It’s our turn to read

“It’s Our Turn To Eat: The Story of a Kenyan Whistleblower”, by Michela Wrong, ISBN 978-0-00-724196-5


After having read this interesting book by Michela Wrong, written in a similar style as “In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz: Living on the Brink of Disaster in the Congo” (which I really liked) – I am still confronted with some open, or rather: resulting questions this book has generated.

And this although the issue itself – the bogus deals by the “Mount Kenya Mafia” – have been debated elsewhere numerous times. I chose so call it “elsewhere”, as Michela Wrong also mentioned the (Kenyan) blogosphere where John Githongo’s seemingly sudden departure from the official job & disclosure of cosa nostra secrets had been ripped apart in the usual manner. I am yet to see a German publication where the German blogosphere is taken into account with so much attention. This, however, may be related to their media and German sceptism which doubts anything that’s not published or confirmed by numerous sources.

I take it that a lot of readers of my blog with an interest in Kenyan affairs also read, or at least read about this book, and have their own opinion of it.

Another reason for blogging about this – already closed? – chapter of contemporary Kenyan history is that I can somehow relate to the described silver spoon upbringing of JG in a sense that a) discussions and intellectual discourse where part of the family life and b) that our generation – JG is 10 years older than me but I think most of you are just as old as I am (>30) – still enjoyed this limited or filtered view of the world, where everything new was sucked up with great interest for the lack of multiple media resources that would otherwise constantly penetrate your brain with “news”. I actually enjoyed this part the most during childhood – being forced to live in an environment where news would only dribble in, instead of showing up on the web-based RSS feedreader. Why? Because it enables you to take your time for your own development and dreams. I consider this a luxury that I am not taking for granted. Michela also mentioned this part where listening to the BBC World Service (instead of the montonous “HE DT arap Moi today said…” on KBC) was part of the daily habits. And I wouldn’t limit this to a family’s financial status as most Kenyans actually read more newspapers than e.g. Germans.

Sooo… first question is: why was such a book written by a foreign observer? Why not by someone in Kenya or in the diaspora? Because of fears? Or because life is so hard & busy that there’s no time for such excursions? Or is it because of the culture which is so much forward-driven, with a focus on things to come instead of those that already happened?

After the first 100 pages into the book, I thought it is a bit too Kikuyu-centric, but then, again, I think it’s Tucholsky who once said it is best to view your own country from the outside – and if these stereotypes (she even mentioned the jokes) are what it takes to draw a rough picture of this group for the uninformed world, then so be it.

Which effect did this publication have on Kenyan society (within and outside of Kenya)? What’s with the role of a whistleblower (anyone still remembers David Munyakei?) in today’s Kenya and what about that anonymous reporting tool introduced @ KACC two years ago? What do you think about JG’s actions (as described via the book)?

“Kenyans tend to quickly forgive or forget”… in the light of the post-election violence, a corruption scandal may not be that interesting after all.

I also wondered how Kenyans would feel about this book + the story it tells. The way it was written, the examples used to explain historically-based feelings inside ethnic groups, the readership it was written for… questions that pop-up between the lines, how it feels to read about your own people, friends and known public figures.

Michela also mentioned the network: “..he became aware of a delicate cobweb of expectations, obligations and duties tying him down” which makes Kenyan politics so interesting to me. It’s like having half of the Kenyan blogosphere / diaspora as friends on Facebook and Twitter, and then publishing opinionated status updates in a Koigi wa Wamwere manner. And, again, comparing Kenya to Germany (which is an on-going mission of this blog, I think), I am yet to see an interesting book on a contemporary German politician. Most of them are just as boring as their political agenda – which is also why Angela Merkel will most likely win the upcoming elections in Germany and remain Chancelorette for the next legislative period. Not because she’s any better or because she’s a woman (only positive reason, it seems), but because she has a network where she remains the queen at the center of the beehive. This is btw the same woman who once refused to meet with Barack Obama and later on licked his boots just because his network is so much more influential then hers.

