Wednesday, April 20, 2005


In late February this year I had the pleasure of meeting President Paul Kagame of Rwanda.

When you have been threatened with extinction you don't have the luxury to bury your head in the sand, to avoid the hard questions, to ignore your history, to drift forward without defining your destination, and to sit and wait for other people to "bring you peace, to eradicate your poverty, to set 'development' goals for you."

Rwanda was really a hard place for me to understand. It was difficult before I went there, because it was really hard to imagine what kind of atmosphere the place would have after one group of people tried to annihilate another.

I wondered how they relate to each other if at all. If I would be able to tell who Tutsi were and who the Hutu were. I wondered whether everyone had seen the killing, or survived attacks, or hidden during the attacks, or lost a loved one in the period.

Where there people who were not affected directly, or was every individual traumatized. I had never really had a chance to talk to a Rwandese person and ask them any questions. I was more than curious. I wanted to empathize, but I could not get my small heart or head around the sheer gravity and magnitude of what I was dealing with, and so I wondered more... how are they surviving?When I arrived there with the BBC crew that I was making a documentary with, I immediately (subconsciously) began to look at people's features so I could place them in context, so my body language would adjust appropriately, so my voice would adjust to empathize or be passive depending on who I was talking to.

I could not control any of these thought processes going on in my mind, and it was especially very confusing when I met people who were Tutsi in the presence of a Hutu person, then I really did not know what to do. In the recesses of my mind, something said the one tried to kill the other, and so even though I did not even know their names, my subconscious felt it was an "injustice" to mentally treat them the same way, and my body language and tone of voice followed the dictates of my mind.You have heard the statistics. 800,000 or more Tutsis and moderate Hutu's were killed by the Hutus... that statistic played over and over in my head... and I wondered what I would do if I was president of Rwanda after the Genocide, and on top of that, if I was from the victim tribe in the genocide. How would I possibly keep a clear head, heart, and purpose so as to be seen to run the country justly?

This is the context in which I met President Paul Kagame. I had read about him and had been visiting different parts of Rwanda for about 4 days. I had visited a genocide memorial located at a technical training institute, where may people were killed and buried in mass graves. Hundreds of bodies had been exhumed and preserved in lime, and were now on display on wooden racks in many classrooms that had been intended to be used for teaching before the genocide.

I had visited the prisons and met the genocidaires. You don’t know what to expect and you are not disappointed, since they just look like normal men. They are curious though because they don’t look angry, frustrated, red-eyed, murderous or deranged. They are just men in pink shirts and pink shorts, doing their chores like institutionalized people would, at a boarding school or even at a training camp of some sort.

I visited what they call demobilization camps, where young Hutu men who had fled to the Congo after the genocide, are taken in by the government. It is also like a camp but with no uniforms and it has not determined whether these are genocidaires or innocent people. They are counseled for months in order to prepare them for reintegration into the society.

I had my hair braided by a Congolese woman who was in Rwanda as a refugee from her own country. She says Rwanda is the safest place in the world, that you can walk in the middle of the night alone and no one would lay a finger on you. So she sought refuge and security in Rwanda. I bombarded her with questions about what underlies the peace, calm and security. What do Rwandese people talk about? Do they talk about the genocide? In what kind of tone do they talk about it? How do Tutsis talk about it, and how do Hutus talk about it. Are the Tutsi angry? Do they Cry? Do they console each other? What kinds of bonds have been formed from that common experience? What kind of strategies do they have to protect themselves in future? Do they wholly rely on government to provide that protection? Do the Hutu fear retaliation? What does either tribe tell their children about the genocide? What do they say about missing relatives who are either in Jail or in who died in the Genocide? Do they feel like the children who witnessed the genocide lost their innocence? Do they willingly tell the ones born after the genocide about it, and does this take away the children’s “innocence”?

