Obama's Kenyan step-grandmother congratulates him on victory


JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Congratulations on President Obama’s reelection flooded in from leaders across Africa on Wednesday, but the sweetest words of all came from a 90-year-old Kenyan villager.

Sarah Onyango Obama is the president’s step-grandmother, from the village of Kogelo in western Kenya, where the president’s father grew up. She said the president had won because of his love for the people.

"I knew he was going to win," she told Kenyan media Wednesday. "The reason why he has won is because God has given it to him. We are happy for the victory and are embracing everyone who visits our home. My grandson is loving and down to earth. I ask him to work for the people that voted for him."

She is the third wife of Obama’s paternal grandfather, Hussein Onyango Obama, while the president is descended from the second wife.

Hundreds of people in the normally sleepy village stayed up all night watching a big-screen TV with U.S. election coverage, erupting in celebration early Wednesday as news of Obama’s victory broke. People danced in the streets, sang songs praising Obama and waved American flags, according to reports from the scene.

Visitors had swarmed the village in the days before the vote. The president’s half-brother, Malik Abongo Obama, organized nightly prayer vigils in the days leading up to the election. As spirits ran high waiting for the results Tuesday night, local comedians ran a mock election and declared Obama the winner.

Kogelo village has changed since a visit from then-Sen. Obama in 2006, with electricity installed, roads paved and a hotel built to deal with the influx of tourists, who flock to meet Sarah Obama (by appointment only) and see the grave of Obama’s father.

Villagers said Wednesday they hoped Obama would come back to his ancestral village during his second term, Kenyan television reported.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki said that although the U.S. presidential election race had been tight, Obama’s victory testified to Americans’ faith in his leadership.

"I commend the American people for showing their confidence in your leadership. Kenya, as always, is proud of our association with you. We look forward to the deepening of relations between our two countries during your second term in office," Kibaki said in a statement.

Prime Minister Raila Odinga said Obama’s victory had electrified the world.

"It is a tribute to the people of the United States that they have reelected an African American president amidst an intensely trying economic environment that would have tested any incumbent. It is therefore also an outstanding personal triumph for President Obama," Odinga said.

He said Obama’s victory would "reignite faith worldwide, but especially in Africa, in the restorative capacity of democracy to deliver change and discard entrenched divisions."

South African President Jacob Zuma, who has himself been campaigning in the run-up to a December leadership vote in his party, sent congratulations.

"We value our relations with the United States and look forward to strengthening bilateral cooperation in the years to come," he said in a statement.

Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan also congratulated Obama and added that he hoped the American election would give millions of people across the globe a better appreciation of democracy, Nigerian media reported.


Obama wins a second term

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South Africa activist set to testify against police is arrested

-- Robyn Dixon

Photo: Sarah Obama, step-grandmother to President Obama, revels in the U.S. presidential election results with members of her family Wednesday in the hamlet of Kogelo in western Kenya. Credit: Tony Karumba / AFP/Getty Images

$5 million prize for former African leader goes to ... no one


Millions of dollars hung in the balance as a committee huddled in London, trying to decide which former African leader was worthy of their hefty cash prize. Monday, they announced which government head  won.


For the third time in its six years of existence, the Mo Ibrahim Foundation prize committee scanned Africa and decided nobody met the bar for its coveted award, which includes $5 million paid out over a decade and an additional $200,000 annually for life.

The plush prize is supposed to nudge African leaders to serve well -– and serve only so long. It cannot be granted to leaders who illegally cling to power. Only leaders who have left office in the last three years, serving no longer than their constitutionally mandated terms, can get the cash award.

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation eyed “a number of eligible candidates,” it said Monday, “but none met the criteria needed to win this award.” Its chairman and namesake, a British billionaire born in Sudan, told the Associated Press the committee wouldn’t “go through the motions to just find anybody.”

The foundation, launched six years ago, aims to promote good governance in Africa, which has made strides toward stronger democracy but is still speckled with countries where power stems from military coups, corruption or brutality. Last year it honored former Cape Verde President Pedro Verona Pires for bolstering democracy; before that, it didn’t honor anyone for two years in a row.

Ibrahim argued the decision was not a disappointment, but a sign of exceedingly high standards. The foundation gave no details about why nobody was chosen. Despite what Ibrahim said, not handing the prize to anyone was widely seen as a dismal mark for the latest round of African leaders to leave power.

“Good governance is a rather hard sell in Africa,” the Daily Nation in Kenya editorialized ruefully, “because some leaders believe their survival is synonymous with that of their countries.”

