Kenya and Tanzania have been experiencing unusual seismic activity of late, striking fear and panic into many citizens of those countries. At least seven strong quakes have stuck the region in the past week, but unlike the usual quake-aftershock(s) pattern, this series has been ratcheting up in strength rather than the other way around.
The first earth tremor was felt on July 12. Its magnitude was 4.4 on the Richter Scale, but subsequent earthquakes have risen to a magnitude of six.Ah, a volcano preparing to erupt.
Tremors were felt in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and Nairobi in Kenya as well as other major towns. The main effect has been to shake buildings, but there has been no loss of life or major structural damage reported.
The epicenter is close to the Kenya-Tanzania border, around the active volcano, Ol Doinyo Lengai.
My father seems unmoved (if you’ll pardon the pun) by all of the uncharacteristic shaking in his neck of woods, however. A few days ago, when I found out about the quakes, I sent him a short note inquiring as to whether he and the rest of the family (only one of whom I’ve met face-to-face) were uninjured. I didn’t receive a personal reply, but judging from the nature of the following op-ed, I’d say that the answer to my question is ‘yes.’
In a rather uncharacteristic rant, Philip Ochieng uses the turbulent nature of his country’s post-colonial history to remind his readers that man’s most lethal and fickle enemy has been man.
Being human, I also fear dying. That is why, like everybody else, I feel let down [that the Kenyan government lacks a contingency policy for dealing with the aftermath of earthquakes]. Yet something is not quite right about that association. It is that this feeling of mine puts me in the same brackets with individuals and groups who consign other human beings to the grave day in and day out.After reading this, I wonder whether my father is still the socialist he used to claim to be.
Consider the kind of company which my feeling forces me to keep. Some execute others for grievances about which those others are hardly responsible. Some rob us at gunpoint and then - to thwart "eyewitness evidence" - pump bullets into us to keep our eyes and mouths shut for ever.
Some drive pieces of scrap iron called matatus at speeds that would make Mister Toad - Kenneth Grahame's Terror of the Highway - go aghast with shame. They pulverise our bones by the wayside and often reduce us to heaps of flesh quite unable even to take part in the "paralympics".
Some - including those who call themselves "human rights lawyers" - daily reduce their wives and daughters to pulp for all sorts of male crotchets. Some derive "fun" from sexually assaulting new-born babies, leaving them in conditions worse than death.
How can people who call themselves human beings do such things? Yet commission is perhaps more humane than omission. For a commission usually means instant death. [SNIP]
Indeed, our sins of omission are much more frequent, much more systematic and - because they lead to slow death - much more agonising. Many Kenyans take years dying in the most horrible conditions. Inability to feed our loved ones, to afford medicine for them and to send them to school is its most spectacular expression.
The omission is that our leaders once forced us to pour profuse blood with the promise that if we chased away the foreign rulers, we would live in loving abundance and security for ever. And, every year since then, we have paid increasingly crushing taxes ostensibly to ensure it.
We expend untold quantities of resources on elections in which the candidates promise us nothing less than the Moon. And yet between every two elections we sink deeper and deeper into penury, disease, shelterlessness, ignorance, shirtlessness - all this while members of the elite, especially those whom we elect, get fatter and fatter.
The very Parliament which we elect with the express purpose of protecting us from executive profligacy has become the most ruthless sucker of our blood. Yet, as Shakespeare reminds us, the fault is not in our stars, but only in ourselves, that we are underlings.
Our leaders can take us into the valley of death only because we allow them. Because elections are around the corner the Government is busy promising all kinds of "goodies" to teachers, civil servants, police officers and other voters. And the cinch is that these are taking the bait and will vote this Government back to power.
The voters never learn.
Even the clergy - those on whom we depend for "spiritual guidance" - seem completely unmoved by our suffering. Otherwise, they would be leading any national effort to solve, for instance, the Mungiki issue. But they are totally silent on it. On the contrary, many even urge us to kneel in prayer to God to bless the leeches that we call leaders! [SNIP]
The question to Kenyans - including to the fellow who e-mailed to say he is ready to throw a "Kericho Tea Party" - is this: Why do they allow the politicians to cheat them year after year after year?