I had been shown around by 2 Tutsi men who both fought with the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF) when they took over the country and stopped the genocide. Both had lost parents and siblings at the hand of childhood friends who were neighbors. One of them told me the guy who had killed his father used to go for sleep-overs at his house when they were younger. They had always lived next door to each other and that he still lives next door to their family. I asked him how he deals with this. He said many people have to deal with it, and that there was nothing he could do about it. When I asked him if he ever sees this guy, he said he did. I asked if he has ever talked to him, he said he says hello to him every morning!

I was shocked and asked him why he would do such a thing. He said that he did not want to be suspect if anything happened to the man and explained that in a bid to discourage counter-genocide, the government had taken a firm stance against anyone who retaliates for the killing of their family members. To set an example, the government had 2 Tutsi people executed. They had gone home and found their families dead after the genocide. Their neighbours were safe and sound. After being told that the neighbours were the murderers, they killed the neighbours. In order to send a clear message that this kind of killing will not be condoned, the government made it clear that people will effectively be prosecuted. That is why this guy says hello in public to the guy who killed his Dad.

I had also visited a Tea Factory in a predominantly Hutu District, where we were interviewing farmers about the effects of the recent privatization of the Tea factory to their business (That is a story on it's own).As we crisscrossed the country making this film, we often saw prisoners in their pink uniforms working on the side of the road, digging trenches, and doing other road work. I was told they were all genocidaires... and again, I could not get my head around the scene... they were mostly unguarded, sometimes stading around chatting and laughing. In my mind I kept on seeing the dead bodies I saw on television while in Kenya (I was only 13 then) and our local news was showing how thousands bodies were coming down a river all the way from Rwanda into Kenya, to drain into lake Victoria where the bodies were floating and being eaten by the fish., which people boycotted for a while. And now seeing these guys here at the side of roads everywhere in the country where they did this, the most difficult part was that their survivors and relatives of their victims were using these roads (most Rwandans don’t have cars and walk very long distances along the highways) and there seemed to be no chaos about to erupt... It did not make sense at all...

I would hesitate to ask the people who I thought were Hutu any questions to do with the genocide, as it was the first time in my life when I was consciously meeting anyone who had killed... and the problem was I did not know if they had. My mind was doing this blanket presumption of innocence on all "Tutsi looking" people and a presumption of guilt on "Hutu looking" people.This was the same with asking about what tribe someone was. I don't know why I felt the urge to know who everyone was, which "side of the line" they fell on... but I could only gather courage to ask the "Tutsi looking " people their tribe, and then follow later with "Where were you during the genocide?"… I could not help it.

Any way on the last day of our visit, we meet the president and the first question he asked me was "How do you find Rwanda?"... I said it all in a couple of sentences... "It is very alien, full of questions, full of mystery, it is hard for me to relate Mr. President, and that is why I wonder what it is like to be in your shoes..." We had an hour long discussion about many things, though my questions had to be succinct as I was trying to get in as much as possible not only for the film, but also for my own understanding.One of the answers, that Mr. Kagame gave that I will never forget, was "No One Owes Us Anything!" This was after I asked him "What did Rwandese people learn from the Genocide?" he gave this answer very quickly and then continued to elaborate that if you make a habit of ignoring your problem, choosing not to understand it and then effectively deal with it, then the ultimate result is what happened in Rwanda.

I pondered over that remark, and thought about a few of the policies that we had had time to talk about and the ideas behind them. The sale of loss making state enterprises, the reform of land tenure, the lowering of import and export tarrifs, dependency on Aid, encouraging more trade between African counties and making it easier for people to move with their goods across borders... (To be highlighted in another post).

My short visit with Mr. Kagame, exposed me to a man with such a Sharp sense of purpose, like is VERY rare in the few African Leaders I have met, actually it is singularity of vision that I have only seen in very successful businessmen, whose enterprise has targets, competitors, and a winning strategy and like you find only in someone who understands deeply where his people have been, where they are, and where they have to go. It was evident in the things he said, the way he said them and the people he had surrounding him.

That is the mental space that I perceived the president of Rwanda to be in. The edge where purpose dictates his steps. Rwanda is going places.


Chris Lingle Visits Che's Legacy...

