Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Natasha M7 to stand for Parliament

As Nyabushozi MP is asked to cede seat to president's brother...

KAMPALA - With just 17 months to the 2011 Presidential and parliamentary elections, first daughter Natasha Museveni Karugire is seriously considering running for the Gomba County Parliamentary seat.

Some members and friends of the first family, according to impeccable sources, have asked Natasha to take over Gomba County from Rose Najjemba. “Meetings are already going on and Natasha is giving it a serious thought,” the source said. Gomba is in Mpigi district and President Museveni has his second home, Kisozi Ranch, in the area. This constitutionally qualifies Natasha’s candidature.

Natasha, who is currently the Private Secretary to the President for Household Affairs, is backed by Janet’s facion of State House. An insider was heard saying: “We are set for everything! The aspirant (Natasha) is in a good mood and ready to take on the mantle of leadership.” Reports from Gomba indicate that Natasha already has spies on the ground to do Kakuyege (mobilization) for her.

The current MP, Rose Najjemba, is said to be extremely disturbed by the development. She is reported to be slowly falling out with the first family due to Natasha’s imminent candidature. Her impending fallout was witnessed during last week’s NRM NEC meeting at State House, Entebbe. Whereas over 400 delegates voted against the proposal of having the NRM presidential candidate determined through adult suffrage primaries, where all registered NRM members would vote on him, Najjemba showed a lot of resilience and opposed the move.

Together with Bugiri woman MP Christine Lumumba and Lyantonde LCV chairman Kyamuzigita, Najjemba continued differing with the majority even after Museveni had spoken. She narrated how it was crucial to subject Museveni to a rigorous primary. “We need to test the popularity of the candidate by subjecting him to a rigorous process. I feel it’s the only way through which we will get the best candidate,” a source quoted Najjemba as saying. Yet Najjemba is what she is because of Museveni, who gave her her first job when she confronted him as he drove in his Kisozi ranch.

Natasha, born in 1976, is a Fashion Designer and Consultant. She is married to Edwin Karugire, a city lawyer. She is Museveni’s second born child after Lt. Col. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, commander of the Special Forces, who was born in 1973. She is followed by Patience and Diana.

After completing her education in London, Natasha began a career as a fashion designer. Though little is known about her political disposition, Natasha is a down to earth woman, quite like her mum. One of her friends said: “I think she can make a serious politician. She likes kids and has an element of humanitarianism. Since she has the financial muscle, she can make it on humanitarian grounds, although she is shy.” She recently dedicated proceeds from the auction of her clothes (House of Kaine) to the internally displaced people’s camps in northern Uganda.

However, Natasha is not immune from controversies that have in the past surrounded the first family. In 2004, the presidency spent £70,000 (UShs240M) so she could give birth in Europe. She flew in the presidential jet to gave birth to a daughter in Germany, and was flown home a month later. Opposition politicians attacked the “waste”, but Museveni refused to apologise, saying security threats against his family left him no choice. “When it comes to medical care for myself and my family there is no compromise,” he said in a statement. In his defiant statement, Museveni said he was a constant target for assassins, who would not hesitate to use local doctors to breach his security. “I regard myself and my immediate family as principal targets for the criminal forces,” he said.

Meanwhile, all-powerful Amelia Kyambadde, the president’s principal private secretary, has upped the ante for the Mawokota County North seat. The seat is currently occupied by Peter Mutuluza. Amelia is doing serious ground work, and has already distributed thousands of piglets, chicks and fish to the locals. She obtains money from the poverty alleviation fund at State House. The minister for the presidency, Beatrice Wabudeya, recently toured Amelia’s poverty alleviation projects in Mawokota and nodded in appreciation. Yet the big story is not Amelia's cndidature; there is talk of Amelia being tipped to replace Gilbert Bukenya as Vice President in 2011 once she wins the crucial seat. Bukenya, apparently, has been short-listed for a big job at the UN.

The first family is further extending its political tentacles to Nyabushozi, the constituency of the president. The current MP, Mary Mugyenyi (former animal husbandry state minister) told a meeting in Rushere last week that she had come under a lot of pressure and would cede the seat to the president’s brother, Nzeire Kaguta. She told the meeting that she was disgusted with politics. “Due to too much pressure, I have decided to relinquish the throne to Nzeire. I’m tired, let me go and do my own things."

Between a rock and a hard place

Living in Kirinyaga district is akin to being asked to make an impossible choice. You are either with the Mungiki or against them. There is no in-between.

A preliminary report by the Kenya Human Rights Commission says the outlawed Mungiki sector requires residents to pay monthly protection fees, graduated according to the standard of one’s house – Sh500 for a permanent stone house and Sh400 for a semi-permanent one. Those who run kiosks must pay between Sh50 and Sh100 every month, depending on the size of the business. If you keep dairy cows, you owe Sh20 every day – or Sh600 a month. In short, if you live in a permanent house, keep a dairy cow and have a milk kiosk at your gate, you owe Sh1,200 every month – or Sh14,400 a year.

Should you get into a dispute, the Mungiki usually arbitrate, at a fee. They also collect debts and charge a percentage on the principal sum, levy tolls on matatus and a flat 5 per cent on all dowries. They reportedly work closely with police officers stationed in the area, paying junior and senior officers alike.

Those who join the Mungiki cannot leave and live. Those marked for death are beheaded. As a counter to the Mungiki terror, local vigilante groups have sprung up in the tradition of self-help. These groups reportedly enjoy wide community support. One shows their commitment to the vigilante, who operate openly, through materials. You can give a panga, an axe or a club as you contribution to killing members of the Mungiki.

Those who are in business also fund the vigilante so that they can wipe out the Mungiki. Since the Mungiki are reputed for snorting snuff, the vigilantes have a foolproof test for smoking them out. They stop young people at random and order them to sneeze. Should the mucus turn to be brown or black, one is taken to a place called “The Hague”. It is a kangaroo court in the bush that does not do the International Criminal Court’s reputation any good.

The choices are two – hang yourself or be cut down by machetes. The vigilantes are also becoming sophisticated in their hunt for Mungiki. They could undress you to check if you are wearing a certain type of underwear.

If you wear shorts under your trousers, you are guilty. If you have tobacco stains on your nails or teeth, you are also guilty. If you do not have these signs, then you must join the vigilante – by force. In this district, either you are with the Mungiki or you are with the vigilante. It is a situation the police are reportedly reluctant to arbitrate in.

Both are murderous gangs – so the only real choice is which one is less objectionable. As beneficiaries of the extortion money Mungiki collects, they would not want to kill the goose that lays the golden egg, so to speak. It is suspected that some of the officers are members of the Mungiki.

Yet, to appear neutral, they also receive money from those who fund the vigilantes. Police enjoy such little trust in the local population that they hardly receive reports of what is going on. This has always sounded like a Central Province problem, but there is nothing to stop it playing out in Coast Province, Rift Valley or any other area of Kenya.

So when the Minister for Internal Security and Provincial Administration visited the area last week, my expectation was that he would have some concrete plans to of taking away the impossible options residents have been given. Nothing of the sort was forthcoming.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Jackson's body "bald, full of needle marks"

A leaked report claiming to be Michael Jackson's autopsy has revealed the state of the popstar's body before his death.

The Sun in the UK reports the singer was a virtual skeleton and only had pills in his stomach when he died.

It claims the autopsy says Jackson's hips, thighs and shoulders were riddled with needle wounds as a result of injections of painkillers.

The music icon was also virtually bald and had scars that were thought to be the result of at least 13 cosmetic operations.

It has also been claimed Jackson had a faint pulse and his body was warm when his doctor found him, according to a lawyer.

Edward Chernoff also said Dr. Conrad Murray never prescribed or gave Jackson the drugs Demerol or OxyContin. He denied reports suggesting Murray gave Jackson drugs that contributed to his death.

Chernoff told the AP that Murray was at the pop icon's rented mansion on Thursday afternoon when he discovered Jackson in bed and not breathing. The doctor immediately began administering CPR, Chernoff said.

