Even though I am baby-obsessed these days and, therefore, my blogs are all about getting ready for Simba, I do acknowledge that there has been some really interesting news in Kenya lately that I'd like to share. Here are what I would classify as today's top 4 news stories (or at least the four stories that I talk to our driver, Charles, about the most when we are in the car):
1. Teacher's strike: Public school teachers in Kenya have up until now made very little money (I believe around $130 (US) per month), particularly compared to other employees of the government. It is important to remember that in many schools in the country there are up to or more than 60 students in a classroom with a lack of textbooks and teaching materials and other poor conditions, so it is not like these teachers have an easy job. Occasionally they threaten to go on strike, or actually do, but very little seems to ever improve between the government and the teacher's union. Starting last week, the teachers went on strike again - or at least many of them did...in some parts of the country the strike never actually materialized - and today the government and the teacher's union came to an agreement that teachers will accept. While I don't know the actual time frame, teachers' salaries will be increased in three phases with the first and second phases seeing increases of 40% and the third phase increasing by 20%. It is good for the country to get its education system back on track (or at least not shut down), because of course students are hurt the most by teacher strikes in any country, and I hope that this is a sign of progress with the government showing more respect to the teachers it employs.
2. Big Fire Downtown: In the city center yesterday afternoon, a fire started in one of the large Nakumatt grocery stores (which I have written about before, but this one is not one that we ever go to). Apparently the whole street had experienced a power outage and the store was operating on its generator. When the regular power was restored and the generator turned off for the regular electricity, there was some kind of explosion that ignited the fire, which spread quickly. Initially, it was believed that only 4 people were injured and nobody was killed, but 24 hours later there were 34 people still reported missing from that store and it is likely that they didn't make it out. Hundreds of people were evacuated and traffic is STILL (literally) backed up on the highway because they had to close a major road. One of the flaws of the city's government that is highlighted here is their lack of preparedness to handle such a serious fire: the fire department could not maintain the fire on its own and relied on the help of several private security companies as well as the military to get it under control. Currently in Kenya, Members of Parliament do not pay taxes on all of their non-salary allowances (homes, cars, entertainment, etc.) which amounts to a LOT of money and which I find to be a horrible crime. I loved reading in the paper today several letters that noted if MPs were paying taxes on all of their income then maybe the city could afford a larger, more effective and efficient fire brigade Oh yeah.
3. Local Tribunal Court: Towards the end of last year, an independent commission that studied the events of post-election violence handed over to the panel of prominent African leaders (headed by Kofi Annan) a list of suspected Kenyan leaders - specifically six high-level government Ministers and five Members of Parliament - who were involved in planning or financing the violence that took place. Kenya has been sentenced to conduct its own local tribunal to determine the guilt or innocence of these 11 politicians so that they can be held responsible if they were involved. If they don't legally establish this tribunal by next week I believe (or maybe it is tomorrow?!?!), then the International Criminal Court (ICC) at the Hague (the Netherlands) will hold its own tribunal and Kenya's "dirty laundry", so to speak, will be aired for the whole world to see and judge. There is increasing pressure from several prominent politicians that Kenya needs to hurry up and establish the local tribunal to save the country this public embarrassment, particularly because a Kenyan judge was recently appointed over 19 candidates to sit on the ICC at the Hague. Hopefully the country will amend its laws so that the tribunal can be set up before the deadline. It will help the country heal, I believe, to get this over and not drag it on for years.
4. Maize Scandal: Basically, the country is experiencing an extreme food shortage right now, so much so that the week we came back to Kenya the President declared a state of emergency because 10 million people were/are at risk of starvation. Much of this is because of drought and failed rains, some of this is because of the shortage of crops that were planted last year due to the post-election violence, and some of this is because of allegedly corrupt policies and practices between some government officials and local maize millers and farmers. It is an extremely complicated issue and I am not the authority on it by any means (Kristoffer has much more inside knowledge given his work with the WFP) but what I do find VERY interesting is that one of the MPs who is believed to be involved in this maize corruption scandal is the Minister of Agriculture, who is also suspected to be one of the names on the secret list of politicians accused of being involved in planning or financing last year's post-election violence (see #3 above). I have written this before: we are not fans of his. It will be very interesting to see what happens here.
So you see, the news in Kenya does not entirely (or even partially) revolve around Simba's impending birth. Clearly his or her entrance into the world will be the biggest news story of our year, but the rest of the country might find that some of these other stories take precedent.