Egypt Picture Hard to Read

Egypt Picture Hard to Read

Because there are so many tourists in Egypt, and because there’s no legal requirement that tour companies honestly reveal the scope of their operations, it’s very difficult to get an accurate picture of tourists and tourism right now. But here’s my best try.

Before the trouble last week, the U.S. State Department reported there were about 50,000 Americans in the country, of which 3-5000 were tourists. Since January 25, probably 6-7000 of those have left, of which 1500 may be tourists. That leaves around 3500 tourists and 43,500 nontourist Americans in Egypt right now.

And I venture to say they will not be hurt. No one likes what’s happening in Tahrir Square, now, but the violence in the country is localized. Savvy tourists will remain safe.

About a third of the 6-7000 Americans who have been able to leave did so aboard U.S. government supplied evacuation charters. But most of the travelers on the U.S. government charters were not tourists; they were government workers and U.S. residents living in Egypt.

Two-thirds of the Americans who have evacuated seemed to have done so on commercial flights.

Since 2800 Americans had previously registered with the U.S. State Department as intending to visit Egypt now, I estimate there were about 5000 American tourists there when the trouble started last week.

Tourist registration with foreign consulates is a service all countries provide, but in recent times it’s mostly large tour companies that register their clients, rather than individuals, and it’s usually hardly a third to a half of the actual tourists who travel.

In the best of times true tourist numbers are very hard to get. This is because no U.S. or foreign agency reports the numbers of people entering or leaving a country in real-time. The U.S. is the best for reporting inbound tourists on a quarterly basis. But Egypt, for example, reports suspicious statistics only once annually.

What irritates me is that in the absence of being able to get this hard information, media turns to professional tour companies. This is a terrible mistake, because most tour companies (especially American ones) grossly inflate their actual production and often to the great pleasure of host countries.

Yesterday, for instance, in a single dispatch from Moscow reported in Britain’s Daily Mail the Russian state news agency RIA Novosti reported a ridiculous 45,000 Russians touring in the country at the moment. In virtually the same paragraph, Konstantin Shvartser of the Pegas Touristik said there were only 18,000. And in a continuation of the numbers folly, he then claimed only 18 Russians altogether want to leave the country, now.

USAToday reports on tourism by surveying well-known American tour companies like Abercrombie & Kent and Grand Circle.

But those (good) companies won’t reveal their numbers, and the fact is that the majority of American tourists traveling to Egypt these days don’t use established tour companies like these, so what’s happening to their customers is really rather insignificant to the bigger picture.

Most travelers to Egypt, today, book through the internet often directly with Egyptian companies. It’s likely, in fact, that as many Americans book Nile cruises with British companies as with American companies.

In trying to gauge the “real situation” imagine being a resident of Washington, D.C. or Watts in L.A. during the riots of the 1960s. The longer the crisis continues, the more basic services become strained of course. But unless you actually walk into the midst of the trouble, until strained services reach a critical point, you’re probably going to be OK.

Officially, most foreign nations have advised their citizens to avoid central Cairo and Alexandria. But many European countries, including Britain, have advised tourists who find themselves elsewhere (such as Sharm el-Sheik or Luxor) to remain until travel to international airports becomes easier and safer.

Most Nile cruises have stopped sailing, although we also know that large companies like Sonesta (which owns 5 ships), Sofitel and Hilton are continuing to provide services (food, shelter) to passengers who were onboard when the trouble broke out.

“Living conditions in Cairo and the risks to foreigners are not quite as bad as they may appear in the media,” writes the only excellent coverage I’ve so far found, in today’s Huffington Post.

So the bottom line is that the vast majority of foreigners, including tourists, remain in the country and have had enough time to position themselves in a safe way. Commercial flights continue to operate at the Cairo airport.

I am no expert on the MidEast, and I have been wrong in predictions before. But as one experienced traveler voice, I don’t see what’s happening in Egypt right now as dangerous for the tourists or foreign residents who unfortunately find themselves there.

Govt Shoots, People Listen, Part II

Govt Shoots, People Listen, Part II

Fiance of opposition candidate, Wilbrod Slaa, challenges police in Arusha.
It happened all too quickly. Tanzania’s second largest city erupted in violence Wednesday, three people killed and scores injured. The push for democracy and transparency in Tanzania has exploded faster than even I expected.

See my blog of only three days ago.

Right now Arusha is calm. EWT, in fact, had clients who were in the town today. But the situation remains tense, and the government of Tanzania is acting only in ways that will make it worse.

The Tanzanian government is trying to suppress all news about the affair. Click here for a manual link to YouTube about the demonstration. The reporter, who I can’t identify and doesn’t want to be identified, has requested that YouTube remove all embedding code that would allow it to be dispersed more easily through blogs like these.

The video captures much of the chaos over most of Wednesday afternoon. It has a clip of the fiance of defeated opposition presidential candidate Wilbrod Slaa, her face bloodied.

The violence began when federal police used tear gas on a rally called to criticize the current government.

The initial battle with tear gas occurred at a large open field where Chadema’s rally (the opposition party) was just starting.

A large anti-riot police vehicle equipped with its tear-gas throwers disturbed the crowd, who had assembled with a police permit. The police claimed the vehicle was there to prevent marchers who were arriving from the central city to join the rally, because while police had granted a permit for the rally, they had denied a permit for the march to the rally.

“Police keep away, this is an official meeting and we have permission to gather here,” shouted Wilbrod Slaa, the defeated Chadema candidate for president of Tanzania who was at the time addressing the rally.

As marchers appeared, the tear gas went off and chaos errupted. Police arrested a number of the leaders in the front of the march, including Godbless Lema, the wildly popular and newly elected MP from Arusha, and (opposition party) Chadema chairman Freeman Mbowe.

