Friday, December 19, 2014

Civilised, my ass.

Did you hear that ladies' panties were part of the melee in the National Assembly yesterday? I certainly didn't until I came across that piece of salacious intel in one of our more risque tabloids. It did lay bare, pun very much intended, the lowbrow nature of the National Assembly. (lowbrow adjective  not interested in serious art, literature, ideas, etc. : relating to or intended for people who are not interested in serious art, literature, ideas, etc.)

If there is an idea that captures the imagination of both Houses of Parliament, it is their obsession with their perquisites and privileges, at the expense of everyone else. The broken record of our outrage at their ever rapacious designs on the Consolidated Fund have fallen on ever deafer ears. We have made our peace with it, though; now we face the unedifying spectre of honorable members making crass allegations regarding ladies' underwear!

The ostensible reason for the fracas in the National Assembly was the draconian nature of the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014, and the manner in which the Majority Party's use of its Tyranny of Numbers guaranteed its passage. There are also allegations that strangers from the Senate, the other House, had infiltrated the National Assembly with a determination to disrupt its proceedings. (A Senator is on record that as he was being impolitely ejected from the chamber, one of the Serjeant-at-Arms' men proceeded to rip away a chunk of his trousers.)

The more plausible reason is that our parliamentarians are a reflection of our degree of tolerance towards each other. Even among members of the same family today, it is common to find siblings or spouses fighting viciously with each other over relatively minor matters. Few are willing to listen or consider opposing viewpoints, even when they could be best served by them. What is happening in our homes, our places of work, our pubs and the sporting arenas is reflected in the manner that honourable members deal with each other. The same style of violence employed by their electors is the same style of violence they chose to apply against each other over the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014.

The triumphalism of the Majority party is of a piece with the triumphalism of bad winners, careening around like sailors on shore leave after a long voyage at sea. The Majority Party has its Bill. It is time that they considered the implications of what they have done. When the rain falls, it doesn't fall on one man's housetop, so Bob Marley said. Today, the Majority Party is triumphant. One day, when Jubilee has been consigned to the kiddy pool, the strictures enumerated in the Bill will come to visit night terrors on its proponents. In a police state, not even the loyal party apparatchik is safe for long.

The Minority Party has covered itself in as much shit as the Majority Party. Some of the Minority Party's loudest hecklers have lost whatever dignity they had before they became parliamentarians, having forfeited their right to think to their party leader. They are an embarrassment, frequently  shown up by more measured members of their tribe who choose to keep their mouths shut when piping up is of no value. Parliament now has members who find edification in penises and underwear. Civilised, did I hear you say? Civilised, my ass!

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Three Barrels

Around those Three Barrels we have solved the problems of this nation. Around those Three Barrels we have found the cure for chronic famine, catastrophic wars, terrorism, public education, ennui, broken hearts. We have rediscovered arcane rules of grammar long consigned to the detritus-riven ash-heap of memory. (Some of my readers may be able to remark on the finer points of tarakilishi la...)

I imagine the posher, million-shillings-a-year clubs would have more comfortable surroundings, but for a full-throated defence of ones position in surroundings of relative mutual trust (let us not get carried away; this is Nairobi after all), none can beat the Three Barrels. I don't know when the KCS building leased out its space to the purveyor of the Three Barrels; I don't know and I don't care. All I care is that the place exists, the last bastion for the civilised drink at the and of a long day full of worry.

I have no idea when I first set foot in the place, but I remember Bogonko Bosire was loudly making his presence felt. He sneered in that style of his when he saw my careworn copy of that week's the Economist. He had no qualms yanking it out of my hands and declaring an opinion on each and every subject the Economist chose to address that week. Then, rather grandiosely, he offered to educate me on the finer points of global magazine publishing. Fortunately, his latest object of carnal desire walked into the place and Bogonko Bosire was gone from my presence, like a genie's puff of smoke.

I remember when I first spoke to Eric. He was a newspaper commentator then, and I spent many a happy Sunday taking his arguments and turning them on their head right on this blog. Of course he had no idea who I was; at that time I only had a couple of pages in The Nairobi Law Monthly (after calling Ahmednasir names, no less) so I was sure he had no idea he and I shared the Nairobi smog. But after one particularly infuriating article I just had to confront Eric and to my great surprise he took it in stride and we hit it off.

I am still vague when I first said "Hi" to Leo or Maureen, or when Ashford stopped looking at me as if I was the crud one kicks off his shoes. But I am glad I did and he did; now I can't imagine an evening round the Three Barrels without the agreeable debate with Leo and Maureen and the Very Loud Interjection by Ashford. I am still not sure Mike does, but at least he knows the difference between 45s and 78s, and Aggrey seems to know everything else.

However, sometimes it's Joseph who seems to know it all. On the cosmos, for example, he is our resident expert. He understands the theory behind black holes, dark matter and the God Paradox. But he can be a bit militant every time I puncture the reasoned debates with my S4s speaker ad burst of Bob Marley. (Papu approves, by the way.)