"He just happened to find him in his bed, and he wasn't breathing," the lawyer said. "Mr. Jackson was still warm and had a pulse."

Jackson's family requested a private autopsy in part because of questions about Murray, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said Saturday. Murray also told the family an autopsy should be performed, Chernoff said.

Three days after the death of the King of Pop, celebrities descended on Los Angeles for a spectacular celebration of Jackson's life at the annual BET awards show.

Joe Jackson, Michael's father, walked on the red carpet wearing a black hat, sunglasses and a dark suit. He did not appear on stage during the show.

"I just wish he could be here to celebrate himself," he said. "Sadly, he's not here, so I'm here to celebrate for him."

In a statement read at the show, Jackson's parents said they solely had the personal and legal "authority for our son and his children." It was their strongest declaration yet about their son's affairs.

A tearful Janet Jackson appeared on stage in a white dress at the end of the BET awards. After a long pause to gather herself, she spoke haltingly but deliberately to the audience.

"I'd just like to say that to you, Michael is an icon. To us, Michael is family. And he will forever live in all of our hearts," she said.

People close to Michael Jackson have said since his death that they were concerned about his use of painkillers. Los Angeles County medical examiners completed their autopsy Friday and said Jackson had taken unspecified prescription medication.

Chernoff said any drugs the doctor gave Jackson were prescribed in response to a specific complaint from the entertainer.

"Dr. Murray has never prescribed nor administered Demerol to Michael Jackson," Chernoff said. "Not ever. Not that day. Not Oxycontin (either) for that matter."

Paramedics were called to the mansion while the doctor was performing CPR, according to a recording of the 911 call.

Medics spent three-quarters of an hour trying to revive Jackson. He was pronounced dead later at UCLA Medical Center.

MJ's kids cry for Ugandan "mum"

Ugandan-born Grace Rwaramba finds herself at the centre of a custody battle for the three children of Michael Jackson, currently being looked after by the singer’s 80-year-old mother.

Rwaramba, a 42-year-old Rwandan woman who was born in Uganda, worked for Jackson for 17 years, five years as his secretary and 12 years as a nanny to his children, before she was sacked six months ago.

American and British media houses reported yesterday that Jackson’s mother, Katherine, called up Rwaramba in London saying that the inconsolable children were crying out for her. “She said: ‘Grace, the children are crying. They are asking about you. They can’t believe that their father died,” Rwaramba said over the weekend in her first press interview, published in the Sunday Times.

The former nanny spelled out her fears over the orphaned children. “I’m really distraught for them. Michael had not been eating and the kids had been so scared for him. Now the youngest has been saying, ‘Why daddy? God should have taken me, not him.'” She openly wondered why Katherine could not allow her talk to the children, whom she said regard her as their mother. “I asked to speak to the children. She said they were sleeping. But she had just said they were crying. She never let me speak to them.” A family friend was quoted by News of the World, a UK tabloid, as saying: “Katherine wants the kids. But Michael always said he wanted Grace to have them if something happened to him.”

Sources said Rwaramba had taken an increasingly central role in the lives of the children, who reportedly call her “Mom”. She and Jackson were even rumoured to be considering marriage in 2006. In the Sunday Times, she narrated her difficult life with the pop star, who she said routinely fired her and then begged her to return. “I was getting phone calls that they were being neglected. Nobody was cleaning the rooms because Michael didn’t pay the housekeeper,” she said. “I was getting calls telling me Michael was in such a bad shape. He wasn’t clean. He hadn’t shaved. He wasn’t eating well. I used to do all this for him and they were trying to get me to go back.”

Rwaramba claimed that while she gave the children love and a stable environment, they had a cold and uneasy relationship with their father. “I used to hug and laugh with them. But when Michael was around, they froze.” As for the masks Jackson made the children wear in public, Rwaramba revealed: “They didn’t like them. It was not my idea. I hated it as well. So whenever I had a chance I misplaced the masks or forgot to pack them.”

Her account provided a view of the real world of Michael Jackson behind the masks, the wigs, the make-up and the surgery: his running around the world with the three children – to Bahrain, Ireland, Germany, New Jersey – and his drug addiction. She recalled incidents when she had to pump the singer’s stomach many times after a high dose of drugs. “There was one period that it was so bad I did not let the children see him.”

She said he was furious with her for calling in the help of his mother and sister. It was one of the times he fired her. Rwaramba is the founder and director of World Accountability for Humanity, a charity that aims to improve the lives of the disadvantaged. On her website, she says her parents, Job Rwaramba and Magdalena Kinyogote, had fled the first troubles in Rwanda in the 1960s and settled in Uganda, where Grace was born. At the age of 13, she went to a multi-ethnic boarding school in Connecticut (US) and later received her Bachelor’s degree in Business Administration at Atlantic Union College, a Seventh-day Adventist college in South Lancaster, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, another woman in Jackson’s life, Debbie Rowe, with whom he was married between 1996 and 1999, revealed that she got two of his children through artificial insemination. “Michael was divorced, lonely and wanted children. I was the one who said to him: “I will have your babies,” she said in an interview published over the weekend by London’s News of the World. “I was just the vessel. It wasn’t Michael’s sperm. I got paid for it, and I’ve moved on. I know I will never see my children again.”

Blonde Debbie, now 50, spoke out at the ranch in California where she lives a reclusive life surrounded by more than 30 horses. After a difficult second birth, which left her scarred, she said Jackson dumped her.

The singer’s third child, Prince Michael Jackson II, nicknamed "Blanket", was said to be born from a surrogate European mother the singer never met. Aides say Blanket is the most similar to Jackson in looks, personality and musical talent. Over the years, several women have come forward to claim they are Blanket’s mother. The most recent was a woman calling herself Billie Jean Jackson, who last year filed a law suit in Los Angeles seeking one billion dollars.

Jackson left a debt of $500 million.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

It’s true – the whole world came out of Africa!


Driving upcountry from Nairobi a few years ago, I stopped at a village to ask directions. As we stood talking, I felt someone take my hand and looking down saw a small boy scratching my skin with his fingernail. He was looking for the blackness.

We all smiled but maybe the toto knew more than we did. For today, it is widely accepted that the human race originated in Africa – specifically in what today is Kenya or Tanzania – giving rise to a slew of scientific studies and magazine articles with headlines such as, “We’re all out of Africa,” and “We are all African now.”

What the scientists tell us is that small bands of humans sailed across the Red Sea about 50,000 years ago and established Stone Age cultures throughout Europe, Asia and Australia. New DNA research along with archaeological evidence, including an analysis of some 6,000 skulls, laid to rest the idea of multiple origins.

Introducing a study of the skulls held around the world in academic collections, Prof Andrew Manica of Cambridge University wrote in Nature magazine in 2007 that “We have combined our genetic data with new measurements of a large sample of skulls to show definitively that modern humans originated from a single area in sub-Saharan Africa.”

So if we all started out black, doesn’t that make racism not just nasty but plain stupid?

This conclusion raises an obvious question: If humanity originated in Africa, why do white people have a different skin colour, pale eyes and often blond hair?

The answer is Vitamin D. Those who lived in a colder climate with less sunshine needed to process more Vitamin D and their bodies did this by lowering the skin pigment melanin which blocks solar radiation and limits the intake of the vitamin. Blue eyes and blond hair are just by-products of having less melanin in the skin.

So if we all started out black, doesn’t that make racism not just nasty but plain stupid? There are many different cultures but only one race. To widespread horror here, two members of the racist British National Party were elected to the European Parliament in the recent elections.

True, there was no great swing to the fascists and they would not have got in were it not for a very low turnout for the main parties. But if the thought of racists and anti-immigrant thugs representing us in Brussels goes against the grain, let us look at the ironies: the forefathers of both these men were migrants themselves and without a doubt as black as your hat, too.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

And now, a note for Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka

I have taken the time to write this open letter to you, Vice-President Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, because of your increasingly important role in Kenya’s future. Unlike some pundits, I do not consider you a political lightweight.

