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Conference Call Re US-Africa Leaders Summit

US Africa Leaders Summit

President Obama in August will welcome leaders from across the African continent to the Nation’s Capital for a three-day U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the first such event of its kind. This Summit, the largest event any U.S. President has held with African heads of state and government, will build on the President’s trip to Africa in the summer of 2013 and it will strengthen ties between the United States and one of the world’s most dynamic and fastest growing regions. Specifically, the August 4-6 Summit will advance the Administration’s focus on trade and investment in Africa and highlight America’s commitment to Africa’s security, its democratic development, and its people–The White House.

I’ll be attending the Summit and will give periodic updates via my Twitter handle @Omwenga. If you wish to see those updates, then do the necessary to follow me.

Meanwhile, the following is a transcript of a conference call that was held yesterday covering a number of pertinent issues related to the Summit.

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

________________________________________________________________

For Immediate Release                             August 1, 2014

ON-THE-RECORD CONFERENCE CALL BY DEPUTY NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISOR FOR STRATEGIC COMMUNICATIONS BEN RHODES; ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE FOR AFRICAN AFFAIRS LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD; AND SENIOR DIRECTOR FOR DEVELOPMENT AND DEMOCRACY AT THE NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL GAYLE SMITH, ON THE U.S.-AFRICA LEADERS SUMMIT

Via Telephone

**Please see below for a clarification marked with an asterisk.

July 31, 2014, 6:09 P.M. EDT

MS. MEEHAN:  Hi, everybody.  This is Bernadette at the National Security Council.  Thanks for joining us today for this press call on the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit taking place next week.  We have with us today three senior administration officials who I’ll introduce in just a moment.  I do want to announce a change to the ground rules for this call.  It was advertised as background, but we will conduct this call on the record.  So you should feel free to quote each of the administration officials by name.  And again, this will be on the record.

Our three senior administration officials are:  Ben Rhodes, the Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications; Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield; and Senior Director for Development and Democracy at the National Security Council Gayle Smith.

And with that, I will turn it over to Ben Rhodes.

MR. RHODES:  Great.  Thanks, everybody, for getting on the call.  I’ll just give an overview of the summit and the schedule for the summit, and then Linda and Gayle can make some additional comments.  And then we’ll take of your questions.

First of all, the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit is truly an historic opportunity for the United States to strengthen our ties with the African continent and to underscore America’s commitment to investing in Africa’s development and future peace, prosperity and security.

This is by far the largest engagement by any American President with Africa.  It will include nearly 50 African leaders, as well as the participation of a range of U.S. and African civil society and business leaders, young African leaders, and members of Congress.

We’ve just concluded a very successful three days with 500 Mandela Washington Fellows from our Young African Leaders Initiative.  The President, the First Lady, Susan Rice and other senior officials, including Secretary Kerry, were able to engage with those young leaders and also to hear their views about what the agenda is for the United States and Africa.

We chose to do this summit to send a very clear signal that we are elevating our engagement with Africa.  We see enormous opportunities in Africa as it continues to advance its own economic development and continues to develop its capabilities as African countries continue to develop their capabilities as security partners of the United States and as democratic partners of the United States.

The theme of the summit is “Investing in the Next Generation.”  And I think that’s a symbol of the forward-looking and future-oriented nature of our engagement with Africa.

One of the things that we thought about as we prepared the summit is what does the United States uniquely bring to the table in its partnership with African countries.  Other nations hold summits with African leaders.  We very much wanted this summit to be focused on the distinct and unique attributes of the U.S.-African partnership.  And what we believe is unique about the American contribution is our focus on African capacity-building and integrating Africa into the global economy and security order.

What the United States has done in all of our signature development programs — on food and power and health –- is not just provide assistance to Africa but build African capacity so that public health sectors are empowered to meet challenges on the continent; so that through our Power Africa initiative we are bringing electricity to the continent in a way that will foster development and integration with the global economy; and through our food security initiative we are building the capacity of the agricultural sector within Africa to feed populations and also to foster economic growth.

Now, these initiatives are making substantial progress.  Power Africa aims to double access to electricity on the continent.  Our food security efforts are combating famine and promoting sustainable agriculture.  Our global AIDS efforts are dramatically reducing –- or our global health efforts, I should say, are dramatically reducing deaths from preventable diseases and have enabled the promise of an AIDS-free generation.

We also are very focused on trade and investment.  And the summit will include a U.S.-Africa Business Forum that is dedicated to that purpose.  This is an important interest to the United States.  Africa has six of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, and insofar as we can promote trade and investment, that is going to create new markets for our goods; that’s going to create win-win outcomes that advance prosperity in both the United States and Africa, and ultimately create jobs in both the United States and Africa.  So this is about seizing the opportunity of African growth and development in our mutual interests.

At the same time, there remains a significant amount of security challenges on the continent, and so we’ll be talking about how we can work to build African capacity to counter transnational threats like terrorism, but also to support African peace and security operations in different parts of the continent.  And of course, we’re committed to supporting strong democratic institutions in Africa as well as the next generation of African leaders.  And so we’ll be able to discuss efforts to promote open and accountable governance and respect for human rights in Africa, which, of course, continue to be an abiding interest for the United States.

So with that, let me go through the schedule and make a few comments on why we structured the summit as we have.

First of all, tomorrow, there will be an event called Faith Works that will honor the contributions of the faith community to the U.S.-African relationship.  As many of you know, many different religious and non-governmental organizations support development on the African continent, and tomorrow USAID will play a lead role in convening many of those faith leaders to not just pay tribute to their work, but to draw from that experience as we roll into the summit next week.

Then, on Monday, there’s a series of events that get at different aspects of our agenda with Africa.  There’s a Civil Society Forum at the National Academy of Sciences on Monday morning, where we’ll discuss our efforts to support civil society in Africa — both the very positive role that civil society plays in consolidating democratic progress, but also efforts to combat closing space for civil society in certain parts of the continent as well.

Then there will be an all-day African Growth and Opportunity Act Forum hosted at the World Bank.  AGOA has been a critical piece of our trade relationship with Africa for the last decade.  It is up for reauthorization next year.  The President has made very clear that we’re committed to renewal of AGOA.  We want to do what we can to work with Congress and with African countries to build on the progress of the last several years, but also to improve AGOA.  And so this will be an all-day opportunity for trade ministers to discuss our priorities as we work toward the reauthorization of AGOA going forward.

Then there will be several events focused on different parts of our agenda, including investing in women and peace — investing in women for peace and prosperity, given our focus on supporting gender equality in Africa, and the fundamental notion that the President spoke about to the Young African Leaders that the empowerment of women is good for all of our priorities on Africa.

There will be an event on investing in health.  And the global health program that we have continues to be our largest development program in Africa.  That builds not just on the success of PEPFAR, but on what we’ve done to combat preventable deaths and to reduce instances of diseases like malaria that are preventable, but also to build the capacity of African public health sectors.

There will be an event on resilience and food security in a changing climate.  And we have done a significant amount under this administration to ensure that as we pursue development programs we are factoring in climate resilience.  And a key part of our international climate agenda is supporting developing countries as they aim to skip the dirtier phases of development so that the world can meet ambitious emissions reductions targets.

There will be an event on combatting wildlife trafficking.  And the administration recently released a landmark strategy on working with Africans to combat the scourge of wildlife trafficking, which denies a critical natural resource of the world but also a critical tourism resource within Africa.

Then, there will also be a congressional reception for the African leaders on Monday evening.  Congress has played an enormous role on a bipartisan basis in supporting Africa policy.  It is important to note that in an environment in Washington where there’s not a lot of bipartisan agreement, Africa has been a true exception.  When you look at programs like PEPFAR, when you look at bipartisan support for Power Africa through the Electrify Africa bills that are making their way through Congress, and when you just look broadly at the support on the Hill for peacekeeping operations and development initiatives, we want to make sure members of Congress are fully integrated into the summit, and the reception will be an important part of that.

Then, Tuesday is the U.S.-Africa Business Forum that Bloomberg Bloomberg Philanthropies* is co-hosting with the Department of Commerce.  And throughout the day there will be several panel discussions.  One is focused on expanding opportunities for business to invest in Africa.  Another on opening markets, so that we can help finance the Africa of tomorrow.  Another on Power Africa and leading developments in infrastructure.  And then one on shaping the future of a fast-growing continent.

Just to step back here, part of what the United States brings to the table in Africa is not simply our governmental resources, but the huge demand in Africa for trade and investment and partnership with American businesses.  And that leads to commercial deals that have a specific benefit both for the United States and for the African countries that are partners in those fields, but also to the broader trade and investment environment that we’re seeking to foster so that African growth creates broader prosperity on the continent but also new markets for U.S. businesses.

President Obama will then close the U.S.-Africa Business Forum by making remarks and then answering some questions about our agenda as it relates to trade and investment.

Then, that night, Tuesday night, the President and Mrs. Obama will host here at the White House a dinner with all of the African leaders to pay tribute to this historic event.

On Wednesday, the summit sessions themselves will take place at the State Department.  The first session is on investing in Africa’s future.  The second session is on peace and regional stability.  And then the third session is on governing for the next generation.

And these three different sessions will allow us to build on the discussions of the previous two days to focus on issues like how we’re supporting development on areas like food, health and power that have been priorities for us, but also the continued growth and economic development of Africa; on regional peace and security, what we’re doing as a partner to facilitate African solutions to peacekeeping challenging; what we’re doing to consolidate democratic progress in Africa and strengthen democratic institutions around issues like the rule of law; and, of course, what we’re doing to support the next generation of African leaders — something that is so demonstrated by our Young African Leaders Initiative.

The President will then, at the conclusion of the summit, have a press conference.  I’d also note that the First Lady will be hosting a spousal program along with Laura Bush, on Wednesday, where she’ll focus on a number of issues, including her commitment to girls’ education and the empowerment of women in Africa.