The Three Barrels are a sanctuary away from the madness and noise and elbows to be found at Tamasha, K1 or Tribeka. Thy are convenient, for me. Beverages  are served at the right temperature. The Three Barrels are yet to see a kleptomaniac patronising them - or a vandal for that matter. They have seen their fair share Annoying Ones, but by and large, the Three Barrels are the publican version of a Barcalounger. The only mystery that the Three Barrels has not been unravel is Where Is Bogonko Bosire?

To friends...and 2015!

I once told you I was soft in the head because I thought it was simply wonderful that girls kick butt these days and that that could only be a good thing. It is now confirmed; I am very, very soft in the head and in the heart too. In the words of some of my closest friends, I am a sap. I am without a convincing counter at this moment.

I was sitting with Leo and Maureen the other evening. Eric and Joseph were there, but we seemed to be missing Mike and Aggrey. It occurred to me then that Leo and Maureen must be the most patient and tolerant Nairobians I know. They indulge my horrendous taste in music - all Bob Marley mind - with a generosity that would be suspicious if they didn't smile with such genuine joy at some of the minutest bits of beauty in our day, even when fatigue seems to be bearing down on their shoulders.

Then there are Jennifer and Liz, who rather rudely flounced off to much greener, busier pastures. Not that I am complaining; they were notorious for ambushing me with tasty cakes in the office. They single-handedly kept my tailor in business for three years while my waistline challenged the Equator in girth. I do miss them, though. They were way smarter than I was and their insights into the intricacies of the language of the law will always be of great value wherever I travel in my journey of life. 

I am not sure what to say of Salim and Joseph or Joseph and Hiram, other than how strange there are crossovers and overlaps without much from me. How Salim and Joseph met will remain one of those stories I would rather not know, because I know Salim and I know Joseph! But Joseph and Hiram are easily explained by our alma mater, and our other members of the circle: John B (his middle initial isn't really "B" but once christened by John, it stuck), William, and my namesake Sam. I wonder if Evelyn (who hated being called Evelyn) did get married; she never got round to inviting me to the wedding though I would most likely have missed it too. I wonder if her cousin Lilian is still at the Coast taking pleas and handing down judgments.

Talking about the Coast, I still can't believe that Sharon fled for the mzungu-infested beaches of Mombasa. And she did it so surreptitiously, if it wasn't for her social media activity I would still live under the illusion she was paying service charges to William Kabogo's government. At least she'll be able to tell me whether Ngina's plan to take over Mombasa or run Mombasa is on track. But it is only Ngina who could tell me whether Bradley is still the heartbreaker we knew at university.

I still can't believe that it is no longer Tom's and Dima's office! But Dima was always going to find his level, and it wasn't here. Now it's Tom's and Lillian's office, and she still cracks me up with the incredible degree of mess her desk always is. How she manages to get her work done on time and to a superior quality is one of those mysteries that exercise generations of anthropologists.

I wish I could celebrate this holiday season with all my friends, but it seems that it will not be so. Maybe I can commit to seeing them, one by one, in 2015, but you and I know that is an unlikely scenario. So I will wish for them God's Graces, continued success and good health. Meanwhile, my plot to take over the Three Barrels continues without a hitch. It is just a matter of time that that corner is my corner, and that barrel is my barrel. On my favourite stool I shall ponder the Big Questions in convivial silence, unmolested even by the Occasional Loud One (no, not Eric). If only She could come, every now and then, without it getting awkward. Well, I guess that's why we have a future: to smooth over the awkward bits we have left behind. Goodby, 2014; hello 2015.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The enemy within

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
 Martin Niemöller (1892 - 1984)
We stare at the conflagration, filming the flames with our iPhones, Galaxies, Notes and iPads. We stare emotionlessly, or so we persuade ourselves. We rationalise. We dissemble. We equivocate. We don't turn away, but we don't intervene either. Instead "we bear witness", though we shall refuse to testify when called to do so. Some of us will even make money from the images stored as ones and zeroes on our phones and computers. Some of us will make money from the flames. Some of us will make money out of the flames. So long as the blazing bonfire is not razing to the ground the detritus of my life, so we tell ourselves, it is really none of my business.

It never occurred to us that the establishment of the elite Anti-Stock Theft Unit of the Kenya Police Force in the mid-1980s was a bleak admission of neglect and failure by Daniel Toroitich arap Moi's government. A cultural practice that had outlived its utility enjoyed currency more than twenty years after Independence. In the bad lands of West Pokot, Turkana and Samburu, the failures of the ruling party, and indeed the central government, were laid bare in the ashes of the aftermaths of cattle rustling raids that left manyattas right across the three districts razed to the ground, and men, women and children butchered in the most savage manner.

We were cowed by the national security apparatus then, and so we stared at the shattered images with horror and resignation, shook our heads, and pretended that they had nothing to do with us. After all, we reminded ourselves half-convincingly, they were uncivilised and there was nothing we could do about it. Because President Moi did little to stem the tide of tit-for-tat raids, the close of 2014 sees ever escalating raids in the same three districts, using sophisticated combat tactics not only against other tribes but also against the very same Anti-Stock Theft Unit.

