Friday, July 03, 2015

Mr Carson is not it.

Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.

Stop me if you think I have strayed. Straitened circumstances. Abject poverty. Difficult childhood. Missing father. Some other father figure. Mother is the rock. Two or more jobs. Self-taught life skills. An X-factor of possible exotic origins or exotic world travel or both. Handsome. Ambitious. I think my brother Rei can embellish the typical rags-to-riches, up-by-ones-bootstraps tale with key elements, but these, more or less, are it. We could be talking about Barack Obama as much as Ben Carson.

Lightning doesn't strike in a bottle twice. Mr Carson has examined his family tree and he has discovered that he can trace his family to some ancestor in Turkana. Which is in Kenya. Across the border from Ethiopia, though he thinks that the people of the Turkana, in their nomadic inclinations, have made it as far south as Tanzania.

Mr Carson's is an impressive story. He has succeeded beyond many, many people's wildest dreams. He was a pioneering neurosurgeon so he must be smart, right? After all his self-help books have sold hundreds of thousands of copies, his words are listened to by hundreds of thousands across the world. His politics inspires hundreds of thousands. He must be smart.

Mr Carson will not be the first smart person to be completely foolish about some things. He has a compelling story, but there is something that simply does not ring true with him. This Turkana claim of his might be true but then again, given what we know about him, will prove the devil to prove. It might not appear to be so to him, but Mr Carson is simply to write a GOP version of the remarkable story of America's First Black President. It will not pretty. Not for him it won't. He is simply the wrong black man in the wrong party at the wrong time.

How can he choose to remain in a party that accommodates a nativist like The Donald who still insists that majority of the immigrants from the US's largest trading partner are mostly rapists? How can he remain in a party that engages in such public-relations contortions just so it won't have to say that the Stars-and-Bars is a symbol of unreconstructed racism and that it should not fly anywhere in the United States in the Twenty-first Century? If he is willing to put himself through the humiliating contortions of having to deny the inherent racism of his party of choice, that is no skin off our nose. But he has dragged Turkana into it. He should just stop. Find another country and another tribe to lay claim to. Nigeria and Boko Haram, maybe.

Barack Obama has been an amazing President, both for the scale of his ambitious agenda an the shattering defeats he has had to endure, none more shattering the constant reminder that on race the United States is still in the Antebellum Era. Universal healthcare. Improved foreign relations. Fewer wars (but more drones.) Job-creation. Two women on the Supreme Court. An evolution in marriage equality. Mr Obama's successes are remarkable. But the Dark Cloud of race relations will dog him to his deathbed and he knows it. Mr Carson is not the man to finish Mr Obama's unfinished work. He never was. And now that he wants to be part-Kenyan too he knows that he never will.

Damn you, Mr Bindra!

I met the unhappiest man in the world today.

Sunny Bindra may appreciate this. On my street there is only restaurant that serves a proper meal, but for the fiscally profligate like I am, there is an establishment that is on the Other Side of Haile Selassie Avenue that caters to our fiscally-imposed fearlessness when it comes to pathogens such as salmonella. Anyway, every now and then, when it is not quite possible to patronise the Tin Tin Restaurant or cross the road to the last remaining kibanda on Kenya Railways' land, I find myself at the Nakumatt on Haile Selassie trying to get there just before the last meat pie or chicken pie is snuffled by the hordes of secretaries that descend on the place at one o'clock.

I was used to dealing with Peter. He and I had a connection; even the un-curious me found out that he was being given "management" training. (He insisted on the air quotes; I felt it only right that should he read this that there be quotation marks.) He smiled. He greeted. Sometimes he would apologise if the pies had been missing for some days even if I had been missing for some days. He was a cheerful soul. Half the reason I bought the pies was because he was a charmer and I do not know anyone who wants to be attended to by a sour-puss.

But Peter's training means he will be away for a while. He might not even come back to us. I am stuck with the grouch. I don't know his name. He doesn't seem like the kind you want to strike up a conversation with. He looks terribly unhappy. Twice I have found him in the pastry section and twice now I have reconsidered my dietary habits. (I think it is time I asked Her to take over completely every aspect of my lunch-time fare, by the by.)

