County Leaders to Face Jail

Kenyans are hopeful that the Constitutional Offices that were set up to audit the use of funds for the County Governments will not let them down. The shenanigans that are already evident in the budget making process are raising many eyebrows.

For example, although the Chairman of the County Assemblies Speakers’ Committee, Dr Nur Nassir Abdi assured Kenyans over the weekend that over 90 per cent of the counties across the country have passed their budgets on time, this merely begs the question about their quality, considering that many were hurriedly passed on Saturday and Sunday to meet the June 30 deadline.

 
 
 
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While it is true that a governor who is unable to meet the deadline has the option of passing a “vote on account”, which allows the county to draw up to 50 per cent of its total budget from the Controller of the Budget, there are well grounded fears that this could be used to get the money and spend it on projects and programmes not approved by the County Assembly.

Fears of possible misuse of public funds have been heightened by instances where the governor refuses to sign a budget merely because the county assembly has rejected some of his personal projects , as happened in Kiambu County over the week-end.

Governor William Kabogo is reported to have refused to sign off the budget estimates because he was angry that Members of the County Assembly (MCA) had the ‘temerity’ to cut by half the Sh1.4 billion he wanted allocated to his and his deputy’s office. Ostensibly, this money was to be given to the youth and women.

In their defence, the MCAs said they were unhappy with the allocation because there was no criteria on how the money would be given out, fearing that it would be dished out to the governor’s political supporters.

It is also doubtful whether there was any meaningful public participation in the counties’ budget-making across the country in contravention of the Public Finance Management Act 2012.

Public participation would have forced governors to avoid allocations of massive sums to, for example,  renovating their houses and buying four-wheel-drive fuel guzzlers that cost as much to run as to buy.

Given the cavalier approach by county governments to this crucial exercise, few Kenyans would be surprised if some are jailed in the future. 

At least the Auditor-General has sent out teams to go over the assets of former local authorities to see whether any funds were used against the law after they were dissolved.

Obama unveils a $7Billion African Electrification developmental Program.

OHANNESBURG, June 30 (Reuters) – Pointing to Africa’s crippling lack of electrical power, President Barack Obama is due to announce on Sunday a $7 billion initiative over five years to double access to power in sub-Saharan Africa.

“We see this as the next phase in our development strategy and a real focal point in the president’s agenda going forward,” deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told reporters traveling with the president.

Obama is midway through a three-country tour of Africa and is due to give what aides bill as his fullest description of his vision for the U.S. relationship with the continent on Sunday.

The president has chosen historically resonant locations for the address, and is due to speak at the University of Cape Town after touring the prison on Robben Island. Robert F. Kennedy’s 1966 speech at the university linked the struggles against apartheid and the U.S. civil rights movement and was seen as giving encouragement to the movement, while Robben Island is where anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 18 of his 27 years in jail.

The president will cite South Africa’s long struggle to defeat apartheid and the U.S. civil rights movement’s success in overcoming racial inequality as models of movements that brought about change in the face of daunting obstacles, aides said. He will call on young Africans to summon similar energy to complete the work of those movements and to firmly establish economic growth, democratic government, and stable societies across the continent.

SIGNATURE PROGRAM

Obama has been faulted for lacking a grand program to benefit Africa like the HIV/AIDS initiative launched by President George W. Bush or the broad reductions of trade barriers achieved by President Bill Clinton.

Many Africans have been disappointed at what they see as Obama’s hands-off approach to the continent, noting that his first extended trip the continent has not come until his second term in office despite his African ancestry. Obama’s father was a native of Kenya.

The president’s aides say he has been held back by the need to wind down two wars and to right the U.S. economy after the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

Despite severe U.S. budget constraints, the power initiative could provide Obama with just such a signature program.

DARKNESS BY NIGHT

Experts agree that the lack of electricity is a tremendous hindrance to Africa’s advancement.

“Africa is largely a continent of darkness by night,” said an official at a multilateral agency who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Every which way you look at this, Africa is behind the curve and pays more.”

Roughly two-thirds of sub-Saharan Africa lacks power, a level that rises as high as 85 percent in rural areas, White House aide Gayle Smith said.

Lack of power inhibits business investment, prevents children from studying after dark, and makes it harder to keep vaccines from spoiling in rural areas, she said.

The United States will initially work with Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Nigeria and Tanzania to develop electric power generation, officials said. It will also cooperate with Uganda and Mozambique on oil and gas management.