So we’re very excited about this opportunity.  We believe it can be a game-changer in the U.S.-Africa relationship, that it will advance our work on all the areas that the U.S. is focused on, from the food, power and health development agenda; to the trade and investment partnerships we’re building; to the peace and security initiatives that we have across the continent; to the strengthening and consolidation of democratic progress.

We engage Africa and African countries as equals, and that’s the spirit in which the President will receive the leaders.

With that, Linda, why don’t you provide some perspective from State, and then Gayle can close us out before questions.

MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  Okay.  I’ll be brief.  But what I’d like to talk about is the engagement that we’ve had with African governments on putting together this fantastic agenda.  We started engaging about eight months ago, working with ambassadors here in Washington as well as going out through our ambassadors to various posts to confer with governments about the agenda.  Also, in all of our official travel to the continent, we talked about those areas that countries were interested in seeing on the agenda.

Gayle Smith, Grant Harris and I were in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea in late June and we met with a record 30 African delegations where, again, we went through the agenda for the summit, heard from them additional ideas that they wanted us to take into account in the agenda.  And I can tell you that everyone was excited.  They were — the response was enthusiastic.  And I think that we have come up with an agenda that is going to provide for a very productive meeting.

I also want to note — Ben didn’t mention that we have about 80 unofficial side events that have developed as a result of the summit.  The summit has really galvanized the African community around Washington.  And the NGO community, the local universities, think tanks, business organizations have all put together an interesting set of side meetings that I think will keep everyone in Washington busy for the entire week — that the heads of state and other members of the delegation will be during the time they will be here in Washington.

So I will end there and turn it over to Gayle.

MS. SMITH:  Hi, everybody.  And I’ll be brief, I’ll just add a couple of things.  I think a few things that are unique about this summit have to do with both the style and the frame.  Ben laid out the sequence of events.  The YALI Summit has been this week; we have the faith event tomorrow.  Civil Society Forum, AGOA Ministerial, Business Forum and Conference — all these things will flow into the actual discussion on Wednesday, and we think set up a conversation that will be quite unique, including because the frame of this is about the next generation.  So rather than an exclusive focus on the challenges or opportunities of today, the questions on the table in each of these three sessions are what do we need to be thinking about and doing now so that we are at a place in 10 or 15 years where the gains we’ve seen in Africa are consolidated, where the growth we are seeing is inclusive, and where some of the ongoing challenges are more systematically and strategically addressed.

It will also be informal.  There are an awful lot of summits that are comprised by a huge number of speeches and a great deal of formality.  This summit will be one where there will be an active exchange of views, and this is something — again, it’s not the usual case.  I think the Assistant Secretary described our consultation process.  We have had a lot of positive feedback from leaders directly that they are looking forward to being able to have the opportunity to talk with the President and each other in a way that it is less rather than more formal.

We’re focused on outcomes that are tangible.  In other words, this is not the culmination of anything.  This is a very big step in the long evolution of our Africa policy, but we do intend and will be coming out of this summit with some tangible outcomes that we’re going to want to move forward on together.

If I can just flag a few things that I think may be of interest to many of you covering this that stand out I think in ways consistent with the kind of broad principles that Ben laid out.  On the Monday when there will be a great focus on development, the changes we have seen in Africa on development are quite phenomenal — a real shift from a dependence on assistance to the investment of their own dollars.  Some of the greatest gains we’ve seen on the planet in HIV and AIDS, maternal and child health, agricultural development are in Africa.

Food security, which Ben mentioned — President Obama called for a worldwide food security initiative in February of 2009, very shortly after coming into office, at a time when worldwide investments in agricultural development were down very, very, very sharply and where the world was spending much more on relief than agricultural development.  We were able to build those initiatives to Feed the Future and the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition based on what Africa has done.

African leaders agreed some years ago to increase their investments in agriculture, that every country should have a plan.  They have since, in the last couple of months, committed themselves to tripling agricultural trade, further reducing hunger.  This is an area where we have been hugely successful but in large measure because we’ve got a huge number of leaders putting skin in the game.

We’ve also seen that with Power Africa, which launched only a year ago, which has gotten enormous traction.  We will have some things to say about how far that has come and where it is going.  So those are just a couple of things on the Monday.

On the Tuesday at the business forum, I think by virtue of the fact of who is in attendance, what kinds of things will be announced, and the general buzz around it, I think there is now a solid recognition that what we are talking about is a very fast-growing and dynamic emerging market where we have mutual interests in increasing U.S. investment.  There will also be significantly there a number of prominent African CEOs.  Among the business leaders in attendance, we will have a huge diversity of companies from very large and well-known companies to a lot of smaller companies.  And, again, both American and international, but also significantly African corporate leaders.

So I think — I would say we’ll leave it at that, Ben, and turn it back to you.  We’ve spoken a lot and maybe take your questions.

MR. RHODES:  Yes, happy to take questions.

Q    Hi there, thanks so much for doing this call.  I wanted to begin by asking you about the competition for U.S. investment in Africa.  There is a lot of it.  As you mentioned, because there is this recognition that it’s such a (inaudible) emerging market — competition from China, Malaysia, Turkey and Europe.  And Ambassador Rice said this week that the engagement with the U.S. is different because the U.S. doesn’t see the continent as a place to extract resources but a place of boundless opportunities.  What I hear from African leaders and people who work in Africa is that they already know that.  And I would ask you what message will you deliver to show that the U.S. approach to Africa has truly turned a corner, that you do value them as this equal partner, and how are you showing that during a summit without using bilateral meetings?

MR. RHODES:  Thanks, Jessica.  Let me just say a couple things.  First of all, with respect to China, President Obama has made clear that we welcome other nations being invested in Africa, and, frankly, China can play a constructive role in areas like developing African infrastructure.  At the same time, we do believe we bring something unique to the table.  We are less focused on resources from Africa and more focused on deepening trade and investment relationships.  And I think the way in which that will be demonstrated at the summit is if you look at the nature of our engagement — first of all, we are engaged across the U.S. government so that it is not simply the State Department, but the Commerce Department, the United States Trade Representative, OPEC and Ex-Im — all have very deep ties in Africa.

All of those principals have made recent trips to Africa or had recent meetings with African leaders to discuss what the United States can do to increase our trade and investment footprint on the continent.  Our businesses will be represented at the U.S.-Africa Business Forum — are pursuing a much broader engagement on the continent.  And they are seeking to deepen their own investments in Africa in ways that will I think create a broader prosperity on the continent, because they are putting resources into African economies in ways that support development and job creation in Africa, but also create new markets for American goods.  And so there will be specific commercial deals that can be discussed, but also the broader climate around trade and investment.

And then there are some very specific things that we’re focused on.  AGOA is one — as we seek a renewal of AGOA heading into next year.  But also, we’ve sought to support the greater integration of trade within Africa.  And it happens to be the case that in some cases it’s easier for African countries to export beyond Africa’s shores than to trade with their neighbors because of how their economies were set up.  And so we’ve worked, for instance, with the East African community to facilitate greater trade across borders in East Africa so that you’re looking at issues like customs and you’re looking at ways for different countries to integrate their trade practices.

That will be good for them because they can create more integrated economic arrangements, but it will also be good for us because that will then make it easier for us to harmonize our trade and investment across different parts of the African continent.

So when you look at this agenda, it’s really about how do we use the remarkable growth in parts of Africa to go to the next level, so that investment is flowing into Africa, jobs are being created, new markets are being grown, there’s integration on the continent, and there’s deeper trade with the United States.  And again, we, uniquely as a country in the global economy, bring all those different assets to bear — not just dollars, but business partnership, trade expertise, and an interconnection to the global economy.

I don’t know, Gayle, if you want to add anything to that.

MS. SMITH:  I think just one example I would point to is Power Africa, because one of the challenges in Africa that we found in the energy sector and that our partners have talked to us about is you’ve got a huge number of potential projects, you’ve got a lot of capital that is looking for a place to invest, and how do you bring those two things together.

Through Power Africa, what we have been able to do is provide a menu of things that can render those projects bankable.  So we’re working with governments to improve their regulatory environment, or provide risk insurance to companies that want to go in but there is still a high perception of risk.

So at the same time, we are bringing capital to investments in power and energy, including U.S. capital, but we’re also building the capacity of these countries to grow economies that are sustainable and deliver.  And I think that’s one of the big shifts.  We’re interested in the investment, but we’re also interested in building the capacity, even as we move more closely into this emerging market.

Q    Do you have a count now on how many countries will be participating in the official events?  And for those countries whose Presidents cannot attend, what level of representation is allowed, I guess is the question –- vice president, ministerial — for the dinner and for the Wednesday session, Presidents at the State Department?

MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  All 50 of the delegations that were invited are attending, not all at the level of the Presidents.  Those in which Presidents are unable to attend for various reasons have designated either Vice Presidents or Prime Ministers, and in a few cases foreign ministers have accepted on their behalf and they will be allowed to participate in the summit deliberations.

MR. RHODES:  And I’d just add we also included the African Union.  And the way in which we approach the summit is to view Africa in the way in which Africa views itself in terms of its political organization.  In other words, we didn’t simply do a Sub-Saharan African summit.  We invited all of Africa, with the exception of certain countries that are either not in good standing with the AU or are of particular concern to the United States, such as Zimbabwe and Sudan.

Q    Hi, I just want to ask this question specifically to the National Security Advisor.  I heard you guys talk about peace and security, and then I also heard you guys talk about security within the African continent.  Now, we have seen the development of al Qaeda in the Maghreb, and also the Tuareg rebels in Mali, and also the activities of Boko Haram in Nigeria.  And mostly, these are terrorist groups that are working with networks like al Qaeda, and they are expanding and causing conflict in areas like Kenya, and al-Shabaab.  Now, I want to ask, specifically when President Obama meets with these African leaders, part of the agenda — are you guys going to discuss new counterterrorism policies that would involve African countries networking and partnering with the United States?