Yesterday, I returned from spending a long weekend in Havana…this was a place I had always wanted to see…the interest was sparked by the fact that in my youth in the 1950s, before the revolution, many of my friends and their families told tales of visits to this magic city….

It is a pity that it has been made so hard for Americans to visit there and that our foreign policy keeps us from being able to engage our neighbors just a few miles south of Miami….

One big surprise was the mild weather …I had expected it to be heavy and hot but it was quite comfortable, both day and night….

And what a beautiful city Havana must have been in its heyday…!

But what a tragedy that it has been allowed to fall so far…I cannot imagine another city with so much interesting architecture in this hemisphere…now so much of it has been ruined from neglect and abuse over the past 45 years….

One of the best things was the music…at a recital in a colonial-era church, four lovely female students began with Bach and a few other classical pieces before turning their oboe, bassoon, flute and clarinet to some clever arrangements of modern music that ended with Mambo #5…! And jazz was being played even more ubiquitously than in New Orleans with many cafés and restaurants offering live entertainment….

One thing that struck me were the idols and images of Che Guevara that were everywhere…indeed, many tourists were sporting expensive t-shirts they bought at the Museum of the Cuban Revolution along with postcards that carried the visages of other brave heroes of the proletariat….

And so I thought I might share some insights from article I read recently that compared Che Guevara with General Augusto Pinochet, former dictator of Chile….

While my generation remembers romanticized posters of a bearded Che in a rakish beret, younger people probably only know Che from the recent film, Motorcycle Diaries…therein, he is depicted as a handsome dreamer with his own sense of social justice…it is not evident in that flick that it morphed into a deadly dedication to the use of violence….

After his forays in Guatemala and with the funds funneled in by the Soviets, a civil war raged here for nearly 30 years…many of my colleagues at the university had family members that were kidnapped and ransomed off by the guerillas…but some of them were also tortured and killed by them….

And so it is that Che, no less than Pinochet, was a murderer and supported a dictatorship…idolatry has swamped any introspection into Che’s executions of counter-revolutionaries or his other murderous activities….

Meanwhile, Pinochet is openly (and rightly) reviled for his misdeeds. But this breathtaking sense of double standards remains one of the great lies and gross injustices of Latin America’s recent history…if one should be condemned, the other deserves equal treatment…but this is not new with much more scorn being heaped onto Hitler than onto Stalin or Mao, even though the latter two oversaw many more deaths with their ill-fated policies…while in Rosario, Argentina I saw that Che’s birthplace is being preserved…it is unimaginable that a similar shrine would be raised to Hitler or Pinochet….

In my humble view, all despots should be condemned regardless of their political hue…but one considers the outcome of the despotism, it is chimerical that Pinochet comes off much less the villain…?

For his part, Che helped install a dictatorship that done little to mitigate mass poverty or oppression as evidenced by the recent arrest of a band of outspoken journalists….oh, and when Che’s buddy Fidel took over the reins of power, Cuba’s per capita income being about the same as Italy’s…!

For his part, Pinochet ran a dictatorship that brought wealth and stability to Chile. Chile’s GDP per capita rose from a bit over $1,300 in 1975 to just over $10,200 in 2003 so that the average income of Chileans rose by a multiple of eight in 28 years. Chile has a stable democratic system (with a socialist president) and is the most prosperous country in South America. By the way, Chile's economic growth has put it well beyond Cuba’s ranking the UNDP Human Development Index….

Following Che’s connivance with empowering El Jefe, Castro has overseen a massive destruction of physical wealth (as seen in the deterioration of the once-splendid architectural gems of Havana)….

Despite his much-acclaimed improvement in health and education for the masses, most of this progress has been squandered…although they live in the relatively prosperous capital, many people in Havana appeared not to be well fed and were foraging in the garbage of the plush hotels inhabited by rich tourists….

Since there is little economic growth, there are few jobs…a young woman offered to me as an “escort” by the eager concierge at my hotel studied to be an accountant but found no other source of income….

