Monday, 30 January 2012

Setting goals in an uncertain year

2012, in a lot of ways, will be an historic year in Kenya.  Let's hope that the historic moment is not marred by violence, corruption and controversy.  Work at the office has already become overwhelmingly busy.  There is going to be a lot of goal setting and priority juggling.  We are off on a 'Strategic Planning Retreat' in the first week of February, so that the office can take some time to plan for the year ahead, and so that the new faces can meet everyone and get a real sense of how ICJ-Kenya works.

In the meantime, the Kenyan situation forges ahead:

  • The Kenyan High Court released its decision on when the Elections Date should actually be held.  It's quite an interesting situation, in actual fact - while the new Constitution of Kenya holds that all elections in Kenya should be held in August, this entire year is a 'transitional' year.  Which means that several major sections of the Constitution, including when the next election should be held, are unclear.  There has been considerable debate on the matter, from all sides of society.  CSOs have been urging for the 'direct' interpretation of the Constitution, and for elections to be held in August 2012.  The Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, which is the major administrative body in charge of setting up the elections, had stated that it would be impossible, from an administrative standpoint, to have the elections any time before December 2012.  On that note, an MP put a bill forward in Parliament, hoping to amend the Constitution (both on the elections date, and on the issue of the 1/3 gender requirement).  President Kibaki has come out and asked people to respect the 'full terms' of the elected officials, from the last election (which would put the elections sometime in March 2013).  So, inevitably, it remained for the courts to make the final determination.  If you need some bedtime reading, you can read the full decision here. It is an interesting decision, which ultimately refers to the 'Power-sharing' government that was set up by Kofi Annan as a means of ending the 2007 post-election violence.  One of the important aspects of the power-sharing agreement between the President and the Prime Minister was that neither one could dissolve the National Assembly without the express written consent of the other.  Otherwise, the terms of the two heads of state were to expire after 5 years (January 2013).  And, by the letter of the law, an election would have to be held within 60 days of either (a) the dissolution of the National Assembly, or (b) the expiry of the terms of the elected officials.  So, it turns out that the High Court agreed with President Kibaki (sort of) - the absolute latest date that an election could be held is March 2013, unless the President and Prime Minister agree to dissolve the National Assembly before that time.  An appeal of the decision has already been launched by a group of Civil Society Organizations (not including ICJ-Kenya), based on the argument that the Prime Minister (Raila Odinga), should not be in a position to determine the next elections date, since he intends to run in the elections himself.  I'll be watching this development closely, given the link between violence and human rights abuses and elections in Kenya.
  • Almost concurrently, the Deputy Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Kenya, Nancy Baraza, got mixed up in a tabloid-worthy conflict.  Allegedly, Madame Justice Baraza entered a busy, up-scale shopping mall in Nairobi in order to visit the pharmacy, but walked right through the necessary security protocols (each mall and hotel here has a security guard that will scan you with a metal detector).  So, the female security guard followed her inside to get her attention and to screen her.  Once the guard got the DCJ's attention, then conflict began.  DCJ Baraza got angry with the security guard for not recognizing her, pinched her nose, and, depending on the news source: (a) went to her car and got her gun to threaten the security guard, (b) took her own bodyguard's gun to threaten the security guard, (c) threatened to shoot the guard, with or without a gun, or (d) talked about something to do with guns, with no gun present.  In any event, it seems apparent that those actions were 'conduct unbecoming' of the second-most prestigious Judge in Kenya.  Since then, the Judicial Services Commission has investigated her actions, and has recommended that the President suspend her, and appoint a Tribunal to make a decision on whether she is fit to remain in service.  Despite numerous calls for her resignation, DCJ Baraza seems intent on fighting this to the bitter end, as she initially launched a court petition to block the suspension (which she ultimately lost).  This saga is ongoing.
  • Perhaps most importantly, the International Criminal Court, on January 23rd,  released its decision on the confirmation of charges against the six Kenyans suspected of being the most responsible for the serious crimes arising out of the 2007 post-election violence.  Four out of the six accused individuals had their charges confirmed.  This means, in essence, that the ICC found sufficient grounds to confirm their charges, and to proceed to trial based on their links to substantial human rights violations.  Of the four confirmed, three of them are currently public officials.  Uhuru Kenyatta is the deputy Prime Minister, and the Minister of Finance, Francis Muthaura is the Head of the Civil Service and Secretary of the Cabinet, and William Ruto is the Member of Parliament for Eldoret North.  Both Ruto and Kenyatta are also presidential hopefuls.  From the sounds of it, Kenyatta has stepped down from his post as the Minister of Finance, and Muthaura has stepped aside from his posts.  But there are significant concerns of the roles that these gentlemen will play in Kenyan politics, especially with the upcoming (probably delayed) elections.  What is more hopeful, though, is the fact that the confirmation of the charges against these four is a massive blow against the forces of impunity.  There is a tangible sense that people responsible for major crimes, no matter how prominent the individuals are, will be held accountable for their actions.  The presumption of innocence notwithstanding, the fact that these cases are going to trial is a major step forward.  The two accused that did not have their charges confirmed - Henry Kosgey and Gen. Hussein Ali - are still, however, undergoing investigations by the Office of the Prosecutor.  In fact, the Prosecutor's office continues to do background investigations, which is also a positive sign - one of the controversies arising out of the confirmation stages was that major areas of violence - especially from the Kibera slum and in Kisumu - had been left out by the prosecutors.  Given the way that the ICC processes work, however, the Prosecutor is still able to investigate these situations, and bring them before the court, either as additional evidence against the 4 standing trial, or against the 2 that were not confirmed, in a new confirmation hearing.
  • On a personal note, I have had an abstract of a paper accepted to the ANCL Annual Conference in Lagos, Nigeria.  The conference is on fostering Judicial Independence in Africa, and I'll be writing a paper on Judicial Independence in the Context of ICC prosecutions, using the decision of the High Court of Kenya to issue a provisional arrest warrant against Omar al-Bashir.  Exciting stuff!  Of course, now I have to actually get down to business and write the paper.
I am still following news in Canada with some interest, and things heat up with regards to the treatment of First Nations, Inuit and Metis people.  I am seeing the monumental changes occurring here in Kenya, and it is providing a very contrasting perspective with how things are developing in Canada.  Just because the label 'developing country' doesn't apply, doesn't mean that a country can do with a few positive developments.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