Quite on the contrary, you have impressed me with your cunning and strategic thinking since you entered national politics in 1985. As a native of Tseikuru, a remote part of Mwingi District, your climb to the pinnacle of power in Kenya is a testament to your grit and stubborn determination. That’s why your political opponents ought to be afraid – very afraid – of you. They underestimate you at their own peril.

Sir, I know that you were not born with a silver spoon in your mouth. You are a self-made man. Since your early life at Tseikuru Full Primary School, you have had a knack for attracting godfathers and endearing yourself to the wealthy and powerful. Some may have thought you a teacher’s pet, but you cultivated respect for authority and elders. These attributes are socialised in those who seek power in African post-colonial states. In a stroke of political genius, you endeared yourself to the late Mulu Mutisya, the New Akamba Union leader who was regarded as the kingpin of Ukambani.

This coup was the greatest break that launched your star political career. Do you think President Mwai Kibaki has really agreed to be your godfather? The choice of Mr Mutisya as your godfather showed more commitment to the tribe than the nation. What did it say about your views on corruption, patronage and democracy? Mr Mutisya, who was illiterate, was able to command Ukambani politics because of his closeness to Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, and later, President Daniel arap Moi. It is said that the crafty Mutisya refused Mzee Kenyatta’s entreaties to bring the Akamba into GEMA, although the “A” in the acronym was supposedly reserved for them.

You literally sat in the kingmaker’s seat, but mistakenly thought you could be the king.

In Kenya’s tribalised politics, Mr Mutisya thought he would have more leverage if he controlled the Akamba as a separate bloc. It is no secret, sir, that you would like to inherit Mr Mustisya’s mantle. Sir, I think you would agree with me that Kenyans should know your history since you may one day end up in State House.

Until 2002, your role in Kenyan politics could only have been described as disappointing. I will take some of that back. You did play a positive role as Mr Moi’s minister for Foreign Affairs in war-torn Sudan and Somalia. But your role in domestic politics was downright corrosive.

A Kanu hawk, you advocated the repression of human rights and pro-democracy advocates. You were a shameless apologist and rabid defender of the one-party state. You vigorously opposed a democratic constitution, and fought to keep civil society from providing civic education in the constitutional review process. It is true you changed your tune in 2002 when you broke with Kanu to join Mr Raila Odinga in the Rainbow Alliance. But I was not convinced that you decamped from Kanu out of principle. You were piqued that Mr Moi – your political mentor and benefactor – had chosen Mr Uhuru Kenyatta over you as his heir apparent.

However, I was impressed by the way you publicly defied Mr Moi. But you did so to save your political skin. The writing was on the wall that Kanu was the Titanic, and you did not want to go down with it. So you decided to reinvent yourself as a reformer by joining your ardent foes in the political opposition. You knew there was no future in Kanu and, therefore, you acted like an opportunist. I have never known you, sir, to miss opportunities with your future at stake. Your fight with Mr Odinga for the control of ODM proved to Kenyans that you have a large ego and unbounded ambition. Either you were going to be ODM’s presidential nominee, or you would splinter ODM. That’s why you took ODM-K. But you knew you had no real chance at winning because Mr Odinga had outsmarted you and taken virtually the entire opposition leaving you with an empty shell. To your credit, you soldiered on, and put up a gallant fight.

Once again, I was impressed by your resilience and determination. It was your democratic right to go all the way, as you often put it during the campaign. But your campaign may have been detrimental to the country in the long term because ODM-K is largely an ethnic party. It has contributed to the further ethnic polarisation of Kenyan politics.

I also think, sir, that you could have reduced the probability of post-election violence if you had joined either PNU or ODM before the election. The 10-12 per cent of the vote that you controlled would have been large enough to decisively swing the election either to Mr Odinga or Mr Kibaki. You literally sat in the kingmaker’s seat, but mistakenly thought you could be the king. This was either a terrible miscalculation on your part, or the work of hubris and ego. You could have struck a deal for the vice-presidency with either of them before the election instead of taking the tainted office in a disputed vote.

I have never been to Mwingi but I have heard people say that you have done very little for the district. But I want to end on a lighter note. You have the gift of the gab, and can give a pretty good speech. I must confess that your oratorical skills are well honed. You can wear a suit, and I have heard some women speak of your good looks. May I suggest that you match good form with noble substance?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Michael Jackson's sudden and mysterious death

One day after Michael Jackson's sudden death, speculation is already turning to what killed the 50-year-old "King of Pop" just weeks before his long-awaited series of comeback concerts.

Jackson, a former child star who became one of the best-selling pop artists of all time before a descending into a strange and reclusive lifestyle, died on Thursday afternoon at a Los Angeles hospital, where he had been rushed in full cardiac arrest after collapsing at his nearby rental home.

Few details were known early on Friday about the circumstances surrounding his death, but the entertainer was reportedly unconscious and not breathing by the time he arrived at UCLA Medical Center, and doctors were unable to revive him. His body was flown by helicopter from the hospital to the coroner's office late on Thursday.
750 million records sold

Brian Oxman, a spokesman for the Jackson family, told CNN on Thursday that the family had been concerned about his health and had tried in vain to take care of him for months. "Michael appeared at rehearsals a couple of times, he was very seriously trying to be able to do those rehearsals," Oxman said of Jackson's preparations for a series of 50 concerts that were scheduled to begin in London in July. "His use of medications had gotten in the way, his injuries which he had sustained performing, where he had broken a vertebrae and he had broken his leg from a fall on the stage, were getting in the way," Oxman told CNN.

Authorities have scheduled an autopsy for Friday. But they cautioned that it could take weeks to determine a cause of death, which will likely have to wait for the return of toxicology tests. Those tests will determine if Jackson had any drugs, alcohol or prescription medications in his system. Detectives from the Los Angeles Police Department's Robbery Homicide division searched Jackson's home in the upscale Holmby Hills neighborhood of Los Angeles at the behest of Chief William Bratton. But they called the investigation an "every day" event.

The London concert swing was billed as a comeback for Jackson, who dominated the pop charts during the 1980s with such hits as "Thriller" and "Billie Jean" and was credited with turning music videos into a costly and cinematic art form.

What Caused Michael Jackson's Cardiac Arrest?

It kills more people in the U.S. each year than breast cancer, lung cancer and HIV/AIDS combined. The condition is called sudden cardiac arrest (SCA) – and it only takes minutes to claim a person’s life.

“Sudden cardiac arrest is a real national tragedy,” Dr. Leslie Saxon, chief of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Southern California, says. “It’s most often due to a sudden, very rapid heart rhythm. The heart goes so fast a person dies right away unless they’re shocked out of it with a defibrillator.”

While it hasn’t been confirmed what caused Michael Jackson to go into full cardiac arrest — the Los Angeles Times reported that Jackson was not breathing when paramedics arrived at his Los Angeles home around 12:30 p.m. and sources with the Los Angeles Fire Department said he had no pulse either. The paramedics tried to resuscitate Jackson and took him to UCLA Medical Center where he was later pronounced dead.

“Even CPR can only bridge a person to a defibrillation,” Saxon said. “So the big thing about these events is they have to be witnessed. The odds are very good if someone witnesses it and shocks them right away. That’s why people in places such as airports and casinos have a higher rate of survival because there are a lot of people around and a lot of defibrillators.”

Saxon said the problem is – if the sudden cardiac arrest is not witnessed there’s less than 1 to 2 percent survival rate outside of a hospital. “You only have minutes to restore good blood flow,” she said. “That’s why you have to act early because the brain and organs cannot live without blood flow.”

The fact is – is that it takes just 4 to 6 minutes after cardiac arrest before a person experiences brain death and ultimately complete death. During sudden cardiac arrest, electrical impulses in the heart become rapid or chaotic, which causes the heart to suddenly stop beating, the American Heart Association said on its Web Site. It’s not the same as a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle is blocked. However, a heart attack may cause cardiac arrest.