As the two high profile politicians were being driven away with 47 others arrested, the crowd exploded: scores of people raced towards the police vehicle throwing rocks. The police responded with more tear gas.

Crowds then formed throughout the city trying to converge on the police station, where it was presumed the leaders were being held. Police used live ammunition against the crowd, there, and the afternoon became one of continuous pitched battles throughout the city between police and demonstrators.

Police confirmed 2 dead and 9 injured but area hospitals suggested 3 dead and injured closer to 100.

Arusha opposition MP Lema is a rebel rouser, and this is not his first brush with the law. He has been in jail twice before during his campaign for Parliament, which he won in the national election the end of November.

The specific issue that ignited yesterday’s violence was a federal government move over the weekend that stacked the Arusha city council with government supporters allowed to vote for mayor, but who did not actually reside in the city.

The real city councilors had boycotted the meeting and claim, therefore, that there was not a quorum sufficient to elect a mayor. But the government ordered the election to continue, and the result is that at least officially, Arusha now has a mayor allied to the government ruling party, a mayor overlording a city that is hugely in the opposition’s camp.

This does not happy days make.

But there were other issues to be discussed at the rally which was never completed: that the presidential election last November was unfair, that the government is corrupt, and a host of lingering accusations that during the November national election campaign the government suppressed all opposition.

I’m not sure how far this is going to go. The opposition in Arusha is incredibly strong and has support from several other larger communities in northern Tanzania like Karatu. But other important areas in northern Tanzania like Moshi, Monduli and Mto-wa-Mbu are firmly on the government’s side.

The blogosphere is cautious, I fear worried that the government is looking over their shoulders. There are numerous references to what has happened in Arusha is like Tiananmen Square, protests in Berlin before the wall went down, and demonstrations in Kenya that led to more transparent government.

Without doubt the police acted wrongly. It remains to be seen if they acted on their own, or are following in lock-step the darkening oligarchy in Dar.

Nairobi Bus Station Bombing

Nairobi Bus Station Bombing

How sad that I must discuss the bomb blast in Nairobi yesterday during the holiday season, and yet I fear this will be the norm in the years to come. Over many years terrorists have established that disruption during the Christian holiday is a signature they prefer.

As terrorist incidents go, this was not devastating as have been some. Directed so obviously to local African holiday makers, the bombing was outside an overnight bus scheduled to leave from Nairobi to Kampala at 8 p.m., Monday night.

Bus security actually saved many lives. Four were killed and 41 were injured, but the bus was packed, with more than 30 people aboard. Security was checking the luggage as is the routine outside the bus, which alarmed one of the last passengers boarding the bus which intentionally (or not, we aren’t sure) resulted in his small carry-on exploding.

That bomber was killed. In the mayhem that followed, his companion traveler left the bus and escaped.

During the day, Monday, Uganda issued a special security alert that warns travelers in the country during Christmas to be on the look-out for Al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists. In July Uganda suffered its worst terrorist bombing ever: 79 people were killed in two separate bars as they watched the World Cup.

Uganda has been an avowed special target of Al-Qaeda for some time, as there are more Ugandan soldiers in peace-keeping roles in Mogadishu, Somali, than from any other African country. Al-Shabab (Al-Qaeda in Somali) currently controls about a third of the country and is fighting hard to gain control of Mogadishu.

So it’s unclear whether the two bombers and their packages were intended to explode in Kenya, or were simply transporting weaponry into Uganda when Nairobi security personnel foiled the plot prematurely.

Nairobi’s central bus station is isolated from the city’s tourist hotels. This was clearly not an attack intended against tourists in Kenya.

Don’t Visit Zimbabwe

Don’t Visit Zimbabwe

Contrary to very strange suggestions I’m reading in the travel press, it’s still too dangerous to safari in Zimbabwe. Tourists are being murdered. And not by political thugs, either.

Zimbabwe’s economy is recovering from a hole some of us feared would spew forth the lava from the center of the earth. And the opposition democrat and power-sharing Morgan Tsvangirai is getting more attention as he jaunts around the world. And for these two reasons Zimbabwe watchers say things are getting better, in particular, safer and more welcoming for tourists.

They are DEAD wrong.

Zimbabwe’s modern story is one of the most remarkable in the world. In a few short months the dictator Robert Mugabe will tie Africa’s previously second-longest serving African dictator, Mobuto Sese Seko, who was in power for 32 years.

(As far as I know there will be no colorful fetes.)

Number One is Omar Bongo, president of Gabon, who held control for 42 years, a record few believe aging Mugabe can reach alive.

In all three cases, the leader ruined the country while amassing unimaginable personal wealth.

Zimbabwe, though, is remarkable because the other two were installed by foreign powers’ secret maneuvering. I think it’s quite fair to say that France is directly responsible for the bad situation in Gabon, and that the U.S. and Belgium are directly responsible for the bad situation in The Congo.

In Zimbabwe, Zimbabweans are directly responsible for the bad situation in Zimbabwe.

And that’s probably why nothing is going to happen to make things better, even after Mugabe dies.

On the political front, Tsvangirai is a huge disappointment. It seems clear to me that this masochistic egotist had little more than a Mercedes Benz in mind when he let himself be beaten to a pulp numerous times before being invited to join the government.

Like a piece of tough meat, the Mugabe regime has tenderized him. He’s useless. Useless, that is, to the people of Zimbabwe. He’s become prime rib for the regime, who hauls him out on a plate each time they’re criticized from abroad.

So the country has continued to go down the tube.

Yes, there may be less street violence, a result of Tsvangirai’s unending marination. The economy like virtually every economy in the developing world is on the up, but nowhere near at the pace of its neighbors or near a teeny weeny fraction of its potential.

