Friday, January 23, 2009

Meet Cadillac One

Monday, January 19, 2009

The pride of a people: Barack Obama, the Luo


On Tuesday, a “Luo” individual will become the most powerful man in the world. A Luo? Of course. Why else would Kenya’s lakeland community which goes by that name be so electrified by Barack Obama’s impending anointment as the commander-in-chief of the world’s only superpower?

Yet the question is stark: Is Obama a Luo? To answer “yes” or “no”, one would first have to define a Luo. There are at least two possibilities. There is, first, what the Luo themselves may imagine as their blood heritage. There is, secondly, what Paul Mboya called Luo Kitgi Gi Timbegi, a book in Dholuo which describes the character and customs of “Jokowiny”. For the character and customs of a tribal community need not coincide with its blood composition.

Language and culture
We should stress the term ‘‘Jokowiny’’ because, although it is almost forgotten now, that is the correct name of the Luo of Kenya and Tanzania, a people whose language and culture are almost uniform from the Luhya border to Tanzania’s Mara. The attitude by Jokowiny that we are the Luo alienates many pedigree Luo communities, such as the Padhola, Lang’o, Kumam, Acholi and Karamojong of Uganda, the Alur of Congo, and the Nuer, Anuak Nuer, Dinka and Shilluk of the Sudan.

Indeed, the Sudanese and northern Ugandan Luo are more genuinely Luo than we because they are less removed from the original home of dispersal and, therefore, less influenced by non-Nilotic elements. But yes, by a certain definition, the 44th President of the United States is JAKOWINYJAKOWINY (with an “A”) being the singular form of JOKOWINY (with an “O”). It means “descendant of Owiny”.

Owiny was a brother of Adhola, the eponymous ancestor of Uganda’s Jopadhola. The PA in “JOPADHOLA” and in other Ugandan and Sudanese Luo languages is their equivalent of KA among Jokowiny (and means “of”, or “offspring of” or “homestead of”). The celebrated name OKOT P’BITEK is really “Okot PA Bitek” (“Okot of Bitek” or “Okot son of Bitek”). In both pronunciation and writing, the “a” in PA and KA is usually dropped when the next word begins with a vowel. That is why we say JAKOWINY, and not JA-KA-OWINY.

The PA in Padhola means the same thing as the KA in such Kowiny place names as KARACHUONYO (“home of Rachuonyo”), KAMAGAMBO (“land of Magambo”) and KANYIDOTO (“where the daughters of Doto are married”). The word element KA was common to all Nilotes, including the ancient Egyptians. The word “EGYPT” itself is only a European corruption of HEKAPTAH (“home of the god Ptah”). The KAPTAH part of HEKAPTAH is what has come down to us as “COPT”.

The same word appears in such place-names among the Kalenjin – a Nilotic people – as Kabartonjo (“land of Bartonjo”), Kabianga (“dwelling place of Bianga”) and Kabarnet (“Barnet’s base” – named after a colonial Anglo-Saxon missionary). For the Luo belong to the culturo-linguistic super-community that anthropologists call Nilotic or Nilo-Saharan – which includes the Maasai, Kalenjin and Teso – and who now spread from Tanzania to Egypt and from Ethiopia and Eritrea to Darfur and Nigeria.

Barack Obama Senior belonged to KOGELO (“homestead of Ogelo”). He was Jakogelo (“offspring of Ogelo’s home”). Jokogelo (“people of Ogelo”) are a clan of the Alego. That is significant.

In his book History of the Southern Luo, B.A. Ogot – the eminent Luo historian – suggests that the Alego (and the professor’s own Gem people) are the quintessence of Jokowiny. They were the first to arrive in what is now Kenya. Adhola and Owiny were leaders of an advance detachment of the Luo as they drifted along the Nile – fish being their staple. On hitting Lake Victoria, they exchanged words, and Owiny was forced to move ahead.

It was after wandering through what are now Manyala, Samia, Imbo and Sakwa – driving the autochthonous Luhya (a Bantu cluster) from their homes – that Owiny and his followers finally settled in what we now call Alego. It was from Alego that Jokowiny spread out, northwards to Gem and Ugenya, eastwards to Seme, Kisumu and Winam and southwards to Asembo, Uyoma and across the string of water – Nyanza Gulf — which intrudes into and divides Kowiny-land into two parts.

Yet it is appropriate that the term “Jokowiny” is now in disuse, except among Adhola’s people. They retain in folk memory the bitter quarrel that forced their brother Owiny eastwards. So they know all the Luo to the east of them as Jokowiny.