That man is not good for the digestion. He is unhelpful. He is slow. He scowls. And he will simply not lift a finger to help. He doesn't care that even by my casual observation, there are more pastries in the counter at 1 pm than there ordinarily should be. I think even the seen-it-all secretarial army doesn't want to deal with him. If Nakumatt Haile Selassie is not careful, their pastry sales may crater simply because of the dark cloud they have put in charge of the pies and muffins. The grouch has put me off my pies completely.

I never actually thought seriously enough about Mr Bindra's words because, well, I am not a manager. Now I can't help but reflect on them all the time and see things in a very different light. Why we don't have a public sanitation infrastructure that we can be proud of. Why we fear our public transport system even while more and more of us rely on it. Why we trust fewer and fewer public servants unless they publicly expiate their sins and reject ostentation. Damn you, Mr Bindra. My ignorance was blissful. Now I have to do something about it. Damn you to hell!

First things first. What's his name and why's he so unhappy?

Washing and Rinsing.

The Commander-in-Chief ordered his crack paramilitary police unit to go after...chang'aa brewers and shut down chang'aa dens in a bid to stamp out the manufacture, sale and consumption of illicit brews. Fifty three years since we wrested self-rule from the bloody mitts of the dead British Empire, its insidious spirit lives on. First hey banned our traditional liquors. Then they said we couldn't distil like they did. Then they came after us with the police and their guns and dogs. You can choose which bits of your history to re-live; we seem to want to re-live each and every ignominious moment of the 43 years of the Kenya Colony.

We are now conditioned to accept that the only way to stamp out the burgeoning alcoholism pandemic in the "Mt Kenya region" is with even-more-of-the-same police tactics that have failed in the past, only this time instead of the ordinary G3-armed policeman on the beat we will deploy a crack commando police unit more used to neutralising terrorist threats than unlicensed manufacturers. I believe PLO Lumumba would be right to deploy his mosquitoes-and-sledgehammer analogy against this decision.

The General Service Unit and its feared company, the Reconnaissance "Recce" Company is a scalpel compared to the regular and administrative police units. When it is deployed, it has always been against threats that risk mass casualties of great destruction of property. The Commander-in-Chief might recall when the GSU used to be deployed against university students, but that day is long gone and that is now the job of the Teenage-Mutant-Ninja-Turtle-looking Administration Police Rapid Deployment Units. We expend hundreds of millions every year sending GSU officers to Israel and God-knows where else to hone their anti-terror skills. Unless the Shabaab has gone into the business of manufacturing chang'aa...

The Commander-in-Chief must be a frustrated man. It is the only explanation for the declaration that the GSU would oversee the eradication of illicit liquor in Kenya - along with its anti-terror activities. I am curious whether the GSU will use the deterrence model in its efforts because it doesn't seem to work at all in other areas. Manufacturers of illicit brews have also proven quite resilient every time their manufacturing "plants" are laid to waste by the police; it only takes a few hours for them to be up and running as soon as the police are out of earshot. What will be different between this latest anti-chang'aa drive and previous ones going all the way back to colonial antiquity?

The Commander-in Chief has finally realised that because of the politicisation of the boards of management of agencies such as the National Authority for the Campaign Against Drugs and Alcohol Abuse, relatively simple problems like the control of the manufacture of illicit brews will remain a pipe dream for him and his government. Two decades of hollowing out of the public service and what we can now count on is the wash-rinse cycle being repeated endlessly when it comes to crises. The GSU-v-chang'aa dens is just an escalation of the cycle. After the shock value wears off, chang'aa brewers and their ilk will be back in business. What will he do then? Deploy the Ranger D Company of 20 Parachute Battalion of the Kenyan Army?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Fair's fair.

Fair's fair. You told them to sue and sue they did.

The President of Kenya earns a salary that is the equivalent of what Michael Joseph took home when he shepherded Safaricom to Top Dog status in mobile telephony. Many of us might have very strong feelings about the quality of its services, but unless we have not been paying attention, Safaricom has protected its brand, expanded its products, increased its profitability and taken care of its shareholders and creditors. The Government of Kenya, on the other hand, has not, to put it mildly. The current CEO of Safaricom deserves the multi-million shilling salary and bonus cheques he gets annually; the CEO of Kenya most likely does not.

