Category Archives: Africa

Paradox about a beautiful continent.

NAIROBI TO MOMBASA BY TRAIN


Nairobi Railway Station

Image via Wikipedia

I do my best avoiding the still water filling the pots holes of the sidewalk and the street. My shoes and the cuff of my jeans are muddy.

The sidewalk is going about his business with vendors selling the ‘farmer choice” brand sausages filling their carts, shoe shiners wait for clients and readers are busy perusing the headlines of the latest corruption scandals.
I maze myself out of a puzzle of passenger vans, small and large buses taking every inch of the road.

My bladder pressing I swerve into the entrance of the public toilet and paid my five shillings to the cashier. The place is full of men squeezing elbows in front of a tiled wall … the urinal. The lack of privacy annoys me and the strong putrid smell of urine and feces choke me to the point of  leaving without utilizing the service. My clothes feel stained by the stench.

I finally conquered the fastidious four hundred meters from Haile Selassie round-about through a bus station to reach the Nairobi Railway Station.

At the right of the entrance I see the office for the upper class booking. I smile at the sign and found the words pedant in a proletariat world.  Africa is fond of pompous names and acronyms and it is the reason this one has outlive it colonialist past.

The woman behind the counter is nice, smiling and talkative, and upon her explanation I opt for a one way ticket to Mombasa, second class with bed and breakfast. The cost is 1,940 Ksh (less than US $25) for a 15 hours journey in the heydays of railways history. Yes, the train travels 500 km narrow tracks at an average speed of 35 km per hour.  The TGV from Paris to Marseilles travels the 700 km in 3 hours.

A man tells me the trip is worthwhile since the rails go through the Kibera slums, the second largest in Africa, and the Tsavo National Park.
I am not too sure about the Kibera slum. I don’t believe that poverty should be an attraction dignified by touristic voyeurism.

It is 9:30am and departure is at 7pm. I take refuge on a white bench on platform 1, next to an underpass to platform 2 and 3. The platform is clean but shows wear from lack of maintenance. People do not use the underpass to get access to the other platforms. They simply cross the tracks.

The worn station subtly shows its history. The office of the station master reads Chef de Gare and Bahnhofvorsteher.  The left luggage office is also the Bureau consigne des baggages and Gepaeckaufgabe.

On a far track I look at an old green diesel locomotive with yellow and red stripes. The conductor stops next to a group of eight idle men and up from his cabin chats a while with them and go ahead on its tracks.

I am getting bored and still need to relieve my bladder and walk toward one end of the platform and reach the second class lavatory for gents informing me that Nairobi is at 5453 feet of altitude. I enter and notice that dame as in the public toilet the squat latrines are still in use. The smell lingers but is not as bad as the public toilet and high altitude peeing has no effect on my bladder.

On the way back to my bench I visit the upper class waiting room. It is furnished with one large old wooden round table and a small sofa but the toilets are spotless clean with only a mild smell of urine. My nose has regained its primal instinct and now rates toilet’s adequacy by its scent.

Another green locomotive, on platform 2, comes into the station pulling 15 dilapidated passengers cars. None of the wagons have windows or doors. The train has an allegoric look, like a death trap waiting to grab the moment to a sordid fame.
The train is from Kahawa, which I am told is about 40km from Nairobi, and let his passengers off on the tracks.

It is 10:30am and now the station has activities. Men wearing green overalls marked Rift Valley Railway look under the carriage of each railway car while cleaners line trash cans in between the tracks.

At 11am another train pulls on platform 1 with slightly better cars maybe made in the 60s.  The train is from Mombasa and one end let off its mostly white passengers and the other end the passengers from third class. All the passengers from third class are Africans. It is economic segregation.

Suddenly, I am the focus of attention.  The private guards and workers in attendance on the platform are asking me questions. I have been here since early morning. They don’t understand what I am doing here on the white bench where I have taken refuge with my small backpack. I explained that I will be a fixture for the day since my train to Mombasa leaves in the evening.  Everyone smile while I show them my ticket and my audience dissipates satisfied of my answers and leaving me wondering what was the fuss about. Don’t I look like a passenger?

