Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Greetings from Malindi

Well, thanks all of you for reading along.  I am working on a nice post about institutional reforms in Kenya (scintillating, I know).  But, while I was working on it, this happened: http://ow.ly/7I6tO.

Long story short, one year ago, the President of Sudan, Omar Al-Bashir paid a visit to Kenya.  Al-Bashir has an outstanding case in front of the International Criminal Court, for his part in all the atrocities that have been happening in Sudan over the last...well, decade.

ICJ Kenya, when they found out that Al-Bashir was in Kenya, immediately applied for an arrest warrant for Al-Bashir.  Well, the judgment coming from that petition took a year, but from the sounds of it, the court made the correct, if tardy, decision.  If Al-Bashir ever enters Kenya again, he will be arrested.  That is a very, very interesting development in international Criminal Law, and is a fantastic positive move towards combating the scourge of impunity (that is, the fact that so many dictators manage to violate so many human rights, and then never face any consequences).

Enjoy reading about this issue, and I would suggest reading a bit more about the background of the terrible situation in Sudan.  After that, I should have another post for you!

Friday, 25 November 2011

Solidarity: Moving Ahead to Meaningful Change

I attended a meeting and press conference a week ago about police reforms.  Above is the picture from the press conference, which shows me joining in the slogan at the end of the meeting (didn't know exactly what I was saying), and, oddly, with a light fixture over my head, slightly reminiscent of a halo.  I will not read into that in any great detail, mind you.

The issue of reform is a very hot topic here.  The 2007 post-election violence, in a lot of ways, was a major catalyst in the reconsideration of how public institutions were set up in Kenya.  The first step was constitutional reform, although this had been at the top of the list sometime, with a 'first draft' new constitution failing to be enacted in 2005.  With the coming of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, however, there is now a push for broad, sweeping changes in the institutional landscape of Kenya.

Those are very weighty and impressive words, but I think they also come with a bit of ambiguity and uncertainty.  What kind of reform are we talking about?  And how can such a huge amount of reforms take place, especially with an election looming in 2012?

A few of the major institutions that have been targeted for reform include:  the judiciary, the police, the electoral system, and county/local governments.

A very positive note has been the steps taken towards Judicial reform.  Unfortunately, the Judiciary has been regarded skeptically in the past, plagued with issues of corruption, inefficiency and incompetence.  With the new Constitution, major changes are occurring, first with the establishment of a new Supreme Court, and a new law for vetting all judges and magistrates.  In fact, I'll be travelling to Eldoret to participate in a live radio talk show about the vetting procedures, as well as a public forum, in an effort to engage the public and educate them on what to expect with the whole process.  I am nervous.  I will try and get a podcast, or some sort of recording of the radio show and see if I can upload it.

Police reforms, and reforms in the security sector in general, are a vital part of ensuring a peaceful transition through the elections in 2012.  Often, the 2007 PEV is attributed, in part, to police activity.  That is, the police force was seen as a major instigator to some of the violence that occurred.  This was tied to issues of corruption and political influence over the police.  While this is true, I think an important thing to realize as well was that the police were massively unprepared, underfunded, and under-equipped to deal with the conflict and problems associated with the elections.  While the conversations about police reform often focus on removing the 'bad eggs' from the police force, and vetting other members to ensure the integrity of the institution, I think it is also just as important to make sure the police force has the proper training and resources to ensure that members of the police force are capable of handling the types of problems that arise during elections, that they have proper education on human rights, and that they have appropriate salaries to make sure that taking bribes is less of a temptation.  The police force is often seen as being linked to violence from the State.  But it also has the capacity to keep peace, order and security.  How these police reforms are carried out will provide a good measure of how effective Kenya's institutional reforms are going to be.  I am excited to be a part of developing a toolkit, with other CSO partners, for the police vetting board to use in order to ensure that the process is carried out properly.

Electoral reforms is also a massive topic.  Poorly regulated elections processes, especially with regards to monitoring political parties and the strategies that they used to elicit votes have been a flashpoint for violence.  This is a focus of the 2011 Annual Jurists' Conference, which happened last week and which I will finish blogging about soon.  Stay posted!

Finally, Kenya is making a move towards a 'devolved government' scheme.  I haven't fully had a chance to work out the details of the scheme yet, but I am getting the sense that it will be somewhat similar to the idea of division of powers between the Federal and Provincial Governments in Canada.  It's not a Federal system, however, so I'll have to get back to you on that matter.

