Monday, September 01, 2014

Selling condoms.

When strangers ask what I do for a living, I have to resist the urge to blurt out that I am a bartender in a titty bar on Accra Road. Sometimes it feels a bit too much to explain to folks that, (a) I am a public officers, (b) in a "sensitive" department, and (c) that I don't think Ole Lenku is doing a bang up job. But the desire to hide my current bailiwick from the sensitive noses of strangers grows ever stronger as each day brings a new outrage by the men, women and that odious specimen call the politician that serve, if service they give, in the government.

Did you know that Barack Obama is handed a bill each month to cater for his stay at the White House? I did not. No wonder the man looks so frazzled all the time. It is a very big house and it has very old things. The cost of utilities alone must drive Mrs Obama to destruction. Actually, we do not know the details of the bill Mr Obama gets, but it is humbling for the Most Powerful Leader in the World to pay for his house and upkeep, isn't it?

Our current occupier of State House, Nairobi, and the frequent user of State Houses and State Lodges around the country, I would bet my last silver dollar, does not receive a bill at the end of the month itemising the costs he has incurred while using the State Houses' and State Lodges' facilities. I bet neither does his deputy who lives in an egregiously, revoltingly expensive pile somewhere near where the settler wazungus still live in divine isolation from the natives. I suspect, without much to go on I admit, that both must receive a "housing allowance" as many of their fellow public servants do. Ponder the irony, dear reader, and wonder no more why I would rather be associated with the depravities of the shadiest strip joint than proudly declare to be a member of the president's public service.

We have been informed, rather grandiosely too, that our "biometric details" will be collected in the name of Capacity Assessment and Rationalisation Programme Study. One of its sponsors, the chairman of the Transition Authority, was on TV Sunday night, denying through his flop sweat that the "study" had nothing to do with retrenchment, but everything to do with the efficiency and effectiveness of the public service. Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, I'm getting a bazooka! We have seen this movie before and it always ends with mass layoffs. This "study" will end up with men and women facing the sack, never mind the overwrought explanations and denials from one and all in positions to know better.

It is a canon of political economic beliefs that there are certain things that only "government" can do, certain "developments" that are beyond the ken of the private sector simply because the private sector is solely driven by profit motives. So roads and ports and electricity grids and national referral hospitals and railways and national highways and prisons and airports and hydroelectricity dams and forensics laboratories can only be built by a government, preferably the national one. How do you explain, then, that apart from policemen and soldiers, whom we will leave out of this spat, why the national government seems to be employing beancounters and beancounting clerks, even in the Cabinet and not engineers, project managers, construction foremen and the rest of the gangs that actually build the roads and ports and such things?

It is strange for a government that says only it can undertake the big projects that it is borrowing money to outsource the construction of these projects, mostly to foreigners, without even getting apprenticeships for Kenyans out of the outsourcing. Kenyans, even in the eyes of their government, are not good enough except for menial tasks that do nothing but breed mediocrity. Mediocrity is evident in the face of the government: public buildings that look as if they were thrown together by a blind man with one arm tied behind his back; or national celebrations characterised by ersatz Stalinist military formations and regurgitated clich├ęd speeches. So nowadays I feel my resolve failing every time a stranger asks, "So, what do you do for a living?" One day I might lose it and say, "I sell condoms on the street."

Politicise the hell out of things.

Why shouldn't we politicise the referendum? Why shouldn't we politicise the paying of salaries of doctors, nurses and other health workers? Indeed why shouldn't we politicise every single decision made by the National Executive or county executives? The fallacy being advanced by the naive is that politics is a bad thing and that it poisons everything to which it is connected. I beg to differ.

The people making decisions in Kenya that affect the greatest number of Kenyans are politicians - or they were appointed by politicians. Jacob Kaimenyi, the Education Cabinet Secretary, wants to change the school calendar so that it is harmonised with the government's financial year. Jacob Kaimenyi was appointed by Uhuru Kenyatta. Uhuru Kenyatta is a politician. Uhuru Kenyatta must have approved of this proposal; if it is successfully implemented it would burnish his administrative and political credentials among the voters. The decision is a political one first, and an administrative one next.

But because the decision to make the proposal was arrived at in the traditionally opaque manner the Government of Kenya makes decisions, it should not simply be allowed to be implemented unless the people get a chance to interrogate it fully. The people cannot collectively participate in this debate without it morphing into a Tower of babel. That is why they have elected representatives, members of the National Assembly, the Senate and the county assemblies to speak on their behalf. Specialised organised associations can also contribute meaningfully to the debate. That debate will be a political debate because if it goes to the one side and not the other, the side that prevails will gain political mileage.

This is a good thing. Politics is the proper vehicle for the mediation of disputes in a government. Politics can be used for good or for ill. A good politician knows how to raise temperatures without allowing the kettle to boil over. When things boil over, we get the sort of violence that engulfed Kenya after the 2007 general elections. Mr Odinga and Mr Kibaki, the main rivals at that election, were very poor politicians. Mr Odinga was so consumed by hubris that he did not bother to negotiate with Mr Kibaki when things looked to be going out of control. Mr Kibaki was so filled with the fear of irrelevance that he was determined not to lose face to Mr Odinga. Both used politics badly; we paid a heavy price for it.