It is noon and feeling stupid of all the interest I decide to walk to the railway’s restaurant. The doors are well shut and peeping through the grim windows I do not see any signs of activities. The thickness of dust on the tables and the furniture shows that the last dish was served decades ago.

I dread the idea but I decide to again fend off the activities in front of the station to have a meal in town.
I walk to Mama Ngina Street and decide not to eat at Java House or Dorman’s. Java house is an American style coffee shop full of idlers taking the best seats in the house. Dorman’s, in the same style as Java house, has a better etiquette but I am looking for food not for fast food or snack passed as food.

I cross the street to Tratorria, an Italian restaurant which has become a fixture in this part of town. The street terrace is full of idlers having a cup of brew to give importance to their never-ending non-consequential meetings.
I sit inside at a brown marble top table near a trio of important looking Somali men and a duo of South Sudanese.
The waiter gives the menu which looks like a novel and I order risotto with prawns. He brings a basket of assorted fresh bread and tomato bruchetta.  The risotto is very good and the portion filling.

A well dressed man wearing a suit and an oversized tie take a seat in front of my table.  The waiter comes and he orders without looking at the menu.  He places his two expensive phones on the table ensuring they are seen but safe from thieves.
The idlers have also very nice suits.  The labels are still sawn on the outer part of the sleeve jacket.   One has a very large white square wrist watch with the dial studded with glittering diamonds. The diamonds must be glass. In Nairobi you show off only jewelry which can be stolen.

I have lost the strength to fight off the buses and people on the way back to the railroad station and negotiate a taxi fare.

I am now greeted with smile by the guards and the workers when I enter the station. I take back my place on the same white bench and as soon as I take comfort two cars marked BM security drive on the platform.

I look because I have never seen cars driven on railway platforms.  I mean the cars drove on the walkway used by passengers and stopped not far from the police station at the far end of the platform to fetch, I assume, some valuable cargo.

As soon as they leave I walk toward the police station. It has a better appearance than the one I have seen in other part of Kenya. I smile at their ingenuity of storing disabled or acquired vehicles on the platform.

Actually, the station is void of vagrants and I do not see people using it as a shelter.

The station’s activities at the approach of the evening are increasing.  More dilapidated trains come letting out waves of human cargo on the tracks.   The platforms are filling with humans whose hands are carrying bags and heads balancing loads of whatever.

At exactly 6:30pm the Mombasa train pulls in the station and back-pack on my shoulder I look for coach 2305, climb on, squeeze in the narrow corridor and open the door to compartment A and slowly feels being sucked into the past.

My compartment is two large light-beige fake leather banquette facing each other and separated by a sink and each with a berth on top. The ladder to climb to the berth is above the door.

At exactly 7pm the train leaves Nairobi Railway Station for his 15 hours voyage to Mombasa. I am alone in my compartment.

The compartment is near the toilet and the passageway connecting to the other wagon.

I check the toilet and they are very clean but then they have squat latrine.  I think that you must be endowed with extraordinary balance to use them without making a mess of yourself.

The train is noisy and sways and bounces like a car with bad shock absorbers. Also, from the compartment I hear a kitchen battery falling off a shelf, again and again in rhythm.  I check and it is the metal door connecting the wagons.  The door flaps in and out banging on the metal frame.  I try to close it but the lock does not work.

Within a short time after departure a young man comes into my compartment with a large green bag. The bag has my bedding which he nicely lay out on a banquette.    I lie down and enjoy the pillow.  It is dark outside, I cannot see anything and as an adult I have never slept 15 hours. I can sleep with sound but I never slept with the noise of a door banging in and out of its metal frame.
I did not bring something to read.

I did not see anything interesting and 15 hours is very long but must admit that I enjoyed my adventure.

The trip back to Nairobi was exciting.  A galloping giraffe was in a collision course with the train. I looked with my head outside the window awaiting the impact.  The train stopped, the giraffe ran across the railroad track and continued her journey.

It took another 15 minutes for the train to start again but we all made it safe.

