Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Sadist? I'm still staying!

Kenya Power, my favourite power utility monopoly, has a remarkable capacity to surprise. There was a weekend when it managed to inform me, twice too, that there would be a power interruption in my neighbourhood and true to its word, there were power interruptions. Through the text messages Kenya Power sent me, it apologised for the inconvenience and promised to resolve the "issues" soon. Kenya Power has quite a lot to do before it will gain my adulation or adoration, but it is on the right path.

KCB, on the other hand, is a whole other ball of yarn. My relationship with my bank is a sadistic one; it seems to take a perverse pleasure in making my life as complex as possible. Take what happened the last two days, for example. One of its ATMs captured my ATM card and wouldn't let go. Not after I punched buttons on the console in frenzied worry it wouldn't spit it out. The rather helpful message that arrived on my phone alluding to "format errors" was less than helpful, to say the least. Frankly, it was a bit insulting.

The process of retrieving the card is now down to an art form: find the woman that deals with customer whatchmacallit, give her your ID, sign a book, get your card back. Takes 10 minutes, on a slow day. This time, they made me sit and wait and wait and wait and thirty minutes later, without so much as a "Sorry for the time" shoved me out of their door. No biggie, I thought; at least I have it back.

Then I attempted to use it again. This time, it wasn't swallowed up in the innards of the machine; it just wouldn't spit out some money. So I went to see the manager. Again. Turns out, they had a few "issues" with their "systems" that day. Which they didn't tell me about. Not when they sent me that insulting text. Not when they made me sit in their damn banking hall for a half hour. NOt when they handed back my card. They waited for me to try it out, like the fool I am, and then went, "O, sorry! We have a problem with our systems today. Perhaps you could do an over-the-counter withdrawal." So that's what I did, Or tried.

That teller was some kind of mad that day. First she wouldn't do whatever it is tellers do on their computer consoles, because she was mad that I was doing an OTC withdrawal of such a piddling sum. "Mbona hukuenda kwa ATM?" What should have been another five-minute transaction, took the better part of fifteen as she bitched to whoever sat next to her about "these people" who waste her time with such small withdrawals.

Of course you're gonna ask, Why do you stay? The obvious. Equity seems like too-good-to-be-true and the CEO is an arrogant shit anyway. NBK? Are fucking nuts? Barclays? Even the Africa holding company doesn't think that its a good bet any more. Stanchart? No branch within walking distance of my loo. I am not Tier-II-ing so NIC, DTB, Family, CBA and Transnational are all out. Co-op? No way, no how! KCB, sadistic predilections or not, is the last sound bank around. I wonder how long that will last. The rude staff, the shitty communication style and the spectacularly opaque operating style are only annoying today; one day they may be annoying enough to warrant a change of banks. Even to the shady Equity.

Why would you seek elective office in Kenya?

No one in Kenya who holds the position of President, Deputy President, Governor, Deputy Governor, Senator, Member of the National Assembly or Member of a County Assembly or any of the nominated offices in Parliament or a County Assembly is held in much of a positive light. 
Elected or nominated members of parliament or county assemblies, or leaders of the national or county governments are not elected or nominated because of their positive contributions to human knowledge, medicine, engineering, architecture, law, accountancy, education, philosophy or the arts. None of them is a published author - even with the modern-day proliferation of ghost-writers. They are, to a man and woman, professional politicians interested only in the capture and retention of political power to the total exclusion of all else.

They have perfected the art of being venerated and being seen to be venerated; they have made all national and local issues about them, and not about their constituents. It is why you will not be surprised to find elected and nominated members of parliament or county assemblies, president and governors and all the other holders of elective public office officiating at the "inauguration" of cattle dips, abattoirs, mud-walled schoolrooms and community boreholes - commemorated with a photo opportunity for the bigwig planting a tree while standing on a red carpet.

For the chance to take home over a million shillings a month for 12 days of actual legislative work, while using ones high public office to influence public investments in infrastructure, energy, education or security, there are Kenyans willing to keep the country in a permanent state of political ferment, campaigning even when no elections are in sight. It is how no-hoppers with tainted public records declare with aplomb that only an election will wipe their nefarious slates clean.

None of the contenders or holders of high public office have an ideology worth abiding by. They are not motivated by grand ideas. They are not animated by anything greater than personal victory. None even has the shame to come up with a slogan like Baba Moi's Peace, Love and Unity (calling it a "philosophy" was taking things a bit too far) or Mzee Kenyatta's clarion-call, "Harambee!". Instead, we are left to snigger at "Kusema na kutenda", "Chungwa Moja, Maisha Bora", "accept and move on", "Okoa Kenya" and any number of frankly embarassing slogans when chanted with gusto by potbellied men.

