Sunday, January 31, 2010

Manchester City proposition Mariga

Contrary to reports (and subsequent over-excitement on last night's KTN Prime News--You should have seen Kenyans over the moon that he'll be making Sh. 10,000,000 per week. They even fished out his mum for an interview), Manchester City have only made a £7million move for Parma midfielder McDonald Mariga. Roberto Mancini has moved in to head-off interest from former club Inter Milan and will offer City striker Valeri Bojinov as part of the deal.

Bojinov has been on loan at Parma and has proved a relative hit. City value him at around £4m and Parma are happy to accept.
City have moved for the 22-year-old Kenyan after growing frustrated in their bid for Real Madrid's Fernando Gago. Mariga is more combative than Gago. He is 6ft 2ins tall and has more than 20 caps for Kenya after playing in Scandinavia. Parma are also in the process of signing Luis Jimenez permanently from Inter.

City's move for Roma right-back Marco Motta is on hold though as talks have hit a hitch over his dual ownership with Udinese. City striker Benjani, meanwhile, will complete his £500,000 move to Sunderland today as revealed by Sportsmail.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The man who made millions from investing nothing in railways

New evidence reveals how Mr Roy Puffet, the South African "investor" at the centre of what is emerging as one of Kenya’s most infamous privatisation scandals, thrived by projecting the image of a big corporate player and director of multiple companies in South Africa.

But, as it was to emerge later, it was all but a clever game: most of the companies owned by Mr Puffet are shelf units with no capital base.

Just how he managed to commit Kenya and Uganda into handing over to him the running of the Kenya-Uganda Railways system for a period of 25 years is one of the intriguing aspects of the saga. Tracking companies owned by Mr Puffet leads to a complex web of holdings registered in Kenya, Mauritius and South Africa.

But the names of the companies that are material to understanding Mr Puffet’s intriguinng game are four: Rift Valley Railways Kenya Ltd, Sheltam Rail (Pty), Sheltam Trading CC (both of South Africa) and RVR Investments(Pty) of Mauritius.

Three interesting trends emerge from a closer scrutiny of the files of these companies from registries in South Africa and Kenya.

First, they were all registered in the year 2005, only months before the railway transaction was concluded. Secondly, none of the companies had a capital base to own an asset as big as the Kenya Uganda Railway system. Mark you, the international valuation company, Ecorys Nederland BV, which was contracted by the two governments to specifically value the assets of the railway system, came up with a figure of $808 million. Thirdly, none of Mr Puffet’s companies had either the capacity or the financial muscle to manage a railway system as large and complex as the Kenya-Uganda Railways.

What is clear is that the moment Mr Puffet’s consortium was declared the leader in the bidding for the concession, he went into a spree, registering one company after another in multiple jurisdictions. According to information from the companies registry, Rift Valley Railways Kenya Ltd, the entity whose name appears in the actual concession document, was purchased off the shelves of Nairobi’s companies registry from two Kenyan businessmen, Philip Kingai and Julius Mwangi Ng’ang’a, on October 25, 2005 under certificate number 120151.

The two handed over this shelf company to Mr Puffet for a consideration of Sh200 million, hardly a week after the company was registered. On November, 4, 2005, the name of the company changed to Rift Valley Railways Kenya Ltd. Mr Puffet and another South African national, Wesley Graham Kruger, were appointed directors. According to the records, the share capital of the company was stated as Sh98,000.

At this stage, other names come into the picture: RVR Investments (Pty) Ltd, an entity registered in the Republic of Mauritius, Sheltam Rail (Pty) of South Africa and Sheltam Trade CC, also of South Africa. The shares held by Philip Kingai were transferred to Sheltam Rail Company (Pty) based in Port Elizabeth, while the shares owned by Julius Mwangi Ng’ang’a were transferred to Sheltam Trade CC.

With this multiplicity of companies in his hands, Mr Puffet was able to convince the government to sign deals with entities of doubtful financial standing.

It is noteworthy that, according to the concession agreement itself, the registration number for Rift Valley Railways Kenya is stated as C120 126. Yet, in the files for the original company, it is given as C120 151. A mundane discrepancy? Maybe. But it serves to emphasize the point that the parties negotiating with Mr Puffet on behalf of the government did not do much of a due diligence process on the man and his companies.