Kenya's politicians, for the most part, are an indifferent lot. They do the bare minimum to remain relevant. Few of them understand their place in the grand scheme of political things. Even in the depths of their self-aggrandizing mission to wangle as much wallet-fattening lucre from the national piggy bank, they have failed to do what all politicians are supposed to do - mediate, negotiate, persuade. Instead, especially the haranguing, sermonising and moralising members of the Senate, they defend the indefensible and promote enmity when they do not need new ones. Quite frankly, Kenya's politicians are bad at their core jobs: politics. It is why we the people should politicise the issues of the day without relying on the politicians. Politics, after all, is the only way to mediate between apparently conflicting priorities.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Bring Back the Mass Choir, Mr Esipisu.

President Kenyatta will continue to suffer a bad press if his PSCU continues acting as if it is Amateur Nite at the Apollo! Take this rubbish with the moving-target story about the stolen BMW. The Digital Directors of the PSCU should have kept their thumbs off their iPhone touchscreens until they knew what they were going to say, and how they were going to say it. When a person in a "sensitive" position as a State House "driver" is carjacked by armed men, the reaction should not be to blithely declare that "he is not a member of the President's Fleet" as if that in itself is sufficient explanation.

Don't Mr Esipisu and his directors wonder what even halfway intelligent Kenyans will make of their statements? The message has been received and understood. al Shabaab can murder members of the President's family without being troubled by our Special Forces. Car-jackers not only seem to be targetting members of the President's extended family with impunity, they are now targetting "drivers" out of State House. No wonder Inspector-General Kimaiyo wants an "intelligence" unit of his own.

But the worst management of the news cycle is the one on the billion-shilling drugs haul set to be destroyed at the Coast. Mombasa and Malindi are the preferred gateways of narcotics into Kenya. The last time around it was a very large consignment of cocaine. By the time that saga was over and done with, and the drugs destroyed, GSU officers were dead, NIS officers were dead, policemen were in hiding, politicians were blacklisted from ever setting foot on US soil ever again, and Kenyans' faith in the forces of law and order took another giant knock. You would think that Manoah Esipisu and his team would have drawn lessons about how to handle information this time round. Lightning rarely strikes the same place twice; regarding this drugs business, it did and Mr Esipisu and his team are pissing the opportunity away.

Maybe I have too much faith in my peers in the civil service. Maybe I have too much faith in #TeamDigital. What they have achieved in the past eighteen months would make even the most sunniest of dispositions cloud over and brig forth buckets of tears at the wasted opportunities. When the MV Bushehr was intercepted in the Port of Mombasa, Mr Esipisu should have set up a special team to keep abreast of developments in the matter and advise the Inspector-General, the Director of Criminal Investigations and the Director of Public Prosecutions on the best way to tell the story. Where it proved difficult to get the proper information out of these offices, he should have enlisted the help of the Chief of Staff who would rope in the Interior Cabinet Secretary.

Then Mr Esipisu should have read up on the law, and not just the Narcotics and Psychotropic Substances (Control) Act, 1994. He should have taken time to familiarise himself with the Nairobi Convention also known as the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas, the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal, the National Environment Management Act, 1999, the National Police Service Act, 2011, and, of course, the bits of the Criminal Procedure Code, Penal Code and Constitution that dealt with due process, rule of law and presumption of innocence. In this, Abdikadir Mohammed, the President's Advisor on Legislative and Constitutional Affairs would have been an invaluable resource.

When the Magistrate took pleas from the crew of the MV Bushehr, Mr Esipusu should have known what happens next. When the Prosecutor applied for the destruction of the remainder of the consignment after taking samples for analyses, Mr Esipisu should have understood how the process worked. When the President demanded audience when the drugs were being destroyed, Mr Esipisu should have known which bits of the law applied and which ones did not. Mr Esipisu is not a legal eagle, nor is he a criminal or constitutional lawyer. But he is not a moron either. But so far he has demonstrated such a casual disregard for the finer points of messaging that we remain to wonder what the hell these people were thinking when it came to this drugs business.

Drugs gave Mwai Kibaki's governments a whiff of narco-corruption that simply refused to fade away. Artur Brothers and narco-tarfficking remain an indelible stain on Mwai Kibaki's government. Uhuru Kenyatta risks being similarly tarred if the geniuses in the PSCU do not get their shit together. They call themselves "strategic communicators;" what they are is a privileged cohort of civil servants who are doing the bare minimum when it comes to their duties, but lining their pockets as fast as possible. If this PSCU does not have the capacity to shape the presidential national narrative, if it ever did, then perhaps it is time we simply went back to the Presidential Press Unit days of mass choirs and obsequious fawning on KBC radio and TV. It'd be less embarassing than the schlock peddled today in the name of "strategic communications."

What war?

A billion shillings. Nice, round figure. A figure to warm the cockles of the hearts of a swashbuckling robber baron. A tidy sum. One that conjures images of fast-living and loose women. Or men; the Constitution guarantees freedom of opportunity these days. That is the number bandied about in relation with the three hundred and forty one kilogrammes of heroin seized by Kenyan security officials. And the dhow in which the heroin was smuggled into Kenya. The President will witness the "destruction" of the heroin and the sinking of the dhow. Bold moves, says the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit. We are a more sceptical species, Kenyans are, so we wonder why all we know about the billion-shilling drugs haul is that it will be destroyed and the dhow sunk?

Let's take it step by step, shall we? How did the police know where the dhow would be? The Indian Ocean is a big ass ocean and the Kenya police are not exactly known for the tech-savvy. Was it the much-maligned intelligence by the National Intelligence Service that was "timely, accurate, credible and actionable" in this case or was it an informer?

