recommendations are put into practice,
the culture of impunity that has protected Kenya’s leaders for many
years may be weakened. But there are also fears that delving into past
violence may reopen barely healed wounds and undermine the fragile
government of national unity that has run the country since April.

The first report, chaired by a South African judge, Johann Kriegler,
focuses on the actual election—and lambasts the electoral commission
for massive bungling. It makes clear that there were numerous
instances of vote-rigging but does not pronounce on who should have
been declared the winner. Most independent observers reckon that the
opposition, led by Raila Odinga, who is now the prime minister, was
cheated of victory—perhaps a narrow one—by a cabal surrounding
President Mwai Kibaki, which bullied the commission into accepting a
falsified result. Diplomats from the European Union, the United States
and Japan, which have provided vast amounts of aid over the years,
have pushed for a new electoral commission. The government reacted to
this suggestion with predictable outrage. But the diplomats say that,
far from treating Kenya with colonial disdain as the government
suggests, they are merely reflecting the views of ordinary Kenyans who
have lost confidence in the people who ran the election.

The second (quite separate) report is more controversial. Chaired by a
Kenyan judge, Philip Waki, it tries to get to the causes of the
violence and to finger its main perpetrators. At the report’s
presentation, Mr Waki handed a sealed envelope to Kofi Annan, a former
secretary-general of the UN who mediated after the election and
managed to bring a unity government together. The letter contains the
names, so far unpublished, of ministers, members of parliament and
businessmen accused of inciting violence and arming militias. Many
names are listed in an earlier report published by Human Rights Watch,
a New York-based monitoring group, and include several leading
politicians, including some who are close to Mr Kibaki and to Mr
Odinga. Mr Waki recommends that if the government fails to put the
accused before a special tribunal to be set up within 60 days, the
envelope should be passed to the International Criminal Court at The
Hague with a view to prosecution.

Mr Waki’s investigative team met victims across the country and quoted
from previously classified daily reports of Kenya’s National Security
Intelligence Service (NSIS). President Kibaki’s government, according
to the Waki report, had “lost its legitimacy” and was “not seen as
dispassionate”. It used state security forces and criminal gangs to
target opposition supporters. For their part, opposition leaders in
the ethnically mixed Rift Valley, where much of the violence occurred,
recruited thousands of armed men from the Kalenjin group to kill and
clear out Kikuyus, who had overwhelmingly backed their ethnic kinsman,
Mr Kibaki, in the election.

The 500-page report has some revealing and controversial details. It
cites, for instance, an NSIS finding that a worker at a bullet factory
in Eldoret had trained Kalenjin youths in guerrilla tactics. It also
supports longstanding claims by human-rights groups and others that
some of President Kibaki’s aides had met, at State House, leaders of
the Mungiki, an outlawed Kikuyu sect with a history of extortion and a
penchant for beheading its enemies. As a result, the Mungiki helped co-
ordinate the killing of Luos and Kalenjins in the towns of Naivasha
and Nakuru, where the population is mixed.

The report also damns Kenya’s police, which is said to have lacked
organisation and leadership—and to have taken part in the killing. At
least 405 of the 1,103 documented victims of the violence (several
hundred more are unaccounted for) were shot dead by the police, most
of them in the back; the majority were Luos who had supported Mr
Odinga and had run riot in their homeland in western Kenya, where
outrage at what they deemed a rigged election was fiercest. The
report’s emphasis on police failure has raised suspicion that the
police commissioner, Major-General Hussein Ali, may take the rap,
while politicians and other security services get off comparatively

Meanwhile, Messrs Kibaki and Odinga have been winning plaudits for
keeping the peace. Mr Kibaki says Kenyans should forget the past and
look to the future. Mr Annan, however, has urged the government to set
up the special tribunal, as suggested by Mr Waki, as soon as possible;
forgetting, he insists, would not help tackle the regrettable culture
of impunity.

Would a tribunal be able to bring some of Kenya’s “big men” to
justice? Some of those who are thought to be listed in the sealed
envelope have keenly endorsed the idea of a tribunal. They are
confident, it seems, that it would have no teeth.

Six months after its bloody election crisis, the country is still struggling to recover
Sep 4th 2008 | NAIROBI

IN THE past few weeks, Kenyans have been celebrating. They were
delighted when their athletes came back from the Olympics in China
with 14 medals, five of them gold, whereas South Africa, often the
continent’s sporting giant, got just one silver. A buoyant president,
Mwai Kibaki, handed bonus cheques to the medallists on their return.
And then Kenyans had the pleasure, early one morning on television, of
watching Barack Obama, the son of a Kenyan civil servant, accept the
Democratic nomination to be president of the United States.