A wily operative, the manner in which he committed negotiators of both governments to close the deal is a compelling story on the art of hard bargaining. A few days before the day of taking over, and well aware that he did not have the $5 million he was required to cough up before moving into office, he crafted a clever scheme that enabled him to out-manoeuvre government negotiators and their advisers. He carried on as if he was prepared and ready to meet all requirements until the very last minute, and thus cornered the government at a point where cancelling the deal would not have been a politically feasible option.

Mr Puffet’s game was implemented to precision. Up to the very last day, he gave no indication to the government that he did not have the money for the entry fees. At one point, in those very last few days, Mr Puffet even asked the two governments to send wiring instructions to his bankers in South Africa so that the money could be sent.

The story goes how, one day before the day of closure, Mr Puffet was in Kampala attending a party hosted in his honour by the government to celebrate his imminent takeover of the railways. It was during that party that he broke the news to the government: he had just been informed that his most critical partner, Grindrod of South Africa, had pulled out.

The implication was that he was not going to meet a number of conditions for closure, including payment of entry fees. Effectively, the two governments and their negotiators were cornered. It was too late in the day to cancel the transaction.

Consequently, top government officials of both Kenya and Uganda, flanked by a huge team of transaction advisers, spent the night at Kenya’s Treasury crafting a new agreement with new conditions to allow Mr Puffet to take over without having to meet all conditions of entry, including the entree fees.

He had won the game. Once he moved in, and having taken over as chairman and chief executive of the company, he signed a management agreement with companies associated with him in South Africa — allowing him to repatriate millions in fees. The two companies were Sheltam Grindrod (Proprietory) Ltd and RVR Investments (Proprietory Ltd).

Under the agreement, Rift Valley Railways Kenya Ltd was compelled to pay Mr Puffet’s companies a management fee equivalent to two per cent of monthly revenues. By tying the fees to revenues, he made sure he was able to earn millions from the company regardless of whether or not it was making profits.

In November last year, he sold Sheltam Rail to Egyptian private equity firm, Citadel Capital, making millions from investing nothing in Kenya and Uganda.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tiger's new endorsement deal

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Pure Genuis: How to set up and run an international railway service with no capital outlay

After Roy Puffet ambushed Kenyan and Ugandan government officials with the dramatic revelation that he did not have the $5 million they were expecting—a day before they signed a contract that would hand him the running of the Kenya-Uganda railway for 25 years—the transaction team took what had become a standard operating procedure: just bend the rules for the guy.

Months earlier, Puffet had run a well orchestrated media campaign in which he ensured he extracted all the concessions that he needed to sweeten the deal. He had demanded that the Kenya Government takes over all debts that were owed to the Kenya Railways pension fund. He fought hard to ensure that the government took the decision to fire 6,000 workers at a time when President Kibaki’s government was very unpopular.

The World Bank extended a KSh6 billion loan to pay off the sacked workers. But, despite all these concessions, Puffet turned up with empty pockets on November 1.

According to experts who have been involved in such deals, it would have been possible to detect that Puffet did not have money right from the start if the due diligence conducted was thorough and if the Treasury had demanded for guarantees that the money is available.

To save the situation, the governments and the International Finance Corporation (IFC), which is owned by the World Bank, hastily amended the contracts by introducing two legal devices that would enable Puffet to raise the money required in 30 days before he could be handed over the railway. There was to be a wet signing on November 1, 2006, and a dry signing on December 1, 2006.

This grace period unleashed a major scramble to raise cash quickly to save the deal. Without this cash, the IFC and KfW (the German government agency that lends to the private sector) were not going to release their money, and this would imperil nearly $64 million in project finance.

Puffet and his financial adviser from PWC, Vishal Agarwal, started by knocking on the usual doors looking for the cash at firms such as major private equity shops and investment houses, but many could not touch the deal—despite the world then being awash with excess money—because either the window to close the deal was too short, or they were put off by the political risk and the shareholding squabbles that plagued Rift Valley Railways (RVR).

With all options drying out, Agarwal reached out to Transcentury, a local investment holding company that had been recently making waves to invest. Transcentury had recently made a series of good deals, starting with its investment in East African Cables, and later putting money into a private equity fund raised by Helios that would buy 25% of Equity Bank for $150 million.

Though this was one of the biggest and most complicated deals that Transcentury had handled so far in terms of the political risks involved and scale of the asset, they came through with $9 million in the end, and saved the deal—and face—for everyone involved. Transcentury got a 20% shareholding.

