The problem with terror is that it tends to trample on truth.
On Monday, an explosion ripped through a retail mall full of small stalls selling shoes and T-shirts in Nairobi’s Central Business District. More than 30 people were injured and some of those are still in hospital.
By the time I got there, the fire that had gutted the building was out, the injured people had been taken away and the emergency crews were beginning to tidy up their firehoses. A steady stream of suited officials and smartly uniformed, cap-wearing police officers gingerly made their way through the broken glass and burnt stalls for a tour and then a few words for the many, many cameras.
At first, most officials at the scene blamed an electrical fault. Or at the very least said it was too early to tell but that an electrical fault could have caused the blast.
“The initial investigation does not actually indicate anything to do with terrorism. It does not indicate anything to do with a grenade attack or anything like that. It’s actually pointing towards some kind of electrical fault and that is what we are treating it as at this particular moment, but of course the investigation is still ongoing to find out what exactly caused the blast,” said Jamleck Kamau, Nairobi metropolitan development minister.
He reassured Nairobians that the government was doing everything it could to make sure the city was safe, and that CCTV cameras would soon be installed. (Capital FM says the 11 billion-shilling project will kick off next week with the advertisement of an international tender).
Police Commissioner Mathew Iteere also initially blamed an electrical fault, although Kenya Power (formerly Kenya Power and Lighting Company, or, as the wags would have it, Kenya Please Light Candles) quickly issued a statement saying there was no way it could have been an electrical fault as there was no ground-mounted transformer at the site.
Of course, fingers are pointing at the Somali Islamist group al-Shabaab. But there has been no claim of responsibility so far, which is odd. You’d think a group whose avowed aim is to cause terror and fear would jump at the opportunity to lay claim to an explosion in the heart of Nairobi at lunchtime. Especially since they threatened to bring the “flames of war” to the Kenyan capital after the country sent its soldiers across the border last October.
Police have now issued a photo of a man they want to question, naming him as Emrah Erdogan. He is believed to be either Turkish or German and may be linked to al-Shabaab. But not necessarily to Monday’s blast. Whatever it was. They have two other suspects they want to question for the explosion.
You do have to wonder if the string of low-level attacks in Nairobi can all be attributed to al-Shabaab. Of course, the attacks could be carried out by so-called “lone wolf sympathizers”. But maybe not.
At the end of April, a grenade was thrown into a church in Nairobi’s Ngara area. One person was killed and at least 15 injured. Police said afterwards that it was not a terror attack, but that it might have been the result of a long-running land dispute. But then later, Iteere said that the attacker was “a known terrorist”. And again a photo was circulated.
We are already in an election year in Kenya. At the very least, that means heightened tensions, raised stakes and a reason to suspect motives. And having a bad guy like al-Shabaab on the scene may offer others a figleaf for their own actions, be they personal, political, economic.
On the letters page of the Daily Nation today, Omondi Ocholla Rampell writes: “It has become easy for those who take such attacks at face value to attribute each of them to al-Shabaab militants. However, I am convinced that information from the intelligence community, which may not be public at the moment, could point to other internal actors who may not necessarily be connected to known terror organizations.”’
I don’t know why Ocholla Rampell, a political scientist, is convinced or what information he may have, but he does make some valid points. At the very least, we should know the extent of the unknowns, be they known unknowns or unknown unknowns, to paraphrase Rumsfeld.
Ocholla Rampell gives a handy list of where to start:
“Kenya must, therefore, take a hard look at the pattern of the attacks targeting civilians, their nature, explosives used and the identity of those behind the acts. We must also ask tough questions as to who could be keen on creating a breakdown in law and order in the country, including how such individuals or groups are likely to benefit from a temporary state of lawlessness.”
I’m not saying there must necessarily be a conspiracy theory. Or theories. But it’s worth remembering, I guess, that reflex responses may not be right. It’s not always THE bad guy. It may be the other bad guy, the one that you didn’t pay much attention to as the movie rolled along.
This story in the Daily Nation caught my eye today. It’s common to write that corruption is endemic in Kenya: it’s no cliche – the list of financial misdemeanours just seems to get longer all the time.
The Daily Nation says that an audit by the Global Fund to Fight Aids, TB and Malaria, covering up to 2010, shows that various Kenyan government departments and individuals were involved in the misuse or theft of some $3.3 million. The Fund, unsurprisingly, wants the money back.
The article says that a draft of the Fund’s report was given to the Kenyan government to check the allegations.
“In February, Public Health and Sanitation permanent secretary Mark Bor, in a letter to Mr John Parsons of the Global Fund, said the country agreed with the contents of the report and was in the process of implementing some of the recommendations,” the paper said.
Apparently some individuals named in the report have already returned some of the money.
“The report indicates endemic levels of theft and corruption in all the programmes at all levels, from the Ministerial Procurement Committees right up to transport officers and drivers,” the paper said, adding that the worst offenders included the National Aids and STD Control Programme (NASCOP), the National Aids Control Council (NACC) and the Division of Malaria Control.
“The report accuses NACC of paying millions of shillings to briefcase organisations, unbudgeted for staff (sic) and employing unqualified people,” the Daily Nation says.
The Global Fund itself is battling to maintain its reputation, and its donors, following allegations of corruption in some recipient countries.Banker Gabriel Jaramillo took over as general manager in February, hoping to restore the Fund’s tarnished reputation and improve efficiency as well as win back sceptical donors.
