Archive | December 6, 2013

Completely Obvious yet Wholly Unanswered Questions about the Westgate Mall Attack in Kenya

Africa-Nairobi-Westgate-AttackA friend just passed me this, but I figured I’d share it here because it borders on the absurd. For those who don’t know, or have forgotten, the Westgate Mall in Nairobi, a weekend destination for expats and Kenyans alike, was attacked by four (or more?) indivduals linked to Somali terror group, Al Shabab. An estimated 70 people were killed and scores more injured, though noone really knows. We think the killers are dead. Just about the only thing we do know, is that the Kenyan military raized the building and then pocketed as many cell phones and as much liquor as they could.

The Kenyan government has been mostly silent on the issue. The Wikipedia page is remarkably detailed, but the facts appear to be mostly speculation. It’s unclear as to whether the government is deliberately withholding information or if the GOK simply doesn’t know anything at all. Either way, not much in Nairobi has changed since the recent fire at Jomo Kenyatta airport and the Westgate attacks. The security guards will look a little deeper in your bags. It’s going to be interesting to see how Kenya deals with it’s serious growing pains.

This past week when I was there, the City of Nairobi had finally installed traffic lights, complete with cameras that will catch lawbreakers and fine them by mail. I’m not sure, however, that the Kenyan Post is equipped to get the notices to the drivers’ homes. Kenyan has amazing potential, but until it solves these basic infrastructural problems, it’s going to be slow going. They are trying though, I think.

These are a selection from 85 questions on this Google Doc.

Questions Kenyan Citizens want answered by their government concerning the Westgate attack

1. How many people are still unaccounted for?
2. How many terrorists were involved in the attack? Are all accounted for[d]?
3. What of reports of at least one terrorist escaping from Westgate? Again, Amb Amina Mohammed in her Al Jazeera English interview[e] suggested some might have hidden among hostages and escaped. Who were the people arrested in JKIA? Were any of them in Westgate? Will any arrested terrorists be put on trial here or handed over to other states?
4. Are any terrorists loose in the city who are yet to be captured?
5. Will there be an inquiry into the attack to identify potential improvements to intelligence and security? What powers of investigative authority will the group doing the inquiry be given?
6. Was fire on terrace started by terrorists to burn hostages and swap identities? How many escaped?
7. Will the findings be made public after the investigations?
8. Who owns the Westgate Mall building? Have they been taken in for questioning[h]?
9. There are reports of the attackers renting a store at the mall. Are these reports true and is the landlord being pursued for information on the same? Have they arrested the staff for questioning?
10. Ten suspect arrested for questioning. Are they part of the attackers? Are we still safe?
11. In the last government there were many rumours that Kenyan Passports and Id’s were being sold 300,000 a pop. Is it possible to inspect, record how many of these were undeserving recall them and deport or arrest those who own them. Also is it possible to use this evidence to jail those responsible for selling our country?
12. Was the CCTV footage made available to the police[j][k]?
13. How many hostage takers have been killed?
14. Are all our questions actually going to be answered?
15. Samantha Lewthwaite has been to Kenya twice. In 2011 and Last year. How did she stroll through our airports undetected?? She’s been on FBI’s and Interpol’s watchlist since 20[t]
16. Why won’t they tell us how many hostages were rescued or where they were taken??? why so much secrecy!
17. So Uhuru said that security would be improved after the attack, why is it that I walked in town today and didn’t see a single policeman aside from traffic policemen? where are the photos of the dead terrorists? Why do the governments numbers contradict with those of the Red Cross? Why are they treating us like 8 year old children with all these differing answers? Why isn’t security heightened in universities? Why are g4s watchmen still manning large institutions? Are our borders secure? Why deny that there was a woman leading the attack yet victims of the attack saw a woman? Where is the security? I expected the government to take this matter seriously! ?
18. After all the tragedies we have had, why is it still not possible to have a clear structure and system of co-ordination, management, rescue, and disaster resource distribution from 0 seconds? → What disaster response planning & provisions by GoK are in place generally? Which government entities are involved / have responsibilities in this area?
19. There has been a ridiculous increase in crime lately, and we are reeling from one crisis to to another…from airports burning, car jackings, armed robberies and now mall attacks and yet the police don’t seem prepared or able to deal with these issues, how come we still have the same people in office? should we have qualified people running the show?
20. If there were 15 attackers and and only 5 were killed where are the rest? why the conflicting information from government on number of attackers etc?
21. Can we finally stop spending on petty things or things that can wait and invest in training and equipping our police and security operatives and not just to deal with political issues but to truly respond to crime and terrorism

