Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Women, the economy and population control.

The Government of  Kenya, both at the national and county levels, sees population growth as something to worry about, hold workshops over and run programmes to address. Therefore, there are family planning workshops, policies and programmes that draw funds from the Consolidated Fund, county appropriation Acts and development partners. Some of the non-governmental programmes are faith-based; many are not. They all seem to target women mostly, with men getting a mention only rarely. Population control in Kenya is the responsibility of the woman; so says the government, so says the church, so says our civil society sector.

My father never uttered the words "Wewe ni mjinga kama mama yako" or ever state "Wacha kulia kama mwanamke." How could he? My mother managed to obtain three degrees, head a university department and raise three sons without any of them becoming the monsters many mothers of today have to contend with. Not that my father did not play his part, though it frequently seemed to consist of him handing over his wallet and praying that there is a balance for one or two down at the Masaku Bar. My father believes that men and women complement each other, in all respects they are each others equals and partners. One cannot be without the other; the rise of the one is the rise of the other. To him, I believe, the responsibility of controlling populations, if that, rests on both men and women.

Our government, our churches and other faith-based groups, and the civil society industry seem to believe that the responsibility for population control lies mainly with women. This is stupid. First, it remains unclear why population control in Kenya is such a crisis. Even in the middle of a famine, the same government keeps reassuring us that the nation can feed itself; not that it has the potential to feed itself, but that it can actually feed itself. The challenges faced in this goal are related to the poor logistics infrastructure for moving produce from one part of the country to the other. So pressure on meagre agricultural resources is not a sufficient enough reason to limit each family to two children.

Second, the government also assures us that if Vision 2030 is successfully implemented, Kenya will be able to absorb the thousands of graduates being churned out of the growing number of public and private universities. The government calls for positive contributions from everyone, including working men and women. Therefore, the population bulge that Kenya is experiencing right now is not a threat; it is an opportunity for the greater economic advancement of Kenya and should be treated as such, not as a problem to be managed.

Third, all studies show that positive programmes designed to financially liberate women affect population growth trajectories. When women are educated, the higher their education means the later they have children and the fewer children they actually have. Part of the reason is that educated women are likely to have greater confidence in themselves and their place as equals in a family. Their growing financial strength also means that they can choose who their life partners will be; the education of a girl is a financial tool for her liberation, as a person and as a member of the family.

It is that third ground that lays to waste the stupid population control strategy that says condom-use, tubal ligation, vasectomies or chemical birth control should mainly be the responsibility of women. If the government is truly concerned about the effects of the growing population, it should ensure that more and more women are educated, that their education is not just limited to university but takes in all technical fields, that the policies and regulations for job creation or for encouraging entrepreneurship boost women's participation in the economy, and that men are not merely an afterthought in population control. In fact, increasing the economic and financial capacity of women is the only sensible population control strategy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Land Question, Redux.

In 2010 when the Committee of Experts was about to publish the final harmonised draft Constitution, it held a retreat at the Great Rift Valley Lodge in Naivasha. One of the niggling matters that was being considered was the form of government that Kenya would adopt: parliamentary, presidential or a hybrid form made up of the two. The second one was the Land Question. Four years later, we are facing the consequences of the compromises that were made at Naivasha.

We have a presidential system of government that resembles the United States'. The members of the executive are no longer members of the legislature and both work hand in hand to appoint members of the Cabinet and the Judiciary. There is one crucial difference between Kenya and the United States: the power of the Executive Branch, exercised through the President's office, the Cabinet and executive agencies, is vast, limited only by the Supreme Court and the Houses of Congress. That is the United States. In Kenya, it is unclear how vast the power of the National Executive is, because there are many "independent" commissions and offices that do not seem to be under the thumb of the National Executive: they draw their funds directly from the Consolidated Fund; their administrative affairs are not the business of the National Executive; their discipline is the preserve of Parliament; and so on and so forth.

What this means is that in the current roiled political waters, it is almost impossible to determine whether the Land Question will be settled once and for all if the National Executive and its agencies are unable to pull in the same direction. In theory, the National Executive is responsible for policy; it only has the power to implement that policy where no other institution has been created for that specific purpose. In land, therefore, it is the Cabinet Secretary who determines lands policy, but it is the constitutional National Land Commission that has the mandate of executing that policy. Moreover, while the Commission may advise in the development of policy proposals, it is not for the Commission to decide what the policy shall be; its job is to execute the policy once the policy has been set by the Cabinet Secretary.

But the Land Question has not been settled since 1959, when the Emergency came to an end and the colonial government realised that it could no longer afford to hold on to the Kenya Colony. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first Prime Minister and President, did not do much to solve it, but he did a lot to benefit some areas while others languished. The settlement schemes overseen during his presidency benefitted tens of thousands of Kenyans. But when he failed to tackle squarely the question of what to do with the Million Acre White Highlands, the principal reason for the Mau Mau war, Mzee guaranteed that Kenyans would kill each other over land for the next forty years, and so we have.

Uhuru Kenyatta has the chance to avoid the legacy problems that his predecessor, and late father, suffers. For once, given that the Government of Kenya has failed for forty years to resolve the Land Question, it is time to admit that the National Executive has too many vested interests whose entrenched opposition to any reforms have made the problem almost intractable. The President and his Cabinet Secretary could begin by throwing their weight into formulating a policy that empowers the Commission, whittles down the power of the entrenched vested interests, and raises the costs to those interests the longer the status quo prevails. Second, the President could beef up the capacity for investigating and punishing land-related crimes, especially historical ones. If he could demonstrate his commitment by supporting the Director of Public Prosecutions when he goes after the Big Fish, it will give the entrenched vested interests the signal they need to shift their weight off of their opposition to land reforms.

Finally, despite the financial and international implications, the President must demonstrate that he will support all efforts to settle all native Kenyans on viable, arable land first before he goes for outside investors. This is not to say that only black Kenyans should benefit; that ship has sailed. If you were born in Kenya and you hold Kenyan citizenship, you should enjoy right of first refusal before Chinese, Emirati, British or Indian investors get a look in. Mr Kenyatta has a chance to leave a lasting, positive legacy. He should seize it.

Yeah, Kigali!