But despite such good cheer it is evident that east Africa’s leading
country has yet to recover fully from the post-election violence that
ravaged it earlier in the year, when some 1,700 people were killed and
300,000 displaced. Its fragile coalition government is struggling to
take the necessary decisions to tackle the country’s manifold
problems. With Mr Kibaki as president and the opposition leader, Raila
Odinga, as prime minister, the mere fact that their cumbrous joint
administration has hung together is an achievement. But beyond that,
six months into its existence, it has little else to celebrate.

Since the bloodshed of January and February, the economy’s progress
has been jerky. Take tourism, the country’s biggest foreign-currency
earner. “It’s a wonderful, wonderful world,” purred Mr Kibaki on a
recent trip to the Masai Mara game reserve, as he looked out on a
muddy swollen river with crossing wildebeest and snapping crocodiles.
Yet the Kenya Tourism Board says the country lost $191m in revenue in
the first half of the year, with visitors down 36% to 561,000 compared
with the first six months of 2007. Safari firms say bookings are still
sparse; they hope a government marketing campaign will give them a
high-season Christmas boost and that the American State Department’s
recent lifting of its advice not to travel to Kenya will encourage
more Americans to fly in.

Agriculture is struggling too. Poor rains, a tripling in the cost of
fertiliser and pesticide, and land disputes linked to the election
crisis have wrecked this year’s maize harvest. The Kenya Cereal
Growers’ Association says production will slump from 34m bags of maize
to 24m. To make up the shortfall, the government has had to import
maize from South Africa at inflated prices. Exports of high-value
vegetables and fruit to the European Union, on which entrepreneurial
farmers have staked their future, have been hit by high fuel prices
and a trend towards buying food more locally and seasonally.

Flower farms say that demand in Europe for Kenyan roses and other cut
flowers is saturated; exports may dip slightly next year. Tea
production lost ground to India and Sri Lanka during the crisis and
has since been hit by pay demands and by the loss of some British
“fair trade” licences. Only coffee, another big export earner, was
unaffected; brokers in Nairobi, the capital, say production and prices
are steady.

The country’s stock exchange has weathered the storm, though recent
trading has been flat. A public offering of 25% of the largest mobile-
phone provider, Safaricom, boosted state coffers by $833m. Trade with
China is still rising, and may top $1 billion this year. The African
Development Bank reckons Kenya could grow by 7% this year and says a
government target of 10% by 2010 is attainable. But the World Bank is
less confident, pointing out that few economies, particularly ones
like Kenya’s that are rural-based and lack fossil fuels, have achieved
double-digit growth.

Whatever the growth rate, the prevailing mistrust between Mr Kibaki’s
Party of National Unity (PNU) and Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic
Movement is denting investor confidence. The Oranges still believe Mr
Kibaki stole the election. A comprehensive exit poll on election day,
paid for in part by the American government, was recently released
after being suppressed since the crisis. It suggests that Mr Odinga
won 46% of the vote against 40% for Mr Kibaki, with a margin of error
of 1.3%. Such findings are not definitive, and suggest the Oranges
pilfered votes as well as the PNU, but they continue to undermine Mr
Kibaki’s legitimacy as president.

Mr Odinga is credited by some with sharpening government performance
by introducing contracts that are meant to make ministers and senior
civil servants work harder. But despite Mr Odinga’s claims to enjoy a
“warm, respectful friendship” with the president, the truth is that
the two barely co-operate, leaving a vacuum of leadership at the top.
Mr Odinga may have drawn some waverers onto his side, including some
ministers previously loyal to Mr Kibaki. But his office is
understaffed and his powers fettered. Mr Kibaki, for instance, still
appoints top civil servants. A recent sympathetic visitor described Mr
Odinga’s office as a “shell”.

The result is a palpable sense of drift. Any vestige of the previous
government’s anti-corruption drive, for example, has been abandoned.
This was made plain during a recent brief return visit by John
Githongo, Kenya’s former anti-corruption chief, who had been forced to
flee Kenya three years ago after blowing the whistle on ministers in
the previous government. His movements were kept secret for fear he
might be murdered; he met Mr Odinga but Mr Kibaki was disinclined to
see him. Corruption remains “out of control”, says Mr Githongo, and is
now not even a priority.