Which brings us to teachers and the billion-shillings award handed them by the Industrial Court. It is immoral to award double-digit increases to an arm of the government that has proven to be value for our money while key sectors continue to be treated like second class citizens. Teachers, nurses, doctors and police deserve the same kind of largesse that Cabinet Secretaries, Principal Secretaries, parastatal bosses, Deputy Presidents and Presidents receive from the Consolidated Fund. The argument that the Government cannot afford it because their numbers are so large may be accurate but it is a very poor foundation for public policy.

The rationale behind the CEO-level pay-and-perks for the senior echelons of the public service is that it "motivates" them to perform; the same rationale should apply to critical sectors of the public service that have a greater than normal impact on the economy and quality of life. Alternatively, when austerity is demanded of the teachers of Kenya, there is absolutely no justification for the splurge that the senior echelons enjoy.

The Government of Kenya and the Teachers' Service Commission have been playing cat-and-mouse with teachers since 1997 over their salaries. It is a game that has seen numerous instances of industrial action by teachers, affecting the quality of learning for millions of children. The same has been the case with nurses and doctors.  In the same period, the salaries and other benefits enjoyed by senior members of the national Executive, the same ones livid with the ruling of the Industrial Court, have multiplied several times. So too have those of the members of the legislature and the judiciary. It seems that these small cabals can keep dipping their fingers deeper into the Consolidated Fund but not those who do the heavy lifting.

The national Executive will no doubt challenge the ruling of the Industrial Court in the appeal courts, and there is more than an even chance that the national Executive will prevail. What is equally without doubt is that the "national dialogue" on the "huge wage bill" will focus almost entirely on why we can't raise teachers' salaries by between 50% and 60% and not why we can't reduce the salaries of the senior echelons of the public service by between 50% and 60% to partly pay for the increase that the teachers, nurses, doctors and policemen richly deserve.

You told them to sue. They did. They won. Time to put up or shut up.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

To my friend.

My friend's husband died. I don't know what to say to her; I never know what to say.

Maybe these words from holy scripture will say it for me:
Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore. ~ Psalms 16:11

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Southern Bypass Strategy.

There is a Kenyan lawyer of no mean repute - a friend of his described him as an avid swordsman, whatever that means - who is enamoured of hereditary dynasties, political first families, strongmen presidents and strongarm tactics to handle every unpleasantness a nation could experience. There is an amazing research scientist whose achievements are nothing to be scoffed at who believes that the international regime we call international law supersedes domestic law. Many modern Kenyans entertainers emulate what Hollywood has to offer, even the offerings from the seamier sides of the industry. 

Nearly all of them sneer at the quality of our political leadership, degree of scientific innovation and capacity for home-brewed entertainment that is just as captivating as the schlock fro Hollywood. They reflect something that has been prevalent to the discerning for decades: the depth for self-loathing among the hoi polloi as among the elite remains staggeringly high. When "an ordinary Kenyan" visits an establishment where this level of self-loathing is sill a mark of "class", it is difficult not to miss the artifacts of that self-loathing: slow service, dismissal of opinions and, on occasion, discrimination in favour of a Black Coconut or a Caucasian.

For better or worse, the Standard Gauge Railway will be built. Anyone who thinks that the political, economic or environmental objections to the project will scuttle it "before it goes too far" has not been paying attention. This project has the backing of the presidency and you are either on board or you are an enemy of development. In the fullness of time, the railway will come through the Nairobi National Park,where it will have its boosters as well as opponents. Then there are those who will be accommodated and those who will be ignored. The experience of the opponents to the Southern Bypass should be instructive.

The road was meant to skirt the outskirts of the park; it was not going to "encroach". The construction of the road was delayed, whether the delay was deliberate remains an unexplored mystery. Because of the delay, what would have been its reserve was "grabbed" and residential and commercial properties erected on it. Rather than demolish the unlawful constructions, the national Executive decided to carve off a piece of the park for the road and its reserve. Friends of Nairobi National Park objected, filed suits and whatnot. They lost. The Standard Gauge Railway, never mind what the Constitution, the Wildlife Conservation and Management Act, 2013, or the Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act, 1999, say, will be diverted around African Heritage House because of its unique contribution to Kenyan culture and similar-sounding bullshit.