Other common causes include heart disease, respiratory arrest, electrocution, drowning, choking and trauma. Cardiac arrest can also occur without any known cause. “Most adults who have sudden cardiac arrest — it’s their first symptom — some people don’t even have chest pain,” Saxon said. An adverse response to prescription drugs or illicit use of drugs can also cause arrhythmias leading to cardiac arrest.

Brian Oxman, Jackson’s spokesperson and longtime family, hinted that the singer may have had trouble with prescription drugs. "This was something which I feared and something which I warned about," Oxman told CNN. "I can tell you for sure that this is something I warned about. Where there is smoke there is fire."

Oxman told CNN that the singer was taking drugs to deal with past injuries, such as a broken back and broken leg, which were getting in the way of his concert rehearsals. Jackson was slated to kick-off a 50 concert tour starting in London July 13th. An autopsy on Jackson will likely take place today.

Was Jackson Suffering From Lupus?
In October 2007, sources close to the pop star confirmed that he was suffering from lupus. “Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease where the immune system is unable to detect foreign invaders — like viruses – in the body,” Dr. Cynara Coomer, assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai Medical Center says. “So the body creates autoantibodies – or antibodies that attack the body’s own healthy cells, causing inflammation.” The inflammation caused by lupus can affect the joints, skin, kidneys, blood cells, heart, lungs and brain.

“Several studies have shown that this inflammatory process can occur in the arteries of the heart leading to the formation of fatty plaques, also known as atherosclerosis. This can result in cardiovascular disease and may lead to heart attack,” Coomer said. Research estimates that at least 1.5 million Americans have lupus, the Lupus Foundation of America said on its Web site.

There are four different types of lupus, but the most common — and serious — form is systemic lupus erythematosus. According to the Mayo Clinic, the signs and symptoms of lupus can come on suddenly or develop slowly over time and can include:

• Fatigue
• Fever
• Weight loss or gain
• Joint pain, stiffness and swelling
• Butterfly-shaped rash on the face that covers the cheeks and bridge of the nose
• Skin lesions that appear or worsen with sun exposure
• Mouth sores
• Hair loss
• Anxiety
• Depression
• Memory loss

“There’s no real known cause, but the most common type of patients afflicted are African Americans, American Indians and Asians,” Coomer said. “Certain antibiotics or infections, stress and some medications may lead to lupus.”

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

The other day, I came upon a matatu. It had a beautiful black sticker that read: “I feel nothing!” At first, I dismissed it. Then I began to ponder over it. And, at this point, I realised that something was happening.

That, in fact, the "junk prophets" are hard at work. They are "junk" to the King, but real to the people. Their temple is not decorated; their message is graffiti. And this is what they are telling us: “I feel nothing!”

One of them heckled the President on Madaraka Day. Of course he was dismissed as another "kumbafu earthling." Yet beneath his action was a prophecy. As a photo-journalist, he had travelled the country taking photos of beheaded people and burnt churches last year. The world recognised his courage and art.

But deep within, he remained disturbed. By the time he was heckling the President, he "felt nothing!" And, as Francis Imbuga wrote in Betrayal in the City, “… when the madness of an entire nation disturbs a solitary mind, it is not enough to say that the man is mad." In fact, I am entertaining the thought that the hecklers could be prophets; the type President Kibaki refers to as "junk." And their message to the President is simple: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin.” I need to explain this message through a story from the Bible.

King Belshazzar was a bad man. His father, King Nebuchadnezzar, was even worse; before he died, he had raided the temple of the house of God.

From there he took vessels of gold and silver. One day, his notorious son, King Belshazzar, held a party with his lords, wives and concubines. Then he remembered the vessels taken from the temple. He asked for them. And, in mockery to God, he ordered his wives, concubines and lords to drink from them. At that very moment, a hand appeared on the wall and wrote this message: "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin." It meant, “God has numbered your kingdom and finished it; you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting!” That very night, the king was slain.

The message of the "junk prophets" to the President is therefore this: The writing is on the wall. Because of his action, or lack of it, blood was shed. And what is more: nothing has been done to address the causes.

Similarly, nothing has been done to stop a repeat. In sum, and like Belshazzar, the President has been weighed in the balances and found wanting! He can ignore the writing on the wall if he wants to. In fact, he can even behead the prophets and castrate the poets. Bottom line though is this: You can kill the messenger, but not the message. A disturbed "junk man" who "feels nothing" will always come back with the same message. And the more you "castrate" them, the bolder they will become. But what is at the basis of this anger? I have an hypothesis. The Kibaki presidency is built on deceit.

The 2002 MoU was a lie. And, if we fought last year, the MoU was the "original sin." Then we had the 2007 elections. No one won. Yet the President was sworn in as the winner. This was the second lie. In fact, this is the lie on which the grand coalition is built.

No wonder it has become a "bastard" government in the eyes of the people. But there is a third lie. We want to continue from where we left in 2007. And we want to do so as if nothing happened. Zero! We cannot write a new constitution or build a new political order on the fresh graves of the people we killed. Not so fast.

To do so is to be escapist. The contentious issues identified by the committee of experts this week are just woolly. They are the constitutional issues of 2005. The constitutional question of the moment is this: Who killed our women, children and brothers? And how will we stop them from killing us in 2012 and beyond?

Good people, the Waki List has to go to The Hague pronto. John Michuki told Parliament that we needed a local tribunal so that "… we can control it." Then he changed tune when he realised that he had revealed their undercover intentions. In sum, we do not trust the mainstream system. And this is what Kofi Annan does not get.

He should be told the following: We are not having a local tribunal. Not in August; not in January next year, not ever. And to pressurise the principals on this is to ask them to bribe the MPs. In fact, if the decision is changed by Parliament, it is because the MPs will have been bribed. The instruction to Mr Annan, therefore, is simple: Hague Express! What about this doesn’t he understand?

Or maybe he is telling us something with his delay. Maybe there is no list. It is also possible that the list has big names on it. Who knows, the two principals could be on the list! And, if this is true, Mr Annan’s hesitation must be explained. It has nothing to do with us; it is about protecting their clean "environment." They would not want to send President Al-Bashir of Sudan and President Kibaki of Kenya to The Hague now, would they? Bad politics. This is why he is desperate for a local solution. But our instruction to him is to keep it real. If President Kibaki and Mr Odinga are on that list, so be it. In fact, it is good for the country.

The other source of frustration is the fact that we are dealing with the wrong things. We are writing a constitution, instead of establishing a covenant between tribes. Instead of getting to the root causes of our crisis, we expect our problems to disappear. In the meantime, our ethnic passions are getting entrenched as coalition partners pretend to bond in retreats. Like the Kibaki presidency, we have also become a lie. And this is why we must listen to the "junk prophets." When they tell us that “I feel nothing”, they are telling us something. What is it?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

A fly in the appointment

Some are calling him a Ninja Warrior. He is also being compared to Mr Miyagi, the wizened martial arts instructor in Karate Kid, adept at catching a fly with chopsticks.

The video of his latest feat has made him the hottest star on You-Tube, a conversation point on TV shows, generated thousands of newspaper and Internet commentaries, and hauled him back to the top of the standings for stand-up comedians.

What did President Obama do to earn all these accolades? No, it was not his election victory. That is history. He did not annihilate al Qaeda, bring peace to the Middle East, tame Iran and North Korea, solve the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, or fix the global economic crisis.

The President and Commander-in-Chief of the United States of America’s Armed Forces swatted a fly!

So what’s the big deal? I have several times killed seven with one blow. But then where I come from, flies move in swarms. One does not have to be particularly adept, gifted with superior hand-eye co-ordination, or equipped with a laser targeting device.

Visit my local nyama choma joint, and you will build up an appetite by swatting away the hordes of flying pests that want to share your meal. And here we are talking, not just about the common housefly that provoked the most powerful man in the world, but the larger, meaner fluorescent green monsters that specialise in landing straight on your food after paying a visit to the toilet. Since one does not ordinarily carry a can of Doom around, it is plain hands or a rolled up newspaper employed with less than perfect results, to shoo away or splatter the flies competing for your hard-earned lunch.

