Saturday, September 24, 2011

What are they planning and why aren't they telling us?

President Moi's succession went without a hitch. Despite the fact that he had backed a losing horse, placing his loyalty to the party (and to his legacy) above loyalty to his own Kalenjin community, President Moi was astute enough to leave the succession to unwind the way it did. The KANU candidate made a gracious speech accepting the verdict of the people of Kenya who had backed, by an overwhelming majority, the election of NARC's Mwai Kibaki as Kenya's third president. What took place immediately after was a disaster that directly contributed to the fiasco of the 2005 Referendum and the bloodshed of 2007 and 2008. Because Mwai Kibaki and his supporters had been in government, they felt that they did not need to have an examination of what their policies would be once he was sworn in as president and, as a result, many holdovers from the KANU days were appointed to critical institutions, including the Cabinet and many state corporations. Even Raila Odinga, one of Mwai Kibaki's most ardent supporters, a lion of the Second Liberation and a member of President Moi's Cabinet, was appointed to Kibaki's before the spectacular falling out over the Wako Draft in 2005.

A look at many of the candidates who have stepped to the plate to be Kenya's fourth president is a study in jogging in place. All claim to be harbingers of change, but bar, perhaps, Mutava Musyimi and, definitely, Kingwa Kamencu, all have had a hand in the government of Kenya in one guise or the other. Because of their association with former regimes, they are yet to articulate what changes they will make in the governance of Kenya, save that they will be 'different'. This can no longer be the basis of their putative campaigns; if they want the people to repose their trust in them, they must do better. Much better.

The Kenya of 2013 is different from the Kenya of 2002, 2005 or 2007 and it is crucial that the presidential contenders realise this truism. Kenya has a new Constitution that radically refashions the instruments of power. The Office of the President is no longer the imperial edifice against which the champions of the Second Liberation dashed their heads against; it has become less imperial with its power shared with the new Parliament composed of the National Assembly and the Senate. The Judiciary is now headed by a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and the High Court and Court of Appeal enjoy more autonomy in the manner they are administered. Even with the challenges faced in the management of the now defunct Kenya Anti-corruption Commission, transparency and accountability are becoming a reality day by day. With these changes, it is not enough for candidates to merely express their desire to change the system, it is crucial that they articulate their political and other philosophies in order for Kenyans to make an informed choice at the hustings next year.

Given that the presidency is no longer the trough at which political has-beens and hangers-on can sup from, all candidates must demonstrate that they have a very deep bench of experienced operators to assume offices of responsibility once they are sworn in in 2012. The Constitution envisages a Cabinet of between 14 and 22 Cabinet Secretaries; do any of the candidates have a list of heir potential Cabinet Secretaries? If they do, once they announced their candidacies, they should not have kept this list secret, especially if they want to put pressure on the new National Assembly to approve their nominees in the shortest time possible. Given the increased cost f living and the economic hardship faced by citizens, the candidates must start articulating hat their economic policies will be wit regards to revenue-collection or expenditure and what they will prioritise. Kenya is undergoing great social upheaval, especially in light of the introduction of cheap telecommunication technologies such as the internet and mobile phones, so the candidates must articulate their plans for managing the rapid socio-cultural changes that are taking place today. Our foreign policy has frequently appeared shambolic, with the incumbent politicians bound over-strictly by the strictures of Cabinet collective responsibility ad the provisions of the Official Secrets Act, but they must begin to express their ideas regarding Kenya's place in the East African Community, the Intergovernmental Authority for Development, the African Union, the United Nations, or any other of the regional, continental and global organisation it may be a member to. So too must they articulate their national security and national defense plans with a view to reassuring Kenyans that they will not fall back to the measures that had been relied on by the Kenyatta and Moi regimes or the Kibaki regime's tactics in its first term.

This means that until the next general elections, the public communications strategies of the candidates must be geared towards not just putting forth their political messages, but also policy documents that will address the key fears or concerns of the Kenyans people. That way, should a candidate win, his policies will not come as a shock to the people, nor will it feel as a betrayal when one course of action is pursued at the expense of another. Kenyans felt betrayed when a secret MoU entered into between Kibaki and Odinga was exposed or the fact that it was the primary cause of the internal rebellion that rocked Mwai Kibaki's government between his swearing in in 2003 and the referendum of 2005. The next president must avoid the same fate; to do so, as a candidate, he must be as forthcoming as possible of his plans and his maneuvers. If these men and women are incapable of telling us who they are and what they intend to do, they do not deserve to be elected to any position, let alone that of the President and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Republic of Kenya.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Lessons from The Hague

Watching the court proceedings from The Hague on TV, and listening to the Prosecution's case, I am starkly reminded of events that I witnessed first-hand as a student in India in the summer of 2002, when marauding gangs of fanatical Hindus, egged on by politicians, went on the rampage and massacred thousands of Muslims in the State of Gujarat after a train-load of Hindus were attacked and murdered in cold blood. It was alleged by many, and proven by a few brave reporters, that, in what amounted to a pogrom in Gujarat, the Hindu attackers relied on electoral rolls to identify and target Muslim households. 

Men, women and children who professed the Muslim faith were targetted and brutally butchered. Their homes were set alight. Their properties were destroyed. Women were gang-raped before being executed by marauding gangs of Hindu youth. Pregnant women had foetuses butchered from their swollen bellies and thrown into fires. Politicians, especially the Chief Minister of Gujarat, were implicated in the pogrom; many of them either paid or directed the violence that rocked that state in 2002.

The similarities between the Gujarat pogrom and the violence that rocked Nakuru and Naivasha in 2007/08 are plain to see. In Gujarat, Hindu pilgrims returning from a religious pilgrim were attacked in their train and brutally murdered. In retaliation, Hindu politicians and businessmen organised themselves and set about punishing an entire community for the crimes of a handful of their co-religionists. 