Kigali, Rwanda. In a short career, I now find myself staring at the beautiful hills of the up-and-coming investors' paradise. The hills are beautiful. The streets are suspiciously clean; how can anyone resist that powerful urge to simply drop that annoying banana peel so that the one behind you has a spill and a fall? How can they remain so calm in their infernally smooth traffic jams?

I have no profound things to say about Rwanda or the Rwandese. You all seem to have profound things to say about them. I have a much different measure of a place: can they make rice-and-beef-stew that doesn't taste like ass? Sadly, no. They are like those inexplicably bad Embu eateries that go out of their way to attract the attentions of the public health authorities for how diarrhhoea-inducing their meals are.

The people are polite, though a little aloof. I get the impression that they don't like being looked as some specimen of wonder. I get the impression that all people will associate with Rwanda for the next fifty years will not be the economic miracle they are, but that in a hundred days of violence twenty years ago, they descended into hell. The young ones I have seen have the de riguer jeans-and-tees, but they don't seem to be having fun; they seem to be forcing themselves to have fun. It is not fun to watch.

I have done the unthinkable and booked a hotel with an agent I do not know and checked in without the required serikali handholding that I have so come to loath. Hell, I tested the national ID as a travel document. It worked, after a fashion. I guess the immigration people knew I had used my shiny, barely used passport last time and were wondering why I wasn't employing it this time round. After all I had collected the entry/exit stamps then. If I admit that it is because I forgot it...

The Kenyan side of the immigration dance, as always, is pretty intimidating. If you are black, you are handled with a great degree of suspicion. If you are Kenyan, that suspicion is twice what is even considered polite. I wonder if they wonder at how a scruffy Kenyan like me would be able to afford the minor inconvenience of an empty bank account for the opportunity to experience the famed Kinyarwanda hospitality. Or whether I'll bring home drugs. Or Ivory; ivory seems to be the big thing these days. Either way, they are not very gentle with the Kenyan flying abroad.

The Rwandese aircrew and the Rwandese customs and immigration people are aloof, but not hostile. I like that. The hotel receptionist is aloof, but she won't say no with a sneer at my meagre dollars. The barman, on the other hand, is very generous with the cigarettes and the matches. It is going to be an OK trip.

I met a girl.

I met a girl. Actually, I met two girls. Though the second one is not really a girl; she only wishes she was a girl. The former is special. Not like that; get your head straight. She just is. The other is the green grass in the snake; she will smile while she sticks a stiletto in your back. So I met two girls, and I am pretty sure that one or the other is going to be my ruination.

The special one has a quality that is quite intoxicating. She occupies more mental bandwidth than is good for my sanity. She occupies an outfit such that it is impossible to walk with her down the street; the desire to let her take a few steps forward so that I can admire the wiggle of that ass is sometimes overwhelming. I have a feeling that in twenty years when my desire to justify every bad decision I have ever made I shall wish to pen a memoir. I intend to devote several long paragraphs, maybe even a chapter, to the wonders of that wiggle. Whoever decided to add Lycra to denim and invented the skinny jeans deserves a special place in heaven because, Damn! that girl can fill out a pair!

The bitch, on the other had, is not intoxicating, though she occupies a substantial amount of mental bandwidth too. How can anyone take such perverse pleasure in being a bitch. If she was a rocket scientist, I could somehow understand her degree of bitch-ness. But she doesn't. All she is, as far as I can tell, is the gatekeeper. She decides who gets to see he-who-shall-not-be-named. She decides what documents come before him for approval. She decides the form certain documents shall take before they are placed before him. If all she did was to gatekeep, we would leave it that. But she goes out of her way to make sure that whatever it is that you are looking for, whether it is an official response or an approval, will only come after you have kissed her ass. Sometimes I wonder whether she intends the ass-kissing to be literal.

Two experiences in the space of a week and it is clear that there are people who are inherently good and there are those who are inherently assholes. The gatekeeper is a bitch, which is just the female version of an asshole. If she wasn't a bitch, she'd probably have more friends and not take her lunch all alone at her desk. And there would definitely not be some pissed off civil servant ion Rwanda supposed to be enjoying himself writing unflattering things about her pockmarked, over-made up face, sagging tits or the whiff of desperation in her attire. Skinny jeans were not invented with her in mind.

So, really, I met the one girl and encountered the other. The girl I met had coffee with me and...you don't really need to know. The girl...bitch...I encountered will not be getting compliments anytime soon. She will have my undivided attention. Not in a nice way neither.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Political liabilities.

He is well within his rights to nominate Chirau Ali Mwakwere and Robinso Njeru Githae to the diplomatic corps. The President needs men he can trust in the capitals that he considers important. He demonstrates his seriousness of purpose by the men he sends to these world capitals. Washington, D.C. is an important capital, hence his nomination of that stalwart of the Mount Kenya region, Mr Githae. Tanzania is a strong partner in the tourism sector, hence Mr Mwakwere's intended gladhanding in Dar es Salaam.

Kenyans have long forgotten that Mr Githae extolled the virtues of rodents as sources of proteins in the anti-famine efforts of the national government. We accepted his rationale and moved on. It seems the good folks of Ndia did not find his suggestions helpful. Nor the people of Kirinyaga, generally. They chose other people to represent them at the National and County levels. Mr Mwakwere, on the other hand, had a rather colourful encounter with members of the salacious bits of Kenya's press. His earthy vocabulary on that occasion made him stand out. In Tanzania he will cut quite the diplomatic figure.

We should all relax; Messrs Githae and Mwakwere will not be deciding foreign policy any time soon. Their job is to execute the President's directives. Mr Mwakwere will not be having tea with President Kikwete unless President Kenyatta says it is OK to do so. Mr Githae will not phoning Foggy Bottom to follow up on this, that or the other, unless Karanja Kibicho communicates in minute detail what he will say, in what tone he will say it and to who he will say it. Being an ambassador, even the Smith Hempstone kind, means doing what you are told by your head of state to do without question. Otherwise you can try your luck in the private sector or elective politics.