In August 1998, a few months before Usama bin Laden was politely ejected from the Sudan, and three years after the Blind Sheikh attempted to bring down the Twin Towers, bin Laden financed and oversaw the co-ordinated attacks against the United States embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. Scores were killed; several scores more were injured, some for life.  Again, because of our fear of the national security apparatus, we persuaded ourselves that the real target was the United States; we were mere collateral damage. The 2002 attack on the Paradise Hotel in Kikambala should have shaken us from our slumber. It didn't. It was an Israeli-owned hotel, we said, catering to Isarelis only; it had nothing to do with us. All the while we refrained from pointing out the myriad problems with the national security apparatus out of fear.

We have come full circle. 2012 to 2014 has been one of the bloodiest periods in our history, though it doesn't seem like it because we are not in the thick of it. Mwai Kibaki may have salvaged the economy, resuscitating or attempting to resuscitate mothballed state-owned companies, but the ballooning youthful population found fewer and fewer job or investment opportunities. A large cohort simply extended their stay under their parents' roofs until something came along. Still another cohort became part of the criminal underclass trying to make ends meet. There was that minority that blamed the government for their marginalisation, encouraged in their rage by preachers inspired by Usama bin Laden and his acolytes to join the global war against the Great Satan. They heeded this call. And still we turn a blind eye; our national response has changed little in thirty years.

When this "war against terror" has been waged, and its bitter fruits harvested, like the bitter fruits of the wars against corruption or drugs, we will finally realise that the war was waged against us. The comfortable ones in the capital, Ukambani, Central, or Nyanza, will find their fates tied closely to those of the Somalis, Waswahili, the Miji Kenda, the Pokot, the Samburu, the Turkana and all the Others who have waged war against the State, and the State has waged war against. The war on terror will not be won on the battlefield with soldiers, secret police and assassinations. It can only be won with economic empowerment that offers every man, woman and child in the republic an opportunity. Limit that opportunity to a corrupt elite few, and we might as well turn this whole nation into an armed citadel, not to keep our enemies out, but to ensure that the enemy within never escapes so that we can destroy him with extreme prejudice. Keep in mind, though, that enemy is us.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Our total war.

There was a logic to war once. Then Adolf Hitler hypnotized a majority of voters, and millions of Germans turned a blind eye to the slaughter of millions of "undesirables" - the mentally ill, communists, homosexuals and Jews. Since Hitler's suicide, the concept of total war has undergone several evolutions depending on the area and the mental stability of the people involved. Between 1945 and 1989, more money was spent building an arsenal that would rival all others for its destructive power than at any time in human history.

Adults whose faculties we presume were intact postulated theories that would define their paranoia as rational logic. They bandied about big words with a calmness that hid their utter lunacy. How else do you explain how, during the Cold War, men would design "war plans" that would lay to waste hundreds of millions of lives at the push of a button? Now we have tinged this sort of madness with religious fanaticism, forgetting the terrible crimes committed in the name of deities during the Dark Ages.

This poison is now spreading abroad in the land in Kenya. It is being spread by stupidity, ignorance, poverty and unemployment. It is being spread by religious fanatics of doubtful sanity who have spent a lifetime of paranoia fantasising about their path to heavenly glory. Many of them are intelligent, in the way idiot savants are intelligent, but their tunnel-visioned focus on their narrow religio-political goals blind them to the madness of it all.

This is their version of total war, without the war machines of the United States or the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or the Democratic Peoples' Republic of Korea. In Kenya's bandit-riven frontier-lands are to be found these mad men, living in a past that never was, pursuing goals that cannot be attained. Some of them live under the dangerous delusion that the female gender was put on this earth, (a) to be subjugated, (b) to be sexually exploited and (c) to be enslaved. Some others still live under the violent rules of natural selection favoured during times of famine and spend millions of man hours every year plotting with fellow mad men to build up militia of barely-literate young men, dubbed "warriors", to raid the villages of the unprepared, to loot, pillage, plunder and engage in rapine, with great fervour and to see it as the natural order of things.

But the worst of the lot are the men who believe with the passion of a toddler that they have the ear of the Almighty Himself. They have taken to holy scripture, written for a time and place that they can hardly identify with, and they have taken these written words to be absolutely true, infallible even. They have read and re-read the words hundreds of thousands of times, they have compared the events depicted in scripture and they have drawn conclusions that should scare the devil out of all of us. Because of their passion, because of their charisma, because of their convictions, they have put under their sway thousands of impressionable, barely-literate, unemployed and unemployable young men, and persuaded these men to kill in the name of divine glory. 

