Padraig Colman

Rambling ruminations of an Irishman in Sri Lanka

Bad Shop Days at Cargill’s

This article appeared in the Gripe Corner section of The Nation on Sunday September 2 2012

In the two years since I wrote this, things have got worse rather than better. The fundamental problem is that there is no “management” in the sense of awareness, supervision, monitoring towards the main objective of pleasing customers. To take our nearest branch as an example. There used to be a named individual responsible for the branch. He was on site most of the time. He was welcoming and approachable. One could tell him about any problems and he would be responsive. Have Cargill’s adopted a new policy? For a few years now, there has been no manager of the branch. There are four or five management types who appear at the store from time to time and mainly keep out of sight. When they do put in an appearance, they wander about with a clipboard checking the shelves. This does not prevent items going out of stock. They are strangely blind to the fact that a queue is stretching to the back of the store and only one till is open.


Why does every branch of Cargill’s have a notice prohibiting photographs? Are they afraid that someone would capture the lengthy queues, or the wet sacking under the freezer, or the rodents running around or the aisles blocked by boxes, the general filth. A camera could not capture the awful smell from the meat counter or the drains outside which encourage flies.


A camera did capture the disgusting toilet.



There is rarely anyone serving at the pharmacy. There used to be a complaints book near the pharmacy counter. I had a look through it and saw that other people shared my concerns. Obviously no one in authority has done anything about this, apart from removing the complaints book.


I have had many bad days in Cargill’s supermarkets. One lingers strongly in my mind as particularly hellish. A queue snaked its way from the checkout to the back of the store and around the aisles. The beleaguered girl working the solitary checkout counter kept desperately ringing her bell but no-one came to her aid.

On another occasion, a member of the “management” team was busily staring at the shelves with clipboard in hand while a huge queue had built up at the check-out and aisles were impassable because of boxes and trolleys that had not been removed.  On another occasion, an ugly mood was developing because only one checkout counter was open. After persistent pleas for help from the checkout assistant, a female management person emerged from the recesses of backstage and opened up a counter herself. She was heard to remark, “Sir hasn’t prepared the rota”.
One of the company’s stated values is: “Customer focused: Focused on customer delight”. This customer is rarely delighted in Cargil’ls these days.

The frustrations I describe here may appear to be minor cavils but they do represent common failures which blight many areas of business and government.  Staff and “management” have slipped into an attitude of mind where the retail outlet, hotel or government department in which they spend their time exists for their benefit rather than for the paying customers.

This is not a gripe solely about our local branch. Lack of awareness is a systemic flaw that I have noticed at many branches of Cargill’s. Friends wrote to one manager to complain about foul smells of rotting meat and pools of water under the freezer. They strongly believed that the freezer was switched off at night. I bought a packet of cheese slices. It did not surprise me that the packaging was filthy – I had become used to that. It did surprise me that the packet was over a year past its sell-by date. When I returned it, I was promptly and smilingly refunded but no-one seemed to appreciate the seriousness of selling ancient food. At another branch, an item I had intended to purchase had been nibbled by rodents. At my local branch, I often see mice running about. On my last visit, flies were swarming everywhere and the floor was filthy.

One often feels that one is being intrusive and spoiling the social life of Cargill’s staff; they are too busy chatting to each other to notice customers and managers don’t seem to care. Recently, I left my bag with the security lady in a Colombo branch. I paid for my purchases and when I tried  to collect my bag the security lady  was not there. I spotted her in a huddle of staff laughing and joking, all of them ignoring the customers. After some time, one of the group broke away and approached me. In a very arrogant tone, she directed me back to the end of the store and said I had to approach the security desk from the outside of the shop.

Bruce McClendon, in a 1995 issue of the Public Management Journal wrote that customer care must start “at the top of the organization and be communicated to every employee. Managers must demonstrate a commitment to customer service and lead by deed and example.” At Food Cities, managers do not seem to understand that they should manage.

McClendon writes: “if the service is not accurate and dependable, then it does not matter how courteous and friendly the employee is”. He told a story of a US government office, where so many employees were engaged in hanging banners announcing Customer Service Week that a huge queue built up at the service window. When an irate customer asked about customer service, a clerk responded, “Oh that starts next week.”
When will ‘next week’ come, for Cargill’s, one wonders.