Indeed, there were hookers everywhere…almost every place I went, doormen were pimping and offering women…(In a tragic bit of irony and hypocrisy, a display in the Museum of the Cuban Revolution justified revolting against the old regime and tossing out the Gringo was that some women were then so poor that were driven to sell their bodies in prostitution…!!!)

I am instinctively opposed to restrictions on commerce whether as red-baiting embargos or trade union induced protectionism…but the embargo explains very little of the cause of Cuba’s suffering…even if it gives the old windbag a stick to beat the Yanqui with….

It turns out that Castro received more aid from the Soviets than the US gave to all of Western Europe under the Marshall Plan and 3 times more than we gave to all of Latin America under the Alliance for Progress…he simply squandered it all…Cubans lost considerable ground since the mid-1950s when they were enjoying a standard of living equivalent to Italians….

In all events, I oppose the embargo and think it is a stupid and counter-productive policy…indeed all our policies towards Castro have been wrong since the Kennedy years when they caved in to pressures from Mafiosi that painted Fidel as a commie for taking over their casinos….

In the end, it was a pleasant experience…I was living in much the same comfort as I do when I am anywhere else in the world…but the lively and lovely people I left behind remain impoverished under the heel of an egomaniac that has taken away more than he has given or promised…and so, the revolution has continued the bifurcation of the community into sharp contrasts of haves and have-nots….

“La plus ca change; la plus c’est meme chose…”

Bestest, cris

Dr. Christopher LINGLE
ESEADE – Universidad Francisco Marroquín
Calle Final
Guatemala City, GUATEMALA

Sunday, April 17, 2005

Cultural Reconnection Mission

Since March 2002, Marcia Tate-Arunga has taken a delegation of African-American women on a Cultural Reconnection Mission to her adopted homeland of Kenya.These delegations form the African American Kenyan Women's Interconnect (AAKEWO). The organization’s goal is to provide an opportunity for African American women to experience cultural reconnection – the reestablishment of relationship with people of shared ancestry and the original homeland.The design of the mission centers on four features of cultural reconnection and reclamation: • Cultural and gender specificity • Collective action • African-centered rituals and cultural acknowledgments • Ongoing shared dialogueCome and hear the stories, see pictures, learn about cultural reconnection and its importance in healing cellular memory and hear about the AAKEWO projects.LueRachelle Brim-Atkins, former director of Training and Development at the University and a member of the 2003 AAKEWO delegation will lead this discussion of the cultural reconnection mission.

Natural Law

Here's a real life illustration of Natural Law.
Our intellectuals like to pretend that Political Science is brain surgery.
Here's Ms. Arunga's formulation:"To do what is right makes sense, to do what is wrong throws society into chaos, and the only way to end the chaos is to do what is right."

Here's how John Locke said it: "Although the State of Nature is a State of Liberty, yet it is not a State of License.... The State of Nature has a Law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one: And Reason, which is that Law, teaches all Mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal or independent, no right to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty or Possessions."

And a further clarifying statement from Roderick T. Long, "Lockean equality involves not merely equality before legislators, judges and police, but, far more crucially, equality with legislators, judges and police."

To get back to June Arunga's point, I'm especially glad that she used the word "chaos" as the consequence of doing what is wrong. Doing wrong throws your life into chaos. That is the test of whether you're following "the Laws of Nature and Nature's God." Is your lifestyle sustainable without having to engage in constantly escalating efforts to control situations and squelch others who would oppose you?

by Al

Legal Robbery and Murder: Someone Help!

Legal Robbery and Murder: Someone Help!