So fuel for vehicles needed to transfer tourists from place to place is still scarce, and new white faces are more often presumed the feared leaving than visitors arriving.

But here’s the worst indicator:

A lot of animals are killing a lot of tourists.

A week ago Saturday five lions brutally killed a tourist near the country’s main national park, Mana Pools. Last month a man was trampled to death by an elephant in Matusadona national park. A veteran conservationist on anti-poaching control in the same place was gored to death by a buffalo a few days earlier.

And even outside the national parks, a resident biking near Kariba was tusked by an elephant.

Animal attacks aren’t unknown, of course, in Africa, but these recent incidents are not normal.

“We appeal to everyone to exercise extreme caution. Animals have become extremely unpredictable,” said Zimbabwe Conservation Task Force head Johnny Rodrigues. Rodrigues explains that uncontrolled hunting – even in the national parks and often by Mugabe regime sportsmen – has “traumatized” the animals.

Every safari traveler needs to exercise caution inside a national park, but unlike Geoff Blythe who was tusked near his home in Kariba, certainly this is not a regular need outside a wilderness.

And the “extreme” caution that Rodrigues advises is simply below the threshold of a vacation’s safety.

So forget about any plans to visit Zimbabwe.

When Will It Ever End

When Will It Ever End

Americans are just as tribal as Africans. This week’s elections prove it. But while Americans may curse and protest, our visceral feelings don’t manifest into actual bloodshed. That’s the difference with much of Africa.

A good friend and 25-year old Africaphile who recently completed a stint with the Peace Corps in Guinea where ethnic violence is now erupting sent me the dispatch below. His heartfelt concerns built by nearly two years of working in an isolated village, learning the language and customs and making friends, now seem swept away by his inability to explain what’s happening, now.

Conor’s angst if anger is the same that drives ethnic violence. Those of us who have “fallen in love” (Conor’s words) with distant places and peoples come remarkably close to adopting aspects of that foreign society that attract us. We touch the same sphere of that complex culture as those who were born into it.

But we’re on the outside. We can sit on the sphere and enjoy something, then remove ourselves perhaps when something turns ugly. We both might feel the same thing. It’s just that we aren’t contained within the sphere like they are. We can release our grip and float away.

Conor puts it this way (excerpted from below):
I do not understand the fear of isolation in the same way, the fear or being shut out of the network that I owe my history and existence to. Therefore I do not understand the surge of belonging that electrifies every contact with those on the outside of the fence.

From my distant perspective, it’s the same awful panic that drives the old Delaware widow to elect someone who wants to privatize social security. Or the right-thinking Libertarian who stamps his foot on the head of someone who disagrees with him. These are puerile, unintellectual feelings. They lead to my loving Norwegian Methodist aunt hating her Jewish landlords.

Conor writes (excerpted from below):
I thought I understood ethnic identity….I thought I understood what the potential for violence smelled like, what it looked like in schools, and what it felt like when you walked through the market or hitch hiked a motorcycle ride to the next town…..

I obviously do not.

The main difference between Conor Godfrey and his Guinean friends is that he isn’t Guinean. He is not forced into the ultimate defense: attack the other, go on the offense.

Click here for a YouTube video of the current violence, then read the rest of Connor’s dispatch:

* * * * * * * * * *
Every day hundreds if not thousands of Fulani flee their homes in upper-Guinea for the safety of Fouta Jallon, the heartland of the Fulani people. They are both victims and victimizers of the neighboring Mandingo with whom they had lived peacefully for some time.

Guinea’s electoral crisis has resulted in a standoff between two remaining candidates representing these two largest ethnic groups in Guinea. Ethnic fault lines, previously well concealed beneath a web of inter-marriage, common faith, and necessary interaction, have reemerged into yawning chasms across which none save the artist or truly pious dare cross.

I left Guinea a year ago last week. As soon as my plane landed in the U.S. I began to mock the so-called experts who, I felt, read from outdated West African script as they warned of impending implosion in Guinea.

Did they know Modi M’Biliri Barry, my host father? Had they met Ousmane Diallo, my polyglot Peace Corps trainer who never had a bad word for anyone , or the Nene (mother) in Fataco that sold cassava dipped in hot pepper at recess in the courtyard, or seen Fulani and Mandingo students share benches in school, or chase the same girls on the beach in Conakry?

Because if they had—they would not, could not, suggest that Guinea shared anything more than a border with countries such as Liberia and Sierra Leone, whose blood soaked late 90s have come to define ethnic barbarism.

How many people like me have fallen in love with diverse, integrated peoples in far away corners of the world, only to look back with horror as dormant identities in those same friends surge from obscurity, thousands of times more potent than peace time associations?

After a U.S. friend with his Kenyan wife visited Rwanda’s genocide museum in 2006, they both expressed to me wonder at the intensity of feeling that could drive human beings to leave all empathy behind. But as violence then gripped Kenya a few months later that same woman’s facebook page was inciting violence in her home country from an ocean away, urging people to round up Luo and “do away with them.”

The educated Guinean ex-pats I now speak with in The States rarely seem any better. The same family that opened up their homes to their diverse neighbors last year is now a dues paying member of the their group’s most intolerant fringe, cum sudden majority, willing to believe all manner of nonsense about certain members of their community.

The exceptions are beautiful. Grand Imams in most major Guinean cities have issued stern and touching warnings against reprisals and generally appealed for peace and reason. Some of the most prominent musicians from all over West Africa recently got together to put this song together; it asks, in stirring and beautiful verse, and in all the right languages, for peace and unity in Guinea.

I also know that individual Guineans, of all groups, in Labe and in Kankan, in New York, Paris and Montreal, and all over West Africa, are praying for Peace….but my impression is that they are the exceptions that prove the rule.