At those times, dozens of flies will fall victim to the fatal blows, but you will not earn a single centimetre in the local newspaper. If you are the president of the United States, however, and the violent confrontation with an intrusive fly happens before television cameras, a media blitzkrieg is assured.

During the Q&A session with John Harwood, Obama was distracted by the fly and after swatting it said : “That was pretty impressive, wasn’t it? I got the sucker.”

A week has passed by since the fateful encounter, and the interest has not dried up. An entire industry has sprung up around spoof videos of Obama the Fly Killer now dominating YouTube.

Scientific studies on why it is so difficult to catch a fly have suddenly found renewed interest; a piece on BBC Online on the best way to catch a fly has generated massive reader response; an animal welfare group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) has received complaints about the presidential execution of an innocent fly, and responded by sending President Obama a device for catching flies so they can be released outside unharmed.

Our brother Obama probably never imagined the sort of buzz he would generate by pausing during a televised interview to display lightning-fast reflexes and smash a fly that foolishly landed on his arm. Then he carried on as of nothing had happened, and on his way out of the studio displayed another side of his character by, most unpresidential, bending down to pick up the corpse and carrying it out in tissue paper to a final resting place. The guy may be coated in Teflon but some of the things that happen to him are just too good to be true.

Which is why I am persuaded it was all a set-up by the most media-savvy president in US history.

How a housefly would sneak its way right into the US capitol, make its way through sealed and fortified windows and right into an air-conditioned television studio at the precise moment the president of the US is live is beyond belief.

Since I’ve never heard of a fly that can be trained to perch on the president’s arm on cue, the only conclusion I can reach is that it was a not a fly at all, but a drone.

Read up on technological advances in the US military, and you will learn a lot about pilotless, remote-controlled drones that can be dispatched to fire bullets, take pictures and direct bombs. Combine that with nano-technology, and hey presto! A fly is dispatched to be swatted by the US president on TV.

We're not doing enough for the comfort of our leaders, I think...

There seems to be a bit of noise in the country about the proposal to build a walkway connecting Parliament Building, Continental House and County Hall at a proposed cost of Sh61 million. This is to allow our members of Parliament to cross the road with ease as they walk between their primary workplaces.

Kenyans seem a bit miffed by this, regarding it as an unnecessary extravagance at a time when the country as a whole is experiencing a recession and many Kenyans are starving for a living. But I find this reaction misplaced and misguided. I think we should be doing more for the comfort and ease of our MPs and leaders, not less.

For one thing, this thing should not be a ‘walkway’ at all. Let us double the cost and make it an escalator. Why do we want our leaders to be covered in sweat as they arrive in the hallowed house? Most of them are carrying a great deal of excess weight due to their status as it is; please let them cross the road in comfort. Can Kenyans please realise that these are the top dogs of society that we are talking about? Let us not drag them down to our level, having to dodge crazed matatus, insistent beggars and other unpleasant irritants on the road. We must understand: Great societies are structured for the pleasure and uplift of leaders, not the unwashed masses.

I think this point is not being made often enough. Many over-educated mischief-makers are indeed making the opposite point: That we must worry unnecessarily about the common people. As many MPs can confirm, education beyond age fifteen is a waste of time anyway.

Indeed, there are many valid reasons why the almost-holy feet of MPs should never have to touch the street at all. As we know, these people have many enemies due to the weight of responsibilities that they carry on our behalf. There are many wastrels and ne’er-do-wells who are looking for every opportunity to accost parliamentarians in the street. It’s a long list: Political enemies, creditors, angry spouses, mistresses, former lovers, frustrated constituents, relatives seeking handouts, old schoolfriends, partners in failed ventures, barmaids, former campaign managers, future campaign managers, unpaid workers, gang leaders, auctioneers.

Given that list, can we please spare our elected representatives any unnecessary embarrassments and complications? Let them walk around in peace, aloof from the pollution, noise and disturbance created by the likes of you and me.

Some of you seem offended by the amount in question. Indeed there are some noisemakers who have been busy listing what we could do with sixty million shillings. They point out, for example, that we could build a brand-new two-kilometre road in Nairobi which would ease the traffic problem. Or that we could feed 200,000 starving Kenyans for a month, or resettle a few thousand internally displaced persons, blah blah blah.

Again, we are missing the point. If Nairobians are given another road, they will just rush there with their cars and jam it up in a week. If we feed starving Kenyans, they will be starving again as soon as the rains fail to come. If we resettle IDPs, they will simply offend their new neighbours again. If we educate children, they will just burn their schools down. These are not productive uses of scarce funds. Building a walkway (or rather a ‘glideway’) clearly is. In fact, we should apply the same reasoning to other items of proposed expenditure such a Sh100 million house for the Speaker, a Sh500 million house for the vice-president, a Sh1 billion refurbishment of Parliament chambers, etc. Let us invest in the comfort, status, convenience and luxury of our leaders.

When these people are freed of the stresses of daily life, they will apply their large brains to the problem of how to look after wananchi. Look, we’re never going to be world-beating in anything but running. We might as well forget about the welfare of the 35 million, and instead focus on the 350. Even if we grow our economy at a phenomenal rate for the next twenty years, the income of the average Kenyan might only match that of the average South African or Egyptian. So what?

Far better to ensure that a few hundred people in the country earn world-beating salaries, enjoy the best perks and rub shoulders with the world’s best. That way, Kenya can take its rightful place in the world.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Zimbabwean newspaper campaign turns worthless banknotes into gold

A campaign to boost sales of the Zimbabwean, a newspaper that attacked Robert Mugabe's regime by using the troubled country's almost worthless bank notes to make billboard adverts, has won the top award in the outdoor category at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

The campaign to promote sales of the newspaper, which is published in the UK and South Africa, used the Zimbabwean currency as an advertising medium on posters and billboards to raise awareness of the dire state of the country under Mugabe. Straplines used in the poster campaign included "Thanks to Mugabe this money is wallpaper", "Z$250,000,000 cannot buy the paper to print this poster on", "It's cheaper to print this on money than on paper", and "Fight the regime that has crippled a country".

The ads, by South African agency TBWA/Hunt/Lascaris/Johannesburg, won the Cannes Lions Grand Prix award for outdoor advertising. The Zimbabwean campaign also won a gold lion in the media category. The agency said one of the most "eloquent symbols" of the state the country is in, with rampant inflation, was to use the Zimbabwean currency. The newspaper faces a 55% "luxury import" tax to get copies into Zimbabwe, making it unaffordable to most locals. To get more copies of the paper into the hands of Zimbabweans it has to be subsidised, which is done by raising awareness and sales outside the country.

The Zimbabwean newspaper, which carries the slogan A Voice for the Voiceless, targets the more than one million Zimbabweans who live in the UK and two million who live in Southern Africa, mainly South Africa and Botswana. Wilf Mbanga, the founder, editor and publisher of the Zimbabwean, lives in Britain after being forced to leave Zimbabwe when he was branded an enemy of the people. He has written for the Guardian's Comment is Free blogging website.

UK ad agency DDB London won a bronze lion at Cannes in the outdoor category for a campaign for Harvey Nichols in Bristol.

Fear, loathing, intrigue and impending bankruptcy at the Standard Group

From the outside, Kenya’s oldest media company is a prosperous entity turning in profits and growing in leaps and bounds. Every other month, the management announces this or the other achievement, having surpassed targets or scaled new heights in the competitive publishing arena or acquired one or the other technological platform. Yet, every attempt to countercheck the declarations of runaway success is routinely stonewalled by management,which prefers one-way communication to the public.

According to inside sources, the group is yet again in a quandary occasioned by a series of miscalculations, faulty projections and boardroom squabbles.

Despite the hype and chest-thumping about its profitability, insiders say the company is facing its leanest financial period in recent years in its determination to stabilize. Nearly every of the last five years, the group has either been re-launching, repositioning, restructuring, cost cutting, re-sizing or even expanding; an array of management lexicon that is difficult to understand.