My latest experience visiting the conflict ridden South Sudan is one that taught me a lesson I am not soon to forget, and one that I had to experience personally rather than read about in order for it to be fortified in my mind. It is a lesson that I would like to share with all the young people in Africa and around the world who have also wondered like me, why Africa is incomprehensible.
The thought of a strong powerful government for a long time conjured up images of security and stability in my mind. A government that had the power to regulate everything and keep everyone in check felt like what a country needed to preserve order and thus to create an environment in which people would be able to go about their economic activities, and prosper.
I discovered that this kind of government, contrary to what I thought, can actually be the recipe for total disintegration of society, turning human beings into beasts and creating a system in which chaos reigns, literally a man-eat-man society.
I saw first hand that oppression is created by law, and it doesn't matter who is doing it, the injustice is the same and it causes the same kind of suffering to the oppressed, subjecting them to poverty, death, misery and suffering.
Our parents and teachers tell us from childhood, and these are basics, that people can live and acquire the things they want, and a desirable standard of living only by working hard, and applying their talents and brains to the resources around them. This process is the origin of property. It is the noble, decent process of earning a living, where the key word is "earn".
But it is also true that people can live and satisfy their wants by taking and consuming the fruit of other people's labor by force. This process is called robbery, and is a crime in most countries around the world. It is undesirable, unjust, unfair, and no one likes being a victim to this. People who do this should be punished in order to discourage this kind of behavior in society.
To my shock and dismay, robbery and murder are not only encouraged by law in the countries I visited, but are government policy and perpetrators are rewarded by being allowed to keep and sell what they "legally" acquire by force with out payment to the owners, since at law the owner's rights are not recognized!!!
Imagine living in a place where if someone wants your property, instead of renting or buying it, they decide it is cheaper to kill you, and then proceed to make a law that entitles them to do this unabated, and guess what, you can't turn to the government for justice because these guys are the police and the army!!! So all you can do is run for your life. With your children and family, you run.
In the Sudan, the government has a written policy to clear the land within a 50 Kilometer radius of any oil rigs of all human life. So if you happened to live on a piece of land and oil was discovered there, no one asks you how much you would be willing to take for it. No, you don't sign a lease agreement with anyone giving them permission to set up shop on your property for a certain length of time. The government militias come in tankers and bomber planes and get rid of you, so you teach your kids how to recognize the sound of a bomber from the sound of a relief food airplane, so that they run for cover when they hear the former, and run for food when they hear the latter -- either way, running for their lives.
If you fly over south Sudan, you clearly see "cleared land". I saw it. Many patches of white, that were the floors of people's huts, now burnt to the ground for miles and miles around the oil rigs. If I wondered before what incentive people had to take up arms and go to war against their government, it did not take much work to see that this was clearly one of the reasons. If I wondered before why the majority are poor, and only a small political elite is wealthy, it takes little brain work to see that one of the reasons is because they have no institutions that protect their right to their land, so that they would profit off its value, and no time and stability to set up a home, let alone a functioning economy.
So they live running for their lives, unable to make plans for tomorrow, unable to set up schools, hospitals, infrastructure, markets to exchange goods and services, and then people's first reaction is to send them food, medicine, and aid of different kinds (when it is safe).
I ache for these people. I met and made friends with some of them and discovered that young people there want the same things I do. The parents wish for the same things I hear my parents speaking of.
They want to produce things and get paid for them, they want to be able to buy things other people have produced, they would like to able to make plans for the future, to invest in a decent education, to travel, to celebrate their success and those of their children, to find better, faster and easier ways to do things, to rest, to sample different cuisines, enjoy other people's music, discuss ideas, opinions and views of the world, and even in the unstable life they have, they teach their children how to work hard, to earn a living, not how to rob others or be a beggar relying on the charity of others.
Governments can do much more than protect people from plunder and coercion. Government's power to tax can indeed be used to pay for police, courts, and military defense but the same power may be used to dispense other benefits. To someone who can influence the government, its power can be a tool for gaining access to other peoples' property. It is no more just and no less destructive than the criminal plunder of a thief. If people can compete for legal access to their neighbors' wallets and purses through the political process, it will not be long before a government designed to protect peoples' rights becomes one of the greatest threats to those rights.
Understanding the dangerous incentives inherent in concentrating power in a central government, I realize that many African countries need the devolution of power in order to give people less reason to want to fight to be in power, since if my being in power does not enable me to interfere with your life and pursuit of happiness, then it makes no difference whether I am from your tribe or not. But when the reverse is the case, then we could have the same skin color and speak the same language, but I would still feel threatened by you.
In order for people to be engage in productive activity and thus earn a living, they all need to have the freedom to do so. Robbery is robbery, whether the law says it is ok or not. Spades are spades and not big spoons. Laws are man made, and I would think they should thus serve the people they are made for rather than disenfranchise, oppress and relegate them to suffering.
To do what is right makes sense, to do what is wrong throws society into chaos, and the only way to end the chaos is to do what is right.
A legal system with no institutions to protect the property rights of individuals is a recipe for robbery, murder and poverty. I was told by people in Sudan, and it is self evident when I look around the world at the countries that clearly define and protect property rights.

