Former President Bill Clinton:
Welcome to Kenya. When I learned that you would be visiting our beautiful but tortured (of which more later) country I thought I should join with the rest of my fellow Kenyans to extend a warm Karibu Kwetu!
Before I started on this message, I visited your Foundation's website and I saw the press release which clarifies the purpose of your visit. Since this is an Open Letter to you, I will reproduce the Foundation's media release for the benefit of the readers of our blog-where this message is being published and from where it is being distributed around the world via the magic of the same information superhighway which formed such a staple of your speeches during your first and second terms in office. Here is the release:
Press Release: President Clinton to visit Kenya to Highlight Collaboration with Government on HIV/AIDS Care and Treatment
Will Launch Pediatric HIV/AIDS Initiative to provide treatment to 1,000 children living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya
July 21, 2005
President Bill Clinton and Kenyan Minister of Health Charity Ngilu will launch the Clinton Foundation Pediatric HIV/AIDS Initiative in Kenya at Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi on Saturday, July 23, 2005. This Initiative, as part of the Foundation’s global goal to have 10,000 children on anti-retroviral treatment (ART) by the end of 2005, will focus on getting an additional 1,000 Kenyan children who are HIV+ on appropriate medications. The effort, carried out in close collaboration with the Ministry of Health, will effectively double the number of children in the country on ART.
To jumpstart the program, the Clinton Foundation is providing a supply of pediatric formulation antiretroviral medicine (ARVs) that was procured at drastic discounts from the already established partnership with Cipla, a generic drug manufacturer, to the Government of Kenya. These formulations will be channeled through the government’s distribution system and will be available to all sites authorized by the Ministry of Health for delivery to HIV+ children. In addition to the drugs, the Initiative will be supporting clinical training for the relevant healthcare staff. Some of this training has been carried out in collaboration with the National AIDS and STI Control Program (NASCOP) and partners.
Beyond the Pediatric Initiative, the Clinton Foundation has also established a Rural Initiative that will bring care and treatment to HIV+ adults living in the vast rural areas of Kenya. This Initiative aims to expand the scope of treatment services to rural, underserved areas building and testing models of service delivery that can be replicated across the country and the world.
In addition, the Clinton Foundation is helping the Government of Kenya procure high quality ARVs and diagnostic testing capability at its negotiated low pricing, as well as more broadly strengthening the capacity of the national laboratory system. These measures will make the Ministry of Health's investments more efficient and effective, thus be able to reach and save more lives.
Your visit to Kenya is therefore both laudable and timely, given the acuteness of the health crises ravaging our country-of which the HIV/AIDS pandemic is a very big head ache.
I therefore want to repeat our Karibus to Kenya.
Unlike the throngs of traditional dancers, military guards of honour, diplomatic flamboyance and official bureaucratic red carpet receptions that have been no doubt arranged by the Kenya government in anticipation of the arrival of someone of your stature, I want to take a different tack in inviting you to our small country.
But first, one or two lines about the writer of these lines. My name is Onyango Oloo and I currently live in Montreal, Quebec. I first came to Canada in the late 1980s as a political exile- and even though I am no longer an exile, America's neighbour across the 49th parallel has become a second home for me- without taking away my Kenyan identity and my passionate involvement with all that affects, infects and afflicts Kenya in the political, social, economic, cultural, technological, environmental, security and for the purposes of this communication, definitely health aspects. I consider myself a social justice activist and I comment regularly about Kenya and global affairs via this weblog. You should know at the outset that I am no big fan of US policies-especially its foreign and trade policies- so it is not as a gushing groupie, but rather as a critical human rights defender and long time HIV/AIDS organizer that I approach you this morning.
Like I said, I want to give you an alternative welcome and introduction to Kenya.
As you land at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, take a few seconds to smell the air- you may detect the faint whiff of tear gas wafting all the way from downtown Nairobi where Kenyan police recently brutalized unarmed, peaceful democracy seeking protestors insisting that the current Kenyan government led by Mwai Kibaki should not mutilate a draft of a democratic constitution that was overwhelmingly adopted by delegates of the National Constitutional Conference at Bomas of Kenya on Friday, March 15th, 2005.