While it is probable that these actions have partly helped keep the company afloat, and even given it the desirable outlook of a prosperous company in the market, compared to what it was up to 2003, these achievements seem to be continuously undermined by infighting and factionalism among top management and shareholders. Suspicion between the three main shareholders –former President Daniel Moi (36 per cent), his son, Gideon (20 percent) and his former aide, Joshua Kulei (16 percent)–is at the centre of the instability that has now become the Achilles heel of the company. According to sources familiar with the management, the Moi family is distrustful of Kulei and has been trying hard to push him and his proxies out, which has driven a wedge in the company’s management, split depending on one’s allegiance either to the Moi or the Kulei faction.

The infighting between the two groups started just two years after Moi left power. While it is not exactly clear what triggered the suspicion, two reasons have so far been offered for the acrimony. The first and more plausible reason is that while he was in power, Moi entrusted all his business interests, including Baraza Limited (the holding company for KTN) and Standard newspapers, to Kulei. Save for Gideon, who has access to some family businesses, the rest of the Moi sons are engaged in their own, some not so prosperous, businesses and wonder why their father should vest control of his business empire in Kulei’s hands. They also fear that, in the event of Moi’s death, Kulei may shortchange them on family wealth, in which he is either custodian or shareholder with their father.

The situation has degenerated into serious suspicion and acrimony between Moi’s sons and Kulei, that is manifested in the boardroom games at Standard Group, and an attempt by the Moi family to wrest from Kulei the 20 percent shareholding at a leading cement factory earlier in the year. Another confidential source attributes the acrimony to Kulei’s arrest over corruption allegations in 2004. It is speculated that Kulei agreed to trade his freedom with the former president’s business secrets, some of which are said to have been included in the Kroll Report on the whereabouts of foreign funds allegedly fleeced from the country. The report was supposedly used by the government to armtwist Moi to support Kibaki’s bid for a second presidential term last year.

But other sources close to the Moi family have argued that this may just have been propaganda passed to former President Moi by his sons and allies, who are trying hard to outdo Kulei and win their father’s favour and thus gain control of family businesses. Of all the Moi businesses, the primary battleground has been The Standard Group, with Kulei precariously hanging onto his shares against all odds, a situation that has left his allies on the board and editorial department highly vulnerable. Indeed, at one time, Kulei had reached the point of selling his shares in the company to other investors, but the plan was scuttled by intrigues. Up to 2004, Kulei had been tightly in control of The Standard Group (KTN and Standard newspaper) and his appointees held key positions on the board and management. At that time, his nephew Chris Kisire, the Group Financial Director, literally ran the show to the extent of even overruling the CEO on many issues, backed by Ben Chepkoit, his brother who was the board vice chairman.

But the entry of Paul Melly, an appointee of the Moi family, as the Standard Group vice chairman and strategy advisor in 2004 tipped the scale against the Kulei camp and set the stage for their departure, one by one. The Moi group argued that, comparatively, Kulei was a minority shareholder who should not take up key positions on the board and management. Although he was recruited as CEO after competitive interviews in 2003, Tom Mshindi later came to be perceived as a Kulei proxy, even though ironically the Kulei group inside the Standard equally had little time for him. Most of Kulei’s allies in the editorial department were unhappy with Mshindi for edging them out in favour of what was described as his dream team–Mutuma Mathiu, David Makali, Pamela Sittoni, Kwamchetsi Makokha and John Bundotich – that was meant to revamp a newspaper whose fortunes had already dipped.

After so much speculation and intrigues that almost stalled the turn round of the group, Mshindi eventually left The Standard in May 2006, three months before the expiry of his three-year contract. Mutuma Mathiu, David Makali, Kwamchetsi Makokha and Pamela Sittoni had already left for various reasons, thus scuttling the dream team and the new bold editorial direction the newspaper had tried to take. Earlier in 2005, Mshindi had tried to elevate Mutuma Mathiu, then the Managing editor of the Standard daily, to the position of Group Managing Editor, but this was vetoed by the Kulei group, with Chris Kisire threatening not to honour the financial demands of the position. That would have meant the GME serving without a salary. Mutuma left soon after, back to Nation, where he was deployed as Group Managing Editor of the group’s Tanzanian operations.

The infighting continued quietly amid speculation over the future of the company in the face of not only clear internal instability, but also its fragile relationship with the government. The fragility of its relationship with government was to manifest itself in the March 2006 commando-style raid on The Standard by hooded policemen, an act that was easily interpreted, whatever the reasons given at that time, as revenge against the group for refusing to support the proposed new constitution and siding with the opposition.

But, even though its coverage of the referendum was subject of much debate and complaint in government circles, 2005 was a little easier to navigate for The Standard Group, since both the Moi family and Kulei supported the Orange (No) campaign against the proposed new constitution. But the 2007 General Election was to prove tricky since, while Moi and his son Gideon supported the Party of National Unity (to which Kanu was an affiliate) and President Kibaki’s re-election, Kulei backed ODM where his key political ally, William Ruto, pitched tent. While Moi and Gideon supported Kibaki and PNU, the Standard Group was perceived to be leaning towards ODM. When Gideon lost his parliamentary seat in Baringo, and Moi faced unprecedented hostility during the campaign and subsequent post election violence, the Standard newspaper and KTN were on the firing line for perceived ‘biased’ coverage.

This view was also advanced by the PNU and Kibaki’s allies, which prodded the Moi family to effect changes at the group to instill some editorial “discipline”. Intense pressure was put on KTN news head Farida Karoney and the daily’s managing editor Kipkoech Tanui, who were perceived as sympathetic to the Orange Democratic Movement. When he visited the offices of the Standard Group in late January, Gideon Moi was heard grumbling to some acquaintances in the lift that some employees had campaigned against him in Baringo. A few days later, a memo signed by Group CEO, Paul Wanyaga, announced that Finance and Administration director Chris Kisire’s contract had expired on January 31. This angered Kulei who, in February, took Wanyaga to task over his mandate to write such a memo against his nominated director. Wanyaga may just have been exacting his revenge on a man who had recruited and subjected him to so much pressure as commercial director. Attempts by Kulei to return Kisire to his old job hit a snag, partly because Kisire was also reluctant to go back and work with Paul Melly, the overseer of the interests of the Moi family.

According to inside sources, the group is yet again in a quandary occasioned by a series of miscalculations, faulty projections and boardroom squabbles.

Soon after Kisire’s departure in February, Wanyaga asked Group Editorial Director Kwendo Opanga and KTN’s Managing Editor (Production) Farida Koroney to take leave. In his tenure, Opanga had played his cards evenly with both camps but Karoney was perceived to belong to the Kulei camp, being a close ally of William Ruto. While she completed her leave and returned safely to her job (although there was speculation that she was on her way out, along with another perceived Kulei ally, Kipkoech Tanui), Opanga was summoned to a meeting at I&M Tower a day before the end of his leave.

To his surprise, the meeting had been called to discuss his “retirement", nearly ten years before his mandatory retirement age. As they emerged out of the meeting to allow Opanga time to write a letter officially requesting to “retire”, he was surprised at how his former colleagues on the board had pulled the rug from beneath his feet. A press conference had already been called by the group at which he was to announce his “retirement” and for others to bid him farewell.

In a nutshell, such changes, along with many others not mentioned here, eventually handed the Moi camp on the board total control, with the two Pauls running roughshod over everyone and organising media hype for every small decision they make. By April, Kulei had acceded to pressure to offload his 16 percent shareholding, but the Moi family was insisting that those shares be offloaded to Gideon.

