You eat when you are hungry #kedebate13 #debate254

Having followed the first-ever presidential debate on Kenyan tv online like almost every other Kenyan out there, I have to admit that I am still surprised at how well this was organized. I couldn’t follow the live stream up to the end as I had to attend the local web monday event here in Frankfurt (irritating my Twitter followers with the #wmfra hashtag like every other 2nd first monday in a month – pole sana!), but I would still like to point out two technical details that I like:

1.  the use of sign language

Presidential candidates face off in live debate   YouTube

The simultaneous translation into sign language is a really great step forward. Many mentioned on Twitter how much they appreciate this special service. In Germany, we are not that advanced yet. Only some selected news are being translated this way. In fact, it should be included on every important tv programme, all over the world. Sub titles are also ok.

I have indicated the translater window with an arrow – because some of you may mistake Mohammed Abduba “Mwalimu” Diba Dida’s preaching teaching style for – what? – yes, for the mentioned sign language.

Btw, I am sure there is a whole book to be written on rhetorics by African preachers, headmasters and politicians. Especially this “what?” (e.g. “..and we need this…the what? yessss, the thermometer to measure temperature.”) requires special mention in the literature universe. What’s the name of this style?

Dida, my man. Srsly. Even though Peter Kenneth mentioned water and sanitation in his introductory speech which is a big plus in my books.

2. social media sentiment tracker

Kenya Elections  Elections 2013   Elections Coverage

The social media sentiment tracker on the website of The Daily Nation. A friend at Webmontag Frankfurt approached me while I was checking my timeline for #KEdebate13 and #debate254 hashtags and asked about the news from Kenya. Told him that there are more tweeps in Kenya than in Germany. Many people in Germany don’t know that Twitter has a totally different value in other societies around the world. Ah well, the ignorants.

As a result of that and obviously under the influence of the US media, it still (!) surprises me how much social media feedback is used as an indicator for the performance of the candidates. To my mind, this is just another development where old Europe has to take a closer look at Kenya.

Kahenya, we seriously need to rethink this Pirate Party Kenya idea. Kenyans love to be entertained!

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!

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?