April 26, 2018

The work of others

Hi everyone

I got to Nairobi at about 4am this morning, and am now all set up with a roof over my head, a net connection, and a local SIM card –  – the world is my oyster!

Although I’ve spent many a month here before, I still got immense enjoyment from a morning spent walking round my new neighborhood (I’m right by downtown), talking to people at the market stalls, reading the local paper, eating chapati and drinking fresh passion(fruit) juice (a divine creation that I wish was readily available the world over).

There are interesting things afoot here right now. Last week, many of the population that live in the pervasive slum-dwellings, some of which I can see across the road from where I’m writing this, went on a protest march for better conditions. And this week, 5,100 free or discounted copies of Michela Wrong’s book on corruption in Kenya, It’s Our Turn to Eat, will be distributed to the local population(the distribution project is called It’s Our Turn to Read!). Wrong explains: “Although a Kenyan government spokesman declared that the book was not banned, no domestic bookseller dared touch it. When quizzed, they said they were terrified of being sued by businessmen and politicians named in its pages. . . Whatever its cause, the boycott has not prevented well-off Kenyans reading It’s Our Turn to Eat, now on its third reprint. They pick it up abroad . . . But ordinary Kenyans remain excluded, and they are the ones the organisations and individuals involved in this project now hope to reach.” I’ll be keen to follow the local coverage and reactions.

For now, I just want to share a couple of pieces that were waiting in my inbox from two journalists I admire.The first, from Jeb Sharp, is apropos my recent post, Montgomery vs. Galbraith. Jeb runs a series on her site called How Wars End (a useful line of inquiry if ever there was). This particular transcript deals with Bosnia:

Sharp: You could argue that justice in Bosnia would have meant punishing the Serbs for their ethnic cleansing. Instead they were rewarded for it with half the territory in the country. But the Americans’ immediate goal was not justice, it was stopping the bloodshed; it was stability

[ . . .]

Peter Galbraith was the US ambassador to Croatia at the time. He agreed with the U.S. decision to condone a joint Croat-Muslim offensive against the Serbs in western Bosnia in the last weeks of the war. But he also agreed with the decision to stop it, before it defeated the Serbs. Now he wonders if it wouldn’t have been better to let the offensive roll on.

Galbraith: “Even to this day, I don’t know if we did the right thing or not. At the time, it seemed to make sense.”

Sharp: U.S. officials wanted the Serbs to lose more territory, but they didn’t want a bloodbath. Nor did they want any more large refugee flows just as the war was winding down.

Galbraith: “But the other side of the coin is that the Bosnian Serbs were fascists, genocidal fascists. And it might have been a better end to the war for them to be decisively defeated rather than continuing in power and continuing with this insane nationalism of theirs.”

It’s worth reading the whole transcript.

I am sticking with my working assumption that sustainable peace cannot be achieved without justice. But that said, the pressures in real-time for stability, even when not just, are both genuine and understandable.  And I think we are seeing it vis-a-vis the new US Administration’s policy towards Darfur today. Several of my interviewees at the Arab League told me that the ICC is not in Gration’s talking points when he speaks with the Sudanese government. Apparently the working the theory is that it is more important to achieve some stability through a political settlement at Doha, followed by a sort of Mandate Darfur “Take II” – – and then justice can be considered after that. Parenthetically, I would call this barely disguised code for – then there can be an Art. 16 suspension of the warrant against Bashir.

The second email was from Paul Salopek (you will know of his trials in Darfur if you have read Dauod Hari’s The Translator). Paul has what I told him was a “wonderfully, awfully, real” piece in the Atlantic. It’s about the emails he gets from a schoolteacher who he met in Somalia, but more than that it’s a critique of where “our” (putting my U.S. hat on) priorities lie. Paul writes: “Abdi’s most recent emails have been arriving as I dismantle my newspaper’s Africa bureau in Johannesburg. Horizons are shrinking in U.S. journalism. Soon there will be one less American news outlet that has to worry, if that isn’t too generous a word, about covering Somalia’s woes—or Washington’s complicity in them.”

On that note, I’m signing off to go and read Towards Genocide in Kenya by Kenyan activist and politician Koigi wa Wamwere.


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