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Kenyans allowed to pursue colonial torture case against Britain


A London high court ruled Friday that three Kenyans tortured during a colonial rebellion can proceed with their case against the British government, more than half a century after the abuses.

The case has divided Britain over how it should reckon with its colonial past, with critics fearful that the decision opens the door to a flood of new lawsuits over crimes committed decades ago.

The Kenya Human Rights Commission heralded the Friday court decision as “a momentous victory,” saying the elderly torture survivors were overjoyed. The three were photographed clapping and smiling outside its offices as the decision was announced. Martyn Day, senior partner at the London law firm representing the Kenyan plaintiffs, called it “a historic judgment that will reverberate around the world.”

The British Foreign Office said it was disappointed and would appeal the decision, concerned that the court had vastly extended the normal time limit of three to six years to bring such a case. Key decision makers are now dead and unable to give their account of what happened, it said.

“We do not dispute that each of the claimants in this case suffered torture and other ill treatment at the hands of the colonial administration,” the office said in a Friday statement. However, allowing the case to move forward could have “potentially significant and far-reaching legal implications."

Day agreed about the significance of the case. “There will undoubtedly be victims of colonial torture from Malaya to the Yemen from Cyprus to Palestine who will be reading this judgment with great care,” he said. Britain could also face thousands of claims from other Kenyans who suffered similar torture, his law firm said.

The Kenyan plaintiffs say they were tortured during the British crackdown on the armed Mau Mau rebellion against colonial rule in the 1950s. In her testimony, one of the plaintiffs described being whipped and sexually violated with a glass bottle at a detention camp.

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Somali troops take key port of Kismayo after Al Shabab rebels retreat

Somali troops and their foreign allies occupied the key city of Kismayo, the last strategic base for Islamist militants who had relied on the local port as an main source of revenue
MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Somali troops and their foreign allies on Monday occupied the key city of Kismayo, the last strategic base for Islamist militants who had relied on the local port as a main source of revenue.

A Kenyan military spokesman, Cyrus Oguna, said Kenyan forces had also deployed in the southern Somali city. The troops moved in after fighters from Al Shabab, a militia linked to Al Qaeda, pulled out following Friday's beach assault and airstrikes by the Kenyan military. Oguna said further airstrikes were carried out over the weekend to destroy militant bases.

The Kenyan troops are part of a 17,000-member African Union force in Somalia to help the country's weak government confront a long-standing rebellion by Al Shabab.

Residents described a tense atmosphere Monday as troops entered, with fears that Al Shabab would strike back, but said the militants offered no resistance.

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Must Reads: Raccoons, vigilantes and free speech


From raccoons ravaging Germany to the relatives of the last Chinese emperor, here are five stories you shouldn't miss from this past week in global news:

In China, last emperor's kin hold rare reunion

Vigilante justice brings terror to 2 African nations

At U.N., free speech divides West and Muslim nations

In Damascus, Syria, life is disappearing from the streets

Unfortunately for Germany, it's 'a wonderland for raccoons'

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Philippine Muslims shout slogans during a demonstration near the gates of the presidential  palace in Manila on Friday. A group of Filipinos opposed to an anti-Islam video recently filed a petition to order the government to ban it. Credit: Amiel Meneses / European Pressphoto Agency

Kenyan military assaults last main base of Somali Al Qaeda-tied rebels

Kenya somalia
REPORTING FROM JOHANNESBURG - Kenyan military forces launched an overnight attack on Kismayo, seen as the last main stronghold of the Al Qaeda-linked Somali militant group, Al Shabab. The troops landed on the beach and took control of parts of the port city, according to Kenyan military spokesmen.

Announcing the assault, code-named Operation Sledge Hammer, military spokesman Cyrus Oguna said Kenyan forces entered the southern Somali port city at 2 a.m. He warned Kismayo civilians to evacuate in order to avoid being harmed. More than 10,000 people have fled in recent days, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

Oguna claimed Kenyan troops faced little resistance but Al Shabab's press office denied that Kenyan forces had taken control and claimed the town was still in the hands of its fighters.

"Kismayo remains firmly in the hands of the Mujahideen," the militia's press office said on Twitter. [Kenyan Defense Force] cowards attempt to attack Kismayo from the sea but the courageous Mujahideen thwart their attempt."

Fighting for control of the city was continuing, witnesses said, according to news agencies. AP reported that witnesses confirmed the port had fallen to Kenyan forces but other parts of Kismayo were still occupied by rebels.

If Al Shabab is driven from the port city, it risks being choked financially. Kismayo is the last port Al Shabab controls, and its major source of revenue through taxes on trade. Reports to the U.N. Security Council say the militia is heavily dependent on charcoal exports through Kismayo.