Completely swallowed
But since then other Luo and even non-Luo branches have arrived to commingle with Jokowiny. Among these are my own group – Abasuba – who, although completely swallowed by the Luo, were originally not even Nilo-Saharan, but a composite of Bantu refugees, mostly from Buganda.

A culturally imperious community, its ethnic arrogance has been heightened manifold by the colonially created ethnic rivalry that characterises Kenya’s politics. But I repeat that the arrogance cannot be explained by any “ethnic purity”. The Kenya Luo are so influenced by other communities that they are a mind-boggling heterogeneity of blood, culture and language. One reason is that they adopted exogamy (the taking of wives from other tribes) very early in their Southward Ho. They shared with the ancient Hellenes the habit of waylaying foreign women and literally pulling them into bed as wives. So for Senior to grab wives from as far away as Hawaii and Massachusetts – and Caucasian ones to boot – was no big deal. Given time, he might even have grabbed an Afghan, a Cherokee, an Eskimo, a Fijian, an Iraqi, a Lithuanian, a Mongolian, a Pole, a Shona, a Vietnamese, a Wolof, a Yoruba and a Zaramo – not to mention hundreds from Luoland, apart from Kezia.

The Luo would have noted his “he-man-ship” with complete approval. That is what makes them such a “bloody” heterogeneity. But that, too, is why, in their view, Senior’s son, the 44th President of the United States, cannot be anything but a Luo.

They are fiercely patriarchal, thus the offspring belong strictly to the father’s tribe, clan or what the Luo call THUR and DHOOT. THUR refers to the ridge that rises between two streams and is often identified with a clan. DHOOT (the two “o”s pronounced separately) is the word for “door”. It literally means “mouth of the house” – from DHOK, “mouth”, and OT, “house”. The “mouth” element can be seen also in the term DHOLUO, the name of Jokowiny’s language, literally: “mouth of the Luo”. Jokowiny assume that people speak with their mouths. But not all Luo communities think so. The Acholi know their language as LEPLUO (“tongue of the Luo”). However, used away from real doors, the word DHOOT refers to the immediate genealogical “house”, namely, the gentile clan.

Person of my house
All Nilotes had the habit of calling a spouse a “house”. In polite society, a Luo speaks of JAODA (“my wife” or “my husband”), a word which translates literally as “person of my house”. When, in Genesis, Joseph says he has found favour in “Pharaoh’s house”, he is resorting to the Nilotic euphemism for “wife”, here the queen.

Barack Obama is 50 per cent Caucasian, but as far as the Luo are concerned, only a Luo is capable of deeds as heroic as Barack’s. In tradition, the Luo divided humanity into three categories – Joluo (the noblest), Jolang’o and Jomwa. The rest of mankind were Mwa, worse than useless. But, of course, a shameless Mwa people called Britons punctured gaping holes into this bloated arrogance just by hurling a magical spear known as the gun.

Nevertheless, because he has done those deeds a whole continent away from Luoland, Barack outshines Adhola, Aeneas, Ausonius, Cadmus, Cain, Danaos, Delphos, Hesy, Imhotep, Luanda Magere, Gor Mahia, Tom Mboya, Memnon, Menes, Nyikang’o, Jaramogi Odinga, Owiny and Pelasgus among other Nilotic heroes. In short, his mother does not enter into the equation, even though she contributed 50 per cent of his biological make-up and almost 100 per cent of his cultural upbringing. As far as the Luo are concerned, Barack Obama is 200 per cent Luo.

That is the point you miss by dismissing Barack Obama as a mere American who will not give priority to Kenya, Luoland and Nyangoma-Kogelo. A people does not live by bread alone. By pulling off a feat like that and boosting their pride to the utmost, Barack has already delivered.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Bush administration finally admits to torture

A senior Bush administration official has declared that the US military did indeeed torture a detainee held at Guantanamo.

The official is the retired military judge Susan Crawford, and she is in charge of deciding who stands trial at the detention centre. She says the abusive treatment of Saudi national Mohammed al-Qahtani left him in a "life-threatening" condition. "We tortured Qahtani,"she said.

Her comment is at odds with repeated denials from US President George W. Bush. He has said the US does not torture. "This Government does not torture people," has been his constant refrain. "I want to be absolutely clear with our people and the world. The United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values. I have not authorised it and I will not authorise it."

But now in an explosive interview with the Washington Post, Susan Crawford, one of the key administration officials responsible for dealing with the detainees, single-handedly demolishes this argument. "We tortured Mohammed al-Qahtani," she told reporter Bob Woodward. "His treatment met the legal definition of torture."