Patrick-Bernard

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BUFFALO DUNG AWARD


African Buffalo

Image by Lukas Vermeer via Flickr

Some institutions are redefining poverty to increase their middle class.

It is simple, assuming the poor spend US $2 to $4 per day to sustain a life at the border of disaster then an analyst comes and make the wise judgment that with these US $2 to $4 dollars they are no longer poor but middle class.

Not high middle class but the low middle class or “floating class”.  The high middle class makes US $3,900 per year according to the African Development Bank (AfDB) and creators of the floating class.

Well, it is what AfDB says. Do not take the bank too serious considering it was once clogged with fraud, corruption and politic. I don’t think too much has changed.

Without knowing, people leading the same miserable lives have suddenly been catapulted in the enviable position of middle class. Nothing has changed except the label.

This change of label has not made much ruckus in Africa. In India it did when the India Planning Commission set the urban poverty lines at $12.75 per person a month and at $9.93 for rural India. Indian activists, with good reasons, went on a rampage of actions against these changes.

African activists have not budged at AfDB new poverty threshold but they still die in protest in the streets due the high cost of food and fuel.
I don’t understand why they are using the poor to fight the battle of the new middle class.

Income, consumption, calorie index and others are some of the values used to calculate poverty line. Of course, poverty line is not the same in all countries and may even be tabulated on different criteria. However, according to the World Bank the global poverty line is US $1.25 per day. Make anything under and you fall into the National Geographic category.

Imagine a global poverty line of US $3 per day or US $90 per month and devise how to apportion it to buy food, clothing, shelter, water, transport, education and health.
Notice, I do not mention electricity, entertainment or even rest. Yes, poor cannot afford to take time off; they need to make money to survive.

In the USA or Europe it is unthinkable to sustain life with an income of US $90 per month. The Vatican should consider anyone living on such little money a Saint routinely performing miracles. You need faith when you are poor.

The ten poorest countries in the world are in Africa but AfDB with innovative statistic has changed the status of a lot from poor to floating middle class. They are floating on a busted canoe, scooping out the water in order not to sink.  The canoe is the asset.

The Nigerian High commissioner to Kenya has allegedly beaten up his wife to a pulp.  He said that her bloody bruises are ketchup. You see, in Africa it is the way people in power treat bad situation to their benefit,same as AfDB.

I am so impressed with this Nigerian that I have decided to give you his full name and title:
Chief Dr. Chijioke Wilcox Wigwe, Nigeria High Commissioner to Kenya and the Seychelles. Permanent Representative of Nigeria to the United Nations Environmental Programme and the UN Habitat in Nairobi.
I want to mention that in 2008 he received, in Kenya, the title of Ambassador for Peace and in 2010 Best Ambassador of the Year 2010 by the Vision Africa Magazine.
I cannot help but Wigwe makes me think of a small version of Dominique Strauss-Kahn.

Somehow, I do find a parallel among the actions of the Nigerian High commissioner in Kenya and the AfDB.
Both twist realities to their convenience.

These two deserve the Buffalo Dung Award.

Patrick-Bernard

CLARA GUTTERIDGE


[42/365] New Passport

Image by Ben Dodson via Flickr

Clara Gutteridge a British Human Right investigator whose job is to find victims of enforced disappearances has been deported from Kenya.  The local newspapers are mute, blank or, assuming I did not look in the right places, slow in providing this information to their readers.

Foreign correspondents are more aware of what is going on in Kenya.
Correction; the Kenyan media is gagged by higher authorities not to be too zealous in providing information.

Clara Gutteridge was looking into the illegal deportation and detention of terror suspects from Kenya to Uganda.
Her search was probably uncomfortable and collaterally enhanced Uganda’s infringement of human rights and treatment of political opponents. Also, it could have raised questions about the Kenya’s government insistence in siding with the alleged perpetrator of crime against humanity by the International criminal court in The Hague.

Let me hush that the mere presence of people like Clara Gutteridge triggers collateral damage.

The Kenyan vice President’s world excursions to gather opinion in favor of having the ICC alleged suspects delayed or judged at home are well documented. The government even approved rallies idolizing these suspects.

