Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What is our Foreign Policy?

When Kenya Promulgated the Constitution, the smiling visage of the Butcher of Darfur was right there next to the saviour of the nation, Kofi Annan, the former Secretary-General of the United Nations, who had done so much to bring this nation from the brink of civil war. The Civil Service, through statements by Amb. Francis Muthaura and PS Francis Kimemia, had all along created the impression that it was Salva Kiir, the First Vice-President of Sudan and the President of Southern Sudan, who had been invited. Indeed, Mr. Kimemia went out of his way to assure the nation that the reason why Wilson Airport had been shut down was so that the military aircraft flying during the ceremony would do so without interference. The condemnation of the international community was as swift as it was harsh. Even members of the Cabinet, including the Prime Minister, have condemned the invitation of Omar Hassan al-Bashir to the ceremony, stating that Kenya was in violation of international treaties it has signed in which it commits itself to meet its obligations, especially under the Rome Statute, to arrest and deliver President Bashir to the International Criminal Court at the Hague where he has been indicted on war crimes charges.

Whether Kenya should have arrested President Bashir has become the new political football between the two coalition partners and threatens to sour the euphoric mood engendered by the promulgation of the Constitution. It is moot that he would not have been invited if the Government of Kenya had not indicated that it would not arrest him. Indeed, Moses Wetangula (PNU, Sirisia and Minister for Foreign Affairs) attempted a mealy-mouthed explanation of why Bashir had been invited and why Kenya had failed to arrest him. Hon. Wetangula is a pugnacious politician who seems to think that all his critics are idiots and that they do not have a right to question his decisions as minister. He follows a path that had been charted by his predecessor, Raphael Tuju, who used his office to carry on his war with Raila Odinga, going to the extent of hiring ambassadors who had had a falling out with the ODM leader.

Ever since Mwai Kibaki became president in 2003, Kenya's foreign policy has seemed to be unclear and unfocussed. It is not clear what our strategic foreign policy objectives are and whether or not we are meeting them. Mr. Tuju was instrumental in re-focussing our foreign policy away from the West and towards engagement with our near-abroad as well as a deepening of ties with the People's Republic of China. At present, it is our relationship with China that seems to define our foreign policy. China has become one of our largest development partners, funding to a large extent President Kibaki's Government's infrastructure development programmes all over the country. Chinese companies are responsible for the construction of the thousands of kilometres of roads all over the country and the quality of their work or their speed cannot be gainsaid.

Diplomacy is war by other means and our diplomatic corps is engaged in a war of survival for this nation, ensuring that development partners and other parties are kept on an even keel in the national interest. For the moment, it is in the national interest to take advantage of the Chinese largesse because it comes with very few strings attached. Our previous engagements with the West gave us the disastrous Structural Adjustment Programmes of the 1990s that did so much to lay the Kenyan economy low and exacerbated the gulf between the rich and poor. However, despite this recent dalliance with the Communist regime, the European Union and the United States remain by far our largest trade partners. Until Kenya starts to sell flowers and other products to China in the same volumes as to the West, China's engagement with Kenya will continue to be one-sided with the Chinese getting the better end of the deal. 

Njenga Karume, as Minister of State for Defence was instrumental in deepening military ties with China, but still saw fit to continue allowing the British army Training Unit-Kenya to continue operating in Kenya. It is the same case with the United States; US Naval vessels still keep making port calls at the Kenyan Coast in their engagements with the militants in Somalia and the Horn of Africa. Indeed, at one time Kenya was considered the most preferred choice of the US Africa Command, before politics forced the Americans to locate it in Berlin, Germany.

It is always a risk to give any one foreign power so much leverage in the affairs of a country. Kenya should tread carefully with the Chinese. Our experiences with the West have taught us that when one foreign power exercises great leverage at the expense of others, the results are always in favour of the the foreigner than Kenya. The SAPs of the 1990s ensured that Kenya's economy failed to meet the needs or priorities of the country. The Chinese claim that they will not interfere in the internal affairs of the nations it deals with, but this also means that they will deal with dictatorships as well as democratic governments so long as their interests are addressed. That is why the Chinese have been instrumental in shielding Bashir from sanctions by the UN Security Council for defying the ICC. Kenya should take urgent steps to review its foreign policy, especially now that we have a new Constitution, in order that it shall never be held hostage to the demands of any one foreign power. Sooner, rather than later, it will be imperative to depoliticize the Foreign Office with a view to professionalising the diplomatic corps, ensuring that only the best and the brightest serve this nation's interests. Moses Wetangula, sadly, epitomises the rot that has permeated the service and it is time he was given the sack. Only then can Kenya successfully navigate the treacherous waters that are the international relations.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Teen drinking