What is the provenance of the dhow on which the drugs were stowed? What is ts port of registration? Who are its registered owners and are they proxies for others? The crew of the dhow were arrested. Very little has been reported about whether they were charged in court. We do not know their names. We do not know their nationalities. We do not know from where they sailed and whether Kenya was their last port of call. We do not know if this was their first rodeo or they are seasoned smugglers. We do not know whether they have provided information that would identify the source of the heroin and its destination. We do not know how much they were paid to smuggle it into Kenya or whether they were paid up front or they were to be paid after the job was done.

Third, when the drugs were seized, who took custody of the haul? Was it the County police boss? Was it the County Commissioner? Was it the County CID boss? Was it the County GSU Commandant? How much of the drugs was taken as a sample for analysis? Where did the analysis take place? Was it done by a person capable of conducting the analysis? What were the results of the analysis? Is it heroin? Is its purity high or not?

There are rumours that the heroin was "stored" at the GSU base next to State House, Mombasa, and that the GSU were concerned about their safety the longer the drugs were kept on their base, hence the destruction. We can understand their trepidation. The last GSU officer to deal with drugs died under circumstances that have remained unexplained to date.

There are more questions than answers regarding this drugs consignment. Mr Manoah Esipisu has done little to provide answers. His PSCU has done precious little to do so either; the constant tom-tomming of a #WarOnDrugs on social media by the PSCU's directors is, quite frankly, getting on our nerves now. They spew words into the Twittersphere without saying anything of substance. And now with now missing, now not missing armoured Beemer, they are becoming the butt of cruel jokes. If there is a War on Drugs, this is not the first we are hearing of it. But a war has fighters, it has battles and and it has victories and losses. If the war was truly being fought, on how many fronts has Kenya engaged the enemy? How many of the enemy has Kenya destroyed? How much of the enemies' territories has Kenya seized? And is Kenya winning the war or losing it, one billion-shilling battle at a time?

We are docile; we are not idiots.

Tell me you don't really feel sorry for the forces of law and order in Kenya. Whether it is true or not, the spectre of journos gleefully reporting that an "amoured" vehicle that is part of the Presidential Escort was carjacked simply reinforces what we have come to consider to be a crisis. Three armed men allegedly carjacked the driver of an armoured BMW, stripped him naked, drove off with the vehicle, and they are yet to be apprehended. Were they bearing .50 calibre armour-piercing rounds when they took off with the President's Beemer? Did they deploy a Russian-built BTR 80 with a 50mm cannon? Were they packing Claymore mines?

The emphasis in Kenya has always been on "security". In security-based scenarios, emphases are on uniformed, armed men on the streets, armed with the largest assault rifles that they can comfortably bear; the application of extreme coercive force to threats to that security; the obsession with the safety of "sensitive" persons and installations; the whittling down of the privileges enjoyed by the people; the constant monitoring of the people for any whiff of "treason" or "sedition"; and the permanent official denial of facts that do not comport with the "we-are-secure" narrative that is the foundation of the system.

This is how it has always been. The Special Branch of the Kenya Police Force was the most dreaded security organ of the Government of Kenya. It was the President's preferred weapon of retribution against his enemies, imagined and real. It developed a fearsome reputation of infiltrating families, welfare associations, churches, women's merry-go-rounds, co-operative societies and land-buying companies. It was responsible for deaths and disappearances; tactics, the Establishment believed, necessary to remind the people that mkono wa serikali ni mrefu. It was succeeded by what essentially became death squads; unofficial and unacknowledged, they have waged a war against "security threats" using tactics and methods so far from the Constitution and the laws of Kenya, even the United Nations has taken note. Yet security continues to elude the Establishment now that even presidential armoured limousines are being "carjacked."

A few days ago, somewhere in Kwale, in the dead of night, policemen shot and killed a fourteen year old girl. The Inspector-General ordered an investigation into the actions of his officers. he sent the report off to the Director of Public Prosecutions. His officers alleged that the girl attacked the eight policemen who raided her home with a machete. They fired in self-defence, they claim. Kwale is not known for a steady or reliable supply of electricity. Maweu village, where the girl was killed, is not connected to the electricity grid. The family home was unlit on that fateful night. While it is possible, no one believes that then girl was sleeping with a panga under her pillow, and it is patently foolish to insist that when the doors to their home were kicked in, and the police rushed in eight-strong shouting and flashing bright lights in the faces of the residents, that the girl had the presence of mind to reach for a panga and charge at eight armed policemen. We are docile; we are not fucking idiots.

Our emphasis has always been about security; it has never been about the safety of the people. It is why pedestrian walkways are an afterthought after the road tender has been awarded. It is why street lights do not function, or drains are kept in serviceable order. It is why policemen still carry military-style assault-rifles, and not sidearms. It is why the first instinct of armed police is, to paraphrase what the Inspector-general exhorted his policemen to do, use their weapons as they were meant to be used and only then worry about the aftermath. It is why fourteen-year old girls are likely to be shot dead and presidential armoured limousines are "carjacked". In maintaining security, the people are part of the problem. The British taught us that. They taught us well.

Leeches in Sheep's Clothing.

If you have a wife, and you hold down a decent job that calls on hard-charging 'til the wee hours of the morning, and you neglect that wife, surely as the sun rises and sets I will not put my hand in my pocket to give your wife a stipend because "she is lonely" because of the long hours you put in your work. If you are a member of the County Assembly of Embu, and you have reasonable facility with English grammatical syntax, and that your degree of comprehension of simple English sentences if above par, know this: I am not paying your wife "compensation"! Not now, not ever!