But things are not looking too rosy for them at the moment. First, they had to fight off allegations by Kisire that, soon after he left, close to Sh10 million was irregularly withdrawn that ended up in the pockets of individuals. Secondly, they had to contend with the Kenya Revenue Authority that was threatening in July to shut down the company for failing to remit taxes. Luckily, hours before the deadline, they found relevant documents to prove they had remitted taxes for the period in question. Thirdly, tension started building between the two Pauls, as Melly insisted on being a signatory to all financial transactions in what was seen as a reaction to allegations of financial impropriety from Kisire. Paul Wanyagah reluctantly acceded to this surprise move, rightly arguing that he was the CEO and Melly, a non-executive Vice Chairman, had no right to such powers. But this merely confirmed the notion that nearly no member of the board at Standard is able to stand up against Melly.

The fourth challenge to the Moi camp that has taken full control of the company has been the fragile financial situation of the company, which they have worked very had to conceal. The tricky financial situation the company finds itself in is basically a product of overzealousness and miscalculation, especially with regard to the launch and commissioning of the new plant and head offices on Mombasa road.

The Mombasa road project, initially estimated to cost one billion Kenya shillings and financed through bank guarantees, was projected to be complete by December 2007 and a new look Standard launched soon after. But by that time, it had been realised that the cost of the project had been under estimated and a further sh300 million was needed to complete it.

As it happens, the company does not have that money and it had to consider two options: Either the main shareholders pump in money or secure another bank guarantee for the sh300 million. Shareholders declined to pump in more money, leaving only the option of another bank financing, which is yet to be secured. This means the project has effectively stalled.

This has put the management in a precarious position. First, all management projections from this year onwards had been pegged on the understanding that the project would be complete and thus the group, having moved to Mombasa road, would not be paying rent for I&M building. Now the company finds itself in a situation where it does not only still pay the rent, but has also to start servicing the bank loan used to put up the incomplete Mombasa road facility. Besides, the group seems stuck with the 12 year contract for the lease of the I&M premises, an agreement that Paul Melly, upon joining the group in 2004, condemned and chided those who had signed it that same year, arguing that the group shall have spent is enough to put up four such buildings by the end of the period. Now, sensing that The Standard Group wants to free itself from the tenancy contract and move to its own offices once the facility is completed, the I&M landlord has dug in, arguing that the 12 year contract is irrevocable: Either they have to serve the full term or pay full rent for the remainder of the contract before shifting.

This setback has jolted the Standard Group management, which had prepared expensively for the new era by heavy recruitment (twice last year and once more in February this year) and also, after several postponements, launched an expanded 78-page newspaper in July. It means that the company now has to bear the burden of an expanded staff portfolio for a project that has aborted. Yet signs that the company was facing major financial problems were evident. First, the much anticipated launch of the new-look Standard newspaper had been put off four times following what was said to be difficulties in raising Sh7 million for the event.

Further, the supply of up to 45 computers as part of the preparation for the launch was delayed for several months when the management could not raise an LPO for the Sh7.6 million needed. The LPO was later revised downwards to sh5.2 million. Once the LPO was raised, the unsuspecting supplier delivered the 36 computers immediately in late June. But by early September the supplier had only been paid Sh2 million.

The other sign that the company was in financial trouble is in the so-called declaration of profits and dividends paid out to shareholders. The company declared Sh423 million profit in March and offered to pay shareholders profits of up to Sh73 million, but there was no money in fact. By June, the company was still trying to secure a bank guarantee to enable it pay the dividends. Then there was the sudden decision to retrench staff just a few months after recruiting. Each department has been given a budgetary ceiling, which the retrenchment must realize. Some departments, like commercial, have chosen to go about reducing the costs in a strange way...

A few months ago, the management wrote to mainly advertising staff, most of whom were recruited in the last one year after another mass lay off in the department, that the retainer of Sh45, 000 - 60, 000 they had been receiving for close to a year was a mistake; that the letter of appointment that gave them the retainer was also a mistake, and thus they were required to refund the money to the company.

This created a stand-off between the management and the advertising staff, which the company paid for dearly, as there were literally no adverts in August. At the end of August when everyone else was being paid, employees in the commercial department were left out for over a week as management were deciding on the way forward. And the way forward was that the money they had been paid for close to a year was now to be treated as a loan they would repay the company within 12 months. Instructions were also issued to departmental heads in early September that all promotions had been frozen. As all this was going on, the company declared profits of Sh51 million for the first quarter of the year.

For a company that has a penchant for making news, even if it is in its own media, the fact that the management has assiduously declined any approaches for interviews bespeaks volumes about the veracity of its institutional information. Both vice chairman Paul Melly and the CEO Paul Wanyagah ducked being interviewed for this article for one month...

Siasa Duni's new look!

Ok, I'm sure it came as a surprise to you, but yes, Siasa Duni now has a new look. We are always on the lookout to make your favourite blog as friendly as possible, and our research has shown that our readers prefer it in a certain way, the results of which are displayed here today.

And what does that mean to you? Well, the content doesn't change. We remain committed to our mantra: Truth comes only to conquer those who have lost the art of receiving it as a friend...

Idols fail

With the Idols season gearing up, this should get you going. Next up, Idols Africa!

Monday, June 22, 2009

This boy

Like many of us still can't believe our eyes, understand just how unreal this seems to every little black boy in the US, and how they now see themselves, every day for the rest of their lives. That's what change means...

In this recent photo, a little boy was visiting the White House. He wanted to feel Obama's hair because he wanted to know if the President's hair felt just like his. Obama obliged. Priceless.

Sex, lies and the Internet: priests and pornography caught on the Web


Perverts had a bad time last week, which is just as well. They are a creeping menace. I am told they are considered the lowest of the low by even hardcore convicts. They are terribly humiliated by fellow inmates when they are sent to Kamiti or Shimo la Tewa prisons.

One of them was arrested recently when he foolishly presented himself at a Nairobi studio to collect photographs from a film he had sent to be developed. It contained pictures of naked women and – hello – children. I am on the prudish side, but I know very well that there is a thriving underground market for such pornographic enterprise in this country and beyond; it is something akin to the market for hard drugs.

No question about it: the Internet has been a revolutionary purveyor of every bit of information one can think of. This also means it can be used to transmit every kind of smut imaginable.

The pornographers post such photos on the Internet, and fellow perverts download them and get their kicks. For now, the Internet pornography business is hampered in this county because of limited credit card availability, which is the main way through which a purveyor makes money.

Actually, most of the pornography you find in Kenya is on DVDs, which have become a roaring underground business in Nairobi. That is where the lewd money is.

In Europe and America, enforcement of anti-Internet child pornography legislation is growing. If found guilty, the suspects face long prison sentences. But perverts are like drug peddlers.

They now prefer communicating through little countries like Kenya with loosely regulated Internet traffic. What the Kenya police who were tipped off about the guy at the photo studio need to do-if they can--is investigate what kind of messages – and pictures – he has been sending and to whom. This is assuming he has been was operating online.

The august institution called the Catholic Church has been caught up in this messy mix. The allegations affect a missionary and former columnist for this newspaper, Fr Renato Kizito. Simultaneously, the controversy over priests who have chosen to break with the church because of mandatory celibacy rules has been getting wide play.

As far as I know, a Catholic priest takes certain vows, one of which is celibacy. Nobody drags him into it. If along the way he loses the vision, it is quite hilarious to blame the church.

It didn’t force him to it. Every organisation has its rules. And when you find you like sex more than grubby parish work, say so without lambasting the organisation.

Between you and me, I know one or two ex-priests who failed to abide by their celibacy vows -- as well as others. Yet they never cared to start a rival church. Neither they nor I ever imagined they represent the Catholic Church as the institutional force it is. More to the point, they never dare to fight it.

Whenever you ask why they left the seminary, you are vaguely told about “certain problems”. These are never made specific, but anybody who went to a proper boarding school and knew so-and-so’s bearing would have a fairly good idea of what this is about.

The argument that being unmarried is “abnormal” is a bit silly. The church makes allowances, and they are called “dispensation”. That is how George Muhoho, the chief executive of the Kenya Airports Authority, left the priesthood and married and entered ordinary life; there are many like him.

