Tuesday, March 30, 2010

John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers From Paris With Love

Title: From Paris Love
Starring: John Travolta, Jonathan Rhys Meyers
Director: Pierre Morel
Run Time: 92 Mins
Release Date: 11th March 2010 (Norway)
Based on the Story by Luc Besson

They are two CIA officers from two different sides of the coin.
Charlie Wax (John Travolta) is ruthless, quick and gets the job done even if by unorthodox means. A seasoned undercover agent he is called by the French US embassy to help stop a bomb from Pakistani terrorists targeting an African summit.
The other partner James Reese (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) is the personal assistant of Ambassador Bennington (Richard Durden), a sharp Ivy League alumnus tired of low agents work like changing number plates and planting bugs he dreams of real work.
Coming of the trigger happy Charlie puts Reese in frontline job.
Reese fiancée Caroline (Kasia Smutniak) plants bugs at Reese apartment and frequents seedy parts of town till the day of African summit reaches.
The viewer gets confused with Charlie’s trigger happy tendency of blasting away Chinese, Pakistani’s and Arabs in sight till later when the  viewer is glued to climax as he joins the dots of storyline.
The actors play their roles superbly. The go happy, gun-toting Wax is given an anti-thesis with the soft Reese.
The story flows superbly with the action packed, but the only reservation is it seems the terrorists’ easily die with little care of themselves during shootouts.

Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman The Shawshank Redemption

Reading Stephen King’s Novel from Print to Reel
Title: The Shawshank Redemption
Starring: Tim Robbins, Morgan Freeman, Bob Gunton
Director: Frank Darabont
Runtime: 142 Mins
Date Released: 6th January 1995 (Norway)
Based on Stephen King’s Novel ‘Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption’

At Shawshank prison in Maine, everyone is innocent they only got conned by their lawyers. The only guilt is being locked behind the walls where prisoners pry on each other. The guards too fleece the inmates with permission sought even for peeing.

Andy Dufresne (Tim Robbins) is charged with two life sentences served back to back for the purported murder of his wife and her lover. Being a workaholic banker he pushes his wife away.

In 1947 he starts serving his sentences at Shawshank where he meets Ellis Redding ‘Red’ (Morgan Freeman) already at 20 years of his life sentence on a murder he committed as a young man.

The two develop a mutual understanding and friendship as they serve their sentences.

Redding is the prison conman who gets Andy a rock hummer which buys Andy his freedom after digging a tunnel for 19 years.

Warden Norton (Bob Gunton) believes in bible and discipline till he finds out that Andy could skew figures the IRS. Norton forces Andy to collude with him in stealing by killing an inmate who could have proven Andy’s innocence.

Harboring hope amid despair Andy Dufresne suddenly disappears from his cell. Silently like a fart in the wind he disappears with Norton’s money…..

The movie is hot since it has 7 Oscars nomination, 13 other nominations and 12 wins in different categories

Robert John Burke, Lucinda Jenney, Stephen Kings Thinner

A King Movie, King Author Stephen King
Title: Stephen King’s Thinner
Starring: Robert John Burke, Lucinda Jenney, Michael Constantine, Joe Mantagne
Director: Tom Holland
92 Mins
Release Date:
25th October 1996 (USA)
Based on Stephen King’s Novel Thinner

The gypsy caravan slowly snakes its way in a white town. They seem to be everywhere till a confrontation ensues between them and the whites.

Lawyer Billy Halleck (Robert John Burke) while driving from a dinner with his wife Heidi (Lucinda Jenney) accidently kill a gypsy woman.

Convinced that the gypsy’s are a nuisance Judge Phillips (Howard Erskine) sets Halleck free without giving the gypsies a hearing in the court.

Seeing that the white man’s justice is no justice at all, 106 years old Tadzu Limpke (Michael Constantine) the king of the gypsies the father of the dead woman unleashes a gypsy curse.

Simply administered the curse makes the victim thinner claiming judge Phillips who dies a horrible death. With a ballooning weight of 297 pounds Billy rapidly thins to a skeleton. Neglected by his wife who turns to a doctor friend Billy sets off to find a cure for the curse.

With the help of a mobster client Richie Ginelli (Joe Mantegna) they force the gypsies to revert the curse to another person leaving Billy to choose his next victim.

The director Tom Holland did a great job of immortalizing the King of Horror/Thriller books Stephen King on the big Screen. Suspense holds the viewer vice-like and the makeup brings King’s horror description vividly from print to reel.

King’s readers will surely enjoy the movie together with lovers of movies reading like novels.