Anyways, I recognize that that was a fairly dry post, about legal happenings going on here.  However, I hope you understand the gravity of the situation here.  Kenya is in a transitional phase.  And the government, despite some of the bad press it is getting, and the relatively irrational decisions (for example, the incursion into Somalia for reasons not quite known) it can make, has been diligently trying to implement this new Constitution.  Nobody wants a repeat of the 2007 tragedy.  And the attitude is very positive that Kenya can set a great precedent for the entire continent  in terms of successful institutional reform.  Legally, very exciting times.  Hope you think so too!

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

UPDATE: Kenyan Student Duties

A small update of my Oct. 29th post about filing the Notice of Petition.

After all that, we filed in the wrong court!  This information was found out by the acting lawyer, who showed up in court, on the day of the hearing, and got an earful from the Magistrate.

I felt really bad about this situation.  I asked my colleague James about what we did wrong.  I thought in my head of all the steps.  We went to every registry office at the court house to file, before finding the right one.  Did we miss one?  I really don't think so.  And at every stage, people were telling us that there was no file that existed like the one we were trying to file, until we went to the high court.

I refuse to surmise about how I get it wrong, but it definitely left me a little frustrated about a court system that makes it difficult to file a document.  Perhaps, as a little life lesson, I can understand on some level how frustrating, confusing, and illogical court systems are for the lay person, even in Canada.  I will now do my best to avoid the court houses at all costs.

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

But for the Donkey: Life Lessons from a Beast of Burden

[Disclaimer:  The donkey didn't make it.  No use denying it]

As some of you are aware, I was slated to run the 5K fun run at the Masai Mara Marathon on Nov. 19th.  That was step one in my 'get fit regime', which was to culminate in the Kilimanjaro Half-marathon in February 2012, and supplemented with me training with the Impala Club Soccer team.  All of this was to be supplemented with a personal work out routine.  That was the idea, at least.

Let me rewind, first.  The whole idea for signing up for this 5K run came out of a 'carb-loading' dinner, at a friend's house.  They were carb-loading for their pending run in the Nairobi marathon the next day.  I was just there to eat.  During the conversation, people started wondering what race they should do next.  I personally thought that they should just focus on finishing the Nairobi Marathon (safely, given the penchant for random grenade attacks at the time).  One person piped up and said that there was a marathon in the Masai Mara.  This piqued my interest.  Not the running part, you understand, the opportunity to check out the Mara, which is a world-famous landmark, and home to some of the stunning wildlife that people associate with Africa.  I am fairly sure, at this point, that I was the person who insisted that this Masai Mara Marathon was something we should do.
Whether or not I was the ringleader, I was definitely interested, and spent the next week looking at the website, reading about the course, reading terrible online 5K training regimes, and generally getting pumped up about the whole thing.  As is per usual, I began to package this whole idea into something that made sense to me, that I could control.  Or so I thought.

Firstly, the number of people that jumped onto the Masai Mara Marathon Mzungu Parade was large!  It started out as a group of 3 or 4 friends, and swelled to about 15 people, most of whom I think I knew.  And as the group grew, I became less and less centrally involved.  All sorts of interesting things started to happen.  Two of the group hooked up at a party, but one of the 'participants' wasn't fully interested, and decided to head home from the party early.  The other 'participant' was thoroughly upset about this.  So, she decided to hire a taxi, follow the gentleman home, and give him a mouthful of abuse about the whole situation.  To the point that the guy had to lock himself in his own apartment.  Sign #1 - these two people somehow were selected to ride in a car together, and that car happened to be driving me as well.

But, this story should really start with the logical starting place - registering for the race.  Or, at least our repeated attempts to register.  First we tried the easy way - register online, and pay with 'M-pesa' (the revolutionary way of transferring money over cellphones).  But, when we tried to get an M-pesa account, the 'network failed'.  Or something.  No worries, let's try and register the old-fashioned way.  Wait, the deadline is 2pm, on a weekday.  That was impossible for me, but my friends try and go anyways.  But wait, the registration place DOESN'T TAKE CASH.  Or credit card.  So we miss the deadline.  But no worries, we can register late, we're told, come tomorrow, we're told.  We go to the main office the next day (Saturday).  We wait.  We wait.  We are told that the office is not open on weekends.  Finally, on Monday, a friend managed to get her M-pesa account to work!  Sign #2, when a race is impossible to register for, maybe you shouldn't, after all.

