By Andrew Strickler
FRONTLINE/World reporter Andrew Strickler.
September 7, 2004
On a busy intersection in downtown Nairobi behind a tall, imposing fence sits a modest stone wall in a small park. The half-moon shaped memorial commemorates those killed in the al-Qaeda car bomb attack on the U.S. Embassy on a Friday morning in August 1998.
Entry to the memorial costs about 25 cents, a not-inconsiderable sum for most Kenyans, and the place was virtually deserted on the day I visited in June. Running my finger along the long list of names etched in the black granite, it takes me a moment to locate even one Western surname--not a surprise, considering that almost all of the 213 people killed and 4,500 wounded in the blast were Kenyans.
For most Kenyans, the Nairobi embassy bombing, and the nearly
simultaneous attack on the U.S. Embassy in neighboring Tanzania,
marked a turning point in their nation's relationship to its long-time
ally, the United States. Even after six years, any discussion
about the United States and its upcoming presidential election
eventually comes around to the bombing.
President for Life?
Jonathan Jones reports from Uganda about a U.S. ally
and a hero in the fight against AIDS, President Yoweri
Museveni, who may be letting power go to his head.
Run, Lornah, Run
See FRONTLINE/World's television and Web coverage
of one of Kenya's first great female marathoners,
To understand how the bombing and other issues have shaped Kenyan attitudes about the Bush-Kerry race, I arranged to meet Kenyan Parliamentary Member Otieno Kajwan'g, a man with personal experience of both the bombing itself and Kenya's own current political crisis.
On the afternoon of our meeting, Kajwan'g greets me outside
the Parliamentary building with a hearty handshake. Across his
brow is a long jagged scar, the remains of the wound he received
when the windows of his law practice were blown out in the embassy
Sitting in his cramped office surrounded with piles of newspapers,
Kajwan'g says that most Kenyans have long favored Democratic
candidates because they believed Democrats were more sympathetic
about problems confronting Kenya, especially poverty and disease.
In the aftermath of the embassy bombing, he says, Kenyans expected
the U.S. State Department to look favorably on Kenya's pleas
for assistance and restitution because President Clinton was
in the White House.
Kenyan Parliamentary Member Otieno Kajwan'g, whose business was destroyed in the 1998 bombing of the U. S. Embassy in Nairobi.
But Kenyans were deeply disappointed by the response. The U.S. government eventually paid $37 million to victims and their families, with checks for a loss of life topping out at just $11,000. Kajwan'g's law practice was one of hundreds of businesses affected by the blast, which damaged or destroyed office buildings adjacent to the embassy. He says the $430 he received did not come close to covering his losses, and his business, along with many others, never reopened.
Kajwan'g points out that none of the four men eventually convicted
for the attack in a New York court were Kenyans (indeed, one
was a Lebanese-born American from Arlington, Texas), and that
Kenyans feel that they unfairly bore both the human losses of
the bombing as well as its economic and political fallout. "This
is the kind of treatment we got from our friends. And it was
a Democrat in the White House," he exclaims.
A memorial to the 213 people killed
in al-Qaeda's car bomb attack in August 1998.
Kajwan'g says that for Kenyans, distinctions between Republicans and Democrats have faded since the embassy bombing. "We just want a president who is sensitive to our problems," he says. Nevertheless, Kajwan'g says that in East Africa, the upcoming U.S. election is seen as a referendum on the war in Iraq.
In Kenya, Kajwan'g explains, the war is not popular. Kajwan'g calls his nation's Muslim community, about 10% of a population of 31 million, a "small but important" minority. "Muslims in Kenya perceive it as a war between Christian and Muslim states," he says. "It has come to look like a colonialism or an occupation of Iraq." Anti-war protests, which have occurred throughout Kenya, are especially vocal in the predominantly Muslim coastal city of Mombassa.
But the unpopularity of Bush and the Iraq war in Kenya goes far beyond the Muslim community. Kenya refused to offer troops to the war and the government has resisted passing a U.S.-backed anti-terrorism law. Editorials condemning Bush and the war in Iraq appear almost daily in the local newspapers.