The collective unconscious I belong to does not go nearly as deep, nor nearly as far back as the Mandingo or Fulani communities, but it should go deep enough to remember European’s genocide inducing arrival to the new world, or our subsequent enslavement of millions of souls, or the other countless atrocities that have been perpetrated in the name of constructed identities by people of every race, creed, and color…..yet I don’t.

I am watching, from afar, the subversion and transformation of Guinean society as if this has never happened elsewhere, somehow unfazed by the stunning regularity with which this process unfolds across time and geography.

Delta Force not Safe in Kenya

Delta Force not Safe in Kenya

Who looks tougher?
The U.S. still doesn’t think Kenya is safe enough to fly a plane into. And it’s probably right if it’s an American plane.

There was an enormous brouhaha in Kenya this week as Delta Airlines began service into its sixth African city, Monrovia (Liberia). Tempers are still flared from last year’s debacle when Delta canceled service into Nairobi two hours before the inaugural flight was set to take-off from Atlanta.

Delta canceled when the TSA (Transportation Security Administration) exercised its veto authority over Delta’s FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) license to operate into Kenya.

Delta wants to fly to Nairobi. It has been expanding rapidly into Africa and had scheduled service to begin to Nairobi on June 2, 2009. The champagne was stacked on tables, officials were planning to line up on the tarmac, Delta had given 26 free seats to a seventh grade choral group from Atlanta, and an entire Delta business with offices and employees had been set up in Nairobi.

Today the airline flies to seven cities in Africa: Liberia (Monrovia), Accra (Ghana), Abuja and Lagos (Nigeria), Cairo (Egypt) and Johannesburg (South Africa).

But the inaugural flight into Monrovia last week dumped a keg of petrol on the simmering emotions. Liberia is less than ten years out of a near apocalyptic civil war that slaughtered millions. Its leader at the time, Charles Taylor, is currently on trial in The Hague for crimes against humanity.

One of East Africa’s most respected blogs yesterday quoted an unnamed Kenyan government official as saying, “Did Obama’s father not come from here? What issues does he have with us? We even gave him a special paternal home attraction near Kisumu and for what – that we can be pushed around by them?”

But the fact remains – and I hate to say it – Nairobi airport security isn’t good, and there’s not going to be any flight from America until it is.

Nairobi is an essential market for European airlines, but passengers on British Airways and KLM actually march through security twice before boarding the plane. Both BA and KLM bring down their own machinery and security personnel from Europe, and all passengers after passing through the normal gate security supplied by Kenyan airport personnel, then pass through the individual airline security.

Those second levels are good. The irony, of course, is that this diminishes even further the quality of the Nairobi security. The Kenyan security personnel know it doesn’t matter what they do, that the real security comes later. And these folks rotate between the many other airlines in the airport, carrying their laissez-fare attitude with them.

So it’s sort of a death knoll repeated time and again as far as Delta is concerned. TSA will not accept the airline’s own efforts, as authorities in Britain and the Netherlands obviously do.

But there’s another angle to the story worth considering. I’ve talked to a few people in Kenya who believe despite the posturing, Kenyan officials are quite relieved Delta isn’t going to fly in. They argue that America is so hated in the Muslim world right now, and they point out that Kenya is on the edge of all the controversies.

Delta might attract terrorism in a way British Airways or KLM don’t.

Be that as it may, TSA played the trump. And TSA is only concerned with at-the-airport security. Homeland Security and the FAA are the agencies that could nix the deal for those more global issues. And right now, they have both given a pass to Delta to fly.

I wouldn’t expect a flight from America to Nairobi for a long, long time.

War on Security

War on Security

Is it safe to travel in Uganda, now?
As we were traveling from the Entebbe (Uganda) airport late last night, the first topic we discussed was “security.” Security against a catastrophic 9-11 is better in Africa than at home.

My first clients, the Pomerantz family, (Roger and Cathy Colt and son, Daniel) remarked first that they had recently been to Egypt where it seemed like security was nonexistent. And I told them a very funny story that just happened to me in Nairobi.

I was at Gate 3 of the Jomo Kenyata? airport, the basement gate, which sends off 3 or 4 late night flights more or less at once, so in a waiting area that is always jammed. To get into this waiting area you have to pass through “security” – a metal detector.

A novice traveler to be sure, a very small (possibly Twa) Ugandan dressed in finest Sunday clothes was having great difficulty getting through the metal detector and to everyone’s irritation was holding up the line.

Each time he tried to go through, the red light beeped and security officials ordered him to return and try, again. He’d empty his pockets. Beep. He took off his belt. Beep. He removed what looked like a medicine ID tag. Beep.

Finally, the security official pointed to his highly, thin-toed black polished shoes. He took them off. Beep.

This time we knew why. He took them off, but he held them in his hands as he walked through for the upteenth time, and of course the detector beeped. The other items he had removed he had carefully placed in several of the big pockets of his Sunday dress coat. Which he didn’t remove. Beep.

The security official, finally realizing only moments after the rest of us did what was going on, laughed uncontrollably and waved the gentleman through. Beep. Last beep, though. No enforced retry.

No threat, either. Some of us get through when we don’t beep. Others – like this gentleman – when it’s just obvious he’s no threat.

Until this month, there was little to terrorize in poverty-stricken, weather forsaken, economically oppressed Africa.

A decade ago it was different. I was in Nairobi on August 10, 1998, when the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar were blown to smithereens. But every American embassy in Africa is now a fortress of unbelievable magnitude. Can’t bomb it, now.

So terrorizing sufficient numbers of westerners has become problematic. And … until recently .. there was no point in terrorizing nonwesterners.

A couple weeks ago more than 70 people were killed in the Kampala bomb blasts. That’s where I am at this moment as I write. But the bombs were meant for westerners. Al-Shabaab (Al-Qaeda in Somalia) expressly said it was targeting Ugandans.