My preparations for this excursions were typical.  I put my running shoes in a corner, piled my socks, shorts, tshirt, and other random 'running' things together.  I packed the bare minimum of food, and as much water as I could.  I weasled my way out of having to buy anything substantial, as I could borrow a tent, a sleeping bag and a mattress from my work.  I was packed, and ready to go, two days in advance (basically).  Over this time, things at work continued to be utterly awesome.  I got a few assignments - on Police reforms, Judicial Reforms, and got drafted out to a trip to Machakos, the day before we were to head out to the race.  Sign #3 - Work, seemingly out of nowhere, suddenly gets more awesome (if that's even possible), but you are forced to only produce superficial results, because of feeling pressured to leave early for this race, consider what one's priorities should be.  Sign #3.5 - On the way to Machakos, if a professional driver narrowly avoids getting in an accident, call yourself lucky, and try and avoid bad driving situations in the future.

I show up at the meeting point, late, slightly stressed.  No worries, our ride is out getting a spare, spare tire (good to be prepared).  The rest of our group is there, not really getting along.  I've already mentioned the awkward love situation.  It was not helped by the fact that my roommate got frustrated with the other girl, and in a fit of exasperation, sent a text saying 'this girl is driving me crazy'.  That is, sent it to the girl in question.  Perfect.  Good vibes.  Sign #4, when your rag tag group has conflict before you even hit the road, perhaps engage in some form of dispute resolution before venturing on.

We finally get on the road, after somehow managing to fit 5 people's belongings into a small car.  Good thing we bought enough food for over a week (that's being sarcastic).  Spirits are high, this is an adventure!  Until we hit a huge traffic jam.  As we crawl along, it becomes apparent that the major hold up is a massive collision between two lorries.  As we drive by (after hopping onto the sidewalk), I notice a cart with grass on it.  I ask my colleagues - 'isn't that a donkey cart?'  They all laugh.  Sign #5 - Don't laugh at car crashes with donkey involvement.  Sign #5.5 - horrific crashes = be very afraid of driving in Kenya.

Now we are on the highway, flying.  Things are going well, but I think people are a little anxious to get to the Mara - after everything, we've left an hour late.  Sign #6 - don't rush, because there are relatively few things worth rushing for.  Travelling at about 120km/hr, on a straight stretch of road, three donkeys sprint onto the highway, about 100m in front of us.  Our driver does a great job of slamming on the breaks and keeping the car in control.  Two of the donkeys keep running, and are well away.  The third donkey decides to stop, or slow down.  We hit the donkey, travelling at about 70km/hr - fast enough that bounces off the hood and slides up off of the car, but not so fast that it crashes through the windshield.  Fast enought that a spray of brown sweat/dirt from the donkey slops against the windshield.  Fast enough that the radiator system is destroyed, sending radiator fluid gushing out of the bottom of the car, like it's bleeding.  But not fast enough that there is any noticeable damage to the engine.  Fast enough to fatally injure the donkey, but not fast enough to kill it quickly.

Time passes.  We sit on the side of the road, waiting for assistance, unable to get through to the police, or when we do get through, struggling to communicate properly.  Our rag tag group is struggling to stay together.  Well, not struggling at all - there are certain people that are dead-set on continuing on to the Mara, and others that don't want to leave the scene, and our poor driver, who is distraught, both about killing a donkey, and totalling her car.  The mood is slightly lightened by the steady stream of maasai farmers, goat herds and cattle herds that wander by and stop to chat.  It is also helped by digging into the mountain of food that we stockpiled for a weekend trip.  The donkey has passed, and we drag it off the road.  A herd of donkeys approaches their fallen comrade, and the ensuing braying is both heart-wrenching and nerve-grating.

Time keeps on moving.  We still are uncertain about how long a tow truck, or the police, are going to take to come, or if they are even coming.  I flag a matatu, and persuade two of our group to leave.  They continue on to the masai mara and to the race, and hopefully have a good time (or at least a better time than they had sorting out their unfortunate (non-)love story).  I have now befriended a 25 year-old Tanzanian Witch doctor, who is showing me random herbs that can cure gout, others that are used for psychotic and/or epileptic episodes, and the small cuts on his arm that prove his powers.  He's actually really nice.  Samson, a mechanic, is suddenly now a part of our group.  He tells us he can fix the car.  He is carrying two wrenches and a vial of super glue.  Our driver gives him some duct tape, and he starts banging away at the car.  The car starts, but the attempted fix of the radiator fails (surprise!).  I end up paying Samson for his troubles.

The police finally come.  At the same time as the tow truck.  Haggling ensues.  The person that does vehicle inspections is off for the night (by this time the sun is gone, and we are fully feeling out of our element).  We are going to have to stay in Ntulele.  No, we really, really don't want to do that.  Luckily, a woman's tears are a good bargaining tool.  They agree to drive back to Ntulele, fill out at abstract, and write a letter to the police in Nairobi, who can do an inspection later, on Monday.  The car is loaded onto the flat-bed tow truck, and we drive, sullenly, to the police station.  Amazingly, the police are fantastic, affable, and, it seems, not corrupt.  We leave after 15 minutes.