By hiring Agarwal, Puffet had made a smart move that would help feed directly into the Kenyan political and business networks. Agarwal was the ultimate insider in the Kenyan corporate finance scene after handling the KenGen listing on the Nairobi Stock Exchange. This gave him good connections with Esther Koimett, the investment secretary, and Eddy Njoroge, KenGen’s chief and a key investor in Transcentury.

Centum (an investment company controlled by Chris Kirubi) and Babcock Brown (an Australian investment bank that has since hit a lean patch) also came through with $5 million a piece that gave them 10% each of the company.

Now Puffet controlled the minimum 35% that was required to hold on to the concession as the lead investor. IFC provided a $10 million loan.

However, both the IFC and the German government refused to buy shares in the company because they had problems with Puffet, and especially with the way he had handled himself throughout the deal. They did not particularly like the fact that he did not pay for his shares and that the two governments had to make a special allowance to allow him to do so. He was even allowed to capitalise expenses amounting to KSh 609 million incurred in bidding for the concession. To this day, they have not honoured their commitment to buy shares directly in the company, but IFC continues to support the loan.

This situation presented a big problem—stemming from the way the concession deal was structured—that could plague the company over the next four years.

Because Puffet had to maintain a 35% stake (and he had already given out 25% to his unhappy partners Rostam Azziz of Mirambo Holdings and Asif Abdullah of PrimeFuels out of the 60% maximum that the law allowed foreigners to own) he could not sell more shares to raise money. No one could put in more money without diluting his 35% stake.

IFC, fearing that Puffet could easily sell his shareholding to someone they did not approve of and risk their loan, also signed a side deal (shareholding deed) that made him promise that he would maintain a minimum of 51% of the shares in Sheltam Railway Company, his company that won the Kenya-Uganda concession during the 25 years.

Already, the company faced the challenge of selling 15% to Ugandans within five years to meet the terms of the concessions. With Transcentury and Centum holding 30%, someone would have to sell to make way for the Ugandans — which introduced the possibility that at some point the shares would be in play.

So, first, with IFC and the Germans refusing to put in more money, and the fact that existing shareholders could not buy more shares, RVR was handicapped when it came to raising cash to run the railway.

Second, the governments and its advisors neglected to separate the shareholding of RVR and the management of the company, but instead gave a carte blanche to Puffet, a manager who had never ran a full-fledged railway business such as Kenya Railways and Uganda Railways combined.

This weakness in corporate governance would eventually feed into boardroom intrigues and the underperformance of the concession.

On the day that he signed the dry lease, Puffet was a happy man. Media images of him jumping on the railways tracks, and a few months later bathing in the after glow of the deal, will remain etched in the Kenyan mind as the metaphor of the failed concession, hailed as the best emerging markets deal by the respected Euromoney magazine — this in spite of the mess that insiders knew of the process and the outstanding issues.

For IFC, it was compared to the privatisation of Kenya Airways, in terms of how an excellent deal should be done. But, to insiders within IFC, this concession left a bad taste within the World Bank Group, with some of the bankers who shepherded it turning out to be the biggest critics of themselves. It is simply considered one of the worst deals they have done, and the World Bank has officially acknowledged as much publicly through the various studies its publishes on infrastructure.

Upon taking over with $29 million in equity from Transcentury, Centum, Backcock and Brown, Mirambo, PrimeFuels and the loan from IFC, it became clear that running RVR was going to be a rough ride for shareholders. The $29 million was supposed to be used over five years. RVR was also expected to invest $25 million annually for five years in upgrading the railway and trains.

Before the railway was handed over, there were expectations that only 6,000 workers would be sacked. As much as Sheltam was expected to provide technical expertise from outside the country, it was also expected to build local capacity and promote good labour relations, given the fact that Kenya Railways had traditionally been a very politically sensitive institution. However, within the first year of running the railway, Puffet ruffled feathers with trade unions and politicians by firing 600 workers to the dismay of the shareholders and the government.

According to one big shareholder, Puffet "filled up the place with expatriates from South Africa", which irked senior executives who now had to deputise foreign managers —some of whom did not know the railway business as much as they did. Besides, it was expected that the first visible sign of success was a train service that ran efficiently on time, regularly and profitably. However, operational decisions taken by Sheltam produced the opposite effect, which led to a major congestion at the Mombasa Port.