That treatment included sustained isolation, sleep deprivation and prolonged exposure to cold. Qahtani was one of six men charged by the military in February 2008 with murder and war crimes for their alleged roles in the 2001 attacks. But in May, Crawford decided to dismiss the charges against Qahtani, who was being held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

A military report has previously revealed Qahtani was forced to wear a woman's bra and had women's underwear placed on his head during the course of his interrogation, which took place over 50 days from late 2002 to early 2003. The military has also admitted Qahtani was tied to a leash and forced to perform a series of dog tricks. The treatment of the man who was allegedly planning to take part in the September 11 terrorist attacks was so intense that he was twice hospitalised in a life-threatening condition.

Susan Crawford, a retired judge who has been the convening authority for the Guantanamo military commissions for the last two years, says the treatment was abusive and uncalled for. It is why she dismissed war crimes charges against him in May last year. The evidence gained from the interrogations is not admissible. Ms Crawford says that while she sympathises with intelligence gatherers in the days after September 11, there still has to be a line the US should not cross.

Sahr Muhammed Ally of the New York based group Human Rights First says she's surprised it's taken so long to get this sort of admission. "Well, I think it's pretty amazing that in the last few days of the Bush administration, a top official is acknowledging that the US military has engaged in torture."

A spokesman for the Pentagon says the interrogation techniques used on Qahtani were authorised by the former Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. He says while some of the aggressive questioning techniques used on the detainee were permissible at the time, they are no longer allowed.

Monday, January 12, 2009

"Slumdog" sweeps to Golden Globe victory

BEVERLY HILLS - Low-budget movies blew their major studio rivals at the Golden Globe Awards on Sunday as romance "Slumdog Millionaire" won a leading four honors, including best drama, to give it a push in the race for Oscars.

"Slumdog", which tells of a young Indian man looking for love and competing for money on a television game show, also earned awards for director Danny Boyle, screenwriter Simon Beaufoy and composer A. R. Rahman for best musical score. Boyle thanked the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which gives out the Golden Globe Awards, for supporting his movie that captures the frenetic pace of life in Mumbai. "Your mad, pulsating affection for our film is much appreciated, really deeply appreciated," Boyle said. "The film was made from the heart, really. We never expected to be here."

In other major honors, director Woody Allen's "Vicky Cristina Barcelona" was named best film musical or comedy but Allen was not on hand to accept the award.
A big surprise of the night came when Kate Winslet grabbed two Golden Globes, only the third time in the history of the awards that one performer has won two acting awards. She claimed the trophy for best actress in a drama for her role as a frustrated housewife in "Revolutionary Road" and the second for best supporting actress for playing a German woman with a hidden past in The Reader. "It's just unbelievable, absolutely unbelievable. It's not supposed to happen," Winslet said backstage about her wins.
Comeback kid Mickey Rourke, whose career had fallen on hard times, won best actor in a film drama with The Wrestler. "It's been a very long road back for me," Rourke said.

The Golden Globe Awards are given out by some 90 members of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association and are closely watched for clues as to which films might vie for Oscars, the world's top movie awards, which are given in February by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

While major studio films The Curious Case of Benjamin Button and Frost/Nixon certainly will compete for Oscars, Slumdog pushed past its two key rivals at the Golden Globes. Vicky Cristina Barcelona and Revolutionary Road also came from independent distributors and companies operating in the market for independent movies.
Likewise, Colin Farrell took home the Golden Globe for best actor in a musical or comedy with his role as a hitman in In Bruges. Sally Hawkins was best actress in the same group for her work as an optimistic teacher in Happy-Go-Lucky. Again, they were two movies made for art-house theaters.

One major studio release to walk away with a key film award was The Dark Knight, which earned Heath Ledger, who died of an accidental drug overdose last year, a posthumous Golden Globe for best supporting actor in his role as the villainous Joker. His trophy was accepted by Dark Knight director Christopher Nolan, who said the loss of Ledger was like "a hole ripped in modern cinema." "All of us who worked with Heath accept this with an awful mixture of sadness but incredible pride," Nolan said. "He will be eternally missed but he will never be forgotten."

Wall-E, which was a huge summer hit with $523 million at global box offices, took home best animated film, and Israel's Waltz With Bashir was named best foreign language film. Rocker Bruce Springsteen won a Golden Globe award for best original song with The Wrestler.

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association also gives out awards in television categories, where Mad Men, about Madison Avenue advertising executives, was named best drama program and 30 Rock claimed the Golden Globe for best TV comedy.

30 Rock, a show that spoofs the making of TV shows, also claimed Golden Globe trophies for its stars Tina Fey and Alec Baldwin as best actor and actress, respectively, in a comedy. Gabriel Byrne was named best actor in a TV drama for his role as a therapist in In Treatment, and Anna Paquin won best actress playing a waitress in vampire drama True Blood.