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Reconciliation in Congo Part 4

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday February 17 2013


In April 2012, up to 700 ethnic Tutsi soldiers mutinied against the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo) government. The government was supported by MONUSCO, the peacekeeping contingent of the UN Stabilisation Mission in DRC. Mutineers formed a rebel group called M23 (March 23 movement) also known as the Congolese Revolutionary Army.

UN reports allege that rebels receive support from key US allies in the region, and Washington’s role in the conflict has become difficult to ignore. The governments of the US, Britain, Germany and the Netherlands have publicly suspended military aid and developmental assistance to Rwanda. The governments of both Rwanda and Uganda, led by President Paul Kagame and President Yoweri Museveni respectively, have long been staunch American allies and the recipients of millions in military aid.

The M23 rebellion is a continuation of fighting that has gone on in North Kivu Province since the formal end of the Second Congo War in 2002–2003. In late November 2012, M23 forces invaded and took control of Goma, the strategic capital of North Kivu a city with a population of 1 million people, many of them refugees. M23’s declared purpose was to marching to the nation’s capital, Kinshasa, to depose the DRC government.


UN failings

MONUSCO has been severely criticised for allowing M23 to take Goma without firing a single shot, despite the presence of 19,000 UN troops in the country. The UN’s Congo mission is its largest and most expensive peacekeeping operation, costing over US$1 billion a year. UN forces recently announced they would introduce drones over the DRC, in addition to imposing a travel ban and asset freeze on M23 leader Jean-Marie Runiga and Lt. Col. Eric Badege.

DRC has the world’s second-lowest GDP per capita, despite $24 trillion in untapped raw minerals deposits. Raw materials fuel the conflict and corrupt every party including the peacemakers. MONUSCO has faced frequent allegations of corruption. UN peacekeeping troops have frequently been caught smuggling minerals such as cassiterite and dealing weapons to militia groups. UN soldiers from the Pakistani army traded weapons for gold and one Pakistani officer used UN aircraft to transport local mineral traders. Indian soldiers traded gold and drugs using UN helicopters to fly ammunition into Virunga national park in exchange for ivory.

In Uvira, Russian pilots of the UN fleet have become notorious for their exploitation of women of all ages at a hotel in the town – one young woman is employed as a cleaner in the office of a high profile NGO during the day but, is paid starvation wages and must sell herself.

President Kabila is seen by many to be self-serving in his weak oversight of the central government in Kinshasa and the legitimacy of his leadership is questioned. The international community and the UN ignored serious election fraud. Opposition leader Étienne Tshisikedi is in jail and has called for “less corrupt and more credible” personnel to head UN operations. M23 rebels have demanded the liberation of all political prisoners, including Tshisikedi.


What hope of reconciliation?

The Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed in December 2002 created the framework for a commission tasked with establishing the truth among conflicting versions of history and to promoting peace, reparation, and reconciliation. The specificities of the truth commission were to be determined by statute. Until more than a year after the establishment of the commission, it was operating without such a law. On July 30, 2004, the mandate was enacted by President Kabila.
The commission had twenty-one members, including representatives of each of the parties of the Inter-Congolese Dialogue and religious leaders, representatives of scientific associations, women’s organizations and other civil society groups. The membership was criticized because some of the commissioners had informal ties with those who were implicated in the crimes. International observers called for a follow-up truth-seeking mechanism because of the lack of political will and resources for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

At the time of writing, African leaders are meeting to chart the continent’s development agenda as it enters its 50th year of regional cooperation. The 20th Ordinary Assembly of African Union (AU) Heads of State and Government set for January 27-28 takes place at AU headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia under the theme “Pan-Africanism and African Renaissance.” The political situation in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Madagascar, Mali and the Central African Republic will also be on the agenda.
There is not even a slim hope that the AU will bring light to this Heart of Darkness. Fifteen hundred bandits have resisted a standing army backed up by a 19,000 UN soldiers drawn from all over the world, a budget of $1.5 billion every year, helicopter gunships, armoured personnel carriers, jeeps, tanks and aircraft.

As Gavin Jackson of University of London put it: “What is left unspoken in the peace deal is the precise division of the spoils of the region. The bourgeois everywhere – whether of the refined type in London, Berlin and New York or of the Khartoum, Kampala or Aleppo type – have decided this on the basis of relative strength. When this relative strength shifts, a new balance of force which contradicts the previous agreement comes into play, then fighting begins again for a re-division of the loot.”

