Friday, February 12, 2016

They don't want that

A linguist I know—she has a PhD in English Linguistics—once told me that Kenya has more than ninety distinct languages—which is the reason she does not subscribe to the idiocy of reducing Kenya's nationhood to forty two tribes. She must look at the recent scandals about "representation" in the public service. In Kenya it is presumed that that the forty two tribes, designated so because of linguistic identification, represent the only ethnic communities in Kenya worth recognising.

The imperial project of the British colonial government in Kenya is alive and well, fifty three years after Uhuru. I have no idea how many tribes there are in Tanzania but, unless you are the uncharitable kind, you will not argue that Tanzania is a collection of tribes; you will recognise it for the nation that it is today. Tanzania has its problems for sure—the raging fires in Zanzibar will not be put out any time soon, and despite their progressive politics, Tanzanian politicians are the fuel in the anti-albino fire in Tanzania—but it isn't riven through with self-doubt about how to affirmatively assist marginalised communities the way Kenya is.

One of the strangest things is the self-righteous stone various public actors adopt when they talk about the "face of Kenya" in public appointments. Depending on where they stand, you might be forgiven for thinking that "representation" is the only problem facing the public service and if only the forty two tribes were "well-represented in the public service"—whatever that means—Kenya will never ascend to the status of a nation.

One of the pernicious effects of British colonialism still felt today is the need for tribal competition among Kenya's ethnic communities that ignore the little inconvenient truth that were we to truly identify ourselves because of our ethnic identities, the total number of communities would far exceed the piddly forty two, and true representation would mean that public service jobs would take on the Herculean difficulty of classifying all Kenyans properly, something Prof Kobia and her Commission will never achieve, not even if they had a decade and a billion dollars to do it.

This is not the tail end of the nineteenth century when Kenya was a massive hostile territory on the way to the source of the Nile. This is the twenty first century where one of the most difficult identities to wear without a tinge of melancholy is that of a poverty-stricken, opportunity-denied Kenyan. The poor have more in common with each other than they have with the wealthy of their tribe and that they don't know it makes their situation more tragic because they are frequently lied to that their poverty and lack of opportunity are because of some other tribe or tribal warlord. The people doing the lying control capital, media and access to opportunity, and their wield these assets like nuclear weapons.

Ever since section 2A of the former Constitution was repealed in 1990, Kenya has been fed a simple lie: you are poor because of tribe X; your land was stolen by tribe X; Kenya is in the shitter because of tribe X; that if your tribe ascended to political power, your life would improve immeasurably. Micheala Wrong, the author of  It's Our Turn To It, captured it aptly in the title to her book. They will never admit that the lives of the poor will improve if they have an equal chance of access to capital and opportunity, especially opportunities to education, because that would liberate the people from the self-serving interests of the elite. Equal opportunity should be a fundamental right, but it will never be seen in that light because it would fundamentally reform Kenya and, horror of horrors, turn us into a nation. They don't want that.

Bittersweet laughter

Watching the US politicians campaign for the nominations of their parties to stand for the office of the President of the United States has been spectacularly entertaining. The political press has consistently gotten it wrong about the duration of the campaign of The Donald, Donald J Trump, a reality TV star billionaire real-estate magnate from New York who has defied conventional wisdom, pissed on good taste, riled both the liberal intelligentsia and the Establishment Conservatives for his non-traditional campaign, and tell-it-as-it-is hardass-ness. 

Mr Trump has enjoyed making Jeb! Bush look like a weakling, Ben Carson as naive, Marco Rubio as a child and Ted Cruz as a hypocrite. On the Democratic Party side, the contrasts between Bernie "Feel the Bern" Sanders and the former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, are animating the liberal mainstream media with pundits staking out their positions (and sides) with one or two upsets, like Te-Nehisi Coates saying he will vote for the Vermont senator and not, as expected of a Black Man in America, Hilary Clinton.