Because already small countries like The Gambia have been — I mean, in the international community, countries like Senegal have (inaudible) The Gambia when it comes to arms dealing with Iran and also — and unrest in the sub-region.  So would this be part of the agenda of this (inaudible) peace and security not just in Africa but also the security of — the national security of the United States?  I would like to ask your senior government officials about that.

MR. RHODES:  Sure.  I’ll say a couple of things and see if my colleagues want to add to that.  First of all, we are very focused on the threat of terrorism in Africa.  We see it as particularly acute in the areas that you mentioned — North Africa, Somalia with al-Shabaab, and of course Boko Haram in Nigeria.  Those aren’t the only areas, but those have been particular areas of focus.

When the President at West Point announced a new focus on building a network of counterterrorism partners, he was very specific to say that this would come from South Asia to the Sahel.  And we have pursued a $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, for instance, to support those efforts.  And that includes, for instance, what the United States is doing to facilitate the French-led effort in Mali to push back against extremists who have sought to control portions of Mali.  It certainly speaks to our cooperation with countries like Morocco and Algeria and other North African partners who share our counterterrorism challenge.  And it very much speaks to the threat of al-Shabaab.  And the President lifted that up as an example where we’ve had cooperation where the United States brings resources to bear to support AMISOM — has aimed to push back against al-Shabaab within Somalia, and to support the development of a government there.  And we’ve had some — but at the same time, the United States also, frankly, does pursue its own counterterrorism operations as necessary to support that AMISOM-led effort and to push back against al-Shabaab.

That’s the type of example that we want to build on, where you have regional partners bringing these resources to bear, with the support of the United States that can provide intelligence, it can provide certain unique capabilities that we can bring to bear, and it can also provide a political context where we’re not just dealing with the threat, but we’re also seeking to develop democratic institutions and development that can serve as a counterweight to terrorism — that that’s our long-term approach in a place like Somalia.  And we certainly would want to work with countries like Kenya and Uganda to support counterterrorism efforts in the neighborhood.

So I think this context will be a part of the peace and security discussion, just as we’ll also be discussing the issues related to peacekeeping and some of the challenges that you see in places like the Central African Republic.

I’d just note — because you mentioned Nigeria — there are — we have been looking at ways that we can increase our cooperation with Nigeria.  We have a team on the ground there that is supporting their efforts against Boko Haram and seeking to find the girls that were kidnapped earlier this year.

But I don’t know if, Linda or Gayle, do you have anything you’d want to add to that?

MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I would just add that this was an issue that was brought to our attention by African leaders almost to a number that they are equally concerned about the rise in terrorism across the continent, that they see a nexus between activities in different regions, and that they want to build their capacity to respond, they want to be able to share information and cooperate with each other to address those issues.  So we will spend quite a bit of time discussing those issues and looking at how we move together in the future to address terrorism.

MS. SMITH:  I’d just add one small thing to this in terms of some of what we’ve heard from the leaders in consultation.  Terrorism obviously a big concern to them, but also a host of other transnational threats.  And many of these come down to the same vulnerabilities in terms of security, borders, information, so on and so forth.

So, in addition, the drug trade, trafficking, so on and so forth, are also on their minds.  I think the only thing I would add in terms of how we might approach it is how do we think about this, again, systematically, strategically, and in a sustainable way, so we get back to that core issue of building their capacity and supporting their efforts to address these challenges on the ground.

Q    Hi, this is Marilyn Geewax.  I’m just wondering — the big news, of course, this week has been about Ebola and Africa.  And I just wondered if it will have any impact in any way that is — maybe some Presidents won’t be able to come or flights have some troubles getting in.  Is there any impact at all from this story about Ebola?

MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  You want to take that, Gayle?

MS. SMITH:  Let me take a first cut, Linda, and turn to you.  Obviously, this has been a great concern.  We have been engaged with and in the region in working on this issue since March, when the first cases appeared.  Obviously, there has been a decline in a couple of countries so that there’s greater attention on it.  We are closely engaged with the leaders and the governments of the three countries most affected.  The Assistant Secretary may want to say more on that.

We’re doing several things.  One is ramping up our efforts to support a regional effort to deal with this outbreak and support, again, three governments who are doing a lot of things to contend with a real threat.  Mind you, these are countries that have emerged — particularly Sierra Leone and Liberia — from years of war.  And so this is an uphill challenge for them.  We’re also taking the necessary steps domestically to protect the American people.  We have no plans to change the agenda of the summit, but we will obviously adapt as needed and in consultation with our partners, depending on their requirements.

And, Linda, let me turn to you if you’d like to add anything.

MS. SMITH:  Yes.  I would just add I’ve been in conversation with all three heads of state in the region over the past two days to, one, confirm to them that we want to support their efforts and to commend them for their leadership and offer our condolences for the deaths of their citizens, but at the same time, to find out from them what additional assistance we might provide.  We’ve provided a range of support and assistance to respond to the outbreak, we’ve provided personal protective equipment, essential supplies, public health messaging efforts, and a great deal of technical expertise.

You may have heard CDC today describing some of the activities that we are providing.  We did hear from both President Sirleaf and President Koroma that because of their involvement and engagement in the crisis in their countries, that they were reconsidering whether they should come to the summit.  And while we would be terribly disappointed not to have them here, we also understand the importance of them being in their countries and showing leadership at this critical time.

Q    Thank you very much.  I just have two quick questions.  Number one, I wanted to directly put the issue of why (inaudible) President Obama will not be holding any one-on-one meetings with any of the leaders that are coming.  And then secondly, are we going to get a list of the numbers of the Presidents that will be coming to the meeting?  Thank you

MR. RHODES:  Sure, I can take that.  On your first question, given the fact that we have nearly 50 leaders coming, frankly, we just wouldn’t be able to do bilats with everybody, and so the simplest thing is for the President to devote his time to engaging broadly with all the leaders.  That way we’re not singling out individuals at the expense of the other leaders.  So that way the President can commit his time to broad engagement.

I will say that the President will have a chance to interact individually with each leader.  That’s part of the purpose of having the dinner where he’ll be able to personally receive each leader attending the dinner.  And so he will certainly speak with and interact with every leader who is coming here to the summit.  And I think that speaks to his commitment to engage Africa.

Keep in mind, too, that no U.S. President has ever done a summit like this with every African leader.  I think that speaks to the deep respect he has for engaging Africa as an equal partner.  Of course, he had the opportunity to meet bilaterally, for instance, with President Jonathan in the past.  He will certainly be able to have bilateral meetings in the future with a range of important African leaders, including the President of Nigeria.

On your second question, we will certainly — as we get the list finalized in terms of African attendees — that is the type of thing that will be available.  We can’t provide it now.  As Linda noted, of course, for instance, there have been changes in two of the countries affected by the Ebola virus, but as we get the list finalized we will be able to make that available for people.

Q    Thank you for doing the call.  Let me try again as a variation of a previous question.  Weren’t you disappointed, though, because a lot of leaders from North Africa decided to send lower representation to the summit?  And how do you respond to many of them that they sort of insinuate that the focus, the U.S. focus is on the Sub-Saharan countries rather than North Africa?

MR. RHODES:  Well, I’d say a couple things.  First of all, we made a conscious choice to integrate North Africa into the summit and not simply view it as an opportunity to engage Sub-Saharan Africa.  We wanted to engage the entire continent.  That — the African Union approach.  And, of course, we’re including the African Union in the summit as well, which sends I think an important signal about the importance that we place on our relationship with the African Union as a key international and regional organization.

With respect to the North African countries, we, frankly, have an opportunity to engage on a bilateral basis very regularly with a number of those countries.  So, for instance, if you look at a country like Egypt, there is no shortage of U.S. time and attention and resources that are devoted to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship.  Secretary Kerry, of course, was just in Egypt for several days.  So we’re confident that we are able to work very closely across the board on the range of issues we have, for instance, with Egypt.  And if you look at Morocco, for instance, the President was able to welcome the King here just recently.  So we’ve had that head of state engagement.

I would actually, frankly, note that we’re very pleased to have the opportunity to receive a Libyan delegation.  In the context of the recent drawdown of our embassy operations, it’s important for us to find ways to be able to engage Libyan leaders and, in addition to our diplomats who are staying in the region in Malta, to continue to engage Libyan counterparts.  The summit will be a good opportunity for us to continue our support for efforts to bring about an end to some of the violence that we’ve seen in recent days in Libya and to find out ways that the international community can invest in institutions that can be more durable for the Libyan people going forward.

So we’ll have that opportunity to engage those who attend from North Africa even as we have an agenda here that is very much focused on the continent and focused on our development initiatives and focused on our investments across all of Africa.  So, again, we have an agenda that is not limited in focus to some of the issues that the United States works on a very regular basis with North Africa, but we do see North Africa as a key part of our broader approach to the continent.

Q    On the issue of security, I was just wondering, since Africa, kind of a hotspot for more of a — continent — some parts of a continent is a hotspot for various persons who are trying to become a terrorist or breed terrorism, what countries on the continent are you looking to foster some kind of, what do you call it — I just forgot the word — what is it when you send the person back?  That you’re asking to send the terrorist back?  I just forgot — I just lost — but you know what I’m talking about.  When a criminal is extradited — I’m sorry, you’re trying to extradite the person.

MR. RHODES:  I see.  Well, thanks, April.  It’s always good to hear your voice, and we appreciate your focus on these African issues and certainly your engagement with the President on the recent trip he made to Africa.