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Reconciliation in Congo Part 3

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday on 20 January 2013

Mobutu Sese Seko Kuku Ngbendu wa Za Banga (born Joseph-Desiré Mobutu; October 14, 1930, died September 7, 1997), commonly known as Mobutu or Mobutu Sese Seko. Mobutu, an ethnic Ngbandi, led an unsuccessful coup against the nationalist government of Patrice Lumumba in 1960 and eventually seized power in the Congo in 1965 with the help of the CIA, held the country which he renamed Zaire for 32 years. As VS Naipaul wrote “like Leopold II, Mobutu owns Zaire”. According to Naipaul, Mobutu continued the despotic legislation of the Belgians but presented it as a kind of ancestral African socialism.

In less than 25 years, this young sergeant of the colonial army became one of the world’s richest kleptocrats. With western support, Mobutu sustained an autocratic regime, handing out favours and punishment, and wielded absolute rule over the ruins of a country ravaged by corruption. He attempted to purge the country of all colonial cultural influence while also maintaining an anti-communist stance.

Tensions had existed between various ethnic groups in eastern Zaire for centuries, especially between the indigenous agrarian tribes and the semi-nomadic Tutsis (known as Banyamulenge) who had migrated from Rwanda. The Belgian colonizers forcibly relocated Rwandan Tutsis to Congo to perform manual labor. Another wave of the Rwandan social revolution of 1959 brought the Hutu to power in Kigali. Mobutu gave the Banyamulenge political power in East Zaire hoping they would prevent the more numerous ethnicities from forming an opposition.

From 1963 to 1966, the Hunde and Nande ethnic groups of North Kivu fought against Rwandan emigrants in the Kanyarwandan War, which involved several massacres. In 1981 a restrictive citizenship law was adopted, which denied the Banyamulenge citizenship. From 1993 to 1996 Hunde, Nande, and Nyange youth regularly attacked the Banyamulenge leading to a total of 14,000 deaths. In 1995, the Zairian Parliament ordered all peoples of Rwandan or Burundian descent to be repatriated. The Banyamulenge developed ties to the RPF (Rwandan Patriotic Front) as early as 1991.

Following the end of the Cold War, the USA stopped supporting Mobutu in favour of what it called a “new generation of African leaders, including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame. By 1991, economic deterioration and unrest led him to agree to share power with opposition leaders, but he used the army to thwart change until May, 1997, when rebel forces with the support of predominantly Tutsi Rwanda, led by Laurent Kabila expelled him from the country in what became known as the first Congo War.

Destabilization in eastern Zaire that resulted from the genocide in Rwanda (See: was the final factor that brought down the corrupt and inept government in Kinshasa. Kabila renamed the country the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). Kabila soon alienated his allies and failed to address the issues that had led to the war. The second Congo War, began in 1998, mere months after Kabila came to power. Kabila purged ethnic Tutsi from the DRC government. In response, Congolese Tutsi rebels instigated violence and civil unrest, beginning in August 1998 with the support of Rwandan troops. Kabila was assassinated in January 2001 and was replaced by his son, Joseph Kabila.

A transitional government was established in 2003, but it failed to halt violence in the eastern provinces. UN troops failed to prevent massacres in Ituri province. The Second Congo War directly involved eight African nations as well as about 25 armed groups. The UN peacekeeping mission, MONUC, helped organize Congo’s first democratic elections in July 2006. By 2008, the war and its aftermath had killed 5.4 million people, mostly from disease and starvation making it the deadliest conflict since World War II. Millions more were displaced.

The illicit trade in what are known as conflict minerals provides rebel groups and units of the national army with tens of millions of dollars a year to buy guns. There are four main minerals being mined in the Congo: cassiterite (the ore for tin), coltan (the ore for a rare metal called tantalum), wolframite (tungsten ore), and gold. The electronics industry is one of the main destinations for these metals, which end up in mobile phones, laptops, and other consumer products. Tin is used as a solder in circuit boards; tantalum goes into capacitors, small components used to store electricity; tungsten is used in the vibrating function of mobile phones; gold is also used by the electronics industry, as a coating for wires.

Elima, Mobutu’s official daily, stated “In Zaire we have inherited from our ancestors a profound respect for the liberties of others. This is why our ancestors were so given to conciliation, people accustomed to palaver [la palabre], accustomed, that is, to discussions that established each man in his rights”.
Well, that’s one way of looking at it. Conflict-related deaths continue to rise, and tens of thousands of women and girls suffer crimes of sexual violence. What hope of reconciliation?