Looking at the buffoonish nature of the US presidential campaigns, one can't but help but feel smug about our own lot, except we are much, much worse. The US media isn't afraid of describing Mr Cruz as a "fundamentalist charlatan", Mr Trump as an "authoritarian white nationalist", Mr Rubio as a "Marcobot", or Mrs Clinton's campaign as "spinning out in glorious fashion". When they bandy about the phrases "Freedom of the press" and "the First Amendment", they really mean them and the Supreme Court has stood by them even to the point of absurdity as in the Citizens United case. In Kenya, unfortunately, thin-skinned politicians and judicial officers have wielded the power of the judiciary as a cudgel against bloggers and newspaper editors with reckless abandon in a bid to prevent unfavourable news coverage.

Worse still, political campaigns in Kenya are as opaque as they can get: there are no manifestos worth the paper they are printed on; there are no press-briefing in which candidates get to answer questions about their plans; we know very little about the source of campaign funds, but we have a very good idea nonetheless. The US campaigns may be cartoonish, but no one can accuse the candidates of hiding most things from the electorate. In Kenya, everything is a secret. Forever.

Mr Cruz and Mr Rubio have been running for the Republican nomination since February 2015. Everyone knew it. All that was unclear was when they would declare their intentions for all the world. In Kenya, the likes of Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetangula never stopped living under the delusion that they could somehow stop Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017 and have been campaigning for the CORD nomination since 5th March 2013, a campaign that has remained a secret all along, without a manifesto or a roadmap, and with the candidates keeping secrets about even simple things like whether the sky is blue or not. Not that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto and their armies of acolytes will give you a straight answer either.

Kenya's politics is a caricature of the cartoonish US one, and a grotesque distortion of the means of determining the people's will in matters of national importance. Once we elect our representatives, they more often than not become our enemies and they treat us as a threat, out to destroy their careers with our democratic demands. When their presidential campaigns begin in earnest, sadly, we will not be any more the wiser, not least like the US citizens we love to mock and lampoon.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

May Trump and Sanders prevail

If you thought that it was going to be a coronation, and there are Kenyans whose hearts will be broken because of it, it will not. Hilary Clinton will not be crowned this week as the nominee of the Democratic Party, and if she keeps getting it wrong, she will get her ass handed to her in South Carolina in the next ten days by an old, curmudgeonly Jew from Vermont who wants to launch a revolution in the United States. There are millions of young US citizens who are Feeling the Bern and who have upended the well-laid plans of the Clinton Machinery. And that is a very good thing.

There are one or two Kenyans who labour under the delusion that dynasties, political or royal—look at how they fawn at the British royal family—are a good thing, yet what Kenya has is a republican, democratic government, where dynasties went out with the felling of the Kanu hegemon in 2002. They have been celebrating the Clinton campaign as if it were a good thing for one family—just like the Bushes—to dominate the national politics of a nation such as the United States, control the national narrative frequently for personal gain, and exclude the alternative voices that instil caution in the process, such as that of Bernie Sanders, the Jewish democratic socialist who is making the Clinton coronation that much more uncertain.

Kenya was held hostage to the Moi narrative for twenty four years and there is a segment of the country's political and business classes that miss the Old Man, despite the fact that so much went so wrong for so long under him. They have done a good job of rehabilitating his reputation—with a massive dose of assistance from the leaden-footed among the neo-Kenyatta-philes in State House today. But no matter how much his reputation is sanitised, he is a very good example why for-life "appointments" for which no competition will be brooked are a bad idea. The Clintons and the Bushes are cautionary tales that Kenyans should learn from, and in-bred shenanigans of the British royals should help all right-thinking Kenyans disavow dynasties of all kinds.

Bernie Sanders and the hateful Donald Trump are important of only to remind the citizens of the "world's most powerful nation" that it is their overreliance on the Bushes and the Clintons that brought them to this sorry place. The political revolution that Barack Obama launched in 2007 will eventually sweep away the ancien regime that has refused to exit the political stage. It is only a matter of time before the British royals exit the stage and finally let the United Kingdom become a republic; the "decentralisation:" that has benefited Scotland and Wales will soon engulf the entire emerald isle. Whom will Kenyans enamoured of the royals look to for inspiration?