The militia fled the capital, Mogadishu, in August 2011, but has proven capable of launching devastating suicide attacks and targeted assassinations against politicians and journalists.

The Kenyan forces were part of the 17,000-strong U.N.-backed African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, fighting alongside Somali army forces and the pro-government Ras Kamboni militia, that have advanced on Kismayo in recent days.

The seaborne attack came after Kenyan vessels shelled Kismayo and launched an airbone attack on the airport Thursday.

"Al Shabab fighters are on the streets and heading toward the front line in speeding cars. Their radio is still on the air and reporting the war," Kismayo resident Mohamed Haji said, according to AP.The radio station, Radio al Andalus, was urging people to join the fight against the Kenyan invaders.

Commander of AMISOM forces, Lt. Gen Andrew Gutti, called on Al Shahab fighters to lay down arms and surrender.

"AMISOM’s intent is to liberate the people of Kismayo to enable them to lead their lives in peace, stability and security," he said in a statement. "Operations are ongoing to neutralize specific Al Shabab targets in Kismayo.

“We urge all fighters remaining in Kismayo to lay down their arms. In recent days and weeks, a number of them have contacted AMISOM indicating their wish to cease fighting and we have assured them of their safety if they give themselves up peacefully to our forces.”

Kenyan forces offered amnesty to Kenyans who had joined the Al Shabab militia, if they surrender.

The attack came days after the Hizbul Islam militia abandoned Al Shabab, in a major setback for the group. Al Shabab has bitterly attacked the recent election of a new parliament and president, but the Hizbul Islam militia supports the development.

The Ras Kamboni group fighting to drive Al Shabab from Kismayu, led by Sheikh Ahmed Madobe, was also formerly allied with Al Shabab. Analysts say Madobe will likely be seeking significant influence over Kismayo, should the rebels flee.

Even if Al Shabab loses control of Kismayo, it will still control a large swathe of south central Somalia.

U.N. special envoy for Somalia, Augustine Mahiga, said Friday that Somalia has its best chance for peace in 22 years, as AMISOM and Somalia forces gained territory.

"The pacification of the country by AMISOM and the Somali forces is going apace and the political process following the election of the president by parliament is coming to a head with the possible naming of a prime minister any time this week and the formation of a council of ministers pretty soon," he told the BBC.

"I think this is the best chance Somalia has ever had in the past 22 years." Mahiga said the government was in a position to reach out and engage some elements of Al Shabab to convince them to stop fighting.


France unveils its toughest budget in years

China to expel Bo Xilai from Communist Party


Unfortunately for Germany, it's 'a wonderland for raccoons'

--Robyn Dixon  

Photo: File photo from Feb. 20 shows Kenyan army soldiers riding in a vehicle at their base in Tabda, inside Somalia. Credit: Ben Curtis / Associated Press




In Kenya, ethnic clash over land kills 52

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- Men armed with machetes, bows and arrows, spears and guns attacked a rival village in southeastern Kenya on Wednesday in a dispute over land, killing 52 people, according to Kenyan police. 

Found dead at the scene were 31 women, 11 children and six men, many of whom had been hacked to death, or had been barricaded in their huts and burned to death. Four others died at a hospital.

Tensions over land between pastoralists and farmers in isolated rural communities go back centuries in Africa and persist in Kenya. In many countries, particularly in the Sahel region and the Horn of Africa, the problem is often exacerbated by government neglect.

An undercurrent in the Darfur conflict in western Sudan was long-running tensions over land use. In central Nigeria, clashes between nomadic herders and farmers sometimes leave dozens dead. Ready access to guns across the region has worsened the toll of tribal clashes.

Police said Wednesday's clashes between the Pokomo and Orma people in the Tana Delta region grew out of long-standing disputes over the use of grazing land and water.

"They were armed with crude weapons: machetes, bows and arrows and spears. Some had guns," area deputy police chief Robert Kitur told Reuters by telephone. Forty-eight died at the scene and four others died in the hospital, Kenya's Standard newspaper reported. Many others were injured.

Kitur told the Standard that dozens of armed men from the majority Pokomo tribe, whose members cultivate land on the Tana River flood plain, attacked the minority Ormas, pastoralists who rely on cattle herding to survive.

Police characterized it as an attack in revenge for an Orma assault on a Pokomo village that killed three people last week. Local news reports said tensions also had flared because cattle owned by Ormas destroyed Pokomo crops.

There have been similar outbreaks of ethnic violence in Kenya's north in recent weeks.


Can Somalia dare to hope for the future?

