Sunday, August 9, 2009

Once More, With Feeling

In my rush to advertise the relaunch of At Home He Is A Tourist, I inadvertently entered the wrong URL in the link,sending readers right back to this page. Oops.

So far, I've found that Tumblr is definitely more conducive to travel blogging than Blogger- it loads faster and has a more intuitive dashboard for throwing up short photocentric posts. If I do any sustained personal blogging in the future, it will in all likelihood be from that platform.

At any rate, blogging is still pretty low on my list of priorities (behind doing research follow-up and helping the SAFI Project to grow as an organization), but I'm finding that uploading one or two photos every day is a helpful way to process and sort through what is going on, especially given the breakneck pace of this trip.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

New Blog

If you follow this blog in Google Reader (or came across this by googling me), you may be interested to know that I'll be trying out the microblogging platform Tumblr during my upcoming return to Kenya. Follow the brief updates at:

Stay tuned in September to (possibly) see yet another reinvention of this blog.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Catching Up With Kenya

A few updates on what's been going on in Kenya during my last week of downtime:

Kenya's parliament elected a new speaker yesterday, with ODM's Kenneth Marende beating out PNU's preferred candidate, Francis Ole Kaparo, who had served as the speaker of the national assembly since the 1990s. Kaparo's story is worth dwelling on for a second, because it says some interesting things about the dynamics of partisan and ethnic alliances in Kenya.

Kaparo is from Il Digiri, a small Maasai sub-community in Laikipia North District (my main study area). He was elected to parliament in 1987, at the apex Daniel arap Moi's single party rule through KANU. His election was noteworthy because he was the first Maa speaking MP from Laikipia East constituency (of which a majority is Kikuyu). When multiparty elections were reintroduced in 1992, Kaparo lost his seat to a Kikuyu member of the Democratic Party (the party for which Kibaki ran for president in that election). Although Kaparo lost his seat, KANU and Moi stayed in power (by means that have been long recognized as dubious), and he was rewarded for his loyalty by being made a nominated Member of Parliament, shortly after which he was elected to be the speaker of the national assembly. He managed to hold on to his seat through the party shakeups involved in both the transition to Kibaki's NARC government in 2002 and the breaking away of the Orange Democratic Movement during the failed constitutional referendum of 2005, in both cases claiming to be "above politics". However in the course of 2007, he showed himself to be a bit more of a government loyalist, working to bring Kibaki to Dol Dol (the main village in the Maasai area of Laikipia) in June. Although this was an official state visit, it amounted to little more than outright campaigning-Kibaki donated millions of shillings to the girls secondary school in Dol Dol, and a few months later gave the Maasai communities of Laikipia their own administrative district, both of which were tremendously popular in the extremely poor and remote communities surrounding Dol Dol. I read these actions as Kaparo trying to help Kibaki win over supporters in Laikipia north, which had been solidly in support of the opposition since 2005. Like many other members of "Old Guard" KANU (such as Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta), he threw his lot in with Kibaki's PNU- and thus became part of the political coalition that had gradually swept them out of power starting in 1992. This became even more clear in yesterday's polarized voting for the speaker of the 10th assembly in which Kaparo was clearly the "PNU candidate", in which he lost his seat by a slim margin to ODM's preferred candidate.

More Violence?
ODM is going forward with mass protests across Kenya today... this is likely to lead to more confrontations between protesters and police. It seems to me that both the government and opposition are playing a game of chicken- careening towards each other at full speed, with hopes that the other side will lose its nerve and back down. Unfortunately both sides also seem to have done the equivalent of "throwing the steering wheel out the window", with the government sticking firmly to its ban on public demonstrations and the opposition insisting that it will keep holding regular demonstrations. These upper level decisions, combined with a "shoot first, ask questions later" mentality on the part of the police and dubious control by the ODM over its supporters seem to indicate that more violence will be quite likely unless one of the major leaders makes a significant concession. As of 10:30 AM Kenyan time, Al Jazeera english is reporting that no crowds have yet amassed in Uhuru park, but that 200-300 individuals have started to gather in Kisumu, but that things there are still calm. They are also reporting that ODM will be giving a press conference in about one hour, which should influence the direction that the next few days take.