I hope that Trump takes the Republican nomination and Sanders takes the Democratic one, and that Sanders prevails over Trump in the general election. It will be the end of the Clinton and Bush dynasties in US national politics for at least a generation and that will have salutary effects around the globe.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Only full scale reforms will work

Kenya has a Judiciary composed of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Environment and Land Court, the Employment and Labour Court, subordinate (magistrates') courts and numerous tribunals. Kenya has a professional Bar, made up of members of the Law Society of Kenya, States Counsels in the Office of the Attorney-General and prosecutors in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. Litigants can take advantage of the relevant provisions of over two thousand statutes and innumerable Regulations, Rules and guidelines to resolve their disputes in hallowed chambers of the Judiciary. Should they wish to employ alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as mediation or arbitration, those facilities are available too. That is the infrastructure and system that we have.

So it comes as a surprise that there are those, including our President, who feel that litigation is inherently bad, especially when it interferes with their well-laid plans. Take the recent lament by the President about project delays because of litigation. It is unfortunate that the Head of Government, which Government includes the Judiciary, should object to litigation by unsuccessful bidders for public tenders where there is an allegation or suspicion that the tender was unlawfully or unprocedurally awarded.

Public tenders, whether big or small, have been notoriously problematic for over a decade. In the recent three years alone, the President's pet projects have been held up because of serious flaws in which public procurement was conducted. The most obvious, of course, is the proposal to distribute free laptop computers to all Standard One children in Kenya. Public funds have been set aside in each financial year for the programme, yet it remains unimplemented because of flaws in the tendering process, a situation that has prompted bidders to appeal every time the tender is awarded to yet another bidder. At stake are billions of shillings of public funds and it is in the President's best interests to allow the due process of law to be followed lest public funds be lost or, worse, stolen.

We are still in a transitional phase, as the troubles pin the Judiciary demonstrate, and it will still be a few years before the new systems established by the Constitution are fully operational and all their kinks worked out. If the President wishes for a speedier tendering process, he must direct his Attorney-General to advise him on the most effective procedure to be employed and the reforms required in the law to achieve that goal. It is not enough to lament that lawyers use delaying tactics to frustrate the tender process, threatening to blacklist those that are litigious; he must admit that part of the problems he is facing in public procurement are because of the inherent conflicts of interest to be found among senior members of his government and public service. Hasn't he had to fire some of his Cabinet Secretaries because of their meddling in tenders?

It is not the bidders' fault that his projects have been held up. Nor is it the lawyers' fault or the Judiciary's fault. It is a systemic flaw that he must correct, and that means a sober examination of the public procurement infrastructure, the conflicts of interest inherent in the system, and the integrity of all the players. Proposals of blacklists are all well and good, but they are solutions to symptoms not prescriptions for systemic reform. Either reform the system or stop complaining about it.

Monday, February 08, 2016

Can Waiguru win?

My friend, Njeri Thorne, will not forgive me if I don't say this: it was a just matter of time before the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission came to its senses and stopped hounding the former Devolution and Planning Cabinet Secretary, Ann Waiguru. The news that the EACC is focussing its attentions elsewhere comes in the wake of the Nairobi politics rumour mill that has it that Ms Waiguru has decided to replace Evans Kidero as the Governor of Nairobi. This is rather fitting.

Nairobi's first governor is an unusual man. Prior to his expression of interest in elective politics, he had a storied career in the private sector, having worked for a global pharmaceutical conglomerate, a national media behemoth and sugar miller. It wasn't until he took on the onerous task of turning around Mumias Sugar Company that Mr Kidero garnered the attentions of the movers and shakers of national politics and his interest in the Governor's seat was piqued. The rest, they say, is history, and what a woeful history it has been.

By the time Mr Kidero was being elected, Nairobians were well-versed with his technical qualifications, especially his much ballyhooed PhD. We were reminded over and over again that the reason Nairobi was in the shitter was because "councillors" were not properly educated nor were they interested in the technical aspects of governing Nairobi. Mr Kidero and his running mate, Mr Mueke, were the panacea for a moribund management team at City Hall. The Slap put paid to that cozy illusion. If Mr Kidero had not assaulted the Nairobi Woman Representative, Nairobians would never have come to appreciate just how out of his depth Mr Kidero was when it came to the management of the affairs of the city.

