Friday, November 21, 2014

Death by chicken.

What a time to reveal these things. I have always had a sneaking suspicion that the Kenya National Examinations Council, KNEC, was an Augean stable that would need Lord God Himself to sweep it out of the filth it has accumulated since 1990. With the Interim Independent Electoral Commission, IIEC, there was no suspicion; I took it as fact! It had carried over so many shady ex-Electoral Commission of Kenya parasites, it was inevitable that it would develop a serious case of chicken pox.

Well, the chickens have come home to roost. We always thought that the perfidy in KNEC was in relation to examinations. Its signature national exams, the KCPE and KCSE, have become mired in rampant cheating that intimately involves the people in the KNEC. It is a system of graft that has defied all attempts to sort it out. It now emerges that piddling sums were involved in the tender for the supply of examination material. I suspect that the amounts are small because the entire enterprise at KNEC was geared towards small sums -that added up to very large sums.

The case of the IIEC seems straightforward enough. The commission's bosses wanted to make a fast buck. They entered into contracts that are now the subject of a criminal trial in London. What that case means for the elections conducted during that time raises serious concerns. That the same commission's bosses were in charge of the general election last year, bar one or two persons, shatters whatever credibility that the new commission enjoyed. It is almost certain that the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission and the Director of Public prosecutions will make the right noises about "following the London trial keenly" and "we will ask for the case files from the serious Fraud Office" but you can rest easy certain in the knowledge that charges will not be brought against the named personages, and these same persons will not be resigning from their positions any time soon.

That is the story of the national fight against corruption in Kenya; it is all hat and no trousers. When the President declared that he was in the frontline in the fight against graft, I knew for sure that the fight is already lost. His own Office of the President, not his Executive Office of the President mind you, was mired in so much graft he was compelled to transfer officers and publicly warn them of impending disaster. Since that declaration, not much has changed except that a few individuals have been transferred to sinecures where their eating will be limited to a fraction of their previous antics. Why it was not possible to give them the steel toe will remain a closely guarded secret within the corridors of State House and Harambee House.

We have legislated and legislated in an effort to fight graft. Not much seems to have changed. The Mwau, Ringera and Lumumba Commissions couldn't indict a ham sandwich if they found it holding the murder weapon with the body lying next to it. It is still early days with the Matemu Commission, but the presence of the architects of Goldenberg, Angloleasing, Triton and Kazi Kwa Vijana among the right-thinking members of society does not augur well for the anti-corruption fight going forward. Now with the chicken saga out of London, we wait with bated breath for the milque toast moves both Mr Matemu and Mr Tobiko will make to placate the people.

I am almost certain that politicians will seize the initiative and make bold statements about investigations and inquiries. But because so many of their hands are dirty, theirs will be pro forma political noises designed to send certain signals to certain movers and shakers that certain hands require ample greasing. This is the dance that we play. We have done it and done it well since we decided to host the All Africa Games. We have become rather adept at it. It is time for the vast majority with ideas about clean government to come to the realisation that their dreams will never, ever be realised. Not in their lifetimes. Not ever.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Get rid of the army.

Have you ever thought of the thousands of men the United States government employs simply to babysit their stockpiles of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles? All those millions of man hours every year - and billions of dollars to boot to prepare for a world war that every one agrees will be lost by all sides if it ever comes. How about our own tiny arsenal of bombs and missiles for a war with...who? The United States can afford it. Can we any longer?

We have a land army, an air force, a navy and special forces. They have proven themselves in the field of battle in Somalia. They are reckoned to be the most disciplined forces when sent out on Blue Hat duty for the United Nations. When they are deployed at home - Mt Elgon, Kapedo - they are received with ululation which soon turns to screams of fear. What is it about the Kenya Defence Forces out there that disappears when the politicians want them to quell some insurrection back home?

What do they do when they are in the barracks? Drill? How much does it cost us to have a standing army that fights so infrequently? These are questions that we are not supposed to ask. All those millions of rounds of ammunition that decay - yes, they do decay - because they cannot be used fast enough. If we were an expansionary power, it would make sense for us to keep an army the size that we do. But we are not, the lunatic ideas of a "strategic depth" in Somalia notwithstanding. You only build up a professional army, train it and equip it with modern fighting weapons if the intent is to invade your neighbour or an enemy state far away. But do you seriously see Kenya ttacking Uganda, Tanzania, Ethiopia, South Sudan, Somalia, Somaliland, Puntland, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the Republic of Congo, the Central African Republic, the Seychelles or Djibouti any time soon? If you do, then maybe our warmongering days are ahead of us.