The movie had an award in 1997 by Academy of Science, Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films of USA

Don Cheadle Traitor

Cheadle in a Surveillance look at Traitors in War on Terror.
Title: Traitor
Starring: Don Cheadle, Guy Pearce, Said Tagmaoui
Director: Jeffrey Nachmanoff
Runtime: 114 Mins

Release date: 23rd January 2009

As a young boy, Samir Horn (Don Cheadle) witnesses his Islamic cleric father being killed in a car bomb while living in Khartoum, Sudan. Samir ends up a ‘terrorist’ bomb expert in Afghanistan war against Russia. He later sells bombs to Yemeni ‘terrorists’ till he gets busted by FBI agents Roy Clayton (Guy Pearce) and Max Archer (Neal McDonough).

Born in Sudan and brought up in Chicago Samir Horn is considered a traitor by the Americans who recruited him as a CIA undercover and the ‘Terrorists’ who considered him a brother.

Traitor is a philosophical movie taking a surveillance watch on the war on terror and every means employed to win it. During war every mean, orthodox and off the record have to be used to win.

The ‘terrorists’ and agents have to know to whom they are answerable to; God or Patriotism. In the war of terror there are fanatics and opportunists.

The CIA takes opportunity on Samir Horns’ Islamic believe and plants him as a mole with ‘terrorists’. A religious fanatic Omar’s (Said Tagmaoui) faith in Jihad is exploited by Fareed (Alyy Khan) for business end. Every religion hangs on an axis that’s why fanaticism bounds.

That’s why when 30 terrorists make their way to a bus terminus in US and a bomb kill 8 people at US embassy in Marseilles, France.

A CIA agent is holed up as a terrorist in a Yemeni prison and a young jihadist is found dead in a French Muslim ghetto.

Or when the FBI is trying to solve a bomb blast orchestrated by the CIA then there is a traitor.

An informer in the FBI linking bombers with classified materials or a ‘terrorist’ bomb expert working as an undercover agent.

Then the traitor lies in a fulcrum to be weighed by the audience.

Traitor has earned 5 nominations including Cheadle as the best actor with Said in best Image.

Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burst Reynolds, Nelly The Longest Yard

Longest star list with flat humor lines
Title: The longest Yard
Starring: Adam Sandler, Chris Rock, Burst Reynolds, Nelly
Director: Peter Segal
Release date: 6th January 1995 (Norway)
Runtime:113 Mins

The longest yard promises big with its array of stars but disappoints to deliver.
Peter Crewe (Adam Sandler) after failing as a football star finds himself imprisoned for three years for charges of driving under the influence.
In prison the former pro-footballer is faced with corrupt wardens looking for a team to revive their poor performance. Lead by Captain Knauer (William Fichner- Alex Mahon of Prison Break) and Donham (Steve Austin) they force Crewe to assemble an inmates team into a game.
Crewe teams with Caretaker (Chris Rock) to transform the riff raff criminals to a professional team to challenge the wardens. Banking in the team’s hatred for the sardonic wardens the teams find leverage.
Amid limited players and equipments they gain momentum till the wardens get worried. That is when dirty tricks of winning the match takes center stage.
There are many star faces to reckoning with movie lovers. But the storyline hobbles to the end with flat humor lines leaving viewers with quizzical looks.
Amongst the stars are rapper Nelly, WWF’s Dalip Singh aka Great Khali.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Major Mengistu Haile Mariam and The Ethiopian Red Terror

The Quest of Absolute Power, The Cost of Absolute Corruption.
Major Mengistu Haile Mariam became the Ethiopian president after overthrowing emperor Haile Sellassie 1 on 12th September 1974. Under the Marxist-Lenin communist regime, Mengistu wanted to change the aristocratic feudal land system which caused the first revolt.

The statement of dethronement which Emperor Sellassie1 never rejected read in part:

“Not only left the country in its current crisis by abusing at various times the high and dignified authority conferred on him by the Ethiopian people but also, being over 82 years of age and due to the consequent physical and mental exhaustion is not more able to shoulder the high responsibility of leadership”

Major Mengistu was later to be infamous world wide for his over a decade and half of red terror.

On 23rd November 1974 Major Mengistu executed the emperor’s grandson, two former prime ministers, high emperor’s associates and other sixty prominent prisoners amidst a world wide call for leniency.

Emperor Sellassie 1 died a prisoner a year later on 27th August. The Derg- a military council which started the revolution- said he died of circulatory failure. They refused to show his body. The emperor’s followers believed he was suffocated by a wet towel.

