Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Serikali ya kazi

You know that thing about the serikali, that it is supposed to give you stuff or do stuff for you? That thing that every oppositionist tells you is supposed to a serikali duty? That thing you hold on to because your life sucks balls? Well, that thing is like a mirage. Just because you can see it, it doesn't mean that it is a real thing. So, unless you want to be a public servant, a policeman, a spy, a soldier or a clerk in any of the dozens of parastatals that make your life a living hell, don't come looking for jobs from the government because the ones I have mentioned are the only jobs to be had, unless you have an in with the powers that be and you can wangle a Cabinet Secretary's, a Principal Secretary's or a parastatal CEO's job.

What you want the government to do is create a level playing field so that if you're looking for work at this, that or the other company, it will be based on merit and merit rightfully earned. But not even that seems to be within the job description of this government. Some grow up with modern amenities at their disposal, even if they pay a stiff price for them. Water, electricity, schools with the necessary facilities and teachers, safety and security...these are the things that make for a level playing field. They are not to be found in every corner of this republic. In some corners, they are not to be found at all. Hence, "Tunaomba serikali..."

The truth is no Kenyan government has been able to create the circumstances necessary for job growth. More often than not, even in the heyday of the Kibaki First Term, it has created the circumstances for serikali jobs, the circumstances for blue-collar, helmet jobs, but not enough for the growth of white-collar jobs. The Chinese are about to upend even that apple cart, now that some of its nationals are experimenting with roadside maize-roasting while others have become quite adept at playing hide-and-seek with Nairobi's "inspectorate" as they run Chinese-only restaurants (all those missing canines) and engineer a quiet takeover of the "exhibition" space in Nairobi's CBD's shopping real estate.

Being a mfanyi kazi wa serikali is pretty neat, even if you are not a CS, PS, parastatal head honcho. Salaries, despite the whinging, are quite high on average. There's the job security; firing a public officer is like pulling wisdom teeth from a two hundred pound gorilla. There's insurance and the possibility of a low-cost mortgage and a low-cost car loan. The only downside is, unless you are really deaf, everyone hates you. Maybe not your parents, but definitely everyone else hates you because you are corrupt, lazy and more often than not, stupid. It doesn't matter what you do, only your granny thinks that what you do is a good thing. Everyone else just wishes you to get hit by a Citi Hoppa. And all because you have a job and they don't because you couldn't conjure one up out of thin air.

And yet the premise is not wrong. Serikali may not create jobs directly, but its policies do create jobs. For now, the bulk of those new jobs are blue collar; but the greater the number of employed people, the more they will need specific services: lawyers, doctors, and architects and engineers who design and build the houses they will rent or buy. What we don't know is whether serikali policies are true to this goal or have been hijacked in the zeal to line the pockets of CSs, PSs and CEOs as fast as possible before the music stops in 2017. That doubt is truly poisonous. You can see how it has distorted the narrative into the embezzlement of hundreds of millions from the NYS. Government can create jobs, just not the way you think.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015


There's a phrase, said in that pitying tone of voice that only a certain kind of woman can pull of in a certain kind of situation: That's so cute. It's so cute that adults, presumably intelligent adults, live in t a kind of wonderland whee one day, once and for all, the scourge of corruption will be eradicated. I have indulged in this fantasy once or twice before. No more.

Kenya is not unique. Not when it comes to graft. In Africa alone, Zimbabwe, Nigeria, the DRC, Ghana and Uganda share our proclivity for converting public offices into private piggy banks. No, Kenya is not unique. Not even the corruption that almost guarantees the collapse of privately held institutions makes Kenya unique. Barings Bank, once the British queen's banker, was ruined by the greed of one of its traders based in Hong Kong.

The United Kingdom, as they still believe themselves to be, has one of the most corrupt governments in the world. It manages to hide its corruption behind centuries of tradition and an accent that hides yellowing teeth and a decrepit standing in the world. If you doubt the corruption of the British state, witness the lengths it has gone to dispossess the Chagossians, the mealy-mouthed legalisms it has employed to deny the Mau Mau fighters their due, and the utter hypocrisy of its dealings with the House of Saud, one of the most monstrous human rights violators of all time. No, Kenya is not unique.

So, why do grown men and women continue to labour under the illusion that corruption can be eradicated when the template for the modern state happens to be one of the most perfidiously corrupt states in the history of modern government? Waziris and their seniormost mandarins will continue to swindle the good people of this country until the end of time. They simply do not have the backbone to resist the temptation. More of them have had their noses pressed to the window and they have no intention of letting opportunities pass them by. It is not the big numbers that get them to steal; it is just the system that is designed to encourage theft.

Do not despair, good people. Take your cue from your Cabinet and your public service. Some wag said on Twitter that we are on our own. That, good people, is the truth. Now, tax evasion is an offence. Don't do it. But whatever provisions of the Tax Code that shall lower your tax burden should not be overlooked or sneered at; these are some of the lawful devices available to you that will not see you answering difficult questions in the Anti-Corruption Court No. 1 in Milimani.

Second, don't even bother joining a political party; unless you are one of the inner circle string-pullers in the vehicle, it would be a total waste of your time and energy. But don't keep the party at too far an arms' length; the party will need posters, tee-shirts, advisors, consultants and suppliers of various odds and ends. That is the niche everyone needs to carve for themselves because for sure they will not become serikali suppliers without the right kind of relationships with the decision-makers.

