Good Fortune

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Kenya is located in eastern-central Africa on the coast of the Indian Ocean and comprises a land mass about twice the size of the state of Nevada. Kenya is bordered by Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Lake Victoria and Tanzania. Both droughts and floods are common in the area, and only about 10 percent of the land is suitable for farming.

The area was first settled by northern Africans around 2000 B.C. and has changed hands several times. Arab, Persian, Nilotic and Bantu settlements all popped up over the first millennium A.D.; in the late 1400s, the Portuguese settled on the coast; in the 1600s, the Imam of Oman took control of the coastal strip; and in the 19th century the United Kingdom declared the region part of the East Africa Protectorate.

In 1920, Kenya became a British colony, which involved the transfer of substantial amounts of arable land into the hands of the British crown and white settlers, a move that induced both collaboration and resistance on the part of local Africans. Between 1952 and 1959, the oppression and land alienation by the British colonial government resulted in the famous Mau Mau uprising. This uprising contributed to Kenya's independence, which was formally declared on December 12, 1963. Jomo Kenyatta, a member of the Kikuyu ethnic group and head of the Kenya African National Union (KANU), became the first president of the newly independent country.

For several decades, Kenya remained a one-party state, first unofficially, and then, after an attempted coup in 1982, through an amendment to its constitution. The amendment made it unconstitutional to have more than one political party. However, in 1991 this portion of the constitution was replaced, and by 1992 several new parties had formed. KANU continued to retain control of the country until 2002, when a coalition of opposition parties formed the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) and the coalition's candidate, Mwai Kibaki, was elected president.

Today, the World Bank estimates the population of Kenya at 39 million. Kenya is home to at least 43 ethnic groups, with none having a distinct majority. The breakdown is estimated as follows: 22% Kikuyu, 14% Luhya, 13% Luo, 12% Kalenjin, 11% Kamba, 6% Kisii, 6% Meru, 15% other African and 1% non-African (Asian, European, and Arab). Ethnicity and class play a large role in Kenyan politics, with leaders often appealing to diverse ethnic groups to mobilize support. Class plays a large role as well, as many of the most powerful leaders, such as the members of the Kenyatta family, are immensely wealthy and own large tracts of land.

Among the main challenges Kenya faces today are democratizing its institutions and addressing historical injustices, as well as changing policies to promote economic growth and address poverty and inequality. Varying opinions on how to address Kenya's progress factored into the violence that erupted during the 2007 elections.

» "The World Factbook: Africa: Kenya." Central Intelligence Agency.
» "Chronology for Somalis in Kenya." UNHCR: Minorities at Risk Project.
» "Background Note: Kenya." U.S. Department of State.

Kibera Slum

According to the United Nations, half of the world's population now lives in urban areas and one third of the world's population, or 930 million people, lives in slums. Worldwide, many families migrate from rural areas to urban ones for various reasons, including the opportunity to improve their economic situations. This type of movement, especially in Kenya, stresses already fragile infrastructure and services in large towns. The population of Nairobi is expected to double by 2025, and approximately 60 percent of its residents already live in slums and have little or no access to clean drinking water, proper sanitation, education and healthcare.

Kibera, located about four miles southwest of the center of Nairobi, is one of the largest slums in Africa and the third largest in the world, with a population estimated between 500,000 and 1 million people packed into about one and one half square miles, making it one of the most crowded places on earth.

Kibera developed during World War I, when the land was used as a temporary residence for Nubian (Sudanese) soldiers. Almost a century later, what began as an unofficial settlement has expanded to comprise 12 interlocking, ethnically diverse villages, one of them Nubian. About 90 percent of Kibera residents rent rudimentary homes from Kenyans who have built temporary structures on government land over the last 30 years. Many of the structure owners in Kibera do not reside there. Since the dwellings are not legally sanctioned, landlords are not required to provide any services --plumbing, electricity, sewer systems or trash removal-- and the area suffers from a lack of roads, sanitation services and other basic infrastructure. Unemployment, crime and disease are widespread. Many of the residents who are formally employed commute daily into central Nairobi, often on foot.

» "Kibera: Africa's Largest Slum." Affordable Housing Institute.
» "Kenya: Kibera, The Forgotten City." IRIN.
» "Kenya Threatened by New Urban Disaster." Oxfam International.
» "Kenya's Socio-economic Setting." United Nations University.