His body was hidden beneath a lavatory at the Emperor’s palace.

Once in power Mengistu meet a lot of opposition and survived 9 assassinations attempts from different rival functions.

Mengistu had a fetish for absolute power. To have the undisputed power he controlled the Derg by murdering 7 members who opposed him using an AK47 assault rifle.

Ethiopia was soon to be engulfed in strife and turmoil as grievances flared up. At the North-Western province of Begemdiri aristocrats raised The Ethiopian Democratic Union army to capture Gondar Town.

The North-East Afar tribesmen started Afar Liberation Front and launched guerrilla attacks on the country’s only oil refinery in Assab. Eritrea helped to form a large army of Tigray People’s Liberation Front in Tigray province.

On the other hand Somali in a bid for ‘lost’ land of greater Somaliland entered the fray by supporting Oromo Liberation Front in the South and the Western Somali liberation front in Ogaden.

The fiercest opposition and the one which gave Mengistu enough headaches was the Eritrea secessionist who wanted independence from 1962 annexation to Ethiopia.

At the capital Addis Ababa too offered no peace. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (EARP) wanted a civilian control of the revolution from the military.

To survive Major Mengistu raised a campaign of ‘Red Terror’ licensing civilian groups and avid supporters of young intellectuals supporting the army revolution to crash the opponents. At a rally in Addis Ababa in April 1977 Mengistu crushed three bottles filled with red substance representing the EARP supporters.

“It is an historical obligation to clean up vigilantly using the revolution sword. Your struggle should be demonstrated by spreading red terror in the camp of reactionary.” He told his supporters.

The EARP members where persecuted by people with aid of the government.

In the raw greed of power, once the EARP was destroyed in mid-1977 Mengistu turned to young intellectuals he considered a threat and wiped them out. They were arrested and were lost in interrogation rooms with a trace.

With support from 17,000 Cuban combat forces and Soviet military artillery and aid revolts was curbed country wide.

Once in complete control of his desire: power, Mengistu changed from a communist revolutionary. He turned to bourgeoisie and aristocratic lifestyle. The basis of the initial revolt.

Dawit Wolde Giorgis’ a member of the committee recalls in Red Terror: War, Famine and Revolution in Ethiopia (Red Sea Press, Trenton. 1990):

“he (Mengistu) grew more abrasive and arrogant. The real Mengistu emerged: vengeful, cruel and authoritarian. He begun to openly mock God and religion.” He concludes “we are supposed to have a revolution of equality: now he had become the emperor”

Mengistu’s worst follies came in 1984-5 when he used $150- million to celebrate the 10th anniversary of overthrowing emperor Haile Sellassie 1 regime on 10th October while citizens were dying of famine.

5 million Ethiopians were at risk.

His main indifference was that the famine areas, Wollo and Tigray provinces were backdrop of Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. By 1983, two years before the famine Mengistu had used aerial bombardment six times to destroy grain houses, burns crops and kill livestock.

Over a half a million farmers were displaced by the war thus had no farms.

To wrangle the farmers further, Mengistu started the Agricultural Marketing Corporation which imposed a grain quota on them despite the famine. The peasants were taxed heavily and prevented from engaging in any other business,

Mengistu further refused aid from donors even after government officials termed it as an open grave in 1984.

Famine neglect, the blame on Emperor Selassie 1 on the 1973 Wollo famine which claimed 10,000 lives came back to haunt the regime. What a paradox!

Dawit, by then an official of Relief and Rehabilitation Commission (RRC) recalled approaching Mengistu respectfully about the issue and he replied;

“Don’t let these petty human problems that always exist in transition periods consume you. There was famine in Ethiopia for years before we took power. It was the way nature kept balance. Today we are interfering with what that natural mechanism of balance and that is why our population has soared to over 40 million”

The famine, like it was with emperor Sellasie 1 became his nemesis.

Truth was opened to the world when Kenyan photojournalist Mohammed Amin arrived in a small town of Korem which was RRC headquarters in the province.

Amin noted “there was this tremendous mass of people, groaning and weeping, scattered across the ground in the morning mist.”

The 7 minutes commentary which Mohamed Amin shot was broadcasted on the BBC on 23rd October and subsequently by 425 TV and numerous radios stations worldwide sending a wave of public horror and compassion which raised $ 1 billion within a year.

Michael Burke commentary on the film went;

“Thousands of wasted people are coming here for help. May find death. They flood in everyday from villages hundred of miles away; dulled by hunger, driven beyond the point of desperation………. Death is all around. A child or an adult dies in every twenty minute.”