Look, we are concerned about efforts by terrorist groups to gain a foothold in Africa.  I think what we’ve seen is, in addition to groups like al-Shabaab that gain a foothold in a place like Somalia, we see international terrorist networks sometimes seek to take advantage of ungoverned spaces so that they can get a safe haven.  And so that’s what we saw in Mali where some extremist groups, including those affiliated with al Qaeda, took advantage of an ongoing conflict between the government and the Tuaregs to gain territory and hold it.

And what we’re doing is several things.  On the specific question you ask about are we concerned about people traveling to Africa, out focus there has been, for instance, on dissuading those in, for instance, the Somali-American community from being recruited from overseas by al-Shabaab.  And I have nothing but admiration for the extraordinary work that’s been done by the diaspora, including the Somali-American community, in rejecting some of the extremist propaganda that we see online and distributed in communities here.  And so we work to forge community-based solutions with the diaspora to prevent the young people from being corrupted and recruited from abroad by a group like al-Shabaab.

So that’s one instance in which we are working not just to deal with the threat of terrorism in Africa, but to ensure that there’s not an effort to reach into the United States and our diaspora communities who are very much a part of the solution to these challenges.

On extradition, that has not been a — I wouldn’t term that as a focal point beyond the Gitmo piece.  So if that’s — to take that as a specific jumping-off point, we have transferred some detainees to North African countries, for instance. Algeria, for instance, recently received some detainees who had been cleared for transfer.  I believe there are other cases where — like Sudan, where individuals that served their time and have been released.

When we transfer detainees from Gitmo to any country, we do a review to assure that our national security interests can be protected in the context of that transfer.  We consult with the government that is going to be receiving those individuals.  So that would certainly be the case in a situation like Algeria.

But that’s a very narrow part of our counterterrorism agenda.  The bigger part of our agenda is to work with African countries to build their counterterrorism capabilities, to find where the United States may have unique capacity not just to conduct counterterrorism operations, but to facilitate international and regional counterterrorism activities.  And so in France, with Mali, for instance, we can help facilitate French efforts with some of our intelligence and some of our logistical support.  We’ve similarly worked closely with AMISOM and Somalia to strengthen their capabilities.

But then we’re looking at how do we get at the broader issue of countering violent extremism in Africa so that these groups, like Boko Haram, like al-Shabaab, like al-Qaeda, are not able to prey on young people with disinformation and intimidation; that we’re getting information out with African partners that puts forward a better vision of the future.  And I think nothing puts that on greater display than the types of young leaders that we’ve been engaged with through our Young African Leaders Initiative, who frankly represent the much more (inaudible) future available to young people across Africa.

So it’s a multi-dimensional approach, but it’s one that’s focused on building African capacity and supporting it with unique American capabilities.

I think we’ve got time for one more question.

Q    Hi there, thanks for briefing.  I’ve got two questions.  First one is on who is coming and who is not coming.  What is the actual diplomatic process by which certain heads of state don’t get invited or don’t show?  I’m thinking about Mugabe and al-Bashir.  And if some are excluded, how come Uhuru Kenyatta — the ICC and (inaudible) is coming?  Second question — internal African crises.  Are you expecting or hoping to see any kind of political process on some of the worst issues facing the continent?  I’m thinking South Sudan, CAR, Somalia, or Congo.  Thanks.

MR. RHODES:  So on your first question, we were guided by, in part, how the African Union approaches its relations with member states.  But then again, we also have individual countries that we have unique challenges with, too.  So just to take a few examples, the Central African Republic is currently suspended from the African Union, so that falls into the category of a country that we made a decision based on the determination of their current association with the African Union.  If you look at Sudan, given not just the ICC case, which is of course of deep concern, but the pattern of behavior out of President Bashir and the way in which the United States has approached those issues, including — well, including the ICC piece, we did not feel it appropriate to invite President Bashir.

MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  And then I would just add to that the lack of cooperation with the ICC.

MR. RHODES:  Yes, absolutely.  And then Zimbabwe — President Mugabe, the specially designated national — he’s subject to U.S. sanctions given what he has done to undermine democratic processes and institutions in Zimbabwe.  And so given our grave concern and our sanctions, we did not see it appropriate to invite President Mugabe.

So these are individual leaders who are either not in good standing with the AU or are specifically designated for U.S. sanctions who would not be invited.

Now, President Kenyatta, of course we’ve expressed some concerns around the ICC.  Kenya has a process by which they’re working to address those concerns, and we’ve been supportive of those efforts.  And we also have obviously a very deep and significant relationship with Kenya on not just security issues but on issues associated with trade and development.  And they have been a key regional partner, so they will be a part of these discussions.

But Gayle or Linda may want to address both those questions.

MS. THOMAS-GREENFIELD:  I think you covered it all.

MS. SMITH:  And just the one thing I would add on your second question — yes, we think the summit will provide a number of opportunities to work on some of the cases of chronic conflict or some of the challenges on the continent.  We’ll be able to speak to some of those as the week unfolds next week, but certainly on issues like South Sudan, we seize every opportunity; we’ve got to try to move the ball forward.  We’ll be doing so next week as well.

MR. RHODES:  Let me just mention, just because you asked specifically, the five countries not invited — I mentioned CAR, Sudan, and Zimbabwe — or the five leaders not invited.  Eritrea was not invited.  The U.N. continues to sanction Eritrea for its efforts to destabilize Somalia, but also Eritrea has not accepted diplomatic relations with the United States, rejecting our offer of an ambassador.  Some people have also asked about Western Sahara; the United States and the U.N. do not recognize the Western Sahara as a country.  So CAR, Eritrea, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and then the unique case of Western Sahara — those are the — those leaders not attending.

Well, thanks, everybody, for getting on the call.  I think we’ll wrap it up there.  And we’ll be able to be in touch on these issues going forward.

MS. MEEHAN:  Thanks, everyone, and just a reminder that this call was on the record.  Thanks very much.

END                7:05 P.M. EDT

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Posted by on August 1, 2014 in African Affairs, Politics

 

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The So Called G47 or Third Force Should Support Existing Party Structures In Kenya; We Don’t Need Another New Party In Kenya

I am on record stating that Kenya should be at most a 3-party state, meaning, we should have no more than 3 registered political parties in the country. This is because I believe having more parties simply entrenches tribalism or otherwise encourages continued division in the country along the unhealthy, counterproductive and undesirable tribal, ethnic and status lines. I intend to blog more about this in the near future.

For now, a few things can be said about this so called G47 or Third Force group, that claims it represents 80% of Kenyans living outside of the country who belong to “organized global associations” and one of the things that can be said is you have to treat with suspicion any group that makes such a claim of representation of the Diaspora because having 80% of “organized global associations” is a staggering feat, that is just not possible, if at all.

The fact is, there is no group out there representing more than a tiny fraction of Kenyans living abroad, let alone even tinier fraction of “organized global associations.” This group is therefore trying to pull a fast one on us.

To be sure, there is nothing wrong to attempt to form an umbrella organization that represents the interests of, and is representative of Kenyans living abroad; indeed, this is what I and about 15 other Kenyans were invited a few years ago by the World Bank to, and in fact, formed the Kenya Diaspora Network (KDN). Ideal and as non-partisan and neutral this group was, it not uncharacteristically succumbed to the same old Kenyan politics forcing some of us to abandon it and ultimately its failure to reach these ideal objectives.

The Kenya Community Abroad (KCA) was initially formed also for the same purpose, namely, representing the interests all Kenyans in the Diaspora. As one of KCA’s early members who was actively involved in the organization’s activities in its formative years until I left for reasons I don’t have to get to here, I know and appreciate the need for such organization.

However, having ideals such as those under which KCA or KDN was formed and those this  G47 or Third Force group espouses is one thing, bringing them to fruition in a non-partisan, non-aligned manner, which is totally necessary if such grand ideals are to be realized, is quite another thing. I am not even sure whether this G47 or Third Force is non-partisan or non-aligned but reading just their Press Release on Ikolomani by-elections, I do not have any doubts it is as partisan as any is in Kenya.

The prospects of this group’s success in fielding a presidential candidate and/or the success of its preferred candidate is therefore no different, worse or better than that of the hundreds of parties we have registered or even active in Kenyan politics.

That being the case, I would repeat my position Kenya does not need more parties but strengthening of 2 or 3 of those we already have in existence and working within them to bring about the necessary changes both in the parties and the country as a whole through the political process.

I do not buy the propaganda that none of the parties we currently have in Kenya can produce an effective, reform driven president; a number of them have and can and neither do I buy the propaganda that all leaders in the country are not worth electing president.

I think we can all agree that our country has not met its development objectives and progress due to poor management, corruption and apathy for the general welfare of ordinary Kenyans. I think we can all also agree in order to turn things around, we have to have new management at the top come next year’s elections.

Where I and others differ with those who claim that no current leader can be elected president to spearhead in efforts to turn the country around, is the incongruousness self-evident in this proposition. Those making this claim of no current leader should be elected president have been and continue to make the case that we should get rid of everyone in government and bring in new people. They also at times talk about getting rid of “old” people in government or that we don’t need “old” people running for president which they essentially define in such a manner to include Raila among the “old” people because he is in reality the only person they are obsessed to “blocking” from becoming president.

Their rationale for a solution makes no sense at all. Essentially what they are saying from a business perspective is, you have a large company, say Safaricom that is poorly performing and not profitable at all because of poor management, rampant embezzlement, poor morale and shafting of shareholders.

As a solution to turn this company around and make it profitable again, you propose that you get rid of all management and bring in a new crop of senior managers, including a CEO who have never run a large company and further require that none of these new managers or CEO can be “old” which you essentially define to be anyone over 50 years old.