Bush apologizes: The farewell interview we wish he'd give

Despite a financial crisis for the ages, the catastrophic collapse of a Republican Party crippled by his political legacy, and the highest presidential disapproval rating in the history of American polling, outgoing commander in chief George W. Bush has not completely lost his sense of fun. When Siasa Duni caught up with him at the White House shortly after the holidays for what would turn out to be his final extended sit-down interview as president, the graying but still quite fit Texan had just finished his morning exercycle session in an eagle-emblazoned sweatsuit and was fiddling with a new toy.

"They call it a Wii, or a Mee, or something," Bush tells me, smiling as he waves a wandlike plastic device in front of a 54-inch plasma TV in the Treaty Room, a large, brightly lit chamber on the second floor of the Executive Residence that traditionally functions as the president's private study. The president is playing a friendly game of Major League Baseball — the Boston Red Sox against his cherished Texas Rangers — and a computer-rendered Daisuke Matsuzaka drills a hard slider right past him, down and in.

"Huh," says the president. "Might have to choke up a little."

Although now used as a game room, the Treaty Room still has a classic feel, with a century-old painting by Theobald Chartran depicting the signing of the peace treaty after the Spanish-American War, and a magnificent mahogany "treaty table" first used by Ulysses S. Grant. A bookshelf on the north wall displays standard-issue Americana such as Poor Richard's Almanack, but it also contains former swimsuit model Kathy Ireland's Powerful Inspirations: Eight Lessons That Will Change Your Life ("There's a lot of good life stuff in there, a lot of stuff about patience," the president says) and a well-worn copy of 101 Dumb Dog Deaths ("Makes me laugh every time, especially the one about cow-tipping").

Matsuzaka delivers again, but the president looks fastball when the pitch is a change. "Damn it!" he shouts, bouncing the Wii wand off an antique globe in the corner. "Goddamn motherfucking shit!" After collecting himself, he takes a seat at his desk and leans back in his grand leather easy chair, stirring the ice cubes in a glass of Diet Coke with a finger.

So are we meeting up here because Michelle Obama is measuring the Oval Office windows for drapes?
[Laughs] No. I just like it up here. Plus, people tend to get nervous in the Oval Office. Figured I'd make it a little easier on you by doing this here.

While I was waiting, one of your staffers told me a crazy story about a certain member of your Cabinet breaking wind in the Oval Office. Can you confirm that story?
Well, like I said, people get nervous down there. It's — [laughs] — I can't believe someone told you about that.

But you're leaving office in a couple of weeks. Come on. Throw us a bone. Just think, you finally get to talk about all of these things.
Look, I can't. Besides, it wasn't that big of a — OK, fine. It was Condi!

Condoleezza Rice farted in the Oval Office! When she was the national security adviser?
No, this was when she was State. Just after I appointed her. And it wasn't no little whistler, either. She's a little lady, but she let that baby rip. Nearly blew [White House chief of staff] Andy Card's ears off.

Was this in the middle of something important?
It was January 2005. We were meeting about the first State of the Union speech of my second term. I'm telling everyone about how I wanted to make a major statement about ending tyranny around the world and spreading liberty and freedom, and the so-called pragmatists in the office, especially Cheney, are flinching, telling me I should confine myself to achievable goals. It's a serious moment, and things were getting pretty heated. At one point I turn to Condi and I say, "So, Condi, what do you think?" And she's like, "Mr. President, I think you should — "

And that's when it happened. Ppppllllfft! It sounded like someone had started up a chain saw in there. We have this painting of the Rio Grande by an artist named Tom Lea in the Oval Office, and I swear to you that thing swung three inches sideways. She started looking around all innocent-like, like, "Gosh, who did that?" It was hilarious.

Doesn't she know that cover-ups never work?
That's what Cheney said: "Condi, that's what got Nixon in trouble. You try to hide that shit, it looks 20 times worse." I tell you, it was almost a year before she so much as smiled about that incident.

Let's talk about August 6th, 2001. That's the day you got a memo warning about plans for possible attacks by Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. What were you doing that day?
I'll be honest with you. I was at the ranch, on vacation. I was watching the Hall of Fame game on TV. First NFL preseason game of the year, hate to miss it, you know?

I'm the same way. It doesn't matter what teams are playing, I watch it.
Exactly. It's a long off-season, and you start to miss the game. So I'm watching it — I remember it was Miami and St. Louis. First time I ever saw Marc Bulger. He was just a backup to Warner then. I think he threw a touchdown in the fourth quarter. I thought to myself, "This guy looks pretty solid in the pocket. He might have a future in this league."