However, Kajwan'g, a member of Parliament since 1997, says he believes that Bush is the more likely candidate to help Kenya resolve its own current political crisis. In early 2003, Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki succeeded Daniel arap Moi, whose 24-year rule had grown increasingly corrupt. Kibaki won office on promises to draft a new constitution decentralizing power in the executive office within 100 days of his election.
More than a year and half later, Kibaki has not fulfilled
this pledge and the coalition party that elected him has collapsed.
In addition, Kibaki's promises to tackle Kenya's endemic corruption
appear to be hollow at best. By all accounts, government corruption
has escalated since Kibaki took office--no mean feat, considering
that Moi's administration was considered one of the most corrupt
in African history.
Kajwan'g believes Bush and the U.S. government--Kenya's third largest bilateral provider of aid after Japan and the United Kingdom--have the power to persuade Kibaki to sign the new constitution. "If Bush were to call...and say 'We're not giving you money because you're stealing', then there will be a new constitution," he says.
The idea is not without precedent. In Kenya's last major constitutional crisis in 1990, Moi was resisting local and international calls to amend the constitution to allow opposition parties. The World Bank and Western donor nations eventually threatened to cut off aid, and Moi was forced to call a convention to draft a new constitution. With a wry smile, Kajwan'g says, "The Republicans are better at dealing with rogue governments."
Helping Africa Help Itself
A street entrepreneur offers phone service in downtown Nairobi.
The Kenyan business community hopes the next U.S. president can help re-invigorate the Kenyan economy. I meet Wanjiku Mugane in the boardroom of First Africa Capital, the investment firm she founded with a partner in 1998. Mugane, who lived in the United States for much of the 1980s and has a law degree from Georgetown University, says that she follows U.S. politics closely because they have a strong, though indirect, impact on Kenya's economy, the largest in East Africa.
Mugane explains that although American companies make up a small percentage of the country's foreign investors, their attitude about Kenya's business climate sets the tone for other investors. "At the end of the day, foreign investors follow what the U.S. and the multilateral institutions are saying," she says.
But Mugane says that neither Bush nor Kerry alone can cure what ails Kenya's economy. Kenya's has external debts of $5.7 billion, and foreign investment in most sectors has stagnated or declined over the last decade. Kenya's economic growth rate is in the low single digits. A 2001 government report put Kenya's unemployment rate at a staggering 40%.
As a businessperson, Mugane says she supports the fiscal austerity and 'trade not aid' policies supported by most Republicans. Nevertheless, Mugane says that as a Kenyan, she cannot support a Bush reelection. She says that the war on terror has worsened, not improved, worldwide security. But her objections to Bush are as much personal as political. "For all his woes, Clinton could walk down a street in Nairobi and talk to people," she says. "George Bush is disconnected with reality. He has no convictions of his own."
Made in Kenya, Sold in America
A chance to stimulate the Kenyan economy arrived in 2000 with
the passage of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA),
a free trade agreement conceived by the Clinton administration*.
The AGOA allows duty-free imports of hundreds of products from
Kenya and 36 other sub-Saharan African countries. Over the last
four years, the AGOA has inspired investments and offered many
African nations the opportunity to enter international markets
for the first time. President Bush, who recently signed an extension
to the law until 2015, has called the AGOA "the cornerstone"
of U.S.-Africa relations.
Kenya has taken advantage of the AGOA by luring foreign garment
companies to the county's 'free trade' zones, where export products
can be produced tax free. About 50,000 badly needed jobs have
been created through AGOA investments in Kenya, mostly in the
textile industry. Today, 80% of the $123 million worth of goods
produced in Kenya's free trade zones are shipped to the U.S.
under the AGOA.
Public buses, known as matatus, often clog the streets of Nairobi.
I spoke with Jonathan Chifallu, a representative of the Textile
Processing Zone Authority, the semi-private organization that
oversees Kenya's free trade zones, to learn how he believed
Kenya's still-emerging export industry might be affected by
the next U.S. administration.