Now Ms Waiguru has decided to express an interest in the same position that has so damaged Mr Kidero's reputation as a kickass manager. She, too, comes to the game with stellar credentials, less a PhD (which she thinks it's time she completed). The Americans have a saying; fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. We've already had the disappointments of a supermanager with zero political skills and I don't think we want to repeat that experiment.

In Kenya there is a tendency to join politics at the wrong age, usually after one has turned forty and has some "executive" experience either in the public service or the private sector. Ms Waiguru is well-known in the public service, admired in the private sector and has a string of achievements to her name, notably IFMIS and the NYS transformation. She shouldn't put either on her list of achievements, unless she gets the same communications team that guaranteed Uhuru Kenyatta's election victory in 2013.

The IFMIS and the NYS are the reason why Ms Waiguru resigned from office late last year. We have been reminded many times that she was in charge of rolling it out when she worked at the Treasury. Now it turns out that it is a flawed system that was never tested and was used for the colossal 791 million shilling swindle when she was Cabinet Secretary, a sum intimately linked to the tenfold increase in the NYS operating budget to 25 billion shillings annually. If she's looking for a feather in her cap that won't raise hackles, she'd better tout the Huduma Centres that she successfully saw being rolled out throughout the country. They have turned out to be one reason why Kenyans are optimistic that grand graft can be stopped.

However, despite her moxie, technical chops, keen intellect, work ethic, kickass attitude and all-round can-do spirit, Nairobi is not for her. There is a reason why the County Assembly's members still sit on plastic seats in their chamber; they desperately need missiles to lob at each other when debate gets out of hand which is a common occurrence. But more crucially, Nairobi politics demands the kind of hardball, cutthroat, crass, by-the-balls politicking that Ferdinand Waititu, Mike Sonko and Rachel Shebesh revel in, and something that I am sure Ms Waiguru will not be able to match, especially now that Mr Kidero knows that in Nairobi, being a gentleman is an invitation to getting ones ass kicked. Ms Waiguru would have to adopt the tone and behaviour of a city councillor from the 1990s in order to become the Governor. Can she do it?

Is the KFCB useful?

Censorship does not work. Except in North Korea, maybe. What the Kenya Film Classification Board, which at one time was the Kenya Film Censor Board, attempted to do in 2014 regarding The Wolf of Wall Street, failed and failed on an epic scale. Of course the movie was a profanity-filled crass attempt at toilet humor, but there was no way Kenyans were going to watch it (save for that minority that watches absolutely everything) until the KFCB stepped it, declared that it wouldn't allow it to be screened on Kenyan cinemas, prohibited the fifty-bob DVD guys from selling it and generally promoted the crass bits of the movie.

Censorship failed in Stalin's Russia, in Mao's China, in Indira's India, in Suharto's Malaysia, in the Ayatollahs' Iran, and in Moi's Kenya. It will not work in the twenty first century because every attempt that has ever been made to limit what people can see, read, listen to or watch has failed. I am surprised that our digital government is obsessed with censorship in this day and Age - this is an Information Age.

Kenya seeks to be a developed country at some point in the next century. It will not achieve this goal if it stifles the free flow of ideas, even execrable ones like those found in the Wolf of Wall Street. To base its censorship on an ill-defined moral values' standard is to confirm that there are men and women in the government who simply have run out of fresh ideas and are instead building empires made up of rules and regulations that permit them to molest Kenyans almost will.

Look at the Wolf of Wall Street fiasco, for example. Immediately after Kenyans had wiped the tears from their eyes for laughing so hard, they found themselves an internet cafe with sufficient broadband bandwidth, created proxy servers or piggy-backed on the various Tor networks, downloaded the movie and cocked a snook at the KFCB. Kenya has one of the most advanced militaries in Africa, armed with some of the most sophisticated hardware in Africa, but it is governed by wingnuts who simply do not understand what the Information Age means and what we can gain from the free flow of information and knowledge. The KFCB is the epitome of deliberate ignorance in the ocean of information.

