Monday, February 23, 2009



By Ng'ang'a Mbugua
February 22 2009

Once, when Kenyatta was President, I heard it said that Ugandan soldiers attacked a border post with Kenya. According to this legend, Kenyatta ordered that soldiers be given police uniforms. Those were the days police wore khaki.

Dressed as police, the soldiers were quickly deployed to the troubled border post and fought the Uganda army, winning the encounter that must have put paid to Dictator Idi Amin’s imperialist plans.

At the time, Amin, who was trained as a soldier at the Lanet Barracks in Nakuru, 80km west of the capital Nairobi, used to claim that Uganda’s border with Kenya was at Naivasha. If he had won that battle, last-year’s post election violence would have rocked Uganda, not Kenya. Unfortunately, his soldiers were thoroughly humiliated, so goes the story.

After the victory, Kenyatta bragged that if “mere policemen” could humiliate the Ugandan army so, how much greater damage would proper soldiers inflict on “the Jewel of the Crown”?

But those were the good old days — when men were men. Now, Ugandan forces have invaded a small island in Kenya’s part of Lake Victoria. To tell the truth, not much has been said about the importance of Migingo island or whether that piece of earth — once described by a journalist as nothing but a rock — is worth fighting for. All that has been said is that the water around the island is rich with Nile Perch.

Considering that Kenya has the smallest of the Lake Victoria portions in East Africa, then the island gains in significance. It will be remembered that the average income earned from fish exports in the last two years has been about Sh6 billion a year.

Anyway, the island might be important economically, but the fact that Kenyan forces have allowed an occupying force to take over its island without firing a single bullet sets a bad precedent. It means that Sudan, Tanzania, Ethiopia or Somalia could decide to annex a part of Kenya — and get away with it.

I have not been to Migingo, but from Daily Nation reports, there are about 1,000 Kenyans living on the island. Many of them fled over the weekend following tension after Kenyan Administration Police officers were detained by Ugandan soldiers.

According to our reporters, the APs were detained because they had brought down the Ugandan flag and hoisted Kenya’s in its place. It is entirely possible that this is not the first island that Uganda has taken from Kenya.

In fact, if my memory serves me well, there was a time in 2007 when Uganda forces were accused of moving the beacons on some parts of the Kenyan border. What’s more, they even attacked Kenyan pastoralists, killing scores of people with bombs.

To Kenya’s credit then, it sent its soldiers there and they did a commendable job. Instead of bombing Ugandan territory, they dug wells, arguing that the cause of the conflict was the herders’ search for water. I considered that a brilliant thing to do as it went to the heart of the problem instead of addressing the symptom.

However, there comes a time, as Internal Security minister George Saitoti once said, when the nation is more important than an individual.

And that time has come for the Kenyan military to show that the principle of sovereignty is more important that President Museveni’s expansionist dreams. We know that he is keen to be the president of East Africa. The capture of Migingo shows he wants to do it an island at a time.

Considering that Kenya’s military has just imported 33 T72 battle tanks from Ukraine and wrested them from the hands of pirates, it now has an opportunity to demonstrate its might by shipping one of this to the island of Migingo just to show its teeth even if it does not bite.

On the other hand, it is entirely possible that the military has googled up the island and found that it is actually the property of Uganda. In which case, it should advise its commander-in-chief to make public this information and put to rest the fears of those who, like me, are wondering what our military is doing to stop the invasion of a Kenyan island by an occupying force.



Dear Mr Cecil Miller,

For a moment there, I thought that you were going to become the chairman of the new electoral commission. On behalf of my fellow journalists, I must apologise to you and the public if we created the impression that you had already won the job.

Little did we know that Parliament — and especially one nominated MP by the name of Milly Odhiambo — had other plans for you. I am told that MPs are not the only people who had other plans about who they wanted to chair the electoral body.

Even some of your learned friends had started asking questions. Too bad I never heard any of those questions, since I am not an officer of the court.

But never mind. What has happened to you shows that Kenya has become like America. Some candidates for public office have to be vetted by Parliament before they can be appointed by the President. You happened to be the first casualty.

Maybe, just maybe, another person will be proposed for the job tomorrow. He may not be as young as you are; he may not have a vision like yours but if he satisfies the nebulous criteria set by Parliament, he will be the man whose unenviable job it will be to register new voters, set up a new electoral team and convince IDPs to vote again at the risk of being killed or ejected from their homes again.

By the way, is it not a curious thing that you, Mr Miller, were rejected by Parliament on the week that debate about briefcase millers had caused such a storm in the House?

And then, when it was time for the MPs to vote, one Cecily, happened to have just walked out of Parliament, resulting in a tie that denied you a job? Not to worry though, Mr Miller. Let’s see who will get the thankless job, and we can keep our fingers crossed for her. She will need all the luck she can get.


Why tree cutting campaign deserves praise

Mr John Michuki has always been a man after my own heart. In fact, I still believe that he is the best president that Kenya will never have.

Only recently, he ordered farmers in his Kangema constituency in Murang’a to cut down eucalyptus trees from river banks, arguing that the species — imported from South Africa — was to blame for the drying up of rivers and wetlands in that area. I am told that rivers have been filling up again since Mr Michuki gave the order.

I must confess that I was among those mesmerised by the idea of planting the trees on the grounds that the Kenya Power and Lighting Company — which had embarked on a massive campaign to light up rural areas — was buying the posts at a handsome price.

Avoiding disaster

However, I have changed my position, because I believe that conserving Kenya’s water sources is more important than providing electricity posts. And this is the gospel that Mr Michuki has been preaching.

It has been said many times, but it bears repeating. If Kenya is to avoid an environmental disaster, it must urgently outlaw this species of eucalyptus trees. Otherwise, by 2030, we will have well lit villages whose rivers long dried up.

While on the subject of electricity, I have been reliably informed that street lights in Kileleshwa, Lavington and Riverside in Nairobi are always on during the day.

This means that the city council is wasting millions of shillings every month, not to mention precious electricity considering that rivers that sustain Nairobi are drying up and it is only a matter of time before electricity — like water — is rationed in “the regional economic hub”.