The blessing by the mother of one of the suspects is front news while the twenty-five Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) who died for eating cats,  because they have not received food from the governments in months,  is allocated to sections of news lacking prime.

An IDP is someone who leaves his residence due to internal conflict. In Kenya the internal conflict was triggered by a rigged election seeing almost 1300 killed and almost half million IDP in 2007-2008.

Strange things have happened in Kenya. People turned up dead with their face removed with acid, other are kidnapped or killed in broad day light, extra judicial killers are in the prowl but the news are not investigated.  One page spread to tell the mass that this-and-that happened is enough.

Anyway, I believe that it must be quite nerve-racking to be an ICC prosecution witness in Kenya.

Like Linus the media takes its blue blanket, sucks its thumb, close its eyes and gesture go away, go away in its nightmares.
It is pure coincidence that van Pelt, Peanut’s character, and Gitahi, the CEO of the Nation Media Group (NMG), share the same first name. NMG is the largest Media house with TV channels and lots of newspapers and magazine in East Africa.

The government set the tone and the media execute it in favor of some of the alleged criminals vying for the most important post of the country. Well, it seems that Kenya may have suspects of crimes against humanity declared or not innocent running for the presidency in 2012.

I think that Clara Gutteridge touched a raw nerve in Kenya. Anyway, she is safe and it shows that being white and having a British passport helps. She is not African waiting to go to The Hague as a witness for the prosecution.

Strange, at time, Africa makes me think of people witnessing a drive by shooting while waiting at a bus stop.

Patrick-Bernard

UpdateIt has taken over one week for the Kenyan newspapers to inform of Clara Gutteridge’s deportation. According to the newspapers her deportation was due to safeguard national interest and to avoid any embarrassment to the government.

KENYA EASTER RANT


Slum Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya.

Kibera Slum in Nairobi, Kenya

Today, Easter, the Kenyan police issued a terror alert. It seems that al-Shabaab is threatening an attack on some public places. It is nice for the Kenyan police to tell the mass. Usually,  they protect only the rich and affluents.

Being Kenyan is not a happy moment.  According to statistic they are most unhappy and adding salt to the wounds they have extra judicial killers roaming the streets, politicians accused of crime against humanity and now, again, al-Shabaab.

I don’t understand why the Kenyan government is increasing its tourism propaganda. Yes, it is nice seeing animals roaming freely in their natural habitats but animals have a better chance of surviving a drought than tourists looking at a grenade in a crowded bar of Nairobi.

The price of fuel and foods has gone up the roof.  The president stuttered a nice Easter speech, his lips move faster than his words, by assuring that all Kenyans, even the ‘most vulnerable in society”, will be protected from high cost of living and hunger.

Of course, he blames others for these problems.  The manipulative members of parliament and their staff, which are the source of almost all grand scale corruptions hence in part responsible of the high cost of living, are arguing and calling each other kettle black.
The president is an innocent man. His innocence won him a rigged election.

It is official; the prime minister will run for presidential elections. He announced it in California, not the California estate  in Nairobi but the one in the USA.  He said it at a private venue for sickle-cell anemia in Malibu, not the drink but the city,  and instantly his candidacy received an international dimension.  Sickle-cell anemia damages certain human organs as well as the brain.

The Easter beach party in Mombasa, due to terror alert, stopped at 6 pm.  The country with its citizen and tourist was held hostage by a Kenyan intelligence still trying to figure out who are the drug dealers in their government after The US ambassador to Kenya gave them all the information.

Then an educated man wrote in a newspaper that the market will slow down for Easter.
Hello, how much business can one do when everything is close, under a looming treat of terrorist attack and everyone is asked to vacate the beaches after 6 pm?
People like to write about the obvious so the gullible mass can call them guru.  

The Nairobi metropolitan minister is looking for 10 billions Kenyan shillings to refurbish the sewage system.  The slums have no sewage and he wants a ban on slum tourism .
Praise to the tourism ministry, they have done a good job highlighting the plight of the poor in the slum areas. Perhaps, the poor will witness the slow death of the flying toilets.