That's good foresight right there.
Anyway, it was right around then that they brought me my PDB [Presidential Daily Briefing], and it said something about bin Laden. I mean, we get these warnings about foreign terrorists all the time. How was I supposed to know he was going to attack in the United States?

Well, the memo was titled "Bin Laden Determined to Attack in U.S."
It was?

Yes, sir.
Well, nobody told me that.

But they wrote it to you.
But nobody told me that they wrote it to me.

Who's "they"?
I don't know. Whoever is in the room. Vice President Cheney. Don Rumsfeld. Rove. Sometimes there's some other guys. It kind of rotates.

Do you decide who "they" is?
No, they usually decide who they is. Or at least one of they does. Usually Cheney.

Interesting. What did they tell you they wrote to you about why America needed to invade Iraq?
Sometime in the fall of 2001, pretty soon after 9/11, Rumsfeld and Cheney handed me a piece of paper. I asked them what was in it. Rumsfeld says, "Mr. President, we've just written you a memo explaining that we need to invade Iraq." And I said, "OK. Why?" And Dick says to me, "Because of 9/11, Mr. President." [Silence]

Is that the whole story?
Yeah. Why? ...

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Kenya journalists reap the fruits of sleeping with the enemy

The week before Christmas was again the season for the government of Kenya to have another street fight with its perennial lover, the media. It may even be safe to say that these bouts of violent attacks on the media from time to time are what sustains this marriage.

The two partners seem to cherish a dose of violent confrontation from every so often to add spice to their troubled relationship. If you look at the behavior of the media industry in Kenya, especially the management of big media in relation to political leaders, it will be difficult to see the difference. In fact they have more in common than what sets them apart. That is why it is hypocritical for the media in Kenya to accuse the government of enacting a law that intends to gag the media. To tell you the truth, the media in Kenya has a more suppressive internal self-censorship than what the government is planning. In many media houses, it is difficult to be published if your story is out of step with the company’s official thinking, no matter how weird that thinking is.

Coming back to our violent story of the week that started with the passing of the Media Bill considered hostile to Kenya’s press freedom, we were treated to a rare spectacle where, for the first time, a female radio station broadcaster was on the frontline agitating for press freedom. Caroline Mutoko, together with her colleagues, were arrested for standing up to the regime on a range of issues that included runway poverty, MPs’ refusal to pay taxes and, most painfully, the obnoxious Media Bill that intends to authorise the internal security minister to invade media houses and destroy broadcast equipment at will, should he deem the action to be in the interest of national security!

The relationship between the media and all regimes in Kenya can sometimes be compared to that between a hen and a fox. My parents used to tell me that whenever I got into trouble, part of it was because I went looking for it. And the story of the hen and the fox comes in handy to drive the point home. They would remind me that should the hen come running home with the fox in hot pursuit, you first chase the fox away and then, afterwards, admonish the hen for straying into the jungle in the first place. Remind the hen that any time it ventures from the confines of the compound, it is looking for trouble and one day it would find itself on the fox’s dinner table.

Last year, when Kenya journalists demonstrated on Nairobi streets--their lips sealed with masking tape--in protest against the same Media Bill, we praised them for finally standing up for their rights. But we warned them against complacency; if they went to sleep, that bill would come up again. It would be brought back by the very politicians who were pretending to love "press freedom" more than their spouses.

Wasn’t it ironical then, and even shameful, that soon after leading media houses were raided on "orders from above" in the early days of the Kibaki regime, when Election 2007 came, the same media houses were at the frontline championing the reelection of some of the very politicians? Wasn’t it strange that this time round as Nyambane of Nation Media Group, Caroline Mutoko of Kiss FM and other journalists were being rounded up for protesting against the Media Bill, their editors were being awarded medals of distinguished service by at State House?

I may be wrong, but in more civilised societies, these medals would have been rejected by the recipients in protest against government brutality. But clearly, our honoured gentlemen have not seen the need to do so. Most, if not all, probably have their medals displayed in prominence in their homes, and are basking in the attendant glory of adding a few more letters at the back of their name.

The history of government brutality is long and agonising. Since independence, regime brutality against journalists in Kenya has been consistent to a fault. If anything, the reason some obnoxious clauses have been included in the Bill this time round was simply to legalise the violence that has always been there.

President Kibaki is not the first to give medals to journalists. Daniel arap Moi honoured journalists that had served him well. And yes, no regime on earth honours anybody on the basis of professionalism and excellence alone. The individual must have offered exemplary service in furthering its cause.

An Unnecessary War

By Jimmy Carter
Thursday, January 8, 2009

I know from personal involvement that the devastating invasion of Gaza by Israel could easily have been avoided.