Third, stop acting all shocked that even venerable institutions such as National Flag Carriers don't have mountains of graft to hide. I don't really know what kind of world you live in where an African National Flag Carrier has not been the road to great personal wealth. If they happen to go bankrupt three or four times, the better. Pride and a large dollop of taxes will keep them afloat until the inevitable happens: they are re-nationalised and another lot gets to take it private again, bankrupt it three or four get the point.

Look, even the Transparency Internationals aren't really interested in declaring victory. That happens, then what will they bitch about in the future, hold conferences, workshops or seminars in fancy five-star exotic locales? This is the system we have. Someone steals. We pretend to be outraged. The DPP pretends to prosecute. The judiciary...I don't really know what it does. The TIs of this world write reports about it. Nothing really changes. It's a national DNA thing. No one wants the music to stop. Certainly the ones whose whole lives is defined by it. It is who they are. Without it, they are the insignificant maggots that feed on cadavers deep in the ground.


Do you believe that a ten or fifteen-years' prison sentence will somehow persuade Kenyan public officials from engaging in graft? The deterrent effect of stiff penalties has been discounted the world over. The United States, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China regularly execute capital offenders and yet capital offences continue to be committed at a shocking rate. China executes corrupt public officials, yet graft has metastasized into a monster in China.

In Kenya, believe it or not, graft is not a law-and-order challenge. When the police authorities put their back into it, proof is always found of malfeasance. When the DPP isn't busy covering his ass, the proof provided by the police is always sufficient to sustain a prosecution. When the judiciary isn't having a hissy fit, conviction and sentencing are as night follows day. No, the problem is not law-and-order; the problem, as with many Kenyan peculiarities, is that Kenyans have made their peace with corrupt acts, corrupt public officials and the corrupted public services. In other words, very few Kenyans care any more.

Think about the ease with which corrupt Kenyans have purchased legitimacy in the eyes of the people. They lead prayer rallies. They head church-building committees. They pontificate at funerals. They have received the seal of approval from preachers of faith. They are not shunned; they are admired, by both young and old. They attract to their service the best minds; witness how their sins are rationalised by professionals in their pay: lawyers, doctors, engineers...professors one and all. Watch the verbal contortions that the educated elite put themselves through in their attempts to prove to us that the corrupt are as white as the driven snow. Their efforts have paid off handsomely among the intellectually naive.

A man died at the doorstep of a hospital simply because there was no bed to admit him into. A woman gave birth to a baby while standing up - because there was no nurse to help her during labour. A fourteen year old girl was, if you believe the DPP, murdered by policemen who couldn't be bothered to read the Bill of Rights or their own Service Standing Orders. The families of the victims weep with despair. The rest of us go, "Meh!" shrug our shoulders accept and move on. Well, not exactly "move on" but move on in the sense that we wish, pray really, that one day we will be in a position to "handle" the billions that seem to dematerialse into thin air every time they wash through the coffers of this ministry, that parastatal or that office. These deaths are the product of corrupt acts and we have become desensitised to them.

The irony can e seen in some of the loudest anti-corruption voices. The are dedicated to their show. They are frequently intelligent and experienced. But in many, many cases, they are as bent as the people they go after. I don't doubt their zeal; I doubt their motivation. And they are the ones, after they escaped sanction for their corrupt acts, who call for the most stringent of penalties. They are shameless in their hypocrisy. And so are we for indulging their masochism.

Not good at all.

Unless we have been operating in an information blackout, we have little doubt as to the deleteriousness of corruption, its malign effects on the soul of a nation, its hollowing out of the institutions of state, its utter evil. If there are positives, they are well hidden behind the misery corruption engenders.

By "corruption" we  do not mean the undercutting between private citizens, though it includes that too. We mean the conversion of public goods and services to the private benefit of a few. For example, the diversion of drugs meant for a public hospital to the private pharmacy of a public officer for sale at cut rates. We mean the acceptance of bribes by traffic policemen in order for a motorist to drive while intoxicated or to drive an unroadworthy vehicle or both. We mean the inflation of the contract price for the construction of a public road, the difference being diverted into the pockets of a public official. These examples almost always led to misery in the long run.

Context is important to understand what corruption means, especially in Kenya. Langata Road primary School is a state-funded school. It is in the vicinity of the Wilson Airport in Nairobi. The Wilson Airport is classified as a 'sensitive" place by the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority and the County Government of Nairobi City, meaning that building developments in the vicinity are restricted to a certain height, and all construction is controlled within a specified radius from the airport. Some of the land adjacent to the school belonged to the Civil Aviation Authority for the purposes of the safety and security of operations at the airport. Belonged.

No one exactly knows when this land ceased to belong to the civil aviation body. There is little documentation to indicate the rationale behind the transfer of the land and the development of the land beyond the scope of the rules laid down by the county government or the civil aviation body. These changes took place after a concerted effort to reduce the radius around the airport for which development was controlled. That radius no longer exists. All along, the children of the school enjoyed the use of a playing field next to their school. Until the provenance of the playing field came into doubt, the children became pawns in a fight for the playing field, and teargas was used against them. Misery is the handmaiden of corruption.

