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Saturday, May 23rd, 2020

 

Purge in Senate illustrates why the law is a servant of politics

MAKAU MUTUABy MAKAU MUTUA
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Recently, Senator Kipchumba Murkomen was booted from his lofty perch as Senate majority leader.

He quickly rushed to court to stop his defrocking by Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr Kenyatta tore off Mr Murkomen’s frock-like Senate vestments – staff, ornate office, security guards, allowances and gas-guzzlers – in an act of public whipping.

I am told his ostentatious cars were forcibly repossessed as he drove along Mombasa Road. There’s a heavy price for conspicuous consumption when one is publicly disgraced, dumped and humiliated.

But the search for justice under the rubric of the courts by Mr Murkomen and his acolytes is foolish, or a public relations gimmick. His problems aren’t legal. They are political because that’s what the law is – political.

Scholars of the law, like myself, understand that law is politics. That in fact law is a servant of politics, and not the other way round.

This point should be completely uncontroversial because it’s Jurisprudence 101.

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Today, I want to give Mr Murkomen the tutorial about the law that he apparently missed in law school.

If you think of the law as an instrument for organising, changing, regulating, perpetuating, governing and preserving a society and its basic civilisation, then your heart won’t be broken by this column.

But if you think of the law as some kind of church doctrine that’s pure, neutral, unbiased, apolitical, and beyond fallibility, then you are going to end up in tears.

CLASS IMPOSITION

The law doesn’t exist, or live, in a vacuum. Nor does it materialise out of thin air. The law is based on a society’s norms, which are drawn from its dominant civilisation.

Norms are fountains of knowledge and wisdom in which the law is sheathed. In some societies, for example, twins were regarded as evil. This was a norm.

As such, the law authorised the killing of twins. The law is always based on a norm. But the law itself, and the norm on which the law is based, is a product of the politics in the particular society.

The law can protect you, or harm you. Like a sword, it’s double-edged and cuts both ways. It’s indeterminate.

That’s why laws and norms are end products of political processes. They are the distillation of social, ethical, religious or class-based interests of elites.

Often, laws are a class imposition by a hegemonic group, or elites in a society over subordinate, or subaltern, strata. Some examples are blatant.

Colonial laws were openly racist to preserve and perpetuate the exploitation and exclusion of blacks from the goods of society.

Laws are often gender-discriminatory. For instance, girls are often denied the right to inherit property.

In some countries, a woman citizen cannot by law pass her citizenship to a child with a non-citizen man, while the man can. Under versions of sharia law, a woman isn’t fully human with all rights.

In a modern society, even a democratic one, laws are made by the political branches of the state.

Laws are passed by the legislature through elected representatives or by factotums in the executive, which is also a political arm of the state.

Thus politicians or executive bureaucrats known as civil servants make, or interpret, the law. Legislatively, all laws are products of compromises among contending social forces in society.

If you doubt me, try to introduce legislation to permit same-sex relationships, or marriage, in Kenya. You will be lucky to exit the chamber alive.

The elite in Kenya is united in denying sexual minorities equal protection. That’s the opposite in America, the European Union, Ireland, and South Africa.

There’s a misunderstanding about what courts do. The notion of judicial independence – where the courts are the guardians of legality – doesn’t mean that judges aren’t political.

Nor does the principle of the rule of law remove politics from the judicial process. The rule of law means that laws must have a basic core minimum of fairness to safeguard basic human rights and due process protections.

Crucially, the rule of law requires that courts not be subject to executive fiat, arbitrariness, discrimination and opacity.

But the rule of law doesn’t mean that judges leave their political biases, religious bigotries and political ideologies at the door. No – that’s not humanly possible when judges interpret the law.

Judges are inherently political beings. That’s why courts are political institutions. Courts are an arm of the state, which is a political institution.

That’s why good lawyers often predict how certain judges will rule based on their ideology and political philosophy.

In the Supreme Court of the United States, like all other courts, judges harbour ideological biases.

There’s never a doubt how Justice Clarence Thomas, a staunch Christian conservative, is likely to rule on most cases.

That’s why the SCOTUS is often split 5-4 based on the political ideologies of judges.

Mr Murkomen and his acolytes should realise courts are highly fallible and inherently political instruments. Like the law, courts can be a shield or a sword.