So why do we persist in the disproven belief that political office is a panacea for our national woes, if only the right man or woman occupies it? What makes you think that if Willy Mutunga or Ekuru Aukot or Gladys Boss Shollei or Anne Waiguru or any of the famous public servants we have encountered in the past three years held elective public office, things would get better? Kenya's politics is devoid of any of the things that make an institution great: integrity, honesty, goodwill, intellect, innovation  and curiosity. It is fuelled, like all poor political systems are, by money, cheating, greed, treachery, tribalism and violence. Anyone who chooses to willingly engage in a campaign to attain high political office in Kenya should be treated with great suspicion. Always.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Ivory burning is not a policy

I have neither ill-will nor love for wild flora or fauna; I only recognise their commercial value and their potential for holding discoveries that could lead to cures for diabetes, cancer, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, arthritis, and so on and so forth.

Which brings us to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, of 1973, one year after the United Nations Environment Programme excised a portion of the Karura Forest in Nairobi to set up its headquarters. (The irony of a UN environment agency cutting down a part of a forest to put up concrete and stone buildings is not lost on me.) Back to CITES. The clue is in the title. It is an international agreement that regulates trade in endangered species.

Article II of the Convention is pretty interesting too.
1. Appendix I shall include all species threatened with extinction which are or may be affected by trade. Trade in specimens of these species must be subject to particularly strict regulation in order not to endanger further their survival and must only be authorized in exceptional circumstances.
2. Appendix II shall include:
(a) all species which although not necessarily now threatened with extinction may become so unless trade in specimens of such species is subject to strict regulation in order to avoid utilization incompatible with their survival; and

(b) other species which must be subject to regulation in order that trade in specimens of certain species referred to in sub-paragraph (a) of this paragraph may be brought under effective control.
3. Appendix III shall include all species which any Party identifies as being subject to regulation within its jurisdiction for the purpose of preventing or restricting exploitation, and as needing the co-operation of other Parties in the control of trade.

4. The Parties shall not allow trade in specimens of species included in Appendices I, II and III except in accordance with the provisions of the present Convention.
As you can see, the Principles of the CITES do not forbid trade in endangered species; trade is permitted so long as it is strictly regulated and conducted in accordance with the provisions of the Convention. Which brings me to the question of our remarkable stockpiles of animal trophies: why burn them at all?

The argument that the value of living wildlife rises as the stock of poached animal trophies is reduced has been canvassed on both sides. What is certain, though, is that since the first Kenyan incineration of animal trophies in 1989, poaching has not reduced, but has dramatically increased. Animal trophies are not proof of demand for them; they are proof that the conservation and wildlife protection strategies at play have failed.

More official incineration of animal trophies is not proof of a reassessment of these strategies but a blind faith in ineffective "symbolic" acts that have done little to reduce wildlife destruction by poachers. In wildlife conservation and protection, we are at the stage of madness where we repeat the same strategies over and over in the expectation of a different, better outcome.

It would help, perhaps, if we read the CITES keenly, removed the emotional rhetoric from its assessment, and applied its principles as they were meant to to be applied. If there is a moratorium - not ban - on trade in trophies, the basis for that moratorium should be reviewed because it has not stopped the unlawful destruction of Kenya's flora and fauna. All the emotional hand-wringing over the past two years since the last time animal trophies were incinerated have not reversed the slaughter of elephants, rhinos, buffalo or lions. Let us stop pretending that it will after 30th April.

The international justice two-step

The phrase "international justice" evokes a sense of true justice, where the global community rallies to ensure that a great injustice is never perpetrated again. In 2007, a Kenyan general election was declared unfree and unfair by the losing opposition. The ruling party told the opposition to get stuffed. 

The general election and the declaration of the presidential results had a terrible aftermath. One thousand, one hundred and thirty three were declared dead when the dust settled. In 2010, six Kenyans - three prominent politicians, two very senior civil servants and a little-known radio host - were indicted at the International Criminal Court for offences connected with the aftermath of the 2007 general election. Six years later, not one of them was convicted.

Kenya, just like the United States, the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia and Israel, have put the lie to the story that there is such a thing as "international justice." What has always been there is victor's justice; the one left standing decides what punishment needs to be meted out to the one on his back on the floor. The experiments at victims' justice have all been in the developing global south: Africa (Rwanda) and Asia (Cambodia). The Rome Statute is the logical culmination of these somewhat successful experiments. It has been exposed to be the failure it was always going to be.