In 2007, the company closed the year with a loss of KSh477 million on revenues of Sh2.6 billion. Puffet’s company earned KSh27 million in management fees for the six months he had been running RVR, and the concession fees owed to the government hit KSh325 million. The company’s finances were in bad shape, with debts exceeding assets to the tune of KSh1.25 billion. Most importantly, the company was not meeting the operation performance targets set by the government.

In 2008, the problems continued to mount. With the company failing to meet revenue targets, finances continued to worsen and the investment programme to upgrade the railways and trains set in the concession agreement was falling behind. The governments were unhappy. For instance, RVR incurred a loss of KSh1.8 billion in 2008, compared to KSh477 million in 2007 on revenues of KSh3.7 billion.

These mounting problems threatened the concession, and this was making shareholders uncomfortable, but what triggered their action was the realisation that the KSh2.1 billion ($29 million) that was supposed to be used for five years had been spent in two years. "Roy says it wasn't his fault the money disappeared, but because the IFC loans were never fully drawn down,” said one person familiar with the details.

It was with this in mind that Transcentury started canvassing other shareholders to support its bid to engineer a boardroom coup that would remove Puffet as the manager of the business and replace him with a local. Transcentury believed that the KSh2.1 billion of equity the shareholders contributed was wasted on hiring South African expatriates, among other things, and they pushed for Brown Ondego, formerly of Kenya Ports Authority, to be hired to replace Puffet.

Some of the shareholders did not support this move, but Transcentury pushed its agenda through and got Ondego. Some within the Transcentury group believe that Ondego has achieved much more than Puffet did with KSh2.1 billion.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The other star of Michael Jackson's 'This is it': Guitarist Orianthi Panagaris

If you found yourself watching the much-hyped Michael Jackson concert rehearsal film, This Is It, as I did last night--from home: I completely eschewed it at the theatres, but got the DVD at Xmas. I've been keeping it for a rainy day, which came yesterday when my DStv subscription went tits up--then you likely found a happy surprise tucked inside.

Orianthi Panagaris.

How is it that I didn't know who Orianthi Panagaris is before last night?

I wonder.

This 24-year-old Greek-Australian virtuoso is truly the wonder, asked several months ago to audition for Michael Jackson's band in anticipation of the final concert tour. Blonde hair blowing in the fans, fingers blazing, Orianthi burns up the stage in a performance I've hardly seen since Jimmy Page and Puff Daddy in Come with me, off the Godzilla Soundtrack.

The film footage is cut in such a way that it is lovingly supportive of the musicians and dancers who surrounded Michael Jackson in the final months of his life in this project. As Michael says to Orianthi near the end of the film, encouraging her to go full-out on a guitar solo, "This is your time to shine."

And I have no doubt she's about to in a big way!

Abdoulaye Wade, man of stunts

Is it megalomania or just a political stunt?

Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade may not even know the answer himself, but his offer to let quake-stricken Haitians resettle in his West African country certainly qualifies as the most flamboyant response to the tragedy in Haiti.

“The repeated calamities that befall Haiti prompt me to propose a radical solution: to take measures to create, somewhere in Africa, the conditions for Haitians to return,” the 83-year-old Senegalese president said on Saturday. “They did not choose to go to that island. It is our duty to recognise their right to come back to the land of their ancestors.”

Well, some of their ancestors, anyway. The slave populations of all the Caribbean islands were deliberately drawn from different parts of the west African coast, so that they would speak a variety of languages and find it harder to rebel. But the vocabulary of Haitian Creole suggests that there were many Wolof speakers (the most widely used indigenous language in Senegal) among the slaves of Haiti.

Educated Haitians also speak French, of course, as do educated Senegalese; so it’s not as though Turkey or Sri Lanka were to offer a new home to Haitians. But it is nevertheless mighty peculiar: just where does Abdoulaye Wade propose to put them all?

He does sound serious about his offer, and he says that large numbers would be welcome. His spokesman, Mamadou Bemba Ndiaye, explained that "The president is offering voluntary repatriation to any Haitian that wants to return to their origin. If it’s just a few individuals, then we will likely offer them housing or small pieces of land. If they come en mass we are ready to give them a region."

Now, it is true that 90% of Haitians would leap at the chance to leave their country, the poorest in all the Americas, but the destination they have in mind is Miami or Montreal. Senegal is one of the best-run and most democratic countries of Africa (though both qualities have been badly damaged during the 10-year rule of Abdoulaye Wade), but it does not feature prominently on Haitian wish-lists.

