Wednesday, January 26, 2011

U.S. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger at MindSpeak

It came as a pleasant surprise to me to know that Ambassador Michael Ranneberger was to speak at MindSpeak. Being the first sitting diplomat from another country (in this case the USA) invited to speak at the business club meeting. But I came to realize the ambassador is a man of firsts in many fields.

The ambassador started his presentation by shifting our mindset of the fact that by him being the ambassador of US in Kenya he is then by implication the CEO of the mission in Kenya. Giving a few statistics of his portfolio, He has 1500 employees under him, 500 Americans and 1000 Kenyans and that the mission handles about US dollars 1 Billion which flow to Kenya through the various agencies his country has in Kenya

Ambassador Ranneberger was not shy to speak about his previous engagements which you can say have influenced him to the ambassador he is today. Surprising is the fact that he had not anticipated a career in the diplomatic corps and that he was going to post a letter in the post office that he saw an advert to do a test to join the corps.
He had been studying his PhD in history and was about to do his dissertation and then as he put it become a teacher in one of the colleges.  He also shared with us that when he started his stint in the diplomatic corps he was a shy person and could not fathom talking to a group of people (like the house full MindSpeak).

He also hinted on his style of doing things in that he does not read theological books but relies mostly from his experience and that his style is both positive and confident.
Pointing on the time when the Post Election Violence was occurring. One of the things at his disposal was flying out his staff BUT he didn’t take that option. What he did was to rely on his instinct and experience, assembled his staff or troops if you like and told them that the situation would be over in a couple of months.
He also talked briefly on the role the US played behind the scenes to resolve the crisis. Pointing out on how the principals were a taken by the dailies headline which ran across all spectrum of newspapers in Kenya ‘Save our Country’.

Being an American citizen he did not hesitate to talk about his country and values. Talking about what is going on in the States ‘Tea Party Movement’ and the electoral swings they experience. Also pointing out that American values are always consistent what may change are the tactics or Strategy.
He also talked of how he had met the President during his Chief of Mission Conference last year and how the President is abreast on what is happening in the country.
He also talked on his definitive speech he was to give on 25/01/2011 at the American Camber of Commerce dinner in Kenya.

Ambassador Ranneberger also talked briefly on the three major programmes his government is involved in Kenya.
  • PEPFAR US dollars (580 million) Largest amount spent in a single country the whole world
  • Democracy and Governance initiatives i.e. Youth Programmes
  • Environment and Agriculture i.e Feed the future programme (Signed in 2010 at KARI)

US Interests in Kenya

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One of the things we like the US ambassador is that he is forthright and this was NOT an exception. He candidly pointed out the US interests in Kenya which are;
  1. Democracy and Stability (As is the US goal any part of the world)
  2. Development
  3. Regional Stability (Pointing out Somalia & Sudan). Mind you Sen. John Kerry was in Southern Sudan during the referendum to secede from the North
  4. Counter Extremism

However he did not talk much about China which has been making in roads in this region and South Korea which I have noticed is also coming along.
However, during the Q&A he did point out Robert B. Zoellick who brought a new paradigm to Washington of NOT viewing Beijing as a Competitor in the World stage but as an ally during his tenure as the US Trade Representative before joining World Bank.
So he welcomed the positive competition that China is currently giving them. Noting that US ceased from doing infrastructure projects he does not mind China assisting African countries in developing their infrastructure. However, he cautioned in passing that he had observed NOT many African were involved in these projects, so the issue of Kenyans gaining from these cooperations was minimal.

Youth Issue
The ambassador talked about why the state dept is investing in the youth alluding to the fact that the youth are the future.
Hence programs that target interacting with the youth have gained traction in the state dept with the ambassador present on the social networks.

Here are some of the snippets from the ‘Hope for the future speech’ which was delivered on Tuesday 25/01/2011 at the American Chamber of Commerce dinner where the ambassador was the keynote speaker. I consider this speech definitive because it has lots of stats which are credible considering the US sponsors quite a number of Statistical undertakings in the country.

President Obama has a strong interest in developing the leadership skills of young people, and last year held his first Young Africa Leaders Forum.  He has charged young people to be agents of change and to “stand up for democracy and transparent government.”  Our $45 million “Yes Youth Can” program will empower hundreds of thousands of youth to participate in the development of their country, and expand their peaceful participation in the democratic process. 
Our work with youth supports the initiatives of young people themselves.  Importantly, the National Youth Forum works across ethnic and political lines with a common agenda to promote peaceful reform. We welcome the National Youth Forum’s efforts to establish County Youth Forums in every county.  We are establishing a $10 million youth-led and youth-owned Youth Innovate for Change Fund that will provide youth with opportunities to access capital for economic development”.  

Over half of Kenya’s population lives in poverty, living on less than $2 per day.  Kenya is ranked in the bottom 20% of countries in the UNDP Human Development Index.  Real unemployment among the two-thirds of the population which are under 35 stands at nearly 50 percent’’

Support for the empowerment of youth to expand their participation in the democratic system and to assist them to develop businesses to create new jobs”.

"Kenya has recently been designated a focus country for two of President Obama’s global initiatives.  Through the Feed the Future Initiative, working with the Government of Kenya we have affirmed a commitment to achieve significant agricultural development objectives, including alleviating the suffering of the over 2 million Kenyans who are chronically food insecure.  Last September at KARI, I announced an initial USG investment of $29 million to support Kenya’s agricultural strategy through the Feed the Future initiative.  We will also continue to provide humanitarian assistance to combat drought".