The program will draw on a range of U.S. government agencies to achieve its goals. For example, the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corp will commit as much as $1.5 billion in finance and insurance to help U.S. companies manage the risks associated with the projects.

Similarly, the U.S. Export-Import Bank will make up to $5 billion available to support U.S. exports to develop power projects, the officials said.

The private sector will also be involved. Officials said General Electric Co has committed to power generation projects in Tanzania and Ghana, officials added.

The president’s trip has taken him to Senegal and South Africa and will wind up in Tanzania on Monday and Tuesday. Although concerns over the ailing health of anti-apartheid hero Mandela have overshadowed much of the trip, the president has sounded the theme of Africa’s economic potential at every stop.

In keeping with that emphasis, Obama will also announce that he plans to hold a summit of sub-Saharan African leaders in Washington next year.

“It’s something other countries have done,” Rhodes said. “What we want to do is continue the kind of high-level engagement we’ve had on this trip.”

Intel To Train 400 Kenyan University students.

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The world’s largest maker of chips for PCs will partner with Strathmore and Nairobi universities to offer a software development curriculum to students.

Intel East Africa general manager Danie Steyn said the company will ensure the students get enough facilities for training.

Intel will construct a hardware lab, start a student developer partner programme and integrate high performance computing into the university curriculum.

Through this initiative, students will be equipped with necessary skills to be able to create user experience applications on Intel-based hardware.

Intel Corporation aims at nurturing 400 software developers and creating 100 new local applications for its mobile and tablets customers.

The Country Africa

Not all protests are “Arab Springs”, and not all “authentic African voices” are always right, argues Sean Jacobs.

 

In analyzing the relationship between a “global public sphere” and social media on the African continent, the generalizations hide a far more interesting set of observations. Debates and discussions about what passes for a global public sphere often overlook and obscure dynamics of power or take themselves too seriously.

 

What is defined as the global public sphere by most observers and scholars is still very much limited to the industrial north (especially the United States and United Kingdom) and their public and private broadcasting systems, twitter handlers, and blogs. The term also refers, by default, to debates and deliberation solely in English. In contrast, what transpires with media in the Global South, especially social media, is far more interesting. Part of the reason may be that the normative notion of the “public sphere” taken from Jurgen Habermas is linked to Western notions of democratic and “rational” free debate.[1]

 

The Difference between the Arab Spring and African Protest Movements

 

There is a tendency to fetishize the relationship between social media and the likelihood of protest.

 

Much of the excitement around social media follows the success of social movements in the overthrow of the dictatorial regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. Known colloquially as “the Arab Spring,” it is clear that these outcomes were the result of a range of other factors that were very specific, and beyond the realm of generalizations about the global public sphere.

 

These factors include the nature of the regimes (i.e., family dynasties); the role of armed forces (who quickly joined or tolerated the protests); the degree of state repression; long histories and deep levels of social movement organization (from varied groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and trade unions to the young Internet types that laid the groundwork for the protests beginning in January 2011 in Egypt); and political culture and the role of religious identities. It is also important to look at factors such as different levels of urbanization and the more prominent role of a middle class and their connection to social media in North Africa. For example, Egypt has a vibrant blog and Facebook culture that predates Tahrir Square by a number of years. Finally, Al Jazeera, especially its Arabic service, was decisive in the Arab Spring and the outcome of the civil war in Libya.

 

Sub-Saharan African political and media conditions could not be more different from those in the north: for one, we’re talking about a range of different regimes, including ones where the transition to democracy predates the Arab Spring by at least a decade, in which basic democratic rights (elections) had been achieved without the Internet, and where—at least in some cases—elections were competitive. With few exceptions, in sub-Saharan Africa protests are couched in economic terms (see, for example, the “Walk to Work” protests in Uganda; the fuel subsidy protests—known as #OccupyNigeria—in January 2012; and ongoing protests over government failure to provide basic services to the black majority in South Africa). Crucially, protesters and their leaders south of the Sahara are not necessarily calling for the removal of their heads of state, merely for accountability—though some government officials in both cases would want to tar protestors with such a brush.

 

Unlike the crucial role that networks like Al Jazeera played in North African protests, global news networks (in French and English) failed to cover the protests against Senegalese president Abdoulaye Wade’s campaign for a third term (he was voted out) and those by #OccupyNigeria “live” or with the same intensity and attention that were afforded the protests in North Africa.

