Friday, April 24, 2015

Devolve policing.

"Paramilitary training" is such a benign-sounding and anodyne phrase that we never consider what it means. A little Googling and you find out that with just a bit more training, paramilitary training will become military training. That is what the Administration Police, members of the Kenya Wildlife Service, the Kenya Forest Service, some members of the Kenya Revenue Authority and members of the erstwhile Provincial Administration undergo. It is now part and parcel of the training of members of the National Youth Service - all twenty thousand of them each year.

As opposed to police training - which is not paramilitary training, save for the General Service Unit and its Reconnaissance Company - most of the uniformed services in Kenya need only a little more training for them to become military units. That should scare the hell out of you because many of these uniformed services are police units - in their mandates and their powers. Policing in Kenya has now been almost completely militarised.

Militaries fights wars. That's their main job. Whether these are short engagements or occupations, the job of the military is to fight in wars. A military is not a defensive force; it's job is to find the enemy and destroy it without mercy. When a military is deployed, its commanders accept that it shall suffer some attrition but they shall use it to cause greater attrition in the enemy. It suffers attrition when its equipment is degraded and depleted. And when its servicemen die. It prevails when it degrades and depletes the enemy's equipment. And by by killing or capturing more of the enemies soldiers. The entire mindset of a military is geared towards finding and destroying an enemy - and only stopping when ordered to do so by a higher authority.

Policing, on the other hand, in well-adjusted societies, is supposed to keep the people and their property safe, prevent the commission of offences and crimes, investigating crimes and assisting in the prosecution of offenders. It is not the job of police services to find and destroy enemies. The reason a police service might require its officers to carry weapons of any kind is strictly for self-defence - and the protection of property and lives of the civilian population. A police service does not proactively seek violent confrontations in the name of public safety.

We have been heading down this road for a while now. The recurrent refrain is that crime has to be combatted. The mantra is that more guns in more trained hands will be the solution to our crime problem. And so we now have a quasi-army made up of the Administration Police, KWS and KFS rangers, county commissioners and KRA officers, all waiting for the order from their Commander-in-Chief to find the enemy and destroy him. 

Separately, they have been a disappointment - Administration Police border patrols seem to let in more and more al Shabaab fighters than before, more elephants and rhinos are being poached under the noses of the armed-to-the-teeth KWS rangers, and Kenya's forests seem to be producing ever larger tonnes of charcoal despite the well-armed KFS rangers roaming in the forests like commandos. How more of the same only on a larger scale (ten thousand new police per year! twenty thousand NYS recruits with paramilitary training!) will solve our problems remains a mystery.

It is time for bold ideas, even including the horror of placing policing and policing resources under the direct control of governors. Policing is not primarily a national security matter, but a public safety one which is local in tenor and effect. Demilitarising policing will be a safe first step before policing is devolved. The GSU can be retained at national headquarters - though scaled down in size - to respond to armed events for which an unarmed county constabulary is unequipped to respond. But, sadly, in a world where multibillion-shilling unaccounted-for budgets command the lions share of our attention, we are going nowhere fast - except to a militaristic police.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Conservation, public safety and national security.

Wildlife conservationists and the national government are more alike than you would think. Whether or not Kenya is on the right track in the conservation and protection of its endangered wildlife is impossible to determine; secrecy and obfuscation surround much of the debate. Charles Onyango-Obbo has agreed to a debate with Paula Kahumbu on Saturday at which, I hope, light will be shed on what the State and the Third Sector know, should know or should find out about the link between our flora and fauna, especially Kenya's elephants, and public safety and national security.

Julius Kipng'etich is almost as lauded as Richard Leakey for his efforts while at the helm of the Kenya Wildlife Services, KWS. Dr Kipng'etich expanded the size of the service, especially its armed rangers, and improved its visibility in world capitals. Due to no small part in his efforts, the Government of Kenya presented a united front when the question of whether the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) should be revised in order to permit nations with stockpiles of ivory and other wildlife trophies to sell them on the open market. Kenya voted "No", by the by. That is one of the questions that Saturday's debate is set to settle to some degree.