An army is an anachronism in the twenty-first century. Maybe China, Russia, India and the United States need million-man standing armies - they do have enemies who are willing to attack them from afar.Kenya does not and cannot have such ambitions when it can hardly provide piped water and free education to its burgeoning youth demographic. The billions we secretly and unaccountably expend on the army could be vest served by buying the infrastructure the tens of millions of Kenyans need - roads, schools, electricity, water, hospitals, houses.

Those who would throw their arms up in horror at leaving the territory of Kenya helpless should be mollified by a smaller border security force. The balance of the professional, all-volunteer army that we would need for war could be trained through national service, such as is proposed by the revamped National Youth Service. Re-training could be rotated through the various units on a two-year or three-year time-cycle. Then we wouldn't need to maintain a standing army that did nothing. It would also remove the army from being considered for peace-enforcement at home with the attendant allegations of human rights abuses. The savings could go to the police, who frankly need it more, or more social goals such as water for all, free primary healthcare or free basic education. After all, the border security force would be where it is needed: the damn border that seems to let in all sorts of troublemakers.

It is time to re-think this idea of a standing army. The allegations of waste of corruption engendered by the opacity of its administration should make us all sit up and pay attention. The days when there seemed to be a bottomless pit of cash have come and gone. We are in straitened economic times. Millions of youth are unemployed or underemployed. Resources that could be channeled to solve this ever-intractable problem are locked up behind a veil of secrecy and vested interests. This nation needs to grapple with the iniquity of carrying on a tradition that is no longer justifiable. It is time to scrap the Kenya Defence Forces.

A burning sensation.

"I have a burning sensation when I take a leak."

I let the words hang there. I wasn't going to touch that statement if my life depended on it. I chose to discover the wonderful world of the Google Keyboard and Google Messenger. I was fascinated by how intuitive the Google Keyboard is and how snazzy the graphics on Google Messenger are. I hadn't reckoned with his patience, though. Like a cheetah, he followed my Googling with semi-avid interest. He must have calculated that three minutes were sufficient time to repeat that horrid statement, an octave higher.

"I have a burning sensation when I take a leak."

What the hell!

I don't want to know that. I grew up in the eighties and came of age in the nineties. The phrase "burning sensation" in any sentence that involved pissing always ended up with a visit to a urologist at which time possible diagnoses would be considered before a large dose of very powerful antibiotics would be prescribed. The physician would then lecture his patient, interjecting frequently with words like "prophylactics" and phrases like "abstinence, being faithful and condom".

I most certainly did not want to have this conversation with him. But like I said, that bugger is like a cheetah. "So what do you think?" he asked casually. There was no way I was getting away with my usual mumbling. He should have known it would not end well. He has, after all, known me for the better part of a decade.

Perhaps it was the stupid coastal humidity, or the fact that my hotel is shit, or that I hate coming down here when idiots are lobbing grenades or stabbing strangers in the streets. Either way, he did not get the sympathetic ear he was looking for. Maybe he'll remember that friends are honest with each other; it may take him a few years for the sting of my words to fade. My recitation of his profligate proclivities that went to his problem at hand was emphatically delivered in a long soliloquy that did not use any of the soft words my mother insisted were a necessary cushion for harsh judgments. When I was finished, his face was as red as a tomato, I was winded (all those Dunhills are taking a toll) and our friendship was certainly headed for straitened times.

We all dislike being put on the spot over others' dodgy medical issues. Certainly we want to avoid anything that might bring up sexual histories. We pretend that we do not know what we know, and we pray that no one brings it up. We know what we should do; we are loath to admit that we did not. So every now and then we find ourselves in the cold embrace of harsh reality and we call on our friends to step in and offer words of comfort. This imposition can sometimes weary the soul, especially when previous unheeded words of advice hang in the air between us. We take it as a personal affront that when it could have counted, our friends chose mulishness over our perceived sagacity.

I sympathise with him; after all it will not be a comfortable tête-à-tête with his doctor. But there is little comfort I can offer save words. In the fullness of time, I pray, he will hear what I said, and he will not take it to heart that I was overly harsh. If it turns out to be something serious, he will have all the time in the world to remember that though I may have affected a stern visage, it was due to the immense fear that it could be something serious.  

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Worst Bar.

I have always loved the idea of a pool bar. Not that I'm any kind of swimmer, but the idea of someone swimming to a bar and ordering a pint of their preferred malt-based alcoholic beverage has always evoked an image of easy leisure. You can't even be bothered to get out of the pool, towel off and then call for a waiter to bring you your Heineken in a tall, frosted glass any more; all you have to do is swim to the bar and your pint will be waiting for you!