Many are willing to look at fancy hotels, shopping malls and blocks of flats as the positives of corruption, creating construction jobs where none existed, and boosting the stock of hotel rooms and homes where they were low. But they refuse to see that if it were corrupt acts that led to the acquisition of the land in the first place, few rules would be followed during the development of the land. Neither the labour rules nor the environmental ones would be followed. You can bet the minimum wage would be ignored too. It is almost certain that corners will be cut during construction and the occupancy certificates for the buildings would not be worth the paper they are printed on.

In Nyama Kima quite recently a building under construction came tumbling down killing dozens. The prosecution of those responsible remains shrouded in mystery. All over the country, these kinds of collapses have become commonplace. In no case has it been shown to be because of an act of nature; in all cases it has been demonstrated to be because of graft. Misery, I tell you, and corruption are intertwined intimately. Anyone who sees misery as the price to be paid for fancy hotels, malls or flats has never faced the kind of pain the families of dead construction workers face or is just plain heartless in their pursuit of lucre, filthy lucre. Neither prospect is a good thing.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The private-sector trees for the public-sector woods.

"The private sector has always been culpable because bribery is a two-way street. In every public sector corruption scandal there’s one or several private companies involved. A recent example is the procurement scandal at the Ministry of Devolution and Planning. Suppliers acted in cahoots with some department officials to defraud taxpayers of hundreds of millions of shillings. The sector is unregulated, making it vulnerable to corruption. The situation is exacerbated by lack of mechanisms to make corporates accountable. The government is rather focused on tax compliance and licensing. There is overemphasis of corruption in the public sector, yet private companies are the perpetrators. Please underline and walk around today saying that phrase 'private companies are the perpetrators'. -
That remarkable statement is attributed to a man called Sebastian Gatimu. He alleges, in turn, the [private] sector is unregulated, making it vulnerable to corruption; there are no mechanisms to make corporates accountable; private companies are the perpetrators of corruption. What a spectacular charge.

I have no love for the corrupt, whether they sit back-left in a serikali limousine or charge about like Sir Galahad in their modern-day steed, the Range Rover Sport (Supercharged). If there is a species of humanity that should suffer the most sulphuric of the sulphur-filled pits of hell, it is the men and women who have made it their mission in life to cheat the innocent of their taxes. It is the least that we can pray for them. 

But just in case it turns out that heaven and hell are imaginary, I hope those with testicles will have them dipped in honey and stuck inside anthills filed with fire ants. I shall leave the women folk to devise fitting penalties for the women who have corrupted the core of the State, the Government of Kenya.

Where do I begin with these ridiculous statements? Unless I have been away on Mars without knowing it and the Law of Kenya was rewritten by monkeys with ten thousand typewriters at their disposal, the Registration of Business Names Act, the Partnerships Act, the Companies Act, the Anti-corruption and Economic Crimes Act and the Penal Code are still in force. If you truly believe that these statutes are feeble, ill-suited to regulating the private sector, then there is little to discuss with you but to offer you this rather fine tin-foil hat. 

The first three are the foundation for the accountability of the private sector and that is even before we apply the Income Tax Act, the Customs and Excise Act, the Tax Procedures Act, the Tax Appeal Tribunals Act or the myriad of "by-laws" enforced by the forty one county governments. Then there are the Banking Act, the Building Societies Act, the Cheques Act...really, regulation and accountability are not in question when it comes to Kenya's private sector.

As to whether the private sector is the perpetrator of corruption, I have neither the data nor the proof that it is not. What is certain, however, is that it really does take two to tango, the briber and the bribed. Either someone (often the public official) solicits a bribe or someone (often the private sector captain of industry) offers a bribe. The transaction is complete when a bribe is given and an unfair advantage is assured for the bribe-giver. Fighting over which is more corrupt, public or private sector, is splitting hair in the most Faustian of fashions and serves its function well to distract us from the discomfitting fact that our public sector is riddles to the core, like Swiss cheese, with the cancer of corruption. No matter how many private sector kingpins we haul to gaol for bribery, the public sectors Augean stables still need to be swept out.

One fact stands out starkly too: the conniving, arm-twisting, ass-kissing, lying, cheating and murdering that takes place to get into the public sector tells you volumes about the relationship between those who make and enforce the rules and those who would wish to avoid the rules enforced against them - or even made at all. You only get to know how strong they feel about things when they resist against all reason or logic to retire. Do you know of anywhere else in the world where the top civil servants refuse to retire to their very, very comfortable, multimillion shilling pensions? Don't miss the woods for the trees.

Is shisha really that important?

That snark who writes for the Nation on Saturday has declared a war on "shisha girls." Her rallying call to all women, whether from "Estlando" or from the other right side of the economic tracks, is to quit the shisha life and watch their lives improve immeasurably, perhaps even with a "prince charming" walking into their lives. I do not wish to dwell on the ill-argued screed she penned; instead, I ask, why is the screed trending on social media as the crisis in the coffee sector continues to bite?

The Kenya coffee sector, together with tea, wheat, maize and flowers, was the mainstay of the agriculture sector, employing hundreds of thousands, both directly and indirectly, contributing billions in foreign exchange, flying Kenya's flag high in foreign markets. It is a pale shadow of its former self. More and more coffee plantations are being turned into concrete jungles as the real estate sector, keeping pace with the general rate of infrastructure development, heats up.