The KFCB lives under the false impression that pit is in the business of saving Kenyans from their moral failings and that it is responsible for saving the national Executive from public embarrassment. It is still living in the days of the Mwakenya Movement, when hundreds of Kenyans were brutally abused for publishing seditious material. The KFCB is an anachronism and we must rethink its usefulness.

Its latest power grab is truly bizarre. It is not the Communications Authority, so it cannot lawfully prevent any Kenyan from accessing content via the internet, dial-up telephone, satellite, telegram, telegraph, radio signal or TV broadcast signal. It can't even prevent Kenyans from receiving information by smoke signals! It is not the communications' regulator. It is responsible for regulating cinemas and theatres. That's it. Where it found the power to regulate internet content in the laws of Kenya remains a mystery only its chairman and CEO can explain. The KFCB's usefulness, I fear, is at an end.

Sunday, February 07, 2016

Mr Bindra strikes again

The cult of the Superboss makes us fixate on individuals rather than institutions. We await messiahs to haul us up instead of hauling ourselves up. We buy the myth of the super-being, and sit around waiting to be saved.—Sunny Bindra
As usual Sunny Bindra points out something that we instinctively know to be true but don't trust ourselves enough to square what we know with what we have been told. Mr Bindra is a keen student and observer of the managerial classes, and he writes about them with better clarity, wit and incisiveness than I ever will about the object of my study and observation, the political elite.

Ever since Jaramogi Oginga Odinga said "No" to the colonial government's attempt to keep out Jomo Kenyatta from the post-Independence government of Kenya, we have lived a political life of—the right president, the right MP, the right MCA, the right someone—so that the governance of Kenya can take us to that Canaan that just seems to be forever over the horizon, if only we could get to it. If you ask the question, Why is Kenya so tribalised? you will be reminded that Mzee and Baba Moi were "bad" presidents, that Mwai Kibaki tried, and that the gains made under Mr Kibaki are being lost because Uhuru is either worse than Moi or, alternatively, he seeks to restore the Moi School of Politics. What you may fail to notice is that the answer is predicated on the idea that only the president can save us—if only he were good!

It is true that every now and then an inspired and inspirational politician will get us to a place we never thought we could go. Love him or hate him, Ronald Reagan was the right inspirational US president when Mikhail Gorbachev considered glasnost and perestroika, Nelson Mandela was the right conscience of the world when he ended apartheid in South Africa, Thomas Sankara was the right revolutionary when he attempted to instil pride in the Burkinabe when he installed his revolutionary government in Burkina Faso, and so on. The right politician at the right time can create the circumstances needed for a nation to transition from one phase to another. But that is not all that goes into the making of a nation and the forging of a people into one.

The people, for whom the politician purports to speak, must believe that it can be done. In 2008, "Yes We Can" was a clarion call that captured the imaginations of millions and propelled a "junior senator from Illinois", in the contemptuous, curled-lip words of the Kenya's spokesman, to the pinnacle of world politics. It came to pass because those millions of US citizens believed in the vision that Barack Obama laid down for his fellow citizens. But Mr Obama was plowing in a fertile field; the United States, even with the tribal bitterness that prevails today, has some of the most robust public institutions: stable political parties, a remarkably pliable yet firm constitutional order, and the acquiescence of the people in the exercise of institutional power—even where they don't trust the institutions, as countless opinion polls continue to demonstrate.

Kenya does not have what the United States has and we are far from getting them if the almost absolute distrust and fear of public institutions is anything to go by. Barely three years after it was formed, Kenyans aren't sure that they can trust the repository of the rule of law any more. The Supreme Court, headed by a "superman" Chief Justice, is being seen as the epitome of hypocrisy. It is not the only one. Political parties, legislative chambers, public offices, state agencies and corporations, the police and the army all share two qualities that they should be ashamed of: they are distrusted by the majority of the people and they are feared in equal measure. All the supermen in the world will not make that which is distrusted and feared trustworthy or lovable if the ones required to trust and love don't have a stake.