For textile manufacturers in Kenya and around the world, Chifallu says, the looming question is China. WTO quotas on worldwide apparel and textile exports, in place since 1994, are scheduled to be phased out over the next three years. The change puts China, the undisputed leader in low-cost apparel production, in a position to dominate the global apparel markets, according to a 2004 report from the U.S. International Trade Commission. Without intervention, the report predicts, Chinese apparel will flood the market and destroy the textile industries in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries.
Chifallu says that the future of the Kenyan textile industry may rest in the hands of the next U.S. president, who he believes can force the WTO to negotiate new quotas with China in order to save American jobs. "The way the textile trade groups and the U.S. government go, that's the way the WTO goes," he says.
Chifallu says that most people in the Kenyan textile industry are hoping for a Bush re-election because they believe he will be a tough negotiator with China, a belief he says was solidified in 2003 when Bush supported new restrictions on a short list of Chinese apparel imports. Although the Democrats, especially John Edwards, are campaigning on promises to protect American jobs from unfair foreign competition, Chifallu is uncertain if Kerry would really challenge China and the WTO. Without strong U.S. intervention, Chifallu says, "China will be a bully, and the whole world will be crying."
Not everyone in the Kenyan businesses community thinks a Bush
victory in November can save the day. Alex Owina is an independent
market consultant who was hired by the Kenyan government to
analyze the AGOA and the cotton industry. He believes the Kenyan
textile industry will fold regardless of who occupies the White
House because Kenya has failed to invest in its own once-vibrant
cotton industry, which was destroyed in the early 1990s through
corruption and mismanagement. "The new regime is distracted
with political fighting," Owina says. "[Kibaki] is not ready
to take the deep measures necessary to start growing cotton
Alex Owina, a consultant who has studied risks facing the Kenyan textile industry.
About 85% of the cotton used to make Kenya's apparel exports is purchased in Asia, where most free trade zone companies are also based. Lacking locally-produced raw materials, and having no particular loyalty to their host country, the foreign-owned textile factories, Owina says, will quickly relocate to China after the WTO quota change, taking jobs and profits with them. "The earthquake hits in 2005," Owina says. "By 2007, the collapse will be total."
Owina is equally skeptical that the election will make a significant difference in Kenya's overall political relationship to the U.S. "For the U.S., Africa only matters in two dimensions; the war on terror, and the disease burden, which is AIDS and malaria and tuberculosis. They matter because they have an adverse affect on America," he says. "If it's Bush or it's Kerry, those fundamentals will remain."
Scaring Off Tourists
Ochieng Oloo, editor of a Nairobi-based finance and business journal.
Ochieng Oloo, the editor of Market Intelligence, a Nairobi-based finance and business journal, shares Owina's skepticism. Oloo argues that the U.S. government has shown its indifference to Kenya with its continued support of the U.S. State Department travel warning, which he says has crippled Kenya's $500 million tourism industry, the second biggest contributor to the Kenyan economy.
According to the Kenyan Tourism Federation, the State Department warnings, coupled with similar warnings from the European Union, have cost the Kenyan tourism industry hundreds of millions of dollars over the last three years. Owina believes the warnings are unnecessary and unfair. "The terrorist threat in Kenya has been hyped up. Other countries have had similar attacks, Morocco, Turkey, Spain," Oloo says. "These countries do not have the same warnings."
Despite increased security in Kenya's hotels, ports, and airports, and the formation of a counter-terrorism police force, the U.S. State Department reissued the travel warnings for Kenya and all of East Africa in 2003 and 2004. "In my opinion, Bush and the Republicans do not tend to favor Africa," he says. "But whether John Kerry can do any better than George Bush is not clear."
Oloo says that the travel warnings and the war in Iraq have caused widespread cynicism in Kenya about future relations between African nations and the U.S. "Today I will tell you, George Bush has the worst press you could get, especially in Kenya," he says. "If America wants to be viewed positively here, this is the one person they must get out."
Andrew Strickler is a freelance journalist
from New Orleans and a student at the U.C.
Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.
what people said about "Dispatches from a Small Planet: Election
Go to Intro:
from a Small Planet: Election 2004
This sentence was corrected the day after publish, 9/8/04. It
originally stated that the agreement was conceived by the Clinton administration and signed into law by President
Bush. Bush actually signed the AGOA extension, not the original in
back to top