You know it’s a bit hypocritical to openly wonder about politics & corruption in an African state when at the same time Europe comes up with dictators leaders such as Silvio Berlusconi in Italy. You can write a book about just another African economy that has been corrupted in the past by the Hippo Generation and a laissez-faire mentality in society, and it will sell quite well. But a book on a corrupt European leader? No. Makes me wonder where our priorities are.

Another detail or theme that I’ve been wondering about is the change on Kenyan culture. Yes, Kenyan culture. As paradox as it may seem – and I am not talking about books like “How to be a Kenyan” by the late Wahome Mutahi, the national dress once artificially invented by the Nyayo regime (Nyayo car??!) but rather this new Kenya which developed along with Moi’s last years, NARC and the 2002 elections and the spirit it brought to society since then.

The appreciation of a society for cultural values – their own + shaped style, language, habits, new communication tools – has so often been an indicator to me of how a country actually performs. Please correct me if I am wrong on this, but I think that Kenya has in the past 10 years eventually found its own roots somewhere out there where local stars have become more interesting than foreigners, where the City of Nairobi is actually (& eventually!) regarded as a cosmopolitan place (despite frequent power failures & water shortages) and where there’s much more nationalism to be found these days which is not based on Obama’s Kenyan roots or just another sports athlete. And it’s not that Nairobi has never been that progressive before – only: the speed of growth seemingly increased tremendously, it seems (to me).

Taking this new Nairobi as an indicator (! – pole for the NGO lingo) for things to come, where do these worlds of the old and new mix up to the bigger picture? When will we see the political change in Kenya the electorate voted for in 2002 and 2007? A new Kenya where power failures are a thing of the past, where broadband internet connections will help the youth stay in rural areas (vs. urbanisation), where water bodies are actually protected and land grabbing reversed for the sake of a growing nation? Where education and proper health care are top priorities?

Questions which probably won’t be answered any time soon, but I secretly wish that integre characters like John Githongo are now using the time building up their support on the basis. Bottom-up instead of top-down – maybe that’s the new strategy these days – loosely joined forces that have a nation in mind and not their own pocket, where qualifications are more important than cosa nostra networks.

Politics. I actually decided not to blog about politics anymore since January 2008, and this isn’t even meant to be book review. I’d love to read about your opinion of this book though, and maybe also find some answers to my given questions above and other things I’ve most definitely left out for various reasons. Thx!

sanitäre Grundversorgung im Bundestag

Der Deutsche Bundestag fordert die Bundesregierung auf,

2. dafür zu werben, dass in der internationalen Zusammenarbeit zukünftige Trinkwasserprojekte immer eine Sanitärkomponente enthalten;

4. dazu beizutragen, dass die lokale Bevölkerung in Angelegenheiten der sanitären Grundversorung und Trinkwasserversorgung angemessen informiert und beteiligt wird;

5. eine Strategie vorzulegen, wie die Kompetenzen deutscher Unternehmen…….im Bereich der Sanitärversorung stärker genutzt werden können….

14. den Ecosan-Ansatz auch bei internationalen Organisationen wie der FAO und regionalen Entwicklungsbanken bekannt zu machen und seine Anwendung einzufordern;

Na, das liest man doch gerne.

Gefunden in der Drucksache 16/11204, einem Antrag (vom 03.12.08) verschiedener MdBs um die sanitäre Grundversorung international zu verbessern.

Eigentlich erschreckend, dass hierfür eine Große Anfrage nötig war, um die Aufmerksamkeit der Bundesregierung auf dieses wichtige Thema zu lenken.

Obama Superstar

An American woman today boarded the commuter train in Frankfurt-Rödelheim and wore an Obama’08 badge. As she kept on talking with her boyfriend about the elections and how things will hopefully change, her seat neighbour from West Africa kindly asked her for that badge and was more than happy when she handed it over to him.