June Arunga

WTO foes no friends to poor

by Akinyi June Arunga

NAIROBI, KENYA—The two women seated next to me in the cab claimed to be my advocates. But as we traveled toward the World Trade Organization ministerial meeting in Cancun, I found myself frustrated by their statements and doubtful that the policies they promoted could do anything to solve my people's poverty.
They were scholars from a Canadian university, in Cancun with a women's rights group to protest the WTO. In the past, I'd felt gratitude toward such people, who invested time, money and energy—even risking jail, by turning violent—to fight for the poor of the world, a class to which most of my family and friends belong.
The more I learned about economics and world trade, though, the less I believed these women's rhetoric. Nonetheless, I thought that the cab ride would help me understand why these educated people would so oppose free trade and the economic reforms promoted by the WTO.
I asked them why they saw free trade as a threat to the poor's chances at wealth creation. They pointed at the huge hotels of Cancun and one of them said, "Look. Look at all this. I was in Cancun in the '80s and this place was very indigenous. Now it looks just like the United States; no different. I can hardly recognize it at all! Look: there's a McDonald's, and a Burger King. Oh, my goodness, even Gucci! Cancun has disappeared under the [North American] Free Trade Agreement that they signed with the U.S.!"
They were disgusted, but I looked around and saw only opportunity. I wished that we had such hotels in Kenya, where we have wonderful beaches and many pleasant people who would benefit enormously if the tourism industry flourished as it does in Cancun. I said, "I'm sure that the people of Cancun are happier, since they have jobs and hence money to buy food, clothing and shelter. They meet people from around the world, and can easily sell their goods and services to these visitors."
The women snapped back that Cancun workers were paid barely livable wages. Puzzled, I asked, "So you would like to visit Cancun and see more indigenous people in their indigenous clothes, living in their indigenous huts, farming in their indigenous methods, and eating only their indigenous food?"
To my horror, they said, "It would be better for the environment and for cultural diversity!"
Like many other globalization protesters I've encountered, they seemed to believe that Mexicans and other poor people don't want the same conveniences of life that they themselves enjoy: running water, permanent homes, affordable clothes and food, leisure time, cars. They preferred things to stay "exotic"—underdeveloped and poor.
The "indigenous" customs enjoyed by such tourists are not so charming when they make up one's day-to-day existence. The protesters curse the use of DDT, the only effective control of malaria, because it harms birds. But they never have to wonder if their children will survive the current malaria epidemic. They argue against the use of pesticides and pest- and drought-resistant crops, but they never have to wonder how they will survive if a pest invasion or drought destroys all their grown food.
They argue against new technologies, such as the genetic modification of crops, that might increase productivity and help us move from subsistence farming to cash crops, but they never have to worry that there might not be food on the table.
Such anti-free-traders—including world leaders who refuse to remove trade barriers and who promote environmental policies that sustain famine in poor countries—should take their children and move to these poor countries.
There, living under the laws that they advocate, they would be without credit cards or jobs, sleeping in mud huts, cooking with firewood, and inhaling indoor smoke—while dealing with corrupt dictators and excessive regulation from their own government.
Coupled with the escalating tariffs and subsidies applied by the First World, these anti-free-traders would find themselves unable to escape the poverty that we in the poor countries know only too well.
I don't wish this on my worst enemy, and I wish that our "friends" would stop imposing it on us.
Akinyi June Arunga is director of youth education at the Inter-Region Economic Network, in Kenya.