 

New Media Trends and Politics in Africa

 

Mainstream media became obsessed with finding out what “African voices” say.

 

There is a tendency to fetishize the relationship between social media and the likelihood of protest. The use of mobile phones to spread information and coordinate actions was indeed widespread in some protests and disturbances in sub-Saharan African countries; take the cases of Mozambique and Mali (here and here) for example. However, and separately, research on Zambia’s recent election concludes that the impacts of online crisis monitoring and information tools during elections—like Ushahidi—may be overstated. Furthermore, new research about Twitter use suggests few elites (described as “African business and political leaders”) have joined the continent’s Twittersphere. That said, not all evidence is negligible, pointing instead to the emergence of a connected public on the continent that includes some political and policy elites. Nigeria’s president, Goodluck Jonathan, an early adopter of social media, launched his presidential run on Facebook in 2011; Jonathan’s critics also resorted to using social media, so much so that by January 2012, he had “set a world record” as the most cursed president on Facebook. In South Africa, the opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) has made social media an essential part of its political strategy, though it has also proved to be the Achilles heel of its party leader, Helen Zille. The online dominance of Zille and the DA also reflect racial disparities (still largely skewed to the small white minority) in Internet access and use in South Africa.

 

But it is Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s longtime president, who best illustrates the potential and the paradox of social media: he manages to discredit himself while simultaneously representing an ideal path for political engagement in the digital age. His tweets, with their exclamation points, abbreviations, and numbers impersonating words, often resemble—in the words of one my students at the New School—language more suitable for texting among teens than for an elected official and are “akin to a beta release, a politician highly advanced in his tactical approach but with major problems built into the firmware.” Not surprisingly, Kagame has had his fair share of “twitterspats.” For example, in May 2011, Kagame took offense at a remark made by a British journalist, Ian Birrell, who had described him as “despotic and deluded.” For the next hour, Kagame responded in a series of tweets to Birrell. Some observers considered it the first time a head of state directly engaged with a journalist on Twitter.

 

 

 

Paul Kagame on Twitter

Paul Kagame on Twitter

 

#Kony2012 versus #OccupyNigeria

 

While the actions of Kagame and other political leaders are significant for how the public sphere is changing in Africa, their impacts pale in comparison to #Kony2012, arguably the most significant event in the short history of Africa’s place in the global public sphere. Despite criticisms about the “film” and Invisible Children (including after the public meltdown of its founder), at least for a while this will remain the template for how “the global public sphere” will engage with African issues and Africans. Mainstream journalists and commentators still attest to #Kony2012’s efficacy and usefulness.

 

Initial criticism of #Kony2012 centered on demands for “African voices.” Mainstream media became obsessed with finding out what “African voices” say—that is, what “authentic” Africans think about the film. While this was a useful critique, it also assumed that the authenticity of the African would make the criticism “real” and add ballast to #Kony2012’s fading truthfulness.

 

Western media seemed to be thunderstruck with the sudden “awareness” that if you report on something happening in Uganda (or name your country) without bothering to talk to any people from said country, you’re likely to come up with something like #Kony2012. They anxiously asked around for as many Africans as they could find to provide some kind of unchallengeable African truth. “You’re Nigerian? You’re from Sierra Leone? Oh well, close enough, you’ll do. Now tell us what to believe, and please do try to be polite and not say anything horrible about racism, especially if it might be ours.”

 

Obviously, the lack of African voices from the regions in which the Lord’s Resistance Army operates (or once operated) was part of the problem in this “activist” film, with its easy “to do” list of solutions aimed at those who are often mockingly described as “Facebook slacktivists.” But it is not clear how being “authentically African” makes someone a useful purveyor of opinion on the issue. Even Invisible Children has “African voices” on its staff. In fact, this was part of the filmmakers’ defense when they responded to criticisms. Africans can also draw uninformed (or purely self-interest driven) conclusions about what’s going on in the continent. So it is unclear if the “authenticity” of the Africans engaged in (or critiquing) any given “African” situation is the solution, per se. Perhaps the main takeaway from #Kony2012 is that the film will probably retain some salience—despite the widespread criticism against it and its makers—for how most people, including some Africans, will engage with sub-Saharan African issues for the time being.