The TJRC and Kiplagat - New Year, New Drama

Well, things did not take long in the new year to get interesting.  Bethuel Kiplagat, the Chair of the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) of Kenya, went into his office, sat down, read a paper, and demanded that his employees gather up some reports for him.  Does that sound so bad?

Well, read this, this, and this.

Kiplagat, known as a human rights defender of some repute over the last few decades, was properly appointed the Chair of the TJRC when it was first created back in 2008.  Almost immediately, complaints began to surface about his appointment and other allegations started to arise.  There are allegations that he was involved in the Wagalla massacre in 1984. There have been allegations of inappropriate land deals that he brokered, as well as suggestions that he misappropriated funds.  At that stage, they were simply allegations, but given that he was to head one of the largest Commissions aimed at providing the Kenyan people with some form of justice and healing over past human rights abuses, you can imagine that even the faintest sniff that he may have been involved in human rights abuses of his own has serious implications to the credibility of the TJRC.

Initially, he denied the claims and refused to act on these complaints, but after some discussion he agreed to step aside.  A tribunal was formed to look into these allegations, which Kiplagat said he would comply with.  However, shortly after the tribunal was formed, he lodged a civil action in the Kenyan High Court, challenging the tribunals ability to look into his past, claiming that only 'current' issues from the time of his appointment were relevant.  Obviously, that delayed the whole process.

Eventually (and this is two year after the TJRC was formed), the TJRC moved on, and began to do its work without him.  Of course, this whole time, since he had merely stepped aside and not resigned, Kipligat was still receiving his monthly pay cheque.  More importantly, though, the TJRC had lost a significant amount of time, and a significant amount of support and credibility.

As for the tribunal - because of the delays associated with the matter being moved to the High Court, the lifespan of the tribunal expired.  And because the tribunal expired, it looks like Kiplagat thinks that he is free to return to work.With Kiplagat showing back up for work, it is again throwing the TJRC process and the work that they are doing under the radar, while people focus on the actions of the Chair.