Blood soaks our beaches, highways and mud-tracks because one man with an insidiously evil interpretation of the words of another man, who lived thousands of years before him according to holy legend, has access to thousands of young men through the tools of modern communication that have made human commerce the most profitable in all of history with the sole goal of killing millions in the name of a god. No matter how many guns you buy, no matter how many Land Cruisers you deploy, no matter how many telephones you tap, no matter how many email, social media or internet chat rooms you hack, no matter how many radical preachers you murder, all it takes is a farmer with a hundred pigs to build a fuel-oil/fertilizer bomb like the one that demolished the United States Embassy in 1998, after being inspired by words on a page about a god no one has seen written in an obscure dialect a thousand years ago by a man who would not have imagined that the bloodshed he glorified would be magnified a million-fold by missiles, tanks, fighter-bombers and mad men.

Symptoms and maladies.

Afghanistan was a ho-hum former Cold War battlefield when the Sudan decided it had had enough of Usama Bin Laden, UBL, and expelled him from Khartoum, together with his army-looking-for-a-war. UBL made it to the comfortable hearth of Mullah Omar, the cyclops leading the former madrassa students of Afghanistan, sweeping away any vestigial remains of communism - or the CIA. That visit set off a chain reaction whose ramifications will reverberate for generations.

One of them could not possibly have been foreseen, except by those willing to learn the proper lessons of history. Iraq's Saddam Hussein was bloodthirsty tyrannical mad man. He killed everyone he suspected had even thought of becoming Iraq's next president. He used guns, bombs, mines, missiles and poison gas - to kill those he ruled with the proverbial iron fist. He was a mad bad man through and through. Yet, ironically, despite all his fulminations against the United States, Israel and all his other enemies, he never did plot their downfall, he never paid for it, and he didn't acquire the weapons to fight his Mother of All Battles.

So when the United States and its Coalition of the Willing, in response to an outrage of epic proportions, toppled UBL's hosts in Afghanistan and established, in effect, the greatest narco-state in history, and followed it up with the toppling of Saddam Hussein and the destruction of his Republican Guard and Ba'ath BParty, little did they know that what would rise up to fill the blood-drenched shoes of the Taleban and Sadam Hussein would be the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Iraq and Afghanistan became the training grounds for modern-day mujahideen. The world will never be the same again.

The United States panicked, made up stories, invaded countries, toppled stable governments and bequeathed to the world the Islamic State. Kenya is at its 9/11 moment. It's reaction has been exactly the same as that of the United States, right down to the rhetoric and the panic-as-legislation style of problem solving. The outcome of United States' hegemony is the Islamic State. What will be the outcome of Kenya's tough-on-terror stance?

al Shabaab and its ilk are not regular armies. They do not have regular chains of command. They do not communicate like regular armies do. They don't even do it the way special forces usually do. They do not fight for a nation in the sense of a geographical territory that belongs to them and them only. They have no interest in controlling political institutions. Their political ambitions have little to do with modern concepts of government, except in Vatican City - and Iran. Their message is simple and devastating.  The answer to their venom, violence and danger is not counter-venom, counter-violence or counter-danger. 

This message seems to have escaped the securocracy, determined to "fight back" with every weapon in its arsenal, even weapons outlawed by the Constitution. What thy will bequeath Kenya is a sizable population of young men and women with designs on a nation of their own based on religious ideals that have been pared down to the essentials: we are good; "everyone else must die." This path we are on leads only to an outcome similar to the Islamic State. al Shabaab is the symptom; Islamic State is the outcome if we misdiagnose our true maladies.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Digital illiteracy.

My father is a professor. He has degrees in subjects that guaranteed I would forever have a special and abiding loathing for the sciences, both physical and biological. My father has taught, including teaching my brothers and I, for the better part of my life, and he has been exceptional. My mother is one of the few linguists I know who isn't terified of forensic linguistics. She knew that we would part linguistic ways when it took me the better part of ten seconds to explain clearly what an adverbial phrase is. In their areas of expertise, my parents are not only undisputed leaders, but original thinkers; those PhDs of theirs were not in vain, I can assure you.

In the use of modern technology, especially information and communications technology, they are not slouches either, but there are limits to their tech-dexterity. But because of their liberal-arts training, they are not shy about inquiry. Frequently they will forget whatever it is I took them through the Sunday before, but that does not stop them from pestering me over the same thing over and over again over the same thing. If I didn't love them as much as I did, I would set their iPads and S5s on fire, bury the ashes in a mine shaft, and replace them with a Nokia 3310, if I could find any in this tech-obsessed market.

Sadly, the Government of Kenya has none of the positive attributes possessed of my parents. It is ultraconservative in that the phrase "over my dead body" seems to be the prevailing mantra over any kind of change in the corridors of power. The promulgation of the Constitution in 2010 almost caused the entire machinery of government to seize up and stop. It was the largest reorganisation of government since the mbeberu packed his horse-and-buggy and slunk back to the cold and dreary British Isles. Pet institutions were set to undergo total change. The "over-my-dead-body" die-hards need not have worried.