Documentaries & Arts:The Devil's Footpath

“Africa could be the best place on earth, but instead our best and brightest minds are leaving the continent in their millions.” So says June Arunga, a 22-year-old Kenyan law student who's facing the same dilemma. Should she stay or should she go?
To find an answer to that question, June embarked on a 5000-mile, six-week, soul-searching journey, travelling the length of Africa through Egypt, Sudan, Congo, Angola, Namibia and, finally, South Africa. Six conflict-riven countries that span the continent – from Cairo to Cape Town – and comprise 'The Devil’s Footpath'.Aid agencies, UN peacekeepers and even multinationals fly June into some of the continent’s bleakest war zones – meeting tribal chiefs, DJs, rappers, soldiers, miners, students, school kids and witch doctors. The journey is an emotional one, showing the very best and the very worst of Africa.After six weeks June arrives in Cape Town – angry at the continent’s leaders, proud of everyday Africans and very confused. Can Desmond Tutu, one of Africa’s most respected statesmen, help June decide whether there is a future for her in Africa?

Buy a Copy of the Devil's Footpath from

Growing up in Kenya: June Arunga's Story

Born in Nakuru, moved to Nairobi at 14, Moved to the UK to go to University at 22

Growing up in the Kenyan middle class, I watched as the standard of living in my household and that of my friends drastically declined in the span of 20 years even though my mother (the bread winner in the family) invested in two houses, was promoted at work and got raises in her salary.
I watched my younger siblings being moved from one school to another as their former school got too expensive, we quit eating breakfast as bread, butter and milk became too expensive and we quit doing monthly household shopping since we could not afford it anymore.
My friends and I theorized about the creation of wealth and the formula behind it… if there was any. I wondered (often aloud to my mother) if the creation of wealth was by chance, both for countries and for individuals since I also watched many of my well educated relatives move to wealthier countries to work unskilled jobs for better pay and higher standards of living.
I knew that something was wrong and wondered how I could help make it right, especially when I saw the number of people living on the streets or in the slums, even though some even have Masters Degrees from universities. What baffled me most was why the people in government made promises that did not come true.
Surely if other governments had “plans” that worked to facilitate wealth creation, our leaders needed to abandon whatever plan it was they were using and imitate the magic formula other prosperous countries were using.
I also wondered if corruption was genetic and Africans were naturally prone to more corruption. Perhaps the corruption in the halls of power was eating away at our potential to create wealth.
I wondered whether there was a fixed amount of wealth in a given territory demarcated by political boundaries, if that wealth was the raw materials that fell in the boundaries and it required careful planning to determine the most efficient way to allocate the scarce resources, so that everyone would gain.
Something else that sat heavy on my mind and even made me cry sometimes was the fear that if there was no set formula to wealth creation, poverty was our destiny and we would always be the bottom of the pile economically, forever destined to live on handouts, while plagued with other ills such as perpetual wars, fatal diseases, phenomenally corrupt governments and recurring famines. All I heard from the “grown ups” was that the government needed to step up and do something about one or another of the different social and economic ills that affected our lives. And the truth is that I really felt sorry for whoever’s task it was to plan everything for 30million people, and alleviate all these problems. I wondered if I would be able to do handle it if it were up to me.
I marveled at the wisdom of the people who had to run all the different government ministries and marketing boards, planning everything and even determining prices of goods and services for the whole economy. It always baffled me why all surplus grain had to be collected and put in the huge silos I saw growing up in the agricultural town on Nakuru.
Wouldn’t it be faster to let the farmers get the food to the market themselves? But on enquiry I was told that some people would not get the food if the government did not procure and redistribute it at affordable prices, and yet in the North of the country, there was always famine. These same questions dominate the everyday conversation of young people in Kenya today. Students in universities and high schools wonder about their destinies, since a good education does not seem to guarantee wealth with the status quo.