I am writing this while stewing in rage. I do not - DO NOT! - like hotels. They are impersonal, full of strangers, and their mission in life is to separate you from your wallet's contents in the manner that a Mungiki separates a matatu conductor from the wages of his labour. I find them to be inhospitable; even the finest fine-dining hotel with the highest number of stars does not hold a candle to my hovel that is, despite its serious shortcomings (which Mrs Mwangi should address), welcome, comfortable and...mine. I am also several drams into the inebriating effects of my least favourite alcoholic beverage: Tusker Malt.

Since arriving at the Eden Rock Resort and Spa (it is neither resort-ish or spa-like), I am confronted with one indignity after another. I do not feel safe, let us start by acknowledging that. The hotel is too empty. Kenyans have been offered #TembeaKenya by the asylum-escaped mandarins of Phyllis Kandie, but none of them has thought to take a chance on the Eden Rock. It is eerie sitting in an empty restaurant and an abandoned pool bar. (It wasn't really empty; Mwongeli, Ndinda and their two companions chose to assault me with an unending stream of joyous, lugubrious Kikamba.)

A hotel, I believe, is known by its bar. Let us begin with the unpardonable sin of not stocking up on my favourites: Heineken, Corona, Pilsner or Absolut. Then comes the fact that it took the ndauwo fifteen - Fifteen! - minutes to find the barman - barwoman. She turned out to have the disposition of an accountant with haemmorrhoids. She was no fun. Then it took her a further fifteen minutes to find the key to the fridge, and a box of matches. (Dunhills do not light themselves, see?)

But what discombobulated me was the deserted bar. I was the only patron until that shady lady with the thirst for my Dunhills turned up. I know she was not really interested in them, but in the absence of even a transistor radio tuned to BBC Swahili service, I had lost all interest in human interaction for the night.

The facilities are shit. No, really.They are crap. Corroded fixtures. Leaky taps. Too hot/too cold shower-heads. Non-communicative remote-controlled A/Cs. Tasteless, banal fare. Spectacularly lazy - even by Mombasa's notoriously lax standards - hotel staff. I hate this place. I want it razed to the ground and the property handed over to Serena or Sarova for a fresh start. I hate it, hate it, hate it! I want to go home. I wanted to leave the instant I set foot in the dingy, dark, small reception area. That my employer allowed me to be bivouacked in this shit-hole is unpardonable.

I will lay the blame squarely on the shoulders of Joseph Ole Lenku, David Kimaiyo and al Shabaab. The fucked up tourism sector now consigns me to this hell. I wonder how many Kenyans are suffering these petty indignities. Not that Eden Rock's proprietors should go Scott-free. They have managed to turn a potential gold mine into a pit. It is a shit-hole. I'd advise them to leave the service industry and enter the more lucrative transport sector as silent partners in the Mungiki's extortion enterprise. It is the only way that they will feel right at home. I am in hell. It is the high season down here, Yet this place feels like it would be right at home among the sell-as-many-covers-as-you-can operations on Accra Road. Yes, it is that bad. The worst place in the world.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Who will follow him?

Stupid people do stupid things. By now the internet should have confirmed this pretty morsel of obviousness. But no! everyone is still shocked that stupid people continue doing stupid things. Take this specimen of utter stupidity, for example:


There is little to be done, except perhaps look for the charity that deals with his kind of stupid and donate money for his welfare. Wait! There is something that we can do. It takes this kind of stupid to make things easier for the slowest cops on the beat. This guy is clearly two sticks shy of a bundle, so he probably doesn't realise that what he has shared with his - I have no idea what they are - is the equivalent of an unsworn confession. There are a few loops to jump through, but Kimaiyo's boys are not that slow, are they?

It all started when some character went to great lengths to malign the character of one of Nairobi's favourite daughters. Many have a very strong opinion of this woman, but the kind of unwarranted remarks aimed at her by an infamous Kenyan online troll were an indication of the support misogyny enjoys even in Kenya's notoriously exuberant social media scene. He made infamous a hashtag that essentially asked all men to make it their mission to strip women of their clothes if they crossed a line drawn in the sand by men over what is and what is not "decent."

Rev Dr Timothy Njoya says the sexualisation of women by men, and women, is a major reason why there doesn't seem to be much hue and cry over the whole affair. He may have a point; many women, when they become women, see themselves as sexual objects of desire and dress to reflect their sexuality. It is well within the realms of decency for women, and men, to see themselves as sexual objects if they so desire; what is indecent is the insistence that sexual objects cannot object to being viciously attacked because they are sexual objects.