There is a hierarchy to those who enjoy privileges unavailable to others in Kenya. Kaburu families and their descendants are at the top. Then come Kenya's First Families. Then come the Caucasian expatriates, whether they are running local branches of multinational corporations or they are slinging coffee at the Caramel Lounge. Then come the billionaires with close ties to the political establishment. Halafu nyinyi wengine mtaamua kama mko kwa list au la. What this all means is that the law will find a reason for the African Heritage House to keep standing where it has stood for the past decade; the railway will just have to go around it.

Ubeberu mambo leo.

Collective punishment is as old as Kenya has existed. The successions of Governors Kenya colony endured believed fervently that the only way the natives would be civilised would be to lay blame for the acts of one on his entire family, clan or tribe, depending on the gravity of the act. Fifty four years since we gave the mkoloni the steel toe, that legacy lives: Shifta, Wagalla, West Pokot, Mt Elgon, Eastleigh, Lamu. Seems that the lesson has been learned and learned well: the National Transport Safety Authority has joined in the game too.

I am not fond of most of the Savings and Credit Co-operatives, Saccos, that run matatus in my beloved Eastlands. I would go so far as to admit that if the proprietors of those death-traps were to be suddenly stricken by palsy of the mind and of the tongue, I would not feel a twinge of guilt for wishing them incessant volumes of drool and the pitying ridicule of the able-bodied. But those Saccos that bear the legends Umoinner, Forward Traveller, Embasava, Utimo, Pin Point and Marvelous have become laws unto themselves, harkening back to the pre-Michuki Era when public service vehicles sowed death, destruction, mayhem and criminality like a bastardised modern-day version of the American wild west.

Sadly, we have decreed for ourselves, by Constitution and by statute, a culture of the rule of law. The law shall be enforced as it is written; we shall not presume to make the law up as we go along. It shall bind us equally, without fear or favour. You contravene any provision of our written law and it is between you, the prosecutor and the magistrate on whether or not the maximum penalty will be imposed against you. I say sadly because we have very little faith in that concept of the rule of law. We attempt to bolster it by the creation of mini-empires to enforce specific areas of our written law. When it comes to the Traffic Act, it was the police and the magistrates who held sway. They have now been joined by the National Transport Safety Authority, NTSA, and with it has been revived for the modern era the concept f collective punishment.

The rationale of collective punishment is simple enough. Like the Cabinet each member of the group is bound by the actions of his colleagues; when one strays, all stray and all are liable. Embasava Sacco is notorious for the recklessness of its crews, in and out of service. It will find little sympathy from the victims of its recklessness because of the NTSA suspension of its operating license. But nonetheless it must be defended, because to leave it to the arbitrary diktats of summary collective punishment is to revive the colonial mentality that held sway for nigh on sixty years.

Ours is a very liberal constitutional arrangement, placing primacy of the individual over all else. It is reflected in the tone and emphases of the Bill of Rights. While I am sure there are very few innocents among the ruffians of Embasava, I am nonetheless unwilling to go along with a patently unconstitutional penalty for the proven recklessness of one crew. In Mario Puzo's words, "Better a hundred guilty men go free than for an innocent man to be jailed."

The NTSA' s collective punishment instincts are its stark admission that it cannot effectively regulate the transport sector and that it has run out of ideas of how to do so. It is therefore time we asked ourselves whether it is worth keeping the NTSA. We shouldn't be pouring billions of scarce resources into an institution whose instincts recall the basest parts of our national history. If it cannot see the irony of using tactics employed by a colonial power that galvanised a nation to fight a war of liberation, then it is time we shuttered its windows, padlocked its doors, sent home its officers and erased it from the national conscience for all eternity. Just like we did with the wabeberu.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Maybe God is in the details.