This is absurd and anyone who knows anything about business will tell you so. Much as it makes no sense to rational and objective minds to propose such a solution, it can only make sense to those proposing it for reasons that have nothing to do with a genuine desire to turn the company around other than creating an easy pathway if not entry through the backdoor to senior management for themselves which in turn will surely sink the company even more than it has by the time they take over.

Prudent business advice or common sense would tell you what you need in a situation like this is, yes, a new CEO and senior management but one with proven success and experience running a company of this size; getting rid of poorly performing employees and managers, sending the embezzlers packing and off to jail and doing a top to bottom analysis of the company to identify ways to make it profitable again.

We need precisely the same solution if we are to turn out country around and point it in the direction of economic growth and prosperity, namely, electing a president with proven success and experience running a country; overhauling the entire government workforce and retraining or otherwise getting rid of non-performing civil servants and personnel, definitely taking head on and having heads rolling for those engaged in corruption and doing a top to bottom analysis of the country to determine, and implementing whatever else is needed to put the country on track to meet its development objectives as outlined under Vision 2030 and more.

My point is, Kenyans living abroad are as divided as Kenyans living inside Kenya and to the extent one can succeed in uniting them, the better just the same as uniting Kenyans at home. However, I just don’t think this can be accomplished by essentially forming another partisan party or organization such as this G47 or Third Force appears to be and neither is it a good or desirable idea to have yet another party in Kenya in any case.

The next president of Kenya is going to come from among the household names of today in the country and among them, it is my humble submission that only Raila espouses and has proven he believes in, and can more believably deliver the progressive ideals expressed by this G47 or Third Force group, among others and therefore I encourage the group to at least work with Raila in his presidential bid.

If on the other hand this group believes it has what it takes to field its own candidate, then by all means let it do so or if it believes someone other than RAO among those who have expressed interest in seeking the office is better suited to be elected president, then let the group make the case for that person and Kenyans will decide come election day.

 
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Posted by on May 30, 2011 in Siasa

 

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Continued Talk About the PM Spending USD7000 On Presidential Suite Is Disingenuous

It is not true that USD7000 per night was spent on a presidential suite for the PM on his recent visit to New York. It amazes but does not surprise me people are still making this baseless and false claim even after the PM’s office has provided documentation to show the correct amount spent on the PM’s accommodation which is nowhere even close to this made up amount.

As pointed out in my earlier blog on this non-issue, there is nothing extravagant or corrupt about what was spent on the PM’s visit to New York or any other trips he has made for that matter. It is nonetheless a classic fallacy to set-up a false premise ending up with a conclusion that does not follow, especially when accomplished by someone with an ax to grind.

Thus, for example in this case, the fallacy goes as has been peddled here and elsewhere by the PM’s haters: The government spent “huge” amounts of money on Raila’s trip to New York therefore Raila must be extravagant, corrupt and does not care about the people suffering in Kibera and the rest of the country.

In reality, any amount of money spent on a prime minister’s or a president’s visit to a foreign country is by definition going to be “huge” relatively speaking. It does not therefore follow that any prime minister or president who undertakes such a trip at such “huge” expense is “extravagant,” “corrupt,” or does not care about the suffering of his or her country.

The sole question to be asked for purposes of accountability is as I stated in my earlier blog on this whether the amount spent for the PM’s accommodation is reasonable and commensurate with that spent by someone holding the same office, i.e., a prime minister and clearly the answer in this case is yes the amount was quite reasonable and appropriate for our PM.

Again, as the PM stated and I agree with him, we do not expect him to say in some dingy backstreet hotel while in official or even private visits

Talking about extravagance and wasteful government spending, the PM’s trips cannot be compared to Kalonzo Musyoka’s on his so called lobbying which everyone including Kalonzo agrees was such a waste of tax payer’s money. Those mentioning expenditures on the PM’s trips in the same breath as those of Kalonzo are disingenuous at best and malicious at worst to the extent they know and appreciate the distinction but yet carelessly lump the same together and condemn them both as extravagant and wasteful government spending, in efforts to sully the PM’s good name.

In fact, it was unwise and wrong for the media and everyone else to have jumped on this fake story without knowing these facts just because LM Kutuny lobbed the charge in Parliament.

As stated in my earlier blog, Kuttuny and the like questioning the Prime Minister’s travel expenses are disingenuous because they are doing this simply for cheap publicity gained from smearing the PM and not because they care about “extravagant” expenditure of public funds.

The PM should not even be expected to answer these types of questions in Parliament; rather, MPs should direct these questions to the appropriate offices that coordinate the PM’s travels. I realize and appreciate we are into the new political dispensation in the country but a line of discipline must be maintained at all levels, especially for the presidency and the PM’s office which must be held in high respect and dignity.

Subjecting the PM to questions of this type during his Q&A in Parliament in my view is inappropriate, uncalled for, and serve only to provide an opportunity for shameless characters like Kutuny to embarrass the PM even by just asking the questions for they leave a false impression that even countering with facts does not completely erase.

The Speaker should remind Kutuny and the like they have a right and privilege to speak in Parliament without fear of being hauled to court for defamation and slander but that’s a right they must not abuse as Kuttuny has obviously done in this and other instances.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2011 in Siasa

 

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Kutuny and His Questioning the PM on Accommodation Expenses Is Cheap Publicity Stunt

Kutuny and the like questioning the Prime Minister’s travel expenses are disingenuous because they are doing this simply for cheap publicity gained from smearing the PM and not because they care about “extravagant” expenditure of public funds. If I were the PM, I would not even answer these types of questions but would rather have these MPs direct their questions to the appropriate offices that coordinate the PM’s travels. I realize and appreciate we are into the new political dispensation in the country but a line of discipline must be maintained at all levels, especially for the presidency and the PM’s office such which must be held in high respect and dignity. Subjecting the PM to questions of this type in my view is uncalled for and inappropriate.

To be sure, the public does have the right to know how the government generally spends its money but there are certain genuine government expenditures that only need to be queried and MPs advised privately if they have to just because by their nature it’s almost impossible to explain to the general public in a manner they would appreciate its rationale and appropriateness. Which hotel and how much is paid for the PM to stay is one of them.

However, as to the question of whether or not expenditure for such stay is “extravagant” or not, no member of parliament has credibility to speak to this question when they are paid and accept the insane salaries and benefits compared to the rest of the world, especially more so those who have nothing to show for what they have accomplished as MPs other than running their mouths or otherwise self-engaged in publicity seeking antics.

If these publicity seeking MPs must know where and how much the PM spends on his official travels, the right and only question they should ask is whether the PM’s official travel and accommodation expenditure is commensurate with that spent by someone holding an office comparable to his in other  comparable countries and if the answer is “yes” as is of course the case with the PM’s official travels here, then the inquiry should and must end there and there because it would be demeaning of the office itself to demand that its holder stay in some dingy cheap hotel just so he does not appear to be “extravagant” if he stays in precisely the same place other comparable office holders stay.

On the other hand, the government has the responsibility to spend public money wisely. When Kalonzo Musyoka engages in the so called lobbying efforts on a mission with clearly no public interest and only for the ill-conceived benefit of a handful of PEV suspects, expenditure of public funds for such trips is completely inappropriate and the public has the right to be outraged and demand answers and accountability.

In contrast, all of the PM’s official travels have been singly and collectively in the public interest as he has either represented and continues to represent our country in important international meetings and conferences in which we must have representation at the PM or presidential level or he has and continues to seek and bring home the beacon, so to speak.

In business, there is a maxim in order to make money, you have to spend money. In government, the government must do the same thing if it has to bring about any prosperity for its people; in order to bring economic prosperity, including attracting investment, the government must spend money and as in business, the question is not how much is spent rather whether how much is spent is worth it, given the gains or minuses.

By this measure which is the only measure that should matter, the PM’s trips are well worth beyond the money spent such that if the PM were to be entitled to monetary bonus payment, his bonus would be right up there comparable to the best among the best of C.E.O.s of private companies.

Regarding specific expenditures on the PM’s hotel accommodation, like any other foreign leader, the PM’s foreign travel and accommodation is carefully planned both by the Kenya government and the country to be visited, taking into consideration a number of factors, including security and protocol.

When the PM travels to the United States, for example, he can only but stay in certain places of accommodation approved by the Secret Service which is responsible and takes over his security upon arrival in the United States.

The PM does not chose where he stays and neither does he negotiate how much he pays for his stay; this is the responsibility of those charged with planning his trips but staying at the Waldorf or in its presidential suite is nothing uncommon for visiting prime ministers and presidents in New York; that’s the preferred place of stay for the reasons stated above.

The PM cannot stay in some backstreet hotel and expect to conduct business there with government and/or business leaders staying at the Waldorf suites and that’s even assuming the Secret Service allows him to stay there, which they cannot. You are in Rome, you do as the Romans do; in order to project the right image and gain the confidence of those you expect to deal with, you had better conform to their expectation and so should they conversely.

Having said that, it is important to put things in perspective by noting the following regarding the PM’s stay at the Waldorf Astoria in New York: The cheapest decent hotel in New York on any given night is $300 per person per night. This is certainly an “extravagant” amount to spend for a hotel room for an ordinary Kenyan, given our per capita income of a mere $315.

Would the average Kenyan be better off if we were to cram the PM and his entire entourage into this one room in New York at $300 per night? Would the country have better schools, better hospitals and everything else if we did so? Would the average Kenyan even begin to understand the justification, rationale and purpose of expenditures such as the PM’s travel? Does Kutuny and the like really even care about the public even understanding this at all?

My point is, let’s focus on issues that really matter starting from eliminating corruption, wasteful, bloated government spending and finding ways to bring about economic prosperity, which the PM is commendably spearheading as it is.

The PM’s official travels and related expenses are necessary for our country to remain relevant in the increasingly interconnected global village besides directly engaging parties who as a result agree to offer instruments of economic development and prosperity that we badly need as has been the case with each of the PM’s official visits abroad and elsewhere.