Let me turn my bilious attention at wives of Governors. First, you are not "first ladies"; this is not the United States of America. Second, your husbands are not and shall never be the equals of the President of the Republic; the only "disciplined forces" they command are the rabble we know of as local authority inspectorates that are notable for their incredible lack of discipline.Third, you are not the social equals of the First Lady of Kenya in any way, shape or form. She is, whether she wanted it or not, the Mother of the Nation. More importantly, she acts like it. She doesn't swan around the nation "demanding" things; we the people, through our sometimes intelligent elected representatives in Nairobi, consciously chose to give her a budget and a staff because she too is an ambassador of the nation. You, on the other hand, are jumped up wives of councillors and by demanding the same perquisites as the First Lady of Kenya, you behave exactly like them.

Allow me to excoriate the tedious behaviour of all elected representatives when it comes to dipping their long, grimy fingers in the national cookie jar. The avaricious culture associated with members of our august parliament is yet to be reversed. There isn't a parliamentary session that does not include ever greater monetary demands from elected representatives. They receive "grants" that they never pay back. They get mortgages at rates that ordinary middle class Kenyans can only dream of. They get "allowances" that belie the functions they perform. They live it up like princes and princesses in children's fairy tales, while we, the people, live like serfs in feudal Europe. The immorality of their greed no longer troubles their consciences.

I believe that what unites the MCAs, their wives, governors' wives and MPs is the tacit agreement that the Government of Kenya is not an institution in service to the people, but a piggy bank for the privileged ones in elective positions. They will pretend to perform their functions of representation, law-making and oversight of executive branches, but in reality they will be marking time, one year to the next, awaiting their favourite Bill: the Finance Bill. In this Bill lies their true interests. It is the one law that they will devote a significant amount of attention to. But lest you think that their attention is in for the good of the people or of the nation, perish that thought.

The attentions of these men and women will be narrowly focussed on whether foreign junkets have been budgeted for or not, whether or not their "entertainment allowances" have been raised or not. The sizes of their wallets are all that consume them while they pretend to play at politics or at overseeing governors and Cabinet Ministers. They are leeches; they latched on to a health institution and they are determined to bleed it dry.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

What do bankers do, anyway?

It is time to admit that my mother is a worried woman. Her eldest son has done everything in his power to avoid responsibilities of any kind. He has "commitment issues" but that is not what they would describe it in the family. They will say, morosely, heads hanging down in shame with a touch of bewilderment in their voices, the catch being heard especially pronounced in my mother's throat, "Where did we go wrong with this man? He is independent, so far as we can tell. He earns a decent salary, and he doesn't seem to squander it on drink and women. In his field, he is an accomplished professional. So why does he not seem to want to become the President of Kenya?"

Now, you must be thinking that a decade of lawyering has gone to my head, that my mother's ambitions for me are plainly all in my head. And you would be right only to the extent that I admit that I might, perhaps, quite unlikely of course, be wrong. Regardless of your poisonous doubts about the scale of my ambitions, let us review the obvious reasons why my presidential ambitions should be directed elsewhere.

First, despite the pomp and circumstance of it all, being the President of Kenya is not really that prestigious. Sure, US$13,000 or thereabouts a month, free room and board, a forty limousine cavalcade...all seem attractive. But you get the feeling that if you meet Yahyah Jammeh of the Gambia, or Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria or Jacob Zuma of South Africa, that they view you with a touch of pity. Mr Jammeh is essentially the State, and the State is him. Mr Jonathan, never mind Boko Haram, presides of the economy in Africa. Mr Zuma and his much-married reputation simply thinks that it is extremely weak-kneed and foolish for a man to deny his wives or concubines; the more the merrier. It doesn't help that the President can't throw a proper bash like the one ours attended in Washington, DC, last month because the image of the President and his cronies living it up and dining of gold-embossed crockery and cutlery will send the wrong message when there are millions "at risk of starvation."

Second, all my friends will stop being my friends and they will all stick their hands so far into my pocket, I might start to fear for their sexual orientation. Not that I have any problem with gay people, transexual people, bisexual people, intersexual people, or people my fellow Kenyans would describe politely as "those people." But I do not want grown men with jobs and careers to spend every wking hour of my working day in my office hoping that I will twist my Cabinet Secretaries' arms so that the tender to supply uji-mix goes to one of them.

Third, my mother will tell you I love politics and if I didn't equally love perverting the course of justice through my professional endeavours, I would have loved to be a politician. But politicians have been given a very bad name in Kenya. Even President have given politicians a bad name, and that is no mean feat. To become President I would have to morph into a Kenyan politician. That is a sacrifice too far, even for the likes of me. I don't want the reputation of a person who would essentially forget his principles, forget what his mama taught him, forget his family and friends, forget the struggles of the people who elected you...I'd have to rip out my heart and soul, replace it with a shiny stone and erase the idea of "conscience" from my mind. I don't think Mrs Odhiambo from my mother's Lake Region Ladies' Merry-go-round will let it go that easily, and I don't want to put my mother through the arduous ordeal of having to explain to thirteen traditionally build ladies from the lake why her eldest son is behaving like a cross between Mussolini, Hitler and Idi Amin.

Finally, I do not want the love of the people. When the people love you, they usually have a tendency to turn on you when you inevitably break a foolish promise you made. I don't want to promise them lollipops for their daughters and then find out that the two available lollipop companies either produce them at too high a price or at a quality that even my pet pig would reject. And when they turn on me, I imagine, scenes from the days of the French Revolutions Reign of Terror will be repeated, with me and members of my Cabinet standing in for the French nobility. I can even see one of my closest allies playing the role of Robespierre simply because I wouldn't make sure the uji-mix tender went to him.