After visiting Sderot last April and seeing the serious psychological damage caused by the rockets that had fallen in that area, my wife, Rosalynn, and I declared their launching from Gaza to be inexcusable and an act of terrorism. Although casualties were rare (three deaths in seven years), the town was traumatized by the unpredictable explosions. About 3,000 residents had moved to other communities, and the streets, playgrounds and shopping centers were almost empty. Mayor Eli Moyal assembled a group of citizens in his office to meet us and complained that the government of Israel was not stopping the rockets, either through diplomacy or military action.

Knowing that we would soon be seeing Hamas leaders from Gaza and also in Damascus, we promised to assess prospects for a cease-fire. From Egyptian intelligence chief Omar Suleiman, who was negotiating between the Israelis and Hamas, we learned that there was a fundamental difference between the two sides. Hamas wanted a comprehensive cease-fire in both the West Bank and Gaza, and the Israelis refused to discuss anything other than Gaza.

We knew that the 1.5 million inhabitants of Gaza were being starved, as the U.N. special rapporteur on the right to food had found that acute malnutrition in Gaza was on the same scale as in the poorest nations in the southern Sahara, with more than half of all Palestinian families eating only one meal a day.

Palestinian leaders from Gaza were noncommittal on all issues, claiming that rockets were the only way to respond to their imprisonment and to dramatize their humanitarian plight. The top Hamas leaders in Damascus, however, agreed to consider a cease-fire in Gaza only, provided Israel would not attack Gaza and would permit normal humanitarian supplies to be delivered to Palestinian citizens.

After extended discussions with those from Gaza, these Hamas leaders also agreed to accept any peace agreement that might be negotiated between the Israelis and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, who also heads the PLO, provided it was approved by a majority vote of Palestinians in a referendum or by an elected unity government.

Since we were only observers, and not negotiators, we relayed this information to the Egyptians, and they pursued the cease-fire proposal. After about a month, the Egyptians and Hamas informed us that all military action by both sides and all rocket firing would stop on June 19, for a period of six months, and that humanitarian supplies would be restored to the normal level that had existed before Israel's withdrawal in 2005 (about 700 trucks daily).

We were unable to confirm this in Jerusalem because of Israel's unwillingness to admit to any negotiations with Hamas, but rocket firing was soon stopped and there was an increase in supplies of food, water, medicine and fuel. Yet the increase was to an average of about 20 percent of normal levels. And this fragile truce was partially broken on Nov. 4, when Israel launched an attack in Gaza to destroy a defensive tunnel being dug by Hamas inside the wall that encloses Gaza.

On another visit to Syria in mid-December, I made an effort for the impending six-month deadline to be extended. It was clear that the preeminent issue was opening the crossings into Gaza. Representatives from the Carter Center visited Jerusalem, met with Israeli officials and asked if this was possible in exchange for a cessation of rocket fire. The Israeli government informally proposed that 15 percent of normal supplies might be possible if Hamas first stopped all rocket fire for 48 hours. This was unacceptable to Hamas, and hostilities erupted.

After 12 days of "combat," the Israeli Defense Forces reported that more than 1,000 targets were shelled or bombed. During that time, Israel rejected international efforts to obtain a cease-fire, with full support from Washington. Seventeen mosques, the American International School, many private homes and much of the basic infrastructure of the small but heavily populated area have been destroyed. This includes the systems that provide water, electricity and sanitation. Heavy civilian casualties are being reported by courageous medical volunteers from many nations, as the fortunate ones operate on the wounded by light from diesel-powered generators.

The hope is that when further hostilities are no longer productive, Israel, Hamas and the United States will accept another cease-fire, at which time the rockets will again stop and an adequate level of humanitarian supplies will be permitted to the surviving Palestinians, with the publicized agreement monitored by the international community. The next possible step: a permanent and comprehensive peace.

The writer was U.S. president from 1977 to 1981. He founded the Carter Center, a nongovernmental organization advancing peace and health worldwide, in 1982.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Why Israel is no better than the African wife-beater


Watching the might of the Israeli army pounding hapless Gaza into the Stone Age in retaliation for the radical Hamas group’s rocket attacks on civilians inside Israel, reminded me of the contradictions of life in the village donkey’s years ago.

When we were little, whenever we visited our grandparents, we were struck by how widespread and public wife-beating in the village was. A “real man” in Africa was the one who put his woman in her place with a jolly good whacking whenever she “stepped out of line”.

Something puzzled us, though. Some of the wives seemed fearless, because sometimes they would publicly provoke and goad their husbands into a temper. The sight of someone “looking for a beating” was incomprehensible to us.