Kenya Slum Upgrading Project

In 2000, the Kenyan government and the United Nations joined forces in a massive "slum upgrading" program that calls for Kibera to be demolished completely and replaced with modern housing and infrastructure. Called the Kenya Slum Upgrading Project (KENSUP), the $300,000 project, according to UN-HABITAT, aims to "improve the overall livelihoods of people living and working in slums through targeted interventions to address shelter, infrastructure services, land tenure and employment issues, as well as the impact of HIV/AIDS in slum settlements." The program is funded jointly by the Kenyan government, UN-HABITAT and the World Bank Cities Alliance.

In 2009, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who also represents a constituency in Kibera as a member of parliament, said the project would create a "modern, low income residential estate with modern schools, markets, playgrounds and other facilities."

Officials expected that it would take two to five years to upgrade the slum. The process began in September 2009, when Kenyan authorities moved some 1,300 people to 300 newly built apartments located about a half-mile away from Kibera. According to official sources, rent for one room in one of the apartments is about $7 a month; electricity costs $4 and water $2.50. Kitchen and bathroom facilities are shared, unless a family takes three rooms, in which case it receives its own. Some of those who were relocated reportedly call the new community "Canaan" or "Promised Land."

While many residents are eager to see the slum upgraded, some are against the project. Opponents say that the project does not include schools and disregards access to employment opportunities. Eighty landlords and residents went to court as a group to argue that the land belongs to them and that the government should not be allowed to demolish their shacks. Instead, they suggested that improvements be made to existing structures.

» "Kibera: Africa's Largest Slum." Affordable Housing Institute.
» "Kenya Begins Huge Slum Clearance." BBC News.
» "Kenya: From Nairobi's Kibera slums to Canaan." IRIN.
» Neuwirth, Robert. Shadow Cities: A Billion Squatters, a New Urban World. New York: Routledge, 2004.
» "Kenya Slum Upgrading Project (KENSUP)." UN-HABITAT.

Yala Swamp

Located along Lake Victoria, the second largest freshwater lake in the world, Yala Swamp is an ecologically critical area that environmentalists say comprises one of the richest and most delicate ecosystems in East Africa.

The 75-square-mile (or 50,000-acre) swamp, located in the districts of Bondo and Siaya (home to Barack Obama's grandmother), supports many endangered species and about 500,000 people. Historically, the residents have lived by raising goats and cattle, planting crops and harvesting papyrus and sisal from the swamp to make mats and baskets. The swamp acts as a filter for the water that flows from the Yala River and the Nzoia River into Lake Victoria.

The swamp has long been an invaluable asset to the communities that live in the region, and now outside investors see it as a great potential business opportunity. In 1954 the swamp attracted attention from the colonial government, and then a group of early investors from Britain reclaimed 2,300 hectares over 24 years in an initiative that was abandoned in 1970 due to lack of funds.

In 2003 an American corporation, The Dominion Group of Companies, moved into the area and secured a 25-year lease from the government of Kenya on approximately 17,000 contiguous acres of swampland in Nyanza province.

There are claims that locals have lost farms, houses, livestock and livelihoods as a result of these actions, and they have suffered health problems that they believe are the result of chemicals in the water. An analysis of the water supply found dieldrin, a chemical in some pesticides that has been linked to breast cancer and Parkinson's disease and that the Environmental Protection Agency banned in the United States in 1987. Calvin Burgess, CEO of The Dominion Group, denies the use of pesticides, a claim a former Dominion manager contradicts.

» Silver-Greenberg, Jessica."Land Rush in Africa." BusinessWeek., 25 November 2009.
» von Post, Sofia. Conflict, Environment and Poverty: A Minor Field Study From Yala Swamp, Kenya. Thesis, Department of Water and Environmental Studies, Linkopings Universitet, Sweden (2006).

Dominion Farms

Dominion Farms is one of several companies owned by Calvin Burgess as part of The Dominion Group of Companies. Burgess began working as a contractor in 1977 and has built several government properties, including buildings for the Internal Revenue Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Army Corps of Engineers and several border patrol stations. He ran prisons in Colorado and elsewhere before divesting those endeavors to Corrections Corporation of America and he runs Airgo Systems, a manufacturer and distributor of a commercial tire monitoring, maintenance and inflation system for the commercial trucking industry, and Dominion Farms, the group's only agricultural endeavor.