 

More promising are the implications of #OccupyNigeria, a series of protests that brought that country to a standstill for the first two weeks of January 2012 following an announcement by President Jonathan that he would scrap a fuel subsidy that most Nigerians considered their birthright. Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians streamed onto the streets to join marches and rallies. The national strike was only suspended after the government, following a deal brokered with trade unions, partially restored the subsidy. By most estimates #OccupyNigeria was the largest and most sustained short-term protest movement in any sub-Saharan African country in a long while.

 

Online activists targeted celebrities who were forced to declare their allegiance with the strike.

 

Media coverage of Nigeria during #OccupyNigeria mostly focused on alleged violence associated with protesters or linked the protests to the violence of Boko Haram, which stepped up its attacks during the strike. Certain “expert” voices in the West supported the government of Jonathan, especially his finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. They would quickly face the backlash of Nigerian protesters. Cases in point: Jeffrey Sachs and Ethan Zuckerman. The latter to his credit, backtracked from his initial thoughts.

 

Much of the pressure came from activists on social media, crucially in the Nigerian Diaspora. The latter also took their protests to the streets. Online activists targeted celebrities (Nollywood actors and popular singers like D’Banj) who were forced to declare their allegiance with the strike. Yet the real focus of the anger was directed toward Nigeria’s political class, especially Jonathan and Okonjo-Iweala, who were both lampooned and scoffed online. Two websites stood out: the Nigeria-based Chop Cassava (which produces video reports) and Sahara Reporters, based in New York City.

 

Of these, Sahara Reporters has had a larger impact. Sahara Reporters has become a media force inside Nigeria largely because it is not in Nigeria. The website’s base in New York City places Sahara Reporters “beyond the reach of the politicians and corporations that the site often reports on.” What appeals to its readers and audience is the nature of the stories it reports. As Mohamed Keita of the Committee to Protect Journalists told Al Jazeera English, Sahara Reporters provides “eye witness accounts, just raw information about sensitive issues that the press in Nigeria is too afraid to publish or report.” These include extensive coverage of a huge oil spill in the Niger Delta; revealing the corruption of a state governor who was eventually tried in a British court; and events surrounding the illness, absence from Nigeria, and eventual death of President Umaru Yar’Adua in May 2010.

 

Ordinary Nigerians have warmed to Sahara Reporters’ reporting and support it publicly. It has also attracted the attention of those in power. In some instances, Jonathan’s office has released media statements directly addressed to the site. In one celebrated case, Sahara Reporters’ story of thirty-two aides accompanying Nigeria’s first lady on an official trip to an African Union summit in Ethiopia resulted in the presidential spokesperson releasing a press statement aimed specifically at Sahara Reporters.

 

 

Some concerns have been raised about sensationalism in Sahara Reporters’ style of reporting and writing. However, the conspiratorial and mocking tone of Sahara Reporters’ coverage should not be surprising. The sensationalism or the partiality to sensational stories is simply a symptom of a current Nigerian reality: that people know that they are getting screwed by the political system, and that there is a “real” beyond what is visible, dominant, or apparent in mainstream Nigerian media.

 

What makes Sahara Reporters’ reporting “global” is not just the fact that it is transnational but also the flow and counterflow of information between New York City, Lagos, and elsewhere in Nigeria. There’s also the reciprocity between Sahara Reporters’ editors, audience, contributors, and sources, as well as its targets.

 

Final Thoughts

 

One could argue that the idea of a global public is not inherently progressive or democratic and that the question “toward a global public sphere?” can be deconstructed on that basis. But it is important to remember that the public sphere, any public sphere, is a site of considerable contestation. Nancy Fraser, in her now well-worn critique of Jurgen Habermas, suggested that one should look for “actually existing” public spheres rather than impose normative ones.[2] So while social media in some instances may replicate and reinforce the dominant racist, sexist, capitalist power that we are familiar with (as the case of #Kony2012 so vividly illustrates), it sometimes does not. It would appear that social media is also a form that can be given content, as the cases of #OccupyNigeria and Sahara Reporters would suggest.