It shouldn't be surprising that many Kenyans on social media, with time on their hands, are more interested in the vile-minded musings of a young woman with a massive chip on her shoulder, than the decrepit policies that have brought Kenyan commercial agriculture to its knees. It is not just coffee or tea; the miraa sector is undergoing severe turbulence because of drugs' policies in the European Union; the cut flower sector is also facing stiff challenges because of European Union policies. Cotton and pyrethrum have already faced weakening policies and been decimated in the bargain.

An online friend whose views I frequently and vehemently disagree with laments that we are no longer able to discuss matters of national importance because, for the most part, most of us have strongly held opinions that are uninformed by facts or data. I think the reason why we are incapable of holding these discussions is because the media stage has been captured by the likes of the anti-shisha screed's author. He puerile musings are what sell ad space. She only has competition from the political opinion-makers, if that. But obscure questions about how the coffee sector has been hijacked by murderous cartels no longer contribute to the public discourse that made Kenya the envy of many in the past.

Coffee, tea, timber, pyrethrum, cotton, wheat, maize, cut flowers and beef built this country. The sectors continue to muddle along. The Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries continues to be embroiled in one controversy after another. Agriculture's contribution to our balance of payments continues to be significant. But if the policy Sahara spreads, agriculture will be the source of great social and economic unrest and even greater political instability. By then, all the anti-shisha-women screeds will have done nothing more but to turn us into puerile-minded harridans - just like that woman.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Article 34 is stupid

Article 34 is stupid. Allow me an explanation.

The freedom of the media, it is called, is guaranteed for all types of media. Article 34 stops the State from exercising control over or interfering with the a person who is engaged in broadcasting, or the production and circulation of any publication, or the dissemination of information by any medium.

Okay, Article 34 is not stupid, but you get the sense that the idiot who ordered the arrest of John Ngirachu thinks that Article 34 is, indeed, stupid—an inconvenience on the way to getting these pesky, nosy, annoying weevils known as pressmen to report the news they are told to report.

I can't imagine these people have forgotten the fallout from the ill-advised raid on the Standard Group printing plant in 2006. The raid inspired some of the best undercover journalism against the Government of Kenya for a long time, exposing the names and faces behind the extra-judicial execution of Mungiki adherents, the vicious murder of policemen linked to sensitive drugs' investigations, the whereabouts of "missing" billions linked to Anglo-Leasing.

There is nothing smart about reacting to a leak of the parliamentary proceedings with the statutory equivalent of an 150mm artillery round fired from a self-propelled field gun. Whoever advised the man atop of the securocracy that the best way to determine who was leaking information to reporters from "closed" sessions of parliamentary committee should be fired; he is more trouble than he is worth.

This is not the United States nor the United Kingdom and it is, never mind the squealing that is sure to ensue, very easy to spy on reporters, bug their phones, and place them under total surveillance; they make it so easy to track them because they have volunteered their personal details and have, theoretically anyway, registered all their communications devices. Except it is not so easy, is it?

The securocracy has done everything in its power to make it impossible to trust that it is collecting, even for its own self-preservation, is reliable because all the top securocrats see one thing and one thing only—the total number of zeros on tender documents, appropriations bills, supplementary budgets, and operation funds. Whoever has his hands on that money is a god, because he is accountable to no one but himself and his conscience.

Mr Ngirachu was told in confidence that 3.8 billion shillings couldn't be accounted for by the Ministry of the Interior and Co-ordination of National Government. What was he to do? Pretend that he did not know? Pretend that he had not heard? That is not the bargain Mr Ngirachu struck with the people who buy the Daily Nation, and he espouses the very best ideals encapsulated in Article 34. It is these knotty issues for which the Article 34 exists in the Bill of Rights—and if the National Government wants it gone, it had better sell the hell out of their proposal at a referendum.
I pity the Cabinet Secretary and his Principal Secretaries. They are an anachronism. They are Polaroid Cameras in a world full of Digital Single Lens Reflex Cameras, a world where jackbooted thugs can trample, and get away with, on the rights of newsmen. They must imagine that the 2006 lesson must be taught again; they are wrong. This is the post-katiba mpya phase, and sooner or later it is going to be untenable for mawaziri to sit atop corrupted institutions of the State that refuses to account for a paltry 0.0004% of the 2015/2016 national budget.

It is time to bell the cat

The Kenya Certificate of  Primary Education and the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Education examinations did not scare. I was afraid of failing, but they did not scare me. My parents did not go about in a panic that I was about to throw away my life because of my less than my-hair-is-on-fire attitude to the exams. There was pressure to succeed, but it was not an all-or-nothing pressure. If the exams did not go my way, my parents reasoned, trade school or something would always be found. So I wasn't going to be the PhD-holder they both were, but my life would not screech to a halt. I would not die. Eventually, I would be fine.

When I sat for my KCSE exams, my parents drove down from the City to wish me luck. Then we had lunch and they went away, and I went back to the TV hall and watched the rest of the Man U/Arsenal match. They drew.