Thus, examined objectively, no one can disagree that the PM’s trips and expenditures are well worth it, given the PM’s success with them so those bent on using the PM’s legitimate travel and related expenses to smear him ought to be ashamed but again they may have no shame when it comes to Raila which is a shame in by itself nonetheless.

 
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Posted by on May 25, 2011 in Siasa

 

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The Minimum Qualities, Attributes and Skills Our Next President In Kenya Must Possess

While pursuing my undergraduate degree in Government and Politics (GVPT) as a returning student at the University of Maryland, College Park, Maryland in the early 90s, I had the privilege to study leadership as a student of the world renowned leadership expert Dr. James MacGregor Burns. I was one of a handful of students selected for this class sponsored by the Academy of Leadership, which was then housed at UMCP.

I also had the privilege while at UMCP to work for the great late U.S. Senator Edward M. Kennedy as a Congressional Intern in my last year of studies at UMCP through the GVPT Capitol Hill Honors Program before venturing on to law school.

As I embark on writing this blog on leadership, I have dusted off my notes from these experiences and added what I have learned and observed since then about leadership in both Africa and here in the US in the hopes I can provide a comprehensive and analytic basis we all as Kenyans can use to choose our national leaders chief among them being the president.

Before I dig into this concept of leadership and how to apply it in Kenyan context, let me state the uncontroverted and obvious upfront:

(1)There is a correlation between leadership and the development of a nation.

(2)Almost all that ails Kenya and Africa for that matter is directly linkable to bad leadership.

(3)Kenyan and African leaders, save for Nkrumah and Mandela  have largely failed their citizenry.

(4)The failure of Kenyan/African leadership is not due to lack of information or resources.

(5)The continent of Africa has in it individuals who can rise to greatness in leadership anytime.

The term “leadership” is one that is used across the globe and in all languages and cultures and perhaps the most if not the only common concept all peoples of the world commonly have in mind from time immemorial when thinking and deciding about how to govern their affairs.

Yet, as Dr. Burns describes it, “Leadership is one of the most observed and least understood phenomena on earth.”

To be sure, leadership is a subject that has been studied for centuries and many scholars have tried to define what it is exactly but none has had lasting acceptance.  Analyzing these studies is beyond the scope of this piece but I have drawn from these studies qualities, attributes and skills (QAS) I believe are essential and a must have for the person we elect as our next president and these are:

  1. Religious Conviction
  2. Honesty, Trustfulness and Integrity
  3. Firm Educational Foundation and Wisdom
  4. Experience and Exposure
  5. Inspiration, Vision and Self-Confidence

It is my belief applying these QAS to select our next president will result in the election of the most apt and suitable president at this time in our history.

For those who were around and followed closely the lead-up to the 2002 elections, the country was in great hunger for change and a new president who was to transform the country.

As history would have it, that transformation has yet to take place and the next elections of 2007 in fact, set us backwards even more than where we were as country in 2002. That was then, this is now. Tomorrow, awaits and the question is, what shall it be? What kind of future lies ahead, given our past?

What we need in Kenya now more than ever before is a transformational leader to finally transform the country for good.

According to Dr. Burns, a transformational leader changes the lives of people by changing perceptions, values, and aspirations of the people – all while working for the greater good of the country. The timing could not be better as our current president is retiring and therefore we’ll have a new president come next elections of 2012, which we assume and hope will be held as scheduled.

A person with the cumulative five qualities, attributes and skills I list above which I analyze in more detail below has more than what is needed and necessary to be a transformational leader in Kenya:

1.  Religious Conviction

Kenya is a heavily religious country therefore it goes without saying our leader must be a religious person and by this I do not mean one who occasionally makes technical appearances in Church but one who actually practices his faith to some greater and acceptable degree of regularity. It does not matter whether the individual is Christian, Muslim, Hindu or a follower of any of the traditional African religions; it’s enough that he or she follows and adheres to one.

This is a critical attribute to have because at the core of most religions are values that if followed guide us all to a better life both inwardly and otherwise. A number of leaders have fallen short of greatness because they simply have not taken religion seriously or have failed to incorporate it’s core values in their decision making process while on the other hand, those who have, have attained greatness much to their individual satisfaction and betterment of those who have benefited from their leadership.

Again, being a religious person does not mean merely proclaiming to be one or making technical appearances at places of worship or having a quid pro quo with religious pretenders and opportunists but being a religious person has to be professing a faith and living by, and applying its teaching as can be deduced from how one lives and conducts his or her private and public life.

Can one who has hitherto never stepped or seen the inside of a church, temple or mosque suddenly convert from paganism and claim this quality of religious conviction at the eleventh hour? Of course; one can do so but the likelihood such a conversion being genuine is very low so the best that can be under this circumstances is to let the electorate decide the issue of whether or not such conversion is genuine or merely a con job.

Having religious convictions is critical because makes one more likely than not to be, among other things, compassionate, which is an absolute must have attribute for a transformative leader.

This is particularly critical at this time in our history because our country has suffered tremendously and most of our citizenry live in conditions of abject poverty or otherwise in shameful poor conditions 46 year after our independence because our leadership has failed to address their plight not because of lack of resources but because of lack of compassion coupled with greed and corruption which has in a fetal combination denied a vast majority of the populace the kind of livelihood they should have by now which they do not have their hard work notwithstanding.

This is a practice we must put to an end by demanding that our next president be a person who is not only compassionate and has shown that he cares about the welfare of our people but also one who has a plan to do so.

Having religious conviction comes with it also the expectation the individual has corresponding moral uprightness and by this I mean one who has and lives a model life in all aspects of his or her life, has and takes care of a family and takes care of himself or herself health-wise to make sure he is there and will be there for his family and the country as a whole which in essence becomes his or her larger family and otherwise tends to the needs of the country as a parent would to his or her children.

This, perhaps, is one of the most important, if not the most important of all qualities our next president must have. But there is more.

2. Honesty and Integrity

Besides being an upright and moral person, our next leader must also be an honest person with high integrity which combined, form the pillars of good leadership and governance.

Dr. Burns points out that a transformational leader sets a personal example of high ethical standards which instills a sense of trust and respect among his or her followers. On the other hand, trust is an inherent part of presidential leadership therefore all these characteristics must be present and required of the person we elect to be our next president.

Indeed, our constitution lays out in Chapter 6, the standard of conduct and behavior expected of those entrusted with holding public office. These qualities and attributes, however, must be demanded of our next president before being elected and assuming office.

Maintaining them while in office is, of course, a must.

Having these qualities and attributes will give us a good measure of how our next president will deal with one of the vices that has bedeviled our country for decades and that is corruption which is practiced deep and wide in government.

To have a shot at getting rid of this vice or at least minimizing it greatly, it is imperative that we have a president whose honesty and integrity is impeccable and beyond reproach, which by definition means they are clean of the vice of corruption to begin with.

This in turn will put them in a far much better and desirable position to fight the vice when they assume office as president.

We therefore must know of our next president whether he or she is a person of good moral character, an honest person and a person with high integrity.

Needless to say, however, no one who has been engaged in proven corruption should ever hold that office or any other public office and neither should anyone who has conducted himself or herself in any other proven or provable dishonest manner be even considered to hold such office, let alone being elected to one.

Having honesty and integrity also means our next president must conduct the affairs of his office in an open and transparent manner subject to legitimate national security interests.

Transparency is intricately linked to accountability which has been wanting in our country since independence.

Leaders from the top down have acted with impunity because they believe they are not accountable to anyone, including the public in whose behalf they are supposed to act.

This obviously has to come to a halting end therefore the next president must show by proven record that he is transparent and accountable to those who have elected him or her to office.

3. Firm Academic Foundation and Wisdom

Dr. Burns teaches that a transformational leader must provide intellectual stimulation by questioning assumptions and asking for creative responses from those he relies on for advice in decision making. This in turn motivates his or her advisors to think out of the box and work independently to find solutions to both common and complex problems.

While it does not follow that an educated and intelligent person is automatically a good and desirable leader, being educated and intelligent is a good indicator the person can be counted on to make sound judgments and decisions upon being presented with an issue or issues and information.

The decision and judgment need not always be right but it cannot be dumb.

Leaders are often presented with competing solutions with success or failure depending on choosing the right one. While theoretically anyone can toss a coin and reach an identical decision or judgment as one reached after careful examination of facts and information, we can’t afford to have that done on as many times a president has to make decisions and judgments.

Rather, you need the president to make informed decisions upon careful analysis and get it right as close as to all times as possible and this can only be accomplished by one having the capacity to grasp the issues and apply their intelligence to the information given to reach the right decision.

On the other hand, it is not necessary that the president have the highest form of education in any field of study or otherwise be the Philosopher Kings Plato envisioned in his Republic.

Rather, it is enough the individual has at least a bachelor’s degree which speaks not necessarily to academic excellence but an indication of the individual’s hard work and determination, which in by itself is a requirement for a good leader, namely, ability to apply oneself determinately to achieve an objective.

As will be further discussed below, wisdom gained through experience would also count as an aspect of one’s overall education and intellectual capacity.

4. Experience and Exposure

In his Crucibles of Leadership,” author Robert Thomas notes the following:

“Accomplished leaders say that experience is their best teacher. They learned their most meaningful and important leadership lessons — lessons that they’ve integrated into their own leadership style—through crucibles. These were critical events and experiences, times of testing and trial, failure more often than grand success, that grabbed them by the lapels and demanded to know ‘What do you stand for?’ and ‘What are you going to do?’ A situation arose that did not respect age, gender, generation, nationality, talent, or charisma; all it asked was that the person step up and be someone or do something they’d never been or done before. Id.

Experience therefore absolutely matters and the more one has, the better.