Our driver and I are forced to ride back to Nairobi in the wrecked car, on the back of the flat bed.  I find a bottle of gin, and we pass the time.  Not too far into the ride, we notice that there is a flashcard taped to the dash.  My roommate, who is learning swahili, just for fun, had made a bunch of flashcards of swahili phrases (rated R), and plastered them all over her dashboard.  To avoid embarrassment, our driver had taken all of them off, all but one: "punda wewe" ("You Donkey").  Sign #7 - Language is powerful - don't put swearwords on your car involving donkeys.

We are all healthy, and everything is ok.  The donkey is not.  But my thoughts go out to it.  Next time Ganesh will be on the dashboard, and I will make sure that I don't travel with such a motley crew.  On the same day, our driver finds out that she has to restart paying her student loans, under the following logic:  if she was making less than 15k in England, she qualify for low-income deferral, but because the 'standard of living' in Kenya is 'so low', they've reduced that amount to 6k.  I don't follow that reasoning.  Regardless, terrible timing.  And then she has her camera stolen later on in the night, so no photographic evidence either. You'll just have to take my word for it.

(Picture courtesy of my roommate, and Javier Merelo)

Monday, 14 November 2011

Like Water for Chocolate

Well, I am almost at the two-month mark of my stay here in Kenya, and it's finally happened.  You have to understand - I have been very, very engaged with the work I have been doing at ICJ Kenya and I have been incredibly fortunate to come here, at this particular time, doing this particular type of work, when it is really the soul food of the political maturation of Kenya as a community and as a State.

But, the truth is, as much as the work has been firing up my brain, functionally, I am still basically sitting at a desk, staring at a computer every day.  My body was only going to let me do that for so long.

So, I am now doing this (just the short version), probably this (the half version), and have officially started training with the Impala Club Football (soccer) team.

Here are my first impressions of attempting to get back in shape in Nairobi.

  1. I have no idea what time is a good time to run.  I thought that getting up for a run at 6am would be good, but the roads are literally packed with people.  I hear through the grapevine that these people make the walk, early in the morning, from their houses, towards the Central Business District, in order to see if they can pick up casual work for the day.  If they don't manage to find anything, they spend the day relaxing in Uruhu and Central park, before heading home again.
  2. I feel incredibly self-conscious about running here.  Am I just another crazy Mzungu on parade?
  3. The possibility of it starting to rain is a really good motivating factor to make me kick the last kilometer of my run.  Fortunately, it's never started to rain, because I don't have the capacity to sprint for a kilometer yet (or ever).
  4. Trying to play soccer with a bunch of 20 year-old kids who are in the Nairobi top-flight division is humbling.  BUT, when you score a goal in practice, even if you were actually trying to pass it to a teammate, don't be stupid and actually tell anyone that.  You scored a goal.  Celebrate, and let everyone think you are a fantastic soccer player that is 'just a bit out of shape'.
So there you go.  Please send your positive vibes my way, as I undertake a personal project to get fit.  The outcome is still very tenuous.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Civil Society in Kenya

One of my earlier experiences working in the ICJ Kenya offices was sitting outside, sharing lunch with a few of the staff.  They were chatting about the vicissitudes of vetting processes, how to make sure police officers and judges weren’t corrupt, and things like that.  Good, interesting stuff.  But one thing I learned quickly about the Human Rights work over here is that they absolutely love acronyms – CRADLE, CHESO, KNCHR, KHRC, IEBC, IIEC, etc.  It’s a bit jarring initially.  But after a little bit of dutiful research, it becomes easier to follow along with the conversations.

So, here we are, chatting about the vetting process, chatting about how ICJ Kenya was involved in some of the initial work on the issue of vetting judges.  Then the conversation turned more general – they explained to me the role of CSOs in fighting for democratic rights, for the rule of law, for good governance, for accountability, for Kenyan prosperity.  It sounds fantastic, but I have no idea what a CSO is.