What the debate may not highlight is that when it comes to wildlife conservation in Kenya, the worm has turned. When Richard Leakey and David Western ran KWS the main thing they had to deal with was poaching as an isolated matter, not as part of a complex web of cross-country, pan-continental criminal enterprise. Poaching is now interconnected with terrorism, drug-trafficking, people-smuggling, illegal arms' dealing and child-trafficking. In the corrupting of border security and customs forces, poaching joins a growing list worrying actors who have placed all nations with substantial populations of endangered species on high alert.

However, there is no way of confirming this interlinkage in Kenya. Conservationists do not want to see themselves as part of a broader national security and public safety ecology; all they care about is the conservation and protection of wildlife and the donor funds that come with that responsibility. They might be afraid that donors will pull back if part of their donations go towards beefing up border controls and improving intelligence-gathering in the broader war on cross-border crimes.

The government, on the other hand, has long publicly denied, or at least refused to acknowledge, a link between poaching and cross-border threats. Part of the reason is that it does not want to be embarassed by the fact that it does not have the capacity to effectively investigate and prosecute poaching offences as part of its broader mandate in combatting cross-border crimes because a significant proportion of its border security and border control forces have been compromised and corrupted. Such an admission, it fears, will undermine confidence in its integrity. That cannot be allowed to stand.

Conservation is not an end in itself. Neither is public safety or national security. If Kwame Owino of the Institute of Economic Affairs chooses to explore this question during Saturday's debate, perhaps he will be better able to demonstrate that conservation, public safety and national security should lead to greater economic empowerment for the people. The ecological benefits of conservation are, eventually, economic. So are the benefits of enhanced public safety and national security. I hope that the debate makes that clear.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The population is not the problem.

I think Kwame Owino will have an answer to this. Is Kenya "overpopulated?" I mean, are there more Kenyans than can be fed, employed, kept secure, educated and retained in rude health? Is Kenya's population the reason why the environment is being degraded "at an alarming rate" according to the National Environment Management Authority? I do not have access to the data that I hope Mr Owino does, but I would like to think that because such fatalistic declarations have been discounted in the past, they will be in the case of Kenya.

Before the Green Revolution was a reality, we were warned that the world's population would be unable to feed itself. Before the successful implementation of anti-retroviral therapies, the world waited for HIV/AIDS to bring about the Second Coming. For forty years the world waited with bated breath for the Cold War to turn hot and the collective tens of thousands of nuclear weapons to incinerate the Earth ten times over.

Kenya has a very dynamic population. Some generations possess skills that other generations can only envy. I do not believe that a shift to a knowledge-based economy will wipe out the need for mechanics, plumbers, electricians, welders or carpenters. The success of a knowledge economy will depend largely on an infrastructure built, maintained and serviced by the blue collar economy. One cannot exist without the other.

Ours is a complex political system that is struggling to satisfy all things for all people and succeeding in some while failing in others all the while having to deal with distortions such as corruption, nepotism and insecurity. We have pretended to move away from a planned economy without truly doing so - vestiges of the command era abound like in the pricing mechanism in the energy sector. We are still very much a welfare state, even with the cost sharing legacy of the SAPs of the 1980s/90s, where many goods and services are still supplied by the public sector. We also have an expanding and expansive private sector, though its share of manufacturing is growing smaller and smaller while real estate development, especially housing and hotels, is booming.

The challenge we face can be summed thus, I hope: we need to generate better-paying jobs for the Kenyan population that can afford higher-priced domestically-manufactured goods and services so that they can pay higher taxes in order to support the supply of critical public-sector goods and services while still providing for a more economic balance of trade. The flight of manufacturers from Kenya and the rise of corrupt real-estate development is not a sign that things are headed in the right direction. But, in all this, the demographic changes are not a threat. They never were.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

PR and lipstick on pigs.