It is also true that most Senegalese feel that their country is quite full enough without a large influx of Haitians. There are 14 million people in Senegal, and the population is still growing fast. There are 10 million people in Haiti, and its population is growing fast too. Moving a million Haitians to Senegal would relieve the intolerable pressure on Haiti’s badly degraded land for less than a decade — and it would cause chaos in Senegal. "If they come en masse we are ready to give them a region," said the president’s spokesman, adding that it would be in a fertile part of the country rather than in its parched deserts. But there is no fertile region of Senegal that is not already fully populated by people whose families have lived there for many generations. Where is the president planning to put them?

So yes, it is a stunt, not a real offer, and what gives the game away is the fact that Senegal is offering "voluntary repatriation" to Haitians, not assisted passage. They are welcome to come to Senegal if they can find the money for the airline tickets — but how many Haitians can do that?

Abdoulaye Wade is big on stunts and dramatic gestures. His last one, now nearing completion, is an enormous bronze statue overlooking the capital, Dakar, that is higher than the Statue of Liberty in New York harbour. It is called the African Renaissance Monument, but it is being built by North Koreans. It actually looks like one of those Socialist Realist groupings of statuary, all windswept hair and eyes fixed confidently on the future, that littered the old Soviet Union. Only bigger.

Maybe he should build one overlooking Port-au-Prince too. It would be about as much use to Haitians as his offer of new homes for them in Senegal. Abdoulaye Wade is showing more and more signs of the "Big Man" syndrome that has wrecked so many African countries that once had quite functional governments. From Sudan to Zimbabwe and from Sierra Leone to Somalia, we have watched them fall into tyranny and chaos. Senegal may be next.

And what of Haiti? As hard as you might look for signs of hope amid the ruins, you will not find any. The earthquake is a dramatic interlude of natural disaster in a long history of tragedy whose sources were mostly human. What has devastated Haiti is politics, much of it imposed from outside by foreign governments: the French in the 19th century, the US in the 20th and 21st. No honest and competent Haitian government has ever survived more than a couple of years.

The denuded land, the runaway population growth, the unskilled and illiterate population, the universal corruption: all these are due to failures of policy, not to some fundamental flaw in the character of Haitian people. But by now there have been generations of despair and neglect, and it is getting harder and harder to see how Haitians might turn it all around. No wonder most of them want to leave. But most of them never will.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Kenyan politicians must learn to lose elections gracefully. And stop stealing in broad daylight as well.

Will you vote again?

That’s the question that went to a young lady on TV shortly after the post-election violence ended in 2008. Her answer told you everything you need to know about the state of Kenya’s democracy.

Of course I will never vote again, she said. But before the next election, she promised she would buy enough food to last several weeks. She would also stock up on airtime and water and then stay indoors until the chaos ends.

That is what it has come to. People will prepare for elections in Kenya as they do for war. The main problem is that we have entrenched a culture that does not countenance defeat. We see elections as a do or die affair in which failure is not an option. The graceful loser is certainly not a Kenyan creature.

The Law Society of Kenya elections were supposed to have ended on December 31. Balloting was extended until February. Don’t believe it when they say that was simply a procedural matter. In fact, the contestants in the race for chairman of the lawyers’ body openly state that the process had to be done afresh after claims of “serious irregularities” cropped up.

If the election of the chair of LSK—the one society that has consistently been on the right side of history these last few decades, the one society you would expect to rally on the side of justice in case of a rigged election—can be compromised, what do you expect of the main event, the General Election?

Recent events on the political scene suggest the next election will be as emotionally fraught as any we have known since 1992.

The 2007 poll was essentially an anti-Kikuyu referendum.

The dynamic will be slightly different in 2012. The polls indicate that Raila Odinga has made inroads in Central Province. Word on the street is that the Kikuyu elite has warmed to him, thanks in part to his performance at the Prime Minister’s roundtable – a quarterly forum where he meets business leaders with a view to addressing their grievances.

Mr Odinga will be up against a hugely formidable team at the next elections.

The boycott of the Mau tree-planting exercise tells you who his opponents will be. The 2012 poll will be a pro- or anti-Odinga referendum. It will be tough and emotional, simply because nothing or no one divides opinion among Kenyans like Mr Odinga.