Sean Jacobs is a scholar of media and international affairs. He was born and grew up in apartheid South Africa, where he finished college before studying for a master’s in political science at Northwestern University on a Fulbright Scholarship. Dr. Jacobs has held fellowships at Harvard University, New York University, and The New School for Social Research. Jacobs is editor of the Africa is a Country blog, www.africasacountry.com

[1] Jurgen Habermas, The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere (Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1989).
[2] Nancy Fraser, “Rethinking the Public Sphere: A Contribution to the Critique of Actually Existing Democracy,” Social Text no. 25/26 (1990): 56–80.
* This essay is based on a presentation by Sean Jacobs at the conference “Towards A Global Public Sphere” at the Center for Cultural Analysis at Rutgers University on March 30, 2012.
Tags: activism, African Spring, Arab Spring, Kony 2012, political protest, popular mobilization, social media
 

Kenya wants harmony in digital shift

Kenya is calling on countries in the region to realign their digital migration timelines after most of them missed their self-imposed deadline last year.

Information and Communication cabinet secretary, Dr Fred Matiang’i on Thursday said failing to harmonise digital migration could turn the East African Community into a dumping site for obsolete technology.

“I wish to challenge East African Communication Organisation (EACO) members to take a harmonised approach in the transition to digital TV broadcasting to avoid dumping of analogue transmission and receiver equipment in countries that are lagging behind in the migration process,” said Matiang’i.

He was speaking during the EACO congress in Nairobi. He urged other EAC countries to block network access to counterfeit mobile handsets and unregistered SIM cards. Kenya took these steps last year in a bid to curb counterfeits and crime.

“Already, we have noted that continued sale of pre-activated SIM cards in the region is posing a threat to our local attempts to eliminate the use of ICT devices for criminal activities,” he said.

Member states of the International Telecommunications Union are migrating from the analogue to digital broadcasting platform by 2015.

In anticipation of this, EAC member states had set themselves a December 2012 deadline for the migration.

Tanzania was the only partner state to meet the deadline switching of major cities in the country on December 31.

However, faced with numerous technical challenges, the country has since halted subsequent phases of the analogue switch-off.

Missed deadline

Kenya missed its deadline as a consumer lobby went to court. Uganda’s timeline was disrupted by wrangles between the communication industry regulator and the state broadcaster while Rwanda and Burundi were still carrying out feasibility studies last year.

If Mr Matiang’i’s proposal is adopted by the other partner states, EAC communication regulators will now face the daunting task of finding an agreeable migration date despite the disparate challenges that face each country

Varsity Closed

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Multimedia University of Kenya in Nairobi was indefinitely closed after a student’s peaceful demonstration turned out into a running battle between students and the police.

The students had called a meeting with the university’s administration on Tuesday to address their various grievances, but the absence of the acting Vice Chancellor Prof. Walter Oyawa made the students feel that all was not well as some questioned the cause of him being absent from such an important function. It was later confirmed that he was actually in court over a case in which he is accused of sexually assaulting one of the female students employees. Attempts to by the to get him were futile as calls from THEAFRICAMARKETNEWS were unanswered and he is yet to reply to our text messages. The students were infuriated by the ever rhetoric DVC. Prof. Njoroge who they claim is a joker.

The university students had wanted the university to fire the Academic Registrar accusing him of being too arrogant and crude that he sometimes uses the F*** word in addressing students. He is also accused of being incompetent to run a university as he always delays in submitting a list of students to the Higher Education Board yet he wants the students to pay full amount by “Milking Baboons.” The students also wanted to be refunded a sum total of 5million shilling which they pay each semester for the University ID which they already have and is given once for their entire stay in the university. They too accused the management of funds embezzlement.

The students later closed the Magadi Road using stones and light a bonfire leading to a heavy traffic jam to as far as Nyayo stadium and Nkoroi in Rongai. Police later restored traffic in the area.

One student who talked to us but did not want to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter said that the university would receive millions of shillings, but instead of being put into use the management would deposit it in a fixed account from where they get huge interest then after the end of the financial year they return it to the government unused. They therefore wanted the disbandment of the entire management and competent people be in place. Late last year the university demoted one Prof. Naituli for exposing mega corruption scandals including two hundred and fifty ghost workers who were in the university payroll.

The students have vowed to do it again unless things are changed. The university Student’s Council lead by Robert Nyongesa, Wilfred Kipngetich, Vincent Serem, John Ondieki., Silas Ayieko and blogger Nyk have vowed to take the matter into the industrial court for determination. At the meantime they have called Education Cabinet Secretary Jacob Kaimenyi to fast track changes in the university.

Up to the time we were publishing the ordeal, students were not allowed into the university compound.

More to follow