A few years ago a partnership I am familiar with was swindled of a tidy sum. The partners did not take it lying down. They knew the swindler and, crucially, where he banked. They had contacts at the swindler's bank and pretty soon enough they had the swindler's bank statements. While I can understand what motivated the partners to the collection of that kind of intelligence on their quarry, it is also the principal reason why I have absolute no faith in the integrity of the cashless systems being sold to me by every company and its uncle.

I do not trust my telecom company. I love exploiting its money-transfer platform for many transactions, but I will absolutely not link that platform to my bank account. When I am solicited by criminal elements in Kamiti GK Prison over one successful lottery or the other, the only institution that could have handed them my personal details is my telecom company. So until it puts and end to these kinds of solicitations, I will not trust my telecom company.

I do not trust my bank either. Someone in my bank permitted a transaction on my VISA card without my permission for a sum I have never spent in a single day. My bank played hardball about recovering my lost funds. I pushed back. It eventually bent. Now it says it will have my money back in my account in forty-five working days.

All the public relations in the world about how my telco and my bank have all these corporate social responsibility programmes wiping away jiggers in Nyeri or planting trees in Mbooni or buying sanitary pads in Baringo will not make me trust them any time soon. They play fast and loose with my personal information. They put me at added risk of swindling by sophisticated criminals. But they are not sorry. They have done precious little to mitigate my risks or prevent them from occurring. My trust is the last thing they should expect.

No matter how shiny a new toy feels, in Kenya it always comes with strings attached. Whether it is a constitutional arrangement, a money transfer service, an insurance or banking product, an FM radio station, a newspaper, a highway, a railway, a port, a university or a religious organisation, the sheen wears off pretty fast, the rats come out of the woodwork, and I am left with my hand on my wallet attempting to keep it safe from all these new hyenas.

Someone asked me to reflect on the authentic meaning of public relations after I wisecracked that MPesa and credit/debit cards suffer an integrity deficit and that is why 9 out of 10 transactions are still in cash. In my estimation, PR is putting lipstick on the pig that is Kenya's corporate scene. What PR forgets is that no matter how much paint you slather on a pig's chaps, it remains a pig with all its porcine qualities undiminished. The day my level of trust in my telco and my bank goes up a notch, I'll reconsider my animus against them.

Monday, April 20, 2015

My essential humanity

When I am depressed, I get mean. Meanspirited, blackhearted and angry. It is a terrible thing to be at the receiving end of my acerbic tongue over which, it seems, not even the gods are powerless to rein it in. I become this callous troglodyte, incapable of empathy or good judgment. It becomes my mission in life to turn what was your good day into the most miserable eight hours you've ever been through. I am petty, vindictive, malicious and cruel. And I am the coldhearted ogre unwilling to apologise or be called to account for my cruelty.

Then the remorse sets in as soon as my dark cloud has passed. I am mortified. I am sad. I am a little blue, but not in a manic-depressive way. I am penitent and shit-scared that I have allowed another black mark to be added to my name. If I were the weeping type, there would be buckets to weep. If I were the gregarious type, I would be buying rounds of something or the other at the Porterhouse. But I am neither of those things and yet, all of them.

Do not fret, my friend. It is not a disquisition on my fragile ego, my fragile psyche or my enfeebled mental constitution. It is neither an explanation nor a plea for forgiveness. It is an examination of a flawed being. It is an examination of one flaw in a flawed being. And, sadly, it will not be a complete explanation. The Freudians and Jungians out there with their writing pads and on-the-tip-of-their-noses reading glasses, put away the pads and start polishing your glasses now - this is not for you either.

It is strange when one admits that they are not god, godlike or godly. One is free. One only has to cope with human frailty. No more, no less. Sometimes that is much harder than if one banged about like a Greek or Roman god of ancient mythology, because then, one has to contend with the judgment of mere mortals like himself. And that judgment is frequently unflattering, exposing scabs long forgotten - or ignored. That judgment picks at the scabs over and over until they start to bleed afresh, eventually festering and turning gangrenous if the same godlike disinterest in them persists.

