Category Archive for: Kenya [Return to Main]

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sarah Obama: Barack was Born in America

When I was in Kenya earlier this summer with the International Reporting Project, we met with Sarah Obama at her home near Kisumu for a 45 minute interview. She's president Obama's step-grandmother, and she attended his presidential inauguration. During the interview, she was asked by Irin Carmon about "people who believe the president was born in Kenya." Sarah Obama says (through a translator), that the president wasn't born in Kenya, he was born in America:

[Note: The sound failed on my iPhone video, so this uses audio from Martin Robbins.]

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The Water Project at Ol Pejeta Conservatory

During our visit to El Pajeta with the International Reporting Project, we visited a water collection cooperative. The co-op has 250 members, and they pool resources to purchase water collection kits for each household in the co-op. So far, 78 families have received a kit.

The water collection kits allow households to capture and store rainwater during the rainy season, treat it to keep it safe, and then use the water during the dry season. One of the main causes of child mortality here is water borne illnesses, and the use of water collection devices along with water treatment has cut infant mortality substantially (there were no deaths the last year, which is a welcome change from the past when such deaths were common).

We were being sold the idea the El Pajeta conservancy is doing wonders for the community by helping them purchase the water collection tanks -- the conservancy imposed many costs on these communities when it closed off land to preserve animals. The economics of this is a post in itself, I am not at all convinced that the communities are being anywhere near fully compensated for their losses, but setting that aside it was great to hear the mothers talk about how much the water co-op has done to change their lives (just little things like all the extra time they have to do other things instead of searching for water for hours each day). It also allows these communities to develop democratic instituitons. For example, which families in the co-op should get water first? And once the inswtitutions are in place, they can be used to address other important problems.

This is a bridge, not a long-term solution to the water problem. In the longer run, what's really needed is the infrastructure to deliver water to the local communities. But, at least from what I saw, it does seem to be a relatively effective interim solution.

This was our greeting when we arrived for our visit. I apologize for the video, part way through they made me dance (you can see them laughing at me) and the camera got a bit shaky.

Once we sat down, we heard testimonials from co-op members about how this project has improved their lives  (they stressed that although it is green now -- the rainy season just ended -- in a month or so it will be bone dry, so having water that lasts a month or two, as the tanks do, is extremely helpful).

Here is a small part of what we heard. I almost didn't post this, the wind interferes with the sound and the lighting wasn't great, but it will give you a pretty good idea of what we were told by the women in the co-op:

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Elephant Underpass

Elephant populations are becoming increasingly fragmented:

Road to Recovery?, National Geographic: An African elephant approaches an underpass beneath the busy Nanyuki-Meru road in northern Kenya...

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Photograph courtesy Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

The first of its kind for elephants, the underpass will ideally provide a safe corridor for the large mammals to move throughout the Mount Kenya region (map), where highways, fences, and farmlands have split elephant populations, according to Geoffrey Chege, chief conservation officer of the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, a Kenya-based nonprofit.
Without the underpass, animals that try to move between isolated areas often destroy fences and crops—leading to conflicts with people.
Since its completion in late 2010, the underpass has been a "tremendous success"—hundreds of elephants have been spotted walking through the corridor...

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Photograph courtesy Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

At first, only adult male elephants ventured through the underpass, and then only at night.
But before long whole family groups were passing through during the day...

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Image courtesy Lewa Wildlife Conservancy

Currently the region's elephant populations are divided into two isolated groups: 2,000 animals in Mount Kenya and 7,500 in the Samburu-Laikipia ecosystem, according to the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy.
The elephant underpass ... could improve the genetic health of northern Kenya elephants, since more genes will mix as the animals move into various territories and find new mates.
The corridor may also mean that elephants will move around more, reducing pressure on habitats—and possibly helping other species that use the same resources, such as the black rhinoceros, according to the conservancy. ...

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Kenya's Ownership Society

The community service workers we have met here in Kenya are very, very worried about social programs creating dependency on the government. Thus, whenever they talk about their social programs, they emphasize the importance of the individuals "taking ownership."

Obama 050Recess

For example, elementary schools are supposed to be free, but in practice they are not. Parents must buy school uniforms, they must pay teachers extra to get the "full curriculum," there can be development fees for buildings, and so on. In the end, though it's supposed to be free, a substantial number of students are excluded from basic education. The purchase of the school uniform seems to be the biggest barrier (and high school is very expensive for most families, there is tuition in addition to uniforms and other costs, so that most families of limited means cannot afford it).