Makau Mutua is SUNY distinguished professor at SUNY Buffalo Law School and chair of KHRC; @makaumutua.


Maroc : L’Aid El-Fitr célébré dimanche

Publié le 24.05.2020 à 00h18 par APA

Le Maroc célébrera dimanche, l’Aid el-Fitr marquant la fin du mois sacré de Ramadan, a annoncé samedi le ministère des Habous et des affaires islamiques.Ainsi, le croissant lunaire annonçant le début du mois de Chaoual 1441 a été observé ce samedi dans la soirée, indique un communiqué du ministère.

Cette année, le Maroc et tout le monde musulman célébrera cette fête religieuse dans un contexte particulier, marqué par la pandémie du coronavirus (COVID-19).

Le Conseil supérieur des oulémas au Maroc a souligné que la prière de l’Aid Al Fitr de cette année doit être accomplie au domicile pour préserver la santé et la sécurité des citoyens face à la propagation de la pandémie du coronavirus.

Pour rappel, le Maroc a pris une série de mesures drastiques pour enrayer la propagation du virus. Ainsi, un état d’urgence sanitaire a été décrété depuis le 20 mars et prorogé jusqu’au 10 juin prochain.


Kenyans flying high in UN

EDITORIALBy EDITORIAL
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For a country starved of good news lately, the elevation of two Kenyans to key international positions in the United Nations system is heart-warming, indeed.

This development has given Kenyans an opportunity to momentarily take their minds off the coronavirus pandemic that has literally brought the country to a standstill.

With slightly more than 1,000 people infected with Covid-19 and over 50 deaths, this has been one of the gloomiest periods in the country for a long time.

Now Kenyans can savour the recognition of two of their own by international organisations, which recognise their abilities to contribute to global causes.

Incidentally, the acting director-general of Health, Dr Patrick Amoth, who has emerged as one of the key faces in the campaign against the spread of Covid-19, has been elected as the vice-chairperson of the executive board of the World Health Organisation.

Another Kenyan enjoying the international limelight is Ms Sanda Ojiambo, a Safaricom executive, who will be joining the United Nations at a significantly high level.

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She has been appointed to head the agency that engages private companies all over the world to persuade them to align their businesses to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has appointed Ms Ojiambo as the new executive director of the UN Global Compact agency.

She will assume her new role on June 17, taking with her 20 years of experience during which, besides her stint at Safaricom, she has worked in civil society in various capacities, winning accolades.

It is, however, a little disappointing that Dr Amoth, whom the WHO has seen as a complete professional ready to make a difference in the UN agency at that high level, remains an acting DG in Kenya’s Health ministry.

This confirms that we sometimes underestimate ourselves or totally fail to see the talent sitting right there amongst us.

However, Dr Amoth and Ms Ojiambo have an opportunity to demonstrate to the rest of the world that Kenyans have the capacity, knowledge and expertise to serve among the best in the world.


The country needs to get back on its feet

EDITORIALBy EDITORIAL
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President Uhuru Kenyatta has rolled out a Sh53.7 billion stimulus package to insulate Kenyans from the pangs of the coronavirus and, consequently, set the stage for post-pandemic economic recovery.

For a good measure, the deal has been broken down into eight components, including health, tourism, agriculture and education.

Besides the contagion, the country has been ravaged by floods arising from unusually long and heavy rains that submerged homes, demolished infrastructure such as roads and bridges and swept away farm produce.

In the mix are locusts that have invaded several counties. Cumulatively, the country has been confronted with multiple devastations that combine to create economic, environmental, health and social wreckages.

It is widely acknowledged that the coronavirus pandemic is not only a health challenge but also economic and social.

Economic think tanks have made grim projections on the virus’ adverse effects on global, regional and national incomes.

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For Kenya, many workers in formal employment have been laid off and those in service forced to take pay cuts or unpaid leave.

Those in informal sectors have witnessed revenues evaporate. Uncertainty about the future has killed investment and forward planning.

INFRASTRUCTURE

President Kenyatta’s eight-point agenda certainly comes at the opportune moment.

More cash ought to be injected into the economy to spur productivity. Importantly, subsidies disbursed directly to the needy and elderly are vital in alleviating pain and restoring human dignity.