There are those who are less charitable, though, and they will remind the President that one is known by the company one keeps. Many claim, without a shred of proof or an iota or persuasive facts, that he has been keeping company with odious men. One of them has recently won an election without a ballot being cast in his favour, a thing not seen since the 1988 KANU elections. So he will be judged by his nominees for ambassadorial and high commissioner positions. Whether these men are competent will not matter much than how they acted when they had power. Their past actions are proof of their future intentions. What they do outside the strict parameters of their diplomatic remits will reflect on the President and because they have had wobbles in the past, their futures, and that of the President, do not appear so rosy, Kenyans no longer being the optimists of 2003.

The Americans call it patronage. So do we. It is a political tool that buys a President political capital. But it can also cost a President credibility in other venues where he needs political capital too. Why couldn't he have sent the who worthies to Jamaica or Barbados  or one of those beachfront isles of leisure where they couldn't set any political fires? Washington and Dar es Salaam, despite the Chinese Adventure, are critical capitals. Washington DC is the political channel to New York and, by extension, London, the financial centres of a globalised world. Dar es Salaam, eventually, will be the only partner against Islamism along the East African Coast. Neither of these men is well-suited to the role, even if they are backed by teams of geniuses and experts. They simply don't have the stuff. They are political liabilities.

This is not 24.

Militarising policing in Kenya's forgotten bits is not the answer to the al Shabaab Question, the Land Question or the Referendum Headache. The entire Northern Frontier is essentially one big Kenya Defence Forces theatre of war. Nairobi is getting its very own military unit whose mandate remains remarkably murky. The National Government approved the deployment of military units in "key highways" but we still have no idea how they decided which highways are "key" and which ones are not.

Perhaps this is the changing face of policing in Kenya after the slow-puncturing of the place of the National Intelligence Service in keeping Kenyans' safe. Militarising civilian intelligence gathering has made every solution to a public safety question a military solution. The army is a broad sword; the police should be the scalpel. In Kenya, the police is more like a sledgehammer and every problem it encounters is a Big Nail That Must Be Hammered. In that environment, the subtlety of intelligence-gathering, analysis, and interpretation are lost to the men and women at Vigilance House and, lately, Jogoo House.

John Michuki is mostly responsible for the conversion of the police into a quasi-military force. He built up both the Administration Police and the General Service Unit to more than twice their size. The Administration Police got military-style combat equipment; the GSU expanded to a size that was too big for it to be used as a special tactic police unit. The role of the APs also changed; they were no longer used as the main element of support for the Provincial Administration but they started playing a key role in policing, further eroding the idea of the police as a purely civilian institution.

We have now come full circle, especially so in the last year. After Westgate, when it because apparent that the regular police had few specially trained units who could respond in force and at speed, the decision to simply give the job to the military seemed an obvious one. It is as if the people making decisions made this decision from watching episodes of 24! Many of the them are under the mistaken idea that force of arms alone is sufficient to pacify the nation, bring down violent crime and terrorism, and keep the civilian population safe. What they have done, instead, is to water down the military's mandate from the defence of the homeland from external military threats to the corralling of the civilian population for the purpose of the continuation of the State.

Every time militaries have been engaged in policing of restive civilian populations, such as is happening in the Northern Frontier and the Coast, they have inevitably gotten involved in politics and then they have inevitably decided that they are better disciplined and capable of running things better. Militarising policing will have very bad long term outcomes. Even if there is never a military coup against the civilian government, the risks of swatting political mosquitoes with army sledgehammers only continue to grow. Words like treason will be bandied about. Privacy will be eroded away like water against a stone. Public safety will be forgotten. National security will dominate the conversation. Eventually we will have a war of our own here in our homeland. And it will be against the army, not a foreign invader.

I hope he resigned.

No one resigns in Kenya. No one who controls a budget of seventeen billion shillings resigns in Kenya. Ever. They either die in office or they are fired. Anyone who believes that Major-General Michael Gichangi "resigned for personal reasons" as Director-General of the National Intelligence Service is living in a fool's paradise. He was fired, so the pundits and the men with the inside knowledge tell one and all.

But what if he did resign, and that his resignation was indeed for personal reasons? This would be a first modern Kenya. Senior public officers controlling billions of shillings do not simply resign. They will die in office if that is what it takes. Should one care to examine the list of State and public officers and parastatal bosses who have died in office over the last twenty years, they will swiftly disabuse themselves that there is a core sense of honour at that level. Mr Gichangi might very well be the first honourable State officer to resign his office.

The State of Kenyan intelligence remains shrouded in mystery in a hall of smoke and mirrors. Perhaps that is a necessity; after all spies do not go around telling one and all that they are spies and what they are up to. Mr Gichangi has been blamed for the failing to warn the right people at the right time of terrorist attacks. he has been accused of incompetence for failing even to identify the men behind the sugar smuggling into Kenya that has done so much to undermine the stability of the sugar sector. He has been accused of failing to keep an eye on the "local political networks" that have taken leaves out of al Shabaab's handbook and sown so much mayhem in Lamu, Mombasa, Moyale, West Pokot and Turkana. In all this he has kept his head down and remained silent like the Sphinx.

By all accounts Mr Gichangi has been a competent intelligence boss. While the National Police and the Defence Forces have been riven with internal grumbling about tribalism, corruption and abuse of office by senior officers, the National Intelligence Service has not suffered embarrassing leaks about its operations. I suspect that the leaks about timely intelligence that was ignored is a campaign being waged by some loyal intelligence officers who did not wish to see their boss unfairly cashiered for failings that were not his or his agency's fault.

Then there are the rumours that Mr Gichangi is being looked at askance because of his hand in the indictments of the President and Deputy President at the International Criminal Court. Their supporters argue that Mr Gichangi and his agency should not have co-operated with the Waki Commission nor should they have honoured Mwai Kibaki's commitment to the ICC Prosecutor of "full co-operation." By following lawful orders, Mr Gichangi has been painted in a bad light. The irony does not escape me.

I hope that Mr Gichangi resigned and was not pushed out. For a former fighter pilot, he was remarkably restrained. Fighter pilots are not known for their modesty; they are superstars of the air and they know it. Mr Gichangi has comported himself in all his public dealings with dignity. An excellent example was what happened during the Westgate siege. Rather than posture in front of the cameras like his colleagues in the security establishment, he kept a very low profile. When Kenyans exposed the lies and misinformation the others were feeding the public, it is remarkable how fast they turned on the intelligence boss, while it is their missteps that brought them ignominy. If he resigned, it I hope it is because for once an honourable man was unwilling to remain in a room where he was treated like a skunk for doing the right thing in the right way.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Raw.