You must have read the Security Laws (Amendment) Bill, 2014, currently exercising the minds of the honourable members of the Eleventh Parliament's National Assembly. In a world where the threats against the safety of the people can be realised as much as with firearms and explosives as with ones-and-zeroes, don't you get the feeling that, save for the ad nauseum repetition of "digital government", what we have in the here and now is a peculiarly Kenyan version of George Orwell's Animal Farm writ large?

The toolkit is made up of equipment that everyone though the last Governor-General of Kenya had carted off to the fusty corridors of Whitehall. Kenyans do not have a sense of history. They refuse to learn the proper lessons from the past, even the recent past. Our safety and, with it, our security, is not in the hands of brigands or in the hands of secret police; it is in our hands, but not in the spy-on-your-neighbour leitmotif peddled by the likes of Joseph Kaguthi and his ilk with that nyumba kumi shit. 

The day a majority decides that it is no longer preferable to be ill-served by semi-literate, ill-educated, greedy men and women of low morals, and that we it no longer bow down to a political aristocracy, and that everyone will pay their own way and carry their own weight, we will not need a secret police to keep us safe from ourselves and we will be feared by the brigands who would wish do us harm. All the kibeberu legislation in the world, all the holdovers from Baba Moi's bload-soaked twenty-four years, will not keep us safe or our nation secure if the software that makes us tick is still as corrupt as the day we bought a new Constitution for sixty-four billion shillings.

Mkokoteni dignity.

The Constitution mentions "dignity" twelve times. (Yes, I counted. I'm obsessive that way.) It is a word loaded with meaning, if one cares to look.  It is one of the few words in the Constitution that is treated with utter contempt. I had opportunity to observe the casual way in which indignity is visited on the little people today. I believe that the lead taken by our leaders, especially the celebrity ones, has contributed to how we treat our fellowman as we go about our affairs. (By celebrity, I am not limiting our leaders to the members of the music or "local content" industries; I also include celebrity preachers and politicians.)

That I am a commuter comes as no surprise to you, my dear reader. By habit, commuting is an opportunity to scroll through all those unsavory emails from total strangers wishing to either borrow goodly sums from me or to sell be concoctions of dubious provenance guaranteed to enhance certain preferred appendages. But because of the rank failures of the Government of Nairobi City County, I find my eyes staring out of the bus window when we approach that mad house that is the City Stadium bus stage along Jogoo Road, take the roundabout and join Landhies Road which terminates at the Retail Market.

There is a hierarchy to traffic on Nairobi's roads. Bigwigs with sirens, outriders and chase cars are at the top of that hierarchy. Then come those with fate enough wallets to purchase what the print journalists refer delicately as top-of-the-range cars, which range from that outrageously gorgeous Ferrari 599M I saw in Westlands last week to the Nissan Pathfinder, provided it is still in good nick. Then come the hordes who have somehow managed to persuade their bank managers that Nairobi ticks because everyone lives beyond their means and have secured credit facilities that permit them to acquire the seemingly hundreds of thousands of Toyotas, Nissans, Subarus, Mazda and Hondas that seem to crawl from every arterial road in Nairobi.

The bottom of the hierarchy is dominated by Large Capacity Buses, then the twenty-nine-seaters, then the twenty-five-seaters, then the fourteen-seaters and then the boda bodas and bicycles. At the absolute bottom are the mikokoteni. What persuaded me that life of the mkokoteni-puller is on of  continual fear and danger of violent death, and solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short, was the utter contempt and hostility with which he was treated, especially by the boda boda rider and the matatu/bus driver. 

There are men who have pulled mikokoteni for decades; it shows in the lines in their faces and the set-in-cement callouses on their hands and feet. Theirs is a piteous existence; yet they have not turned to a life of crime and they have founded families of their own, educated their children and kept a roof over their families. Life has conspired to render them desperate, but they do not live lives of desperation. Like everyone else in this city, that's their hustle and they will make of it what they will.

Despite the sometimes quiet dignity in their faces, from their county government on up or on down, they are viewed with hostility. From the mbeberu, to the minister for Local Government to the Governor to the motorist to the matatu/bus driver to the boda boda rider - but especially the boda boda rider, the hand of their fellowman is unremittingly turned against them. The city wants to banish them to the outer reaches of its precincts - and its psyche. We live in denial that if it was not for the subsidies provided by these hard-suffering men, Nairobi's cost of food would skyrocket overnight. And so we tolerate them with contempt writ large on our faces.

Today I saw a boda boda rider, with casual cruel violence, ram his cut-rate boda boda into a mkokoteni, nearly sending its middle-aged puller spilling in front of an oncoming Citi Hoppa and my rage almost boiled over. I blamed Evans Kidero and I cursed the day he was elected the Governor of Nairobi City and I cursed twice over the day the Supreme Court said he could keep his seat. The manner in which the boba boda rider's cruelty went unremarked is the same way that the casual neglect of the working classes is being done by the Government of Nairobi City County. It is not the rich who need civic services; it is the working poor like the mikokoteni-pullers of Nairobi, for whom the right to earn a living is being treated as a privilege by their own government and fellow road users who are more a menace than a blessing.