However, questions have to be asked about the efficacy of some of the proposals. Top on the card is infrastructure cash.

A sum of Sh5 billion has been earmarked for infrastructure reconstruction, and the plan is to use local labour and materials, which, arguably, would cut costs and, importantly, put money in the pockets of residents.

The principle is noble. However, this must be treated with caution. Often such cash is lost or wasted due to corruption.

The hospitality sector has been hit worst with the closure of airports, a ban on movement into and out of some counties and the shutdown of hotels and restaurants, hence the reason it requires a major boost.

But this should come with other measures that guarantee consumer spending. Notably, credit facilities proposed for small-scale enterprises are pivotal in resurrecting the sector. Even so, proper financial education is required to cushion borrowers.

Granted, the government must build in systems to guard against pilferage and wastage. Ultimately, the cash should be deployed appropriately.


Economic programme is good, but it falls far short of the needs

TONY WATIMABy TONY WATIMA
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On Saturday, President Uhuru Kenyatta unveiled a Sh53.7 billion Eight-Point Economic Stimulus Programme to cushion families and companies as we navigate our way out the Covid-19 pandemic.

In the economics of a lockdown, each shilling spent is likely to have a stimulating impact. It is from this understanding that governments are playing the central role in trying to stabilise their economies, just like in wartime, through economic stimulus packages.

Let us start by asking the question: is Sh53.7 billion sufficient to mitigate the Covid-19 impact?

African countries are estimated to lose more than half of their GDP growth to the Covid-19 impact — they were expected to have four per cent GDP growth in 2020.

So if they are losing this much, it means government stimulus packages should be around two per cent of GDP.

Namibia’s plan was at 4.25 per cent of GDP, Egypt at 1.8 per cent, Ethiopia’s at 1.6 per cent (but to be implemented in three months), while South Africa has the biggest at 10 per cent, but only half will actually be spent, which brings it to 4.5 per cent.

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For Kenya, a two per cent of GDP stimulus programme is around Sh200 billion. The Sh53.7 billion unveiled by the President is 0.5 per cent of GDP, so the plan is underwhelming. Let us now delve into the elements of the eight-point programme.

LOSS OF INCOME

The biggest shock to the economy has been income shock as people lose salaries and businesses shut down.

This systemic income shock means the demand side of the economy is depressed. Therefore, we expect to see the government address the demand side.

For example, South Africa plans to spend $5 billion to protect and create jobs. In Kenya’s plan, we see the government’s intent to spend Sh5 billion to hire local labour under the infrastructure element and another 10 billion to engage 200,000 youths in restoring public hygiene.

The government is also disbursing a total of Sh1 billion a month to vulnerable families.

This cannot be equated to a response to the demand side of the economy — it is not stemming the loss of livelihoods. In fact, most people who stand to benefit are those who were out of the labour market.

The government also plans to make set aside Sh3 billion for affordable credit to SMEs. This has worked well in India. But the amount is peanuts.

We are talking about a sector that employs close to 15 million people and contributes more than 30 per cent to the national economy.

At a time like this when they are facing their biggest existential threat, we should be seeing an allocation of about Sh40 to 50 billion.

Lastly, in commerce, there is the concept of double coincidence of wants — the hunter wants arrows and the arrow-maker wants meat, leading to an exchange.

When the government says it plans to enforce “Buy Kenya, Build Kenya” in an economy whose demand-side is depressed, is the government really in touch with reality?


Seven ways technology can ensure food security

AARTI KRISHNANBy AARTI KRISHNAN
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Kenya is ranked among the top 10 countries in the world expected to be most impacted by coronavirus pandemic, according to the Overseas Development Institute’s vulnerability index.

It is estimated that the economy will suffer a fall in output of Sh1 trillion. Along with widespread job losses, food insecurity and hunger are a big concern.

Food production levels are already low, following heavy rainfall and the destruction of over 10,000 acres of crops by locusts. Supply is further curtailed due to restrictions on movement.

FoodTech encompasses food e-commerce, digital food management and digital nutrition. It plays a pivotal role in addressing food insecurity, simultaneously creating the potential of new jobs:

#1: Food-e-commerce as an alternative distribution system

Since the lockdown, delivery demand for food via e-commerce has grown. For instance, Gobeba has recorded a 200 per cent increase in grocery sales.