I am resigned to certain realities. Not those ones - Raila and Ouru and al that; those ones can always get worse. I mean those realities that are as immutable as blue skies and sandy beaches. I am resigned to the reality that when it comes to the dedication required to name some outfit M/s Things of Desire and wangle multi-million shilling payout through the IFMIS that seems to fascinate the Public Accounts Committee, I am unlikely to use the hashtag #Blessed on my Twitter feed or in accompaniment to my toothy I-mad-it smile on Instagram.

I am also resigned to the fact that come Lupita Nyong'o's ten-thousand-shilling-a-plate "dinner" at the Vila Rosa Kempinski, I shall be negotiating with Mustafa Adams to obtain a high-def copy of Fury Road. Or something. I am resigned to the realities of an aging skeletal frame, a sclerotising circulatory system and an atrophying intellect. I am taking each of these realities in stoic style; they are not the be all and end all.

However, there are some realities that came out of Left Field, a reference my cousin from New Jersey will appreciate. How they came about is none of your business; what matters is that they are realities now, and by the grace of God will remain so for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. How can we fail to acknowledge the Hand of God when things take the turn that they have? My laissez faire approach to my faith notwithstanding, I am conscious of my many, many limitations, and it is plain to see that for some reason they have not been a great handicap. If that is not God masquerading as providence that I do not have an explanation. And not, Occam's Razor, most certainly does not apply here.

The only other reasonable explanation is that God is manifest in Her, Rei and George, the Prof and the Doc, Nan, my epic boss and Leo and Maureen. I mean, aren't they the reason I am what I am at this very moment? Their advice, support, criticism, honesty and merciless mocking have inspired some of my zaniest ideas that didn't immolate me in my bed or something. So, for the non-deists reading this, perhaps God is in the details and my details are Her, Rei and George, the Prof and the Doc, Nan, my epic boss and Leo and Maureen.

Land, history and iniquity.

While I am still trying to figure out whether I should admit to Kwame Owino that I know nothing at all about anything of significance to do with poverty, let me expose my ignorance on something else entirely: land.

The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution has published for public comment a legislative proposal (you think of them as "Bills") to give effect to Article 68(c)(i) of the Constitution on the minimum and maximum land holdings. The merits or otherwise of the legislative proposal will be known soon enough. What remains unclear is whether the enactment of the proposal into law will be a Magic Bullet to solve the myriad problems that bedevil the land sector in Kenya.

One way of describing industrialisation is the gradual transformation of an agriculture-based economy to a largely manufacturing-based economy. Sometimes this transformation is rapid; more often than not it is a decades' long process. Kenya's government's statistics indicate that its economy relies to a very great extent on agriculture and tourism. In the agriculture sector, the most valuable exports are horticultural produce (largely "cut" flowers and fruit), tea and coffee. In the tourism sector the most valuable patrons of the hotels lining our coast are foreigners, as are the attendees of national and international conferences held in Nairobi, Nakuru, Naivasha and Kisumu. Both sectors rely overwhelmingly on land, but more so in agriculture.

The history of agriculture policy in Kenya is the history of land, at least until 1963. It is striking that the same language employed by the settler community and the colonial government continues to pervade public policy-making in the twenty-first, independent century. It is almost as if the policies, and the legislative proposals designed to implement or enforce them, are still being drawn up by the men who built the Lunatic Railway to Uganda. That history is replete with discrimination and exclusion of those who were deemed incapable of dealing with that land profitably. It is why the same faces seem to occupy land in what is still defined as "high potential areas."

The ostensible policy objective of prescribing a maximum holding in these "high potential areas" is that a person who holds land in excess of the maximum will be compelled by various legislative, administrative and policy instruments to reduce his holding to the maximum recommended. The land that is surrendered as a result will be redistributed to families that did not possess land before. In turn, this redistribution will establish a "vibrant" land market and the prices paid for land parcels will reflect the true value of the land.

We shouldn't worry too much that Article 40 may scuttle the maximum land holding proposal; that one is likely to be superseded by Article 24 on the limitation of rights. Between 1963 and 1969, Kenya implemented the Million Acres Programme. It was meant to redistribute settler land to landless Kenyans. Forty five years later the reverberations of the swindles perpetrated in the name of the people through the settlement schemes are still being felt today, especially in the restive coast. I can see the new settlement schemes being modeled closely on the Million Acres Scheme.  The same iniquitous outcome is all but guaranteed.