The aid was curtailed by the government with only thousands being served as a million people died of starvation. When asked by donors in a press conference the acting foreign Minister, Tibebu Bekele blurted:

“Food is the major element in our strategy against the secessionists.”

In retaliation Mengistu forcefully resettled 600,000 people a year after famine in February 1986. 50,000 people who survived famine were killed during the resettlement.

“the people are like the sea and the guerillas are like fish swimming in the sea” Mengistu justified his actions “without the sea there will be no fish”

For the remaining population surviving on relief program Mengistu ordered an offensive, eighth in the area, bringing more devastation.

With weaning support from the collapsed soviet bloc, Mengistu was driven from what he desired most; power in May 1991 by a joint Eritrean and Tigray rebels.

He escaped to Zimbabwe to be the guest of Robert Mugabe.

(Vive la Revolution, Mengistu and Fidel Castro. Bottom Mengistu Photo: BBC Online)

Ras Tafari: Emperor Haile Selassie1, the Elect of God

Following what happened to Emperor Haile Sellasie 1 more than 30 years after his death.
The Elect of God, Emperor Haile Selassie 1 operated by his formidable memory to rule the Ethiopian empire with its 30 million subjects before being dethroned on 12the September 1974 by Major Mengistu Haile Mariam.

Emperor Selassie 1 was born Lij Tafari Makonnen in 1892 after his father General Ras Makonnen conquered and occupied the Muslim city Harar in 1887 during the reign of King Menelik.

The title Lij and Ras denote a prince in Amharic, though the Lij title is of lower version for un-respected royals.

Lij Tafari Makonnen became the provincial administrator for the Harar province when he was only 16 years old before becoming prince regent in 1916 when emperor Menelik passed away. In 1930 he was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie 1, a baptismal name from the original title Ras Tafari Makonnen.

The Ethiopian constitution traced the position of an autocratic monarch to the old biblical times, a mystique, of direct marriage of King Solomon and Queen Sheba.

The orthodox, Ethiopian Coptic church with ancient liturgical language and ancient literature dating back to 3,000 years before Christ revered the title of monarchy.

The Emperor was bestowed with titles like Elect of God, The Conquering Lion of Tribe of Judah and The Prince of Peace.

The reverences lead to the springing of Rastafari (ism) movement in Jamaica in 1930’s. The movement took the Emperor first birth name: Ras Tafari.

The Black Moses Marcus Mosiah Garvey, the ‘prophet Isaiah’ of the movement prophesied the coming of the king from the East with heavenly character, a Christ incarnate. The crowning of Emperor Selassie 1 fulfilled prophesy just like the Biblical Isaiah on the birth of Jesus Christ.

Rastafarians believe that Emperor Haile Selassie 1 is God sitting on his highest throne at Mount Zion judging mankind as the power of trinity: the son- in the father and Holy Spirit trinity.

The Rastafarian believed he performed miracles in 1966 when he landed in Jamaica for a three days visit. On the day he arrived it rained after a prolonged drought.

After being chosen as the Emperor, the Elect of God embarked on a scheme to modernize Ethiopia and abolish slave trade, build social amenities, authorized the establishment of a parliament and build a railway line to the Red Sea.

The early achievement brought fame to Emperor, but what catapulted him to world wide glory was his defiance in 1930s when Benito Mussolini, the Italian fascist dictator invaded Ethiopia and forced the Emperor to flee to England.

“His name is King Selassie, Mussolini invaded Ethiopia but he conquered” Sung Reggae Heart Throb the late Joseph Hills aka Mighty Culture.

He was later reinstated to his throne in 1940s during the height of WWII when Mussolini was defeated for supporting Adolf Hitler of Nazi Germany.

In 1962 through the UN council the Emperor convinced the Eritrean parliament to vote for annexation of Eritrea to Ethiopia which added 3 million subjects to the Empire after Italy withdrawal from the region.

The Humble Emperor

A diminutive figure, humble and mild-mannered the Emperor was an avid reader.

Mr. Katema Yifru a confidant and a cabinet minister in Emperor’s government, who sort asylum in Kenya in 1985 after being allowed to travel outside the country by Mengistu’s regime recalled:

“The Emperor’s bedroom had an ordinary bed. People have this mistaken believe that Emperors sleep on golden beds, but this was not the case with Emperor Haile Selassie…… I know that many Ethiopians slept on better beds than him. He was not extravagant.”