I love my mother dearly. Perhaps she will be happy if I work really hard, maneuvre really cleverly, and save just the right amount of money and connections in order for me to be made the Barclays Bank (Kenya) Ltd Chairman of the Board of Directors. She likes Barclays; it's British. Maybe she'll be happy with that job. All I have to figure out is what bankers do and how they do it.

Why is the PSCU still campaigning?

An examination of the Presidential Strategic Communications Unit, PSCU, of the Executive Office of the President of Kenya is an eye-opener. Reconstituted after the Presidential Press Unit was mothballed, it does very little administrative communications, save when Manoah Esipisu, Secretary of Communications in the Executive Office of the President and the PSCU's boss, makes statements on something the President has done or some place the President has visited. But its directors spend a significant amount of time on political messaging; fighting political battles for the President against all comers, whether they are in the media or in the opposition. The social media savvy these men displayed during the 2013 campaign is deployed in their new offices; they all have social media accounts and they almost always post something against a political threat to the President.

Uhuru Kenyatta's regime has been too long on the backfoot and to a large degree, the PSCU is to blame. Mr Kenyatta is the Head of State and Government, the President of the Republic, the Commander in Chief. On the political front, his was a complete victory; his party and his coalition form the majority party in both the National Assembly and the Senate, what Mutahi Ngunyi dubbed the tyranny of numbers. His coalition controls at least 18 county governments, and has a very strong showing in the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy's, CORD, Nairobi City County. Mr Kenyatta should not be explaining himself politically today, more than eighteen months after he was victorious.

The PSCU forgets that a President is never universally loved by his people. Only in theocracies like Iran and Vatican City, banana republics with cults of leadership or in Stalinist dictatorships are the people constantly harangued by their government to sing praises to their leader. Sometimes it is a requirement. I thought Kenya had moved on from the Baba Moi style of leadership. Refreshingly during the decade that Mwai Kibaki was President, he actively discouraged people from singing his praises; simple gestures like not having roads or monuments in his name, and the aversion to oily unctuous titles like "Mtukufu Rais" signalled an end to personality cults. His defenders and apologists in the press or the broadcast media spoke to his policies, administrative decisions and legislative agendas. Many Kenyans believed that Kenya was indeed a working nation simply because the old man actually seemed to want his government to work, never mind the many reported allegations of abuse of office or corruption.

We cannot say the same for the Uhuru Kenyatta government. His PSCU is an unremitting bringer of nothing but political propaganda, some of it very badly done. The President has political enemies and rather than leave the likes of Aden Duale, the National Assembly's Majority Party Leader, or Kithure Kindiki, his Senate Counterpart, or Johnson Sakaja, the TNA Chairman, or Onyango Oloo, the TNA Secretary-General, to deal with the president's political enemies, the PSCU is consumed by them to the almost total exclusion of communicating the President's legislative and administrative agenda or achievements. The PSCU's directors have a disturbingly dystopian view of their duties, and it is reflected in the string of bad news for the government of Uhuru Kenyatta.

Because the PSCU is constantly fighting political wars, it is yet to properly tell Kenyans what exactly the Government of Kenya is doing, what it is achieving, what milestones it is reaching, what technical challenges it is facing, and what it hopes to achieve through its administrative and legislative agendas. It is not enough for the National Treasury to state that "streamlining the tax procedures regime" will have benefits because of harmonization of disparate procedures in one statute; the PSCU must tell us why it is desirable to enact another piece of tax law and why we, as individual Kenyans, must support that agenda. It is a dull exercise, I know. One must read poorly drafted Ministry policies and reports and then distil their essence into soundbites that a six year old could appreciate. Until Mr Esipisu and his directors do that, the peoples' increasing revulsion at the Government of Kenya will not be reversed by scandalously repulsive screeds like the one entitled "All those Makau Mutua antagonises thrive" by the Senior Director of Messaging and Speech-writing on the Capital FM eBlog.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Machakos Shuffle.

I do not recommend playing in the sand box with the likes of Moses Kuria, MP, or Sen Mike Sonko. Come to think of it, I would also steer right clear of Francis Atwoli, Secretary-General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions. I would think twice about sticking out my tongue and going, "Nye nye-nye nye nye!" at the Inspector-General of Police. All these folks play rough. But none takes the biscuit than the Governor of Machakos, former Government Spokesman, Dr Alfred "Alfie" Mutua, PhD. His deputy, Benard Kiala found out the hard way just how rough the Big Man in Machakos could play.

I still have no idea what their beef is about, not the messy details anyway. But I am fairly sure it all comes down to who is still paying obeisance to Brother Steve, the jobless former vice president. Mr Mutua has demonstrated to his party leader that he has a worrying streak of independence that cannot be intimidated into toeing the line; Mr Kiala does not seem to have demonstrated any form of backbone since he hitched his wagon to the Wiper train. There is, of course, the spectre of the Machakos senator, Johnstone Muthama, who's pathological aversion to the governor is as mysterious as it is deeply heartfelt.

Mr Muthama has made it his legislative mission to make Mr Mutua's life as difficult as can legislatively be. If it means sabotaging Mr Mutua's impeachment plans for his deputy, it seems that Mr Muthama is willing to pay the price. Given that very little is known about the inner workings of the Wiper Party (indeed of any party) in Machakos, and who is really loyal to Brother Steve, Mr Muthama or Mr Mutua, we are left to speculate about the real reason Mr Mutua attempted to sack his deputy and why Mr Mutham intervene on Mr Kiala's behalf in the Senate.