Today, I have no doubt that children are under tremendous pressure to pass. Parents are under tremendous pressure to see their children succeed. Teachers are under tremendous pressure to see their students succeed. Principals and Headmasters are under tremendous pressure to see their schools produce the best student in the country, the county, the district. All this makes it seem like the KCSE and the KCPE are the be all and end all of life for children; a "bad" certificate is the end of life. Not the end of one experience, but the end of life. There is nothing to live for if the KCSE or the KCPE goes against you.

This must explain to a great degree the motivation to cheat and to profit from cheating. The other factors at play, for sure, include the corruption at the heart of many public institutions,including the Ministry of Education and the Kenya National Examinations Council, and the corrupted values and morals of the people in general. Parents an their children no longer doubt the iniquity of cutting corners to get ahead or steal an advantage; their faith-leaders, political and business leaders engage in iniquitous corruption without being sanctioned for it but celebrated as "blessed, innovative and bold."

The reports of examination questions being peddled on social media are proof that we have indeed corrupted not just the state, but the nation too. Prosecuting the cheats and their abettors is treating the symptoms. It does not deal with the root causes of the corruption that has now infected children. When I look back at by gentleman's "Cs" from my examinations, I cannot imagine my parents going to the lengths some parents have to help me cheat. They would have been disappointed, no doubt, if I showed little aptitude for anything; but they would have strived to help me figure out what I could do, whether I could be good at it, and whether it would offer me as comfortable a livelihood as theirs.

Not today. Parents know that "papers" are the sine qua non of the job market, of the opportunities of life, even if they are "not genuine." Did not a CEO of a state regulator get accused of forging his university credentials recently? It was the only way he could get the job he did. He is not the only one. A Nairobi parliamentarian managed the remarkable feat of completing a four-year degree in two years. Parents, and their children, watch what their leaders do and follow suit. Cheating is now a form of advancement in the public sector. Parents will buy exams for their children. Their children will use those bought exams to cheat. And they will, in turn, do the same for their children. The cycle will never stop unless it is broken. Someone must bell this cat.

Thank you, kind people.

There is no difference between one day and the next, not even if that one day marks the end of a calendar and beckons at the advancement of age and yet, it is different. I am a year older; I begin another year. Twelve months ago I was one person; today, I hope, I am an evolved person, wiser, more knowledgeable, happier, accomplished.

If you ever have the pleasure of doing business with my employer, pray ride the lift to the eighth floor and look for "pool office 812." There you will find the most astonishing group of lawyers I have ever had the privilege and pleasure to work with. Their generosity knows no bounds. Their intellect, intelligence, integrity and honour are boundless. I am proud to call them my colleagues and my friends. They are part of a long tradition in this office of celebrating the milestones in their colleagues' lives and without fail, they did so yesterday as I marked yet another year on the right side of the ground. They put to shame the vile allegations about lawyers and their petty selfish ways; no man could ask for better group of people to be associated with.

If you care to know, there is a coffee shop on the third floor of a building near City Market. It has an amazing aquarium. Such exotic fishes reside in it, though there is one hideous specimen that She does not care for. If you know this place then you know I am an infrequent visitor, but that I think their beef-bacon-cheese burger is a marvel of culinary engineering. She has a photo of it somewhere, the burger, not the coffee shop, and She helped me celebrate the anniversary of my birth with kindness and coffee. I was too full of cake to attempt anything more.

One day, if you are lucky, you will get to sit with my amazing parents, my extraordinary brothers, their patient, beautiful and generous wives, and my beautiful extended family. They will all do their best to pretend that I am an amazing man; you will be able to see through their embellishments. Do not get me wrong; they might be right, but I figure that if you are going to meet these amazing people, you might as well know that they live in petrified pins and needles for the day I will Do Something Big. I hope that by surviving one more year without bringing shame on their good names, I have done enough to keep their hopes and dreams alive.

As I trundle through another Day After, allow me to thank those who smothered me with cake, those who kept my eyes open with coffee and those who sen their love by all media, from the bottom f my shallow heart. Thank you for helping me see through another year. By the grace of God and the support of these fine people, perhaps it will be another year in which I advance, evolve, achieve.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

This is not tapo.

A missed step here and there, but the steady march to greatness is back on track. Where did you get the idea that electric vibrators, overpriced condom dispensers, really overpriced pens, pianos or Hi-Def TVs were the way to go?  When hundreds of millions have failed to stop the inevitable, what gave you the idea that these other things would? I seriously hope you did not "pray" over this or live in that world of fantasy where what Baba wants, Baba gets.

Every regime has its hallowed grounds, and this one is no different. Under the First One, "lands and settlements" was hallowed ground and not even the socialists like Kung'u Karumba, Bildad Kaggia, JM Kariuki or Pio Gama Pinto walked on it in safety. The Second Guy, more or less, turned the State Corporations Act into a carte blanche over the Consolidated Fund. The Sleepy-Hands-Off Guy essentially had two: "I have only one family" and wherever his frighteningly effective Capo di Capo, John Michuki, decided to settle his hindparts. This regime has that massive sprawling edifice known as Devolution and Planning.

The sub rosa combat in the Ministry is finally getting down to brass tacks. This is some Spy vs. Spy stuff, with "leaks" and "incorrect formats" as the preferred weapons of choice. Buck-passing is a perfected art when things go awry. That much-maligned sub-species called "those procurement people" and the other called "juniour officers" are the pawns in this 3-D chess game. But, one way or the other, the principals must unsheath their swords and either strike or fall on them.