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A restaurant chain has turned into a cloud kitchen, partnering with delivery companies to sell ready-meals. Other platforms have come together to offer free same-day delivery service of a bundle cheaper than many brick-and-mortar outlets.

Some supermarkets have also partnered with courier service providers to boost online shopping and home delivery. However, food e-commerce has yet to be integrated with food distribution schemes to support low-income households.

#2: Food e-commerce stimulating jobs

Although large food aggregators and supermarkets are already working at or over capacity to meet demand, more micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) need to join the fray by producing ready meals and delivering (logistics) groceries to low-income households.

However, commission fees of approximately 30 per cent, charged by large food aggregators, inhibit MSME participation.

#3: Digital food management supporting microlending

Digital food management includes order, safety, inventory and data management through cloud services, SMS, interactive voice response and blockchain.

Some platforms support informal shop vendors to manage inventory and deliver products with short lead times and use blockchain technology to introduce rapid microlending.

Scaling up such interventions can infuse liquidity. Cloud services (orders, food safety data, customer data) are adopted by less than 23 per cent of businesses due to high costs.

#4: Digital currencies for the poor

Blockchain currencies – such as e-vouchers – are gaining popularity. For instance, Sarafu Credit allows microbusinesses to exchange local goods and services using blockchain-enabled e-vouchers when cash is scarce.

SMS backed e-voucher systems are also piloted in local community organisations and platforms such as M-Changa to send out SMS food vouchers to food insecure households, which can be collected at pre-designated spots to minimise touch points.

#5: Digital services in nutrition

The government currently does not use any nutrition apps to track immunity and register health histories for vulnerable households.

The government can replicate an SMS/IVR version of Covid-19 symptom trackers used in many countries to not only self-report symptoms but also provide food intake data, map out the level of immunity and diet diversity.

#6: Sensors for promoting safe trade

Since Kenya imports almost 90 per cent of its rice, 75 per cent of its wheat and 10 per cent of maize, trade facilitation is crucial.

Emerging partnerships between the government and donors are fast-tracking processing and clearance of cargo, using sensors to check the health of truck drivers and developing screening and reporting mechanisms through online apps.

#7: Open data initiatives and data commons for food

Creating data commons to share daily reporting of production, remote sensing data and early warning systems can enable rapid internalisation of shocks and mitigate socio-economic losses.

The government can ramp up support for big open data initiatives such as the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International and African Regional Data Cube.

These short-term responses can boost the goals of the 10-year Agriculture Sector Transformation and Growth Strategy (2019-2029). Leveraging and scaling up FoodTech can create win-win situations.

Dr Aarti Krishnan is a Hallsworth Research Fellow at the Global Development Institute, University of Manchester; [email protected]


With his back against the wall, Ruto now needs a new game plan

KWENDO OPANGABy KWENDO OPANGA
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The sacking of senators Kipchumba Murkomen and Susan Kihika from House seats and the removal of Deputy Speaker Kindiki Kithure, all important point men of Deputy President William Ruto, sends an ominous message to a hamstrung DP.

You are isolated. Are you waiting for us to come for you? And that prompts the question, is this the end of the beginning of Dr Ruto’s first run for Kenya’s ultimate political diadem? Or is it just a pause? It is highly unlikely it is the latter.

However, my position remains clear: Dr Ruto must fight until he is the last man standing. Even as I confidently wrote that, I also warned about, and listed, the awesome and fearsome assets of political warfare assembled and arrayed against the DP. Among them was President Uhuru Kenyatta himself.

And I pointed out that there was a deliberate and determined scorched-earth war of attrition against the DP whose objective was to reduce him to a shell, eunuch and skunk before poll date 2022. I have called this killing the DP slowly politically and publicly.

How do you beat the President, especially when he has in his corner Kenya’s most impactful politician, Raila Odinga, and organised labour boss Francis Atwoli, and all wielding the big stick of constitutional and governance change chiefly to check your presidential ambition?

Ultimate survivor, the late Paul Ngei, the lion of Ukambani, would have advised: stay low like a reed in a storm; keep a watchful eye; keep your counsel, and keep friend and foe off balance with guile, guise and charm. Then re-emerge, plan in mind and hand, at an appropriate time.