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Reconciliation in Congo Part 2

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday January 11 2013

In 1962, I experienced a strange concatenation. I was staying at Grand Union Hotel in Casement Square, Cobh, County Cork. The Square was named after Sir Roger Casement who exposed Belgian atrocities in the Congo and was hanged by the British for rebelling against the Ireland oppression. The Hotel, in the 1960s owned by the Allen family, long ago succumbed to recession and subsidence. Captain Allen of the Irish Army was in 1962 at home on leave from service with the UN force in the Congo. He gave us a slide show presentation about the Congo.


Despite its puny size, Belgium punched above its weight in colonial oppression (see: and was reluctant to let go of the Congo. Belgium made no plans for Congolese independence. There were only nine university degree holders in the entire vast territory and no Congolese in the entire military with a rank higher than Sergeant.


On June 30, 1960, Belgian King Baudouin arrived for the formal handover of power. The day was a public relations disaster. Baudouin made an ill-advised speech praising the “genius” and “tenacious courage” of his great-uncle Leopold II. Prime Minister Patrice Lumumba gave a speech attacking Belgium’s “regime of injustice, oppression and exploitation”. – cite_note-speech-13 “Nous ne sommes plus vos singes” (We are no longer your monkeys).


In July first week, the Congolese army mutinied and Europeans were attacked. The Belgian government illegally sent paratroopers to protect the 100,000 Belgians. On July 11, 1960, with the support of Belgian business interests and over 6000 Belgian troops, the south-east province of Katanga declared independence. Katanga received assistance from foreign mercenaries, mostly white South Africans, Belgians and other Europeans including the Irish right-wing fighter Major Mike Hoare and his “4 Commando” unit. South Africa’s apartheid government facilitated mercenaries to aid the Katangese cause.


The secessionist war was exacerbated by colonial proxy conflicts between the USA and the USSR. Katanga had the potential to make Congo wealthy, but without it the new nation would remain poor. Katanga produced gold, copper, 60% of uranium and 80% of world’s industrial diamonds. The secessionist leader Moise Tshombe was backed by the European mining companies that made considerable profits from Katanga.


Lumumba asked the UN for help and 10,000 UN troops were tasked to: restore and maintain law and order; stop other nations from getting involved; assist in building the economy and restore political stability. A total of 6,000 Irishmen represented the UN in the Congo from 1960 until 1964. On July 28, 1960, Lt Col Murt Buckley led the 32nd Irish Battalion to the Congo. This was the most costly enterprise for the Army since Irish Civil War and 26 Irish soldiers lost their lives. At the Siege of Jadotville, 150 Irish soldiers were attacked by 4,000 Katangese troops as well as French, Belgian and Rhodesian mercenaries supported by a trainer jet.


UN Secretary-General, Dag Hammerskjöld rejected Lumumba’s request to crush Katanga. To Hammarskjöld, the secession of Katanga was an internal Congolese matter and the UN was forbidden to intervene by Article 2 of its Charter. Lumumba accused the UN of siding with Tshombe because of Katanga’s rich mineral reserves and the influence of European mining companies. The Soviet Union provided Lumumba with military equipment to attack Katanga. This attack failed and President Kasavubu dismissed Lumumba and made Colonel Mobutu the new Prime Minister. Lumumba set up a rival government in Stanleyville in the east of the country. His assassination by mercenaries removed him from the equation.


For the first six months of 1961, four groups claimed to lead the Congo:  Mobuto’s government in Leopoldville; Lumumba’s supporters in Stanleyville; Tshombe’s ‘government’ in Elizabethville; and a breakaway ‘government’ in Kasai province led by King Albert Kalonji .


Three of the four groups met to form a new parliament in Leopoldville headed by Cyrille Adoula. The only outside group of the coalition is Tshombe’s. Adoula asked the UN to provide military support for an attack on Katanga. In August 1961, 5,000 United Nations troops attacked Katanga. Though they captured key points in the province, they did not get Tshombe as he had fled to Rhodesia.