Mr. Yifru was quoted by Kenyan local newspapers in Nairobi while working as the director of World Food Programme for East and Southern Africa. He emotionally continued:

“The rest of the room and the bed itself was taken up by books, magazines, papers and documents. If you (a minister) gave him a memo in the evening you were sure to get a reply in the morning. He was an extremely hardworking man”

Selassie resided in Jubilee palace where he fed leopards and dark manned lions before heading to the official office in The Grand Palace, Emperor Menelik old palace which stood on the hill overlooking the city of Addis Ababa.

It is at The Grand Palace that he operated by his formidable memory to recall names, places, conversations and events of the Empire while the Minister of the Pen stood beside him to jolt down orders from him.

The Fault Lines
Around 1960s fault lines started appearing in Emperor Selassie 1 regime. The aristocratic monarchy alienated the subjects under the feudal land ownership system. The tenants were allowed to stay in feudal lands in exchange of free labour and 75% of their produce.

In addition West Somali Liberation Front in Ogaden, Oromo uprising in Bale province and Eritrean forces started nationalist’s insurgency which were later quelled.

The fault line grew further in 1972 when Emperor Selassie 1 stuck to power through senility at 80 years old. The Emperor never trusted his eldest son Asafa Woosen after his favorite son, Crown Prince Leul Makonnen died in a car accident in 1957.

The senility was evident during a state dinner on the official national visit by Zairian President Mobutu Sese Seko.

The Emperor called a state official and in Amharic asked who the guest of honor sitting opposite him was.

Later at his first official visit to China in 1974 the Emperor constantly referred to a previous visit he had made earlier.

During this period there were strikes: the civilian population revolted due to the increase of food and fuel prices, the students revolted because of poor education standards, while the army demanded an increase in their meager salary.

The Islam population on the other hand wanted a change of the constitution to separate Christianity and state which discriminated Muslims.

The miasma of the revolt was the 1973 famine at Wollo province which claimed ten thousand lives. The government turned a blind with Emperor Selassie 1 terming it “a national disaster beyond human control”

The famine became the Emperor’s Achilles heels causing his dethronement and thrusting to Ethiopians the 17 years military rule by Major Mengistu Mariam.

In 1974 radical junior military officers lead by Major Mengistu formed a military committee-The Derg- with 108 representatives’ country wide to run the government. They seized The Grand Palace leaving the Emperor in Jubilee Palace.

Using their control on government press, radio and TV they relentlessly attacked the Emperor regime.

They broadcasted a documentary The Hidden Famine showing thousands of people starving to death in Wollo famine while the Emperor and his entourage were drinking champagne and eating caviar. The documentary had footage of Emperor feeding his dogs and a leopard from a silver tray.

On 11th September 1974, 9 princesses, the Emperor’s only daughter and seven grand daughters were imprisoned in a dungeon at Grand Palace and their heads were shaven. An insult to their royalty.

The Derg interrogated in length the Emperor about his personal fortune which they thought he had left behind for his retirement.

“For an Emperor there is no retirement” replied Selassie.

The next day 12th September, The Derg officers dethroned the Emperor and took him to Grand Palace for House imprisonment. The dethroning proclamation read in part:

“(Emperor)Not only left the country in its current crisis by abusing at various times the high and dignified authority conferred on him by the Ethiopian people but also, being over 82 years of age and due to the consequent physical and mental exhaustion is not more able to shoulder the high responsibility of leadership”

Emperor Selassie listened on humbly and replied that if the revolution was good for the people then he didn’t object his dethronement.

A month later in 23rd November the Derg executed the Emperor’s grandson, two former Prime Ministers, his high associates together with sixty prominent prisoners.

The Emperor even though dethroned and at the advanced age continued to get up at dawn to attend the morning mass and spent time reading as a prisoner at the palace and later in a dungeon.

On 27th August 1978, he died.

The Derg said it was due to circulatory failure and refused to disclose where his body was. The Emperor name was banned nationally.

Selassie’s dead body was hidden beneath a lavatory in The Grand Palace.

His followers said he was smothered by a wet towel.

National Social Security Fund sued for delayed compensation.

NSSF building in Nairobi
A retired don is suing the National Social Security Fund, NSSF and the attorney General for the delay of his retirement compensation.

The former dean of students and principal lecturer at Migori Teachers College want to be compensated over 200,000 on injuries suffered while performing his duty.

Mr. Philemon Barasa, 52, told the senior principal magistrate Ezra Awino of Migori law courts that he suffered fractures on both hands on 17th January 1994 when he slipped while checking students hostels.