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RUTO’S STRATEGY

But what was Dr Ruto’s strategy for ascending to the top job? One, start campaigning early and, using government machinery, stay well ahead of the competition.

Two, whatever happens, keep the Kikuyu and their Mt Kenya cousins in your orbit, and rear view mirror, any time and all the time. At the same time, keep the Coast and Luhya heartlands in your column.

Three, in these places ensure that the elected representatives, especially the MPs and governors, eat from the palm of your hand. They are the shock troops and point men.

They, like the boss, must be battle-ready early in order to be battle-hardened as poll date 2022 beckons.

Four, keep the faiths and faithful, and especially the shepherds, close with generous donations of money and materials to their causes. The way to the hearts of the faithful and congregations is through their shepherds and shrines.

Five, in places of high political consequence, and that means the twin Houses of Parliament, ensure that the shock troops win the decibel count as well as the physical count.

CONCEAL YOUR PLAN

Politics is about numbers and voices. In the decibel count, spare no one for everyone who takes us on, the President included, is fair game.

This is our maxim: if you hit us, we will hit you, and hit you again at rallies, online and news conferences.

Last, we shall maintain a high profile, visibility and intensity tour schedule and use the President’s legacy-bound Big Four agenda as camouflage to campaign. Our MP and governor allies will maintain this frenetic schedule.

So much for the claim Dr Ruto learned his politics at President Moi’s feet. Often despised when he was founding President Kenyatta’s Vice-President, Moi never showed his hand.

For a decade, he was regarded as inconsequential and bereft of ambition until old Jomo appeared to be on his last legs.

Dr Ruto has, in under two years, recklessly shown his hand. In many respects he has come across as driven by ambition as to defy his boss, and to be obsessed with presidential ambition as to attack without thinking about his vulnerabilities.

ACHILLES HEEL

A politician attacks a rival’s weakness, never his strength. Dr Ruto’s Achilles heel was his strong acquisitive drive, especially for land, sharp wheeler-dealer practices, and tendency to bend the rules.

A phony but weaponised war on corruption has taken the DP’s reputation from the pinnacle of actualisation at the presidency to the filth of the sewers of Ruai.

But why his recklessness? Running for the presidency and running Kenya are serious businesses. Given the motley crew of allies the DP has kept, he may not have had serious advice, which is a serious indictment of the man.

Will he stand by his three dethroned allies or will he politically distance from them? Whichever way he chooses, the die is cast.


20 years under Rwanda’s ‘benevolent dictator’ Paul Kagame

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Written by Antonio Cascais

President Paul Kagame marks 20 years at the helm of Rwanda. He’s praised by some as a pioneer for women’s rights and environmentalism but criticized by others for his iron grip on power — which could last a while still.

It’s no coincidence that the first “Made in Africa” smartphone comes from Rwanda: The Mara Phone is manufactured in an industrial area in the capital Kigali, just down the road from a Volkswagen plant.

The German carmaker is one of many investors in the small East African country, where VW offers an e-mobility service and bolts cars together for the African market.

The economic recovery of Rwanda after the 1994 genocide that killed more than a million ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus has gone into the history books as a success story — and it’s inextricably linked to Paul Kagame, who officially took power in 2000.

Read more: 25 years on, Rwandan genocide still reverberates throughout the region

While many Rwandans revere their president for the progress their country has made during his 20 years in office, others criticize Kagame for suppressing dissenting views.

Across Rwanda, Kagame is seen as a benevolent dictator, who pursues unselfish goals for the development of the country.

One of his toughest policies — that of Umuganda — forces Rwandans to commit a few hours of their time to community service on every last Saturday of the month.

Effectively in control since 1994

“Paul Kagame is a dictator who rules Rwanda with an iron first,” said dissident David Himbara, “not since 2000 but actually since 1994.”

In 1994, after the genocide and the civil war, Pasteur Bizimungu officially became President of Rwanda. However, Bizimungu was commonly seen as a placeholder for Kagame, who at the time assumed the joint titles of vice president and minister of defense.

“In fact, however, [Kagame] had unlimited power in Rwanda from the start,” Himbara told DW.