According to Dominion Farms, its mission in Kenya is "the production and sale of rice, other cereal grains and tilapia fish to the markets of Kenya and surrounding countries,and to enable this country to reduce dependence on imported food, . . . serve as a demonstration of productive farming practices and . . . return a profit to Dominion." The company aims eventually to produce 90,000 tons of rough rice each year.

In exchange for the land in Kenya, Dominion was to pay $140,000 in rent annually. Burgess also told BusinessWeek that he paid $100,000 to the Siaya County Council and $120,000 to the local Lake Basin Development Authority; both sums vanished. Burgess also promised to reserve 300 acres of the land for residents to use communally and to rehabilitate at least one school and one health facility in each of the Siaya and Bondo districts.

Six years later, locals have lots of complaints about Dominion and its practices. It's estimated that up to 300 families were displaced -- and only 50 of those reimbursed -- as part of the company's occupation of the land. Dominion has renovated one health center, but residents say they must pass through Dominion's farm to reach the facility and are sometimes denied access. No schools have been renovated, although Dominion has donated building materials for school projects. The land that was to be set aside for farming has not been used for that purpose.

In addition, while Burgess claims that Dominion employs up to 700 locals, villagers say that number is drastically inflated and that fewer workers are needed as the farm becomes mechanized. According to one report, the company laid off 100 workers in spring 2008, a decision politicians and religious leaders actively protested. Burgess halted work at the farm and stopped expansion of the investment there, saying he was considering moving the project and citing extortion and blackmail by civic leaders and residents as the reason for the move. In 2009, a BusinessWeek reporter visited the farm and saw only a few dozen workers, several of whom said they earned less than $3 a day.
» Flanders, Laura. "Obama's Ruined Homeland. "The Nation, 12 February 2007
» Olwenya, George and Harold Ayodo. "Dominion Firm Lays Off 100 Employees in Siaya, Western Kenya." Majimbo
» .Silver-Greenberg, Jessica. "Land Rush in Africa." BusinessWeek, 25 November 2009.

2007 Kenyan Elections

In Kenya's 2007 presidential elections, Raila Odinga, a 62-year-old native Luo, challenged incumbent president Mwai Kibaki, 76, a Kikuyu with almost 45 years in politics. Kibaki was seen to represent the establishment, which had traditionally favored the Kikuyu over the nation's 40-plus other ethnic groups; Odinga, a wealthy businessman who has been a member of parliament since 1992, promised to fight for the poor and found strong support among Kenya's less fortunate, particularly in Kibera.

The election was held as part of general elections on December 27, 2007. While Odinga had led in most of the polls leading up to the election and showed substantial leads in early vote tallies, Kibaki's numbers began to catch up in the days following the election.

Many Kenyans and election officials and some members of the international community publicly questioned the results, which showed inexplicable increases of tens of thousands of votes in certain districts after initial results had been announced and turnout rates of more than 100 percent had been recorded in Kibaki-favoring areas. Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement party rejected the results, declared victory for Odinga on December 29 and threatened to declare him "the people's president," a move the standing government warned would be treated as tantamount to a coup. The election chairman agreed to investigate the results but later changed his mind. A team of Western diplomats called for the votes to be recounted but the request was denied.

On December 30, the election commission declared Kibaki the winner with 4,584,721 votes compared to 4,352,993 votes for Odinga, a margin of about 2 percent. It conceded that there were problems with the results, but said it was not its job to investigate them. Chairman Samuel Kivuitu said, "The judicial system provides peaceable avenues to address these complaints."

Violence erupted across Kenya after the announcement of the official numbers, especially in Western Kenya and in poorer areas such as Kibera, and then just an hour later Kibaki was sworn in. Live media broadcasts were prohibited and a curfew was put in place and enforced with gun power. At least 1,300 civilians were killed during ethnic attacks and attacks by police in the following weeks. More than 300,000 people, including residents of Kibera, were forced to flee their homes. Investigations by numerous external organizations implicated six top Kenyans, who appeared to have orchestrated violent attacks. The International Criminal Court began an inquiry and believes it will have arrest warrants issued by the end of 2010.

In February, talks sponsored by the United Nations resulted in a power-sharing arrangement under which Odinga was granted the newly reinstated position of prime minister. The two parties also agreed to wide-ranging reforms, including constitutional change.