As another example, Ol Pejeta. the (privately owned) conservancy for endangered animals, helps the communities around it in order to create acceptance for the conservancy (which imposes many costs on the communities). But when they help students, they only pay the fees, they won't pay for uniforms or other costs because, they say, parents must take some degree of ownership (even though this attitude hurts substantial numbers of children who are excluded from the school system). Similar attitudes were applied to maternity care, parents must take some degree of ownership or be excluded, even when it might hurt unborn children.

There are many other examples of this, and there are some examples where "taking ownership" has positive effects. When mosquito nets are given away for free, they end up being used as fishing nets, in chicken coops, all sorts of things that have nothing to do with the intended use. A token payment -- taking ownership -- helps to solve this problem.

So I can understand the fear of dependency in a society such as this, and there is evidence that "taking ownership" can be helpful. But I cannot understand allowing children to be hurt because of it. Sure, there might be a benefit -- some parents will take more interest/ownership in the process. But there is also a cost, many children are excluded from school, and the people paying these costs, the children, are not the ones making the choices. To me, the costs of excluding so many children is far greater than whatever benefit might come from "ownership," and if it were up to me far more resources would be directed toward educating children. It's an investment in the future Kenya will not regret.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Africa Progress Report

A progress report on jobs, justice, and equity for Africa:

The Africa Progress Panel Report — Jobs, Justice and Equity for Africa , by Kevin Watkins, Brookings: In the bullish environment at last week’s World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa in Addis Ababa, the launch of the Africa Progress Panel report stood out as an island of balanced reflection and cautious optimism.
Chaired by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Africa Progress Panel (APP) includes leaders from government, business and civil society. This year’s report, focused on jobs, justice and equity. The panel takes a long, hard look at Africa’s recent record on economic growth, democracy and governance. It provides a hefty dose of good news. More than any other region, Africa’s economies have demonstrated great resilience in withstanding the worst effects of the global recession. The WEF host country, Ethiopia, has been posting higher growth rates than China; Mozambique has been out-performing India. Over 70 percent of the region’s population lives in countries growing in excess of 4 percent a year.
The record on democracy and governance is also encouraging. Multi-party democracy has emerged intact from disputed elections in Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal. Several governments have moved to strengthen anti-corruption measures. And budget transparency is improving.
Set against the positives, the APP does not pull its punches on the downside of the progress report. Launching the report, Kofi Annan told a crowded room of journalists that African governments were failing to tackle what he described as “ethically indefensible and economically inefficient” inequalities. “Disparities in basic life chances – for health, education and participation in society – are preventing millions of Africans from realizing their potential, holding back social and economic progress in the process,” Mr. Annan said.
While the talk in the WEF corridors has been all about the investment opportunities created by growth, the expansion of the middle class and commercial agriculture, the APP turns the spotlight on issues that are conspicuously absent from the wider WEF agenda. It warns that much of the economic growth of the past decade has been jobless, raising the specter of rising youth unemployment. The report cautions that restricted access to education and low levels of learning achievement are reinforcing social disparities and hampering employment creation. And, citing data from research at Brookings, it says that claims made about the growth of an African middle class have been exaggerated.
Taking up a theme that NGOs like Oxfam have addressed, the report also urges African governments to draw a sharper distinction between productive foreign investment in agriculture and what Mr. Annan and his co-panelist and celebrity activist, Bob Geldof, described as speculative land grabs. The report warns that failure to prioritize smallholder agriculture will leave millions of Africans trapped in a cycle of poverty and food insecurity.
Looking ahead, the report calls for a renewed focus on equity and jobs creation, with education placed at the center of national strategies...