Things have changed.

The Ugandans were targeted because they are the lead in an OAU military peace-keeping force in Somalia that Al-Shabaab is fighting.

The OAU military force is being exclusively outfitted by the U.S. and the UK.

Clever Obama. Our proxy wars have begun, again.

Huge and terrible wars, with thousands and thousands of casualties and untold destruction occurred during the Reagan years in proxy wars between Ethiopia (Russia) and the Somalia (U.S.).

Russia, despite all its other misfortunes and missteps, has bowed out of these miserable controversies. Our adversary is no longer a Super Power. It’s a terrorism organization. “Cold War” is now the “War on Terror”.

Terror only works when the recipient can be terrified. The Twa walking through the metal detector creates humor. Our military-industrial complex descending on Somali – oh so cleverly – creates terror.

‘NO’ for Violence in Kenya

‘NO’ for Violence in Kenya

Criminal politicians and an old dictator support NO rallies in Kenya.
There’s going to be trouble in Kenya on August 4 and for a few days afterwards, but not as serious as in 2007. Continue on safari, but be vigilant.

A week from Wednesday Kenyans go to the polls for the first time since the violent election of December, 2007. This time they aren’t electing anyone. They’re deciding either YES or NO to a proposed new constitution.

But this time, unlike last time, modern Kenyans and their astute politicians are taking extraordinary preparations to keep peace.

A special commission has been set up by the government to monitor the country’s temperature in the run-up to the referendum.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has been active, independent and very useful. They’re also a little bit worried.

Commission member Alice Nderitu yesterday said that the “threat of violence is real.” But she hastened to add, “It’s tense but manageable.”

And this time the Kenyan government is buoyed by a Coalition of the World that includes the U.S., the UN and a beautifully created internal Kenyan coalition called “Uwaino.”

The phrase in Swahili used mostly in cooking roughly means blending together, or combining diverse components into something sweet and good.

But the main function of the new organization is to allow Kenyans from around the country to anonymously text any indications of election violence brewing.

Based on nearly 5,000 messages received this weekend, the coalition identified certain areas of the country where tempers are rising.

Those areas are in the west and north, pretty far away from Nairobi and not near any popular tourist areas.

Western and northwestern Kenya are analogous to America’s deep south. Divided ethnically from the rest of Kenya in a similar way that southerners felt disenfranchised from American power centers in the last century, western Kenyans are fearful that their rural, less worldly lifeways will be oppressed by the heavy hand of modern Kenya.

Less educated and less likely to enjoy the benefits of a modern Kenya, people living in places like Kisumu, Kericho up to Eldoret are being ginned up by old leaders like the former President Daniel arap Moi.

Moi, who barely escaped a national tribunal that was going to charge him with a multitude of crimes during his 21-year dictatorship, has been holding NO rallies and focusing on really very small parts of the new constitution that are hot button issues to a less educated electorate.

Abortion and roads, in particular. The new constitution explicitly allows abortion in cases where the mother’s health is in jeopardy (it goes no further; that will be up to subsequent legislatures). And the devolution of power reducing the new President’s powers means that a guy like Moi can’t come in and direct that all new road building be around his home town.

Like at home in America where the real issue (growing health care costs) get subverted by sound-bite absurdities (death panels), Moi is telling his constituents they won’t get any new roads and there will be none to travel to heaven, either.

Ah, democracy by sound-bite.

Uwiano has also identified causes as well. A number of text messages received last weekend identified a little known hate radio broadcast linked to two Members of Parliament, Kiema Kilonzo and Waweru Mburu, both of whom are likely to lose their jobs in a restructured electoral map under the new constitution.

Meanwhile, the government has hired an additional 15,000 national police (who aren’t always themselves the best peacemakers, by the way) and deployed them into areas expecting trouble.

And the U.S. has spent some serious diplomatic capital in this referendum. Vice President Joe Biden was in town last week promoting a “peaceful vote” and the very active U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger has if not crossed the line of neutrality come really close in supporting the YES campaign.

All polling shows the YES will take the day pretty easily. Even the powerful Christian church alliance, which had campaigned for a NO vote, this weekend started to break apart with some very respected clerics coming out full swing for YES.

And notably, the only political leaders supporting the NO vote are those who we now think were responsible for the last round of violence, and who are likely to be prosecuted by the World Court for those crimes. (Education Minister, William Ruto, leads the pack.)

These are powerful men back in their rural constituencies. The fact that Moi is even free is an indication of the power he still wields.

So I doubt this is going to go over as quietly as an election for a Chicago mayor. But I don’t think it will be very disruptive, either.

Bombings in Kampala

Bombings in Kampala

More than 60 people were killed yesterday in two separate bomb attacks in Kampala, a signature Al-Qaeda attack. Curiously, the terrorist organization has not claimed responsibility.

I’ve increasingly written about Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in Somalia, and their increasing power and influence in East Africa. With last week’s peaceful elections in the southern third of Somali known as Somaliland, the Al-Shabaab is consolidating its control of the north-western third outside Mogadishu. Ironically, violence in Somalia is slightly down.

But if the fighting for turf is subsidizing, the fighting for hearts and minds is only growing. The blasts in Kampala, at an Ethiopian bar and the Rugby Sports Club (both packed with guests watching the World Cup), carry all the characteristics of a terrorist organization trying to make a point.

Their point: get out of Somalia.

Uganda and Burundi are the only East African countries that have military forces in Somalia fighting Al-Shabaab. They are a part of a joint UN/African Union force that is doing poorly and has suffered numerous casualties for peace-keepers. The Uganda media is becoming increasingly hostile with the government’s war effort, there.

So all the pointers suggest a premeditated, coordinated attack by Al-Shabaab to get East African forces out of Mogadishu.