Since the Allied Powers tried - and punished - Nazi leaders at Nuremberg after the Second World War, it should have been clear to the wide-eyed idealists that it is the victorious who determine the outcome of a conflict, not an international tribunal. International tribunals, looked at in a different light, have a lousy foundation for their authority: treaties. Treaties are the bastard children of international politics and diplomacy, especially when unsavory nations are involved. (If you do not understand the unsavory nature of the British or French, you're beyond help.)

Treaties are compromises that nations strike in order not to offend each other as they sell each other goods and services. The Rome Treaty is no different. Its ostensible aim may be to ensure that war crimes are punished, but its true aim is to ensure that markets are not disrupted by conflict. Kenya may not be as big a market as South Africa, Egypt or Nigeria, but be under no illusion, it is an important market and the 2007/2008 crisis threatened the proper operations of that market. The victims were the fig leaf used to cover the true reason why an ICC trial was needed.

Now that the Government of Kenya has had its knuckles rapped by the sham of an ICC investigation and the fiasco of a  prosecution, the pretense at justice for the victims is at an end. Many have been "resettled" and "compensated" though many PEV offenders walk free without fear of arrest or prosecution. The DPP has concluded that few prosecutions can be sustained on the basis of the information available. (His office, by the by, is not looking for fresh information.) The Judiciary's hand are tied; the Supreme Court is not the constitutional court nor does it have original jurisdiction in criminal matters. Besides, says the Chief Justice, Kenya's is a bandit economy and he and his judiciary are under siege.

International justice is a sham, a scam. The sooner we got over the lie, the sooner we can design a system of justice that suits our purposes. What form that system will take remains a mystery we have been unable to crack, blinded as we were by traditions and customs of the "international community."

Thursday, April 21, 2016

When the moment of truth comes

Some people, really! Tell me if you think this is one dumb thing to do. 

Cops aren't the most beloved of civil servants the world over, and in Kenya they are reviled almost universally. But not all of them are bad people. Actually many of them are rather honourable chaps. Remember that AP who calmed down a riotous mob during the dark days of the PEV? And how many of you think that the traffic cop "Bensouda" shouldn't be respected and recognised for forcing matatu crews to see her point of reasoning?

Whenever the RECCE Company is called in, Kenyans heave a sigh of relief because hey know, bar a Karangi-sized blunder, some very bad guys will get very big holes in their heads and innocents will be rescued. We may think that Karangi's spec-ops soldiers botched Westgate, and that they have been a bit heavy-handed when deployed in domestic policing situations, but they are still proudly our troops and we salute them every time they kick shabbies' in the teeth.

The men and women who serve in our disciplined and defence forces are our fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, friends and lovers. There are many rotten apples among them, but they keep us safe in very difficult circumstances. There is one cohort of Kenyans that enjoys the services of the disciplined forces, especially the police, for a fraction of their true worth: elected representatives.

According to Inspector-General Boinnet, there are 11,000 policemen guarding various VIPs and VVIPs. Because of this security blanket, this cocoon of steel, elected representatives do not have to worry about the petty indignities ordinary Kenyans suffer at the hands of brigands and purse-snatchers. Neither do their spouses, lovers, children or properties.

So why would one of the gilded elite shit on the very people who keep his ass from getting fragged by shabbies? We may have our differences with the Commander-in-Chief, and some of those differences will put us at cross-purposes till the end of time, but be in no doubt that he loves and respects his troops, from the cop on the beat in Isebania to the Chief of Defence Forces at DoD HQ. So when he asks - not demands - asks! you to get off you fat ass and pay a moment of silence in memory of cops and soldiers killed in the line of duty - or just even killed - you get your fat ass off your chair and bow your fucking head in respectful silence.

If you don't, don't go around bitching to the judge when cops understandably don't want to protect your ass from muggers and murderers. If I were a cop and I were a bodyguard for some asswipe in bunge and that asswipe refused to respectfully acknowledge that my colleagues were killed in the line of duty because of a beef with the C-in-C, I would have very strong feelings about keeping around him as his bodyguard. I would go to my Commanding Officer and I would respectfully ask to be reassigned, even if the reassignment took me to Lokichar or Baragoi. I have a feeling my colleagues would have strong feelings about it too.

So what makes this dude think that getting a court order - an order! - for police to be assigned for his protection will end well for him? In 1984, Indira Gandhi, Prime Minister of India, ordered Operation Bluestar to proceed. It deeply offended Sikhs in India, of whom some were members of her elite bodyguard, who joined a conspiracy to assassinate her. I am not saying that officers of the ]National Police Service are going to assassinate an MP because he was being an ass; but do you really think they will lay down their lives for him when the moment of truth comes? 