Perhaps it is because it is Friday that I have turned my thoughts to someone special. If you have not met her, I am so sorry. If you have, and you are a man, keep your mitts off her. And if you are a woman, yeah! she's all that and a million bucks!

Men are idiots when it comes to women. And that is a good thing. Life would be so much harder if we knew exactly what they wanted, how they wanted it and when and in what form. Life is hard when you don't have to try; it is why the War of the Sexes will never be worn; not when we are discovering new gender permutations we never thought possible a generation ago. Can you imagine what would happen if I knew what She meant when she said what she said three weeks ago especially in That Tone of Voice? I didn't. Thank God! because I am still here, She is still here, and I still keep on bugging the stuffing out of her.

Men are not as simple as they make themselves out to be, however. So She too has her fair share of surprises. Some are within the realm of the tasteful; most of mine have strayed so far from the tasteful line, I wonder if She is working on the most elaborate method of despatching me to meet my maker. I would blame he if she was; after all, it is so not cool for your attention to wander when you are with Her, is it? Not even when it is an armed robbery in progress; only She deserves attention, you hear?!

There are limits to how much bending and contorting to compromise that either of us are prepared to do. I suspect that men are prepared to bend over till they can kiss their own asses and then some more. Women, I am not so sure. That wackjob that got acid flung in his face clearly did not know that the limits his sugar banana was prepared to tolerate were hair-trigger short. She, by the by, seems willing to tolerate a lot. I on the other hand, keep finding new limits to get over. I can't say it has done my system of neurons any good; they feel, these days, like they have spent each second being zapped by steadily increasing voltages of electricity: RAW! But what can I say? I made a rather beautiful bed and only an Act of God is going to yank me out of it, bankruptcy, impeachment and the Hounds of Hell notwithstanding.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

It's not about security. It's more insidious.

It is not security that rouses Inspector-General Davide Mole Kimaiyo and his National Police Service to rope off large swathes of public spaces. Every public building which houses a ministry, department or agency of the government or any arm of the government has a complement of police to guard the building. I used to think that the reason these places had armed police was because they contained deep government secrets that would jeopardise the security of the State if they were revealed. So the State and its government deployed armed police to keep its secrets safe.

I also believed that the men and women who worked in these places were valued by their government, and that their security and safety was of paramount importance. If you were a bad man and you intended to cause a civil servant harm, the armed police would dissuade you about targetting the civil servant while he was in his place of work.

How naive! These are all rational reasons for the continued shrinking of public spaces available to the public. Of course, enhanced security measures are needed in the wake of Westgate, Mpeketoni and Mombasa. Of course government building contain secrets that must be protected. And of course civil servants must be protected when delivering services to the people. But these reasons do not explain the active hostility of the government towards its people.

A clue lies in how the government treats its poor and how its security measures are directed overwhelmingly at the poor. Take Nairobi as an example. A cosmopolitan city, it's population is estimated at about four million people. It's population of the poor is quite likely half of that, spread out in low-cost estates and slums. Nairobians who came up in Eastlands know these low-income estates very well: Ofafa Jericho, Jerusalem, Makongeni, Makadara, Maringo, Kaloleni, Shauri Moyo, Mbotela. They are also very familiar with the slums: Mathare Valley, Korogocho, Kibera, Mukuru.

Areas where the poor reside are startlingly similar: electricity and piped water connections are notable for their absence; social facilities such as schools, healthcare centres, police stations, playing grounds, markets, roads, sewerage systems, drainage systems, footpaths, street lights - all the things that contribute to a civic system are missing. When crimes are committed by residents against residents, first there is not place to report the crimes and, second, if a report is successfully made, the police will not investigate, the public prosecutors will not prosecute. As a result, crime is rife in these areas. And as a result, there is no incentive to "civilise" the poor; it is easier for the government and the rich to exclude them from the "other" Nairobi.

This has been achieved rather easily. First, public transport was "liberalised". The old subsidised system was run down and then moth-balled. The cost of public transport is beyond the reach of a majority of the poor in Nairobi. One only needs to drive along Mombasa Road in the morning and evening to see the armies of the poor marching off to work. With expensive public transport, few of the poor will venture into the city centre or the districts where the rich reside.

Second, public places were made as hostile as possible to the poor. If you wish to gain access, for example, to Sheria House, or the Kenyatta International Conference Centre, or Nyayo House, you must undergo enhanced scrutiny by the armed policy and the private security who complement them. You must state your name, provide proof of identity, empty your pockets, and finally state what your business is. It is meant to be as humiliating as possible. It is meant to intimidate. It is very effective at keeping the poor out. Once you get past the armed guards, you must get past secretaries and clerks who, sometimes it seems to be deliberate, will withhold vital information needed to complete your transaction.

Third, because the poor are likely to be on foot wherever they go, where they walk is slowly being stolen from them. The city centre is demarcated by Tom Mboya Street; one half is for the poor and they are not welcome in the other half. Look at the ridiculous ropes Inspector-General Kimaiyo has deployed outside public buildings and how this has inspired everyone else. These security measures do not affect motorists; they affect people who have walked long distances. The additional spikes we have placed to prevent people from sitting down and the sneaky removal of public benches simply tells us that the poor are not welcome in the posher bits of the city centre. We have established a hostile and disengaging urban scenery and employed a hostile architecture designed to exile the poor from our sight and we wonder why the poor refused to sympathise with us when our friends were murdered during the Westgate siege.

The Ebola Risks.

The managers at Kenya Airways are in an untenable position. IN March, the airline reported a 3.77 billion shillings half-year loss because of the insecurity-driven drop in passenger numbers. Now it must contend with Ebola in West Africa, one of its lucrative African routes. It must fly for as long as it can or the knock-on effects of cancelling flights will guarantee that it comes out of the red farther in the future than planned.