Dag Hammerskjöld flew to Rhodesia to see Tshombe but was killed when his plane crashed under suspicious circumstances


He was replaced by U Thant who agreed to another attack by UN troops on Katanga in December 1961. As a result, Tshombe agreed to meet Adoula to discuss issues. The talks lasted for nearly a year and achieved very little. In late 1962, the UN force in the Congo attacked Katanga again. In January 1963, Katanga was re-united with the rest of the Congo. The Congo has paid dearly for the curse of resources. In Leopold’s time, it was rubber and ivory. In Tshombe’s day, it was gold, copper, uranium and diamonds. Some 100,000 people died (some claim 200,000). Today people are dying because of craving for coltan for mobile phones and PCs.


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Reconciliation in Congo Part 1

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday December 30 2012.

Despite the protestations of imperialists and missionaries, colonialism is rarely advantageous to the colonised. The British Empire was not the only villain. Little Belgium was particularly vicious. A British diplomat, Sir Roger Casement, who exposed Belgian crimes in the Congo, was executed in 1916 by the British for his part in the Irish rebellion.

Berlin carve-up

King Leopold II of Belgium had been granted control of the Congo Free State, which covered the entire area of the present day Democratic Republic of the Congo under the 1885 Berlin Agreement, which carved up Africa between the European colonial powers. Leopold founded the Congo Free State.

The Berlin Act obliged Leopold to establish free trade with Congo for the benefit of all nations; a condition that the King managed to flout through awarding territorial concessions for rubber extraction to a number of private companies, some were mere disguises for his own aggrandisement.

Dr Livingstone I presume!

Casement was initially a willing participant in the colonial project. When he got a job with the Elder Dempster shipping line in Liverpool, he persuaded the company to let him go as a purser on one of its ships to Boma in the Congo. Once there at the age of 20 Casement joined the unpaid volunteers who were working for Henry Morton Stanley – the journalist who achieved fame by “finding” David Livingstone.

Stanley’s project of opening up the unmapped regions of Central Africa had attracted Leopold. However, the King could not arouse the interest of his subjects in colonial ventures and decided to look for financial support outside Belgium. An International African Association was set up with Leopold as its chairman. He stated that his sole ambition was “to open up to civilisation the only area of our globe to which it has not yet penetrated”.

Leopold was tall and striking in appearance but he received neither the affection nor respect of his own people nor the friendship of his royal cousins. Leopold was first cousin to Queen Victoria, but her son, the future Edward VII, detested him. After the break-up of Stanley’s team, Casement was recruited to the British diplomatic service and served as consul in a number of African locations.

One-way free trade

Trade returns showed that the flow of rubber out of the Congo into Belgium was rapidly increasing, but there was an unchanging trickle of imports into the Congo. The main import seemed to be guns. The labour force was not being paid. Leopold’s authority in the Free State was absolute, so only he was in a position to embezzle the State’s funds.

Casement met King Leopold in Brussels in October 1900 and challenged him with these reports. The King pleaded that Belgium was only a tiny country wanting ‘a few – only a few – of the crumbs that fall from your well-stocked British table. And yet in England you are suspicious of us!’

Casement report on human rights

By 1903, Casement was the British consul in Kinshasa and was commissioned by the British government to write a report on the human rights situation in the Congo Free State. Casement knew in his heart and his head that there was a ‘system’ and atrocities could not be explained as the transgressions of “bad apples”. The cutting off of hands was the deliberate act of soldiers of the administration, “who never made any concealment that in committing these acts they were but obeying the positive orders of their superiors”.

Casement was supported by the campaigning freelance journalist, Edmund D Morel, to whom he donated a third of his annual salary. The two men campaigned energetically in many countries to bring the abuses to light. In America, the campaign attracted the support of Booker T Washington and Mark Twain. Twain wrote of King Leopold II, who “for money’s sake, mutilates and starves half a million of friendly and helpless poor natives in the Congo every year”. He described Leopold as “this mouldy and piety-mouthing hypocrite, this bloody monster, whose mate is not found in history anywhere and whose personality will surely shame hell itself when he arrives there, which will be soon we hope and trust.”

Casement demonstrated in grim detail how a slave labour force was maintained by systematic brutality including amputations, vicious beatings, kidnappings and killings of the native population by the Bula Matadi soldiers of King Leopold. His report contained long and detailed eye-witness reports including what he himself had seen.

The report led to the arrest and punishment of officials who had been responsible for murders during a rubber-collection expedition in 1903 (including one Belgian national who was given a five-year sentence for causing the shooting of at least 122 Congolese natives).