Rev Dr Njoya calls for the arrest and prosecution of those that would seek to violently impose their codes of decency on others. I agree with him. It is why the sloth demonstrated by Mr Kimaiyo and his boys is so frustrating. When it comes to the enforcement of their favourite provisions of the Traffic Act, the police do not hesitate, perhaps because the opportunity to line their pockets comes so very rarely. When it is the residents of Mr Kidero's leafy suburbs, the swift police reaction even to cases of ennui are a sight to see. But so long as you are assaulted on the wrong side of Tom Mboya Street, you can expect Mr Kimaiyo and his boys to take their leisurely time to accept that, (a) a crime was committed and (b) there are enough outraged people so that action must be seen to be taken.

But the kind of stupid demonstrated by the internet troll is impossible to correct. He enjoys a following that indicates the kind of purchase his perverted views has in the Twittersphere. He has already inspired one idiot and his friends to an act of lunacy. How many more lemmings are prepared to follow the troll of the ledge and into misogynistic violence?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Rage.

I am not a violent man; I have very few violent inclinations against my enemies. I am not a coward, though. I have faced down monsters and nuisances alike. But I abhor violence; I prefer the faux combat of the football pitch, the boxing ring (though there's nothing faux about a knock-out punch) and the adversarial arena of the hallowed chambers of justice. Every now and then, though, the desire to kick, hit, punch is overwhelming, and it takes the best part of a minute to recall all those yoga deep-breathing exercises designed to restore mental tranquility and relieve cranial agony.

But that is all within the ken of men. They are all capable of controlling their base urges. But only when they act as individuals. When they are part of a mob, when the scent is in the air and their blood is well up, they are akin to a pack of jackals on the hunt. They are unlikely to permit reason to prevail. They are likely to be swept up in the passions of the mob. They will commit atrocities in order to be in solidarity with their fellow base men. They will do it without conscious thought. The outcome is frequently injury, destruction and likely death.

There is always a trigger. The circumstances that lead to the trigger being so potent are varied and variegated. They are complex mix of family dynamics, social values, tribal customs, personal circumstances in relationships and money, and perceived places in society. The men who, with maniacal hormonal glee, violently attacked a woman pedestrian, stripped her of dignity and her dress, filmed it and uploaded it on the internet are the cautionary tale, the conscience (or lack of it) of our society, the proof that we are led still by base instincts, primal urges, violent inclinations.

It is a man's world, Kenya. The Cabinet Secretary for Devolution and Planning has been caricatured by male cartoonists in the base language employed by men of even baser tastes. We need not dwell on her caricatured portrayal except to observe that it reinforces the stereotypical perception of women as objects of men's basest desires. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that the forces of law and order would take three days to ask for the victim of the violent assault to come forward and file a complaint; they did not "swing into action" and "launch investigations" promising to "leave no stone unturned" like they are wont to do. I will remind you that the law and order firmament is firmly in the grip of men who would happily have joined in the lynch mob that stripped that poor woman. It is no longer enough to presume that they would not have done that; by their actions we cannot be sure any more.

In a man's world there are always calls to protect the womenfolk, keep them safe from other men. In a man's world, it is not enough to have a constitution; its strictures and exhortation of rights and freedoms are meaningless unless men use their masculinity to guarantee the womenfolk's constitutional rights and freedoms. And what a man can guarantee, a man, too, can limit. You can see this insidious arrangement when we acknowledge that women were always meant to play second fiddle to men: it is in scripture and so shall it be in all walks of life. It is divinely ordained that women shall be No. 2. It is why men see no irony in decreeing what women will wear with the same immutably certain fiat that they decree whether women will stand for public office. As soon as they become men, it maters not one whit that they have mothers, sisters, wives or daughters: the men are men, the womenfolk are...not. And since women are not men, men must decide what women are by deciding everything about women. Clothes are the tip of an icily supercilious iceberg.

Even accepting the unfairness of it all, the desire to hunt down those men that demolished that woman's life remains undiminished. To hunt them down, to surround them with other cackling jackals, to push, prod, kick and slap the, to strip them to their naked balls, and to frog-march them along the streets of our fair city in broad daylight, filming it all and broadcasting it for the whole world to see. There isn't a twinge of masculine solidarity that might suppress the violent thoughts about those beastly men. There is only rage. Rage, rage, rage.

Baggage.

When it rains, it pours. So I am reminded of the wisdom of antiquity. But of more recent vintage are Bob Marley's words; some feel the rain, others just get wet. It is raining but I am not just getting wet. My cup runneth over and I am unsure what to do. I have had occasion to experience bewilderment when fortune cast a favourable eye on me; now I am unsure what to do when both favour and disfavour seem so wildly interconnected.