I wouldn't.

A harbinger

Good people, in my ongoing jihad against an expansion of administrative authority, I turn your attention to the provisions of section 6 of the Trade Descriptions Act, chapter 505 of the laws of Kenya, especially in another civil servant's jihad against Daktari wa Mapenzi.

The section is a bit lengthy, so bear with me.
(1) It shall be an offence for any person, in the course of any trade—
(a) to make a statement which he knows to be false; or
(b) recklessly to make a statement which is false, as to any of the following matters—
(i) the provision in the course of any trade of any services, accommodation or facilities;
(ii) the nature of any services, accommodation or facilities provided in the course of any trade;
(iii) the time at which, manner in which, or persons by whom, any services, accommodation, or facilities are so provided;
(iv) the examination, approval or evaluation, by any person of any services, accommodation or facilities so provided;
(v) the location or amenities of any accommodation so provided.
(2) For the purposes of this section—
(a) anything (whether or not a statement as to any of the matters specified in subsection (1)) likely to be taken for such a statement as to any of those matters as would be false shall be deemed to be a false statement as to that matter; and
(b) a statement made regardless of whether it is true or false shall be deemed to be made recklessly, whether or not the person making it had reasons for believing that it might be false.
Let us assume, as the KFCB seems to have assumed, that Daktari wa Mapenzi is engaged in a trade and that in this trade the good Daktari offers a service whose outcome might be a cure for a broken heart or love-sickness or virility in the bedroom or the successful completion of a business deal or some similar outcome. Let us assume that the A4-sized and laminated posters on lampposts and market walls are trade descriptions within the meaning of the Trade Descriptions Act. If you can see how and why the KFCB would intervene in this particular area of the law as a lead agency in the enforcement of the provisions of section 6 of the Act, you are much smarter than I am.

I could delve into the intricacies of the Witchcraft Act or the Consumer Protection Act, 2012, but I don't want to bore you to death. That you've gotten this far is testimony enough to your fortitude. The Kenya Film Classification Board is not a consumer protection organisation nor is it a colonial-era police organisation going after waganga and wachawi. Iit is not even a regulatory body in the mould of the Communications Authority. At the end of the day it is, and remains, an KANU-era anachronism in the twenty-first century.

Film classification is a holdover from the film censorship days which was, in turn, the demon seed of the Victorian Age when morality was guided by Her Majesty the Queen and her minions. The KFCB wants to take over from where the Victorian England left off and pursue immorality where it might find it and hound it out of the national system. We know it will fail. It knows it will fail. Yet its CEO seems hellbent in treading the same path that has led to the great abuse of personal liberties by autocracies the world over. In fact, if the KFCB is not careful it will soon enough be compared to the thick-headed mutaween of Saudi Arabia's Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice which, according to Wikipedia.org, in 2010,
"...launched a massive campaign against "sorcery" or "black magic" in the Kingdom. The prohibition includes "fortune tellers or faith healers". (Some people executed for sorcery following the announcement include a man from Najran province in June 2012, a Saudi woman in the province of Jawf, in December 2011, and a Sudanese man executed on September 2011."
The KFCB is the harbinger to a religious police. That should scare everyone. 

More listening, less regulation

Ezekiel Mutua, speaking as the Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Films and Classification (or so it was reported by un-patriotic, possibly immoral layabouts who do not like Kenya and are enemies of Kenyan moral values) does not think that television advertisements (and other forms of advertisement) for prophylactics (that's "condoms for the semi-literate reading this blog) should not be broadcast during the broadcast watershed period (that would be between 5:00 am and 10:00 pm). Let's have some fun at his expense.

Article 34, on the freedom of the media, at sub-Article (2) states,
The State shall not—
(a) exercise control over or interfere with any person engaged in broadcasting, the production or circulation of any publication or the dissemination of information by any medium; or Freedom of expression.
(b) penalise any person for any opinion or view or the content of any broadcast, publication or dissemination.
Of course this constitutional freedom may be limited under the circumstances contemplated at Article 24(1), that is,
(1) A right or fundamental freedom in the Bill of Rights shall not be limited except by law, and then only to the extent that the limitation is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom, taking into account all relevant factors, including––
(a) the nature of the right or fundamental freedom;
(b) the importance of the purpose of the limitation;
(c) the nature and extent of the limitation;
(d) the need to ensure that the enjoyment of rights and fundamental freedoms by any individual does not prejudice the rights and fundamental freedoms of others; and
(e) the relation between the limitation and its purpose and whether there are less restrictive means to achieve the purpose.
The broadcast watershed period is, among Mr Mutua's many justifications, meant to protect children. (A "child" in Kenya is any individual who has not attained the age of eighteen––Article 250). Therefore, Mr Mutua's broadcast watershed period condom ad ban is for the protection of children––which could be a new-born babe or an individual who is one day shy of his eighteenth birthday. Mr Mutua is not known for the nuanced application of guidelines.