Our problem with this profit-driven scenario is that the risk of an Ebola outbreak in Kenya rises every time passengers from West Africa disembark in Nairobi. South Korea is so concerned about onward transmission from Kenya that its national carrier has suspended flights to and from Kenya. In our own peculiar way, we are dealing with the Ebola threat, even as the World Health Organisation warns that the risks of an outbreak in Kenya are staggeringly great: the Ministry of Health has taken this opportunity to make a play for a half-a-billion shillings; the Cabinet Secretary for Health has "briefed" the President on the crisis; and Parliament seems of a mind to make portentous and ponderous declarations that provide little logical or rational guidance. (I am talking about you, Mr Okoth from Kibra.)

As with drugs traffickers, terrorists, sugar smugglers and foreign workers, we know that if there is an Ebola outbreak in Kenya it will be because someone at our border control points let Patient Zero into the country after trousering a fat stack of green. We may have the best disease surveillance and response system but it is useless if the men and women who are our first line of defence have filthy lucre on their minds than the safety of the people.

If the Ebola outbreak is insufficient to concentrate the minds of policy-makers fighting corruption, then there is no hope we will ever triumph over the civic disease. Uhuru Kenyatta has made several statements caviling against corrupt officers in the public service. He has even spoken out against the ones in his very own Office of the President. Mumo Matemu has promised Big Fish will be prosecuted. Keriako Tobiko has done the same too. Willy Mutunga assures us that his Judiciary will play its role. So too have David Kimaiyo and his National Police Service.

Yet when one looks at the anti-corruption landscape, ones heart sinks sickeningly. When foreign naval vessels interdict a drugs-smuggling dhow in the high seas near Kenya's territorial waters, its officers are so concerned about the integrity of the Kenyan police that they destroy the entire consignment while still at sea. When Kenyan naval vessels interdict such a dhow, there is a massive show of hauling the whole haul to a warehouse "guarded" by armed police while rumours circulate that what is being "guarded" is wheat flour, the drugs having been "repatriated" elsewhere between the dhow and the warehouse.

The Judiciary took in a very large chunk of the national revenue between 2011 and 2013. Recent revelations of the abject working conditions of magistrates should sober everyone up about the appropriateness of granting the Judiciary financial autonomy. Half-completed judiciary projects raise many fundamental questions about the integrity of the judiciary's officers and staff. We will not even try and go into the seriousness of the Matemu Commission's investigations or the DPP's prosecutions of Big Fish; Kamlesh Pattni is a free man, the architects of AngloLeasing and Triton roam free. President Kenyatta's anti-corruption credentials are notable by their heavy rhetoric and light impact.

The institutions that should keep Ebola at bay cannot be trusted. Our national carrier will keep flying to Ebola hotspots because it is financially the only thing it can do to turn a profit. Our border entry points will continue to operate with officers interested in greenbacks than anything else. The Ministry will do what all ministries do: it will seek to fatten its wallet without doing a thing. When - not if - the outbreak happens, I wonder how long it will be before the "investors" flee with their "investments" for the opportunities in Johannesburg or Bloemfontein.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Nairobi traffic and mental health.

Having "mental problems" in Kenya is no joke. I am not talking about the men, women and children who require psychiatric intervention and psychological support as they navigate the confusing neurons of their brains using therapy and chemicals. I am talking about the most stressed out lot on God's Green Earth: the driving public of Nairobi. Whether we admit it to ourselves today or are simply waiting for the day our parents, siblings, co-workers or lovers find us in a foetal position, driving in Nairobi is bad for our continued mental health.

Allow me to speculate mightily about things of which I am totally ignorant. There are, unless the High Court, Court of Appeal and (its bete noire) the Supreme Court say otherwise, two new additions to the National Assembly. Without proof whatsoever, I shall declare that these two men have held driving licenses for some years. I'd now like to dig a hole in which I am standing and declare that the new representative for Mathare has or has had a driver for a considerable portion of his driving past, but that fellow in Gatundu South, for whom an election proved unnecessary, has never had a driver and is quite unlikely to get one any time soon.

I say this without a shred of humility: glaring at the online profiles of the two new waheshimiwa, you get the sense that while the Mathare guy might have spent a little too much time under mummy's religion-infested thumb, he is at heart a rather pleasant fellow. He smiles. A lot. Toothily too in his campaign photos. He doesn't look the sort that would hurt a fly. Actually he doesn't look the sort that you would suspect of anything bad. His recent election - and his previous attempt - puts a giant question mark over his apparent goodness, but still, a nice guy.

But that Kiambu guy is another kettle of fish. He also smiles toothily in his campaign material. But you get the sense that it is not a smile of joy or glee like that of the Mathare chap. This Kiambu guy has a smile that is reminiscent of the Sicilian mafia hitman whose contract has been settled in full. I think the reason for the two apparently different personalities is Nairobi traffic.

For some reason, Nairobi is not defined by order or chaos, but by apparent order out of chaos. Traffic lights work, but no one obeys them. Traffic signs are frequently erected, but they always end up in scrap yards of one form or the other. Road markings are notable by their absence or incomprehensive design. Driving schools abound, but anyone who thinks ten hours are enough to be proficient in the operation of mechanised vehicles needs mental health care more than I do. The rules are a confusing mishmash of national and county ones and a hodgepodge of enforcement agencies: National Police, Administration Police, on rare occasions, Kenya Defence Forces, Nairobi County Inspectorate, National Transport and Safety Authority, and matatu crews of dubious qualification. So it is any wonder we do not slaughter each other using our vehicles or the firearms we seem to acquire like candy these days.

Those who are driven to work, whether it is by chauffeur-driven personal limo or by public transport monsters, are considerably less likely to arrive at their destination with a homicidal desire to take out their motoring frustrations on someone else. There are exceptions of course; if you are one of the sad people who have to experience an Umoinner, Utimo, Mwamba, Forward Traveller...a dozen crowded and stuffy moving discotheques from the farther, violent bits of Eastlands, you might be even more homicidally frustrated than the equally sad people who own Imprezas with massively loud exhaust systems but who can't exceed the 15kph speed limit that Nairobi seems to impose on traffic, never mind what the signs actually say.

It is frustrating to discover that everything you have been taught since you were taught about right and wrong, respect and courtesy, greed and need, matters for shit when it comes to moving several tonnes of steel and rubber from point to point in the name of commuting. Every chance you get to make the other guy's life miserable, you must take because he will not be grateful that you showed him any courtesy. Any chance you get to get away with chancy draining, you must take otherwise you will be taken for a complete dolt. And when it all goes tits up and you have a chance to flee, please do so or the innocent bystanders will take the opportunity to relieve you of your valuables and, in certain extreme cases, your life. There is a mental health epidemic coming; I hope the mental health authorities of Kenya have started building facilities for the flood that is surely coming. If we are electing men who think that foreskins as metrics of governance are things that should be published, that day may be closer than you think.