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Do Americans know that there are cities in Africa?

I’m convinced that they do not.

Two articles have appeared in the NYT in the past week on development. One dealt with agriculture in South America, and the other with power and electricity.

The first, “Iowa in the Amazon,” was written by Stephen Porder, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Brown. He write on soy beam farming in Brazil:

Despite what you might hear at your local farmers’ market or Whole Foods, not all big farms are bad. Nor are all small organic farms sustainable. They may produce high-quality food, but if they don’t produce a lot of calories per acre, they are doing little to help increase the global food supply. How we increase this supply over the next few decades will determine agriculture’s sustainability. It’s worth exploring why this is so, because sustainable food production is a fundamental human need. Getting it right will require us to carefully assess the consequences of where and how we farm.

Which is a reasonable position to take. Farming is (and has always been) about maximizing yield from a limited amount of land. The responses to his article are telling, most notably this one:

“Highly mechanized farms in the poor countries of the world create numerous environmental and social problems. These mega-farms rely on large quantities of relatively cheap fossil fuels as well as pesticides that contaminate water, soil, food and people.”

Also, a reasonable position. Now, I’m willing to entertain the costs of large scale, efficient farming, but the comments suggest that readers haven’t considered the costs of small scale agriculture, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa. I’m thinking that the American readers believe that a lady cultivating maize in her yard in Kenya, is the same as a household garden in the United States. It is not.

Small scale farmers face massive levels of risk on a daily basis. A poor rainy season could devastate the small crop intended to provide sustenance and livelihood for a likely growing family. Without developed systems of production, transportation and market efficiency, small holder farms have no way to supplement major crop losses. Thus, efforts which seek to exclusively bolster this sector overlook the importance of 1) large scale agriculture as a buffer against individual crop losses 2) transportation (roads) development which links producers to markets (and vice versa) and 3) how the labor intensive and inefficient nature of small scale agriculture impedes participation in other economic activities.

I fear that Americans have an image of Africa which doesn’t fit the realities on the ground and I fear that we in the development world are somewhat guilty for propagating it. Pictures of happy though poor maize producing households are great for getting us to donate to microcredit causes (for example) romanticize rural poverty, but risk whitewashing the precarious nature of this lifestyle.

The truth is, that African urbanization is occurring at the fastest pace that humanity has ever seen. Malawi’s cities grow by more than 6% per year, and by 2050, nearly 60% of Africans will live in cities. African cities are so huge as the make NYC seem like a small hamlet. Lagos, Nigeria has 21 million people.

Though many urban dwellers are growing crops in the cities, it is impossible to assume that small holder agriculture alone can possibly support hundreds of millions of non-crop producing Africans. Though we may dislike images of tractors moving through giant African farms, the reality is that Africa is facing the same challenges we did during our own development booms. Emphasizing efficiency of production at all levels should be the biggest item on the agenda.

As for energy, I’ll leave to reader to explore the vitriolic nature of the comments on this piece in the times, that had the gall to suggest that developing countries, facing increasing demand for stable sources of power, might simply consider domestically abundant coal as one of many options. The readers are apparently under the impression that the only energy requirement that Africa needs is for cooking. Apparently, they’ve never experienced a blackout in Nairobi.

Though I’m no coal fan, African countries have to consider their needs and weigh out the costs and benefits of the methods of addressing them.

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