If it turns out to be a close election, the question is: Will Kenya survive the aftermath?

Will any of the parties involved accept defeat? Will a Kenyan political party ever entertain the notion that being in the opposition is not such a terrible thing? That you can lose an election but still influence government policy by being a principled opposition?

That is the question on which Kenya’s future depends. The current discussions on the draft constitution, which have assumed the familiar Orange-Banana divide, foreshadow the larger battle to come.

One just hopes that before the next election comes around, Kenyan leaders will have learnt to lose with grace. At present, any contest between Kenyans is a 100-metre dash between 10 Usain Bolts on steroids.

No one wants to lose. And, in the process, we will all lose. The TV lady was right. If nothing else, make sure that before the next elections, you have enough unga in the house to last you a few weeks.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Terrorism might just be the next best thing for Africa

Kenya has got itself into an impossible position with Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal, the Jamaican Islamic preacher it deported last week, but is now back in the country — because no country (including Tanzania, from whence he came) will take him.

Short of putting him on a charter flight to Jamaica, Faisal looks doomed to live many weeks at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport. His problems (he actually looks like a reggae musician), seem to stem from the suspicion that he might be a religious extremist.

That, in turn, seemed to have been fuelled by the Christmas incident in which the young Nigerian, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, an alleged Al Qaeda operative, botched an attempt to destroy a plane carrying 290 people flying from Amsterdam to Detroit.

Abdulmutallab attempted to detonate explosives sewn into his underpants, probably due to lack of oxygen for combustion, as the plane approached the airport in Detroit. This episode has earned him the epithet the "underwear bomber". It would seem, after that, suspicion heightened over every radical Islamic preacher.

The acts of people like Abdulmutallab often tar many innocent Muslims, and in some parts of the world, especially the West, "Muslim" has become synonymous with "terrorist." Every other day, you read of stories of areas where Christians are protesting because a Muslim has moved into the neighbourhood.

But looking at suicide bombers acting in the name of radical religion from Africa, one sees more interesting things. It is heartening, in a strange way, to see an African willing to kill others for something other than his tribe, political affiliation, or personal profit.

Abdulmutallab’s action should resonate in Kenya, where following the disputed December 2007 elections, thousands of people were slaughtered and displaced because of their ethnic origin or the political party they supported. Or, better still, Rwanda where in 1994, nearly one million were killed mostly because they were Tutsi, or were Hutu who had become "traitors" against their kind by refusing to support the extremists. In addition, beyond killing for religion, Abdulmutallab was also willing to die for it by being a suicide bomber. This idea of a most extreme personal sacrifice is not new in Africa, but it is not common either. However, again, it is rare to see people in most African countries going to this extent. Apart from soldiers, who earn a salary for it, we don’t usually put our necks on the line for our countries.

All this is good, for several reasons. First, religion is actually a big idea. If more of us begin to kill only for big ideas, and not small ones like tribe and who you voted for at elections, we shall see a sharp decline in violence in Africa.

This is because not many new big ideas come along every day. It is possible to go for 10 years without an idea worth killing for coming along. Secondly, it is actually possible for a movement of people willing to die for the wider interests of their country to emerge from that of those willing to die for their religion. From Abdulmutallab’s act of terrorism might grow the first true seeds of modern patriotism in Africa.

Finally, before the Jihadists came along, there wasn’t much of a dialogue between Christians and Muslims in Africa, in part because in the countries where Muslims are a minority, they had endured a history of discrimination during European colonialism. This oppression was continued by independence governments. This left some bitterness.

Following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York in which the world was swept by near-hysteria, Islam made its biggest effort to explain that terrorism was not in the Qur’an. Fearful Christians, eager for reassurance, were much more willing to listen than they had been in the past.

While the Muslims were energised to defend the honour of their religion against attempts to besmirch all of them, they found they needed to do something with their new energies and organisation. One result in countries like Uganda and Kenya is that they used it to elect more Muslims to Parliament.

Many governments in Christian-dominated countries also sought to do something they had not been serious about — Muslim representation in public life. Muslim moderates, particularly, have flourished. And so you have your ultimate irony.

Entirely by accident, radical Islam-inspired terrorism might turn out to be the best thing to happen to both Islam and the politics of many countries in Africa: It has improved inter-faith dialogue, reduced marginalisation of Muslims, given them a little more voice, and, by forcing countries to rally around something other than their tribes, could do African nationalism endless good.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Someone save this Spartaaaaaaaaaaaaaaan!