John Michael Njenga Mututho (KANU, Naivasha) is on a campaign to better regulate the alcoholic beverages industry by moving a motion that would seek to regulate the manufacture, sale and distribution of all alcoholic beverages in Kenya. He has a point. In the recent past, many Kenyans have died or been blinded by the effects of methanol-laced alcoholic beverages, some produced in industrial units. It seems that the standards bureau has been ineffective in ensuring that the quality of what we consume is regulated effectively. This is not the first time that Kenyans are suffering injury or death after enjoying a drink at their local, but it seems that the government is not interested in checking the proliferation of distilleries that peddle such toxic offerings to the unsuspecting public. Every time there is such a mishap, the Provincial Administration swings into action and a few jua kali distilleries, usually in our expansive slums, are raided and the contents of their drums poured down the drain. This is what Hon. Mututho seeks to change.

The National Campaign Against Alcohol and Drugs Abuse Authority (NACADA) is the government's chief agent in educating the public about the harm that alcohol and drugs cause in people. It has been a failure for the most part. The number of youth who indulge excessively in alcohol and drugs is increasing. NACADA had a victory in seeing the Tobacco regulation Bill become law in 2008. If they have their way, the Alcohol Regulation Bill will also become law. However, it will not solve the underlying problem of alcohol and drug abuse among the youth.

In Kenya, even after the East African Breweries started insisted on carding people at clubs and pubs, images of teenagers smoking and drinking still continue to emerge. One news story showed how the students of a secondary school in Nairobi's Ngara area, in uniform no less, managed to access a pub near their school even on school days. Nairobi School was famous for the number of students caught in police swoops in Kangemi pubs. It got so bad that the police actually set up a police post in the school to ensure that the children concentrated on the studies and not on happy hour at the hundreds of vibandas that dotted Kangemi. Up-country students, more often than not, know the location and price-lists of every chang'aa den in the vicinity of their schools and frequently end up being the number-one customers. This is a problem that is getting out of hand and in some districts, it has become an epidemic.

Even if Hon. Mututho and NACADA successfully steer the alcohol Bill through Parliament, unless they start to educate the youth about the pernicious effects of alcohol and drugs, the problem of lethal brews will not go away and the arrest and prosecution of chang'aa brewers will not cease simply because there is a new law that requires them to meet KEBS standards. In the West, this problem is usually tackled by punishing heavily the owners and managers of pubs who 'contribute to the delinquency of the youth'. This should be a rule adopted in Kenya. It should be made prohibitively expensive for a pub owner or such similar person to offer for sale, sell or supply any person under the legal age any alcoholic drink or tobacco product. The children should not be let off either. In addition to constant education on their ill-effects, teenagers should face the consequences of their actions too. Some form of punishment is warranted that impress upon their still-forming minds that it is wrong to circumvent the law, even when one is a minor. In the end, if we value the children that we have charge over, we cannot sit idly by as an entire generation becomes captive to substances that are clearly harmful to their health and evey parent, guardian, care-giver and adult should take part in ensuring that minors are protected, even from themselves.

Where is our Martin Luther King, Jr?

If you have been wondering why our political leaders make such poor speeches, wonder no more. It emerges that none of them has a professional team of speechwriters to do the heavy lifting. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga rely on a tried and tested system that relies on career civil servants to do the speech-writing for them. It shows in how the speeches lack the political inspiration that, say, speeches by American presidents have.

During the 2007 General Election, Raila Odinga attempted to run what was essentially an American-style campaign. It was a failure. President Kibaki did not even bother to campaign. The less said of the other political aspirants, the better. They relied on the old system of calling on our basest instincts to make their political statements. This is the reason why it is impossible to remain inspired by a politician and why we tire of them so soon after the last ballot is cast.