The Chief Justice, no matter how much he has attempted to demystify the judiciary, is no closer to the people than his predecessors were. He lives in a world that is alien to the millions of Kenyans who were supposed to see a saviour in him. His fellow supermen—the president, the speakers, the governors—are just as removed from the people. The institutions they lead are designed to separate them from the people. They must shatter the cozy understanding of what national institutions must be. For want of a better example, they must become the Thomas Sankaras of the day giving up the trappings of power, and living the life that tens of millions live until the rising tides lift all boats. If they cannot, all their superhuman desires will fall on stony ground and will never bloom into nationhood.

I agree with Ms Thorne

My friend, Njeri Thorne, writes with clarity about the concrete slabs women must lift, before they break the proverbial glass ceiling, before they can be accepted as leaders. I find that there is little I can add. However, I would beg her to temper her thoughts for they don't paint a complete picture of what is a complex situation.

Allow me a personal examination of what it means to be led by women or to work for and with women. My boss is a woman. He deputy is a woman. The senior ranks of my department have more women than men, a ration of four-to-one. Those at or near my rank outnumber men three-to-one. My boss is an excellent mentor; she knows more about our line of work than almost anyone I know who does what we do. She is firm, decisive and precise. I do not know anyone who works with or for her who would describe her as "bossy" or "bitchy." Her leadership qualities are beyond compare, and if she offers you advice in the face of a contrary advice from a man, you would be best advised to take hers over the man's. She is, quite simply, the best at what she does.

Now it might be that she has had to work twice as hard to be the best at it, but I don't think so. Ever since Wangari Maathai blazed a trail as the first woman in Kenya to earn a doctorate at the University of Nairobi, capping it with being the first African woman to be bestowed with the Nobel Prize for Peace, Kenyan women have made strides in leadership positions. We shouldn't forget the path other Kenyan women have blazed; Charity Ngilu, Graze Ogot, Winnie Mitula, Martha Karua, Patricia Kameri-Mbote, Njoki Ndung'u, Maison Leshoomo, and the inimitable Oscar winner, Lupita Nyong'o. More and more women are changing the narrative that women cannot and should not lead.

I do not have to make peace with it; I have benefitted from the strong leadership by women in my life since the day I was born. It is as natural for me to see a woman in a leadership position as it is to see a man. I do not find it anomalous. I find it scandalous that fewer men than I thought possible recognise this basic truism. I was raised to respect the views of everyone regardless of their sex or gender; the only rule was that for your views to prevail they must be sound, founded on facts and evidence, and delivered with erudition and clarity. My family has more women PhDs than you can shake a stick at, more graduates than is normal for the average Kenyan family, because both sets of grandparents refused to kowtow to the cultural tropes about "educated" women and the dangers to the family unit because of that education.

It is important to point out that women make the same mistakes as men, sometimes even in the same way. There are those who abuse their power, and who use their femininity as a shield against scrutiny. few today will recall that woman head of a donor-funded HIV/AIDS programme who was convicted of embezzlement. She had walked the same path countless men had walked before and after her. She is not the only one either.

It is also important to point out that Kenya remains deeply patriarchal, and my family is an anomaly in the way daughters and sons have been treated equally. I was surprised to learn that there are more women law graduates than men for the first time, and I hope this is the beginning of the transformation of the face of leadership in  Kenya. We have had the Two-thirds Rule since 2010, yet even the Supreme Court punted on whether it could be practicably enforced. I disagreed with its cogent reasoning. I still do. Women have the same rights as men. It is that simple.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

No more negotiations

Last month a woman was stabbed in her head by her husband. It took the intervention of the local chief to have her flown to Nairobi for specialised treatment to remove the knife from her head. This month, a video has been uploaded and shared numerous times on social media platforms of a pregnant woman who was violently assaulted by her common law husband. The images of the disorientated and bloodied woman have shocked many. She is reported to have been stabbed in the stomach by her husband in a previous vicious assault for which she did not co-operate with the police in the investigation.

Last month, I can't remember by whom, a report was published on domestic assaults in Kenya. The vast majority of the victims are women, and it is strongly suggested that gender-based violence against women is very common. It has been suggested, strongly again, that men have forgotten their duties as men, especially towards the women in their lives.