We have been conditioned by the rich and the beautiful to sneer with contempt at the poor, the scarred, the malformed and the smelly because they do not meet our standards as we believe them to be from our idealised view of wazungus of all shades. In Tennessee, during the Jim Crow Era, the State issued permits to hunt Black men. In Kenya, in Nairobi, we are slowly building up to the day when it will be open season on mikokoteni-pullers: if they are ever the victims of road traffic fatalities, the Government will turn a blind eye. If you think this is in jest, simply ask of Governor Kidero whether he has any statistics on the deaths and injuries of mikokoteni-pullers in his city, or whether he has any programmes to integrate them in the city's physical infrastructure as seeing that we will never get rid of them. (That is, if you care.)

What a disappointment.

In order to stay well clear of the strictures of the law on slander, libel and defamation, I will choose the adjective "disappointing" to describe the Government of Nairobi City County. We elected the Governor partly on his track record as a record-beating manager at the various firms he headed. His leadership of the Government of Nairobi City has been a great disappointment to the people of this hard suffering city.

His lofty promises have been exposed for the political hot air they have turned out to be. On one area alone, this county government has been an abject failure. I don't know how the company in charge of solid waste management in the Central Business District won the tender to do so, but it has done a piss poor job. The CBD is filthier than it ever was under the perfidiously corrupt City Council of Nairobi. The mounds of garbage in the loss glossy parts of the CBD are an indictment of the priorities of this county government. They expose, starkly, the ineptitude of its political skills and the casual disregard it has for the unpolished and unwashed masses.

The governor made promises about public transport and traffic. He has failed on both counts. The CBD is more chaotic than ever before. The traffic is a mess. One wonders whether the billions the county government spent on traffic lights and traffic light cameras was worth the frustration commuters and motorists alike experience very time they set out for the CBD. All main arteries into the city, including the much-ballyhooed Thika Highway are a mess.

On street lighting, the county governement is merely reinventing the wheel invented by Adop-A-Light and making a hash of it. Pedestrian walkways (pavements) have been dug up, ostensibly to lay down the wiring for these facilities, and yet the lights remain dark. On public sanitation in drains and sewers, the overflowing drains in the CBD and elsewhere in the city are an indictment of the sloth engendered by this county government.

We were willing to wait for the governor and his team to get up to speed on the problems bedevilling Nairobi City. That honeymoon was over long before the governor and Nairobi City's Woman Representative had their ugly altercation in City Hall. Since then the governor has spent a great deal of time travelling overseas and to Nyanza, neglecting the good people of Nairobi and their depredations. It is tie someone whispered in his ear that if he cannot govern Nairobi effectively, we will not be trusting him to govern Kenya any time soon.

The governor can demonstrate his commitment to this city by sorting out all our pavements once and for all. It is time he freed them from the clutches of buses, matatus, boda bodas and the overflow from sewers and drains. He must ensure they are all paved. He must take back the ones grabbed by hawkers, and rather biliously, an overzealous National Police Service, National treasury, Herufi House, Harambee House, Harambee House Annex, Jogoo House "A", Hilton Hotel, Parliament, Kenya Commercial Bank, Central Bank of Kenya, Times Tower and his very own City Hall. All these characters already have robust fences; roping off what belongs to the pedestrians in the name of security is one of the stupidest decisions that he national and county governments have engaged in since they both came to power.

We have given up on the rubbish. We have given up on the street lights. We have given up on traffic, traffic lights and traffic cameras. We have given up, generally, on public safety. All the governor needs to do is give us one thing: pedestrian walkways free from hassle and harassment. If we can't walk from place to place in relative peace, he should not bother wooing the good people of Nyanza; he will disappoint them too. And he definitely should give up higher ambitions. After decades, Kenyans are unwilling to elect another failure to high office.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

The fall before the fall.

We must be gullible. It is the only explanation. We must be gullible. 77 Chinese nationals have been living in Kenya for a year, relying on expired tourist visas to get by. They have been operating a "cyber-warfare" operation out of a posh villa in Runda. Two Cabinet Secretaries "visited the scene of crime" with the Director of Criminal Investigations, and one of them pronounced herself "still traumatised" with the discovery of the 77 Chinese and their sophisticated communications equipment. The only explanation is that we must be the dumbest Black people to shit between two legs.

As we are being reminded on a monthly basis now, our "internal security' is a complete shambles. We are reminded time and again that the situation is dire because of decades of corruption and human rights abuses. Reforms have been touted by local malcontents, the Government of Kenya and even the might United Nations. Right from the Ghai Commission to the Kitonga Committee, all drafts of the attempts at constitution-making emphasised the reform of "internal security." It is time to admit to ourselves that our "internal security" problem is a vicious combination of many, many factors including the aforementioned corruption.