The Promulgation Ceremony at Uhuru Park was an opportunity for our leaders to inspire us to greater heights of self-sacrifice and dedication to the good of the country. They failed us once again. The Prime Minister styles himself as a rhetorician of the first order and he is capable of inspiring feelings of loyalty among the multitudes that throng his rallies. But he is no JFK or MLK. His speeches are bland and unremarkable, remembered only for the target of his particular ire when they are made. They are easily forgotten and it takes a dedicated Fourth Estate to regurgitate for the masses the paltry offerings of the perennial presidential candidate. In Salim Lone, he seemed to have a person who could, conceivably, re-shape his engagement with the people, but he quit in frustration seeing that his public relations skills were of no use to a man who will not, or is incapable of, listening to any voice other than his own.

Dr. Alfred Mutua, the government spokesman, has also failed to articulate the president's thoughts effectively. His press briefings have the feel of a Soviet-Era love-in, where the leader speaks and the masses adulate, whether they heard the speech or not. His job is akin to reading the menu at a restaurant; the information that he supplies could be gleaned from the front pages of our dailies without straining the gray matter.

Movie directors tend to take liberties with the subjects of biopics, but they usually stay true to the essence of the person they are filming . about. Watching the film Boycott, one cannot but admire the way Martin Luther King, Jr, prepared and rehearsed fro his public engagements. He would research deep into the night the remarks that seemed to off-the-cuff but which packed a powerful message to inspire the masses in their boycott of the racially segregationist policies of Alabama. President Ronald Reagan in his first inaugural address is remembered for intoning the words that government is not the solution to the (economic) problems that bedevilled the American people in 1981, but the problem. President Obama, as the Democratic Party's Presidential Candidate, will be remembered for inspiring the American people with his messages of change and hope during his remarkable presidential campaign. The same cannot be said for Raila Odinga or President Kibaki.

PLO Lumumba is eloquent and erudite in equal measure. His public speeches are usually well-drafted and delivered in a tone that evokes the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. But, even he, falls short of inspiring the nation. The statements that he has made after his confirmation as the new Director of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, have been loaded with rhetoric ut have been short of policy statements of what he intends to do or how intends to do it. He does not inspire confidence going by his statements.

The next few years will require the nation to rally around the difficult task of implementing our progressive Constitution. The role of inspiring the people to greater sacrifices and dedicated hard work will fall upon our leaders. If they are incapable of writing, or having someone else write, inspiring speeches towards this goal, the job of implementing the Constitution will start to feel like a chore and the people will quickly lose interest and start to complain of the ills that the Constitution has failed to eradicate. Simply telling the masses that this is the best Constitution ever is not enough. We must feel a need to participate. We must be inspired. Our leaders should not fail us in our hour of need for we need them more today than ever before. Where will the inspirational speeches come from, I wonder?

Sunday, August 29, 2010


Ukambani has been reduced to three counties: Makueni, Machakos and Kitui. At present it has 17 MPs, led (if that is what it is) by the Vice-President, Kalonzo Musyoka. However, his hold on the leadership of Ukambani is not assured with the presence of Charity Ngilu and John Harun Mwau in the field. In recent months he has lost the support of the two Kilonzos, Charles and Kiema, both members of his party, ODM-K as a consequence of his vacillation on the question of whether or not to ratify the Proposed Constitution of Kenya. Even Hon. Ngilu's recent rapprochement with the Vice-President was not an endorsement of Kalonzo's leadership of the Akamba Nation.Save for the staunch support of the Hons. Mutula Kilonzo and Johnstone Muthama, Kalonzo increasingly cuts a lonely figure. Who can forget Hon. Wavinya Ndeti's harsh rebuff of the Vice-President some time ago? Or the continued antics of Kalembe Ndile?

The battle for supremacy ahead of the 2012 presidential elections sees Kalonzo as a viable candidate, especially if the so-called KKK alliance with Hons. Ruto and Kenyatta still holds true. However, as a Daily Nation cartoon so hilariously asked, what does Kalonzo bring to the table? Hon. Ruto was instrumental in rallying the Kalenjin Nation, almost to a man, in rejecting the draft. Hon. Kenyatta has been identified as the primary flag-bearer from Central Kenya, if the Maragwa 'fund-raiser' was an indication of the feelings of the House of Mumbi. Kalonzo could not rally the Akamba behind him in a convincing manner. Indeed, he was even thrown out of Kathiani by the same people he would be begging for votes in 2012. It seems his halcyon days, when he managed to pass between Raila and Kibaki in 2007, are behind him and he has to start from scratch rebuilding his Ukambani juggernaut afresh. Will he succeed?