Himbara is not simply a dissident; he’s a former insider who was once a senior aide and economic adviser to Kagame before falling out with the president, like many other former close confidants of Kagame. Himbara then fled to Canada, where he had grown up.

‘Aggressive, uncontrolled, violent’

Kagame previously commanded the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), a Ugandan-based Tutsi militia, which ended the Hutu slaughter of Tutsis by defeating the authorities responsible for the killing campaign. Although the RPF is regarded by the majority of Rwandans as saviors, they are also accused of massacring Hutus.

Read more: ICTR: A tribunal that failed Rwandan genocide victims and survivors

Himbara believes that Kagame’s military past is still visible today: “Kagame became socialized in the war. He is a very aggressive person, uncontrolled and violent.”

Rights organizations have also made serious allegations against Kagame. Human Rights Watch, for instance, claims that since Kagame took office, people have been prosecuted for doubting the official government’s explanation about the genocide. The rights body lists a long series of murders, disappearances, politically motivated arrests and illegal arrests of critics, opposition members and journalists.

Kagame himself has, at times, unashamedly commented on such allegations, as in the case of former secret service chief and dissident Patrick Karageya, who was strangled to death at a hotel room in South Africa: “Rwanda did not kill this person. But I wish Rwanda had done it,” Kagame said.

A shining light for all of Africa?

“You can see on social media that Rwanda, and especially President Kagame, is popular among young Africans. What they like about him is his ability to have things done,” says Kagame advisor Jean-Paul Kimonyo. “Many Africans like this because that they too would like to have a leader who does things,”

Kagame is the master of reinvention, believes Kimonyo, who is also author of the book “Transforming Rwanda: Challenges on the Road to Reconstruction.”

“First he became a soldier, then transformed himself into a statesman and a reformer, and finally gained international recognition,” he told DW.

Rwanda, one of the smallest countries on the African continent, is known beyond the borders for its stringent and effective policies. In Western countries, Rwanda is mainly associated with three political projects: equality of women, promotion of new technologies and environmental protection measures.

Kagame also prides himself as a gender equality pioneer. About 60% of the country’s lawmakers are women.

Kagame’s business policy is also repeatedly praised in the West. In the World Bank’s ‘Doing Business’ report 2019, which describes how economically friendly the 190 countries in the world are, Rwanda ranks 29th – the second-best African nation after Mauritius.

Progress or propaganda?

“Rwanda is one of the countries in Africa with the best and cheapest internet infrastructure,” Kimonyo told DW. Many government services are online, making it easy, for example, for entrepreneurs to set up a company on a smartphone.

Read more: Coronavirus: Rwanda imposes Africa’s first lockdown

Kimonyo believes that Kagame has also achieved much in terms of environmental protection.

As for Kagame critic Himbara, he calls this “hymns of praises and mere propaganda.” Kagame might have banned plastic bags, but he points out that Kigali doesn’t even have “a sewage system and all the rubbish washes into the rivers.”

A central sewage system in the capital is currently under construction; the government plans to connect all households to it by 2024.

In power for a lifetime?

From a legal point of view, nothing stands in the way of Kagame staying in power for many more years to come.

In a 2015 constitutional referendum, Rwandans voted overwhelmingly to allow Kagame to stand again for office beyond the end of his second mandate, which ended in 2017.

Kagame won the 2017 elections, with nearly 99% of the vote. In theory, he could run twice again, keeping him in power until 2034 — although his current term ends in 2024.

Dissident Himbara believes Kagame wants to stay in power “preferably until death.”

President’s advisor Kimonyo denies this, but points out how popular the president is.

“Here in Rwanda, a possible extension of our President’s term of office is currently not an issue,” Kimonyo said in an interview. “We want more prosperity and we need strong leadership for this. And Rwandans are currently very satisfied with their leadership.”

DW RECOMMENDS
Rwanda votes in parliamentary polls expected to strengthen Kagame
Many young candidates and voters hope their voices will be heard in this weekend’s election. But experts predict little will change in the country’s RPF-dominated parliament. (02.09.2018)

The post 20 years under Rwanda’s ‘benevolent dictator’ Paul Kagame appeared first on The Maravi Post.


Fears for jailed Akashas’ health as Covid-19 kills prisoners

KEVIN J. KELLEYBy KEVIN J. KELLEY
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Convicted drug traffickers Baktash and Ibrahim Akasha are serving long sentences in US prisons hit by outbreaks of the coronavirus.