The other must surely be leadership. The "internal security" leadership is made up of dyed-in-the-wool conservatives whose idea of "security" has very little to commend it in the twenty-first century. This is not the United States nor the United Kingdom. Policing in this country has always paid lip service to the safety of the people; its principal reason has been the security and preservation of the ruling party and its government at all costs. In Kenya, the cost is measured in blood; frequently, it is the blood of the innocent that reveals the extent to which the "internal security of the State" will be preserved.

The powers that the leadership in charge of internal security have always arrogated to themselves, lawfully and otherwise, have always been abused, with tragic and devastating consequences. Every time internal security has been handled by a combination of police, spies, assassins and the army, tragedy has followed as sure as the sun rises in the East.  In the 1960s to the early 1980s, the internal security of Kenya was threatened by the Shiftas and a sub rosa war was waged that led to massacres. Not one, not two, not three, but dozens of massacres where thousands of Kenyans were murdered in cold blood. In the 1980s, it was dissidents, traitors and coupsters. Again, thousands of Kenyans were rounded up on the suspicions of spies, they were tortured and those who weren't so lucky were murdered and disappeared forever.

In the 1990s, a new element was introduced in Kenya's internal security: militias disguised as political parties' youth wings. Internal security was lost after that fateful decision. It will never be recovered. What used to be petty corruption for survival, in the wake of the rise of billion-shilling criminal enterprises such as the mungiki and forty brothers, became a wealth-creating opportunity for the internal security apparatus with real estate of inestimable value at the end of the day. It is at the heart of the internal security shambles, corruption is, and until the Commander-in-Chief admits to himself that he cannot function with the corruption unchecked, all the draconian powers in his hands will eventually force him into one of two terrible choices: let it go, or become dictator "to restore order."

After overstretching itself in Europe, the Mediterranean and North Africa, the Roman Empire was faced with internal unrest that politics failed to resolve. The Roman Empire was increasingly corrupt and decadent. Even its leading lights could not see that in less than a lifetime, it would crumble. In a last-ditch attempt to salvage their empire, the Roman Senate appointed Gaius Julius Caesar as dictator. In three years those selfsame dictators would assassinate their dictator on the senate floor.

Someone is whispering in the Commander-in-Chief's ear. All he needs, the whisperer says, are "full" powers to deal with al Shabaab, the Land Question and the bandits in the Northern Frontier District. He need not keep these powers for long; after the crises have been dealt with, he can ask Parliament to restore the nation to status quo ante. Dozens of intelligent Kenyans support this view. We have not said it out loud yet, but it will soon become apparent that Kenya, including its Parliament, "business" community and "development" partners, is the Roman Senate before the fall of the Roman Empire.

The only explanation is that we are extremely gullible. Why the Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs and International Trade thought to admit before the whole world that she was "still traumatised" with the discovery of the 77 Chinese, we will never know. What we will remember when "internal security" becomes a byword for escalating murder, armed robbery, banditry, massacres and "terrorism" is that not one senior policeman could come up with an explanation of how 77 foreign nationals managed to live in a posh house in a posh part of Nairobi for thirteen months without holding down any kind of job (they were on tourist visas, remember?) without getting caught while operating, I shit you not, an "unlawful radio station" using "sophisticated communications equipment."

Monday, December 08, 2014

The Ukubwa Syndrome

Sunny Bindra made an interesting observation when he visited a parastatal soon after visiting a famous game lodge in the Tsavo. I am surprised that he is surprised at what he found when he visited the state corporation. The phenomenon he observed - the reservation of one the lift exclusively of the Very Very Important People - pervades the public sector. It is the only way, I assure you, that the minions and underlings who earn substantially less than the Very Very Important Person will remember that they are indeed minions and underlings and will pay the required obeisance to that Very Very Important Person with the right kind of fawning, genuflecting and brown-nosing required of them.

It is not just in the allocation of posh corner offices or the designation of most preferred parking slots that this phenomenon is to be seen; take a walk around any sensitive building today, and you will be reminded of the callous disregard for the people our Very Very Important Persons have for us. My newest pet hate is the area around Parliament building and Continental House. So long as you are one of the almost two million pedestrians in Nairobi, there is a rude reminder that your comfort is not the concern of the chauffeur-driven makers of laws and their minions and underlings; you must play a rather daring game of chicken with on-coming traffic because you are no longer permitted to walk anywhere near Parliament's fences - or those of the Continental House. Nor are you permitted to take any photographs of these building where the peoples' representatives sit and deal with weighty and sensitive matters, going by the Very Large Signs in English saying so.

It is also to be seen in the hostility demonstrated by all public building - yes, building can be hostile - that has embedded spikes in its superstructure so that those that are weary cannot sit down to rest. The unlamented former Inspector-General took his hostility for the public to a rather offensive end when he decreed, or turned a blind eye to, to the effective outlawing of the general public from the benches in the sunken car park next to the Reinsurance Plaza building along Taifa Road by generously covering its benches with used motor oil. It was months before the oil wouldn't stain one's clothes when they sat down.