No better than councillors.

opinion. n. 1. ~ (about/of/on sb/sth) (that ... ) your feelings or thoughts about sb/sth, rather than fact. 2. the beliefs or views of a group of people. 3. advice from a  professional person.
The Supreme Court may give an advisory opinion at the request of the national government, any State organ, or any county government with respect to anything concerning county government. ~ Art 163(6), Constitution of Kenya
The definition and the highlighted Article of the Constitution are important to better understand whether or not the Senate is talking out of its ass over the making of laws. In this case, the Senate has accused the Attorney-General of siding with the National Assembly in sidelining the Senate in the enactment of laws because all laws are laws that concern county government. They have extrapolated an advisory opinion on the Division of Revenue Bill to all Bills passed by the National Assembly. That is not what the Supreme Court said.

The Speaker of the National Assembly has been of no help. When he declared that the opinions of the Supreme Court were not binding, technically he was correct, but it was stupid thing to say in the middle of a political battle of wills between the National Assembly and the Senate. Now the Senate is trying to enlist the help of the Attorney-General in this on again, off again war between the two legislative chambers.

A rational examination of the facts should sort out the Constitutional wheat from the political chaff. It all boils down on the core mandates of the institutions in question. In Articles 95 and 96, one can sense the relative importance the Committee of Experts between the National Assembly and the Senate. Article 95 is replete with declarative phrases: "represents the people", "deliberates...and resolves issues", "determines", "exercises oversight" and so on and of forth. The phrasing in Article 96 in relation to the Senate is more tentative; there is a lot of "the Senate shall participate in..."

The Supreme Court is yet to examine the meaning of "a matter concerning county government." The self-serving justifications of the Senate are yet to be interrogated robustly before the Supreme Court. If the matter comes up for an advisory opinion, this is what the Supreme Court should say: while it is true that the broadest meaning should be applied to that phrase, from a practical point of view, a narrower meaning should be applied. The phrase should be understood in the context that where an act of the national government directly affects a county government, how it is governed, its administrative stability and such like, that is the time when the advisory opinion of the Supreme Court regarding that act should be sought. But not when the act is of a more general nature such as the enactment of a national law.

The Senate has failed to perform its duties faithfully. It has strayed far from its core functions. Its members' desire to be more relevant in the current political climate has blinded them to their legislative excesses. The Senate has demonstrated a spectacular myopia about devolution; it has done nothing to strengthen county government or county governance. It has hamstrung governors by entertaining incredibly idiotic schemes to impeach some of them. It has refused to cashier the National Executive for its meddlesome antics in the counties. It has so strayed from its proper constitutional place that it is only a matter of time before we start viewing the Senate as a superior version of the gangrenous limb we amputated from our body politic when we buried the local government for all eternity. They may have PhDs and some may be professors while others killed it in senior civil service positions of power and authority, but until they get their shit straight, Kenya's Senators, bar one or two true geniuses, are no better than MCAs or the unlamented councillors.

So many laws, so little benefit.

In a state where corruption abounds, laws must be very numerous. ~ Tacitus (56AD - 117AD)
Kenya is a major manufacturer of laws and the Constitution has become the principal raw material for some of the stupidest statutes ever conceived by bored lawyers. Under the misconception that every Article of the Constitution that contains the statement "Parliament shall enact legislation...", Parliament, the National Executive and special interest groups have drafted Bills to address matters of such infinitesimal stupidity as who can and cannot fly the national flag, the stoning to death of a foreigner convicted of sodomy, and a ban on county governors from using the honorific "Your Excellency."

When the Committee of Experts sat down to harmonise all the draft constitutions produced since the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission wound up its work, they were under the gun to get the harmonisation over and done with in the shortest possible period. Therefore, rather than act surgically, excising the constitutional detritus of little value, they published a document that runs to almost 90,000 words. It contains every conceivable constitutional conceit that the Committee could think of. In its two hundred and sixty Articles, it tries to reverse the constitutional problems that had bedeviled Kenya for forty years. It is the inspiration for the reckless legislative overreach we are witnessing today.

Legislatures in Kenya have taken this lesson to heart. Nairobi County's assembly has copied, word for word - even with the patently unconstitutional provisions regarding property, liberty, and due process - the Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2010. In its desire to raise revenue, the Nairobi County government has looked to the fee-raising provisions of the national law and decided to blindly follow suit. When the Nairobi County Alcoholic Drinks Control Act, 2014, is challenged in the High Court and most of it is thrown out, I have no faith that sanity will prevail among the City Fathers; the county government will look for an alternative route to raising revenue from the sale of alcoholic beverages in Nairobi City. They will double down and seek to "address the issues raised by the High Court" or they will mulishly appeal until the Supreme Court slaps them down with finality.

One of the reasons that we are writing so many laws to address our challenges is that we have absolutely no faith in institutions, even the very ones we establish using the numerous statutes we enact. What we want - the only reason we enact statutes with drunken-sailor wild abandon - is the opportunity to siphon public monies from the National Treasury. The number of agencies, corporations, committees and task forces we establish is simply staggering. Even after Uhuru Kenyatta appointed yet another task force to cut down the number of agencies and whatnot, the number keeps growing by the day. What they all have in common are provisions for "appropriations by Parliament" of their funds and such lax financial management provisions it is a wonder we haven't yet bankrupted the state.

Most of these statutory bodies are unnecessary. If we honestly acknowledge that corruption is hollowing out the State, we may yet take the right steps to control it, maybe even eradicate it. Right now the people themselves have a love/hate relationship with corruption. They will say the right things against corruption, but parents will still pay bribes to secure for their children jobs in the public sector. We will enact laws to establish bodies to perform a duty that was being badly and corruptly performed by another body and act surprised when the new body does its job badly - and corruptly. Look at the anti-corruption agencies we have established, all of them with their "integrity issues". John Harun Mwau's Kenya Anti-Corruption Agency, Aaron Ringera's and PLO Lumumba's Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and Mumo Matemu's Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission. Not one of them is or was trusted. And yet they consumed billions in "exercising their mandates." We are corrupt. So we enact laws to pretend that we are not corrupt.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Friends.