CSO is the acronym used for Civil Society Organizations.  This is a phrase that is not used in Canada.  Or if it is, I am not invited to those parties.  The closest concepts that we use are ‘non-profit organizations’, which are now ‘not-for-profit organizations’ (NPOs), or ‘charitable organizations’, or even ‘Non-Governmental Organizations’ (NGOs).  But my conception of a CSO does not match any of these things.  NGOs, or at least ones that people generally talk about, are generally international organizations – think Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, or Greenpeace.  NPOs and charitable organizations are generally domestic in nature – The Rotary Club is a charitable organization, and the Edmonton Folk Festival Society is a NPO.  A CSO is similar to all these entities, but the one major difference is what I think is a commitment to improving society at the local, provincial or national level.  NGOs aim to promote certain concepts (the environment, human rights, right wing libertarianism) on a global scale, NPOs and charitable organizations may not function to better society at all.  CSOs, at some level, are stakeholders in the policies and laws that govern the land.

It’s a curious distinction.  A law firm is not a CSO, even though it may occasionally undertake public interest litigation that betters society.  But a Law Society, the regulatory body of lawyers, is invariably a CSO, even though a particular Law Society may rarely engage in any services that are directed to improving society.  It has less to do with the type of work that is done, and more to do with the goals and mission of the organization, and its standing in society at large.  Law Firms, at their core, are money-making enterprises; Law Societies regulate not only individual lawyers, but, more broadly, the role of lawyers in society.

Anyways, over and above what a CSO is, their role in Kenyan socio-political life is massive.  As a major draw for foreign funding, CSO jobs have become highly sought-after by the best and brightest Kenyan professionals.  Obviously, at least in the legal field, there is still good money to be made in private practice, but the fact that there are real, viable alternatives has created a much different legal community than is found in Canada.  

In Canada, public interest is served by a few, committed, persistent groups of individuals, often working in a volunteer capacity.  The first thing that comes to mind are organizations like the Autism Society.  Wonderful, necessary organizations, advocating for change, but that are often marginalized because they (a) lack sufficient funds to engage the government, the media, and the general public, and (b) they lack the political 'clout'.

In contrast, the sense I am getting here is that CSO are not fringe players in the movement towards democratic and rule of law principles in Kenya.  They are the prime catalysts.  They are the organizations responsible for educating the public (both international and domestic) on what the government is doing.  They are actively engaged WITH government, on the development and implementation of important legislation and decisions (including, say, the Constitution, for example).  And they have a large and loud voice when things are not going well, especially in the media.

ICJ Kenya is one of the CSOs that is at the forefront of Kenya's developments.  CSOs have a massive role to play over the next year - elections are coming up (and no one wants to see a repeat of what happened last time), there is an 'incursion' in Somalia that is raising some flags, there is a massive case in the ICC about the 2007 post-election violence, there are massive legislative reforms underway thanks to the implementation of the new constitution, and all the while, there are still human rights concerns and issues around the country, both from past grievances and ongoing problems.  There's really no time to pause and breathe - it's full-steam ahead, all the time.  

I'm glad to be a part of it.

Monday, 7 November 2011


Sorry for the long delay in posting.  It has been a fairly busy time over here.  But before I report on that - I mentioned early on (here) that, for about $10 a month, I get lunches everyday at the office.  Here's a photoblog of my weekly eats.  Yum!


Rice, red beans, meat stew.  Delectable - the beans and rice by themselves would be good enough to sustain me for years.  The meat stew adds a little bit of heaven.


Ugali, Sukuma, meat stew and 'spaghetti'.  Ugali is the white block in the picture - made out of maize flour.  It is dense and has the texture of a good pound cake, minus all the sugar.  The sukuma is what they sometimes call 'spinach' here, but is probably closer to kale.  It is slightly bitter, but they cook it with onions, and it goes really well in this meal.  The pasta is a bit of a delicacy to my colleagues.  And the meat stew is the icing on the 'cake'.


MY FAVORITE DAY OF THE WEEK: Chapati wednesdays.  Chapati, with pea stew and meat stew.  Seems simple, but east africans have a particular way of making chapatis (different from the way they are made in India), and I find them addictive.  This is a no utensil meal - chapati dipped in sauce.  The meat stew gives it a bit of a kick.


Rice, beans & carrots, cabbage and meat stew.  This is a curious mix, actually.  As above, the rice and beans are so good, I could just eat them non-stop.  But, this time, the cabbage is added, and its crunchy, yet cool and refreshing effect on my palate makes me feel like I could jump up and run a marathon.  The meat stew adds a subtle bit of oomph to the mix.


This is much the same as Tuesday's meal - Ugali, sukuma and meat stew.  However, the absence of the spaghetti is covered up by piling on a huge amount of sukuma.  I feel like popeye when I eat all the greens, but it's the meat stew that really builds the muscle.

So, there you go - that is a report from my stomach.  I personally really enjoy the food here.  Especially the more traditional stuff.  I don't have any pictures of my nights out eating Nyama Choma, though, that will have to wait.