However, Mr Mutua has not justified his condom ad ban, only qualifying that it shall not apply to condom ads by the Government or public health ads by the Government. (It would have been interesting to see Mr Mutua attempt to censure the Ministry of Health over its condom ads.) First, pornography (if that would be Mr Mutua's anti-condom ad argument) is not within the KFCB's mandate, but that of county governments (Fourth Schedule, Part 2, paragraph 13). 

Second, if he relied on Article 24(1)(b), that is, "the importance of the purpose of the limitation," explained as the protection of children, he will have skipped over one or two discomfitting facts including the increasing incidences of young people having unprotected sex because their knowledge of prophylaxis is limited.

Third, protection of the children is the principal aim of Article 53(2), which would, presumably, includes their protection from the ill-effects of unprotected sex. Information is power and Mr Mutua would deny sexually active children available information about sex and protection, endangering their lives, contrary to the demands of Article 53.

I am not sure children should be denied key information about sex. Of course, the information has to be age-appropriate, but a blanket condom ad ban is asinine and gravely risky, especially in a country where current public health statistics reveal an increasing rate of childhood pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. Mr Mutua may not realise this, but when he claims "cross-jurisdictional responsibilities" as the reason for his encroachment into administrative spheres beyond the KFCB's ken, he forgets that without a keener appreciation of that area's policy implications, he would be best served by listening more and regulating less.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Mr Wangusi is wrong

I have not seen the ruling but definitely we are going to challenge it...There is nothing unconstitutional in that Act since it conforms to section 33 of the Kenyan Constitution. ~ Francis Wangusi,Communications Authority
This is the second time we have had to confront the thinking of a senior public officers regarding the limits of the institution that he heads. The Attorney-General is the principal legal advisor to the Government. In this case, "Government" includes all ministries, departments and agencies, such as the Communications Authority. The Judiciary, that is, the High Court, has the constitutional authority to determine whether or not a right or fundamental freedom has been violated or might be violated by any person, including a public body such as the National Police Service, the Communications Authority or the Director of Public Prosecutions.

What Mr Wangusi did was to remind Kenyans that senior public officers are more enamoured of their powers than they are of the role they play in turning Kenya into a vibrant and successful nation. By his own admission, Mr Wangusi has not read the judgment of the constitutional court, has no clue what its rationale is, but he is nevertheless persuaded that the judgment is wrong and he is not.

This is not the first time section 29 of the Kenya Information and Communications Act has been challenged. It is a victory of sorts because the section has become the basis for the unconstitutional detention and trial of critics of the Government, its Cabinet's members and other senior government officials. Mr Wangusi is alive to the limitations of Article 33 of the Constitution, especially sub-Article (3), but he is not the principal legal advisor to the Government who can claim with authority what the constitution might or might not mean, nor is he a member of the constitution court who can determine with finality what the constitution actually means and he should stop pretending to be.

The Communications Authority is a powerful agency and it doesn't need more power. It can determine to a very great extent what kinds of information most Kenyans can have access to. It doesn't need to become the arbiter of whether or not a persons rights or reputation have been damaged; that is the realm of the courts and the Defamation Act. As a communications' regulator, the Communications Authority should ensure that those who offer communications' services to us do so at fair prices and of good quality that are reliable while protecting the privacy of our communications. It is not the Authority's job to decide whether or not a thin-skinned politician has been defamed, slandered or libeled. In other words, if you think your reputation is worth twenty million shillings and you think certain statements have damaged that twenty-million shilling reputation, put your mouth where your money is and take your accusation to court. Don't ask the Communications Authority to be your heavy.

Mr Wangusi and Mr Mutua, the Kenya Film Certification Board are working on our last collective nerve. But we have learnt; the Judiciary, every now and then, gets of its fat ass and does something useful. These two should learn the proper lessons from the Mumbi Ngugi judgment or forever suffer our undying and undimmed hostility.

The quality of state officials

It will not raise the quality of state officials. What? you may ask. The requirement that they must have a minimum academic qualification to hold elected office. Kenya is looking for the magic bullet that will guarantee its future as a stable polity and successful economy. That magic bullet is not an academically credentialled membership of its legislatures. It can't hurt, for sure, but it is not the panacea that we have come to believe it is. You only have to see the acrimonious mudslinging between two "professors" - one, a politically connected one and the other a US-based academic - to see that formal education, even university education, is no reason for men to be reasonable.