Why, then, have they not taken full responsibility?

(1) The nature of terrorism is such that Al-Shabaab may have planted agents in Uganda but without fully knowing their plans. They may simply be waiting for their own confirmation.

(2) The President of Uganda, Yoweri Museveni, is standing for re-election later this year. He has become increasingly authoritarian and has been imprisoning a number of opponents. The biggest attack was at the Rugby Club, frequented almost exclusively by educated and many dissident Ugandans. Regardless of who actually did it, will most certainly quiet to some extent Museveni’s public critics.

(3) Shortly the southern Sudan will be voting for independence from the Republic of Sudan, and the situation just north of Uganda is growing tense. Uganda has been an advocate for southern Sudanese independence. (Uganda President) Museveni has told the Republic of Sudan that if its president comes to Kampala next month for the Organization of African Unity (OAU) meeting, he’ll be arrested. (There is an international warrant on Omar al Bashir for war crimes in Darfur.) Sudan harbors Al-Shabaab.

The horror of what has happened suggests some absurdity in focusing on the perpetrators, but we have been fairly fortunate in the last several years in East Africa to not have suffered these incidents. With some clarity in the days ahead, we may have a clearer understanding if anything new is developing.

Right now, I don’t think so. The evidence is pointing to Al-Shabaab, specifically against Uganda for its soldiers in Somalia, a mission that because of its low international interest has attracted less international security. Thus, more easily accomplished.

Kenya ‘Gets it’ too

Kenya ‘Gets it’ too

Nairobi demonstrators aroused by al-Faisal.
The Times Square Bomber says his radical Muslim cleric “gets it.” So does Kenya.

NPR reported this morning that Faisal Shahzad, the Times Square bomber, attributed his radicalization to Abdullah Al-Faisal, a convicted felon in the UK who Kenya recently deported to Jamaica.

I wrote earlier about the Al-Faisal controversy in Kenya and how Kenya stood alone among dozens of African countries by arresting then deporting Al-Faisal, who had fled into Africa to preach radical jihad.

Apparently, Al-Faisal made the gross mistake of trying to sneak into Kenya (the only easy way to get to Somalia, his obvious destination). A score of other African countries through which Al-Faisal passed did nothing, despite warrants for the man’s arrest and requests by Interpol to question him.

In fact he had become something of a celebrity in South Africa, where he was received widespread public attention and even some support from the South African government.

But the moment al-Faisal stepped into Kenya, he was arrested.

Today the leaked investigative report that NPR aired shows not just the power of internet clerics, but the obvious side of the so-called War on Terror embraced by Kenya.

How dirty is Dar?

How dirty is Dar?

Uncollected garbage outside a "fashion center" in downtown Dar.
Uncollected garbage outside a fashion center in downtown Dar.
Photo by Tanzania's ThisDay.
Africa was agog today with reports that Dar-es-Salaam was the 8th dirtiest city in the world. But are these reports accurate?

No! No! Let me come to the needed rescue of Dar: It is NOT the world’s 8th dirtiest city; it is, in fact, the world’s 12th dirtiest city!

Mercer Health & Sanitation’s Index rated Dar at 40.4. Only three other cities in Africa were rated worse than Dar: Ndjemna (Chad) at #11, Brazzaville (Congo) at #10, and Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) at #6.

No other East African cities came in the top 25, although Nairobi fell into the top 35.

(Multiple African news reports cited a “NYC Consulting Firm” rating of #8 for Dar, but there doesn’t seem to exist an “NYC Consulting Firm.” That list of the world’s dirtiest cities is close to the real Mercer ratings, but not exact.)

Dar is not denying the criticism.

“It is true and I accept that the city of Dar es Salaam is dirty,” Dar es Salaam Regional Commissioner William Lukuvi told This Day an on-line Tanzanian news source. And that’s good, of course.

Dar is the fastest growing city in East Africa. No one is sure about its size, and it’s probably not as big as Nairobi, but closing the gap quickly. It also lacks Nairobi’s sprawling slums, which in an unusual way contributes to the lower Mercer rating.

Nairobi slums have been around for a long time and many NGOs have worked at them, as has the central government. Sewage, bad water, and the diseases that spread as a result, are the main reasons for Mercer’s list of the worst cities. And ironically, the decade and longer attention to the Nairobi slums has actually mitigated what would otherwise be an uncontrollable catastrophe.

Don’t get me wrong. The Nairobi slums are terrible, but the makeshift gullies cut by NGOs and the government does drain human sewage, the main cause of cholera. Last year there was more cholera in Dar than Nairobi.

Dar’s problem is that it is far behind Nairobi in sewage treatment and waste disposal. This is probably because Dar is on the ocean, and it has been common practice to just dump waste into the sea. The practice is now haunting the city, because unlike Nairobi, it has no well-organized sewage disposal.

Dar’s other problem is corruption. Dar’s three municipalities each contract private companies for garbage disposal, but don’t pay them. Instead, they allow the private companies to collect levies however they wish, a completely haphazard and terribly corrupt system.

To his credit, Lukuvi knows this.

“The present system is messed up. You can’t have a contracted company collect garbage and levies at the same time. The municipalities will henceforth be responsible for collecting the levies and paying the companies that are contracted to collect the garbage,” Lukuvi told This Day.

The annual Mercer ratings are important. They corroborate the United Nation’s warning that the greatest threat to the developed world is the lack of clean water.

Of Mercer’s 25 worst cities, 20 are because of a lack of clean water. Only 5 are because of air pollution.

Is Kenya Safe?

Is Kenya Safe?

Safer to be in than Tanzania or Uganda, according to the UN.

The U.N.’s announcement this week that Kenya is now safer for its employees than Tanzania or Uganda sheds new light on how travelers should view government travel warnings.