"Real success in the agricultural sector, however, will require the GOK’s commitment to the political and economic reform agenda, including land reform, a strengthened fight against corruption, restructuring and/or elimination of the 34 agriculture-related parastatals, including the NCPB, and removing protectionist tariffs and import licenses that increase the price of basic foodstuffs to the poor".

The writer is an intern at Ministry of Agriculture, Planning Department and contributes/one of the admins of NairobiNow.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Why Democracy? Film Festival Kenya 2010

I have been doing some of the posts that I was not able to do in 2010. So it came as a surprise as to why I had not blogged about the Why democracy? Film festival which was held in Kenya for the first time in November.
The exact dates for the festival were November 8-12, 2010 and the festival was held at Alliance Francaise. 

The festival which is a global documentary project was brought to us (the public) by Steps International with the partnership of Ford Foundation, Solidarity Network and other partners. 
At the opening of the festival Joyce Nyairo, the Program officer of Ford Foundation explained why Ford Foundation had partnered with Solidarity network to present the films to the public. Some of this reasons are to start the discussion on democracy, try to empower us to grasp some basic concepts on democracy through the screen, and to create awareness on this issues.
This festival presented some exceptional, challenging and unconventional stories from around the world and how different communities in the world perceive democracy or absence of it.

Each of the 10 long films presented prompted to ask a question about democracy.
  1. Can  terrorism destroy democracy?-Taxi to the dark side
  2. Who would you vote for as president of the world?-Please vote for me
  3. Are women more democratic than men?-Iron Ladies of Liberia
  4. What would make you start a revolution?-Looking for a Revolution
  5. Why bother to vote?-Egypt: We are watching you
  6. Can politicians solve climate change?-Campaign! The Kawasaki Candidate
  7. Is Democracy good for everyone?-In search of Gandhi
  8. Are dictators ever good?-Dinner with the president
  9. Is God democratic?-Bloody Cartoons
  10. Who rules the world?-For God, Tsar and the Fatherland
Useful Resources

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 Kwani? Literature Festival

Kwani? Literature Festival 2010 was one of those capping events for me in the year 2010. This festival was held from December 12-17, 2010 in various venues in Nairobi.
The festivals theme was 'Tell Us What Happened' and comprised of lectures from literary giants Ngugi wa Thiongo (chief guest of the festival) and Mĩcere Gĩthae Mũgo both professors, conversations from writers from all over Africa, panel readings of some of the works of writers at the festival and literature workshops.

The theme ‘tell us what happened’ was an attempt by Kwani? To stir conversation and deep reflection as to what happened in the 80’s and 90’s now considered a literary temporal black hole in Kenya and East Africa in general.
However what stood out for me in this festival was the mixture that presented itself of both old and young literature practitioners. I doubt that it was pure coincidence given the fact that Ngugi senior and junior were in attendance and at one point were put into a lively debate by none other than John Sibi Okumu

Day I: Festival Opening
Day one of the festival took place at Kifaru Garden’s home of Kwani?
Some of the highlights for me apart from the impeccable Gardens were performances by Mshai Mwangola Githongo, performances by Ed Pavlic and a first glimpse of the prodigy Mukoma wa Ngugi aka Ngugi wa Thiongo’s son. They say an apple does not fall from the tree. In this case they were spot on!

I also heard a reading from Robert Serumaga and boy wasn’t he on fire. Now I know why he has President Museveni security apparatus has beef with him. This is because he call it as he see it.
The evening reading by the moon light, born fire and paraffin lit garden surely brought the best out of Binyavanga Wainaina. Reading from his ‘yet to be published’ up coming book as he put it. He left me in stitches with stories about self while growing up. Taking shots at powerful individuals in a funny way such as the Moi milk and talking of his rebellious youth days when he used to spot a meow meow hair style.
The evening ended with some music from Atemi Oyungu and a cameo by Eric Wainaina who was in the house…oops in the Garden!
Featured Writers at the festival.
Source: Kwani? 
Day 2:
Day two of the festival was held at Kenya National Museum amphitheatre aka Louis Leakey Auditorium and so were most of the events hence forth.
Having missed the first writers in conversation (Rebeka Njau & Binyavanga Wainaina) due to daily engagements at Kilimo I was in time for Western African Writers in conversation. Where Okey Ndibe had a time of his life trying to explain whether the Nigerians are up to taking over the universe given the implosion of Nigeria aka Nollywood in our TV sets!
The other writers in conversation were between Ngugi wa Thiongo and Mukoma wa Ngugi. Others may question the veracity of the methods used by John Sibi Okumu to get the job of facilitating the conversation between father and son but in the end of it we got to know why Ngugi wa Thiongo prefers to use mother tongue to write his works as opposed to English.

Day 3:
I managed only to catch the public lecture done by Micere Mugo at the University of Nairobi and unlike other Public Lectures this was unique. Am sure this is expected of a poet and playwright. Her public lecture had interludes of performances.

Day 4:
I missed this due to other engagements but day 4 was set aside for a Public Lecture by Ngugi wa Thiongo

Day 5:
This day had an array of activities but not to be missed was Philip Ochieng reflecting on politics and writing in the context of his iconic work ‘The Kenyatta Succession’.
Here I got a glimpse of the man behind the most loved column on Sunday Nation.

Day 6:
The festival ended with the launch of Kwani? 06

Useful Links:
  1. Kwani? Website
  2. Kwani? Lit Fest