You will no doubt be greeted by
our head of state.
Have a handkerchief ready- to wipe away
the blood of innocent civilians that are staining President Kibaki's hands for the riot police could not have unleashed their terror on these democracy and justice seeking Kenyan citizens without his knowledge and approval.
As they drive you to your hotel, or wherever you will be staying- look out the window- you may see a mwananchi nursing a head wound or a broken arm- a reminder of the beatings they sustained either on Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday this week from government goons preventing these ordinary Kenyans from presenting thousands of simple signatures to a petition calling on legislators to respect the wishes of the very people who elected them.
If you perk your ears, you may hear the groans of scores of Kenyan activists packed like sardines in overcrowded police cells waiting to be charged with the "crime" of peaceful democratic dissent.
President Clinton, if you leaf through the newspapers of the last four days, you may see images like the following:
As you may know,
our country is fabled for her
wide array of wild life
our world beating athletes.
But this morning I am in no mood for swapping glossy tourist postcards from and about Kenya.
The Kenyan people are NOT living a picture perfect, post card worthy life. The earlier set of images is what defines where our national mood, and how our country-wide political pulse can be felt right now.
We are definitely not in a mood for flapping our shoulders and ululating.
There are tears flowing in different parts of our republic, but these are tears that have been jerked from the eyes of our people by tear gas lobbed among our people by the people who are duty bound to safeguard their human rights- Kenya's law enforcement officials.
The biggest item on our country's political menu is the urgency of passing a people-driven democratic constitution.
Yet a day before you arrived, the government of Mwai Kibaki, the man you praised effusively and expressed a public wish to meet in person, this same government steam rollered a vote in parliament that mutilated the popular Bomas Draft to replace it with a caricature cobbled together by a coterie of state-friendly politicians frolicking at a coastal resort. This caricature grants the already Imperial Presidency even more dictatorial powers, in flagrant disregard not only of the wishes of the people of Kenya but the pre-election pledges of the ruling NARC formation and more particularly the constitutional submissions of the President's own party(named the "Democratic Party" like your own) that were tabled before a review commission over three years ago. These pre-election pledges and manifestoes called for a whittling of the powers of the Presidency and in fact projected a shift to a parliamentary system of governance led by a Prime Minister. As soon as Mwai Kibaki ascended to office and tasted the perks of power, he became an embodiment of Lord Acton's dictum of absolute power corrupting absolutely.
You can see a news report about how the historic betrayal was imposed on Kenyans today by visiting this link.
President Clinton on the same day of that parliamentary betrayal, Kibaki government troops unleashed terror on ordinary wananchi for the third day running as you can see from these stories in The Standard, Reuters, Voice of America, Reuters and the The Chinese News Agency
So what do these political developments have to do with your visit to Kenya?
What does a vote in parliament have to do with the launching of a ARV Initiative at Mbagathi Hospital in Nairobi?
What does the clobbering of innocent urban dwellers have to do with mounting of an important rural campaign to provide cheap affordable generic drugs to rural Kenyans living in the countryside?
In a word, Mr President:
Let me explain.
Development and charity work rarely unfolds or evolves in a political vacuum.
In fact many champions of sustainable development will insist that justice, democracy, freedom are pre-requisites, an unshakeable sine qua non of improving lives and sustaining livelihoods.
What is true of a water purification project, revenue generating exercise, youth empowering and gender sensitive campaign is certainly true for launching an important initiative such as the
the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Initiative to provide treatment to 1,000 children living with HIV/AIDS in Kenya.
Why should you be worried?
For a simple reason:
Your partner is the Kibaki Government.
Slightly over a year ago the former British envoy to Kenya,
Sir Edward Clay
blasted the NARC government for coddling graft tainted ministers and turning a blind eye to corruption.
The reaction of the Kibaki regime?
To brand the British High Commissioner "an enemy of Kenya".
President Mwai Kibaki himself has either stood defiantly by his ministers vowing he will never fire them over corruption charges or has been largely missing in action and at least, according to a certain London newspaper, taken to cuddling in bed following the adventures of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves while our country goes to the dogs...
But what does this have to do with HIV/AIDS?