Our constitution requires that in order to serve as Chief Justice, one has to have at least 15 years’ experience as a judge or 15 years’ distinguished experience in the legal field in addition to the requisite academic qualification of possession of at least a law degree among other qualifications.

The president by analogy must therefore be held by someone with at least 15 years’ experience in a distinguished leadership capacity.

In addition to having local experience, it behooves our next president to have experience dealing with international affairs.

A person who is well traveled and has interacted with other world leaders is likely to be more successful handling any number of international issues he or she has to deal with as president. The more exposure one has with these types of interactions, the better he or she will be equipped to execute tasks touching on international affairs.

Having a solid academic background, intelligence and a good doze of wisdom gained through experience is a good indicator the individual will be comfortable in his or her shoes and therefore less likely to regard those around him or his or her opponents with suspicion because of inferiority complex that is bound to arise if one is otherwise less academically and intellectually positioned relative to all others, especially those he or she deems to be a threat to his or her political life.

We are all too familiar with regular persecution of UON students and graduates simply because they were perceived to be a threat to the ruling clique. Fortunately, this is slowly becoming a thing of the past as more and more Kenyans are fully informed and engaged.

The cautionary insurance, however, is not to let the guard down and elect those who may ultimately end up feeling threatened by others merely because of the latter’s superior academic background or claim to superior knowledge thus rendering them targets of persecution or elimination.

This is not to say the leader must have equal or superior academic background and knowledge to or over all others but simply enough of both to be comfortable in their own skin with those who might even have more of same than she or he.

Similarly, we must select a president who is not afraid to let those who by design or accident emerge as good or even better leaders than they. This phenomena is inevitable but is often met with resistance, sometimes deadly resistance in Africa but we don’t need such leaders.

Instead, we need a tolerant, comfortable in their shoes leader who welcomes the opposition as a healthy part of democracy, provided, of course, the opposition also abides by common acceptable rules and practices of being in the opposition, chief among which is respect for the office itself.

In other words, we must not elect a contender who sees his or her opponent or opponents as political enemies who must be destroyed by all means other than by ideology and/or issues.

Conversely, the electorate must be wary of contenders for the high office driven only by a desire to get there by any means, including utilization of the most wicked and common denominators such as tribalism and negative ethnicity.

Both must be rejected and have a candidate who rises above all of that and demonstrably so to be elected as our next president.

5. Inspiration, Vision and Self-Confidence

A transformational leader according to Dr. Burns must have the ability to provide inspirational motivation.  This is done through the articulation of a vision, creation of optimism, and making sense of the environmental changes.

As noted above, Kenya needs an inspirational leader now more than ever before in our history.  This is significantly because even though we have had dark periods in our history since independence, nothing compares to the stain from 2007 and early 2008 post-election violence (PEV) which remains literally visible as thousands of internally displaced persons remain in camps while not a single person has yet to be held accountable for the violence.

No one knows how the Ocampo Six cases will end. However, what we can all agree on is, no matter how the Ocampo Six cases progress or end, there has to be closure to PEV one way or another and the sooner the better.

Thus, we must demand and elect a president committed to bringing finality to this tragic chapter in our history and, to this end, the next president has to have uniting the country as his or her No. 1 priority upon being sworn as president.

There is no question tribalism and ethnicity loom large in our country’s psyche and have been and continue to be key in these bursts of violence but in choosing our next president, we must rise above this curse from colonial rule and demand and elect a person who transcends tribalism and negative ethnicity and who can inspire others to do same.

A key measure of one with ability to transcend tribalism and ethnicity and inspire others to do same while uniting the country is whether the individual is humble, respects others, has a proven record of compromise in the most difficult of circumstances, shows or has shown he or she is capable of admitting mistakes or wrongdoing, is in touch with or otherwise shows an understanding of the needs and aspirations of ordinary Kenyans, and has shown he or she is not afraid to tackle people’s problems even in the face of great adversity or at the cost of political and personal sacrifice.

Being inspirational in ending the vices that plague our country, including corruption, tribalism and negative ethnicity, is just but one aspect of inspirational ability we must demand of our next president; the other aspect is ability to inspire the nation to be engaged in bringing about other fundamental changes in our way of life.

The next president thus must have a clear vision as to how to bring about these fundamental changes, which should include in the least, transparency, accountability, improved and sustainable economic welfare, housing, health and education and by that I don’t mean merely pointing out what needs to be significantly changed for the better is, but providing a road map clearly laying down his or her plans to achieve these goals, how long it’ll take and how to pay for them.

This then, becomes one measure of success upon which the person elected on such promise can be held accountable on his or her re-election bid, if not sooner by recall.

Finally, but not least, even though we need and must have an inspirational leader, we must also distinguish those who are inspirational for all the wrong reasons. Hitler was very effective in manipulating people’s emotions to create so much hatred for other human beings to the points they allowed him to commit the abominable atrocities he unbelievably committed.

It is unlikely the world would ever see another Hitler but runners-up and would be’s are abound so we must be vigilant as against them to the extent they may wish, as noted above, to appeal to the most wicked common denominators among many a Kenyan and that is tribalism and negative ethnicity which can and has often easily been boiled to levels of unimaginable hatred and violence. We can and must do better.

Indeed, appeals to motion of this type, simply have no place in society neither do they solve but add to the the monumental problems and tasks ahead for the country.

In fact, the absence of this negative emotion will go a long way in ending tribalism and negative ethnicity in our country so Kenyans must reject those leaders who appeal to the people’s emotions along these tribal and ethnic considerations instead of having the country focusing on substantive issues and other things that unite but not divide us.

CONCLUSION

The foregoing comprises the basic and minimum qualities, attributes and skills I believe are essential and must be demanded of our next president. They are by no means exhaustive but they are the foundation and core upon which others evolve. I have not, for example, included the inner qualities such as fairness, impartiality, character, strength, and ability to recognize one’s limitations which go without saying as being essential and part and parcel of good leadership.  I am in the final analysis confident if we elect a president with these basic qualities, attributes and skills, we will transform our country forever and for the better.

Copyright © May 2011. By Samuel N. Omwenga, Esq.

 
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Posted by on May 19, 2011 in Siasa

 

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An Open Letter to H.E. Hon. Emilio Mwai Kibaki, E.G.H., M.P., President of the Republic of Kenya

H.E. Hon. Emilio Mwai Kibaki, C.G.H., M.P.

President of the Republic of Kenya

State House

Nairobi, Kenya

                                    Re: Implementation of the New Constitution

 Dear President Kibaki:

I have previously written to you regarding what at that time appeared to be a looming crisis involving the International Criminal Court (ICC)’s pursuit of six suspects its Chief Prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, found in his investigation to be the most responsible for the post-election violence (PEV) that befell our country in early 2008. Fortunately, the then looming crisis appears to have dissipated and I must thank you in behalf of all Kenyans for having at least diffused the issue with your continued cooperation with ICC.

Like most Kenyans, however, it is our wish and prayer that ICC does not rise up again as a volatile issue but instead let the process go on to an acceptable conclusion of one way or the other, when it does or otherwise let there be as a resolution of PEV with finality much in the same manner and spirit which underscored the ending of the violence in the first place with your agreement with Rt. Hon. Prime Minister Raila to form a coalition government.

That being the case, Your Excellency, you will agree the coalition government has not worked or delivered as envisioned prior to its formation. Indeed, the question is not whether or not the coalition government has worked or delivered as envisioned before its formation, clearly it has not; rather, the question is why it has not done so.

Your Excellency, a number of reasons can be cited why the coalition government has not optimized its potential for the benefit of our country but almost all of them evolve around the question of politics and specifically, succession politics.

Your Excellency, if I may, it was once suggested by one Charles Mugane Njonjo, then Attorney General, that it was a criminal offence to discuss the succession of a president while he was in office. Although the context and circumstances in which Mr. Njonjo drew his dagger is different from the current succession politics as you well know since you were in the Cabinet at that time, the current obsession with your succession by some politicians is in the final analysis equally counterproductive, polemic and potentially explosive to our country’s detriment.

Your Excellency, while it is okay and normal for politicians to position themselves in whatever manner they deem necessary for their political welfare and survival upon your retirement, it cannot be their sole obsession at the expense of the country which needs them to do what they have been elected to do, including passing laws to make sure the new Constitution is implemented promptly and on schedule.

For this reason, Your Excellency, I in behalf of all Kenyans urge you to whip to action Members of Parliament allied to you and your party so that they stop stalling implementation of the Constitution which clearly a number of them are bent on doing.

I would make the same appeal to the Rt. Honorable Prime Minister Raila but it does not appear any of the Members of Parliament allied to him or his party have shown any desire to stall implementation of the Constitution.

A good way, Your Excellency, to do this, namely, to ensure that the Constitution is implemented according to schedule and without delay, is to immediately direct your Vice President, Kalonzo Musyoka, to stop his antics in Parliament, including his efforts to have a duly elected Chairman of a key committee on implementation ousted by politically motivated but illegal and unconstitutional means.

Most Kenyans believe, Your Excellency, that your Vice President campaigned during the day in support of the draft constitution during the referendum but was opposed to it at night and thus the coining of the term “Watermelon” to refer to those who like him were openly and publicly in support of passage of the draft but quietly and privately rooting for its failure.

Your Excellency, while it was okay for Kenyans with good intentions to oppose passage of the new Constitution for one reason or another, and others not being too excited with its passage, it is wrong and unacceptable for any of them to now use Parliamentary tactics to stall or defeat implementation of the Constitution.

Neither this writer nor any Kenyan he knows believe Your Excellency could stand for that kind of an affront on Kenyans, namely, impeding implementation of the Constitution which was overwhelmingly approved by a jubilant nation leading to all the fanfare of promulgation on August 27, 2010, a date firmly set in the history books as one of our best if not the best.