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The African Growth and Opportunity Act

Congress is unlikely to renew the trade agreement with African countries known as the African Growth and Opportunity Act:

Rule to Encourage Africa Trade Set to Expire, by Neanda Salvaterra, WSJ: A clause in a U.S. trade law designed to stimulate trade with Africa is set to expire Sept. 30 and, so far, there appears little prospect that it will be renewed by Congress.
At issue is a provision in the African Growth and Opportunity Act, which was passed with bipartisan support by Congress in 2000 and gives 40 African countries tariff-free access to the U.S. market. Some 90% of exports to the U.S. from Africa since then have been oil.
But a clause called the “third-country fabric rule” has been successful in encouraging the growth of African textile and apparel manufacturing, which is part of the development goal of AGOA, as the law is known. ... But the provision had a built-in expiration date of Sept. 30, 2012. And, so far, there appears to be little prospect Congress will renew it.
The reason: partisan bickering, says Witney Schneidman, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs under President Bill Clinton who recently authored a report on AGOA for the Brookings Institution.
Few bills have made it to a vote in Congress this year. Any bill, including an extension of the third-country rule, that comes up for a vote therefore runs the risk of having a range of legislation appended to it that otherwise is unlikely to reach the House floor. ...
Renewing the provision isn’t a pressing issue for U.S. manufacturers as the African third-party garment provision represents a small part of overall U.S. textile imports. But the rule has generated $800 million in exports and a lot of jobs in Africa where oil extraction generates few employment opportunities for medium and low skilled labor. ...
AGOA , which is set to expire in 2015, was crafted at a time when the U.S. focus was aid and not trade. According to Mr. Schneidman, this needs to change, if U.S. firms are to compete with countries like China which has engaged Africa with an estimated $ 73.4 billion in export trade. ...

Here's more from Brookings:

Summary In May 2000, President Bill Clinton, as a part of his leadership in enhancing ties between the U.S. and Africa, signed into law the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), a historic piece of legislation that provides preferential duty-free access to U.S. markets for nearly 6,400 product lines from sub-Saharan Africa. With the goal of both supporting business in the United States and critical political and economic reforms in African countries, AGOA has created an estimated 300,000 jobs on the continent and contributed to the region’s emergence as one of the world’s fastest growing markets, with total U.S. exports to sub-Saharan Africa tripling between 2001 and 2011. Today, AGOA stands as the cornerstone of the U.S.-African commercial relationship. AGOA is set to expire in 2015 and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Trade Representative Ronald Kirk have called for a "seamless renewal" of the act. This commitment to extending AGOA has led to a new policy debate over the length of the extension, how to strengthen the act, and how the U.S. can increase its commercial presence on the continent given the expanding influence of China, India, Brazil and other large emerging economies. ...

Challenges for Women in the African Economy

Via Brookings, one of the many things I read/watched to get ready for the trip to Kenya:

In many African countries, women still cannot own land or resources, a significant barrier to their ability to start businesses and take advantage of the continent’s economic potential. Fellow Anne Kamau explores their plight.


Challenges for Women in the African Economy

Monday, June 18, 2012

Africa Specializing in Capital Exodus?

This is from Léonce Ndikumana:

Africa Specializing in Capital Exodus?, by Léonce Ndikumana: Even as Africa faces severe shortages of skilled labor at home, it experiences large and increasing outflows of highly-skilled labor migration to industrialized economies in search of better job opportunities. The investments made in the training of these professionals are losses to African countries but translate into hefty gains for receiving countries.  Thus resource-starved African nations are subsidizing developed countries’ industries and social services. ...
Parallel to this exodus of human capital is the illicit export of financial capital from African countries – or capital flight. This is not a new phenomenon, and it shows no signs of abating.
Over the past four decades, sub-Saharan Africa has lost a staggering $700 billion due to capital flight. In addition to trade misinvoicing, smuggling, and embezzlement of revenues from natural resource exports, a substantial part of the capital flight was financed by external borrowing. We estimate that every year 40 to 60 cents of each borrowed dollar spins out of the revolving door as capital flight, often returning to the same banks that issued the loans. On net basis, Africa is transferring more money to the rest of the world than it is receiving in terms of borrowing and aid. Once again, Africa is net financier to the rest of the world rather than the other way around as commonly perceived. And unlike in the case of human capital exodus, financial capital flight generates absolutely no flows in the reverse direction; it is an unmitigated loss to the continent.
Capital flight, and the burden of servicing the debts that financed it, are partly to blame for the conditions that create the other economic problems faced by the continent...  Illicit financial flows drain scarce public resources that could have been used to finance public services including education and health. It partly explains why there are not enough schools, clinics, and medical equipment; it also explains the poor working conditions for doctors, teachers, and other professionals that force them to seek greener pastures abroad.
Stemming capital flight could substantially bridge the financing gaps faced by African countries. ...
It is clear that Africa’s development pathways, characterized by exodus of human and financial capital, are not sustainable in the long run. Obviously African countries have the primary responsibility to devise and implement strategies to keep capital onshore. But the international community also has an equally important responsibility to root out the perverse incentives and opacity in the financial system that enable and perpetuate the financial hemorrhage faced by the continent. This would enhance the efficiency of donors’ support to Africa’s efforts to boost investments in education, stimulate private sector development, employment creation, and generally improve domestic living and working conditions that are necessary for optimal utilization of skilled human capital on the continent. ...