Not much has changed in the last year in world governments’ advice to their citizens heading on safari. The U.S. and Britain retain a travel warning against Kenya, Canada doesn’t, and Canada and Britain retain a travel warning on Uganda, and the U.S. does not.

The U.S.’ lack of warning on Uganda is political. Ever since Bill Clinton invested so much time and money in Uganda, and more recently when so many U.S. politicians got mired in Uganda’s sticky politics, the U.S. has misrepresented that country’s safety for travelers.

I think Uganda is safe to visit, if you know what you’re doing. As I do for Kenya and Tanzania. But traveling to East Africa for a safari is not as safe as traveling to Branson, Missouri, for a music festival, or to the Loire Valley for wine tasting, and it’s perfectly right of governments to try to explain these distinctions.

After years of trying to figure out these admonitions from a variety of western governments, after years of parsing which are political and which are truly advisory, I think at last there may be a better guide for potential travelers than any government’s specific recommendations.

The United Nations has tens of thousands of employees stationed all over the world. The level of pay – like our own military and foreign service – is determined to a certain extent by how dangerous the UN believes these postings are.

But the UN goes beyond analyzing simple threats to personal safety. It analyzes how easy communication is, what diseases are locally threatening, how likely power interruptions occur, how smoothly complaints and infractions of local law are handled by local authorities, how complete public services are… it even analyzes how enjoyable are local cinemas and theaters, how well stocked is the local grocery store, and how the climate might effect foreigners not used to it. And much more.

It goes on and on, because what the UN realizes is that the “safety” of a foreigner in a foreign place is a “well-being” issue that extends far beyond whether or not al-Qaeda is trying to get you.

And so the UN puts all the countries in the world into 5 categories: A, B, C, D or E.

Get a posting to a country with an “E” rating and you’re going to be paid a lot to maybe get killed. Get a posting to a country with an “A” rating and you’re going to be paid a lot less but will live to spend it all.

Better yet, the UN may divide a country’s rating depending upon what city you’re visiting.

Last week the UN moved Nairobi and Mombasa (Kenya) up from C to B. It kept Arusha and Dar-es-Salaam (Tanzania) and Kampala (Uganda) at C.

That’s exactly how I feel.

C is OK, if you know what you’re doing and how to do it. B takes a little bit less care.

Of the 141 countries in the world that the UN has a permanent presence:
49 are A,
37 are B,
27 are C,
21 are D,
and 7 are E.

Of those 46 are in sub-Sahara Africa:
6 are A,
9 are B,
14 are C,
13 are D,
and 4 are E.

As I’ve said time and again, nobody going on vacation wants to research the safety of where they’re headed. But also as I’ve repeatedly explained, a safari isn’t a “vacation.”

There’s little R&R on safari. A safari traveler is a student, and that’s a wonderful thing. She’s an explorer, lusting for the new and unknown. He doesn’t want a quiet beach in the Carolinas.

So there’s a risk in this, however slight. It takes some guts to want to become smarter, to educate yourself about parts of the world that are foreign to you.

But that doesn’t mean you put yourself in danger. So how best to determine this threshold?

Go first to the UN list. Don’t go if it’s a D or E. If it’s C, then read the detailed travel advisories from your country and others to help you determine if you consider it safe. If Britain, Canada and the U.S. all agree, I think you can take that as a pretty unbiased analysis.

But if they don’t agree, as they don’t in East Africa, it gets a bit tougher. You have to figure out why they don’t agree, and decide who is better to trust.

(Important qualifier: my simple list above is for only the capitals of those countries. Kenya, for instance, gets an “E” for the town of Garissa, which is near the Somali border. So you also need to research your travel by city, beyond the simple capital references given above.)

And finally, I’ll leave you with this travel admonition recently given to travelers from abroad who are considering visiting the United States:

“There is a general threat from terrorism in the United States. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travelers. The US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has designated the terror alert status of “orange”, or high, for all international and domestic flights in the USA.”

The above admonition comes from Her Majesty’s government of Great Britain.

It’s peaceful in Kenyan prisons

It’s peaceful in Kenyan prisons

Friday's Daily Nation cartoon.  The black briefcase carries the name of Kenya's immigration minister.
Friday's Daily Nation cartoon.
The black briefcase carries the name of Kenya's immigration minister.
Today was supposed to be explosive in Kenya as Muslim activitists took to the street. They can’t. They’re mostly behind bars.

Over the last three days Kenyan authorities have arrested up to 2,000 Muslims across the country, most of them jailed for being “illegal immigrants.”

The crackdown followed last Friday’s riots in Nairobi, provoked (according to the government) by Muslim militants backed by al-Qaeda in Somalia (al-Shabaab). The demonstrators were demanding the release of cleric Abdullah al-Faisal, who the government has been trying to deport.

And further government embarrassment, yesterday: After weeks of trying to get commercial airlines to take Faisal out of the country, the government chartered its own Gulfstream jet wihch broke down on the runway before take-off.

As far as we know, Faisal is still in the country. And activist Muslims are still in jail.

By early afternoon today in Kenya all was calm.

Friday during prayers Muslim leaders around the country told their faithful to avoid further demonstrations. A statement read in thousands of mosques from the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims condemned the police action but called on all Muslims — particularly infuriated youth — to stay at home, today.

Click here for the full statement as reprinted by Kenya’s FM Capital radio.

Officially the government claims that 1200 “illegal immigrants” have been detained. Unofficially, police put the number closer to 2000. Around 400 have already appeared in court.

Among those known detained are refugees from Somali, including two army generals and 11 Members of Parliament that had fled the growing military success of the al-Shabaab militia.

This is not good.

Many of the Somali refugees in Kenya are not radical; in fact, just the opposite. They’ve fled the fighting there because they are targets of the radicals. In all likelihood, they were moderating influences among Kenya’s Muslim community.