When we grew older and wiser in the ways of the world, it all made sense. For while wife-beating was tolerated as a legitimate tool for disciplining an errant spouse, at the same time, there was no man more despised than a wife-beater.

At the beer pot, a man who was dismissed as a “weakling who can only beat his poor wife” would be so humiliated, he would have to walk away.

We understood that, in a bizarre way, in societies where women were powerless, provoking men into beating them was a strategy. They suffered, but the husband lost more by having his standing in society diminish, because he was seen as a bully who preyed on the weak.

In this way, the women could be “helpless” victims of domestic abuse, provocateurs, and heroic casualties of war all wrapped in one.

Which brings us back to the Israel-Palestinian conflict. My own view of Israel is a messy bundle of mixed feelings. When I was much younger, I was pro-Israel. Then I grew older, more knowledgeable, and became an idealist, hoping to make a small contribution to save the world. Then what Israel was doing to the Palestinians became unpalatable.

The genocide by the Nazis in which more than six million Jews were killed, remains one of the most difficult bouts of hate and murderousness to come to terms with. It therefore hasn’t been easy to be critical of Israel, a State founded partly to give Jews a sanctuary in which they could defend themselves.

So here we are, after 12 days of air strikes and a ground offensive, Israel has killed more than 600 Palestinians in the Gaza, many of them women, and children blown up while they were in their school building. On the Israel side, Hamas’ rockets have killed five people.

Hamas is just one of many radical Palestinian organisations. That Israel needed to lay siege to Gaza for 18 months and starve its population into submission, and now deploy its vast army to deal with this threat, is actually a failure. It is a war that, in the end, Israel cannot win.

Many supporters of Israel partly side with it because radical groups in the Middle East are determined to wipe it off the face of the Earth. That would mean a repeat of the Nazi-type genocide against Jews, and that is unacceptable.

Hamas probably understands that, and its success has been in provoking Israel to act with disproportionate and raging vengefulness. Over the years, Israel’s treatment of Palestinians has sometimes had uncanny parallels with the Nazi’s treatment of Jews.

The result is that Israel is close to establishing some kind of equivalence of evil, in which its excesses against Palestinians assume the level of abomination of that of the Nazis against Jews.

Israel’s right to exist is based on a powerful moral imperative that derives, in large part, from the Holocaust. If it loses that through its severity against the Palestinians, it loses the argument about its existence. If that happens, even if it had the strongest army in the world, it would no longer be able to defend something that no longer exists.

Increasingly, there are many thoughtful Jews to whom Israel’s militarism has become unbearable. Writing in the Christian Science Monitor a few days ago, Sara Roy, a senior research scholar at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies, Harvard University, and the author, of Failing Peace: Gaza and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict, said: “In nearly 25 years of involvement with Gaza and Palestinians, I have not had to confront the horrific image of burned children — until today”, she wrote.

“Why have we been unable to accept the fundamental humanity of Palestinians and include them within our moral boundaries?… Ultimately, our goal is to tribalise pain, narrowing the scope of human suffering to ourselves alone.

“Our rejection of “the other” will undo us. Israel’s victories are pyrrhic and reveal the limits of Israeli power and our own limitations as a people: our inability to live a life without barriers… As Jews in a post-Holocaust world empowered by a Jewish state, how do we as a people emerge from atrocity and abjection, empowered and also humane?”

The 'misunderestimated' president?

All politicians are prone to make slips of the tongue in the heat of the moment - and President George W Bush has made more than most.

The word "Bushism" has been coined to label his occasional verbal lapses during eight years in office, which, thankfully, will come to an end on 20 January.

Here are some of his most memorable pronouncements:

"They misunderestimated me."
Bentonville, Arkansas, 6 November, 2000

"There's an old saying in Tennessee - I know it's in Texas, probably in Tennessee - that says, fool me once, shame on... shame on you. Fool me - you can't get fooled again."
Nashville, Tennessee, 17 September, 2002

"There's no question that the minute I got elected, the storm clouds on the horizon were getting nearly directly overhead."
Washington DC, 11 May, 2001

"I want to thank my friend, Senator Bill Frist, for joining us today. He married a Texas girl, I want you to know. Karyn is with us. A West Texas girl, just like me."
Nashville, Tennessee, 27 May, 2004

"For a century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times."
Tokyo, 18 February, 2002

"The war on terror involves Saddam Hussein because of the nature of Saddam Hussein, the history of Saddam Hussein, and his willingness to terrorise himself."
Grand Rapids, Michigan, 29 January, 2003