ICJ Kenya, along with partner organizations called the Kenyan Transitional Justice Network, had some strong things to say about the matter (read more here), as did other major actors (read here).

There is a tangible and real sense that there are 'forces of impunity' at work, who are attempting to scuttle the TJRC process, which is just entering a critical stage, with its final report due in May 2012.  The TJRC has done incredible work to uncover the truths behind some of the skeletons in Kenya's past.  Let's hope that distractions like Kiplagat don't work to keep them in the closet.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

A recapitulation of 2011 in Kenya, inter alia.

I have finally managed to secure reliable internet access.  (Thanks L & T).  So, it behooves me to try my best to give a nice, pithy review of some things that have happened so far, and what I expect to happen, moving forward.

First, let me break down a little of the burglary, which was an entirely unwanted Christmas present.  It highlights at least one of the realities of living in Nairobi, and with a lot of situations that I've run into (some literally), there's a story lingering behind it.

Nairobi has the unfortunate nickname of 'nairobbery', as you'll read in virtually every guidebook to the city.  But, generally speaking, if you don't engage in risky behaviour (i.e. venturing into slum neighbourhoods after dusk, with all your jewelry hanging out), you won't encounter many problems.  Our misfortune wasn't the result of a poor, disenfranchised person, looking to make a quick buck.  It was, as the police officer commented, a 'constructive crime' - one that took careful preparation, was done by someone within (or in conjunction with a tenant/security guard) the apartment complex and was done by someone who either could afford to live in the apartment, or ran in the same circles.  They knew our movements, and they had easy access to our apartment (i.e. they didn't force the door open, so they must have had a key).

But the day of the burglary was an interesting day in itself.  Emily and I had planned a trip to Zanzibar leaving on Dec. 18th, but had to postpone it until the 21st because I was shortlisted for an interview at ICJ Kenya (!).  So, that morning, I suited up at went to the interview.  At the same time, Emily and ER, our friend who was visiting from Dar es Salaam, went to the Kibera slum, to check out a clinic that Emily will be volunteering at.

We reconvened in the afternoon, and debriefed.  I was stoked, because I thought the interview went well (one of the interviewers made a huge checkmark on his sheet, for je ne sais quoi).  The girls were stoked because they had had a really cool time in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Africa.  So, I tossed out the idea of celebrating, and having a bit of a farewell dinner (since we were slated to leave early the next morning) at a Japanese Restaurant.  And so, in that little 3 hour window while we were out having dinner (it was largely unsatisfying...imagine), the thieves struck and our plans changed.

But, despite that, the sting of the losses was tempered by, most importantly, the support and kindness of the friends and family, a nice, short trip to Jinja, Uganda to visit a good friend, and the news that I had been offered a job at ICJ!!!  So, there are a lot of positives to look forward to in 2012.

However, 2011 was definitely not defined by that one instance of criminal activity.  In fact, the past 3 months have been crammed full of amazing work, immersive experiences, and wonderful friends.  Here are my top three experiences so far:
  1. Workshop facilitation in Eldoret - Simultaneously the most embarrassing situation I've been in yet, and also the one that I probably learned the most from.  I had been told by the Programme Officer from the Access to Justice Program that I was to help another organization with a workshop for CSOs on the upcoming Vetting of Judges and Magistrates.  There was even a chance to appear on radio!  It sounded great, but early on it was cancelled and rescheduled to a time that I could not attend.  That was a bit disappointing.  Then, one day, while we are eating lunch, the PO comes to me and says 'Josh! Emergency!'  The workshop had been rescheduled to the following day.  Which meant that I had to fly to Eldoret at 630am.  It also meant that I had to prepare a presentation in less than 24 hours.  That was ok.  Then I was sent the itinerary.  While I had thought that I would make a presentation, turns out that I was to be the 'facilitator'.  Which meant that I was slated to give about 3 hours of presentations and discussions.  Whew.  I sure didn't sleep much that night - luckily I wasn't working from scratch, and could pull a lot of material from pre-existing work.