On the one hand, She seems to have reactivated certain neurons that time and concussions might have damaged. Awkwardness seems to have dissipated. Which is awkward in itself. An appreciation of certain historical facts is slowly being gained. On the other hand, historical baggage weighs heavily on all this. And it is a mixed bag, some good; but much a threat to continued mental well-being. It is the latter that gives us, gives me, pause.

Baggage has one of two solution: bear it until it breaks you or set it down without regret. Neither is an easy choice to make, but it is far easier to bear the burdens of the past than to cast them away because of the fear of the unknown should we cast them away. It is a comfort to have a psychological target for the reason why we won't, can't, shan't, shouldn't do this, that or the other. We will deny that it is a comfort, but this is exactly what it is. There is a reason for moving forward with trepidation and hesitation. There's a reason to half-commit. There's a reason to magnify flaws and then to rely on them to change course - or even retreat.

We all have them, historical baggage that is. Some are physical, many are emotional. Emotional baggage can make or break us. Far often than not we refuse to find out because we have never tested our strengths. Some of us are fatalistic; some other are not; still others are pragmatic and analytical, ruled by reason and logic, denying our psychological immaturity. In our logic and reason we rationalise every decision, refusing to accept that reason and logic, not matter how rigorously applied, must be founded on an emotion: desire, fear, hope, misery. And the outcome of the rigorous application of that reason and logic is emotional: satisfaction.

How much history are we prepared to bear? All of it? Some of it? How much consequence are we prepared to endure? There is no knowing, no predicting. You can't prepare for it. You can hope that despite everything you know, it will end well. You can psyche yourself up. But you still will never be sure. Unless...Unless it is clear to yourself, deep within you, that you will do what it takes to live with your choices, to accept the past, to welcome the future. Sometimes your baggage is not yours to set down, but for others to accept that there will always be baggage.

Neurons are flashing wildly in unfamiliar patterns. The world is full of possibilities. She made that possible. She may not know it yet, but the world is soon going to be grateful to her, though not as you may think. The ability to transcend ones past is rare. The capacity to accept ones flaws is rarer still. But both are possible when one employs all the physical and psychological attributes at their disposal. It is only then that one can decide for themselves whether they intend to be happy or whether they intend to live in fear. Happy people tend to spread happiness. Those living in fear tend to act on their fears - it is never pretty when they do. World, you will have cause to thank Her.

It is now a culture, Mr Bindra.

All this because we have allowed cheating to be rewarded. It’s a drag on our development and a stain on our national fabric. Whichever way we end cheating, end it we must. ~ Sunny Bindra, 17 November 2014
Maybe this is a conversation Mr Bindra and I will continue to have on this medium, and I hope that it is a conversation that public servants in key decision-making positions will follow. Mr Bindra is an avid student of management and I am somehow surprised he has yet to comment on the problem of cheating from a management perspective, especially when candidates are sitting for the Kenya Certificate of Secondary Examination. There are many moving parts to ensure a candidate successfully cheats in the exam.

First, there is an assessment of the candidate's chances in the exam. He, and his senior-most advisors and confidants (parents) have reviewed nearly four years of data and drawn disappointing conclusions. They have assessed the total amount of input and the expected results and drawn the conclusion that the chances of a successful KCSE must be bolstered by less than ethical means. Especially where a candidate and his parents make this decision, it means that the ends-justify-the-means mantra is an acceptable argument to the problem of the candidate's chances in the exam.

Second, there is the environmental assessment. For someone to successfully cheat, it is not enough for mummy and daddy to be on board with the whole enterprise. They co-conspirators must co-opt outside partners. For this they will need resources, whether it is money or some other form of consideration. So the parents will determine how much is available and how much can be committed to the plot. Then they must choose carefully who is likely to advance their plans. The right choice means victory; the wrong choice ay involve the parents' prosecution and a ban against the child sitting the exam for some years.

Third, is the preparation of an action plan. Even after identifying potential collaborators, one can't just approach them and whisper, "We want to cheat in the exam." It will require assessing the potential collaborators' weaknesses and strengths and past record in venture of this kind. It will require intelligence-gathering which may require interpersonal skills capable of exploiting every morsel of information with the aim of persuading and influencing the potential collaborators. These may include the headmaster, the child's teachers, the invigilators, the education officers and the examination officials. The plan must account for the process of taking the exam from the date the candidate registered to when the exam is taken to when the exam is marked to when the results are announced and certificates issued.