Domestic violence or gender-based violence is not new in Kenya but since the advent of the internet and the proliferation of social media platforms, more and more incidents are being highlighted. One aspect of it all has been quite troubling. It is a feature of this most recent case. Whenever a husband violently assaults his wife, the women usually flees for safety. If she is courageous, she will report the matter to the police as she seeks refuge in her parents' home. More often than not, the parents will attempt to reconcile the man and the women, usually demanding "compensation" for the injuries that their daughter has sustained. What is curious is that the police usually are complicit in this arrangement, mediating the negotiations between the parents of the victim and her violator. The same phenomenon is repeated in cases of defilement, where the parents of the girl will demand compensation, especially if the below-age girl is impregnated.

Where negotiations are successful, the parents prevail on the daughter not to co-operate with the police in their enquiries. The police and the Director of Public Prosecutions usually go along with this state of affairs. It is now acceptable that in cases of domestic assault or sexual offences, prosecution is not assured. We talk about impunity but link it almost entirely to political corruption or traffic offences, but not the humdrum of domestic and gender-based violence. We encourage impunity when we allow men who assault their wives to buy their wives silence. If men know that they can buy their way out of vicious assaults, there is nothing that stops more of them taking out their anger on their wives or partners.

In the recent case, it emerges that the parents of the girl have been negotiating with the husband behind the wife's back. The father has received money as compensation. His wife, the mother, seems to have been a victim of domestic violence too and she hasn't complained to the police. This cycle has been repeated over two generations and if this latest victim carries her child to term, and if the child is a girl, will she too be taught to accept money for violent assaults by her partner when she gets married?

There are no easy answers to problems between men and women, but surely we cannot allow a situation to prevail that measures the value of women and girls in terms of money compensation and not in terms of honour and dignity. The police and the DPP must no longer be party to the negotiations that seek to sweep violence under the carpet. They must prosecute. They must make the cost of domestic violence more expensive than mere money. Those who will beat their wives or partners must lose their liberty; it is the only price that can be paid.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Traffic chaos and us

Nairobi's isn't a unique challenge. Los Angeles, London, Mumbai, Shanghai and Lagos suffer terrible traffic jams at rush hour. They have found innovative solutions for their traffic problems. The cities' leaderships are alive to the need for an efficient and effective traffic management system that accommodates all forms of transport and the needs of pedestrians.

The National Transport and Safety Authority, NTSA, states that there are 2.5 million registered private motor vehicles in Kenya. A substantial proportion of those motor vehicles are to be found in Nairobi. The Matatu Owners' Association claims that there are over 7,000 matatus and buses plying their trade in Nairobi. The total number of taxi cabs in Nairobi remains unknown, but it is possible that there are about 3,000 of them on our roads. The Kenya Railways Corporation runs commuter trains that pass through stations at Imara Daima, Makadara, Syokimau and Mutindwa (the border between Buru Buru and Umoja). Some time ago, the County Government stated that Nairobi's population was approximately 3.5 millions.

These numbers demonstrate that there is a need for an effective and efficient public transport system and infrastructure. The traffic system in Nairobi is managed by the County Government, the National Police Service and the NTSA. The infrastructure includes traffic cameras, speed cameras, dual-carriage highways and main roads, arterial roads, access roads, a mix of different kinds of junctions, roundabouts, bus stops, bus stages, bus termini, on-street parking bays, car parks, parking towers and pedestrian walkways and bridges. On paper, the system and infrastructure should cope with the numbers of motorists and pedestrians on our roads. They don't. Not by a long shot.

Nairobi has two institutions in charge of its traffic: the national government and the county government. The county government has limited policing functions and no prosecutorial powers. To move the armies of commuters to and from their places of work requires a system that melds all the forms of transport into a seamless system. Our challenges are systemic; the laws we have are enforced selectively and the structures we have are poorly maintained. If public transport was better managed, the total stock of privately owned vehicles on the road would be reduced dramatically.