The former don told the court that NSSF refusal t5o compensate him him for late compensation since it never applies to TSC employees quoting TSC workman compensation chapte3r which reads in part:

“Under the workman compensation act a teacher employed by TSC irrespective of his terms of service is entitled to compensation if injury or if he dies in the actual discharge of his duties, without his own default,,,”

NSSF refused to compensate the don although TSC recommended payment on a later date, 16th May 2000.

Verdict will be passed on 26th March this year.

(26/02/09  the article was written while i was a volunteer at Kenya News Agency)

A multimillion CDF truck to be acquired by Government


The government may be forced to be in charge of an idle multi-million tractor brought by the Nyatike Constituency Development Fund, CDF.

A technician from the ministry of agriculture in Migori district will be contracted to operate the tractor lying idle a year after its purchase at the District Office’s compound in Nyatike, south Nyanza.

Area water engineer Tom Simbi said then tractor designed to build dams and pans should help bring water to locals.

Nyatike CDF committee chairman Joshua Okumu gives the value of the tractor at Ksh. 7million but said he had no comment to why it has never been used because he is a civil servant.

Hon. Eric Anyanga is the area Member of Parliament.

Drama as two families went to collect a corpse.

Drama unfolded yesterday when two families went to collect the corpse of a woman they both alleged to be their wife.

The deceased aged in mid twenties had passed away on 1st April and her body was taken to Lake Side Mortuary at Sori Town in Nyatike District, Nyanza province.

The woman left her first husband in Rachuonyo district after having two children with him. She later remarried in 2000 to a second husband at west Karungu location in Nyatike district.

The area location chief Phares Ogutu said they helped the 1st husband get the wife’s body for burial together with their 9 years son after he produced documents stating they were legally married.

The 2nd husband fled for fear of being arrested and charged for living illegally as husband-and-wife with an officially married woman.

(08/04/09 the article was broadcasted by Radio Citizen and was written while a volunteer at Kenya News Agency in Migori district south Nyanza.)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Blaine Harden Africa: Dispatches from a Fragile Continent

TITLE: Africa: Dispatches from a fragile continent
AUTHOR: Blaine Harden
PAGES: 333
PUBLISHERS: Harper Collins Publishers, 1990
GENRE: History

Blaine Harden has an upper hand in writing on Africa. When writing the book Harden was the bureau chief of The Washington Post in Sub-Sahara Africa stationed in Nairobi. Harden wrote African news for an American audience. Harden transverse the continent and brings dispatches from seven countries in sub-Sahara Africa. Seven ain’t a small number if you consider the countries: Sudan, Kenya, DRC, Zambia, Nigeria, Liberia, and Ghana.

From the seven countries Blaine Harden crafts, with a masterful stroke, the lives of Africans from the powerful to the powerless to illuminate African values.

The book ain’t comprehensive survey on African political and socio-economic challenges because not all countries are covered. In addition the target audience was primarily American, western. But Africa: Dispatches from a fragile continent, some what checks how the African society changes and grapples with modernity.

The book begins with a boat passage through the Zaire in ‘Big Bad River’. Harden makes the reader live the story of dissemination of DRC to poverty. From the smell of the rainforest, squeaking chimpanzees and bleating goats for slaughter to the big man Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Wa Za Banga, christened Joseph Desire Mobutu at birth. Although channeled with aid from western allies, Mobutu en massed a fortune which was over DRC’s GDP and loan.

Ironically, a sociology professor in Ghana specializing in African family studies is harassed by his family who constantly need money. The cynical and angry don is tied to his family by guilt. An Ashanti adage to which he belongs goes: “if your elders took care of you while you were cutting you teeth, you must in turn take care of them while they are losing theirs.”

The Sudan’s Darfur war is told through the life of a Dinka cow head turned NBA star, Manute Bol. Harden tackles the root cause of the civil war. Among the tallest players in the history of NBA at seven foot six-and-three-quarter-inch Bol, whose head reached the basketball hoop is used by the author from when he ran from home to the NBA.

Bol dodged the war by his Dinka tribe against the Khartoum government when rebels recruited youths. Against many odds, like not knowing any word in English, Manute prevailed with some coaches predicting that he would ‘break like a grasshopper because of his height. An arm here, a leg over there.’

The skirmish between the African-Christian southerners and the Muslim-Arab north is caused by slave trade. In 1871 a war broke between the first war broke between the Negro south and Tarco-Egyptians slave traders aided by the Arab north. The schism was further scaled by the coming of British colonialists.