But if one is sure of himself, confident in his essential humanity, satisfied to be taught as he surely is a teacher, the truth about himself is a burden off his back. He is no longer Atlas holding up the Earth on his shoulders, no longer Sisyphus pushing his sorrows up the mountain only to watch them roll back down. And so we now know. It is not a spirit of meanness, it is not the soot of a black heart nor the anger of a youngish black man, but the frailty at the heart of every man that walks the Earth as a man.

The good, the bad and the photogenic

These are the problems that drive people up the wall going by the hyperbole on Twitter timelines. A photograph of a beggar crawling past Parliament Buildings is posted on twitter. Some saw the photo as an indictment of Parliament, and the national government, while others saw it as an indictment of the one who took the photo while seemingly doing nothing to help the beggar. Some thought that highlighting our problems was the right thing to do; others thought that providing solutions to these problems was essential.

I once used a tragedy to make a larger point and it cost me the respect of a man I respect. Life is like the story of the five blind men and the elephant. Each one of them used their hands - experience - to see that part of the elephant they touched. The one who took the photo saw all the policies of the Government of Kenya, personified in the greed of the members of Parliament, to say one thing. Some commentators saw his callous and inhuman use of the tragedy of another to make a wider statement. Still some others saw the photo as a catalyst for Kenyans to find solutions instead of bellyaching all the time about how bad their country is.

I don't know if all three are guilty of being held hostage to the single-story narrative that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie so brilliantly deconstructed on a TED talk, but it is plain to see from the Twitter timeline that we all have our hangups and that we are unafraid to state our case and let the chips fall where they will. What may have escaped the commentators on the timeline, so committed to their argument, was that even taking into account the relative anonymity and security of the internet, at this moment Kenyans have never been freer to comment on public affairs without fear. 

It is almost impossible to imagine that in the days before the internet, e-mail, mobile phones, social media apps and the like, Kenyans were held hostage to the narrative dictated by their government as personified in the President. You were free to think what you wanted to think; you were not free to express your though freely, though. Speech came with a very high cost; political speech should have come with a health warning because it frequently led to orthopaedic surgery or even fatalities.

We cannot paper over the fact that many millions of Kenyans live in abject circumstances. We cannot paper over the fact that a significant amount of the suffering in Kenya is because of policies and politics that exclude the people at all levels. But we cannot ignore the fact that we are freer than we were fifteen years ago. We cannot ignore the fact that in a changing global economy we have coped better than most and that our potential to be great remains. Finally we cannot ignore the fact that sometimes transitional periods last decades. So while we debate the Kenya we want, let us put everything in perspective: the good, the bad and the photogenic.

Friday, April 17, 2015

The day that never was.

Maybe the response was not bumbling, slowfooted or criminally mismanaged. Maybe it was the only response that the national security apparatus is capable of. Maybe this is the best it can do. If you recall, the initial police response to the Westgate attack was that it was a "normal" robbery. And if you recall, the official, yet-to-be-revised, response to the Mpeketoni attacks is that "the Opposition did it." Maybe the massacre of one hundred and forty seven Kenyans is neither here nor there - because it is Rogers Mbithi's fault.

I have tried to come to terms with my government and how it does what it does. I am still not sure whether I understand it, or whether anyone of us really understands it. When its ministers die in mysterious circumstances, we have national days of mourning but we also keep a tight lid on how they died, never mind what Commissions of Inquiry say or recommend.

Maybe we have been hoodwinked by the lions and lionesses of the Second Liberation to believe that instead of chicanery we shall have honour and instead of despair we shall have hope. I think we have been hoodwinked. I believe that we have bought a certain bridge in London and are still expecting to take delivery fifty five years since we put down our deposit.