A total of 59 inmates of US federal prisons are reported to have died from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus. Another 1,735 federal inmates and 191 federal prison staff members have tested positive for the virus.
The Akasha brothers’ own current health status is unknown, although Baktash is said to suffer physical conditions that increase susceptibility to the virus.
The US Bureau of Prisons has banned all visits to federal inmates due to the pandemic. And neither prison authorities nor attorneys for the Akashas are providing information on the brothers’ medical status.

SUFFERS FROM OBESITY

Baktash is incarcerated in a correctional complex in the state of Louisiana where eight prisoners have died from the virus. Ibrahim is housed in a detention centre in the New York City borough of Brooklyn that has recorded no inmate deaths or current infections, but reports that five inmates at the facility have recovered from cases of Covid-19.

“We do not comment on the conditions of confinement for any specific inmate,” US Bureau of Prisons spokesman Emery Nelson said on Thursday in response to a Nation query regarding the Akashas’ health.

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George Goltzer, a New York attorney who has represented Baktash Akasha, wrote in an email on Thursday: “I have no further comments on the case or his status in prison.”

Bernard Alan Seidler, a New York attorney representing Ibrahim Akasha, said by telephone on Friday that he has not spoken with his client since March 1 and has no information on Ibrahim’s current condition.

Attorney Goltzer stated in court last year that Baktash, 43, suffers from obesity, asthma and diabetes. These conditions make him particularly vulnerable to the coronavirus.

Ibrahim Akasha, 30, has received counselling for depression, Dawn Cardi, his attorney at the time, told a US judge earlier this year.

The Bureau of Prisons lists Baktash’s release date as May 21, 2038, while Ibrahim is scheduled to be let go on September 5, 2036.

The brothers pleaded guilty last year to multiple felony charges involving a conspiracy to smuggle heroin and methamphetamines into the United States.

TESTED POSITIVE

Most of the 137,500 inmates of US federal prisons have been largely confined to their cells since the onset of the pandemic in March in an attempt to limit the spread of the virus.

But authorities at the Louisiana facility where Baktash is serving his sentence have failed to isolate several inmates who tested positive for the virus, according to the labour union representing prison officers at the state’s Oakdale Federal Correctional Complex.

The Oakdale prison consists of two main institutions. Oakdale I, with 986 inmates, has recorded seven prisoner deaths and 188 infections among prisoners and staff. Oakdale II, the part of the complex where Baktash is confined, has reported one death and six recoveries from the virus among its 795 inmates.

Ibrahim Akasha is one of 1598 inmates at the Metropolitan Detention Centre (MDC) in Brooklyn. Although none of them are known to have died from the virus, a former chief medical officer for New York City jails charged after a visit to the MDC that it is “ill-equipped to identify cases of Covid-19 within its population.”


China can help Kenya cope with coronavirus-induced debt

PETER KAGWANJABy PETER KAGWANJA
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The coronavirus epidemic is raising the scale of indebtedness in Africa.

In Kenya, the pandemic has slowed down economic growth from an initial projection of 6.2 per cent to 3.4 per cent – the slowest since 2009.

Moreover, an array of social-distancing protocols to contain the spread of Covid-19 has severely disrupted economic activity, diminishing Kenya’s capacity to meet all its debt obligations. The disease has also raised external debt by Sh158 billion ($1.58 billion).

Even after the coronavirus cloud has passed, its impact will haunt efforts to modernise structures and guarantee social and political stability in low-income countries like Kenya.

China, which is entering its post-Covid-19 phase, is by far Kenya’s largest bilateral lender. This raises the question: how can China help Kenya cope with the impact of coronavirus debt?

Kenya’s debt portfolio is complex. The country’s total national debt reached an all-time high of Sh6.3 trillion by the end of March 2020, very close to the 70 per cent of the Sh9 trillion ($90 billion) national debt ceiling. Its debt to China stood at Sh660 billion ($6.6 million) as of end of March 2020.

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China’s debt is about 10 per cent of Kenya’s total national debt, accounting for 72 per cent of its bilateral debt, over 22 per cent of the country’s total external debt while 90 per cent of the country’s repayment of bilateral debt is to Beijing.