The revised land law of Kenya has done little to encourage clarity in land administration; the current hot-then-cold war between the National Land Commission and Ardhi House is just one manifestation of the mes that is land administration. This legislative proposal does little to resolve this mess. Until the key stakeholders in land administration play a pro-landless role in the sector, we will still be talking about "challenges in the land sector" forty five years hence.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

It was Father's Day...

Now that I got that off my chest...

It was Fathers' Day over the weekend. I didn't get my father anything, not even a card. He had just celebrated his sixty-fifth that week and I didn't want to spoil the man who had spoiled me my whole life. I had time to reflect on what my father means to me, what he has meant to me since the day I could consider the thing of it.

Children never consider things like compassion until decades later when they are trying to find a grown-up word to describe something. I definitely didn't know what compassion was when I was a boy; all I cared about was the world defined by the reach of my spindly little arms, the distance that my stubby legs could travel and the universe that my exhaustingly inquisitive mind could imagine. But my father is a deeply compassionate man, giving of himself and his wealth to right an wrong and reverse an unfairness or to soothe a wounded spirit. And he taught me compassion, not by lessons written down or passed on in conversation, but by doing that which is compassionate. In a hostile world, one of us has to be the fount of the milk of human kindness.

My father was strong. His nerve never failed him. His back was always ramrod straight. And he would only bend when he chose to bend. He is still strong. I have no idea how he does it. Is it the inner certainty that in that moment, with that choice, the only choice is the right one? Or is it years of experience - decades, really - where he knows what hands you have been dealt and he knows that if he holds out just a little longer, the minestrone you call a backbone will fold? I don't know and I think that I shall spend the rest of his life trying to figure out what makes him so strong in the face of such overwhelming odds.

He has the greatest sense of humour ever; he needs it more and more as his world is increasingly invaded by teenagers with massive smartphones and the intellects of weaver birds. (He knows a lot about weaver birds, by the by.) He lights up a room simply by pithily reminding its occupants of something or the other. His pith is without compare and those snot-nosed teenagers attempting to get by the intricacies of taxonomy are usually held rapt by his semi-casual delivery of the science and the theory of zoology, entomology and god-knows-what other -ology.

All that bullshit doesn't really tell you that he loves me, he loved me. It is here that we usually add "in his way." I don't have to. When I was sick, he worried. And then badgered Uncle Jasper to treat me even though he was not a paediatrician. When I was afraid, he gave me the courage to go out and try. When I couldn't make heads or tails of the simplest principles of mechanics, he patiently broke it down to its basics, and ensured that when I ascended to the realm of principles of physics my ass was not hanging out there like a bonobo's. He nurtured me. He protected me. He educated me. He made me a man.

How do you a buy a man who's done all that a fucking card?

Not Bernado Bertolucci.

It used to be that the thing one had to fear most, especially a self-respecting, self-aware person of even average intellect, was that like promising untold riches on ones web-browser. Then we all got ourselves internet-enabled antivirus software and the risk of a Not-Safe-For-Work pornado has receded mightily. Nowadays, in the social-media era, it is not pornados that are annoying; it is Twitter monologues.

The one who pioneered this exercise in self-indulgent, babbling bullshit should be shot. In the head. Twice! How any self-respecting adult with a smidgen of self-control could put unsuspecting users of Twitter through that crap beggars belief. The most recent "monologues" seem to have been about the oldest question in the book: how do men and women get together? and the second oldest question in the book: do we want to know about it?

I am not a Twitter celebrity, and that is fine. Sunny Bindra is a celebrity on Twitter in my eyes; his 55,000+ followers are proof that the author and management guru has a positive impact on our lives even if we will never meet. Jackson Biko is a celebrity on Twitter too; if you have had opportunity to read through you will understand why. The kinds of people who tweet monologues, especially the ones that tend towards to the risque and salacious, are the reason why treading through the streets of witter takes a certain kind of weary wariness that deadens the soul and reminds one that  public displays of self-indulgent bullshit are frowned on for a reason: they are cringeworthy to the nth degree.