What we know is that Kenya's political parties are not really parties and not really political, save when they call themselves "political parties." They do not do the normal things that political parties do: sign up members, collect subscriptions from those members, distil party philosophies that can identify their members, take administrative and political positions on everything the government of the day does, and market themselves as institutions for the capture and retention of political power. What they do is what Soviet-style dictatorships used to do: build cults of personality and slowly disenfranchise the people by enfeebling their minds with twaddle.

No right-minded Kenyan would want to be known to be a member of CORD or Jubilee or their constituents parties. Those who are intelligent and know how they are perceived are only interested in their selfish ends, which usually means the moment they win that tender they have been eyeing like hyenas salivating at a carcass abandoned by a lioness, they will dump that party so fast, run with the money so far, and generally pretend they have never heard of the words "Baba" or "Kamwana."

It is why when the dust finally settles on the Mutua-Kiala throwdown, we may finally find out if Kenya's superstar governor was all that, or whether he had his hands elbow deep in the cookie jar like his predecessors at the Masaki County Council. We will find out whether his roads were build to last or whether they were built to smooth his ascent to the ultimate procurement office: the Presidency.

Do you want your sippy cup back?

Let us stop pretending that things can be made better with the flick of a switch or the snapping of fingers. We are, after all, not children or the mentally weak. We are adults and as adults we know the truth. If we broke our leg, it would not take a kiss from mommy to set the bone or to heal the break. It would take a team of doctors and nurses and pharmacists to get the leg healed and useable again.

Think of Kenya as a human body with multiple organ failure. Nairobi is he heart of the nation; if it has an arrhythmia, the rest of the body's organs are bound to feel the aftershocks. If this nation is to make a stab at moving away from ten generations of governments' mistakes. Uhuru Kenyatta inherited a bloated public service that had been stuffed by the mediocre and the uninspired hired by successive regimes. Not even Mwai Kibaki, economist par excellence, could resits the urge to pack the rank-and-file with nonentities from great beyond.

But it was in the local authorities that this lunacy reigned. Nairobi City had it the worst. When "ghost" ranks of employees were exposed, the problem was simply covered up. Ministers of Local Government proved to be the weak link; taking money from the grateful hands of local authority bosses, they were not prepared to rock the boat and the tumor of the bloated wage bill became the size of the organ itself.

Nairobi has been cursed to have been left in the hands of the selfish and the greedy for far too long. mayors treated it as a personal cash cow, milking it for all they could. Its municipal facilities are in the shitter. Garbage collection is an intricate extortion racket. Public transport is an intricate extortion rocket. Street lighting...You get the point, I hope. And the idiots who think that Evans Kidero is a magician had better get their sippy cups, their bibs and nappies because we are sending them back to nursery school. Where they belong.

Serious people know that before things get better, Mr Kidero will have to demolish a corruption infrastructure that has survived three presidents, including one who hang around for twenty-four years; it has survived reforms, bankruptcy, dissolution, and civil war. It requires patience and intelligence to circumvent. I do not know if Dr Kidero is the answer to Nairobi's many challenges, but I know he does not have partners in the national government and his party is treating him as if he is transmitting the Ebola virus. If he achieves anything, it will be despite the sabotage by the National Government, especially the Senator and the Woman Representative, and it will be despite the backstabbing obsessive pettiness of the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy's petty internal paranoia that sees conspiracies against Baba in every corner.

Before Dr Kidero can do anything, he needs money. Hundreds of billions of shillings. Billions to rebuild sewer and drainage systems, county dispensaries and clinics, county primary schools, county social halls, county sports grounds, county street lights, county by-lanes and main roads, county emergency services...Dr Kidero cannot do this if the only budgets that will be approved by the county assembly are those that see its members traipsing off to Italy to study "how wine is grown" when the motherfuckers can barely pronounce in vino veritas.

We know this, because none of us is a child easily persuaded by words spoken by adults. We have the ability to think. We have the ability to think clearly. It is time we started acting like it. Unless we are really hankering for that sippy cup, bib, nappy and nap-time at three sharp.

Thinking is the light.

It has been pointed out that not enough Kenyans read enough. Many of us make simplistic connections between events without asking what their true meanings are. We are satisfied with the simplest answer, the one that does not tax our intellect or arouse our curiosity. It is how the resignation of the Director-General of the National Intelligence Service is not greeted with curiosity from the people, the peoples' representatives or the intelligentsia. It is why there is no rational discussion of why the spouses of the head of government and his deputy receive a salary from the national treasury when they do not hod high office, or any kind of office, in the government. It is why governors and their executives, and members of county assemblies and their "assistants" can afford to go on all-expenses paid junkets to the Holy Land while doctors and nurses have to wait for five months for their salaries.

Our degree of curiosity is never aroused when our government bandies about several confusing figures while attempting to justify police-state actions. There is no rationale for the creation of multiple electronic databases of Kenyan nationals when one will suffice. We have allowed specious and self-serving explanations by government officials of murders and assassinations to go unchallenged. We continue to stand mute every time billions of shillings are embezzled and rather than the rolling of heads, what we get are wretched declarations of clear consciences.

The British colonists left us exactly where they wanted us: reading the bible with ever increasing fervour while our government, our leaders and our "friends" gouged us for every cent we had, even if it meant lending us the money so that they could gouge us some more. Churches, denominations, sects, cults and every shade of Christian thought and strain is to be found in Kenya. It matters not that the book they purport to teach from is the same, they ll have wildly differing emphasis on the bible's teachings and scandalously differing interpretations of key passages. It is the only book that Kenyans read avidly but never bother to understand. It wouldn't surprise me that the same applies in the other religions practiced in Kenya; wacha mchungaji afanye kazi ya bwana! Meanwhile our nation and its soul have been sold for a handful of magic beans.