You have made wise and even politically difficult decisions for the sake of the country before, including most recently your decision to withdraw the nominees to the constitutional offices which paved way to the ongoing appointment process.

Your wisdom and leadership, Your Excellency, is once again called upon to stop those plotting to frustrate or impede implementation of the constitution from carrying forth their plans at the expense of the nation.

These are incidentally the same people who are also doubly engaged in succession politics that are of no use or benefit to the country as a whole.

Regarding succession politics, Your Excellency, one can assume that you have an interest in who succeeds you as president upon your retirement. This is, indeed, a natural thing to do that is as normal as breathing for anyone in your position therefore nobody is making any issue of what desires Your Excellency might have, if any, respecting this issue.

However, what this writer and all Kenyans ask is that whatever your desire or preference is with respect to succession, Your Excellency, you must above all put country first and make sure we have a peaceful and orderly transition of the presidency preceded by a period of campaigning and elections that is equally peaceful and orderly.

This, namely, putting the country first in the succession politics and peaceful and orderly transition of the presidency would be the single most important gift you will give the country besides the new Constitution that you and the Rt. Honorable Prime Minister Raila so tirelessly and commendably worked together to ensure its passage and your otherwise significant contributions to the country as a Cabinet Minister, Vice President and now President.

This is our prayer and may God give you the wisdom and tenacity to deliver it for us.

Sincerely,

/s

Samuel N. Omwenga, Esq.

 
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Posted by on May 10, 2011 in Siasa

 

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My Response to Concerns, False Claims and Accusations Against Raila II

The following is my response to someone who posted a number of accusations against Raila and from those accusations the writer attempts to create the impression Raila is not electable as president. I have previously responded to similar but somewhat different accusations elsewhere on my blog but have done so here again as they seem to be in a continuum.

My response to the accuser:

First, allow me the pleasure of quoting you about something you have said in response to someone else on this forum that is apt as applied to your own posting below and that is, as you said, “Now brother, did you ever hear of a fellow who was asked to provide evidence for the Resurrection of Christ and he tabled thirteen pieces of serious evidence, only to be told: Apart from these thirteen, do you have any other?”

I like what your point out in this quote, namely, some people you just can’t convince no matter what evidence you put before them on an issue and this is precisely my point in my blog Some People You Just Can’t Satisfy No Matter How Good A Leader You Are. For example, in the US, where “birthers,” more recently led by their chief birther, Donald the Dump Trump have been demanding for a long time that President Barrack Obama produce his “long form” birth certificate to prove that he was born in the United States. When he finally did so recently before ending the life of Osama Bin Laden, a survey conducted after he produced the legal document proving he was born in Hawaii, the 50th state of the United States, shows that 14% still believe he was not born in the US!

So, let me not try to put forth the evidence here as to Raila’s accomplishments as a student, engineer, lecturer, businessman, party leader, nationalist, reformer, uniter, MP for Kibera, Minister, Prime Minister, and Peace Maker for there are those who may still want me to table some more in order to accept the fact he is presidential material but I don’t have the time to and neither is it necessary.

I am nonetheless sure most of those reading this here now know what that evidence is but as in all campaigns, I am also sure Raila will serve himself well by informing those who don’t know what that evidence is is, while reminding those who have forgotten what it is and otherwise making the case why his record clearly shows he is the more qualified and prepared candidate to be elected president among all those who seek that office last time and this time around.

Having said that, let me try and respond to some of your concerns, accusations and charges:

You say, “He [Raila] has failed in all his terms of being in government to bring any visible or meaningful change in the lives of the people he claims to represent, viz, the Kibera people. The development in Kibera and the efforts to bring change there are largely the work of NGOs.

I will not insult your intelligence to say Raila is not an MP for Kibera but an MP for Langata, of which Kibera is a part of. Both the rich and poor of Langata Constituency have elected and re-elected him ever since he first sought to represent them.

As to tabling evidence of this, please note what I have said above. You may also want to read a blog I have posted about An Online Comment By A Kenyan Regarding Raila and Kibera which is a comment from a fellow Kenyan addressing a similar accusation against Raila.

You say, “Raila seriously failed to unite the country at the most difficult time in our history when he had the power to[sic]. We are looking at the P.E.V of 2007-2008. Instead he was calling for mass action.” 

I have to believe you say this in all sincerity and not just lobbing a baseless charge against Raila. I am also surprised you have either fallen victim of lies, distortions, misinformation and propaganda or you have refused to accept truth as reality. Just so this is absolutely clear for those who have been equally confused and led to believe otherwise, ODM’s call for mass action in the face of flagrantly stolen elections in early January 2008 was not a call for violence; never was and never would it have been.

Rather, Raila and ODM initially planned but ultimately did not call for peaceful demonstrations across the country intended to jolt Kibaki and company to reality akin to what we have seen recently in Tunisia and Morocco where the citizenry said enough is enough for being exploited and abused by a government that had no respect or regard for them.

As an aside note, I have often told my friends the story how on one of the days a peaceful demonstration was to take place in early January 08 in Nairobi, a Maasai friend of mine and I went downtown ready to demonstrate, parked our car at Serena, walked across to a sea of GSU along Uhuru Highway and I remember my friend confronting a number of them and questioning why they were even there; I mean one by one down a line but none would say a thing.

My friend and I concluded two things from this brief peaceful encounter: One, having looked at them close face as we did–fearless I may add; I less than my Maasai friend:-)–we noticed even in their riot gear these were young boys and girls, not the hardened soldiers we had expected. Two, you could sense many of them did not want to be there to begin with, something that gave us heart.

But I digress. My point is, Raila only intended to call for mass action for peace. The violence that ensued had nothing to do with his desire to have the nation tell Kibaki he could not deny the will of the people at will.

You say, “I have a letter I wrote pleading that the two of them, he and Kibaki, tour the country and hold peace rallies, but it did not happen when it was most needed. Thus, I was convinced he did not have the will nor the ability to do so.”

I commend you for writing a letter asking the two leaders to hold peace rallies during that difficult time. Although it is not clear whether that letter was sent or that it ever reached either of them, Raila was already calling for peaceful demonstrations from day 1 so it is not true that “he did not have the will nor the ability to do so.”

The sum of this tragic stain in our history is this my brother, but for Raila’s quest for peaceful resolution of the crisis and ultimately his willingness to compromise far more than Kibaki ever did, we would not be talking about the same Kenya today; we probably still be at war that’s why we ought to be ever so grateful for how things turned out and let’s not be foolish again as we head into the next elections for history does have the uncanny ability to repeat itself.

Let’s hope and pray not; above all, let’s just be smart about this and conduct our affairs in a peaceful, orderly manner and may the best candidate be elected and sworn as president this time and for all future elections.

You say “We have been testing several leaders on the aspect of nepotism/tribalism. Raila is literally worshiped by his community and we need evidence that he has been free from nepotism in his government departments.

Two things I can say about this: (1) I think you meant to say Raila is greatly admired and liked in his community; this is, in fact, a good thing and one indicator the person is likeable as a leader (2) if your criteria for electing our next president is one free of nepotism, I am afraid we may have to amend our Constitution to allow foreigners to run for president for there is not a single Kenyan holding any office with responsibility to hire can be free of this charge or prove otherwise in the case he or she has hired someone simply because of merit and the person happens to be from his or her village.

This is not to say we should not strife to end nepotism as a vice; we should and must do so. As in many of the problems we need to fix, including corruption, Raila is the better qualified candidate to fix these problems.

You say, [Raila’s] comments on the Ngilu scandles [sic] have left many of us appalled. I wish he came out strongly on the issues of graaft as to demonstrate he is against them [totally].

Raila’s record for fighting against corruption and graft is clear and most Kenyans know and support him on his efforts and that’s all I really need to say about this.

You say, “[the] way he approached a serious document of our nation such as the Constitution was wanting. He did not operate within a democratic position. His remarks during that period were extremely partisan.

I actually need to post a full blog on this but let me not and just say this: you are wrong. Both Raila and Kibaki get major kudos for working beautifully and effectively together to pass the new Constitution and so does the resiliency of our people.

I remember attending one of the rallies held at Afraha Stadium just before the big vote and being simply happy to see the two principals there like old friends notwithstanding what happened in 07/08 and since. It was to me a refreshing reminder even in dire straits, there is hope.

After the Constitution passed and I returned to Nairobi on August 27, 2010 for its promulgation, a bit of the same sense of nationalism and euphoria we experienced in 2002 returned with me as well.

Unlike you, I am grateful for Raila and Kibaki having prevailed in getting the new constitution passed into law and I am confident we can surpass the euphoria of 2002 and the 2010 promulgation in the coming elections but only if people can pause and reflect what a beautiful and desirable occasion that is than its alternative.

You say, “No wonder the document remains difficult to implement.

Difficulties in implementing the Constitution have nothing to do with Raila but everything to do with those who never wanted the new constitution passed to begin with but the news for them is this: they had better wake up and smell the coffee. The train left the station a long time ago and is headed to its destination nothing will stop it; not them not anything else for the resolve and will of the people is monumental and unbreakable to overcome now and for generations to come.

You say, “[Raila] does not operate on principles but power games. His track record in moving from one party to another when his way did not go, is worrying.

Please worry no more; Raila’s party affiliations like any politician is to advance his political objectives but unlike most if not all of these politicians, his party affiliation or affiliations has always been and continues to be national in scope and nature which is just fine and acceptable by all.

You say, “I could go on, but I need to go back to my books.”

I hope one of those books is, Raila: An Enigma In Kenyan Politics by Oseloka Obaze. You might learn one or two new things about the man in the book.

Peace, Love and Unity.

Samuel N. Omwenga, Esq.

 
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Posted by on May 8, 2011 in Siasa

 

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