While watching 300, I figured Gerard Butler did like 1,000,000 crunches to get that six-pack that got my wife ogling. A lot. I guess I don't have to worry about her ogling now, and I doubt they'll ask him to make a sequel either.

Comrade Zuma stages 5th wedding ceremony

NKANDLA, South Africa - South African President Jacob Zuma’s marriage to his fifth wife was not without a hitch - while dancing, he appeared to lose his balance and fell. But he did not seem to be seriously hurt.

The wedding was described as a "giant step back into the dark ages" by the leader of an opposition party, while a gender activist also described it as a wrong move.

The leader of South Africa’s Christian Democratic Party (CDP), Reverend Theunis Botha said Mr Zuma’s wedding "to a woman he is reported to have already fathered three children with, and the alarming return to ancestral worship, is a giant step back into the dark ages."

It was the same ancestral traditions that had plagued Africa in the past and that had kept it the continent in superstition and poverty, and not colonialism as some people believed, claimed The Rev Botha. The Rev Botha is also acting chairperson of the Christian Democratic Alliance.

Polygamy is not common among young urban middle-class South Africans, but Zuma's defence of his Zulu culture has endeared him to conservative African traditionalists. "There are plenty of politicians who have mistresses and children that they hide so as to pretend they are monogamous. I prefer to be open. I love my wives and I am proud of my children," Mr Zuma has said, defending polygamy in a television interview.

But his lifestyle and his campaign theme song, Bring Me My Machine Gun, are seen by some as sending an inappropriate "hyper-masculine" message. Some activists view it as old-fashioned; others see it as deeply worrying. "We’re at a complicated moment in South African history with revived traditionalism, and there's a danger of gender transformation being lost," Dean Peacock of the gender activist group Sonke Gender Justice Network said at a past news conference. "We hear men saying, 'If Jacob Zuma can have many wives, I can have many girlfriends.' The hyper-masculine rhetoric of the Zuma campaign is going to set back our work in challenging the old model of masculinity.”

Mr Zuma was acquitted in 2006 on charges of raping a family friend, but his comments during testimony disturbed many South Africans — including one remark that he knew his accuser wanted sex because she was wearing a short skirt.

Leader of Christian party describes event as a sign of steps in the wrong direction

Mr Zuma married his fifth wife, Thobeka Madiba, outside his homestead on Monday afternoon in a colourful traditional wedding which attracted scores of guests and media. Three large tents were erected for the udendwe wedding ceremony under overcast skies in Zuma's rural homestead in Nkandla, deep in the countryside of KwaZulu-Natal province.

The two formally wedded when a tribal elder asked Madiba if she accepted to join the Zuma family. When she agreed, he pronounced her Zuma's third current wife. Several sheep, goats and cows were slaughtered for the feast.

The guests included South Africa’s political and business elite, including Mandla Mandela, a grandson of the nation’s first black president, Nelson Mandela. Local celebrities and music stars like Yvonne Chaka Chaka also attended the ceremony under overcast skies, with a gentle drizzle seen as a sign of blessing in African culture.

The president's other wives are Sizakele Khumalo, whom he married in 1973, and Nompumelelo Ntuli-Zuma, whom he married in 2007.

Mr Zuma was previously married to current Home Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, whom he divorced in 1998, and Kate Mantsho Zuma, who committed suicide in 2000. She left a note stating that life with her husband was "hell."

While preparations for Monday’s wedding were underway, President Zuma was already preparing for his sixth marriage to Gloria Bongi Ngema from Durban. Her family presented umbondo (gifts) to the Zuma family at the end of December. Umbondo is the last traditional ceremony before the wedding.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Tiger Woods raw on Vanity Fair

I don't think Tiger would greenlight the release of this 2006 photo right about now. The scandal-ridden golfer is featured on the February 2010 cover of Vanity Fair magazine. Famed photographer Annie Leibovitz said, “Tiger is an intensely competitive athlete – and quite serious about his sport. I wanted to reveal that in these photos. And to show his incredible focus and dedication.” Ouch.

Johnson & Johnson heiress found dead aged 30

LOS ANGELES - A socialite heiress to the Johnson & Johnson hygiene products and pharmaceutical empire has been found dead aged 30.

The body of Casey Johnson, daughter of New York Jets owner Woody Johnson, was discovered at her Californian home.