    I arrived in Eldoret, was ferried to the hotel and was the whole time going through my presentation in my mind.  As soon as I arrived at the conference room, I started to suspect that something was wrong.  There is a small but significant difference between 'CSO Workshop', and 'Grassroots CSO Workshop'.  I had just prepared 3 hours worth of academic, legalistic, technical material, only to find out that my audience were rural community members, who were involved in a multitude of advocacy work, including one that facilitated inter-tribal soccer matches.

    Not only that, but I also learned that a presentation in Kenya has an entirely different system than in Canada.  At home, a presentation is a lecture.  Here, I suppose you could call it an 'interactive teaching session'.  You tend to judge the success of your presentation based on how often people murmur in agreement with what you're saying.  Anyways, like any good mzungu would do, I soldiered on, and fired into my first presentation.  It soon became apparent that I was (shockingly) boring.  So I had to change tactics, rethink the entire rest of what I was going to present on, and just wing it.  There were flip charts, and group activities, and lots of interaction.  I was well-assisted by the hosting organization, who had taken a little pity on me after the way I started it off.

    In the end, I think it was helpful for the CSOs, and I know that I learned a lot.  I also felt quite professional, dressed in a suit and from to and from Eldoret in the same day.
  2. Lodwar - If you haven't read the blog post, it's HERE.  It's still one of the most visceral experiences I've ever had.  The land was hot and dry.  The was an intense drought and associated famine.  The TJRC hearings highlighted some of the historical and ongoing violence with the surrounding communities.  And the whole thing shifted my perspective of Kenya.
  3. Christmas in Jinja - After all the madness of the burglary subsided, I realized that, despite the fact that we had to cancel the trip to Zanzibar, I still had a massively important thing to do - leave Kenya, in order to renew my Visa.  So, on short notice, I contacted my friend (basically my surrogate Ugandan Mother), who was visiting her brother in Jinja, Uganda over the holidays.  Graciously, her brother invited us to stay in his house over Christmas, and celebrate the holiday with his family.  We accepted.

    Before that, though, we had to make it to Jinja.  Silly us - we trusted our guide book, which told us that a certain bus company (Akamba) had been in business for 50 years (true) and was one of the most reliable bus companies in East Africa (unfortunately false).  The guide book was written in 2009, so, from what we were told, things have slid in a huge way over the past 2 years.  The bus trip to Jinja was supposed to take around 10 hours.  20 hours, and 3 buses later, we arrived.  Yes - the first bus, after picking us up 5 hours late, broke down after 4 hours of driving.  This wasn't entirely surprising, since within minutes of picking us up, we stopped at the bus garage, and random welding and banging commenced, while we were still on the bus.  Also, the exhaust system somehow was directed to pump an extremely unhealthy amount of exhaust into the passenger carriage.  Yum.  After it broke down, we waited for an hour, for another bus to come.  This one was in better shape (somewhat).  Too bad they forgot to fill up the gas - it ran out of fuel after about an hour.  The third bus managed the trip, in the blistering hot noon-day sun, and we arrived in beautiful Jinja filthy, stinky and relieved.

    The visit itself was remarkable.  It turns out that Mr. Mutebe has 10 children, as well as around 4 other guests, in a (very) comfy bungalow house.  The fact that they cleaned out an entire room for us meant that all the children were double-bunking.  Yet, contrary to what probably would have happened in a North American household, the family told us that 'this was the best Christmas ever!!!' (probably high on the melted chocolate that we brought over), and really wanted us to stay longer.  Every guest is a blessing, they told us, and they treated us like royalty.  We had a wonderful, relaxing time, and got a first-hand look at some of the intricacies of a Ugandan household.  Although, perhaps they got the better end of the deal, since in the fit of an engrossing conversation, I may have promised them my first-born child.  We'll see how that pans out.
Obviously, there have been tons of other wonderful experiences over here (seeing baby elephants, feeding giraffes and climbing to a volcano being up there).  Mostly though, I'm thankful that the work has been engrossing, and that I have met so many interesting and inspiring people.  I hope you all, in your own way, had a nice, exciting/relaxing holiday, and are ready to start 2012 fresh and stoked for a good year.