Thursday, November 10, 2011

Why Nation Forgets the Armistice Day

The end of the World War I on 11th November 1918 is marked by the annual commemoration of the Armistice. Our politicians pay no attention to it. They think, "We have nothing to do with it. It was the white man's war." It was their war. But 44,500 black Kenyans died in it. That is not for ignoring.

These dead and others who survived, were in the Carrier Corps, a critical component of the logistics of the war. The British Army in Kenya and Tanganyika was completely dependent on the Carrier Corps. Motor lorries were in their infancy, and the reliable and efficient carriage of ammunition, food and materials depended wholly on the porters of the Carrier Corps. Over 162,000 Kenyans served in it. Kariokor in Nairobi (and Mombasa) is named after the Corps. Their Memorial is on Kenyatta Avenue, Nairobi. It calls them "the feet and hands of the army." All this is not for ignoring.

Every November, paper poppies, a symbol of the World War I battlefields in Western Europe, are sold in aid of Kenyan ex-Servicemen. My grandfather won medals in this war. Each November, I wear a poppy. Not because he was in Flanders, but for his service in Taru Desert "fields where no poppies blow." He drove railway trains between Mombasa, Voi and Makindu, as a Second Lieutenant on the Uganda Railway. He carried key reinforcements, necessary supplies and prisoners-of-war through German attacks and sabotage. He was mentioned in Dispatches.

The memorials for World War I later merged with those for World War II, 1939-1945. These ceremonies are now often held in the Commonwealth War Cemeteries. A Kenya Government representative does not turn up in Egypt, Palestine, India and Burma to pay respects to Kenyans who fell there. While in Nairobi, Government representatives who turn up at the ceremonies effectively disregard, albeit with the greatest of courtesy, the few veterans present. All this is not for ignoring.

For these wars have been major issues in our politics on the road to Independence. Treating these events as if they have no relevance for Kenya is not only an insult to our casualties and our gallant survivors, it also shows that our leaders (from 1963 to the present) have no knowledge of, or no regard for, Kenya's political past.

In the period between the two world wars, recruitment increased for the regiments of the King's African Rifles. Then, when World War II broke out in 1939, K.A.R. regiments were called up for active service in Ethiopia, Somalia, the Middle East, India and Burma. Kenyans saw service in these places. But they also saw more than service. They returned to make demands. See African Politics in Colonial Kenya :

Contribution of World War II Veterans 1945-1960 by O.J.E. Shiroya (Nairobi, Educational Research, 1992). They had fought for the freedom of Britain and were entitled to the freedom of their own country, from Britain itself. Ex-soldiers, such as Bildad Kaggia, increased opposition to colonial rule, by campaigning against the political mockery by which British soldiers were rewarded with land and money in Kenya, while he and others, Kenyan soldiers, who had fought alongside in the same war, were given neither land nor money. British soldiers returned in trains to Nairobi Station to be met by bands and official welcomes. Kenyan soldiers were disembarked one stop earlier at Embakasi Station to find their own way home. When The Colonial Times newspaper reported this, its editor, G.L.Vidyarthi was charged and sentenced to a prison term.

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The military experience of numerous Kenyans was a major factor in the Mau Mau war. Many ex-servicemen joined the Freedom struggle and served in the Mau Mau armies, mostly in leadership positions, being trained soldiers with battle experience. Their invaluable contribution took the war into five years, (1952-1956), before the British armies could bring the military challenge under control. By then, they had already caused the political pendulum to move away from colonial status to the inevitable independence of Kenya.

But in 1963 we did not honour the soldier fighters, nor other freedom fighters. The medals of their service in World War II, proudly kept for so long, slowly found their way into market kiosks and antique shops. Neglect, want and poverty brought these objects there, sold for small amounts to keep their recipients going. Our leaders did not, and do not, care. To them, 11th November is only a date so many months away from the elections in 2012.

FARC Leader Killed in Colombia | STRATFOR

Latin America analyst Karen Hooper discusses the killing of FARC leader Alfonso Cano and explains how the violence in Colombia will likely continue.

Editor’s Note: Transcripts are generated using speech-recognition technology. Therefore, STRATFOR cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, leader Alfonso Cano was killed Nov. 4 in the conclusion to what Colombian military officials have termed “Operation Odysseus.” Cano’s death deals a blow to the political leadership of the FARC and a major political victory to Colombian President Manuel Santos, but the reality of the matter is that the violence in Colombia is far from being over.

Operation Odysseus has been ongoing for months and came close to killing Cano in July when the Colombian military attacked his camp in southern Tolima department. FARC militants have been known to hide in Tolima for the past several years, using the mountainous territory and deep fog to disguise their movements from military observation. In reaction to the July attack, the FARC’s 6th and 13th fronts conducted a series of attacks on villages in neighboring Cauca department, significantly spiking violence in the area. During that period of time, Cano is thought to have been moved frequently, traveling with no more than 10 bodyguards. Some reports suggest that the intelligence that led to his demise may have come from one of those bodyguards.

There is no question that achieving the goal of taking out Cano is a tactical success for the Colombian military. It does not, however, mean the end of the FARC. FARC is organized into a number of fronts with responsibility for regional militant activities and drug cultivation and each report to the secretariat. The FARC commander therefore serves as an important decision maker within the secretariat, but he is not the sole source of leadership.

Cano himself is only the second leader FARC has ever had. He assumed his position in March 2008 after the heart attack-induced death of former FARC commander Manuel Marulanda. Cano could be succeeded by a FARC commander who goes by the nickname of “Timochenko” and who was Marulanda’s protege. However, it appears the most likely successor at this point will be Ivan Marquez. Marquez, a former politician, may be a more suitable choice to take over what is essentially a political position. The FARC maintains relationships with governments in the region — particularly Venezuela — as well as other drug trafficking organizations like the National Liberation Army, or ELN.

Though the FARC is no longer the existential threat to Colombia that it was in the 1990s, the group continues to be a tactical challenge to the government. But even if the FARC were to demobilize tomorrow, the violence plaguing Colombia would not disappear alongside it. There are a multitude of actors at play in Colombia, none of whom shy away from the use of violence. The FARC remains a key government target because of the organization’s self-professed political opposition to the government. But there is a more persistent threat presented by Colombia’s many drug trafficking organizations who have access to an ample pool of military-trained recruits and an almost bottomless supply of weaponry.

Indeed, demobilization itself means very little in Colombia when you consider that individuals of groups like the former paramilitary United Self Defense Forces of Colombia turned around after demobilizing in 2006 and joined alternative drug trafficking organizations. Paramilitary trained groups like the gang “Los Rastrojos” in Colombia do not hesitate to use intimidation and murder to influence political outcomes. With Colombia’s history of political violence, plethora of available weaponry and significant cocaine exports, with or without the FARC, the country will continue to suffer the effects of organized violence for a long time to come.

Read more: Dispatch: FARC Leader Killed in Colombia | STRATFOR