Celebrating friends is hard when you are the dullest knife in that drawer. It is twice as hard when their successes are the bright light that exposes your shortcomings. It is positively masochistic when even by the lax modern standards, you have amounted to pitifully little. It is, however, a joy to celebrate true friends because their successes are your successes, their triumphs are your triumphs, their victories are not a mirror to your defeats. It is the rare friendship that gives one a sense of self-worth and belonging. It even rarer to be replicated in different and differing relationships across genders, age-groups and social classes.

I am in the happily enviable position of having few true friends. There are the three who are fathers with whom I was admitted to the Bar. Their careers are flourishing as their families grown in size and number. There is the couple that smile when I see them. That has been the weirdest thing ever; who could be happy to see me, except my grandmother? There are the two loud ones, ironically from the same bit of the Rift Valley. Intelligent and belligerent in equal measure, they bring to mind a volcano that is simmering and one thing or another will bring it to a very loud, boisterous boil. Then there is she whose myriad stories I am having a hard time keeping track of but still valiantly trying to do so . She is like no one else I know. Which is odd because I thought that I had met every kind there was to meet. There are those I see only rarely because of what I'd like to think is a busy schedule but is probably a spectacular degree of sloth. There are others I'm in business with only because I like them. friends one and all that I hope will enjoy continued good fortune.

Then there are those I never thought I would ever befriend. Work colleagues whose sense of humour continues to be unrivalled, whose sense of duty is unparalleled and whose generosity continually takes my breath away. It is no surprise I found all of them incredibly beautiful and on one or two occasions of insanity allowed my mind to wander beyond the strict professional confines of my employer's business. Thank God, sanity is known to run especially hard in my family and the return of reason allowed these acquaintances and associations to become friendships that may defy the sands of time.

There is the lot for which a tut-tut is the only acceptable response to their latest escapade, while there are those three who will not react sniffily if the response is a swift kick in their backsides. There is that one that is always weeping into her beer; I have tried meeting her for coffee thinking that it was the inebriation that elevated her moodiness. That Java on Mama Ngina Street will not be seeing my custom for a while, I think.

What they will never understand (it hurts them that they do not know why), my friends, is why they are compartmentalised so neatly. There is work, home, upcountry, church, the pub and barber's. Each with its own set. Each with one picture of their friend. An incomplete picture, mind. Some will see anger, every now and then, while others will only see unbridled joy. Some will get to experience their friend's acerbic tongue, others only the charm. There are those who see a professional while others see the father of all sloths. It all depends on who is seen with their friend, where they are seen and why they were seen where they were seen. Life is not scripted and fate cannot be anticipated, but only small children can afford to be careless.

I'm bored. Aren't you?

I feel bad for the guy that has to sit next to Moses Kuria, the new Member for Gatundu South in the National Assembly. He doesn't seem to be a nice guy; perhaps only his family can actually tell us whether Mr Foreskin is really as odious as he seems. His presence on TV is usually combative, with a which of an inferiority complex that requires him to remind us of his stays in the Middle east as a world-class businessman which usually begs the question: if he was so good at wangling dollars out there, why in all that is financially lucrative would he drag his ass back to Kenya to join a gang that can't make money of their asses were on fire?

I can see the mammies in the National Assembly giving special attention to their hair, makeup, outfit, shoes and handbags the day that Steven Kariuki is sworn in, though I suspect his mother and wife will be on hand with daggers for eyes to keep the mammies in check. The young man has managed to whup the Jubilee man's ass in the Mathare by-election. He takes over in a constituency that was carved out of the larger Starehe that was under his mother's thumb in the last Parliament.

I feel bad for Bernard Kiala, whose ass is being impeached in the Senate. The Machakos Deputy Governor has had a much publicised falling out with Kenya's superstar governor, Alfred "Alfie" Mutua. What must really drive him to apoplectic rage is that while Governor Mutua and he rode the Kalonzo Musyoka train to glory, Mr Mutua has dumped all pretenses at bending his knee to the former vice-president without suffering for it while Kiala and his fellow-loyalists do not seem to be benefiting at all from their ardent loyalty to the CORD co-principal.

Nairobi's Senator must be feeling nice. He is an intelligent player. Two years ago he was forbidden from ever setting foot on US soil. Now he has just spent the last week in the US capital as part of Uhuru Kenyatta's delegation. He seems to be dogging the President's footsteps a lot these days. I wonder if he is intelligent enough to get presidential blessings for the sole purpose of yanking the governor's throne from out under Evans Kidero's ass. That man has done precious little to endear himself to Nairobi resident and he is rubbing on our last nerve by his hot-and-cold pronouncements on alcohol-at-the-Kebeberi-Sevens. If there is a governor who would inspire a roadside IED, it is the good doctor who ran Mumias Sugar before it turned to shit.

I wonder what Manzi Wa Nai, the Nairobi Woman Representative, is up to these days. Has she given up on dress-making? It was, after all, her road to ODM fame back in the day. I wonder if Elizabeth Ongoro still runs that garbage company. It made her so much money she could afford to defy CORD last year during the nominations. It also made her arrogant enough to refuse to kow-tow to the Bishop who wanted to be a Governor or Senator or Woman Representative...I can't remember. And what happened to Dick Wathika? Is he dead? Why isn't Reuben Ndolo taunting him these days?

You get the sense that even with referendum talk, things are a bit dull these days. It's not an election season, never mind all the by-elections we seem to be holding. Uhuru Kenyatta does not seem to be reshuffling his Cabinet any time soon. Even the perennial disappointments in the Cabinet seem to have learnt to keep their feet out of their mouths. Wouldn't you even believe it, Aden Duale has no one to attack other than Odinga and "rebel governors" but even he must be bored shitless with the whole referendum thing.

So, finally, I feel bad for Kipchumba Murkomen and Kithure Kindiki. They are no doubt loyal to their respective party chiefs. But they are in the wrong legislative chamber. The Senate is not suited to their obviously boot-licking personalities. In fact, and I shudder when I write this, it is suited to the likes of Aden Duale and Adan Keynan. If Mr Murkomen and Mr Kindiki could find it in their hearts to simply displace some nonentity in the National Assembly, they will find their bombastic and combative natures well-suited to that particular chamber of vipers.