“God bless you, my friend”, he gratefully replied, “God bless you!”.

Obama is much more than a candidate for the 44th presidency in the United States of America.

When we look at today’s web editions of both leading newspapers in Kenya (The Daily Nation, The Standard), we see the following news items (Obama and other US-election related news are marked yellow):

The Daily Nation:
FireShot capture #1 - 'DAILY NATION - Home' - www nation co ke

The Standard:
FireShot capture #2 - 'The Standard I Online Edition Home' - www eastandard net

When was the last time you didn’t associate war, terror, fear with the USA?

new German bridge blog

Wenn Du, lieber Leser, an dieser Stelle fünf deutschsprachige Blogs nennen solltest, die stellvertretend für die deutsche Blogosphäre stehen – welche würdest Du dann nennen?

Wenn Du, lieber Leser, in einem deutschsprachigen Blog interessante Nachrichten aus aller Welt lesen möchtest, die es sonst nicht durch den Filter der Redaktionen schaffen – welche Blogs würdest Du hierfür nennen?

Mein Kollege Christian Kreutz hat sich wohl letztens diese oder ähnliche Fragen gestellt und gemerkt, dass wir hierzulande noch viel zu wenige sog. “Bridge Blogs” haben.

Was ist ein Bridge Blog?

Ethan Zuckermann schrieb dazu passenderweise vor ca. einem Jahr in einem Artikel über GlobalVoices:

“A number of bridge bloggers were explicit about their desire to cross cultural barriers with their writing.”

Genau diese Aussage, die sich auf die ägyptische Blogosphäre bezog, zeigt eigentlich worum es beim BridgeBlogging geht: verschiedene Welten zu überbrücken.

Christians und Frederik Richters Antwort darauf ist DRAUSSEN: ein Blog über die “transnationale soziale Vernetzung” des Mediums Internet mit dem klaren Ziel, die Diskussionen außerhalb der deutschsprachigen Blogosphäre auch in deutscher Sprache verfügbar zu machen.


Jetzt ist es natürlich nicht so, dass es Versuche zu Bridge Blogs nicht schon geben würde. Viele Deutsche berichten aus dem Ausland in deutscher Sprache – vom einfachen Reiseblog bis zu Expatsblogs, in dem Expatriats über ihr Leben in der neuen Heimat berichten. Bei Robert Basic gab es sogar mal eine Diskussion über BridgeBlogs im Allgemein und wie man sich mit zB der frankophonen Blogosphäre verbinden könnte – die dann aber leider wieder im Sande verlaufen ist.

Ähnlich verhält es sich ja auch mit diesem Blog hier, in dem sich deutschsprachige und englischsprachige Beiträge abwechseln. Oftmals habe ich in der Vergangenheit versucht, verschiedene Welten so zu vermischen, wie sie sich auch in meinem Leben eine Rolle spielen.

So richtige Zusammenfassungen für deutschsprachige Leser habe ich aber erst bei der deutschen Version von GlobalVoices gesehen.

Eine ganz andere, ebenfalls wichtige Motivation für den Betrieb des DRAUSSEN blogs liegt sicherlich auch darin begründet, dass es nur wenige, qualitativ gute Blogs wie zB von Markus Beckedahl gibt, die eben nicht nur über coole Neuigkeiten aus den USA oder anderen Leitkulturen berichten. Jetzt rein inhaltlich betrachtet.

Bei all der Kritik an der deutschsprachigen Blogosphäre, die ja im Vergleich zu unseren europäischen Nachbarn eher zaghaft daherkommt und sich ihrer eigenen Idendität nicht so bewusst ist oder dafür gar einer Veranstaltung wie der re:publica bedarf, empfinde ich immer großes Unbehagen, ein zu schnelles Urteil zu präsentieren. So muss ich glaube ich auch lernen, nicht nur den eigentlichen Inhalt der Beiträge zu bewerten, sondern auch die dazugehörigen Kommentare. Immerhin lebt ein Blog auch von den Kommentaren. Nicht jeder Leser mit eigener Meinung hat die Zeit und Muse, nebenbei ein Blog zu betreiben. Und genau darum geht es auch in der Blogosphäre – um eine Diskussion anzuregen, die wir in ihrer Vielfalt hierzulande leider oft nur im Heise Forum & Co. lesen.