PRIVATE CREDITORS

Between 2006 and 2017, Kenya acquired at least $9.8 billion, making it Africa’s third-largest recipient of Chinese loans. These include funds to build the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR) from Mombasa to Malaba. By May 2020, China surpassed all of Kenya’s traditional bilateral creditors combined.

Despite this, Kenya owes the bulk of its debt to multilateral financial institutions, mainly the International Development Association (the World Bank Group) and the private sector.

On the whole, these two lenders of choice own 35 per cent and 32 per cent of Africa’s debt, respectively.

Between 2014 and 2020, the country secured a relatively small commercial debt from the International Debt Capital Markets.

Kenya’s immediate financial trouble in combating coronavirus comes from debts from external private markets.

Unlike bilateral creditors like China, private lenders are predisposed to be less forbearing to borrowers in the face of Covid-19. This raises the risk of default as a result of the pandemic.

Kenya’s domestic debt is the elephant in the room. It constitutes more than 50 per cent of the entire public debt.

Interest payment on domestic debt is equally high, averaging 11 per cent, compared to an average of 4.5 per cent for external debt.

Few deny Kenya has a “debt problem”, but the country is not in a “debt crisis” – not yet. Its public debt as a proportion of GDP remains low, well below the lower-middle-income country debt sustainability benchmark of 70 per cent of GDP.

DEBT FORGIVENESS

However, Kenya is a key candidate for reorganisation of its debt, including with China.

The discourse on debt is not immune to the forceful return of Cold War-era geopolitics. China is damned if it gives loans to Africa, and damned if it doesn’t.

It is contrasted with “the well-meaning Western institutions” while its loans are depicted as having predatory intentions – giving rise to the cynical “debt trap” theory.

Inversely, Western calls for debt relief depict China’s response as greedy, self-interested and thus lacking compassion.

Beyond the geopolitical power of Babel, China needs clear strategic options to guide its intervention to help Kenya contain the epidemic and forestall a debt crisis.

In mid-April, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced that Kenya had initiated talks with foreign lenders to suspend debt payments in order to free up resources to mitigate the impacts of the virus.

Offering a blanket debt cancellation for low-income countries is embraced in some quarters as an option to combat Covid-19 and manage post-epidemic recovery plans.

Manifestly, China is not a newcomer to debt forgiveness. Between 2000 and 2020, China has forgiven debts worth more than $9.8 billion owed by other countries worldwide.

BUDGETARY SUPPORT

It also has cancelled some of Kenya’s debts in the past. If China follows the pattern of writing off zero-interest, Kenya hopes to benefit.

However, a blanket debt cancellation is neither a viable nor a desired option. China’s economy is just recovering from a combination of Covid-19-induced domestic economic slowdown and the impact of trade wars with the US.

The second option is suspension of debt payments to avoid hurtling to a severe debt crisis.

During their March 26, 2020, virtual extra-ordinary summit, the G20 nations decided on a time-bound (for seven months) suspension of debt service payments for the poorest countries as they struggle to deal with the coronavirus pandemic.

Kenya, which is within the eligibility for the debt standstill by the G20, is likely to benefit from this decision.

China might choose to improve on the G20 package to reduce Kenya’s exposure to the impact of Covid-19, including rescheduling payments due in 2021.

The third option is to provide poor countries like Kenya with additional funding for budgetary support.

The final option is to step up humanitarian assistance to build community resilience and post-coronavirus recovery.

The African Union estimates Africa will need $200 billion to combat Covid-19. This cannot be realised through debt suspension.

AID SCHEME

China should draw from its huge experience in using humanitarian aid to support Africa’s war on the deadly Ebola virus in 2014 and the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003.

It should put in place a comprehensive aid scheme to fight coronavirus, undergirded by President Xi Jinping’s philosophy of “building a community of shared destiny for mankind” as a clarion call for post-Covid globalisation.

On its part, Kenya should ensure corrupt officials do not siphon millions of aid dollars to foreign banks.

Professor Peter Kagwanja is the Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute and former Government Adviser. This article draws from an API policy brief, ‘Disease and Debt: Managing the Impact of Coronavirus Epidemic on Kenya’s Debt to China’ (May 2020).