Even when one of their own is shot dead by brigands and bandits, the people who make decisions about safety and security are not concerned enough to pretend to even do something that matters. They will still continue to target the newest targets of the national Executive, or some pet old targets from decades' past. They will continue to bandy about billions in the name of safety and security when they truly want to pocket all of it so that they can pay for a holiday in the Maldives with women who are not their wives or daughters. They will say many words that sound right - and promptly forget them when the teleprompters go dark.

The games they play - for indeed they are games - are games with huge costs and huge bills. Take this new game about walls. Hundreds of millions will be spent n feasibility studies. Billions will be sunk in the project, probably hundreds of billions. The wall will never be finished. The border will remain "porous". More Kenyans will be murdered by brigands and bandits. The evil cycle will be repeated.

Maybe we expected too much of them. In 2002, we had hope. Within three months they showed us how foolish we were for hoping that different hyenas would have different priorities. The boondoggles got larger. The scandals got grander. The murders became more brazen. Why anyone thought that 2013 would usher in the start of a new wave remains one of those peculiar mysteries Kenyans are famous for. It is time we admitted to ourselves that the day we have been aiting for is never coming. It never was.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

There will be no inquiry.

An inquiry will not be held. It was not held in the wake of the Westgate attack. It was not held in the wake of the Mpeketoni attacks. It was not held in the wake of the Mandera attacks. It will not be held int he wake of the Garissa University College Massacre. An inquiry will not be held because the recommendations that such an inquiry would make are recommendations that could not be possibly implemented without tearing the national government asunder.

The Commander-in-Chief was personally touched by the cold hand of the Shabaab when the Westgate Mall was attacked in 2013. If that was not enough to stiffen his spine then the massacre of one hundred and forty seven children will not either. The Commander-in-Chief is not a fool. He is not weak. And he is not a coward. He is a politician. Therein lies his biggest weakness as well as his biggest opportunity.

The Commander-in-Chief knows what has to be done in order to secure the nation and protect the people. There is little that is new in this discourse. What needs to be done has been common knowledge since a former president inspected a "guard of honour" mounted by the Mungiki before they became an outlawed gang.

At the top of that list is the reform of the national security apparatus, especially by curbing the rampant graft that defines it. We are all painfully aware of the petty bribery that defines the relationship between the people and the National Police Service. But it is only recently that we have become more aware of the abuse of office by its seniormost officers. It is remarkable that police resources have become the playthings of the senior cadres of the National Police Service. It is even more remarkable that these officers continue to hold office when their antics are revealed.

We must also reorient the national security apparatus from its obsession with tribal politics and towards public safety. The appointments of the Chief of Defence Forces, the Inspector-General of Police, the Cabinet Secretary and Principal Secretary of the Interior and the Director-General of National Intelligence are ostensibly on merit, but in truth are about satisfying the tribal fears of politicians in the ruling alliance. So long as these key officials are held hostage to the politics of tribal mathematics, they have little incentive to propose programmes that will keep the people safe or the nation secure. Consequently the men and women they command will not do so either.

By far the most difficult recommendation to implement is one that cannot be legislated for nor dictated. There is no way of making the political class see service to the people as their principal duty. For a decade they have lived it up like princes of the city, taking what they want without apology. They have commandeered the lion's share of public resources for their own pleasure. They have failed to keep the Executive in check. They are the principal agents in the corruption of the institutions of the State. And they have no shame and no remorse.

If we believed that the Judiciary could keep everyone else honest we could say that there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But not even the sunniest optimist believes that that the administration of justice machinery - police, public prosecutions, and judges and magistrates - is capable of honesty or public service. There are individual officers of probity and integrity. But the institutions themselves are distrusted and their integrity challenged at every turn. 

An inquiry would exposed the hollowed out government that we have. It would expose the lie that the government exists to serve the people. It would expose the hypocrisy that the people elect the government to serve them. It would tear asunder our faith in ourselves, our fellowman and our government. No Commander-in-Chief wants to be the one to expose the rottenness of this system. No Commander-in-Chief ever will.