Fourth is the sheer logistics of the thing. The collaborators cannot be seen together. There must be go-betweens. These can be trusted lieutenants or blind messengers. The aim will be to ensure that everything looks on the up and up when the candidate sits for the exam, that his scripts do not arouse suspicion when they are marked, and that should suspicion arise that there is a contingency plan to defuse the situation. Each party must play their part, when they are required to and without communicating overtly with the others to monitor progress.

I may have missed one or two elements in the scheme I have described. Now consider how this scheme is applied at university or places of work. A candidate who successfully participates in a scheme to cheat to academic success will learn lessons from the scheme, which he will apply in life. Cheating has been a constant feature of the 8-4-4 system; perhaps even of the previous system. How many procurement managers learnt the dodgy bits of supply chain management from schemes to cheat in national or university exams? How many elected representatives learnt how to manipulate the potential voters from the lessons they learnt when manipulating collaborators? Did Victor Kanyari draw lessons from his mother's incarceration such that he did no have to prove them at the KCSE by dropping out of school in form 2?

Mr Bindra, we may have reached a tipping point. It is true that cheating may lead to the collapse and reform of the current system of assessing how much one has learnt and what one is capable of doing. I believe the bigger problem is that there are many cheaters in decision-making positions who are incapable of seeing the moral hazards of inculcating the same values, consciously or subconsciously, in their organisations. We have a culture of cheating. We may weed it out of the exam system but i has spread outside of the system and pervaded every other area. We must now confront the challenge of weeding out cheating inculcated by successful cheaters who are now managers, teachers, MPs, lawyers and parents.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Colonia-era National Security.

I could kick myself. That is the thing about hindsight. If it was possible to kick one's butt, we could hardly ever sit down. All I had to do was ignore my parents and my teachers and concentrate instead on getting out of school at the earliest opportunity for a lesson in street economics. And because whether I attended school or not would not affect my near eidetic memory, all those tense years in catechism class would pay off, Victor-Kanyari-style. Obviously, that option can no longer be exercised because I sat for my KSCE without putting my parent's academic chops to shame. I should have, though.

That would have opened up the world of national security. Julius Karangi and David Kimaiyo are not interested in the best of the best; they would have been pretty excited if I brought them my C-, with an impressive D in maths, D in any of the sciences, D in social studies but gentleman's Cs in English and Swahili. After all when "communicating" with other Kenyans, passable English and Swahili would be de rigeur. Depending on the more accommodating of the two, I would have climbed up the ranks until I got stuck somewhere in the lucrative, modest money-making middle. I'd be too junior for the muckety mucks to notice, but senior enough to command my own men.

Godmen. Police. Soldiers on deployment. I think it is only union bosses left who haven't yet brought infamy upon their houses regarding sensitive matters. Victor Kanyari is the ghost of Christmas past for the whole church. The police are a law unto themselves and it is why they sneer snidely every time some civil rights industrialist goes on the warpath about graft in the ranks and human rights abuses. The army, on the other hand, is beloved - so long as it is kicking in doors or setting manyattas alight Over There. Now that Kapedo and its environs are receiving the attention that Mt Elgon did a few years ago, many Kenyans are cheering on their soldiers in the fight against banditry. If a few livestock animals get in the way, a few shop windows are smashed, a few houses set ablaze, and a few women are left weeping bitterly for the television cameras, it is a small price to pay to teach those bandits a lesson.

We were silent when traditional policing failed the peoples of Mt Elgon and the army was deployed there. The Independent Medico-Legal Unit visited Mt Elgon and recorded abuses on a scale not seen since the Wagallah Massacre two decades earlier. We may disagree about the inanity of the politics among the cattle-rustlers among the Turkana, the Ilchamus, the Pokot, the Samburu and the police, but by simply cheering on the rapine by the Kenya Defence Forces because it is not us at the receiving end of the "disarmament operation", but the more these operations become regular, the more they will become common in traditionally "secure" areas. 

The reason why families liquidate their holdings in order to buy a recruitment into the police or the defence forces has none to do with desire to serve the nation, but the opportunities to secure families' futures for generations to come. By the time the dreaded spy chief Kanyottu died, he was akin to a colonial-era landowner for all the land he owned and became the subject of vicious battles among his heirs. Former Chief of General Staff the late Gen Mulinge practically owned much of Kathiani. That is the lesson hundreds of thousands of Kenyans have drawn from our security services since independence. It is why the legitimacy of police deployments in bandit-prone areas is low, and why even the deployment of the army when the police fail is not a panacea.