And where robbers, thieves, rapists, wife beaters, real estate grabbers, dealers in simony, legislative conmen, tax collectors, political gunmen and other killers have become the law of the land, why bother about events which can only serve as coups de grace? Why worry about earthquakes?
Kericho Tea Party, eh? That obvious reference to an earlier Boston version recalled an interview of Kenyan economist James Shikwati conducted by Germany’s Der Spiegel some weeks ago. In it, Shiwati spells out how continuous developmental aid to Africa from the West--under the specific umbrella of the United Nations World Food Program--has kept most of the continent in its famed "darkness." It's a great interview, but the most telling thing about it is the mindset of the interviewer, demonstrated by the plaintive replies to Shikwati's objective demonstration that the cycle of aid—starting in the pockets of the well-meaning philanthropy sources and ending up in the pockets of Africa's notoriously corrupt politicians—does nothing but prolong the continent’s suffering.
Shikwati: ... for God's sake, please just stop [the developmental aid to Africa].
SPIEGEL: Stop? The industrialized nations of the West want to eliminate hunger and poverty.
Shikwati: Such intentions have been damaging our continent for the past 40 years. If the industrial nations really want to help the Africans, they should finally terminate this awful aid. The countries that have collected the most development aid are also the ones that are in the worst shape. Despite the billions that have poured in to Africa, the continent remains poor.
SPIEGEL: Do you have an explanation for this paradox?
Shikwati: Huge bureaucracies are financed (with the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, Africans are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition, development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need. As absurd as it may sound: Development aid is one of the reasons for Africa's problems. If the West were to cancel these payments, normal Africans wouldn't even notice. Only the functionaries would be hard hit. Which is why they maintain that the world would stop turning without this development aid.
SPIEGEL: Even in a country like Kenya, people are starving to death each year. Someone has got to help them.
Shikwati: But it has to be the Kenyans themselves who help these people. When there's a drought in a region of Kenya, our corrupt politicians reflexively cry out for more help. This call then reaches the United Nations World Food Program -- which is a massive agency of apparatchiks who are in the absurd situation of, on the one hand, being dedicated to the fight against hunger while, on the other hand, being faced with unemployment were hunger actually eliminated. It's only natural that they willingly accept the plea for more help. And it's not uncommon that they demand a little more money than the respective African government originally requested. They then forward that request to their headquarters, and before long, several thousands tons of corn are shipped to Africa ...
Here's an interesting observation about AIDS from Shikwati:
If one were to believe all the horrifying reports, then all Kenyans should actually be dead by now. But now, tests are being carried out everywhere, and it turns out that the figures were vastly exaggerated. It's not three million Kenyans that are infected. All of the sudden, it's only about one million. Malaria is just as much of a problem, but people rarely talk about that.(Emphasis mine) No they don't, because that would lead to uncomfortable conversations about one of the most effective-to-date eradicator of mosquitoes—DDT. (DDT was banned by the US Environmental Protection Agency, but is still in use in tropical regions of the world. There is some controversy about whether the insecticide’s overuse caused the problems which are associated with it. However, what I wonder is whether UN aid agencies tie their monies to compliance with a list of ‘dos’ and ‘don’ts.’ If so, I’m betting that the UN tells malaria-prone countries such as Kenya that if they use DDT, they can’t have the money.)
Ochieng and Shikwati—old and young, but learned and perceptive men both—recognize the persistent problems with their country and their continent and, in addition, they understand that only radical re-ordering of thought patterns can bring about radical change. However, what can a people do to affect change if they don't have the knowledge--the education--to understand what kind of society will give them the best life possible? For this--education, or rather, near-universal literacy--is the feature that was present in that other Revolution which seems to come up in conversation so often lately. And education is the element that is lacking in the Dark Continent--dark, not because of the skin color of the majority of its inhabitants, but dark becuse of the lack of means for the average African to gain knowledge. (Remember the fact of our compulsory education the next time some do-gooder is railing about the inveterate poor in America.)
As another blogger reminds us, knowledge is power; the power to affect change and to gain real independence.