Then we have the legions of entertainers, a much-abused word of late, that make music, movies, read news, and generally make themselves notorious, infamous and "famous." For better or for worse, they define where our "entertainment" industry has reached. Then come the socialites about whom I refuse to speculate. In any case, given their notorieties, we do want to know about them and their llives, just as US citizens seem obsessed with the Kimyes, Brangelinas and whatever schlub whose heart Taylor Swift happens to break this week happens to be. They entertain us - and we have turned their personal lives into more entertainment.

So far I am unable to see the entertainment value in Twitter monologues; they are rarely funny, well-written, witty or smart-tart. They frequently have, especially over the past week or so, a whiff of the me-too about them, and not in an edifying way. They are the wave of flotsam and jetsam that gets washed back to shore long after the tsunami has devastated the coastline. They are the gag-inducing backwash from a rancid bottle of Kibao gin. They are the crass, San Fernando Valley version of Bernado Bertolucci's Last Tango in Paris. And in extreme cases, you tend to need a forty-minute shower afterwards.

I cannot imagine even the crassest Kenyan version of Us Weekly spending time, money and manpower attempting to dig up more on the purveyors of Twitter monologues. Now I may be out of touch with the trending topics. So be it. I may be fuddy-daddy-ish in my sensibilities. So be it. But tell me, honestly, do you find anything redeeming or edifying in a Kenyan Twitter Monologue? If you do, Lord Help us, then we have greater, more serious problems than how someone attempted to swindle eight hundred and twenty six million shillings out of the National Youth Service.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Who needs DSTV?

In the interests of being absolutely fair I admit that I think that I prefer the National Assembly over the Senate; it has proven the more entertaining of the two and for the millions each of its members trousers every year, I want value for my damn money. If the Senate caught on fire and immolated its entire membership, and you needled me long enough about it, I'd probably admit to missing that woman senator who seems to bring a whiff of the too-new-at-this-game with her alleged penchant for spiritous beverages and licentious behaviour in private conveyances.

The Senate has proven to be a complete waste of my money and it is time we reminded them that we already have one set of crybabies to deal with; we don't need another. The constitutional scheme we made for ourselves, or had made for us by the Committee of Experts and the tenth Parliament, did not foresee a major role for the Senate, bar the anodyne representation of the counties, participating in legislation-making that affects counties, allocation of national revenue among counties, and impeachment of the President and Deputy President. 

If this OKOA KENYA bullshit ever makes it to a Bill-making stage, one of the Bill's provisions should be to convert the Senate into a sessional chamber that meets over the budget and when impeaching somebody. For the rest of the year, Senators can hold as many committee meetings as the Controller of Budget will let them get away with or bugger off to their homes and hearths and stop giving us agita over their bullshit demands.

Kenyans are neither Britons nor Americans; we do not have a Senate/House of Lords hybrid. We have always wanted those people we called MPs to be powerful; that is why we bestowed on them great constitutional power. The Senate has always been an afterthought and the CoE fucked it up six ways to hell for ever, ever entertaining that asinine idea beyond the derision it deserved. Now that we have a Senate, it is time to clarify that it is the inferior chamber and that we don't want it to poke its nose in important matters of the national Executive. It can keep playing patty-cake with the forty seven governors it loathes; but that's it. It should keep its meaty paws off the national Executive and its dealings with the National Assembly.

It doesn't help that the Senate takes itself so seriously. When its members speak, bar maybe the Speaker who is a properly intelligent man, you get the impression that someone is wearing their daddy's shoes and speaking the way their daddy speaks when he's being officious and shit. You get the sense that they are pretending to be grown up, acting the way they think grown ups are supposed to behave. But every now and then one of them slips up and makes an ass of himself, like when one compares a member of the National Assembly to a headmaster - or a gossipy school prefect. I'd like to know where that Senator has met gossipy school prefects. Was he a gossipy school prefect once?