The drift cannot be allowed to extend to the big infrastructure
projects that Kenya must complete if it is to start moving again.
Several are pending: a cement factory at Athi River, south-east of
Nairobi; a tarmac road of 530km (329 miles) to link Kenya to Ethiopia;
a broadband internet connection via an undersea cable; a new terminal
for Nairobi’s airport; the overhaul of Kenya’s port at Mombasa; and a
plan to double energy production and slash prices by tapping the Rift
Valley’s geothermal potential.

A divided government may not be able to push these through. With water
and land, energy has become a make-or-break issue. The cost of
electricity has risen 51% this year, with demand growing and climate
change lowering the levels of hydroelectric dams. Kenya’s fractured,
ethnically divided politics has failed to deliver much in such fields
in the past. Yet no one seems enough in charge at the top to get
things moving now.

Trouble ahead for a governing coalition that has fared better than expected
A finance minister resigns
Jul 10th 2008 | NAIROBI

IN THE six months since Kenya’s electoral crisis the country has, in
many ways, done better than expected. About 1,500 Kenyans died in the
weeks following a disputed election, but the killing has abated and
efforts are under way to resettle some of the 300,000 people displaced
in the violence. At the top of the new government of national unity
relations between the president, Mwai Kibaki, and the prime minister
and former leader of the opposition, Raila Odinga, are distant but
respectful. The country has won plaudits for speaking out against
Zimbabwe’s election-stealing president, Robert Mugabe. The economy,
which took heavy blows in January and February, is recovering too.
Although tourism is still in the doldrums, tax revenues were up 20%
last year, exceeding the target by $143m.

Still, the distrust of politicians felt by ordinary Kenyans persists,
especially after the exposure of a complex saga involving the sale of
a government-owned luxury hotel in Nairobi to a Libyan company. Caught
out by the media, heckled by fellow ministers and subjected to the
indignity of a vote of no confidence in Parliament, the finance
minister, Amos Kimunya, was forced to resign on July 8th, two days
after insisting that he would rather “die” than leave office. Mr
Kimunya said he had only “stepped aside” to allow for an investigation
and denies any wrongdoing. Mr Odinga called the decision “honourable”.

The Grand Regency Hotel, just a few streets from the parliament
building, has come to haunt Kenyan politics. It became government
property after it was confiscated from Kamlesh Paul Pattni, a local
businessman alleged to have organised a scam in which the state paid
hundreds of millions of dollars to individuals close to Mr Kibaki’s
predecessor, Daniel arap Moi, for the export of gold and diamonds that
did not exist. Sources say Mr Pattni, now a Christian tele-evangelist,
may have handed over the hotel in exchange for immunity from further
prosecution. Under Kenya’s procurement law, the hotel should have been
advertised for sale and bids received, but Mr Kimunya sold it directly
to the Libyans, assisted by the central bank. He at first denied the
deal, then said it was “too sweet to resist” and that it strengthened
ties between Libya and Kenya.

It is unclear how much was paid. Mr Kimunya insists it was a fair
market price of $45m, though the hotel could be worth as much as
$115m. Mr Odinga says $40m of the money is still in a lawyer’s bank
account. Leaked papers suggest it may have gone for $28m. That
fuzziness in itself should be enough to ensure that Mr Kimunya will be
cleared of any criminal wrongdoing; Kenya has yet to prosecute anybody
significant for corruption.

The affair may, however, damage the stability of the coalition. Mr
Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement, and particularly the lands
minister, James Orengo, led the calls for Mr Kimunya to go. Mr Kimunya
was loyal to Mr Kibaki and the Orange Democrats remain unhappy about
the distribution of cabinet posts. They would like to control the
finance ministry themselves. But those close to Mr Kibaki have made it
clear that if Mr Kimunya does not return the president will appoint a
replacement from his own Party of National Unity. That could spark a
new tussle.

On the other hand, the episode could encourage cleaner government.
That would be good for Kenya. Murky deals are liable to persist, not
least because politicians on both sides owe a lot of money to their
electoral backers. But legitimate business is looking more attractive,
and the boundaries of official misbehaviour might at last be

Hopes for Democracy, Stability and Education Alive in Kenya  /
September 8, 2008

As the world celebrates International Literacy Day today, there are
few countries being more closely watched than Kenya. In 2003, when
newly-elected President Mwai Kibaki announced during his inauguration
that primary school would now be free for all Kenyans, over two
million additional children poured into school. The cause of universal
free education was thus linked from the start with the new hopes for a
stable democracy in Kenya.