Trying to pull the wool over our eyes?

There is a Bill in the National Assembly by a member of that august chamber that wishes to create in Kenya a theocracy-by-the-backdoor. The Anti-homosexuality Bill, 2014, would punish homosexual acts by public stoning. Homosexuality in Kenya is debated in fits and starts. There seems to be no coherent policy regarding the subject as a human rights issue. Those who would seek to decriminalise it are or seem to be a committed lot. Those who would enhance the penalties, such as in the aforementioned Bill, are just as committed.

Anti-homosexual legislation in Africa came first courtesy of the Victorian mores held fast by the colonialists and settlers who made Africa their frontier in the late nineteenth century and now courtesy of the culture wars of US politics which the family-first types seem to be losing to the progressives and libertarians. But in Africa, where ideology went the way of the dodo once corruption became the true ideology, culture wars are a pretext for the myriad failings of governments, whether they be autocratic or democratic. The more the failings, the harsher the attentions of the State against the gays.

Which makes the anti-gay attention in Kenya curious. We are not Uganda or Nigeria. We may have an iniquitously corrupt system, and crime may be getting out of control, and the cost of living may be skyrocketing, but there doesn't seem to be an organised anti-gay lobby that would actually march on the streets in support of the stone-them-to-death Bill. I do not even see Canon Peter Karanja, Bishop Eliud Wabukala or John Cardinal Njue marching in support of the Bill. They will make pro forma anti-gay noises, but that will be the extent of their involvement in the whole matter.

This Republican Liberty Party is a strange animal. No one seems to know what it does and who its members are. And why "Republican Liberty"? Its stance on homosexuality would run counter to the "liberty" part of its name. It seems to have missed a few steps in the penalties' clause too. Why stoning to death? Why not chemical castration? Why not actual castration done by a trained medical professional? In a nation that has not hung a convict for thirty years, what makes the sponsor of this odious Bill confident that publicly stoning a homosexual to death will ever happen? Is this Bill a political stunt?

It seems to be. It is a joke. And the Speaker of the National Assembly is in on it. How else would he allow a Bill that actually spells out "stoning" as a penalty to get through his chambers on the way to the Floor of the National Assembly? More importantly, our problems are not on the order of magnitude of the problems in Nigeria or Uganda that the people would require an anti-gay law to hoodwink them. Ahmednasir Abdullahi's point that Parliament is Jubilee's worst enemy is almost certainly correct. This Bill comes on the heels of the County Governments (Amendment) Act, 2014, the Order of Precedence Bill, 2014 and the National Flags, Emblems and names (Amendment) Bill, 2014. These pieces of legislation do little to solve our economic or security problems; they contribute a lot to the poisoned political environment and hate-filled discourse on and off social media.

The enacting of these laws is an indictment of the Jubilee administration's leadership, they hands off approach to governing, their belief in their own hype. There are limits to how long one can fool all the people. It can be done some of the time; it cannot be sustained forever. Pretty soon, the discerning among us will start asking the uncomfortable questions. If the leading lights of the Jubilee administration wish to continue to be the leading lights of a Jubilee administration, they had best concentrate their minds on the real bread and butter issues that affect Kenyans and leave the mindless anti-gay business to the religious and cultural wingnuts among us.

Who gained, who lost?

An expected outcome of the presidential junket to the United States, with "top business people" in tow, was the realisation that many private sector investors in the United States already have operations in Kenya and that they do not need to invest further in the Kenyan market. It was whispered unkindly in some quarters that Kenya wasn't a big enough market to require greater investment and if the barriers that existed in Africa between and among African nations persist, there would be no benefit in investing piecemeal in Africa.

The second expected outcome was that many US investors were more interested in getting concessions from the army of Kenyan bureaucrats that had accompanied the President. This is the story of investment in Kenya: foreign investors seeking to find the greatest cost savings from government concessions for the least amount of investment. What remains unmentioned during these negotiations for concessions are the backhanders, kickbacks and facilitation fees that change hands. Alcatel-Lucent happily paid out twenty million US dollars after "negotiations" at one time and even after it paid a fine after being convicted under the US' Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, it must have made a fair return on its investment.

What Kenya's game-plan was going into the United States-Africa Leadership Summit remains murky. There are bits and pieces of the strategy, but there is no clear picture. The Presidential Strategic Communications Unit seems to have hyped the meetings that were held and the commitments that were made, but we are yet to be told what the plan was and what the expected outcome was. President Kenyatta seems to suggest that fighting terrorism was at the core of his plans, but we do not know what the United States committed to do, what it would cost, how long the commitment would last and what Kenya was to do to facilitate it.

Jubilee mouthpieces seem to suggest that Uhuru Kenyatta had successfully rehabilitated his diplomatic image in Washington, D.C. But this does not seem to have come with any tangible benefits. They also seem to suggest that Kenya's foreign policy is Uhuru Kenyatta's fate at world capitals. If he benefits personally, then Kenya benefits.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not publish any white paper on the Summit. It did not publish a list of its professional advisors regarding the targets for the Summit. It did not publish anything on the strategic relationship between Kenya and the United States at the time of the Summit, and whether or not this relationship was one-sided or mutually beneficial. It did not even bother to examine the strategic costs or benefits of the rivalry between the United States and China in Kenya and how this would affect the international trade prospects of Kenya in the short, medium and long term. Eighteen months into its administration of the country, the Jubilee government is still living in the twentieth century where secrets defined power and power defined personal wealth and status.

Uhuru Kenytta's government has appointed one of the largest numbers of advisors. All of them seem to operate at a political level only, acting to forestall political challenges to Jubilee's continued hold on power. This is an incredible waste of public resources. We already have an economic blue print: Vision 2030. But this blue print is useless without constant re-evaluation of the strategic landscape from multiple perspectives. In the spirit of transparency, key subjects such as Kenya's diplomatic, defence and international trade postures must be published, interrogated publicly and adjusted for the benefit of the country. It is the only way that presidential junkets can be honestly assessed as either successes or abject failures.