It is generally believed that if you don’t work hard and make it into Law, Medicine, Engineering or one of those traditional professions, then your future is uncertain, I was even sent to Medical school just to guarantee a job though I always wanted to study Law. My younger brother, Owuor Arunga, who was raised in Seattle, Washington, came across books and magazines that focuses on different approaches to social and economic problems. He subsequently attended several seminars that focused on the role freedom could play in expanding the choices and opportunities people could enjoy. He carried the “newly acquired understanding” to Kenya the next summer while on a family visit.
I listened to his ideas about how freedom worked but was very skeptical since the anti-globalization arguments had reached me first, and I was actively involved in promoting them. Although they did not make perfect sense, they offered a scapegoat for our problems, painted free markets black, and made me feel better by arguing that we were just victims of a complex system of trade where the rich were exploiting the poor.
I was introduced formally to freedom and free market by reading books on freedom. The insights it offered were crystal clear. Presenting to me questions I had never contemplated before, such as what the proper role of government is, and the idea that protection of life, liberty and property were the only functions that could be justified in the existence of governments.
I felt relieved and elated. Relieved because I expected creation of wealth to be very complex, and now I realized that in comparison to the task of central planning, deregulation and liberalization are simple.
And elated because after understanding the institutions of a free society and how they function, I knew that our African parachute had a chance to open and my country had a chance to survive. The plunge into eternal poverty could be broken and we could steer our destiny.
Hernando De Soto’s Mystery of Capital offered the final piece in the puzzle, demonstrating how vital a comprehensive property law system is to awakening dead capital. The lack of a rule of law that upholds private property and provides a framework for enterprise is the greatest challenge that we face before we can ever reap significant gains from liberalizing our economy.
It is hard to sit back passively with the knowledge that tried and proven solutions exist for the questions and fears that many of my peers still have in Kenya -- to sit back knowing that it is within each individual’s reach if only he was “deregulated”.
It is harder to watch the law break the people, demoralize and impoverish them when one clearly understands what it would take to improve their lot. It is particularly uncomfortable in a global context to see what manner of intolerance repression can breed when we witness terrorism, and by the same token what manner of wealth, health and peace free societies enjoy.
It only took my younger brother’s understanding of the role of free markets in wealth creation to induce enough curiosity in me, and set me on the journey to explore and read on my own how freedom works. Poverty is unpleasant and millions of young people like myself are seeking an escape, seeking solutions, guess who is reaching them first and harnessing their energies to rally for their cause…anti-trade, anti-capitalism and sustainable development promoting organizations.
Who is going to be the voice of freedom, which will introduce and promote and defend the role of free markets to high school and University students in Kenya? I hope to create an organization for young Kenyans that will help them understand the power that freedom has to improve opportunities for all Kenyans.

June Arunga

Friday, April 01, 2005

Kenya Civil Aviation Authority Ban Innovation

By Vincent Bartoo

The Kenya Civil Aviation Authority yesterday banned the construction and operation of homemade aircraft anywhere in the country.

The ban follows the failed attempt by a Form Three student, Harrison Etyang, to fly a makeshift aircraft in Kitale last week.

KCAA Director General Chris Kuto said in a statement the authority must first vet anyone intending to engage in such an activity.

"Any person who intends to construct and operate such aircraft is required by law to apply to KCAA before engaging in such an activity," he said.

The ban comes barely a week after Etyang attempted to fly a light aircraft, which he had built.

Etyang, a Form Three student at Manor House High School in Kitale, undertook the venture without any qualifications in aviation engineering.

About 10,000 spectators thronged a stadium in Kitale town to witness the historic take-off, which was, however, not to be.

Etyang’s aircraft did not leave the ground, causing an accident instead when the engine’s propeller snapped and flew off, injuring one of his mechanics.

Etyang was also admitted to hospital after he collapsed following his failed attempt. Doctors diagnosed him as suffering from an anxiety disorder.

A few days after the failed venture, an aviation college in Nairobi offered Etyang a scholarship to study aviation engineering provided he passed his Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examination.