Take titanium, for example. The jobs that mountain of titanium promised to deliver have not materialised. The good people of Kwale County continue to live in abject poverty and squalor. They are not holding their breaths that the promises associated with the mountain of rare earth will be kept either. Josphat Nanok of Turkana is no one's fool and he knows if he doesn't seize the initiative today, Turkana's oil and yet-to-be-seen lake of underground water will become the playthings of movers-and-shakers in Nairobi and his people will see not a cent of it. Sadly for Governor Nanok, the Turkana intelligentsia he should be relying on to help him outmaneuver the sneaky Nairobians are enthusiastically bending over with their pants around their legs for the Nairobians. They would rather get paid a pttance for the chance to be rogered in Nairobi than go home and help their county and their people make billions. It is easy to get shafted when one does no think about it.

If we were, as a nation, fighting this intellectual lethargy, there would always be a light at the end of the tunnel. And it would not be the headlight of an onrushing train. But where even professors of philosophy have given up their right to think, except when they are trying to bed their latest object of their amorous attentions, what others might see as a light at the end of the tunnel is actually the candle slowly fizzling out. One day that light will be no more and if we thought the past fifty years were bad, the next fifty will be a classic reminder that without reading and thinking all that awaits for a people are the burnt out shells of cities and towns, and the marauding ultra-religious hordes out to enforce their ever-crazier ideas about chastity and purity.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Odinga is the Key.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was not an idiot, but he was spectacularly naive. Even in the heat of anti-colonial combat, Kenya's first vice-president should have seen the signs. His increasing marginalisation at the hands of the Kiambu Mafia should have warned him that he had no chance of ever succeeding Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. In fact if he had not placed such faith in the party, he would not have been so outmaneuvered in 1968/1969. As it is his son seems to be treading the same path he did - with the same results too.

Raila Odinga has become the indispensable factor in Kenyan politics. Not the president, nor the deputy president nor any of the jokers screaming at the tops of their voices seeking validation in the eyes of the people. Raila Odinga is Kenyan politics. When he speaks, when he acts, when he is spoken about, when he is acted against - all these shape how the political field looks like and what its mood shall be. Without Raila Odinga, some may believe, politics could be easier, less fraught with disappointment or anger. But they are wrong; Raila Odinga is the political bellwether. He reflects the will of the people better than the government or the parliamentary parties or the official opposition as a whole.

While all the foregoing is true, it is also equally true that Mr Odinga is the truest reflection of the moribund politics of Kenya. He is also a mirror of the failures of politicians in Kenya over the past decades. Mr Odinga is proof that it is not policies or ideals or even ideas that matter in Kenya; what matters and what has always mattered are ethnic coalitions that do little to improve the lives of the people but hold the entire nation hostage to the whims of a vocal, moneyed minority elite. Mr Odinga and his bete noires in the ruling coalition are Siamese Twins. The only difference between the two is that the former is out of government while the latter is the government.

Mr Odinga's announcement that he will seek the presidency at the next general election has elicited faux squeals of umbrage from the Jubilee perennial whingers. Faux because they couldn't wish for a better lightning rod than Mr Odinga, whose image they will ride like a donkey to victory. He polarises the political environment, not on the basis of ideology, ideas or principles, but simply because he himself has played the ethnic card on more than one occasion. Mr Odinga came close in 2013. Unless the gods of elections smile benevolently on him, the next general election will be his last and lasting electoral loss.

That is not to say that Mr Odinga is irrelevant. Looking at the energies the likes of Aden Duale and Moses Kuoria expend in checking Mr Odinga's maneuvres, Mr Odinga is definitely the key figure to determine the pace and the tone of the election, and politics leading up to the election. His announcement is more than two years early, but it will so sow panic in the Jubilee house, the Jubilants will likely lose their minds. In their obsession with Mr Odinga, they will not tend to their constituents other than rile them up with the spectre of an Odinga victory. They will neglect their constituents and as a result they will become proud members of the 75% former MPs who never made it to the Big House in Nairobi. They will use Mr Odinga for their own ends, and they will lose their deposits because of it.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Pesa nane politics and Ebola.

The World Health Organisation has stated that there is a "low risk of transmission" of the Ebola virus from air travel. Kenya Airways agrees. The Ministry of Health agrees. The Ministry of the Interior agrees. So all are agreed that the focus is on dealing with the aftermath of an infection in Kenya; they are not really concerned about an infiltration of the virus into Kenya through its border crossings. So the Ministry of Health has asked for slightly more than half-a-billions shillings and it is sending fact-finding teams of doctors to West Africa. It has set aside a quarantine ward at the Kenyatta National Hospital. And it is assuring us that together with the Ministry of the Interior, it is vetting all visitors into Kenya to ensure that no visitor introduces the virus in Kenya.

Just like during the World Cup, save in a few passionate locales, the interest in whether there is or there is not an Ebola outbreak in Kenya is pretty limited. Kenyans are still hanging out, after a fashion, in nyama choma joints, eating meat of dubious provenance and quaffing unquantifiable amounts of unlicensed alcoholic beverages without a care in the world. In other words, regardless of the Ebola threat, Migingos in Kenya's "informal" settlements are doing roaring business, under the noses of the forces of law and order deployed by the Ministry of the Interior I might add, and apparently invisible to the Ministry of Health's Public Health Officers.