The private sector has gotten in on the act too. Kencom House has managed to grab for itself a security zone in the pedestrian walkway opposite Uchumi House. Uchumi House now will no longer allow one to walk through its famous tunnel. Neither too, it seems, will one be permitted to simply saunter through the Hilton Arcade without encountering officious private security with the courtesies of mafia hitmen.

The walking masses, the poor and the great unwashed are useful for only a few things: getting fleeced and turning out in large numbers to vote at elections and referenda. The rest of the time, they are to be confined on the rougher bits of town, in their hovels in Mathare Valley, Kibera or that geographical zone known as Eastlands. They should make their visits "uptown" brief and unmemorable. They shouldn't linger longer than necessary.

Our men and women who deal with weighty and sensitive matters should not be disturbed. Not by the men and women who serve under them or the people for whom they are in office to begin with. Their comfortable lives should not be disturbed. Rasna Warah points out that we "we have created an architecture of fear by building apartheid cities that are even more menacing than the ones of colonial times." "Ukubwa" in Kenya, is the prevailing ambition of all, whether they are in the public sector or the the private one. 

I look forward to Mr Bindra's prescription for next Sunday. But I wonder if he is a voice in the desert, speaking to himself. We know that ours is an unequal society, that inequality is built in. Some come through depredations that should shock the conscience and just like in George Orwell's Animal Farm, become what they sought to overcome. Are we deluding ourselves to believe that change can come to this society with the kind of men and women making decisions about our fates without truly appreciating the fear they engender? I fear not.

Wash. Rinse. Repeat. (Again?)

In the same week that President Uhuru Kenyatta got the long-sought reprieve from the dastardly machinations of the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, a gang of Chinese nationals was discovered "operating an illegal radio station" in Nairobi's posh Runda Estate. Followers of this blog know I have a very dim view of the securocracy, after its mendacious responses to Baragoi, Westgate, Mpeketoni, Tana River, Lamu, Kapedo and Mombasa. Therefore, I am not surprised that the 77 Chinese operating in Runda might have had greater ambitions in Kenya. After all, few Kenyans speak Mandarin or Cantonese and only the feeble-minded believe that their sole purpose in Kenya with their "sophisticated communications equipment" was to broadcast radio signals illegally.

Some have speculated that the Chinese gang were here to "infiltrate" ATMs and M-Pesa accounts. My friends, if that was all they were up to, we can chalk it up to the lucrative nature of our burgeoning financial sector, which seems to attract more and more foreigners as the Jubilee administration gets down to serious development business. I have taken a rather casual glance at the international papers, and none of them seem to consider the Chinese as slothful when it comes to cyber-espionage. The reasons to set up what looked like a sophisticated operation weren't ATMs or M-Pesa middle-man attacks. These were spies. Spying on our government. Spying for their government. And they caught Maj Gen Philip Kamweru and his National Intelligence Service napping. Again.

Commentators have bemoaned the leaden-footedness of our securocracy. Regardless of the musical chairs in the national Executive, the removal of David Kimaiyo and Joseph ole Lenku has failed to address the structural infirmities inherent in an over-secretive system that relies on cronyism and corruption to get things done. The appointed of a former soldier to shake things up at the Department of Immigration has not stemmed the undocumented entry into Kenya of many individuals, some of whom have less than charitable intentions while on our soil. Maj Gen Gordon Kihalangwa is supposed to be our first line of defence against undesirable foreigners and enemies of the nation. Instead, just like his predecessor before him, he has decided to go for cosmetic changes: shutting down passport offices in Kenya's forgotten bits.

I shall repeat my exhortation once more. We must make a paradigm shift in securing the nation. There must be a complete break with the past where the police were the vanguard in the corralling of the population. The primary job of any police force is the safety of the people from criminals. It is only when the people are safe can the police take part in the security of the nation. The job of national security lies with the National Intelligence Service, which spies on all enemies, foreign and domestic, the defence forces which fight wars or deter idiots intending to wage war with Kenya, and the border security force, which keeps infiltrators of the homeland out of the homeland. Maj Gen Kihalangwa is the one to take the lead in keeping out infiltrators like the 77 Chinese caught in Runda.

No one seems to realise this. Not the national Executive and certainly not the securocracy. Their solution lies in draconian laws that don't amount to a warm bucket of piss and shit in Kamiti GK Prison. By insisting that the people are to be corralled by ever harsher laws, they are simply encouraging malcontents to conspire with foreign powers against the State, and the people. (Do you believe the man who rented that Runda pile is really, truly innocent?) The 77 Chinese did not enter Kenya using the smugglers' routes in Mandera, wajir, Marsabit or Turkana. Thoey came through a border crossing point toting tonnes of sophisticated electronic equipment with the active assistance of members of Maj Gen Kihalangwa's department. How much are you willing to bet that when he is confronted with the proof of complicity of his officers, Maj Gen Kihalangwa will ask for stiffer penalties rather than undertake a root-and-branch reorganisation of his department? That is the tragicomedy that is our security.