At the Columbia Political Economy blog, Cyrus has continued his discussion on the role of perceptions of injustice in shaping participation in violence in Kenya , pointing out a nice article by IRIN about how much of the "tribal" cleavages that have been described by the western press actually map on to broader social and economic inequalities. I generally agree with his analysis that both objective grievances and the manipulation of those grievances by entrepreneurs are crucial to understanding the onset of political violence. I also think he's right that many students of political violence are too quick to say that a lot of violence is caused simply by individuals taking advantage of a political vacuum to pursue apolitical ends. At the same time, I think so-called "opportunistic violence" does play an important role- even if it may take perceived injustices to motivate high risk collective action (as Libby Wood's work in El Salvador has shown), the extent to which organizations are able (or willing) to limit other kinds of violence may ultimately shape the ability of rebel groups to address the injustices that caused them to mobilize in the first place (this is the subject of recent work by my colleague Amelia, as well as Jeremy Weinstein at Stanford).

Finally, a number of prominent Kenyan bloggers have started, Ushahidi, an initiative to map incidents of violence in Kenya using reports from Kenyans on the ground. Although I agree with Chris Blattman's initial skepticism, I think this could wind up being a useful tool for Kenyans on the ground, humanitarian agencies looking to target relief efforts, and researchers analyzing political violence. More thoughts as this project continues to develop.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Trash Talk-Naples

Waste at a trash dump in Naples- Image from USAToday

Today, the Guardian has an excellent short article on the public waste crisis in Naples, which has reached such an extreme level that the Italian army was called in to bulldoze the "festering piles of rubbish". Because the city's dumps are full, refuse has just started to pile up over the last few years, leading residents to simply burn refuse in an effort to try to clear clogged sidewalks and alleyways.

In addition to being a major public health and environmental problem, Naples's trash problem represents a massive failure of municipal government. The article points out that organized crime has played a significant role in blocking action by the local government to address the problem:
The problem has been compounded by the city's mafia, the camorra, which is said to make millions of euros from the transport and illegal dumping of waste. It is accused of sabotaging plans for new incinerators.

Anti-mafia investigators say the camorra even processes waste from factories across Italy at cut-price rates.

Camorra-controlled waste disposal - by burial or burning - has poisoned the environment so badly that people in some parts of the Campania region are three times more likely to get liver cancer than in the rest of the country, Italy's National Research Council told Reuters news agency.

Reading this article strongly reminded me of the description of differences in government performance between Northern and Southern Italy in Robert Putnam's Making Democracy Work. In this book, Putnam argues that the reason that government works well in northern Italy but struggles to provide basic services in the South is that Southern Italy lacks the civic networks that are present in the North of the country. The general ark of this article fits that story- local and regional government in Naples are clogged by corruption, and ordinary citizens are unable to engage in effective collective action to overcome these blockages. I'm interested to go back to Putnam's book to see if he explicitly looks at waste removal, or if there are other studies of community and municipal public goods provision in Italy.

Although Making Democracy Work is one of the books used by certain Yale professors to help first year poli sci grad students learn how to tear empirical research apart (see also this excellent critique by Princeton's Carles Boix and UCLA's Dan Posner), things like this Naples article will keep me coming back to it for a long time.

Brief Hiatus

I knew the pace of Kenya blogging that I started last week couldn't be maintained- I'm taking a few days off to do some organizational work and make some decisions about what this blog is going to be like in the longer-term. I'll still try to post Kenya updates as they come through, and I have a few longer analysis pieces that I'm working on.

I'm the meantime, I've added my Google Reader feed to the sidebar at right to highlight some interesting news and analysis pieces specifically on Kenya as the political situation continues to develop.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Rift Valley, From Above

Satellite imagery of fires in Kenya's Rift Valley Province, from the United Nations Operational Satellite Applications Programme (UNOSAT). Story at IRIN. Click image for high resolution pdf.

Kenya-Quick Updates

Al Jazeera English and the BBC are both reporting that today's rescheduled opposition protest march in Nairobi has failed to materialize. Both sources focus on the substantial police presence as the reason that turnout for the rally was much lower than yesterday- no coverage yet from any of the noteworthy Kenyan blogs and no comment from opposition leadership.

The BBC and the Guardian both report that earlier today, the ODM started stepping up demands for new elections within three months. No response yet from the government, other than holding the line that they are only interested in pursuing political solutions after violence decreases, which somehow seems to miss the point.

In diplomatic news, both a senior State Department Official and Zambia's Kenneth Kaunda are on their way to Kenya to talk to both sides.