By divide and rule southern African tribes were separated from the aggressive Muslims who resisted the spread of Christianity. After a half a century of British tutelage the two regions looked like two different states.

Racism flared, the ignorant north wrote a sharia constitution for Sudan and barred southerners from powerful positions. The Arabs considered the Negros no more than slaves. Hell broke loose, the Darfur war was ignited.

Of the seven chapters in the book the longest are on African leadership. From the kind man president Kenneth Kaunda who carried white handkerchiefs for weeping in public when emotionally charged to his hold to one party system.

Semi-illiterate Samwel Doe who seized power on 12th April; 1980 in Liberia and within ten years survived 38 coup and assassination attempts due to support from US who considered him a cold war assets.

Blaine Harden analyzes Nigeria extensively. Nigeria, the most populous African country boasting many educated intellectuals is seen by most as the country to play in Brazil, Malaysia and India league.

Though known in the continent in negative adjectives as loud, dirty, violent and corrupt, infamous Nigeria even among Nigerians gives a glimmer of hope. Even the editorial board of New African writing conversely on Africa to the western media espouses. Harden confirms: “I believe that Nigeria’s mix of talent, resources, and gall will one day pull out of Africa’s nth world.”

Moi’s regime

Harden covers the Kanu regime and the insipidly acquisitive former vice-President of Kenya Daniel Toroitich arap Moi. A curious character.

While serving as Jomo Kenyatta’s vice-president young Kikuyu ministers in government often insulted him mistaking his quietness for stupidity.

A Tugen, a small non-factor sub-tribe from a small non-factor tribe of Kalenjins made him appear like a passing cloud. His adversaries were mistaken when Moi stuck in power for 24 years surviving the 1982 coup.

The cunning Moi enforced discipline, built loyalty, kept pretenders off balance and motivated flatterers and sycophants to sing even louder. “I would like ministers, assistant ministers, and others to sing like a parrot after me, that is how we can progress." Moi said on 1984.

Blaine had run-ins with the Moi’s regime when a story he did for The Washington Post rubbed Moi the wrong way and almost caused him his work permit. The story was inspired with a lawyer Gibson Kamau Kuria.

The author remembers Kuria’s hair and beard looked as if they had been trimmed with garden shears. He was round and rumpled, it seemed he slept on his pinstriped suit. All this apart what was most unusual was Mr. Kuria’s legal specialty – human rights- which was not sort of specialty for smart lawyers during Moi’s regime.

Mr. Kuria’s misgiving was representing an anti-government politician, Mirugi Kariuki from Nakuru on detention without trial. He was arrested twenty four hours after filing suit and charge with uttering words and conducting himself in total disrespect of the head of state and being a member of the outlawed Mwakenya.

The story turned Moi’s trip to the White House on Reagan’s administration to coax for military and economic aid into a fiasco. The four column story headlined Police Torture is charged in Kenya accompanied with Reagan and Moi’s picture at the top of front page appeared on The Washington Post.

Moi was infuriated.

He left USA well ahead of schedule and in a foul mood. What followed was drama as the government owned Kenya Times and government officials joined fray of condemning foreign journalists. Nicholas Kipyator Biwott, Energy minister then called a press conference attacking the author thinking he was a woman

To cut off political legs of more educated and polished rivals Moi used the balloon and needle theory. “You know a balloon is a very small thing. But I can pump it up to such an extent that it will be big and look very important. All you need to make it small again is to prick it with a needle.”

Moi once told an anonymous Member of Parliament. Attorney-General Charles Njonjo makes an interesting story. Njonjo had his balloon ego inflated.

Moi encouraged the pride.

The wealthy lawyer wore a red rose on his three piece suits inscribed CH(Charles Njonjo) all around. The suits were specifically made and flown from London. Very British. The AG was knighted Sir (sic). So powerful was the AG that he was given illusions of wielding more power than the president.

He casually dropped words like ‘my government’ in conversations. The needle came when Moi labeled him a traitor for trying to take the presidency with the help of foreign powers while travelling outside the country in 1983.

He was disgraced and failed in legal forum to regain his post.

To digress, the last time he appeared on the Kenyana press Njonjo was calling for a new constitution during the referendum when banana and orange peeling were an eyesore. He was surrounded by citizens, common wanainchi wa kawaida.

A far cry from former AG locked up in the bureaucratic doodle and hell to minimize contacts with Kenyans. In another incident a puzzled child pulled on the rose on a funeral.

Too much for an imbecile whose footsteps can’t be meaningfully traced on the sands of time.