Kenya in Transition

An interview with Kenya’s Vice President and Minister for Home Affairs Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka:

Kenya in Transition: A Conversation with Vice President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka: Summary Few countries have experienced transitions as dramatic as those occurring now in the Republic of Kenya. Just in the past year, Kenyans have adopted a new national constitution, deployed security forces to Somalia in pursuit of al-Shabaab militants, and discovered commercially-viable oil deposits. Amid these developments, Kenya is preparing for its first presidential elections since the 2008 election disputes.

On May 22, the Africa Growth Initiative (AGI) at Brookings hosted Kenya’s Vice President and Minister for Home Affairs Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka for a discussion on these dramatic transitions and current national challenges and opportunities. Vice President Musyoka was appointed by President Mwai Kibaki in 2008, and previously served as foreign affairs minister from 1993–98 and 2003–04.

"Kenya’s Forever War"

Dayo Olopade does not believe Kenya's “Operation Linda Nchi” -- it's war against terrorism -- is worth the cost:

Kenya’s Forever War, by Dayo Olopade, Commentary, NY Times: NAIROBI — A bomb exploded in downtown Nairobi on Monday [May 28] — the eighth such attack in as many months. It was a far more sophisticated operation than the makeshift grenades that have been tossed from moving cars and into small churches and bars in the recent past. This bomb was big enough to send at least 30 Kenyans to the hospital. ...
Al Shabab, the Somalia-based terrorist group, has claimed responsibility for previous attacks in Kenya. But there are other culprits closer to home: Odinga, President Mwai Kibaki and the Kenyan military brass who last year unilaterally declared open-ended war against Al Shabab, with unacceptable side effects.
Operation Linda Nchi” (“Protect the Nation”), which began in October, was sold to Kenya with the same “offense as defense” playbook that took the United States into war with Iraq. Ministers assured Kenyans that the invasion would be quick and easy, focused on the “hot pursuit” of kidnappers and pirates who had been terrorizing Kenya’s northern coast.
Like the promises of a slam dunk in Iraq, none of those projections have been true. Eight months on, the fight against Al Shabab — which even Somalia’s president has called “unwelcome” — is proceeding with only middling success. ... Taming Somalia is like taming Afghanistan: no nation has done it, though plenty have bled their treasuries trying.
Living in the Horn of Africa over the past year, I’ve been humbled by the complexities of regional politics. The Kenyan establishment had its reasons to invade Somalia: fighting for vital tourist dollars, punishing rogue pirates and petty kidnappers, protecting the $24 billion port under construction in the northern town of Lamu. Pressure from an America that has itself soured on military intervention is also said to play a role. But I still believe that none of these justifications is worth it. ...
The mounting belief that this foreign war is causing domestic violence has become a growing chink in the unified front that Kenyan citizens first projected when Linda Nchi began. Kenya’s failure to confront this could prolong the violence in both places.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Africa and the Great Recession

"In previous global downturns, sub-Saharan Africa has usually been badly affected—but not this time around":

