Africa News blog
African business, politics and lifestyle
By Aaron Maasho
Ethiopia did it five years ago, the Americans a while back. Now Kenya has rolled tanks and troops across its arid frontier into lawless Somalia, in another campaign to stamp out a rag-tag militia of Islamist rebels that has stoked terror throughout the region with threats of strikes.
The catalyst for Nairobi’s incursion was a series of kidnappings by Somali gunmen on its soil. A Frenchwoman was bundled off to Somalia from northern Kenya, while a British woman and two female aid workers from Spain, abducted from a refugee camp inside Kenya, are also being held across the border.
The incidents caused concern over their impact on the country’s vital tourism industry, with Kenya’s forecast 100 billion shillings or revenue this year expected to falter. The likes of Britain and the United States have already issued warnings against travel to some parts of the country.
Kenyans have so far responded with bravado towards their government’s operation against the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group. Local channels regularly show high approval ratings for the campaign, some as high as 98 percent.
New ways of managing aid are being debated in Britain as global concerns mount over a hunger crisis devastating the drought-affected Horn of Africa.
Randolph Kent, director of the Humanitarian Futures Programme at King’s College in London, says the crisis provides a perfect opportunity for the British government to test its recent promise to reform how it responds to humanitarian emergencies.
Ugandans love to talk. And, unlike in some other African countries, few people are afraid to be heard talking politics. Cafes and bars in Kampala and elsewhere hum to the sound of politicians being loudly verbally skewered.
The politicos themselves are not much different. Rhetoric is being ratcheted up ahead of elections on February 18. And the opposition are not holding back.
“Look at him!” the emcee at celebrations to mark 25 years in power for Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni shouts into a mic. “Look at him! He is very fit!”
The former rebel decked out in his usual – and fairly unique – floppy hat and suit combo ambles down a grass slope and waves cheerily to his supporters.
As delighted southern Sudanese voted in a long-awaited referendum on independence, visitors to the north and south could be forgiven for thinking they were already two separate countries.
For telecoms-tycoon-turned-philanthropist Mo Ibrahim, it’s one step forward, two steps back. For Benno Ndullu, governor of the central Bank of Tanzania, the whole thing is bound to stall unless problems are ironed out first.
For many Tanzanians, it’s a threat to their jobs, language and prospects.
But for the leaders of the five-member East African Community (EAC), signing the common market protocol on Friday represents the future fortunes of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda combined.
It’s been almost three years since the son of the 5th Lord Delamere, Thomas Cholmondeley, first hopped down from a police truck and entered into Kenya’s High Court to face murder charges over the death of a local poacher on his estate.
Cholmondeley sat as impassively this week as he did that first day in court as the judge convicted him of a lesser charge of manslaughter.
A group from east Africa’s biggest slum has proved that you don’t need a big farm in the countryside to produce food crops for sale.
They’re planting organic vegetables on a small allotment in the middle of Nairobi’s Kibera slum that his been cleared out of an old rubbish tip.
In Burundi, 11 albinos have been killed since last year. In Tanzania, over 40 have been killed since mid-2007 by people who use their body parts, including hair, limbs and genitals, for witchcraft.
Buoyed by recent discoveries of commercial scale oil deposits in Uganda, east African policy makers, foreign oil explorers and their local partners trooped to a five-star hotel on the Kenyan coast this week to reflect on the progress and chart future strategies.Viewed as a frontier region for oil exploration, east Africa’s first major oil find was made by Tullow Oil and Heritage Oil companies in the Albertine Basin, which spans the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo (whose improving relations are making the exploitation of the reserves look morel ikely).Before that, Tanzania had found vast reserves of natural gas in Songo Songo and Mnazi Bay areas.Just like Rwanda, which hopes to revolutionise electricity generation in the region through methane gas from Lake Kivu, Tanzania hopes to power cars from the gas and generate much needed electricity from its natural gas.The regional economic power house Kenya has, however, had disappointing results so far in its search for oil.Although 32 wells have been sunk here since the 1950s, only traces of oil and gas have been found. It is now reprocessing data gathered over that period in the hope new knowledge and technology will reveal hidden deposits.Drilling, an expensive affair that prospectors say can cost a firm $200 million for one well, took a commercial break in the 1980s. But it has also seen a resurgence of interest, thanks to last year’s rise of crude in global markets.Kenya issued 14 exploration licenses last year and China National Offshore Oil Corporation (CNOOC) is set to sink its first well in the second half of this year in the eastern province.Kiraitu Murungi, the nation’s energy minister, told the meeting in Mombasa they were praying day and night for the new well and data reprocessing to show signs of oil.On the other hand, Uganda — long reliant on Kenya’s ageing oil refinery for its supply of petroleum products — has grand plans for its newfound oil resources.They include the construction of a state of the art modern refinery at an estimated cost of $1.3 billion to process its oil as well as oil from any new finds in the region.Uganda’s energy and mineral development minister, Hillary Onek, spoke of the plans with a grin and added that the region, believed to share common geology, could be headed for a better future as it taps its oil and gas reserves to power development.However, as officials and oil prospectors retired to the hotel’s restaurants and beach bar for a drink in the evenings, they must have wondered if a few obstacles may not block the path to that prosperous future.The global financial crisis is weighing heavily on the finance base of some companies prospecting in the region.Lack of local skilled manpower in oil and gas industry is also worrying. So is the big question of how to equitably manage revenues from oil and gas so that oil and gas do not turn into a curse for the region as they have elsewhere on the continent.Is east Africa ready to handle oil and gas? Will oil discoveries help local communities?