Jomo Kenyatta was a prolific at taking large tracks of lands legally while leaving squatters. On the other hand Moi was a Kleptocrat. The government and civil society followed suit.

A good story in the book is illustrated in “Good intentions’ about an ill-planed and kickback induced project of the Turkwell Gorge dam.

The lead story.

The story Battle for the body drew me to the book. It brings the episode of the most talked about corpse in Kenya: SM Otieno. The body was buried 154 days after death at Nyalgunga in western Kenya.

It is the first time to read the story in un-interruptible continuous flow way from tit bits thrown in a story.

Harden writes the story against tribal leaning and sheds lights not only for the struggle for the body. the But thee struggle for modernity and African values during time and the back drop court room maneuver are brought fore.

The court room was a proxy battle field.

The score between Kikuyu and Luo was to be was to be settled. Government used the court as tribo-politics chip.

Rich and vibrant S.M Otieno, a Luo, criminal lawyer, married Wambui who was from Kikuyu chiefdom. Wambui was imprisoned with the Mau Mau for three and a half years at Lamu. She begot a daughter while in detention from a rape ordeal with a white warden.

Prior to meeting Otieno she had three more children by another Luo man who planned to marry her but the marriage was nixed on tribal grounds.

The two met when Wambui went to Nairobi court house to visit her father who Otieno worked for. The rest as it is put is history.

Back to the funeral the first ruling in favor of Wambui was issued by a Briton high court judge Justice Frank Shield and was overruled by the court of appeal. The case was heard at the courtroom of Justice S.E.O Bosire who was considered from a neutral tribe, Abagusii. A Bantu like the Kikuyu and bordering the Luo’s in Nyanza province.

The widow was represented by London and New York University educated John Khamirwa. Khamirwa specialized in family and criminal law. S.M Otieno elder brother Joash Ochieng’ Ougo, a co-litigant, was presented by Richard Kwach who studied law at university college, Dar es salaam and communication at university of Pittsburgh in Michigan. Although Kwach had no major trial case, he was a better orator.

Twenty four witnesses gave testimony. A prominent lawyer. A journalist. Several well to do family friends, and Otieno’s first son Jairus. The testimony of Albert Ong’ang’o, a grave digger who dug Otieno’s father grave gave the final verdict to Otieno’s clan. He claimed the lawyer instructed him personally to dig his grave.

A year later after burial the court of appeal, the highest court in Kenya got a new judge. Justice Richard Kwach. The writer sees Moi’s maneuver in the selection and verdict.

Final verdict.

Africa: Dispatches from a fragile continent is thoroughly researched, the footnotes and selected bibliography gives credit to most story line. But the story is slanted one feels it was meant specifically for the western audience by not leaving an objective thinking.

The language and the prose flow with simplicity that captures the reader.

Harden is superb writer and a reporter. In 1987 he won the Lavington award for feature writing.

Life after conviction: Should ex-prisoners be allowed to integrate in the society.

An inmate at the Athi River prison shows the French Ambassador Elisabeth Barbier what he learnt during a computer training 
 Luck of loan to start small scale business from skills learnt at the prisons and criminal records are the main hindrance for ex-convicts trying to integrate back to society.

This emerged during an open day at Migori district probation office attended by about 30 ex-convicts, parents and administrators working with the ex-convicts.

Citing referees with a criminal became the major challenge. Isaac Oriema, 24, who has been in probation for a year for possession of Marijuana said once the police had your finger prints most employers will luck trust in you.

Mr. Oriema is now a kale farmer. He urged the government to curb drug trafficking due to the district proximity to the Tanzanian border.

“Most youths abuse drugs for luck of knowledge of consequences against the law” observed Oriema.

Mr. Ombogo Osoro, 48 years, who was charged with felony is calling for the labor ministry and probation office to act as referees.

During the function officer in charge of Migori prisons Mr. Peter Kabande observed that probation help decongest prisons and aid petty offenders serve their sentences outside.

“I urge the public to welcome the ex-convicts on probation back” said Kabande “I applauded parents here today for accepting the children back”

Ex-convicts from approved schools, prisons and probation hostels participate in community development. The skills learnt are forestation by planting seedlings, Juakali artisans making energy saving jikos in conjunction with Forestry and Energy ministries respectively.

Currently there are over 100 prisoners on probation in three South Nyanza districts; Kuria, Migori and Rongo.
“ex-convicts who have successfully finished probation should be embraced by the public because their criminal sentences have been served erasing them from police records” said the area probation officer William Otieno.

(26th February 2009. This article was written during Volunteer Internship at Kenya News Agency.)