Traffic works when it flows, and it is vital that at rush hour that traffic flows smoothly. Key bottlenecks such as the places where traffic enters or exits the Central Business District must be managed efficiently. This requires a judicious use of law enforcement and an imaginative redesign of the traffic flow using a combination of bypasses, roundabouts, intersections, speed traps and traffic lights.

My experience of Jogoo Road is that indiscipline is allowed to to run rampant because law enforcement is just too overstretched to cope with a proliferation of traffic offenders, principally by private motorists who have more or less turned a two-lane dual carriage way into a three-lane one. Public service vehicles contribute mightily to the chaos by refusing to use bust stops and bus stages the way they were intended, picking up and dropping off passengers in a system that ensures maximum inconvenience not just to each other, but to other road users. Pedestrian walkways have been commandeered by an army of roadside vendors who make walking a harrowing a experience for pedestrians. Finally, pedestrian walkways are poorly maintained, and during the rainy seasons are impossible to use.

Perhaps we do not need an expansion in the commuter train system; but if we are to make a decent fist of things, we must go back to basics. Petty infractions must be punished ruthlessly. Roads must be maintained proper;y, especially lane markings, traffic lights and speed cameras. Public service vehicles must not be allowed to convert busy streets into termini. A bus can't simply spend an hour stationary waiting for passengers.

Especially the county government has proven woefully inept at managing transport in the city, even though that is its mandate. It fears the political backlash of enforcing its mandate. It has always feared to upset political constituencies, such as in the solid waste management sector, and that has contributed to the chaos we experience these days when it comes to rubbish removal. Until it gets a spine, we shall continue to suffer traffic chaos.

How will it play out?

Uber is in the crosshairs of the existing taxi cab operators. With a floor of five hundred shillings per trip, it is revolutionising how Nairobians travel by taxi cab. The taxi cabs in its fleet are clean, well-driven and reliable. But it has disrupted the existing order. Uber members are now being attacked as they go about their business by members of the old order.

This is how I understand it. Uber is not exactly a taxi cab company. It is a system for arranging fares between a driver and a passenger. Uber doesn't own any taxi cabs in Kenya; it acts as an intermediary between the taxi cab operator and the fare-paying passenger. It will take a cut of the fare paid, exactly how much I do not know. There are obvious advantages. Those who sign up as drivers or users of the service must disclose their identities. Users and drivers alike rate each other; the rotten apples on either side will be weeded out. Those who behave will be rewarded.

The old order is in trouble, though. Many have been at the heart of heinous crimes. Many overcharge. Most of the taxi cabs in the old system are decrepit. The manner in which they operate is largely inefficient, contributing somewhat to the chaos on our roads by the amount of on-street parking bays they monopolise. While old taxi cab operators may have loyal customers, theirs is the way of the dinosour and if they do not change, it isn't just Uber alone that will bring them pain, but upstarts such as Easy Taxi and the other Uber imitators.

Their demands of the government have the whiff of panic about them and they must be considered carefully. The doubts surrounding the Uber payment system, and whether it contributes to the tax revenue of both the national and county governments, must be considered in full before a final decision is made.

The old taxi cab operators are a political constituency and if they feel threatened they may cause trouble for the politicians. There is something to be said about the effects of the disruption. There are many who will be out of a job, or who won't be able to make a decent living because of the loss of business to Uber and similar systems. There is an option, though: if every taxi cab joined one of the new systems, they could still operate with greater certainty. However, we must be alive to the risks too, especially uncompetitive behaviour and cartelisation of the taxi cab business which might stem the downward spiral of fares and instead, raise fares to exorbitant levels.

Depending on the way that the government responds to the protests by the old order, there is a chance that this whole thing will blow over soon enough. Nairobians too, are a funny lot. Commuters and matatu operators rejected the cashless system that the government tried to impose on them. But Nairobians who regularly use taxi cabs are a discerning lot most of the time. They want affordability, reliability and safety, but they are also loath to share their personal details with strangers. If they take to the Ubers and Easy Taxis of today in sufficient numbers, they may yet persuade the government to ignore the demands of the old order, forcing the old order to adapt to a changed market. It will be interesting to see how the Uber Taxi Wars play out.