There is no question that early 2008 was at least a temporary set-back
to many of those hopes. After the economic and democratic gains that
had come with free elections in 2003 and an economy that had surged to
7% growth in 2007, ethnic violence exploded this January amidst
charges that Kibaki supporters had rigged votes in the December 2007
Presidential elections. Over 1300 Kenyans died before peace was
brokered. Beyond the tragic loss of life, school was disrupted for
hundreds of thousands of children displaced by the violence, while a
decline in tourism and the steep rise in oil prices appear to be
cutting growth in half for 2008. To top it off, in early July, Finance
Minister Amos Kimunya was forced to resign due to his suspicious sale
of Kenya’s Grand Regency Hotel.

And yet despite all this bad news, I returned from a week in Nairobi
this summer feeling optimistic about Kenya. Yes, the power-sharing
agreement between now Prime Minister Ralia Odinga of the Orange
Democratic Movement (ODM) candidate and President Mwai Kibaki of the
Party of National Unity (PNU) is unusual. Yes, peace was partially
bought by splitting existing ministries in two to create ministerial
slots to satisfy powerful advisors in each party. But the benefits of
peace – however it was garnered – are enormous for Kenya. And Odinga –
the likely winner of the election – showed real statesmanship by
accepting the number two spot in the interest of that peace. However
strained this political marriage between Kibaki and Odinga appears, it
does seem to be functioning. And the resulting stability is starting
to pay dividends. In July, France gave the green light to its citizens
to both visit and invest in Kenya again. The partial privatization of
Kenya’s telecom company, Safaricom, was dramatically oversubscribed.
With some luck on oil prices, growth could easily return to 6-7%
levels by 2009 or 2010.

And in a bright spot, one area where this coalition government seems
truly united is on education. Kenya made international news in 2003 by
eliminating the terrible practice of charging even poor parents fees
for each child they send to school – a practice that denies tens of
millions of your people – especially girls – an education in much of
the developing world. The announcement of free education by President
Kibaki brought 1 million new children into school in one week! Since
then, enrollment has gone from 5.9 million to over 8 million. Now
Kenya is taking the pioneering step of eliminating fees for secondary
school – even though it will cost the government ten times the amount
to cover the cost of secondary school as opposed to primary school.
While parents still face the expenses of boarding, uniforms, and
travel, the abolition of fees has again led to a surge in enrollment.

While President Kibaki and his first Education Minister George Saitoti
– both of the PNU – deserve great credit for pushing the elimination
of fees, the Orange Democratic Movement seems just as committed. When
I met with Prime Minister Odinga in his Nairobi office, he told me
that the same education goals were in the platforms of both parties
because “we all agree that education will be the ultimate engine of
Kenya’s economic growth.”

The Ministry of Education has garnered international respect through
both excellent civil servants like Permanent Secretary Karega Mutahi
and Basic Education Secretary George Godia as well as their
decentralized and transparent system for dispersing funds to local
school districts. Rather than hold the money in the Ministry of
Education, Kenya ensures that every shilling gets to the local level
by depositing a per-child grant of 1,020 Kenyan Shillings
(approximately $15 USD) to local banks accounts for each school. The
headmaster is then required to post the amount received in plain view
(which I saw firsthand in school after school that I visited) and work
more closely with parent committees on how to spend the money that
anything I had witnessed in the United States.

While Kenya is stepping up to the plate with serious reforms and the
financial commitment to replace lost school fees – including for 4,000
secondary schools – they cannot do it alone. The overwhelming funds
needed are for teacher salaries – which typically make up 80% of
school budgets. What Kenya most needs from the international community
is help with the recurrent costs that would come with hiring the
47,000 new teachers that current Minister of Education Sam Ongeri says
Kenya needs to handle the additional three million students while
focusing on quality.

This financial reality demonstrates how essential it is for donor
nations to not only start filling the $9 billion annual financing gap
needed for universal basic education, but also to ensure that such
support is, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown stresses, long-term and
predictable. Poor nations that are worried that assistance will only
be short-term will hesitate to bring on new teachers, fearful that
their funding will be cut-off just as those teachers have been trained
and deployed. And without an influx of new teachers, the admirable
effort to bring in millions of new students will mean exploding class
sizes and decreasing quality.

Everywhere I went in Kenya there were high hopes that if Barack Obama
were elected, these concerns would finally be heard. But no G-8 leader
should need to be the child of a Kenyan parent to know that both
educational reform from nations like Kenya and financial support from
donor nations like the United States will have to be long-term to
paint the most optimistic future for Africa.

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