It is said that you underestimate the Vice-President at your own peril. He has demonstrated that he is capable of removing obstacles that stand in his way. Poor Mutua Katuku and Kalembe Ndile learnt this the hard way when the ODM-K juggernaut rolled over them in 2007. Katuku has faded from sight and Kalembe is busy trying to resurrect his political career by jumping onto every anti-Kalonzo bandwagon that rolls into town. However, Charity Ngilu and John Harun Mwau proved that Kalonzo's writ does not run large over the entire Ukambani region and that it was possible to outspend and out-strategise the wily V-P.

Just like in the dying days of the Nyayo Era, it is now said that the man to beat in 2012 will be Raila Amolo Odinga. Who among the minnows will it be: Ruto, Uhuru or Kalonzo? Those reading the political tea leaves tell us that Ruto, Uhuru and Kalonzo must present a united front if they have a chance of denying Raila the presidency a second time around because between the three of them they control a larger political constituency than Raila. If this is true, Ruto and Uhuru have already proven that for the time being they command a far larger and visible political constituency than the V-P; that they have cemented their places as the leaders to beat in their respective regional strongholds. For Kalonzo to play at their level, he must prove that he commands a far larger constituency in Ukambani than what was revealed during the recently concluded Referendum. He must overcome the perceived view that 'his' people no longer trust him and that he can still bring out the Akamba en masse to vote for him.

2012 is unique because we will be choosing a President and Deputy-President. The winning candidate does not have the luxury of appointing his supporters from the legislature to the Cabinet. That particular pork-barrel has been yanked away by the New Constitution. Therefore, Kalonzo has to persuade his erstwhile allies that he is the primus inter pares, the first among equals. Will he be able to do so especially with his apparently diminished pull in Ukambani? He must also ensure that a sizable chunk of the 290 elected MPs in the 1st Parliament of the 2nd Republic consists of his allies or members of his political party otherwise he may be unable to govern effectively with what will essentially be a hostile Parliament nipping at his heels. Kalonzo must begin the arduous task of building a winning national coalition that will ensure that his party or his party in a coalition with other parties controls Parliament. This means ensuring that he teams up with people who will ensure that the Presidential votes from a majority of the 47 counties swings for him. If he is unable to do this, hs career is as good as over. If he loses the presidential election he will not even have the satisfaction of being appointed V-P again or a Cabinet Secretary. The Constitution, again, has removed this option from the table. He can't even be appointed to some parastatal or an ambassadorship somewhere. He may have to retreat to the Kalonzo Musyoka Foundation, though no one knows what exactly it does or indeed, whether it has done anything.

But it is in Ukambani that his machinations may come to nought. There will be 3 counties up for grabs with about 60 county seats in contention. John Harun Mwau, Charity Ngilu and Kalembe Ndile will ensure that Kalonzo spends valuable capital ensuring that his supporters control Makueni and Kitui Counties. For the moment, it does seem that Ruto and Uhuru can count on their supporters controlling the seats in the Counties in their backyards. This is not the case in Ukambani for Kalonzo. He has managed to lose the support of the MPs in his own party. It may be that Kiema and Charles Kilonzo and Wavinya Ndeti are not the powerhouses they style themselves to be, but they can ensure that the battle is lost. It may be that their rebellions are signs of things to come. Between them and Charity Ngilu and John Harun Mwau, they control 5 constituencies and approximately 25 county seats. These are sufficient to create momentum against the incumbent V-P and create the impression that he does not have a grip on things in his own house. That could prove dangerous while running for the presidency. It may create the impression nationally that he is not a safe pair of hands to hand over the reins of state to. And that would put paid to his ambition of being president.

For the time being, the politicians will be busy ensuring that the Constitution is implemented in a manner that will ensure that they continue to enjoy many privileges when the next general elections occur. That means that Kalonzo has an opportunity to rebuild his political constituency and build up sufficient political capital such that in 2012 he will be a serious player in the same rank as the resilient Prime Minister. That mans persuading, arm-twisting and otherwise commanding support among the remaining two power-brokers. If he fails to prepare sufficiently, 2012 will be his Waterloo and he will have none to blame but himself.