The heiress gained celebrity as the girlfriend of Tila Tequila, a reality TV star best known for A Shot At Love With Tila Tequila, which ran for two seasons on MTV.

Police officer Sara Faden did not know how long Miss Johnson had been dead by the time authorities arrived at the Los Angeles address. But showbiz website TMZ quoted a law enforcement source who said the heiress may have passed away several days before.

Ms Faden said the death may have been due to natural causes, since a preliminary investigation revealed no signs of foul play. But a final cause of death will be determined by coroner's officials, who will seek toxicology tests, the officer added. Results of those tests could take six weeks to obtain.

In a statement, the Johnson family said it "is mourning its tragic loss, and asks for privacy during this very difficult time". Tequila's publicist said her client and Miss Johnson were engaged. On her Twitter page, Tequila wrote: "Everyone please pray 4 my Wifey Casey Johnson. She has passed away. Thank u for all ur love and support but I will be offline to be w family."

The deceased was a school classmate of fellow socialite Paris Hilton.

Miss Johnson told Vanity Fair in a 2006 interview that turning down Hilton's invitation to be her co-star on The Simple Life was "the stupidest mistake of my life". Hilton eventually chose another socialite, Nicole Richie, to appear on the TV show. "I kick myself in the butt every day," Miss Johnson told the magazine.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Monday, January 4, 2010

Deport 'em!

Cabinet minister Otieno Kajwang’ on Sunday signed a deportation order for Jamaican Islamic cleric Sheikh Abdullah al-Faisal.

The sheikh was arrested by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit in Mombasa. The cleric, who entered Kenya through the Lunga Lunga border point from Tanzania, is to be deported to Jamaica this week. Al-Faisal was deported from Britain after serving a five-year jail sentence on terror-related charges.

Mr Kajwang’, who is in charge of Immigration, said that Sheikh al-Faisal is on an international watch-list of terrorists and would not have been allowed into the country had he entered through Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Moi International Airport or any other entry point linked to the e-border control system.

The cleric has previously been denied entry into Kenya. Before his arrival in Kenya, he had travelled to Nigeria, Angola, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi, and Tanzania. He was arrested minutes after attending evening prayers at a Nyali mosque.

“I have already signed his deportation letter and he will be deported back to his country at the earliest opportunity. The information we have is that he was arrested in Britain and jailed five years ago on terrorism-related charges. We are not deporting him because he is a Muslim,’’ Mr Kajwang’ said.

He went on: ‘‘We are deporting him because of his terrorist history and the fact that he is on the international watch-list. We have no charges against him, but he took advantage of the situation at Lunga Lunga border to enter the country. He deliberately entered by road at a border point not linked to our computer system.”

The Immigration minister dismissed allegations by the Muslim Human Rights Forum that Muslim clerics were being targeted. He said he had signed many work permits for Muslim clerics from Sudan and Libya who are in the country.

The cleric’s passport shows he tried to enter the country previously but was denied entry. Al-Faisal was deported from Britain in 2007 where he had lived for 20 years for allegedly preaching “hatred against Jews, Hindus and Westerners”. He had been jailed in 2003 for the offence.

Born Trevor William Forrest, Al-Faisal, who is from St James in Jamaica, left the island for the UK 26 years ago. His parents were Salvation Army officers and he was raised as a Christian, but when he was aged 16, he went to Saudi Arabia, where he became a Muslim and spent eight years studying Islam at Madina University.

Later, he took a degree in Islamic Studies in the Saudi capital of Riyadh before going to the UK. The Muslim Human Rights Forum said that Al-Faisal’s arrest was discriminatory since preachers of other faiths are granted similar visitors’ visa. “This is curtailing Sheikh al-Faisal’s freedoms of expression and association in a very discriminative manner and holding him incommunicado, which is totally unacceptable,” said the group’s chairman Al-Amin Kimathi.

The controversial cleric had by Sunday been flown to Nairobi for further interrogation by the Anti-Terrorism Police Unit. The detectives picked him up at Port Police Station and moved him under tight security to Mombasa’s Moi International Airport where he boarded an evening flight to Nairobi.

Coast provincial police boss Leo Nyongesa confirmed that the cleric was taken to the Anti-Terrorism Police headquarters for further interrogation. Nominated MP Sheikh Mohammed Dor said in Mombasa that Muslims will on Monday go to court to oppose the deportation.