Talking about infrastructure the water management should do something too. A baby’s bladder exhort more pressure than the water coming from the city pipes. Most household have to use water pumps to lift the precious liquid.
Water pump use electricity which is, like water, so precious in Kenya that you can wait days for it.

Tourists with dialysis portable machine are advised to visit Kenya with their own generator, a flash light and jerrycan.

Happy Easter.

Patrick-Bernard

BIRTHER


Donald Trump enters the Oscar De LA Renta Fash...

Donald Trump

The birthers are quite annoying and, let’s face it, racist.  If Obama was white, no one would say anything.  They would have accepted whatever said, presented, signed, sealed and delivered about his place of origin.

Obama is an American, born in an American hospital, in Hawaii an overseas state of the US and from an American born mother and a useless Kenyan father.

Having a useless Kenyan father is to Obama’s advantage since he cannot be accused of running the country with an African leadership baggage and politicians cannot compare his policies with the almost failed state of Kenya.

When Obama visited the land of his father, the Kenyan government spokesman, Alfred Mutua, arrogantly dismissed Obama as a junior Senator from Illinois.

When Obama was elected president the Kenyan media speculated the benefits which Kenya may or not receive and suddenly all the Luos, Obama father’s tribe, shared family lineage with him and dreamt of the moneys coming their way.

The Kenyan government saw their country as a prime destination for black Americans wanting to visit the ancestral birth place of the first African-American president.

It did not work and Obama never gave preferential status to Kenya.

Obama is from a dysfunctional family but then who is not. He has beaten all odds by being elected the leader of the most powerful nation in earth and that’s an achievement.

All birthers suffer from cognitive dissonance.  It is against their understanding to have a president whose mother is white American and the father an African.

Obama thinks white, acts white and the poor lad, to add to the confusion, has been tagged with a Muslim name.

Now, it would be another story if someone would look into his religious belief but then the American constitution does not say that you must be  protestant to be an American president.

Personally, I believe that he has a great understanding of the Muslim and Christian faith and as long as he governs the country in a secular way that’s fine with me.

Obama is probably the only president which has been negatively caricatured and commented solely on his race. 

Obama is not the only president with at least a parent born outside the USA.  Thomas Jefferson, James Buchanan, Chester Arthur, Woodrow Wilson and Herbert Hoover had a parent born outside the USA.

Both of Andrew Jackson’s parents were born in Ireland and he married Rachel Donelson Robards before she divorced her first husband.  Let’s call it accidental bigamy.

Donald Trump and Sarah Palin are birthers looking for fame.

Then, thinking about it, isn’t Palin the one comfortable shooting brown deer in gleaming white snow. I am sure she would like to aim at Obama on a white background.

If America wants to sample a Donald Trump presidency then look no further, cross the Atlantic and see what Silvio Berlusconi has done to Italy. These two guys are quite similar even with their hair obsession.

It is madness to vote for a birther.  Simple, their underlying sentiments show their inability to represent all Americans.

Patrick-Bernard

DON’T TOUCH THE KING


3. Martin Luther King, Jr., a civil rights act...

Image via Wikipedia

America is commemorating the death of Dr. Martin Luther King and there is not much to add about him. Everything has been said and debated about this icon of modern American Black history.

Martin Luther King is the hero of all the descendants of Black slaves and the Blacks subjugated by segregationist policies and laws in the USA.

In the days where laws were called Jim Crow and a strange fruit was a dead Black hanging from a tree. America still has a lot to do in terms of race relations but the fact is that Dr. King is the most celebrated founder of the civil right movement.

Pan-Africans advocate the unification of Africans and people of African heritage.

I read an opinion piece in a Kenyan newspaper and the author, a staunch pan-African, stated that it was time for the West to compensate Africa for slavery.

I was offended, since history shows that Africa had a role to play with slavery and compensation, if any, should go to the descendants of the people who Africa enslaved.

I wrote to the newspaper and now assume that my point of view was too inflammatory and un-African and tossed in the dust bin.