"I think war is a dangerous place."
Washington DC, 7 May, 2003

"The ambassador and the general were briefing me on the - the vast majority of Iraqis want to live in a peaceful, free world. And we will find these people and we will bring them to justice."
Washington DC, 27 October, 2003

"Free societies are hopeful societies. And free societies will be allies against these hateful few who have no conscience, who kill at the whim of a hat."
Washington DC, 17 September, 2004

"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."
CBS News, Washington DC, 6 September, 2006

"Rarely is the question asked: Is our children learning?"
Florence, South Carolina, 11 January, 2000

"Reading is the basics for all learning."
Reston, Virginia, 28 March, 2000

"As governor of Texas, I have set high standards for our public schools, and I have met those standards."
CNN, 30 August, 2000

"You teach a child to read, and he or her will be able to pass a literacy test.''
Townsend, Tennessee, 21 February, 2001

"I understand small business growth. I was one."
New York Daily News, 19 February, 2000

"It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it."
Reuters, 5 May, 2000

"I do remain confident in Linda. She'll make a fine Labour Secretary. From what I've read in the press accounts, she's perfectly qualified."
Austin, Texas, 8 January, 2001

"First, let me make it very clear, poor people aren't necessarily killers. Just because you happen to be not rich doesn't mean you're willing to kill."
Washington DC, 19 May, 2003

"I don't think we need to be subliminable about the differences between our views on prescription drugs."
Orlando, Florida, 12 September, 2000

"Too many good docs are getting out of the business. Too many OB/GYN's aren't able to practice their love with women all across the country."
Poplar Bluff, Missouri, 6 September, 2004

"Will the highways on the internet become more few?"
Concord, New Hampshire, 29 January, 2000

"It would be a mistake for the United States Senate to allow any kind of human cloning to come out of that chamber."
Washington DC, 10 April, 2002

"Information is moving. You know, nightly news is one way, of course, but it's also moving through the blogosphere and through the Internets."
Washington DC, 2 May, 2007

"I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully."
Saginaw, Michigan, 29 September, 2000

"Families is where our nation finds hope, where wings take dream."
LaCrosse, Wisconsin, 18 October, 2000

"Those who enter the country illegally violate the law."
Tucson, Arizona, 28 November, 2005

"That's George Washington, the first president, of course. The interesting thing about him is that I read three - three or four books about him last year. Isn't that interesting?"
Speaking to reporter Kai Diekmann, Washington DC, 5 May, 2006

"I have a different vision of leadership. A leadership is someone who brings people together."
Bartlett, Tennessee, 18 August, 2000

"I'm the decider, and I decide what is best."
Washington DC, 18 April, 2006

"And truth of the matter is, a lot of reports in Washington are never read by anybody. To show you how important this one is, I read it, and [Tony Blair] read it."
On the publication of the Baker-Hamilton Report, Washington DC, 7 December, 2006

"All I can tell you is when the governor calls, I answer his phone."
San Diego, California, 25 October, 2007

"I'll be long gone before some smart person ever figures out what happened inside this Oval Office."
Washington DC, 12 May, 2008

Thursday, January 8, 2009

The perpetual embarassment that is the Electoral Commission of Kenya

Some former Electoral Commission of Kenya bosses are yet to surrender their official vehicles, weeks after the Government sent them packing.

Former ECK vice-chairperson Kihara Muttu could neither confirm nor deny if some of his colleagues were holding on to the vehicles. “We cannot say yes or no because we could be confirming someone’s ill-motivated agenda. I have always used my personal vehicle, and I am still using it,” he said. A source said the former commissioners were still in office because their appointments are yet to be degazetted. Mr Muttu said the former commissioners, who have asked for a Sh500 million send-off package, were yet to be told if they would get it.

The gratuity issue has sparked a row between the Office of the President and the Prime Minister. Last week, the President’s Office reportedly assured the former ECK bosses that the pay-off would be calculated on the remainder of their term plus a lump sum. But the PM’s office has said the former commissioners do not deserve such large amounts of money. The ECK commissioners were among the best paid civil servants in the country, each earning about Sh400,000 in salary and allowances while former chairman Samuel Kivuitu earned Sh513,000 in salary and allowances - tax-free.

In a related development, members of a transition team appointed by the President’s Office to oversee the changeover at the electoral body are keeping away from the Anniversary Tower offices. This follows an order by Prime Minister Raila Odinga that the offices remain closed until a new team had been constituted.

Meanwhile, Mr Kivuitu and his team got a breather after a court extended an order stopping their prosecution in relation to the 2007 General Election. The case was filed by a Kuresoi voter, Mr Julius Melli, who wants the commissioners charged with abuse of office.