Also, last week there was a demo in Nairobi by Kenyans living with HIV who want the US President’s Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (PEPFAR) to release unspent funds to Kenya.
Basically, $500 million was earmarked for Kenya but is stuck as part of a $1.46 billion pipeine backlog in Washington. PEPFAR officials in the US said the funds had not been released because of inefficient bureaucracies, and reductions in the cost of Aids treatment, among other factors.
Activists want the money to be spent on providing antiretrovirals to more of the 1.5 million Kenyans estimated to be infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and on HIV treatment for pregnant women for life, the so-called PMTCT option B+.
Last week, GlobalPost quoted US officials in Washington and Nairobi as saying that Kenya had trouble spending the PEPFAR money because of inefficiencies in its two ministries of health.
Perhaps the saddest thing of all is not that the stolen money from the Fund, and the unspent PEPFAR funds, are so badly needed in Kenya but that the news of theft/misappropriation is not that surprising. It’s not good for Kenya’s international reputation – but that is already suffering for various other reasons.
Cartoonist Gado put his finger right on the sore spot with his cartoon for the Daily Nation after former Liberian leader Charles Taylor was found guilty last Thursday of aiding and abetting rebels who committed atrocities in Sierra Leone.
Check his cartoon out here. It’s laugh-aloud-but-grimace-too funny.
We used to say it was a soft day when it rained at home. It’s been soft as a baby’s bottom, as the ad used to say, here in Nairobi for the past week.
Rain really seems to bring out the worst in people. And in countries. Just as Britain grinds to a halt because of a little snow, despite the fact that it’s pretty much an annual occurrence, so Nairobi slithers to a muddy stop when the rainy season kicks off. Each year.
Nothing works. The power flickers off, the roof leaks, the roads turn into rivers – the daily traffic nightmare takes on an apocalyptic quality as the skies split open with lightning, thunder booms and highways and roads turn into sludgy parking lots.
Undeterred by the rain and the chaos, we went camping last weekend. It was our first camping trip as a family, and my first ever.
* Beer banishes all camping woes
* You should always go camping with campers. When you emerge bleary-eyed in the morning, and realise that there isn’t a kettle plugged into that acacia tree and anyway you forgot the coffee and the coffee pot, you will be able to sidle up to the experienced campers and beg for a brew – just act dumb and grateful, and be very admiring of their stove/gas cooker/knives/general superiority to you.
* When the thunder clouds loom, pack up. Rain is coming.
* Hippo meat is, apparently, very chewy.
* You have to actually tell children not to put the marshmallows in the ash. This does not seem to be apparent to the under-7s.
* If you do not bring head torches, your friends will think you are quaintly inexperienced. Your children will despise you.
* It is not a good idea to leave the childrens’ trainers outside the camp even if at bedtime, this seems sensible because that way they can get them easily if they need to go to the loo. This only works if you are camping where there is no rain. Or potentially if you are the kind of parent who has more than one pair of trainers per child.
Despite a little overnight rain, and an inexplicably soggy mattresses, and explicably soggy trainers, we had a great time. The threat of rain added an extra frisson. But there was a reminder the next day in the Daily Nation of the deadliness of the rainy season: seven young adults from a church group were killed in a flash flood at Hells Gate National Park. Apparently, the KWS has now sealed off access to the Gorge for the rest of the rainy season.
In a way, the rains accentuate all that is wrong in Nairobi – poor infrastructure, no drainage, poor housing, a lack of respect for authority, or maybe that should be a lack of respectable authority. And careless driving.
On our way to Naivasha on Saturday, we passed an accident on the Nairobi-Naivasha road. It was difficult to understand what had happened. There was a truck across the opposite lane, and inside a crowd of people, my husband caught a glimpse of a matatu with no roof. I saw a slight woman on the edge of the crowd, wiping her tears away with her shirt. We didn’t know til later that 13 people had been killed.
There have been a lot of accidents recently, and perhaps one of the most poignant cases involved the death of Ghanaian-born cartoonist Frank Odoi who was killed when the matatu he was travelling in rolled over. He used to draw a comic strip, Driving Me Crazy, about reckless driving by matatus.
In other news, the ex-Mungiki leader Maina Njenga is back – arrested after the assault of policemen at a church. Apparently, three policemen were beaten up when they responded to a distress call at Njenga’s church. They were called to arrest a man found with a firearm in the church compound – apparently, this man told the congregation there was a plot to assassinate Njenga. Probably best not to do that when you are carrying a gun.
Assassinations, or rather attempted assassinations or alleged/threatened assassinations, have been a regular feature in the news here recently.
First there was the bizarre story of MP Gitobu Imanyara who told parliament that armed men stopped his car at night in Nairobi, made him kneel facing the direction of Mount Kenya, and told him to swear allegiance to Uhuru Kenyatta, the presidential candidate and deputy prime minister who is facing charges of crimes against humanity at the International Criminal Court. If he did not support Uhuru, he was told he and his sons would be decapitated and their heads sent to Imanyara’s wife.
Then there was the alleged assassination plot against Prime Minister Raila Odinga – the plot was revealed by joint government whip Jakoyo Midiwo and he is now under investigation for making false claims. Police wanted to arrest Midiwo when he comes back from official duties abroad, but his lawyers have blocked that.
It is still nearly 11 months til the next election, due in March 2013. But there is a certain feverish quality to political life already.