A loaded barb, which I happened to hear elsewhere, is that would-be celibate priests who turn lustful have a different problem aside that with the Catholic Church. I agreed with that. If, the argument goes, they had been secretly living non-celibate lives while being priests, what’s the guarantee they will not cheat on their new wives?

That brings me to Fr Kizito. The authorities of the church have stated that te accusations against him remain allegations. The matter, as far as I know, is now in the hands of the police.

Numerous cases of priestly molestation of minors have been established from the United States to Ireland to Australia. It would be unrealistic to cite Kenya as an exception.

Judgement on Fr Kizito will be rendered if the courts determine he has a case to answer. But it will not, by any measure, be a judgement on the Catholic Church.

Throughout its long history, the Catholic Church has had its villains. But now and again it offers up real gems, like Mother Teresa.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned...

A "Kenyan" Catholic priest has denied allegations of sexual misconduct and declared he is ready to face his accusers. Father Renato Kizito Sesana’s denial came as John Cardinal Njue said the Catholic Church will investigate the allegations of child abuse against him to establish the truth.

Accusations against Fr Kizito coincided with revelations that the police have launched major investigations into cases of child sexual abuse with a view to arrest the perpetrators of the crime who face a life sentence if found guilty. The priest, who has served the Catholic Church in Kenya for the last 20 years and won two awards for his work, declared he was innocent and blamed media reports on some people who he once worked with and were scheming to take over the Konoina Community he has established in the country.

In a statement he released, Fr Kizito said: “Let me state very clearly. I have not sodomised any child. I am ready to face anybody who can prove the opposite. I am aware that some criminals do use such allegations of sexual offences to instill fear in lay and religious people working with young people, usually with the intention of extorting money. I am not ready to fall into this trap.”

Let me state very clearly. I have not sodomised any child. I am ready to face anybody who can prove the opposite."
-Father Kizito

The Konoina Community, which he has established for the past three years with the help of Italians, is valued at Sh3 billion. Fr Kizito won the Raul Follereau award in 1997 and the Vita Nova award in 2002. The Catholic priest said that he jetted in to the country on Tuesday evening as the news was being aired by a media house. He said he recorded a statement at the Kilimani police station after learning of the allegations, which he says he has not heard a chance to defend himself.

He further noted that his accusers had not taken the charges to the police together with the evidence.

The priest stated that some people have come forward and they are ready to testify that they were bribed to testify against him. “They say they have been bribed, threatened or tortured in order to testify falsely against me. At the moment they are scared, but in due course they will file their personal affidavits,” he said.

The priest in an interview said that the feud began last October after an E-mail was leaked with a naked image alleged to be of him and a 'young adult’. “It is impossible to say if it was a man or a woman. Those pictures were clearly doctored using photo editing software, and so I did not accord them much importance” Fr Kizito explained. Over time, he said, he realised that the issue was much bigger than he anticipated.

He suspected the people behind the allegations to be those who were once in his confidence and are now trying to take over the community. These people, Fr Kizito said, were expelled and are no longer among the trustees of the Konoina Community Trust as they tried to transfer the properties in to their names.

Friday, June 19, 2009

STOP PRESS: Lions escape from Nairobi National Park!

NAIROBI, Thursday - Commuters along Nairobi’s Mbagathi Road on Thursday morning got an early morning scare when three lions escaped from the Nairobi National Park and prowled on the roadside. The big cats were reportedly spotted by motorists at around 6am, almost opposite the gate to the Multimedia University College, before KWS officers arrived minutes later to drive them back into the park.

However, Park Warden Elizabeth Leitoro who supervised the exercise told said that the lions had returned into the park by the time KWS officers got to the scene. She said that the the last of the cats jumped over the park’s outer barbed-wire, sneaking back into the park beneath live electric inner fence.

Last April, a leopard was spotted in Nairobi’s Eastlands, causing panic among residents. It had killed seven sheep and several dogs in the area, forcing terror-stricken residents to head for home earlier than usual. Unlike then when the wild animal eluded KWS officers for more than a week, the Nairobi National Park’s lions went back into the bushes in less than two hours.

Eight teams break away from F1

Formula One plunged into its biggest crisis in 60 years with eight of the 10 teams announcing plans to set up their own championship.

The teams association FOTA said BMW-Sauber, Brawn, Ferrari, McLaren, Red Bull, Renault, Toro Rosso and Toyota were united in a decision that would split the sport in two if carried through. "The teams cannot continue to compromise on the fundamental values of the sport and have declined to alter their original conditional entries to the 2010 world championship," said a statement. "These teams therefore have no alternative other than to commence the preparation for a new championship which reflects the values of its participants and partners."

The governing FIA had set a Friday deadline for teams to make their entries unconditional or risk exclusion in favour of would-be new competitors. The eight FOTA teams had submitted entries conditional on the 2010 rules, which include a controversial budget cap, being rewritten and the signing of a new commercial agreement governing the sport. Attempts by both sides to reach a compromise failed, with the FIA accusing teams earlier in the week of wanting to take over the sport.

FOTA said their new series would encourage more entrants, listen to the wishes of fans and have transparent governance. The teams, who are due to race in the British Grand Prix on Sunday, also promised "lower prices for spectators worldwide, partners and other important stakeholders. "The major drivers, stars, brands, sponsors, promoters and companies historically associated with the highest level of motorsport will all feature in this new series," it added.

There was no immediate comment from the FIA or Formula One's commercial supremo Bernie Ecclestone. Former champions Williams and Force India have already committed unconditionally to the FIA's world championship along with three new entrants - Campos, US F1 and Manor - who have yet to build any grand prix cars. The FIA has put another group of applicants on hold pending the outcome of talks with existing teams although one would-be new entrant, chassis maker Lola, has already withdrawn its application. It remains to be seen whether the new entrants, who have all agreed to race with a £40 million budget cap, will still be willing to commit to a series without glamour teams such as Ferrari and McLaren.

The stage is also set for a legal battle, with the FIA saying champions Ferrari and the two Red Bull teams have contracts that commit them to the existing championship. Sponsorship and broadcast deals will also come under scrutiny with television networks facing the loss of the big name teams and drivers that bring in the viewers.

The eight FOTA members met at Renault's Enstone headquarters on Thursday evening after receiving letters from FIA President Max Mosley urging them to drop their conditions and sign up. Their statement accused the FIA and Ecclestone, who represents commercial rights holder CVC, of trying to divide them. "The wishes of the majority of the teams are ignored," the statement said. "Furthermore, tens of millions of dollars have been withheld from many teams by the commercial rights holder, going back as far as 2006. "Despite this, and the uncompromising environment, FOTA has genuinely sought compromise."

FOTA will have plenty of options when it comes to drawing up a calendar, with Formula One having discarded several European and American venues in recent years in favour of lavish new facilities in the Middle East and Asia. Silverstone, which hosted the first championship race in 1950, will join that list after Sunday.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Look at what you missed!

June 16th was Penis Day in Japan. Anyone feeling like they missed out?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Facebook Swahili version launched

The social-networking website Facebook has launched in Swahili, targeting more than 110m speakers of the language.

A group of Swahili scholars launched the new version with the permission of the California-based internet firm. Facebook use has spread over the past five years in East and Central Africa, where most Swahili-speakers live. Analysts say a Hausa version could be launched next in West Africa and Zulu for southern Africa. Facebook already exists in Afrikaans.

Symon Wanda, one of the project's initiators, said they wanted to launch a Swahili version to safeguard the future of the language. "The youth, the future generation, if you look at the biggest percentage of users on Facebook, they are the youth," he said. "They can easily navigate through when it's maybe a language they understand, which makes it easier to use the Swahili than to use the English."

In Nairobi, the Swahili site has already been on trial for some time and word has spread quickly. Facebook's Simon Wanda says they have been monitoring the take-up and says more than 60% of Facebook users in East Africa are already using the Swahili version. The bulk of Swahili-speakers live in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, parts of the Horn of Africa, Malawi, Mozambique and the Indian Ocean islands.

Facebook already exists in some 50 language versions.