Trust, but verify

Ronald Reagan (1911-2004) knew a thing or two about politics. At the height of the Cold War, when the Americans were negotiating the Strategic Arms reduction Talks (START) and the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT), Reagan stated that one had to trust but verify the results of that trust. Mutula Kilonzo (ODM-K, Mbooni and Minister for Justice, Constitutional Affairs and National Cohesion), wants to rush the process of implementing the Constitution. I say: Trust but Verify!

I very rarely agree with Donald B. Kipkorir, but he is right that we cannot sit idly by as the politicians run away with the process. The Constitution gives us the opportunity and the right to participate in the process. The record of activities where the politicians have taken the lead has been a disappointing one, to say the least. In the absence of strong political parties and with their penchant for 'regional balancing', whatever they do tends to have the whiff of compromise and political horse-trading around it. This is the system that we seek to dismantle and bring about a re-awakening of the Kenyan political spirit, one that was last seen in the dying days of the FORD movement of the 1990s. If we are to have a successful implementation of this Constitution, we must ensure that the process is not left in the exclusive hands of a cabal that has done its best over the years to take care of their interests at the expense of ours. In the absence of a credible civil society movement, it is left to the Mwalimu Matis, Donald B Kipkorirs, and Timothy Njoyas to keep the politicians honest. However, this does not mean that we sit back and relax: we must re-examine why and how we participate in the political process and take the required steps to become full partners in the implementation of the Constitution.

Our apathy as a nation permits us to blame the state for all that ails us. In the old order it was OK to state that opportunities were denied to the citizenry when it came to political participation. This excuse is no longer tenable. The Constitution places an onerous obligation on the citizenry to educate itself on its contents and to take its rightful place in its implementation. In the coming years, the National Assembly shall make laws in regard to the Land Chapter, Devolution and the Recall of Parliamentarians and Members of County Assemblies. We must ensure that the Bills that get debated in Parliament reflect our desires. It should not be that Mutula Kilonzo and his pals in the Parliamentary Select Committees drive the process with a view to protecting their interests alone. If he does so, we must challenge him at every step. It would otherwise be business as usual and we will have ourselves to blame if the politicians fuck up this process.

We must, therefore, take Hon. Kilonzo's plan to rush to Parliament Bills on the implementation in the absence of the Constitutional Implementation Commission or the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee very seriously as he will be operating without the scrutiny or oversight of two very crucial public institutions. This would be his opportunity to ensure that our priorities are given short shrift. I must point out though, that the Minister has proven himself a man in search of a destiny too. The way he shepherded the Constitution through its final stages was inspiring. He showed that it was possible for a politician to put the nation before the individual and he should be lauded for it. This does not mean that we should give him a free pass, but that we should ensure that he does not stray from the path he has followed since he became the Minister for Justice. The same should go for the Principals. Just because they oversaw the successful referendum campaign and saw to it that the process largely remained peaceful should not blind us to the fact that in the past they have sometimes taken us for granted and acted without the proper consultation required of leaders in their positions. President Kibaki is set to retire in 2012 and Prime Minister Odinga would like to succeed him as Head of State. The president may be tempted to monkey around with the succession, to the extent that he may wish to engineer a set of implementation laws that would benefit his yet-to-be-named successor. Prime Minister Odinga and his competitors would also like to monkey around with the implementation process to give themselves advantages where none are anticipated. This is why we should keep an eagle eye on them to ensure that they play by the rules.

The up-coming by-elections in Makadara, Starehe and Juja give an insight to the thinking and intentions of the various party leaders. They have all decided to give direct nominations to their preferred candidates. This is in direct contravention of the various parties' constitutions and an indicator of how they see the rules in relation to their political contests. If this is their idea of 'playing by the rules', it is even more imperative that we be extra vigilant for they still seem to operate with the same mindsets that got us into trouble in the first place. This Constitution is too important to be left to politicians and they need to be reminded time and again that they are not gods, but mere mortals who must answer to us for all that they do. So, over the coming weeks, we have a duty and a responsibility to ensure that when they act, they act in the national interest and when they don't, we call them on it as forcefully as we can. Trust, but verify!

Listen to what Gen Z is saying. Hear them.

Kenyan Gen Z seized the moment that was made for them and threw down the gauntlet at the feet of the Kenyan State. With the memory of the bi...