Somalia has new parliament but no president yet

Ethiopia to continue late leader's fight against militants

-- Robyn Dixon

Disappointed Kenya to investigate its Olympics 'debacle'


Kenyans were so deflated by their "lackluster" showing at the London Olympics that the government has announced it will investigate why the country took home only two gold medals.

Team Kenya won 11 medals this year, but the haul was seen as measly after the country snagged 14 at the Beijing Olympics four years ago, including six gold medals. In London, its Olympic team landed behind South Africa and Ethiopia as the third-highest medal winner among African nations at the Games.

Kenyan media bemoaned the Olympics as a “horror show” and a “debacle.” The London team “was supposed to be the best we have ever dispatched to the Olympics,” an editorial in the Standard lamented.

The Daily Nation blamed lousy coaching and infighting among athletics officials. The National Olympics Committee of Kenya and Athletics Kenya “must wipe out the rot in their respective organizations if we are to make an impact in Rio de Janeiro in four years,” it said.

Kenyan athletes reportedly were dismayed by a training camp in Bristol that was so poorly equipped that one athlete turned back to Kenya and others refused to go at all. In the British town, "the recalcitrant [Kenyan Olympics] officials set up camp merely to rake in their $300-a-day allowances, totally ignoring the fact that serious competition awaited the team at the Olympic Stadium," sports radio host Eddy Kimani wrote in dismay. "The tab was picked up by the toiling taxpayer."

While some of Team Kenya stayed in Europe for another competition in Sweden, others returned Wednesday to an uneasy welcome, as Sports Minister Paul Otuoma said the government was undertaking an inquiry on its Olympics letdown.

“We shall not hide anything. When the report is prepared we shall release it to the public to know what really happened,” Otuoma told reporters.


Deepening recession heats up talk of Greece exiting Eurozone

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Italian police follow their noses to Rome's biggest marijuana bust

-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles

Photo: Gold medalist Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda, center, is flanked by silver medalist Abel Kirui of Kenya, left, and bronze medal winner Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich of Kenya in the men's marathon during the closing ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games on Sunday. Credit:Hannibal /  European Pressphoto Agency 

Venezuelan diplomat charged with murdering ambassador to Kenya

Dwight Sagaray, Venezuela's first secretary at its embassy in Kenya, was charged with murdering the newly arrived ambassador as allegations surfaced that officials at the scandal-plagued post in Nairobi may have been trafficking drugs under cover of diplomatic immunity, Kenyan media reported
Venezuela's first secretary at its embassy in Kenya was charged Monday with murdering the newly arrived ambassador as allegations surfaced that officials at the scandal-plagued post in Nairobi may have been trafficking drugs under cover of diplomatic immunity, Kenyan media reported.

Dwight Sagaray entered a plea of not guilty when he appeared before a Nairobi judge to answer to murder charges in the July 27 slaying of veteran diplomat Olga Fonseca, the reports said. The 57-year-old envoy, who had arrived to the Kenya post just 12 days before her death, was found strangled in the bedroom of her official residence.

Kenyan nationals employed at the embassy told police at the time of Sagaray's arrest last week that relations with the new ambassador had soured quickly after her arrival because she had ordered staff who lodged sexual-harassment complaints against her predecessor to withdraw them. When they refused to retract their allegations, Fonseca fired them, local media reported.

The previous Venezuelan ambassador, Gerardo Carillo-Silva, reportedly fled his post after Kenyan authorities attempted to have his diplomatic immunity stripped so they could prosecute him for alleged abuse of three male Kenyan employees.

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Sudan and South Sudan reach deal on oil transit dispute


MOGADISHU, Somalia -- Uneasy neighbors Sudan and South Sudan reached a deal on oil transit fees Friday, a day after a U.N. Security Council deadline passed for them to reach an agreement or face sanctions, it was announced Saturday.

South Sudan recently marked a year of independence from Sudan, but things had gone so badly in recent months that there seemed little cause to celebrate. The countries tilted dangerously toward war earlier this year after South Sudan shut down oil production in January over the countries’ acrimonious dispute on oil transit fees.

The shutdown severely damaged both sides. As oil dried up, the economies of the countries faltered; consumer prices rocketed, shortages set in and their currencies fell.

While the two sides have now agreed on a transit price, an intractable dispute over territory and their shared border was set aside until late September.

African Union mediator Thabo Mbeki told reporters that the countries would discuss the steps to be taken so that oil companies could resume production.

Sudanese officials confirmed the deal but said it would not take effect until border security matters were settled. Sudan accuses South Sudan of supporting anti-government rebels in Sudanese territory,  while South Sudan says Sudan is guilty of supporting militias in its country.

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