Later, local inquiries into the riots found that senior members in both Kibaki and Odinga's parties incited and financed ethnic killings. In March 2010, the International Criminal Court approved a request to investigate the violence.

» Aldauf, Scott B. "In Kenya, International Criminal Court to Try Six Top Kenyans." The Christian Science Monitor,12 May 2010, sec. World.
» Gettleman, Jeffrey. " Disputed Vote Plunges Kenya Into Bloodshed. "The New York Times, 31 December 2007, sec. World.
» Hughes, Dana. "Deadly Rioting Over Kenyan Election Results. "ABC News.
» "Ballots to Bullets." Human Right Watch.
» "Kenya opposition declares victory." Independent, 29 December 2007, sec. Africa.
» Klopp, Jacqueline M. "The Real Reason for Kenya's Violence." The Christian Science Monitor, 14 January 2008, sec. Opinion.
» Rice, Xan. "International Criminal Court to Investigate Violence After 2007 Kenya Election." The Guardian, 31 March 2010, sec. World News.

Overview of U.S. Foreign Aid

Foreign aid is most basically defined as assistance provided by one nation to another. Foreign assistance from the United States comes in a number of different forms, including humanitarian assistance, military and security aid and economic stabilization and development assistance.

The U.S. foreign aid program was born of political intentions. During and after World War II, when the Soviet Union seemed poised to append swaths of war-ravaged Europe and Asia to its growing Communist bloc, the United States began to rebuild crucial economies, including those of Germany, Britain, Japan and Italy, and to find constructive ways to deal with international, war-related debt.

In 1945, the United States joined with other nations to form the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (now the World Bank) in order to help with debt relief and economic development. In 1947, the United States announced it would launch the Marshall Plan (also known as the European Recovery Program), named after Secretary of State George C. Marshall, to rebuild shattered economies, contain communism and strengthen alliances within Europe. According to Marshall, the real enemies of democracy were "hunger, poverty, desperation and chaos."

The Marshall Plan was considered a huge success, and several attempts were made to extend foreign aid after it ended in 1951. The issue was of great importance during the 1960 elections, and in the early days of his presidency, John F. Kennedy did much to improve foreign assistance, putting into place legislation, agencies and programs meant to increase and streamline foreign government aid.

In September 1961, Kennedy passed the Foreign Assistance Act (FAA), which reorganized existing programs and led to the creation of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). USAID allowed the United States to funnel aid to developing nations not in the service of military or political goals, but rather as part of long-range plans for economic and social development.

Early efforts included improving conditions in Central America, fighting communism in Asia and supporting newly independent countries in Africa.

In the 1960s and 1970s, promoting peace in the Middle East joined containing communism as a top goal of foreign aid. Popular support for helping out abroad waned in the 1970s, however, both as a result of the unpopular Vietnam War and due to concern that aid was still too tied to military actions and was needed at home. In 1973, several amendments were made to the FAA that shifted the goal toward satisfying "basic human needs" abroad. With the aim of sharing American expertise and commodities rather than simply transferring money or goods, the new legislation focused on areas such as agriculture, family planning and education.

Recently, presidents George H.W. Bush and William Clinton tried to rewrite the FAA, but neither was successful. The FAA remains largely as it was in 1973.

In recent years, giving foreign aid to Africa has come under scrutiny, with critics arguing that despite the estimated $1 trillion of foreign development-related aid that has gone to Africa over the past 60 years, per-capita income is less now than it was in 1970. Some claim that funds are being misappropriated and poorly distributed, causing larger problems for African nations.

In 2007 (the last year for which numbers are available), the United States distributed a total of almost $14 billion in total economic aid -- including aid under the FAA and through the Peace Corps, Food for Peace and other organizations -- and about $8.1 billion in military aid to Africa.

» "A Brief History of U.S. Foreign Aid." Baltimore County Public Schools.
» Dilemmas of Foreign Aid: Debating U.S. Policies. The Choices Program.
» Moyo, Dambisa."Why Foreign Aid Is Hurting Africa." The Wall Street Journal, 21 March 2009, sec. Africa News.
» "USAID History." USAID.
» "U.S. Foreign Economic and Military Aid Programs: 1980 to 2007." U.S. Census Bureau.
» "U.S. Government Foreign Grants and Credits by Country: 2000 to 2008." U.S. Census Bureau.