Insofern freut es mich sehr, dass es immer mehr gute Blogs gibt, die mitunter – und das ist für mich sehr wichtig – zu einem viel größeren Selbstverständnis des Instruments “Blog” beitragen.

panem et circenses

Two interesting, but also kinda controversial articles that appeared on Der Spiegel Online today, the website of the German weekly magazine:

The first one on the ailing German blogosphere (in German) that has been busy trying to constantly polemize itself and the lack of more influential power-bloggers who also participate in politics (compare that with Loic LeMeur & Sarkozy in France). Now while there are quite a few talented German bloggers, the use of blogs is certainly not as widespread as in other European countries.

Politics = range of (controversial) subjects of which some are covered by the mainstream media, some by the blogosphere.

This may of course be due to different reasons, but then – also – there’s a vivid news culture in Germany and somehow free media that covers world affairs. Just compare that with the US media and see why there are much more political bloggers in the USA.

Comparing these worlds, I think, just doesn’t make sense (I could go on for ages on this subject – just look at the German section of GlobalVoices!). On the other hand, I’d prefer much more political activism. Activism as such, however, is often (unfortunately) labeled as left-wing socialism – and if you look at today’s public image of the German party “Die Linke” which was mainly formed by former members of the (~communist) East German party SED and disappointed socialist from Germany’s oldest worker’s party SPD, you’ll instantly realize that many Germans (of course not all, see below) today are fed up with politics and don’t give a damn about who actually rules as long as politics do not switch to an extreme and do not reactive the usual stories on Nazis & Co. I guess it’s similar in other countries. I am sure there’s a reciprocally proportional relation between political activism and living conditions.
I think this also started way back in the 1970s and 80s when green issues started coming up on the agenda and activism centered around this absolutely neutral range of subjects (~ nuclear waste). No war, different kind of demonstrations. And then, also, Germany today lacks a range of charismatic leaders. Or do you really think that Angela Merkel, Germany’s chancelorette, is that sexy? Exactly.

Which of course gets me to the upcoming visit by Jesus Superstar Barack Obama to Germany. Rumour has it that other European nations are quite pissed about the attention his visit generated and that Germany will actually have a bigger timeslot than the British or France. Vanity.
Now, with such a visit on the schedule and an adequate editorial on Der Spiegel, it may be rather obvious that the editorial department placed a link to this story: “Flirthinweise fürs Feindesland“. And while Der Spiegel is definately not THE institution or THE only credible magazin out there, they at one point in the past invented something I really, really like: a section called “einestages – Zeitgeschichten auf SpiegelOnline”, which is like a multi-authored, edited & moderated public blog for readers who may contribute their own stories, images and videos of historical events, especially since the end of the 2nd WorldWar on just about anything.
This story “Flirthinweise fürs Feindesland” actually talks about a booklet issued by the USArmy at the end of WW2 and features a rather shocking short film called “Your Job in Germany”:

Your Job In Germany was a short film made by Frank Capra and Dr. Seuss for the United States War Department in 1945, intended to be shown to U.S. soldiers about to occupy Germany. It urged against fraternization with the German people, who are portrayed as thoroughly untrustworthy. (source)

I was a bit shocked when I saw this short film today and then thought: well…despite of the apparent need for such propaganda back then (bet it’s similar for the Iraq & other “freed” nations) – may the fading interest for common politics in todays Germany also be an indirect / not so obvious result of the political influence the US had on Europe in the past?