Policing is in the shitter and domestic deployments of the army are about as welcome as skunk spray. Police reforms are meaningless if the founding principles of policing in Kenya remain unchanged. Since the Shifta Wars and the Wagallah Massacre, the army's legitimacy is only high when it is on short overseas deployments, especially on peacekeeping missions for the United Nations. But domestic deployments have always led to gross abuses which the supine profit-driven media houses have only been too happy to ignore for ever fatter favours from the powers-that-be. Kapedo will end badly. We will never find out. The police will never be reformed. And the army will remain a darling of the people - so long as it deals with Those People and not us.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

I am not a woman.

I am not a woman. Before splutter into your coffee or roll your eyes in derision, allow me an indulgent moment. I mean that I cannot for the life of me understand how a woman will feel when she is attacked by thugs with anyone who attempts to come to her aid fending off other attackers in the bargain. I am not going to understand why it is men who seem to have a very strong say over whether or not we can discuss menstruation and menstrual cramps at seven in the morning. I don't know how women feel about celibate men deciding what they can and cannot do with their vaginas or uteri. I don't know how women feel when they receive catcalls from boys young enough to be their sons or old enough to be their fathers or young enough to be their brothers. I am not a woman.

There are women in my life. Strong and capable each and every one of them. They are definitely smarter than I am; they demonstrate it every day they keep achieving what I desperately want to achieve: fame, wealth, joy. They are accomplished professionals. In one instance, she is so accomplished she can afford not to take on any responsibilities because even if she is not the boss, everyone will cut out her boss to get to her. Yes, she is that good. The women in my life have sat with presidents, kings and queens. They have made a mark that none can ignore. And they have done it in one of the most hostile environments, an environment of misogyny that hides behind the inadequate fig-leaves of god, culture and tradition.

I saw a man on TV saying he would murder his daughter if she chose to join the National Youth Service. He would kill his child. He wouldn't be directed to do it; he would deliberately seek her out and end her life if she chose to live outside his protective roof and became an individual woman with a career. To the best of my knowledge his is not an isolated stance. Many fathers will murder their daughters if their daughters dare to defy them. I don't know how women feel about living with the subconscious fear that their fathers - not their brothers or mothers - will murder them for doing something that is simply not on. Pregnant at sixteen? Death! Kissing a boy at fourteen? Death! Joining a university/college/polytechnic at eighteen? Death! Joining the NYS/KDF/National Police? Death! Having a menstrual cycle? Death! (OK, that last one seems unlikely, but still...) I don't know how women feel about the Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads at all times.

I know what it feels to be told that my opinion is invalid. Mostly I am reminded that my opinions are invalid because quite frequently the person saying so is a genius and who usually thinks I am an idiot. They are usually not wrong. But I have never been told that my opinion is irrelevant because I am a man. Even if I am patently unqualified to have an opinion because I am man, my opinion usually trumps the opinion of a woman because she is a woman. I don't know how women feel about that.

I know that I wouldn't stand by while men stripped a woman naked on the streets. I know I wouldn't stand for it because it is the right thing to do. I'd get my head kicked in; there are more men who would want to strip her naked than would want to defend her honour. I would intervene not because she reminded me of the women in my life, but because the women in my life would do the same for her. The women in my life have protected me since the day I drew breath and I deafened my birthing suite with my first attempt at communication. They have staved off hunger. They have conquered diseases. They have kept at bay predators large and small. They have imbued me with a vast trove of knowledge that has kept human predators at bay. They have banished loneliness. They have been a beacon of light in a very hostile world. And they have taught me love. In their honour I would die to protect the modesty of a woman, any woman, no matter the accusations leveled at her because women have protected my modesty all my life.

In support.

I thought I would be surprised at the degree of misogynistic vitriol Njoki Chege would attract. I was wrong. I was shocked at the depths Kenyans On Twitter, the hashtag army known as #KOT, would go to find material that would paint her in the worst possible light. She is attracting online hate, haterade in the online lingo, that seems completely devoid of reason. She is not the first woman to face this mass animus; Caroline Mutoko faced down a #KOT mob with courage, her customary acerbic wit and a fierce determination to protect her name - and her brand.

Kenya is fast joining the rest of the online world in the hounding of women who dare to play by boy's rules. It might be true that Ms Chege is too young to have such a cynical view of male-female relationships in the rubric of economic and academic considerations. But, as Patrick Gathara would put it, what does that have to do with the price of tea in China? Absolutely nothing; Ms Chege is expressing an opinion, based on her experiences, and expressing it with wit and style. I hope the Nationa Media Group keep her on for a few years more; her style can only get better with time and she'll have matured in her writing and social commentary.