It is like the misleading proposal that the more we legislate "integrity" the better our chances of controlling graft. When "corruption" was punished under the Penal Code, there was rife corruption in Kenya. The situation did not end with the enactment of the Anti-corruption and Economic Crimes Act, the Public Officer Ethics Act, the Public Procurement and Disposal Act, the Public Finance Management Act or the Leadership and Integrity Act. What happened is what always happens in Kenya: the crooks got smarter, the law enforcement became poorer, the scams got bigger.

We assume that an educated Parliament, for example, will "read Bills and contribute meaningfully to parliamentary debate and pass laws that make sense." Obviously, that is not accurate. The majimbo Parliament may not have had as many university graduates as the post-KANU 10th Parliament, yet the 10th was incapable of solving some of our most intractable problems. Indeed, the 10th is notorious for making things worse. The quality of debate was abysmal and the plethora of new laws made things worse. Wit and wisdom were noticeably absent; no one had the surefootedness to pull off a Jean-Marie Seroney-like "You cannot substantiate the obvious."

Our problems do not stem from a lack of credentialled elected representatives capable of navigating the information age or the twenty-first century's challenges. Our problems stem from a leadership class that is more interested in self-aggrandisement than leading their constituents. It matters not whether leadership is in the public sector or the private sector, the principal aim of all Kenyan leaders is wealth accumulation at all costs. Few Kenyan leaders are interested in new ideas, or learning for the sake of advancing the knowledge base of the country. Now that scores of elected leaders are pursuing university degrees, I will wager that the outcome will not be better government.

The false narrative that MPs, Senators, Cabinet Secretaries, Governors, MCAs and the lot must be well-educate din order to lead forgets that they do not govern on their own. Government has a public service, and it is this public service that does the actual governing. Parliament and county legislatures need well-educated staffs. Without the lawyers, accountants, economists, and other policy professionals, even a well-educated MP is at sea on matters outside his professional competence. It is these professional civil servants who draw up policy papers, draft Bills, audit reports, financial statements, budget documents and the rest of it that MPs rely on to make laws or debate effectively.

I don't mean that MPs or similar state officers should be ignorant louts. I mean that they should be intelligent enough to consider the information at their disposal so as to make better decisions for the good of the nation. Intelligence is not always measured by the number of academic credentials one has acquired. There are senators who have recently graduated from university; no one is under any illusion that their relatively brand new academic qualifications will be used for the publication of better laws or for holding the national executive to account. 

Back to Jean-Marie Seroney; he was Martin Shikuku's contemporary. The former was a respected member of the Kenyan Bar while the latter did not seem to have been beyond secondary school. But between the two of them, the quality of debate in Parliament was the result of careful reasoning, innate intelligence, a capacity to read widely and an ability to consume complex information and process it quickly with a view to solving a problem. None of the current lot wants to solve problems other than the problem of their relative poverty.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Why is the Laico so expensive?

Are you thinking of booking a conference at the Laico Regency? I hope you're a patient and forgiving client, like me, and are willing to suffer minor indignities that would drive the finicky among us (yes, you, Samoe!) to utter distraction. I'm currently sequestered in a stuffy conference room that has sucked the last morsel of goodwill out of me, staring at conference tables designed by Beelzebub, lacklustre Tropical mints (yes, the ones offered by sweets' vendors on Landhies Road) and thinking dark thoughts because even after I bitched about it, my buffet lunch was not accompanied by my preferred beverage: ice-cold Coca-Cola.

About that lunch, Lord Jesus better take the wheel. The food is not bad, that is, it won't murder me tonight (I think). It isn't the best, but what do you expect for bottom-dollar anyway. The food is not the reason why I wanna murder a member of the Laico's management; it is the whole restaurant experience.

Those Java House people do one thing and they do it well (never mind their crap chicken curry): they will separate you from the contents of your wallet with a smile, and excellent cup of coffee and and ambiance that even at the height of lunch-time traffic never falters. The Laico, sadly, is not good at what it does. In fact, it is abysmal. I don't know how many conferences the Laico is hosting today, but it is clear that there are too many conference attendees for the restaurant facilities to cope.

It feels like a rugby scrum when we go up to our lunch, pushing and jostling and suffering from what is now becoming a signature effect of the Laico, the stuffiness. The managers must love the stuffy, musty smell because even with the windows wide open, the damn place just feels confined and claustrophobic. It is an oppressive atmosphere and I am keen to get out as soon as the workday is over. I don't even wish to try out their bar (do they have a bar?) or the spa (that they have). I just want to get out.