Casement was awarded a CMG (Companion of the Order of St Michael St George in 1905 for his Congo work).

In 1908, the Belgian parliament took over control of the Free State from Leopold and it became the Belgian Congo.
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Reconciliation in Australia

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday December 23 2012


In the Australian Federal Parliament on 13 February 2008, the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered an official apology to the Stolen Generations. From 1909 to 1969, it was the official policy of the Australian Government to remove Indigenous children from their families. 100,000 children were taken from their families. The policy was similar to Nazi eugenics in that it was designed to “breed out” Indigenous people. Some Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were removed from their families on genuine welfare grounds, and some benefited from greater opportunities.

However, stolen children were more likely to suffer from depression, have worse health and a shorter life span than other Indigenous people, and are more likely to be imprisoned than other Indigenous people. 50 percent of deaths investigated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were of Indigenous people who were removed from their families as children.
Rock Art and other historical sites show that the first Australians have the oldest surviving culture on the planet, with people living on the mainland over 60,000 years ago and on the Torres Strait Islands for more than 10,000 years.

Indigenous Australia was not one nation, but up to 400 aboriginal nations, speaking about 250 languages. The indigenous population could have been up to a million people. According to the 2011 census, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population on census night was 548,370. This was an increase of 20.5 percent on the 2006 census.
When Anthony Trollope visited Australia, he noted: “There has been some rough work…We have taken away their land, have destroyed their food, made them subject to our laws, which are antagonistic to their habits and traditions, have endeavoured to make them subject to our tastes, which they hate, have massacred them when they defended themselves and their possessions after their own fashion, and have taught them by hard warfare to acknowledge us to be their master”.

By 1911, 123 years after settlement, the “rough work” had reduced the Aboriginal population to 31,000. Colin Tatz  examines the question of whether the treatment of Australia’s indigenous people constitutes genocide. Professor Noel Butlin, an eminent economic historian, concluded that the single most effective killer of Aborigines was smallpox. While the origins of “the main killer” are obscure, “it is possible and, in 1789, likely that infection of the Aborigines was a deliberate exterminating act”.

Stephen Kunitz argues that the 25 percent decline in the Queensland population was caused by “the savagery of the settlers and their calculated slaughter of the indigenous population”. Kenneth Minogue believes that accusations of genocide made by Raimond Gaita and Robert Manne are extreme and offensive, “exploiting … a prefabricated emotional charge” but Minogue himself admits “Aborigines were raped, killed, dispossessed and so on”.

The first white settlers arrived in Tasmania in 1803, and by 1806, the serious killing had begun. In 1824, settlers were authorised to shoot Aborigines, who were regarded as vermin. Aboriginal children were abducted for use in forced labour, women were raped and tortured and given poisoned flour, and the men were shot. White settlers killed some 10,000 blacks in Queensland between 1824 and 1908.

Although the 2011 census shows an increase in the indigenous population, all is not well today.
In 2007, the Howard Government announced a national emergency response to child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory (NT). New welfare laws involved an Income Management Regime replacing 50 percent of welfare payments with cards that could only be spent on food and clothing, and only at specified major retailers. The rules applied, not just to negligent parents, but to all the Aboriginal people living in particular communities.

Indigenous Australians continue to be disadvantaged in employment, education, housing law, justice and health. Indigenous people experienced poverty when they were moved off their traditional lands, cut off from their traditional lifestyles, also denied equal wages. This has led to poor health over the generations. Indigenous people also experienced racism from doctors, with some doctors and hospitals refusing to treat Indigenous people. 45 percent of Indigenous males and 34 percent of Indigenous females die before the age of 45. The corresponding proportion for non-Indigenous males and females is 10 percent and 6 percent.

From 2001 to 2007, ‘practical reconciliation’ was the official policy of the Howard Government. The government purported to focus on practical things that improved the living standards of Indigenous people. This did not lead to many practical improvements. More funding was given to ‘mainstream’ agencies rather services run by Indigenous people.

‘Rights-based reconciliation’ means recognising that problems will be solved more quickly and for the long term if Indigenous people are supported to manage the issues themselves. This is the principle of ’self-determination’ which is recognised in the International Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. It also means respecting the special rights that Indigenous people have as the original custodians of Australia, such as the right to own and manage their traditional lands.

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Reconciliation in Kenya Part 2

Last week I showed how the British colonized Kenya, depriving the indigenous people of their land and dividing and ruling by favouring different ethnic groups. The effects are still being felt in the 21st century.