What is almost certain is that Ms Chege will not lack in online enemies. They will have superficial reasons for devoting, collectively, hundreds of thousands of man hours and hundreds of billions of bytes to digging up unflattering information on her and they will take a misogyny-laced perverse pleasure in sharing this information with their online cohorts. I hope she has a strong mental constitution and she is capable of letting the hate wash off at the end of the work day.

In the United States they have started targetting women attacked online offline too. I hope this is never the case with Ms Chege. It is one thing for someone to violently disagree with an opinion expressed by a brash, witty and sassy woman. It is something else for that disagreement to be expressed out of the strict confines of the Letters to the Editor page or online chatrooms where these specimens of misogyny reside. So if she hasn't considered it yet, it is time Ms Chege started taking a keen interest in her personal safety.

Something notable of late has been the desire to attack the person of Ms Chege without arguing coherently whether her basic premise is correct or not. I think it is naive of her to believe that the path to marriage has only the one map. She was erased an entire demographic from her universe, but in the matters of the heart, the heart wants what she wants. If she is truly determined to check-list her way to marital bliss, we can only ask success for her. But a warning might do her a power of good. There might be a diamond-in-the-rough in the blue Subaru-driving, mutumba iPhone-wielding, cheap-lager-swigging, Roysambu-bedsitter-living, Nax-Vegas-frequent-flier jackanape on the make. It would be unwise to shove him out of the nearest airlock simply because of a checklist.

Pressure.

There is a disturbingly large number of Kenyans with a surprising degree of sociopathic tendencies, and who seek opportunities daily to express themselves in violent ways. A large proportion of these sociopaths work in the "transport industry" and when they are not busy killing us, deflowering our daughters or trafficking in substances of dubious provenance, they engage in Saudi Arabian levels of moral policing that would make the House of al Saud's mutawa'ah proud. That these sociopaths are both male and female should go without being mentioned, I hope.

There is a psycho-social pressure building up in Kenya. Our psyches are being enflamed by social and economic pressures over which, it seems, we are powerless to intervene. The poverty trap is increasingly real for larger numbers of working Kenyans. We are likely, today, to be felled by a bandit's bullet as we to be felled by a policeman's. We cannot even trust that life-saving vaccines are safe when the State and the Church have violently divergent opinions on the matter. We watch in horror as godmen rob us of our money and our dignity. There is this insidious encroachment of the public commons - pavements, parks, pubs, markets, schools - by armed men and the spies who report to them in the name of national security. We are told to spy on each other in the guise of community policing. And we wonder why sociopaths are taking it to the next logical level: enforcing the law in the manner they believe is best for society.

Take Nairobi as an example. On one side of Moi Avenue is a haven of relative civic peace, where the hoi polloi are encouraged not to visit. If they do visit, they are encouraged to conclude their business as quickly as possible and hightail it out of the area. It is done in subtle ways, this exclusion. There are no benches for them to rest weary feet. Even fast food joints are frequently out of their wallets' comfort zones. They are not encouraged to walk either; barriers are thrown up in their way to make the walking experience as unpleasant as possible. And they are monitored with great suspicion by armies of police and private security wherever they go. The pervasive sense of hostility is deliberate. The message is clear.

On the other side of Moi Avenue, on the other hand, the hoi polloi don't see themselves as such; they see themselves as hustlers in the same league as the most famous hustler of them all. They do not put on airs. They are in a hurry to get to the other side of Moi Avenue. But among them are the ones for whom the pressure of the hustle proves too much. They have been priced out of the housing market. Many of them can't square expenses with even two meals a day. They are left to police themselves; all the police are on the other side of Moi Avenue keeping the hustlers out. It is inevitable that these pressures will find violent expression in assaults of all kinds. That poor woman who was stripped naked by Embasava SACCO thugs is not alone.

The irony of a largely peaceful general election leaving a persistently violent aftermath is not lost on me. Since #TeamJubilee was sworn in, Kenyans have been at the receiving end of an unrelenting wave of violent attacks, some spectacular and others not. It is one of the most violent political epochs in a very long time. The last time this many Kenyan lived in stark fear was when extra-legal means were employed to control the Mungiki, including executions and murders for hire. You cannot trust the police; wasn't one of the explanations for Kapedo that the ambushing party that murdered twenty-three police thought they were ambushing Kenya Police Reserves belonging to the "other side"? You cannot trust the army; after Kapedo, we sent in the army to disarm but now the army is being accused of unfairly disarming one side and leaving the other side defenceless. You cannot trust the godmen either; Prophet Dr Kanyari is not an anomaly. You cannot trust anyone. This poisonous atmosphere will continue to manifest itself in violent outbursts: murders of police and stripping naked of "loose" women.