One thing is sure to be certain: if there are fingerprints to be found in misappropriations, misuses, abuses of office, and such like, they will not belong to the principals. Some other pawn will be sacrificed. The lessons from the JSC vs. Shollei debacle have been learned. No senior public official is going to let a trail of paperwork bring them to their knees. Casualties of this thing will be many and farflung. 

But the most pitiable of casualties will be those whose livelihoods depend on the gravy train keeping on chugging. Small cash transfers have been affected. Socialites' trips to Dubai have been curtailed significantly. Rent-boys have had to innovate to continue living in the manner to which they have become accustomed. Used car yards of doubtful integrity have cut back on orders. The taxman and his minions faces a lifestyle audit. The fallout, good people, will have a ripple effect that upends the whole cosmological order.

I worry that it might finally galvanise the unhinged to take extreme measures. This is not a place where the strong and the competent of the feminine persuasion have been treated with respect for long. The Iron Lady of Gichugu can attest to that. But given that this Iron Lady seems to have support in certain citadels, it might compel the unhinged to greater unhingedness. You can tell that they are losing it even more when they come up with wild suggestions about constitutional amendments of little to commend them except perhaps the opportunity for the unhinged to "capture power." Someone better tell them that this is not a version of Capture the Flag...or Tapo!

Monday, November 09, 2015

God and fishes to fry

Unless he, or she, is your "sponsor", please do not, do not, DO NOT! use the word "seduced" in connection to the pitch politicians make when they are asking for your vote. Any word but "seduced" because seduction can't be the hamfisted affair Kenyan politicians have attempted in the past two election cycles. Seduction implies a meeting of minds before a meeting of more base appendages. It implies that spoken words are not only accepted, but they are accepted as legitimate and true - or true enough. This is after all Kenyan politics.

Hyperbole defines the members of the professional classes as well as the scribes of the Fourth Estate, now known as "the media". It seeps through in everything they do. Where one word will do, the will find the fifty that tell us absolutely about what they think or what they mean. No even they have been overshadowed by the forked-tongued among the professional politicians.

Seduction implies a betrayal when the seducer turns out to be every bit the frog he pretended not to be when he, or she, was getting us into their bed under false pretenses. But can you honesty feel betrayed when the seduction that we speak is made up almost entirely of a perfunctory recitation of a party manifesto and the forking over of large wads of cash all the while reminding us that we come from the same "home?" This appeal to an ethnic identity which fewer of us cleave to is not seduction; it is atavism and for it we have paid a heavy price.

Now, when you look at the things that have happened and the decisions that have been made since we seduced into endorsing one gang over another, do you have a feeling that if we only prayed hard enough God would offer us solutions?  I know better; God never wanted us to have kings. He warned us about it. We ignored him. So I have absolutely no doubt that our modern-day kings are not ordained by God, but they are the proof that we should have listened to God all those millennia ago and had nothing to do with kings. Almighty God will not be interfering in this poisonous relationship we have with our kings.

If you understand, like I do, that presidential accomplishment has little to do with divine interventions, you have to ask, like Karuti Kanyinga did in the Standard on Sunday, what exactly has gone wrong? The seeds for this dysfunction were laid when there was talk of "dark forces" when certain choices were to be made in the wake of the ICC indictments. They were reinforced when the machinery of government was mobilised to ensure that mass prayer rallies were held for those being tried at the ICC. In case you missed it, God did not come down and specifically endorse a particular strain of thought regarding the ICC or the earlier "dark forces."

Do not wonder at why deities have abandoned us but at why you have abandoned reason in your choice of kings, endorsing dubious economic policies, educational plans of little merit and political promises we know to be patently false and the reasons why the exchange rate is against us, the interest rate is twice what we were promised it would be and the growth rate is barely half what it should be by now will become clear. Leave God out of our affairs. He has bigger fish to fry.

The future and its gods

I never really thought about what my purpose was. It never occurred to me that it was a pretty important question to answer in the first place. I had always had a goal to meet and a task to complete, but I never knew what it was all about. Some of you may recognise this; it tends to afflict those of us who came first more than those who followed, though it is by no means a cross that we bear alone.

I am my father's first born, the one he and my mother didn't prepare for, the one who upended their cozy lives, or so I comfort myself for the topsy-turvy nature of my childhood. Until the others came, I was their pride and joy, their hope for the family, the repository of all their dreams. I was an utter disappointment and they couldn't hide that disappointment from me. They did a pretty good job of keeping it from everyone else, but even small boys know when they have failed to live up to expectations, whatever those might be for a boy of two, and the boy too adopts a wait-and-see attitude towards his aptitude. Let it all come as a surprise for him too!

It was pretty clear that my purpose would be served if those who followed did not end up like me, surpassed my accomplishments, survived my failures, satisfied my parents' hopes and dreams, became the apple of their eyes that they had always wanted. To that end, I served my purpose, and I served it well. Then I infected the new one with my malevolent and fatalistic wait-and-see anomie and they had to wait for the other one to see whether I would finally serve my purpose. Needless to say, third time was definitely the charm. The icing on the cake is that the second one finally grew weary of the anomie and hitched his wagon to the third one and I have been looking for a purpose ever since.