In the end, these discussions are not about politics, but about selling newspapers/magazines and editing interesting stories people want to read about. It’s a business. And that’s just one of the many reasons out there why the German blogosphere has in the past failed to create more influential (!) political bloggers. This, however, does not also imply that ppl aren’t interested in politics.

Interestingly, the SPON article also mentioned that the German edition of Wikipedia is the second largest in the world – which instantly reminded me of this article by Ethan Zuckerman where he mentioned the ailing Arabic-language edition of Wikipedia & huge number of bloggers in Egypt.

The remaining question is: is this discussion about political activism (= contributing ideas to society), or about citizen media?

ambiguity at work

There’s this story going round that the German Federal Intelligence Service (BND) tapped an Afghan Ministry – which stirred up some dust on their work. The issue came into limelight when journalist of the SPIEGEL realized that they were also being monitored due to conversations they had with an Afghan Minister in the past.

Now, I am not the person to deliver any facts or details on this particular story, but I really have to wonder about some fellow Germans who apparently think that there’s anything wrong about this procedure…Well, is it?

I leave it to you to decide if an Intelligence Agency (responsible for foreign affairs) *should* use all available technical facilities to monitor all electronic communication. Obviously, this also is a a) a political decision and b) if *they* think it’s appropriate, they will do it – with or without a political or legal mandate.

What really worries me though is this new law in Germany that gives so much more power into the wrong hands and which enables them to monitor all electronic (communication) data within the country.
Only ~ 30.000 ppl out of ~ 80 Million registered with a lawyer in Berlin to impeach the Government on their behalf on this issue. I am one of them. We all HAD the chance of taking the Government to court on this stupid and dangerous law, but only a relatively few took the opportunity of doing so. Main excuse: “I don’t have anything to hide..”. As IF that was reason enough to accept this law without regarding the personal consequences this really implies. I did have some nasty conversations – even with relatives – on this issue and it always appeared to me that they never really wanted to understand the impact this will have on everyone of us in future. Ppl just dont’t want to understand it.

Oh, terrorism? “Terror(ism) is what they do to us”.

My colleague Chris also blogged on this in English earlier this year in a very comprehensive article.

Now, according to this article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), all e-mail traffic of the named Afghan Ministry is said to be done via Yahoo!.

And this is exactly where I thought: WHAT THE….why-o-why are they still using Yahoo!?????

Take Afghanistan and replace that word with any other country. ANY! I am sure there are hundreds or thousands of potential victims out there (including me) who haven’t yet really protected their online activities or who don’t even know about how to engage protective measurements.

We do have a Federal Office in Germany – the Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik – that provides directives and trainings on how to secure your online activities. Only, they are not being applied in this particular case, because if they were serious on this, they could have told the Afghan Ministry to stop using Yahoo! & other free (unsecured) webmailers. And politicians often aren’t the ones who think in IT-security terms. Hell, who does? So if they don’t know, it’s easier to spy on them. Simple as that. Besides, everyone knows that everyone is spying on everyone.

Case in point: I’ve seen many many fellow ppl working in the Government of Kenya who were using free webmailers. If you were interested in monitoring them, just wouldn’t need advanced equipment. And with the Government having access to GSM monitoring equipment, even cellular phones aren’t fully protected.
I believe there’s no 100% secure concept out there to protect you from any tapping or DDoS, so it’s up to you to decide what and to which extent you want to communicate online.

Another analogy to Kenya:

Six of the 20 Afghan cabinet ministers had spent part of their lives in Germany and spoke German, the newspaper said. Farhang holds a doctorate from the University of Cologne and taught at the University of Bochum before returning home. (source)

As long as there are interests and investments at stake, there will always be a monitoring of other parties, governments or just indivduals. With or without a political mandate, with or without any moral obligations and regardless of any “good relationships” with deployed politicians. Raila of course knows this, but hey: as long as the GoK keeps on buying Mercedes and strucks some maintenance deals for the fleet – why worry?