Thursday, a widely circulated internet site claiming to be al-Shabaab posted videos of militant jihadists shouting, “God willing we will arrive in Nairobi, we will enter Nairobi, God willing we will enter … when we arrive we will hit, hit until we kill, weapons we have, praise be to God, they are enough.”

But in a telephone interview with Reuters, today, al-Shabaab spokesman, Sheikh Ali Mohamud Rage denied the site was authentic and said the organization had nothing to do with last Friday’s riots in Kenya.

Now, what? And can anybody get that plane off the ground?

Nairobi Normal

Nairobi Normal

Nairobi is back to normal after a confusing afternoon of city rioting that proved less serious than first reported throughout the world.

Because the march by about 50 young Muslim youths following Friday prayers at Nairobi’s main mosque was a surprise, news reporters were not on the scene. Virtually all of the reporting came after the shots had been fired that killed between one and five people, possibly including one policeman.

Police were on the scene, and that’s the odd part of the story. Reporters usually follow police. But in this case neither local journalists or Nairobi’s most prominent foreign journalists (the BBC and Reuters) were there.

I was unable to find anyone I know who was there, so the best I can do is piece together what seems most reasonable from widely different reporting:

Wednesday following continued difficulties in getting the unwanted radical Muslim cleric Abdullah Al-Faisal deported from the country, the Muslim Human Rights Forum of Kenya announced that following Friday prayers at Nairobi’s main mosque there would be a parade of supporters across the middle of downtown Nairobi to the President’s Office to deliver a petition demanding the release of the controversial sheikh.

They asked for a permit to march from the police and were denied the permit. They did not – as has happened in the past with contentious groups – then announce the march would go on, anyway.

So a relatively small contingent of police positioned themselves in the parking lane off the main Kenyatta boulevard that cuts into the city from the big airport highway. I don’t know how small, but photographs by Capital FM’s radio station show only a single police van.

When the “small” group of marches left the mosque, which is one block south of the city market and one block east of where the police van was, the police tried to stop them. But there were too few police, so the police retreated and started firing teargas.

Demonstrators temporarily returned to the mosque, where the police followed and then surrounded with increasing numbers arriving from other parts of the city. And large numbers of anti-demonstrators began converging on the scene, especially from the City Market.

The second surge from the mosque was much larger, and this time included more prominently displayed placards and including one black flag reportedly representing Al-Shabaab, which is Al-Qaeda in Somalia and the organization with which Faisal is linked. Several marchers in the lead wore military fatigues and covered their heads with black masks, typical of jihadists.

Police retreated, again, and in the mayhem which ensued shots were fired. Police have not contended that the protestors had guns, so this would mean they shot one of their own.

Before the protestors got one block onto Kenyatta street, the now larger group of anti-demonstrators began attacking the demonstrators with knives and anything they could find lying around in the street. The battle between demonstrators and anti-demonstrators went on through the city for several hours as shops and businesses began to close up. Police had lost entire control of the battle.

One Nairobi newspaper claims that Muslim leaders from the mosque joined police in trying to quell the situation, but were unsuccessful. The Standard reported that several hours into the battle the police simply “became spectators” unable to stop the two factions from fighting.

The first march from the mosque was just after 1:30p. By 4 p.m. most of the fighting had subsided, the city center was a ghost town, and the police and shut off all access into and out of the city center. By 7 p.m. the streets were quiet but deserted, not entirely unusual for a Friday night. (Most of the entertainment areas are outside the city center.)

Kenya National Human Right Commission Vice-Chairman Hassan Omar said, “It was a simple demonstration which has turned ugly because police failed to control the crowd letting hooligans to take lead in the protest.”

Muslim groups claim that five people died and more than 20 were wounded. Police say that only two people died, and that one policeman was seriously wounded with a shot to the neck.

The Standard newspaper says that four people died; the Daily Nation says that one person died, Jeffrey Gettleman of the New York Times reported that three people had died, and the BBC reported that five people had died.

So far, the only person named dead is Ahmed Hassan Abdullahi, 25.

Nairobi Riots over Al-Faisal

Nairobi Riots over Al-Faisal

From Aljazeera -- some of the best reporting.
From Aljazeera -- some of the best reporting.

As night fell on Nairobi, Friday, the streets were quiet and five people were confirmed dead.

Below is an edited report from the BBC, but let me first complain bitterly about the NPR report. I love NPR but they continually get Africa wrong. Alone among such giants as the BBC, Reuters and Aljazeera, NPR failed to report that much of the riot was caused when Nairobi citizens started throwing stones against the Muslim demonstrators.

It seems that the police may have then sided with the much larger anti-demonstration crowd and over-reacted. But this would be typical in Nairobi. I remember during the August, 1998, bombing of the embassy. The first public action by Nairobi citizens was to burn the city mosque.

See my earlier blogs this week and last about Al-Faisal, terrorism, etc. Here are excerpts from the BBC:

At least five people have died after Kenyan police opened fire at supporters of a Jamaican-born Muslim cleric notorious for preaching racial hatred.

Faisal is in detention in Nairobi after Kenya failed to deport him.

Kenya wants to expel him citing his “terrorist history”. He was jailed for four years in the UK for soliciting the murder of Jews and Hindus.

Muslim youths began the protest match after Friday prayers at the Jamia Mosque in the centre of Kenya’s capital, Nairobi.

They wanted to present a petition to Immigration Minister Otieno Kajwang and Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s office.

But police had banned the march and intervened.

One banner read: “Release al-Faisal, he is innocent”, reports the AFP news agency.

Some reports suggest that the protesters were waving flags of Somali Islamist group al-Shabab.

Reuters news agency reports that some people joined the security forces in attacking the protesters.