I am my brothers' keeper, but I don't think that is my purpose either; they are both capable,  whip-smart and strong—of mind, of spirit and of body. You cannot bend their wills and you cannot turn them from their path. You can try—many have and come out the poorer. So, I am not their keeper; that is not my true purpose. They indulge my sense of big brotherness from time to time, as do their wives, but I am no more the boss of them as the moon and the sun will shine in the same sky.

I don't think it is my purpose to make the world smileor burn. The years spent in the company of the world tells me this is trueit was then and it is now. Boarding school, university, post-grad school, work—I made them all smile, but it was tedious and, quite frankly, terrifying. Some of the hard lessons from making the world smile is that when it stops smiling, rather than burn down its own universe, the world will turn on you, forget that you made it smile, and burn down yours. Remorselessly and pitilessly. So, never mind the crudity of it all, so far as I am concerned, the world can kiss my ass.

How I ended up reading law at Shivaji University is a mystery I cannot solve. I think it had something to do with why I am here, what my purpose is, but I don't think I was ever meant to be a lawyer, advocating for a client or acting for a government. All that seems quite unlike me. I do have a sense of justice and fairness, right and wrong, but I don't care enough about those things to make them my mission, my purpose—me. I have worked out what my purpose is not; when I find out what my purpose is—after being a son, a grandson, a nephew, a brother, a friend, a lawyer, a colleague, a lover, a partner, a loyal employee, an employer—I'll let you know. Perhaps I am meant to champion truth, justice and fairness and maybe I am not; I just haven't found the music to my song yet. Maybe She is a part of the music. Only the future and its gods know.

Leave my innards be

I feel sorry for people who don’t drink or do drugs. Because someday they’re going to be in a hospital bed, dying, and they won’t know why.
I don't remember who said that or whether I saw it on TV or something, but it made me smile, a little. Maybe it was Redd Foxx, but I can't be sure. I drink, but I don't "do drugs." By drink, if it isn't clear yet, I do not mean drink Coca-cola or mango juice; I mean alcoholic beverages, as John Mututho classified them, and in copious amounts when the mood, the company or the opportunity is right. Beer, wine, whisky, vodka, rum, fruity cocktails that come in tall glasses and have umbrellas...I drink it all.

I also eat lots and lots of red meat, some of it well done, some of it roasted, some of it dripping in vast amounts of frying oil. I don't eat much in the way of the green stuff, but I will choke down a lettuce salad every now and then. Then there are the pizzas, the Southern-style fried chicken, the over-salted peanuts from Nakumatt, the Frito Lays (the ridged ones are like the Devil's version of junk food temptation), the vast quantities of Coca-cola (I didn't say I don't drink Coca-cola) and the occasional Cardbury something with nuts. All this and the only exercise I get to do is usually forced on me when my employer refuses to service the lift to my eighth floor office, a hundred and fifty six steps away.

I have encountered the obsessives who think I am killing myself slowly and who aren't shy to pronounce on my impending demise, hooked up to machines to keep the body I have deliberately enfeebled alive. They take a particularly perverse pleasure in giving me their professional prognosis of the state of my kidneys, liver, lungs, bones, heart, lungs and, believe it or not, colon and rectum. They seem to have an x-ray knowledge of my inner self, so to speak, and they think that it is only a matter of time before my health is so compromised I won't be able to take a shit without screeching in agony.

These people live "clean" lifestyles, and they want me to join in. They are like the scolds from my church who hate the fact that I take pleasure in certain hedonisms without apology. These are the nutrition ambassadors who's way is the only way to a happy life. By and large, they seem happy, but I always get a sense of the utter joylessness of their task to convert the world to their side, especially when I roll my eyes at their prescriptions and entreaties and bite into another thick crust pizza and take a deep sip of my favourite Heineken - ice-cold. There is nothing joyful about judgmental scolds, even when they pretend that their health makes them happy.

Few of us are extremists when it comes to fast foods or alcohols. Few of us want to die in agony. But few of us will be motivated to live healthier lives by judgmental scolding from the keep-fit fanatics. No one likes fanatics of any shape. If you, Mr Keep Fit, were an example to follow, we would follow without you adopting that tone of voice with us. But because you have adopted that tone of voice, yo are not a role model, and we will follow you only long after Heineken N.V.  has gone out of business and wheat has been banned by all governments. Scolds suck and judgmental scolds suck balls.



Kwame Owino of the Institute of Economic Affairs, one of our finer think tanks (I'm shamelessly sucking up), threw down the gauntlet and challenged someone to write a thinkpiece on poverty. If it was up to scratch, he'd publish it in the Institute's journal. I took up that challenge and then came to the inevitable conclusion: I don't know anything bout poverty. So I begged off and he let the matter lie. But it has occupied a greater than usual amount of my few thinking moments and so I have decided to give it another shot. Here goes.

I have read through policy papers by the Kenya Institute of Public Policy Research and Analysis and economic statistics by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics ad I am yet to find the one that has a working definition of poverty. Both institutions say a lot about poverty: how many are poor; how many are poor in rural areas or urban areas; how many are poor this year as opposed to how many were poor last year; how many have been lifted out of poverty and how many have fallen into poverty; and so on and so forth. But neither defines poverty.