Anyway, I found a great quote from “King Ghezo of Dahomey who said in 1840s: the slave trade is the ruling principle of my people. It is the source and the glory of their wealth.”

I wonder what would be the world opinion if Jews were asked to compensate Germany for what Hitler has done.

A synonym of pan-African is the African Union.  It started as the Organization of African Unity or the dictators club as some called it.

The so-called OAU did nothing for the Black people during the segregation time fought by Martin Luther King in the USA, nothing either during South Africa and former Rhodesia apartheid era.

During apartheid era the African nations were knocking on South Africa’s door for favors and loans.

The irony is that since Africans took over not much is going on.  Nelson Mandela is South Africa father figure while Jacob Zuma, the president only interest is to acquire more wives and gag the press.

I astonished a friend of mine when I said that Zuma wanted to shag his whole country. Funny, I think it was the ambition of King Ghezo too.  Africa likes to shag its people.

I have nothing to say about Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe. The man is absolutely self un-explanatory.
Sorry, I have something to say:
“Mugabe’s nickname is Mad Bob and he is upset because his wife is rumored to have extramarital affairs.”

I get kind of disturb when Africa’s sycophants ride on the fame or associate themselves with people like Dr. King. I understand than an America embassy in Africa is having an exhibit comparing Dr. King’s accomplishments with other African heroes.

Testing, testing.  Which African heroes?
Dr. King never liberated a country and stole the land. No, he liberated the Black people and got killed for it.

Dr. King belongs to Blacks, the one who are now in the new world, the one with the post slavery syndromes.

Africa should offer all Blacks an excuse for the mess they created. Nobody wants their money as they borrow from the West where Blacks live. An apology will do.

Patrick-Bernard

DIFFICULT TO GET A VISA TO ICC


Kenya politic does not stop amusing me.  Now, it seems that Mr. Farah Maalim, the Deputy speaker of the National Assembly, is up in arms because only 30% of the public money goes to projects.  The rest, 70%, is stolen by “bureaucrats, politicians and contractors”.  At least the man is honest.

I guess I was wrong when I thought that 20% of any fund ended up in the pockets of the well-connected people.

Then he did not mention the useless contracts given as favors to the politically connected.

Question: Why is it that money stolen from government projects is never recovered?
However, when a man steals a chicken to feed his family the police frog march him to the station within a minute of the crime.

I am sure that it is only the tip of the iceberg, considering the government delegates some of the police academy responsibility or whatever to a public relations company.

Yes, police get training from a PR company to beef up their image. I wonder what would happen in NY if the local government would pull a stunt like that.

Kenyans are highly educated and I don’t understand why they cannot find, within the police ranks, suitable staff able to do that job.  Maybe, the PR Company is politically more connected that any junior educated police officer.  Could be the PR Company stole the gun to shoot the money bag.

Then some of the politicians summoned to present their case on alleged crime against humanity at the International Criminal Court are still in the government, or being showered with support and even one was coveted with a tribal title.

Strange they all have to present themselves at The Hague at the beginning of April and few stated that it has been difficult for them to acquire a Visa to the Netherlands.

Question: It seems that none of the accused has requested a visa to The Hague. Duh … Do you really think the Embassy of the Kingdom of the Netherlands is lying?

Gosh the ICC and the chief prosecutor Luis Moreno-Ocampo are so slow it hurts. In the meantime the ICC witnesses are threatened, bought off, in hiding or probably being exterminated by the extra-judicial killers.  

While away at The Hague the presidential contenders will hire a PR company to present their political platform back home. Yes, the mini Gadhafis in the making are running for the presidency in 2012.

Most politicians in the government are related. They have a cousin, niece, brother, mama, business partner, girl friend waiting for a contract, herbalist, same tribe, the lad promised a post, a niece, the son of the third wife.

Most probably that a “relative” will read the speech, send by special courier from The Hague, at political rallies. The PR Company will bring the cheerleaders, pompom girls, hired crowd, free t-shirts with the beer smile and a bag of flour.  It will be successful as per the press releases.

Let’s hope their home base supporters don’t go haywire when the cow dong hits the fan at The Hague.

Patrick-Bernard