Matters that should concentrate our minds, like the steadily upwards trajectory of the cost of food, energy, healthcare and education - and Ebola, of course - have been abandoned for the noise and heat of the political discourse, such as it is. Hundreds of thousands of Kenyans are daily glued to their TV screens for the day's political entertainment. The ruinous "debate" over the referendum has blinded us to the realities: CORD and Jubilee have little incentive to allow debate on matters that have real-world impacts on our lives. Baba Moi called it "Siasa za pesa nane." Baba Jimmi might have called the two coalitions "Pumbavu" without batting an eyelid.

If there is one thing that the Ebola outbreak in Western Africa tells it is that we have lost all sense of proportion, shame and logic. If the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of the Interior ever had a plan for the control of infectious diseases, that plan has not been dusted for a generation at least. Pravin Bowry recently examined the statutory and regulatory framework for controlling infectious diseases and highlighted the constitutional constraints that the Public Health Act would face. It is almost certain that Health Cabinet Secretary James Macharia and his mandarins, in their zeal to boost their budget, have not published their strategy to deal with the Ebola threat, but instead they have asked the National Treasury to set aside almost six hundred million shillings for the activity and enlisted ill-informed parliamentarians in their quest. That is not money they will be sharing with Interior Cabinet Secretary Ole Lenku, whose Ministry cannot explain how eight billion shillings has disappeared.

Kenyans have had the wool pulled over their eyes by the political theatre. So few of us are conscious of the risks that the Ebola virus pose to the general population. Our experiences with the health facilities in Kenya, whether public or private, has not been salutary unless one was willing to lay down hundreds of thousands of shillings for a certain quality of care. But even then, the money may not guarantee quality healthcare. Politics consumes our every hour of thought. Risks abound that we do not seem to care for. If there is an outbreak, bar some unforeseen circumstances, the elite that has pulled the wool over our eyes will board their private jets or sit in first class as they flee the melee. I can see Mr Macharia and Mr Lenku hiding behind their GSU bodyguard. And I can see the chaos visited on Liberia being visited on Kenya.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Digital Sycophancy.

We have had leadership cults for all of independent Kenya's existence. Mzee Jomo Kenyatta was venerated. Daniel arap Moi had his own sycophants who sang, literally, his praises. Mwai Kibaki had the Mt Kenya Mafia that did everything to keep him in power, especially in 2007/2008. Uhuru Kenyatta's legacy will be measured by history. Perhaps he will be lucky; I fear he will not because of the men and women who do his bidding or, more crucially, believe they are doing his bidding.

When Mr Kenyatta first took office, some of his most ardent supporters were still passionately campaigning for him. It is understandable that they couldn't let go of the sense of urgency that the campaign had engendered; perhaps they wanted to transfer this sense of urgency into the government over the first crucial hundred days so that the ardour of a new government was not dulled. An early indication of the overt sycophancy at that time was the directive by the Secretary to the Cabinet regarding the use of VIP lounges at Kenya's border points, such as the one at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport.

The Secretary to the Cabinet, whose previous job had been Head of the Civil Service, wanted to demonstrate his absolute loyalty to President Kenyatta by cutting Uhuru Kenyatta's election opponent down to size. He essentially ordered all civil servants in Kenya, including those serving at border points, not to show any "special attention" to the former Prime Minister, the former Vice-President and any former somebody who was associated with the opposition leader. But in a rather stupid act of ethnic loyalty, he directed that those favours he wished to deny the opposition leaders would be extended to former Presidents, who just happened to be from the same ethnic communities that the new President and Deputy President hailed from.

It is a pattern that has been repeated since that infamous event. Every time the President makes a statement, there is a cohort of men and women who do not care about the statement's legality, practicality or wisdom; they have made it their mission in life to ensure that Uhuru Kenyatta's every pronouncement is treated as Holy Writ. This is a terrible mistake, especially at a time when the President must oversee the most difficult constitutional reforms in a generation.

President Kenyatta, in his previous avatar as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, was not known for suffering sycophants gladly. By all accounts, he preferred to be treated with respect, but not to the point where obeisance was the preferred manner of that respect. He was informal enough to take interruptions from "juniours" without it affecting the outcome he was seeking. In other words, Mr Kenyatta preferred that the procedures and principles of his ministry prevail over whether or not he was the senior-most civil servant in the room. Many expected that the men and women around him would have understood this when they were appointed to high positions in the government after his inauguration in 2013. It is terribly disappointing that KANU-style sycophancy is back with a bang.

Mr Kenyatta's government has done precious little to entrench principles, values and procedures in the firmament of the State. It is a cue that has been picked up by the public service in general. It is reported that Members of Parliament are dissatisfied with their perks; they want them enhanced, especially their security when they walk the twenty-five metres from the gates of Parliament to those of Continental House, where their offices are located. It is why few were surprised by the behaviour of the Deputy Chief Justice when she assaulted a security guard for not being properly deferential to her. It is why even Cabinet-level factotums insist on all their official titles, academic achievements and commendations are quoted in every letter addressed to them as well as have their portraits hung up besides that of the Head of State.

Where sycophancy was once solely directed at the Head of State, it has now become pervasive. We are all required to be as fawningly obsequious to our betters. We must pay obeisance to their greatness at all times. We must sing their praises at every opportunity. Whatever they want must be delivered. If we fail, it is not official opprobrium that we must expect, especially those of us who are known as "juniour staff". What happens is that suddenly a gatekeeper somewhere is unable to schedule a meeting, unless one has been summoned, or a clearance. Promotions are awarded after much extra scrutiny for fitness. Opportunities for additional allowances are  delayed or denied. One still has their job, but it is now a chore than a joy to do. If he does nothing to straighten out his senior officers, President Kenyatta will not be remembered fondly. Indeed, he is likely to be more reviled than Baba Moi without the chance for rehabilitation.