I am a lawyer by profession. My profession relies on words and the meaning of words. The context n which certain words are used is important. So I find it curious that institutions of the Government of Kenya have a lot to say about poverty but do not have a working definition of it. Perhaps, like me, they rely on definitions supplied by other organisations or institutions such as the United Nations, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund.


The United Nations stated in 1995 that, fundamentally, poverty is the inability of getting choices and opportunities, a violation of human dignity. It means lack of basic capacity to participate effectively in society. It means not having enough to feed and clothe a family, not having a school or clinic to go to, not having the land on which to grow one’s food or a job to earn one’s living, not having access to credit. It means insecurity, powerlessness and exclusion of individuals, households and communities. It means susceptibility to violence, and it often implies living in marginal or fragile environments, without access to clean water or sanitation.

The UN definition of poverty focuses on all aspects of human life: political, social, economic, environmental, legal. For a lawyer like me I am glad that few numbers are bandied about in the UN definition, but that seems, somehow, wrong. 

The World bank has a more concise definition of poverty: the pronounced deprivation in well-being, and comprises many dimensions. It includes low incomes and the inability to acquire the basic goods and services necessary for survival with dignity. Poverty also encompasses low levels of health and education, poor access to clean water and sanitation, inadequate physical security, lack of voice, and insufficient capacity and opportunity to better one’s life.

The World bank definition covers the same ground as the UN definition and is, also, blessedly free of numbers and so, too, feels somewhat wrong. The International Monetary Fund borrows the World Bank's definition.


We are conditioned by all the statistics bandied about by policy-makers to think of poverty in terms of numbers rather than what it is or what it means. The definition, the meaning, of poverty is lost in the statistics. That, I think, is wrong or, at least, misguided.

Think about it. Poverty means a lack of choices or very few choices: whether to eat or visit a healthcare facility; whether to be properly dressed or eat; whether to sleep indoors or be properly dressed; whether to attend school or work for food. Poverty means that the ability to acquire - such a lawyers' word - food, shelter (not housing), clothes or medicine is limited, or it doesn't exist at all. Poverty means that even if one has shelter, a roof over their head, piped clean water is mostly unavailable; that they definitely do not have an indoor toilet - that is, they must leaver their shelter in order to "go to the toilet" even though when they do "go" it is often ot in a toilet at all.

Poverty also means that when their safety is threatened, they will likely suffer; that when a public policy is being implemented, even in their name, they will unlikely participate in the making of that policy; that when they are given a choice between visiting a public park to rest or relax, or to put in a day's work form minimum wages, they will choose the latter over the former every time.

The measurements of poverty - the numbers - are important, if only to tell us how many are poor, the nature of their poverty, perhaps even the causes of their poverty, and the impact of public policies in the reduction of the total numbers of the poor an the general. But the numbers shouldn't obscure that poverty is about people and their lives. If the numbers don't tell you how many children are employed informally rather than attending school, they are largely useless. If they do not demonstrate why a family will choose shelter over healthcare, then they are meaningless. The numbers must be in the service of explaining why a choice between shelter and healthcare, shelter over food, work over school, is made.


Royal Media's Citizen Live on Sunday, I think, once did a story about an elderly woman and her grandson living in Mathare Valley. She must have been in her sixties or seventies; he was probably eight or nine. They shared a 10 feet by 10 feet shelter that was their sitting room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and study room, for the boy was in primary school. Their shelter was somewhere in the depths of Mathare Valley; an open sewer ran past their front door. 

They did not have electricity, running water or an indoor toilet. Her eyesight was failing, but she didn't seem to suffer from any chronic illness; he was healthier because of her sacrifices. They cooked in their shelter using a charcoal-burning jiko which was also her work jiko over which she cooked chapati and mandazi for sale. She needed his help to get from their shelter to her place of business - the side of the road - before he walked off to a "private" school for which she paid three hundred shillings every month.

By all measures, they are poor. She is old and her health challenges will eventually become chronic challenges and her ability to care for the boy will be limited. She is already going blind, and the use of charcoal for cooking will accelerate the rate at which she loses her eyesight. She may yet adapt to her failing eyesight but at some point she will be unable to earn a living preparing her chapati or mandazi for sale. The boy may be compelled to leave school and become her primary caregiver just as she is for him right now. Between the rent she pays for their shelter, the school "fees" she pays for the boy, and how much she sets aside for supplies and his school supplies, she cannot afford healthcare, let alone a visit to a specialist to tend to her failing eyesight. I wonder when the boy will drop out of school: before or after he sits for his KCPE?


I highlight this family because they are not absolutely poor; they have some measure of "wealth": a shelter, at least one meal a day, access to limited economic opportunity. Though they are far from comfortable, they are not too uncomfortable. But in the circumstances they find themselves, the boy and his grandmother will need extraordinary luck or positive benefits from effective public policies to escape their poverty. These are the people that the statistics and the numbers address as "poverty".

I do not have the answers; for that I shall defer to the far superior minds of Mr Owino and his colleagues. I would however urge them not to simply rely on the raw numbers but to also rely on narratives from amateurs and laymen like me. We may not always have answers but, hopefully, we may help shape the way solutions are found and applied.