Election violence
The toll of the 2007 post-election violence in Kenya included approximately 1,500 deaths, 3,000 rapes, and 300,000 people displaced.

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday October 21 2012


Ethnic divisions, divide and rule
The Kikuyu make up 22% of the 2008 Kenyan population, the Kalenjin 12%. There are many other smaller tribes. British colonists forced the pastoral Kalenjin off their land to develop the Rift Valley agriculturally and brought in Kikuyu farmers to work as sharecroppers. Continued competition drove the two tribes apart.

White Europeans dominated politics and were at the top of the social scale. Asians occupied the middle levels of society, mainly involved in small-scale agriculture and industry, retail, trade, skilled and semi-skilled labor and the middle level of the civil service. Africans, the majority of the population, were mostly poor farmers and had very little say in how Kenya was run.

Land grabs

By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2,000 square miles, while 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles of the best agricultural land. Settler farming was subsidized and Africans were soon banned from growing tea, coffee, and sisal. Some Kikuyu were “allowed” to occupy land, which had been their homes, as tenant farmers in exchange for their labor. Kikuyu income fell by about 40% during the period 1936 to 1946 and fell even more sharply after that. After World War II, demobilized British officers flocked to Kenya, hoping to benefit from a comfortable lifestyle. There was a civil war among the Kikuyu because some Kikuyu managed to retain their land and forged strong ties with the British. Divide and rule.

After independence in 1963, ethnic tension persisted. Jomo Kenyatta, a Kikuyu, became president and Daniel Arap Moi, a Kalenjin, became vice president. After Kenyatta’s death, Moi took power and tightened his hold on Kenya through censorship and repression. In 1992, the first multi-party election took place. Moi won but there were credible accusations of fraud.

In December 2007, incumbent president Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, won an election called “deeply flawed” by observers. The Kalenjin, who supported the opposition leader Raila Odinga, hacked to death Kikuyus who supported Kibaki. Kikuyus violently took revenge forcing other ethnic groups out of Kikuyu dominated areas.

Truth and reconciliation?
A political compromise was reached that saw the two conflicting parties sign a National Accord, following the mediation efforts by the African Union Panel of Eminent African Personalities chaired by Kofi Annan. The Truth, Justice, and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya (TJRC) has the ability to investigate gross violations of human rights, economic crimes, illegal acquisition of public land, marginalization of communities, ethnic violence, between 1963 and 2008. The TJRC does not, however, have the power to prosecute. They can recommend prosecutions, reparations for victims, institutional changes, and offer amnesty in exchange for truth for perpetrators who did not commit gross human rights violations.

Lack of retributive justice has been a source of concern for many Kenyans. There has been a long-standing culture of impunity. The US criticized the use of local courts to try suspects accused of perpetrating violence because of a backlog of hundreds of thousands of cases and a reputation for corruption. Some doubted the TJRC’s impartiality as some members were connected with the previous government and some faced corruption charges themselves.
The Commission has focused on justice in terms of recognition and distribution. Major conflicts in the past have arisen because of imbalances in power, land, and resources between ethnic groups and the Commission has addressed these issues. It has recognized the importance of educating the country about the history of violence.

What of Kenya today and tomorrow?

The Status of Governance in Kenya Survey released recently shows that 31% of Kenyans have not forgiven their perceived enemies but can tolerate them. Another 23.2 % said they can only forgive under certain conditions including justice being served. 6.3 % of Kenyans insist that they can never forgive.
In the Tana Delta region, more than 100 people were killed in August 2012 in fighting between the Pokomo and the Orma in a dispute over land and water. The killing in August of a Muslim cleric was followed by days of deadly riots in the city of Mombasa. Minister Ferdinand Waititu has appeared in court charged with inciting violence following a speech urging his Kikuyu constituents to chase away members of the Masai community. Increasing hate speech and outbreaks of violence all over Kenya indicate that the March 2013 election could be bloody.

Kenya has not healed. The Status of Governance Survey found that Kenya is still ethnically divided with 60% of respondents attributing this to historic injustices committed during the pre-colonial period and the subsequent abuse of power by successive political regimes.


– See more at:


Reconciliation in Kenya: Part 1

This article appeared in The Nation on Sunday October 14 2012.