And yet...remember when the Grand Regency first opened its doors? It was all gilded this and gilded that and the eye-watering charges just made it all the more exclusive and classy-feeling. The Summit Club was the place to be seen in. Those halcyon days are long over and the Laico today feels like an over-the-hill, once great hotel. It is and feels old. Lift buttons? Faded and scratched. WiFi? You've got to be kidding me! Bathroom facilities? Small, stained and whiff-y. Car-park? Small and I-will-break-your-neck cobblestoned. It isn't even trying to feel good or look good; it just wants money without doing anything for it. It feels, forgive me, like a parliamentarian who keeps promising to do his job next week when he gets back to bunge.

About the food, if you like boiled-to-death meat...

The KFCB trial balloon

In conclusion, we reiterate our commitment to continue working closely with all stakeholders to create an environment that supports the growth of the film and broadcast sectors while at the same time protecting national moral values. - Kenya Film Classification Board
I challenge you, dear reader, to find the phrase "national moral values" in the Constitution of Kenya. Go on; I'll wait. Really. Okay, that was unfair. See if you can find it in the Films and Stage Plays Act, chapter 222 of the laws of Kenya. Go on; surely it must be there, the way the Kenya Film and Classification Board seems to bandy it about with enthusiasm these days. For the anal among us, "morality" is mentioned seven times in the Constitution of Kenya and in none of those circumstances could any reasonable reader contemplate the KFCB as the arbiter of  morality.

If you have been paying attention, you will surely realise that the KFCB has suddenly become very prominent over the past two years, since it put its foot down and declared that the Wolf of Wall Street would not be screened in Kenya because of its threat to national moral values. In the past month alone, it has entered into a contest of wills with Google Inc. over a music video broadcast over YouTube, a Google property, and Coca-Cola over a TV ad that shows young people being intimate over a bottle of Coca-Cola. In every instance of its muscle-flexing, the KFCB has claimed that it is doing so in the name of "national moral values."

The KFCB is exercising a mandate that does not exist. The Constitution has not established a moral police; the Films and Stage Plays Act, where the KFCB draws its authority from, does not deal with the moral values of the nation. We may snigger as the KFCB thumbs its nose at us, the consumers of films and stage plays and the targets of adverts, but this creation of a power out of thin air might be a trial balloon to see how much coercive power might be created out of thin air and how that power might be wielded.

In one of his delightful posts on Facebook, the KFCB CEO details how he and a former Cabinet minister met with heads of state in order to calm them down in the run up to the 2013 general elections. He was responding to cruel sniggers about one of his other delightful posts which he made about the KQ business class lounge some time back.  He finishes by puffing his chest out by all-capping thus,
But it is the sentence, "The president sent his 'trusted men' to assure our neighbours..." that gives me pause. In Moi's regime, "trusted men" were responsible for some of the darkest episodes in our nation's history and the revival of that language by a self-styled protector of national moral values should worry us.  Frequent allusions to "God" and "protect the children" in addition to the enforcement of a non-existent national moral values mandate are signs that the KFCB does not know its constitutional or statutory limits and will keep pushing the envelope until it is stopped or it becomes akin to a Moi era monster. The KFCB is a trial balloon. If it is not stopped something much worse will seize non-existent power. That power will not be wielded for our benefit. Such powers never are.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Messianism and the semi-literate

The KFCB, Kenya Film Classification Board to the uninitiated, or Kenya Film Censorship Board to the pining-for-the-'80s lot, is an interesting bureaucratic animal. It has a strange mandate: to review and issue classification certificates for all films broadcast in Kenya and every play staged in Kenya. Or so you would think. It is now, so far as I can tell from the statements of its Chief Executive Officer, a broadcast regulator and a communications' regulator. I wonder why the Communications Authority still exists.

You may find this to be a strange state of affairs and if you do, you'll be forgiven for missing the essential ingredients of a Kenyan bureaucratic animal, which are the complete and utter rejection of the confines of statute and the inexorable encroachment into potentially lucrative unrelated statutory environments. Given the increasing public profile of bank runs and bank collapses, it wouldn't surprise me if the KFCB expressed a deep desire to regulate the banking sector for the sake of Kenya's "moral values" or some similar schlock.