The National Assembly, on the other hand, is just about the best entertainment this side of a DSTV subscription. Look at the ten-day show they put out over the nomination and vetting of the Secretary to the Cabinet. The reasoning behind their thumbs down was something special - something short-bus special. They did more than shoot down her nomination; they decided to vet a nominee to replace her even when that nominee's name had not been formally forwarded to them. What did they care; they had had it with that woman and whether her appointing authority cared to listen or not, they were sending a very strong message about what they wanted, goddammit! I don't know why anyone would listen to the Senate when all we ever wanted was an entertaining National Assembly which has outdone itself. If it keeps up, I may never get a DSTV subscription; the 9 O'clock news bulletin will be enough.

You break it, you buy it.

A court in the Republic of South Africa ordered the detention of the President of the Sudan against whom a warrant of arrest has been issued by the International Criminal Court at The Hague. The order should have been enforced by the executive branch of the Government of South Africa. It was not. Omar Hassan el Bashir was "permitted" to depart South Africa for the Sudan.  The Republic of South Africa has ratified the Rome Statute and domesticated it in the law of South Africa. The Sudan is not even a signatory to the Rome Statute.

Jacob Zuma's government is not the most coherent, but on this it follows a long history of governments playing realpolitik in the national interest. Look at the relationship between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The Keeper of the Two Holy Places is a breeding ground for the most radical and virulent strain of Islam. It's geopolitical interests have seen it export that strain to the most violent part of the world today: Afghanistan. It's nationals are responsible for spreading violent jihad across the globe. Yet the USA has not and probably will not sever ties with the Kingdom.

The government of Margaret Thatcher supported the apartheid regime of South Africa. So did the Jewish State of Israel. France has coddled Francophone Africa dictators for decades. The Republic of South Africa, regardless of what its courts ordered, was well within its rights to consider the implications of detaining the President of the Sudan and delivering him to the Hague to stand trial for crimes committed in the Sudan.

Mr el Bashir is an odious man. He has blood on his hands. But the ICC indictment against him confirms the hypocrisy of the international criminal law regime. He is not the only head of state who has committed heinous crimes. Between 2003 and 2015 it is estimated that at least 600,000 Iraqi civilians have died because of the post-9/11 interventions of the Coalition of the Willing led by the United States and the United Kingdom. The violence has spilled over to Syria where it is estimated that between 2012 and 2015 at least 250,000 civilians have died. The presidents of the United States and the Prime Ministers of the United Kingdom, responsible for greater crimes against humanity than the President of the Sudan have not and will not be indicted at the ICC.

The Republic of South Africa has troops in the Sudan, as part of the African Union Mission in Darfur. If Mr el Bashir had been detained by the Government of South Africa it is likely that his government would have attempted to take hostage the South African troops until Mr el Bashir was set free. Had that happened, the Government of South Africa would have had to choose between sacrificing its soldiers or attempting to rescue them. War would have been a distinct possibility. If war between the Sudan and South Africa broke out, it is also possible it would have spread to Chad, Egypt, South Sudan, Ethiopia and Kenya.

If the Western powers who are so interested in Mr el Bashir's trial at the Hague are determined to see the matter through, then let them stop pussy-footing around with his arrest and detention. The United States invaded Panama in 1989 to "arrest" Manuel Noriega. The United Kingdom fought a war with Argentina to keep the Falklands. The North Atlantic Treaty Organisation gave air support to armed rebels who toppled Muammar Gaddafi. They should get their hands bloody and bring their war to the Sudan. But they should remember this Americanism: You break it, you buy it.

The question of whether or not the refusal or failure by the Government of South Africa to detain Mr el Bashir was a violation of the Constitution of Suth Africa is an extreme exercise in navel-gazing. The order was made to compel the executive to arrest Mr el Bashir. The actual enforcement of that order is not within the power of the court, but the executive. This order was unenforceable; in diplomacy, the law is just one other factor to be taken into account when acting. Mr el Bashir's detention would have been in conflict with the decisions of the African Union whose summit was being held in South Africa and why Mr el Bashir was there to begin with.

This conflict would, therefore, not have been restricted to a South Africa/Sudan spat; it would have sucked in the other fifty three member states, demanding that they either pick sides or remain neutral. It would not just have had diplomatic consequences but economic ones too. Trade wars would either have been started or escalated. Jacob Zuma's government was right to play cat-and-mouse with the courts over Mr el Bashir's detention. Now the courts have to do the right thing and slap the wrists of the officials concerned.