Well Mr.President, I invite you to contemplate on the bizarre case of one
Dr. Margaret Gachara the former boss of the Kenya National AIDS Control Council.
On Monday, August 30, 2004 she was sentenced to a one year jail term after she was "found guilty of fraudulently obtaining over Sh27 million from the AIDS organisation by using false pretences. Mrs Muigai concluded that Gachara had abused her office by instructing the then human resources manager, Caroline Asukuya, and Finance manager Francis Gitau to treat her gross salary as net. The magistrate said Gachara took advantage of her position and the Government policy to fraudulently draw an exorbitant salary.." according to this story in the East African Standard. Kenyans had been outraged to discover that she was paying herself literally millions of shillings every month from an HIV/AIDS coffer that perhaps could have been better utilized to serve the needs of the millions of affected and infected Kenyans grappling with the pandemic. Margaret Gachara had been receiving a salary SEVEN TIMES that which she should have been entitled to as a senior civil servant. You are looking at an overpayment to the tune of US $ 0.3 MILLION !
Even though the one year term was seen as a mere slap on the wrist, guess what happened next President Clinton?
After serving a mere THREE MONTHS of her ONE YEAR STINT, President Mwai Kibaki "forgave her" in December 2004!
Kenyans saw this amnesty as a cynical slap in the face and a thumbs up for blatant corruption in high places. Dr. Gachara is well connected to senior figures in the Kibaki regime.
I am merely pointing out these FACTS because you have announced that the Kenya government is going to be your strategic partner in Kenya. Some of us Kenyans shudder at the thought, quite frankly.
Kenya being one of the stalwarts of NEPAD had voluntary acceded to a Peer Review Mechanism by which our country's record on governance, transparency and accountability would be assessed and evaluated by Kenya's African peers.
For the second day running, the Kenya police BLOCKED the NEPAD team from entering their own offices.
According to the Daily Nation:
Local members of the African Union's overseer group, Nepad, were for the second day denied access to their offices yesterday, threatening the success of appraisal of Kenya's economy and governance.
Ms Grace Akumu who heads the 33-member Kenya chapter of the New Partnership for Africa's Development (Nepad) initiative, told reporters that police sealed off their secretariat at Liaison House, State House Avenue, in the morning.
She said police also locked the Africa Peer Review Mechanism (APRM) team out of the secretariat on Wednesday "for questioning the use of funds for the process."
You can read the rest of the story at this link
President Bill Clinton I hope by now you have detected more than a vague hint of rising disquiet on my part. This trepidation is shared by millions of other Kenyans.
Some of us feel that the current Kenyan government led by Mwai Kibaki has lost the MORAL AUTHORITY, political credibility and technical capacity to lead the Kenyan people. Many of us have serious qualms about a regime that changes horses in midstream; a government that is shameless in its cynical about turns; a regime where a former political prisoner is now deputizing a former police torturer in the Ministry of Internal Security; a government that not only disrespects its electorate, but goes further to violate, violently suppress and demonize same said electorate.
In this context I see your visit to Kenya at this time as very unfortunate in some respects, not withstanding what I said at the outset of this essay.
The Mwai Kibaki regime having just emerged politically bruised and in tatters over its handling of the constitutional impasse is now going to clutch a fig leaf- courtesy of you, President Clinton.
You are about to provide a massive photo-op for one of Africa's emerging dictators, a wishy washy missing President who presides over a cabinet that has been fingered time and time again(including by its own fellow cabinet ministers) whose nick name should be TKK("Toa Kitu KUBWA" Kiswahili for "give something big").
Yet I am not calling upon you to cancel your trip.
What you plan for Kenya's children is very commendable.
What you plan to pump into the rural awareness initiative about your specific campaigns is something that one cannot gainsay.
The question remains however whether in the long run, or even the mid term it is possible to put in place the building blocks of sustainable HIV/AIDS treatment policies and programs when it is the foxes that have been appointed custodians of the chicken run.
One hopes that you reflect on these and other questions.
And do say hi to our President.
You are lucky, President Clinton.
The man is so elusive he should be featured on Kenya's Most Wanted!
ps: some trivia: we share the same birthday-obviously not the same year....