Africa and the Great Recession: Changing Times, by Antoinette Sayeh, iMFdirect: The world economy has experienced much dislocation since the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008. ... But in sub-Saharan Africa, growth for the region as a whole has remained reasonably strong (around 5 percent)...
Of course,... not all economies have fared equally well. The more advanced economies in the region (notably South Africa) have close links to export markets in the advanced economies, and have experienced a sharper slowdown, and weaker recovery, than did the bulk of the region’s low-income economies.  Countries affected by civil strife (such as Cote d’Ivoire, and now Mali) and by drought have also fared less well...
So why has most of sub-Saharan Africa continued to record solid growth against the backdrop of such a weak global economy?  And can we expect this solid growth performance to continue in the next few years?
First... As we show in the latest IMF Regional Economic Outlook for Sub-Saharan Africa ... the region has been growing consistently strongly for over a decade.  ... This solid growth record has been supported by ... significantly less civil conflict, the generally favorable commodity price developments benefiting Africa’s natural resource exporters; and the extensive debt relief provided to most highly-indebted poor countries. But I would ascribe key importance to sound policy choices by African governments – both in terms of pursuing appropriate macroeconomic policies and pressing ahead with important reform measures.
Specifically, economic policies in the last decade have been directed firmly toward economic stability and market liberalization. Inflation has been tamed, foreign reserves have risen, and debt burdens have been reduced. Fast-growing export markets in Asia have been tapped. The result has been rising investment—domestic and foreign—the deepening of financial sectors, and stronger productivity growth.
Second, sub-Saharan Africa has been partially insulated from the adverse cyclical effects of the Great Recession because of a number of key factors.  Commodity prices for African natural resources have remained relatively high to date, sustained by the continued strong growth of major emerging market economies, most notably China.  African banking systems have not experienced the severe financial stresses recorded in the advance economies... And African policymakers were able to ease budgetary policies to support economic activity during this crisis, instead of being forced to cut outlays because of severe borrowing constraints as occurred in past downturns.
Looking ahead In 2011, output growth in sub-Saharan Africa averaged 5 percent. In 2012, we project that it could be a touch higher...
Not that everything is rosy. Unacceptable levels of poverty and poor social conditions still plague the region. Employment growth lags behind most emerging markets, with much of the growth still in agriculture and traditional services. Progress toward the Millennium Development Goals is too slow. And of course, with European finances still uncertain and geopolitical uncertainty troubling oil markets, the world economy could still take another turn for the worse. A resumed global downturn would hit African exports, investment, tourism, remittances, and aid flows to varying degree – slowing the pace of regional growth for a period but not derailing it over the medium term. ...
Longer-term development Lastly, but crucially... How does sub-Saharan Africa keep up its good growth performance? Mainly, I think, by ... maintaining prudent macroeconomic policies and improving the business climate further. It also requires broadening the revenue base and modernizing public financial management so that essential spending—including on infrastructure and public services—can be financed.
It is also vital that we keep a focus on the young and on inclusive growth. Better education, robust health, and realistic job opportunities are, in the long run, truly the only secure foundations to sustained prosperity.

Kenya: Oil and Isolation

Will then discovery of oil in the Turkana region of Kenya lead to civil conflict that rips the country apart?:

Oil and Isolation, by Juliet Torome, Commentary, Project Syndicate: In Kenya, there is a running gag that sums up how far away the Turkana people live from the rest of us. When a Turkana man leaves for the capital, Nairobi, the joke goes, he tells his family, “I’m going to Kenya.” ...
The Turkana people are, as the joke suggests, as far away from Nairobi as one can be without being foreigners. For this reason, we know very little about them. In schools, we learned about them only within the context of the Leakey family’s decades-long work excavating the Lake Turkana basin in search of fossils of humans’ ancestors. This could be one reason why Kenyans have historically looked at the Turkana people as archaic beings, millennia away from “civilization” and with different needs from most of the country.
The lack of adequate infrastructure in the Turkana region is evidence of this. Unlike the Maasai, the Turkana inhabit a region that, until now, was of little or no value to the country. There are no wild animals to attract tourists, and, although the Turkana, like the Maasai, have preserved their indigenous culture, they are not renowned around the world, perhaps because of their distance from Nairobi. ...
The discovery of oil presents Kenya with a rare opportunity to end the Turkana community’s marginalization. Discussion of how the oil exploration and extraction will proceed needs to start now, and the health of the environment surrounding the Turkana people must be paramount. ...
Some of the precautions... to safeguard ... welfare include establishing a regulatory body that fosters transparency in contract negotiations; balancing oil production with conservation of the area’s unique biodiversity; enforcing high standards of corporate responsibility; and regulating land sales to prevent conflicts. Finally, the government should ensure that Turkana people are trained to understand and participate in the new sector.
If Kenya approaches oil exploration and extraction ... and fails to implement these common-sense recommendations, a few years from now Kenyans might be sorry that oil was ever found. Indeed, Kenya could end up with a conflict similar to the one in Nigeria’s Niger Delta, where local people took up arms to fight the oil industry’s degradation of their environment.
Unfortunately, the foundation for such a conflict has already, sadly, been laid. Many people in the Lake Turkana region are already armed with AK-47s and other weapons originally intended for protection from cattle rustlers. If Kenya’s government fails to protect the Turkana from the oil companies as well, its people might well start shooting.