But the KFCB is not alone: the Communications Authority and the Competition Authority have been wrangling over the whether or not one or the other has the power to declare a telecommunications company as dominant, the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Kenya Forest Service have had their differences over wildlife in forests, the National Environment Management Authority and the Water Resources Management Authority have wrangled over the right to collect water licence fees, Administration Police officers and Kenya Police Force officers have shot at each other because the former are merely a riot police organisation while the latter is a crime fighting force, and so on and so forth. 
In Kenya, the law is not the problem and it has never been. Those with the power to interpret it or enforce it have always attempted to read more into a law than the law warranted. It is how, more than a decade after the KFCB stopped censoring films and started classifying them in order for audiences to choose their poison, in a manner of speaking, its current CEO is hellbent in rolling back the clock and resorting to film censorship in complete rejection of the legsilative boundaries established by the Films and Stage Plays Act, chapter 222 of the laws of Kenya, and section 46I of the Kenya Information and Communications Act, 1998.

The KFCB CEO is not alone. He is part of a grand tradition of ignoring statutory limits because, just as the colonialists taught us, it is better to err on the side of statutory excess than to allow "anarchy" to reign free. It is why KFCB is on a jihad against immorality and why, if it follows the same path as all that have come before it, it will not stop at censoring Coca-Cola TV ads but will carry on until it decrees what we can think and when we can think it. It is Charles Njonjo's injunction against imagining the death of the president as enforced by an institution with a massive Napoleonic complex mixed with the Messianism of the semi-literate. It will not end well for anyone.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The generosity of stray lions

A few weeks ago, if you have been keeping track, I was underwhelmed by the Maasai Ostrich Park. In my angry disappointment, I forgot to look at the Big Picture: the Nairobi national Park is not what it was five or ten years ago. Not even the Kenya Wildlife Service, KWS, can hide that the Nairobi National Park is now, for all intents and purposes, a very large zoo.

The conversion of that unique ecosystem has proceeded unabated since the Kenya Meat Commission became a political plaything, or more particularly, its real estate assets became the equivalent of a billion-shilling post-dated cheque. Once upon a time, if you were one of the lucky few who could afford to travel the ridiculously bad Nairobi-Mombasa Highway, ones eyes were not marred by human development along the Athi-Kapiti Plains, that stretch from the edges of the Tsavo right inside the Nairobi National Park and south-wards towards the Mara.

What was the Athi River Township was nothing but the DC's camp and the KCB branch. Kitengele didn't even exist. Neither did the EPZ, though Bamburi and Portland were thriving. On the other, smellier side of the highway were the industrial-sized Kuku Mfalme coops, Mohan-Maekin's smelly distillery and Tuff-Foam's factory. There were no houses in sight. But that zone was dominated by the KMC abattoir and its holding pens which stretched almost all the way to the Machakos Town turn-off. "Conservationists" had done a very good job of keeping the Athi-Kapiti to themselves, for a few of them owned spreads right on the edge of the Nairobi National Park and to protect their cachet, they were determined to be the only residents in or around the Park, other than the KWS, of course. It didn't work out that way. Not by a long shot.

The 1980s, after the fiddles with settlement schemes had fizzled out, came the rapacious conversion of land-rich parastatals into private fiefdoms of Moi's Boys, and the Athi Kapiti was a major victim. The KMC holding grounds were swiftly and dubiously privatised. To hasten the process along, the KMC was starved of managerial talent and government subsidies; its mounting debts compelled it to sell off its holding grounds and that is how the area is now festooned with new cement factories and steel manufacturers of dubious repute. What was once the fiefdom of the KWS came to fall under the rapacious sway of county council chairmen and successive ministers of lands and what was known as the chief wildlife corridor between the Tsavo and the Mara became home to massive real estate developments.

If you want to understand why lions are increasingly being found outside the Park, the destruction of the lions' ecosystem by a series of policy decisions that have shrunken the original size of not just the Park but of the Athi Kapiti should b a very big clue. This problem will be exacerbated by the relentless human encroachment and development of the Athi-Kapiti; already the subdivision of large settler-era ranches is further worsening the changing fortunes of the Athi-Kapiti. When the Konza Technopolis is finished, that change will be irreversible and not just lions, but leopards, giraffe, antelopes and buffalo will wander more and more outside the Park. All the tranquilizer darts in the world will not prevent it and the calls to relocate the wildlife out of the Park to either the Tsavo or the Mara will grow and the Capital City will have finally lost one of its few precious natural gems that we can all agree is important.

I saw Gideon Moi, Senator of Baringo, extol the virtues of giving in the context of his father's twenty-four year presidency. For sure, the former president gave and gave and gave, though more often than not, what he gave he never possessed in the first place. It is how the Athi Kapiti is filled with Chinese-built flats, steel mills, cement manufacturers and "escaping" lions. When we encounter a stray lion we should remember Baba Moi's spirit of "generosity"; one day that generosity will cost us dearly, if it hasn't yet.