“If we are going to sin, we must sin quietly.” Eric Griffiths-Jones, Attorney General of the British administration in Kenya.1957.The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya was set up in 2008 to address the violence that followed the 2007 elections. There were 1,500 deaths, 3,000 rapes, and 300,000 people were internally displaced. Before dealing with that I look at Kenya’s colonial past.

Three Kenyans, Paulo Muoka Nzili, 85, Wambugu Wa Nyingi, 84, and Jane Muthoni Mara, 73, have established the right to sue the British government for the torture they suffered in the 1950s. A fourth claimant dropped out while a fifth, Susan Ciong’ombe Ngondi, died two years ago, aged 71.Men were castrated with pliers or anally raped, sometimes with the use of knives, broken bottles, rifle barrels and scorpions. Women had similar objects thrust into their vaginas. Guards and white civilians chopped off ears and fingers, gouged eyes, mutilated women’s breasts with pliers, and burnt people alive.

British involvement in Kenya began late in the 19th century when, at the Berlin Conference of 1885, European nations carved up the African continent. East and southern Africa fell under the British sphere of influence. In 1888, the Imperial British East Africa Company was granted a Royal Charter to administer East Africa until in 1895 the British government established a Protectorate.

Kenya suffered a familiar imperial pattern of land theft and divide-and-rule. The occupation of land, particularly in the Kikuyu areas of the cool central highlands by European settlers was a source of bitter resentment. By 1948, 1.25 million Kikuyu were restricted to 2,000 square miles while 30,000 white settlers occupied 12,000 square miles of the best agricultural land. Settlers demanded ever more labor and attempted to turn tenant farmers into laborers. When the natives revolted, the Mau Mau were portrayed as savages by the British. Only 32 British civilians were killed by rebels. The number of Mau Mau fighters killed by the British was about 20,000 and large numbers of Kikuyu not directly involved in the rebellion were persecuted.

Many civilians took an active role in the torture of Mau Mau suspects and settler volunteers ran the concentration camps. Katharine Warren-Gash ran the women’s camps at Kamiti. There, suspects were interrogated, whipped, starved, and subjected to hard labor, which included filling mass graves with truckloads of corpses from other camps. Many women gave birth at Kamiti and buried their babies in bundles of six at a time.

The “Hola Massacre” has become part of British, as well as Kenyan history. On March 3, 1959, 100 detainees in the remote Hola camp defied orders to go to work. When the prisoners refused to pick up their spades, a prearranged onslaught began. An hour later, ten prisoners had been clubbed to death and dozens lay dying or injured.

According to Harvard historian Caroline Elkins, up to 320,000 Kikuyu—nearly a third of the population—may have passed through more than 50 camps, a figure which does not include the people, mostly women and children held behind barbed wire in the fortified resettlement villages.
In her introduction, Elkins declares: “I now believe there was in late colonial Kenya a murderous campaign to eliminate Kikuyu people, a campaign that left tens of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands dead.”

Many have found fault with Elkins. A cache of documents has now come to light, which leaves no doubt about the brutality of the British Empire in Kenya. Hanslope Park, in Buckinghamshire, contains a secret archive which would create a tower 200 metres tall if it were stacked upright. One document is a letter dated June 1957. Eric Griffiths-Jones, the Attorney General of the British administration in Kenya, wrote to the governor, Sir Evelyn Baring, advising that prisoners should in future be beaten mainly on their upper body, and that “those who administer violence … should remain collected, balanced and dispassionate,”. That prefigures Obama’s claim: “Over the last several years, my Administration has developed an effective, sustainable framework for the detention, interrogation and trial of suspected terrorists”. Sustainable torture?

The British government has long resisted the claims of the elderly Kenyans on the grounds that too much time had elapsed, that the current Kenyan government should be responsible for compensation, and that no documents existed. William Hague, the foreign secretary, now concedes that under the obligations of the Public Records Act 1958, the FCO should have assessed the documents and passed any of historical interest to the National Archives at Kew.

Legal experts in other former colonies are now weighing the possibility of suing the British government, as atrocities were committed throughout the Empire.
Neil Ascherson wrote in the New York Review of Books: “The British need to believe that their Empire was run and eventually dismantled with restraint and humanity … In the field, the security forces behaved like Germans on an anti-partisan sweep in occupied France. In the detention and work camps, and the resettlement villages, the British created a world no better than the universe of the Soviet Gulag.”

Further examination of this subject can be found at:


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