In Kenya, following violence that rocked the North Rift after the disputed elections of 2007, Kikuyu politicians and businessmen, in retaliation for the deaths of Kikuyus in the North Rift, organised themselves and set about not just punishing Kalenjins, but also Luos and Luhyas residing in Nakuru and Naivasha. The barbarities perpetrated against them are similar to those perpetrated in Gujarat in 2002: murder, rape and the wanton destruction of property and sources of livelihood. as in India, the marauding gangs in Nakuru and Naivasha relied on lists prepared in advance, perhaps the electoral roll. And just as in Gujarat, no one was spared: men, women and children were fair game for the bloodthirsty gangs unleashed in 2007/08.

In the aftermath of the violence in Kenya, it was politicians who set about profiting from the blood spilled by thousands upon thousands of innocent Kenyans. The politicians who had set Kenyans upon each other resolved to bury the blood-soaked hatchet and join together in a coalition government. The Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement Party of Kenya entered into a coalition agreement, where the President, representing the PNU got to keep his job and Raila Odinga, representing ODM, became Kenya's second Prime Minister, the position having been abolished when Kenya became a republic in 1964. 

In their zeal to make the best of the coalition arrangement, the Principals, as they were now referred, agreed to establish Independent Commissions of Inquiry to investigate the bungling of the elections and the violence that had paralysed East Africa's leading economy. The politicians, for the most part, had no quarrel with the findings of South African Justice (Rtd) Johann Kriegler-led Commission that investigated the 2007 general elections, and agreed, without too much rancour, to establish the Interim Independent Electoral Commission and the Interim Independent Boundaries Commission (though they would vehemently disagree with the work of the Boundaries Commission later on). But, almost to a man, they disagreed with the findings of the Justice Philip Waki-led Commission of Inquiry into Post-Election Violence (CIPEV) and its recommendations, especially that of establishing a local mechanism to investigate and try persons who may have been responsible for the violence. 

Justice Waki set the cat among the pigeons by publishing a secret list of persons his Commission felt should be investigated and tried for crimes committed during the PEV, and by giving the list to Koffi Annan, the mediator appointed by the Panel of Eminent African Personalities of the African Union, he all but guaranteed that Kenyan politicians would use his Commission's report and its recommendations as fodder for political gain. 

Initially, the politicians were united in rejecting the establishment of a local mechanism, insisting that The Hague option was the only one that inspired confidence that the issues surrounding the PEV would be adequately investigated, and they rejected the President's and Prime Minister's advise that a local mechanism was the better option. Their slogan was: "Don't be vague, go to The Hague!". Only when William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta became suspects did their tune change and they started maneuvering to kill The Hague option, but it was too late.

Listening to the Prosecutor laying the basis for his application for a full trial, one can see why the politicians don't want the charges to be confirmed or a trial to take place. They are accused of not just perpetrating violence against their fellow Kenyans, but of instigating, planning and funding the violence on both sides of the events of 2007/08.They are accused of knowingly ensuring that not only were innocent Kenyans brutally murdered, but that the murderous violence spared no one: age, gender and status in society was no protection. 

The ICC hearings are the first time that Kenyans are hearing an unvarnished truth about the character of their political leaders and it makes for chilling viewing when the Prosecutor describes scenes of unimaginable cruelty and barbarity and the suspects sit calmly and studiously aloof, as if they are above the events being described. Whether they are guilty or not is not the point; Kenyans are getting a master-class in what is required if we are to eradicate political impunity from our body politic. It is a lesson we had better take to heart or the next time this country goes up in flames, we may never put the pieces together again.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Cabinet has no moral authority to change the election date

The Constitution of Kenya, at article 101, provides that a general election to elect Members of Parliament shall be held on the first Tuesday of August in every fifth year, and article 136 provides that an election to elect the President of Kenya shall be held on the same date as the date of a general election to elect Members of Parliament. Mwai Kibaki's Cabinet, divided as it has been on many issues, has united around the decision to amend the Constitution to shift the date of the general election from August to December on, among many, a flimsy ground that the date of the general election clashes with the budgeting process of the Government of Kenya. The combative chairman of the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution has announced that his Commission will seek an interpretation of the Cabinet's decision from the Supreme Court of Kenya. The Minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs insists that the Cabinet decision is not wrong in and of itself, but that he would be guided by the decision of the Supreme Court, even though he s persuaded that the Supreme Court is incompetent to make this decision in the absence of rules to govern the procedure of the Court.

What seems to have been forgotten is that ever since the Bomas Conference, the people of Kenya have expressed a clear desire to shift the general election date from the Christmas period to August, citing, among other reasons, that it had traditionally interfered with the enjoyment of a religious period and usually cost them more when it came to preparations for the New Year. They argued, persuasively I think, that the cooling down period between the general election and Christmas was invaluable in reminding the political class of the values that hold this nation together.

Unfounded rumours are already swirling that the reasons why the Cabinet endorsed the proposal have nothing to do with the government's budgetary cycle but that it was an attempt to take into account the legal problems faced by some of the suspects of the PEV facing the possibility of trial at The Hague. But is the desires and wishes of Kenyans that are being given the short shrift by the Cabinet. The Cabinet, drawn as it is from Members of Parliament, should reflect the wishes of the voters who elected them and they all say that an August election is their preference. Any amendment to the Constitution regarding the date of the general election is not subject to the Referendum Rule found in article 255 of the Constitution, but given the strong desire for the people to retain the August date, the Government, especially the Cabinet, must seek out the views of the voters to determine whether such a shift is warranted or not. Mr Nyachae, the CIC Chairman, is surely right to state that it is far easier for the government to reorganise its budget cycle to accommodate the election date than to amend the Constitution to accommodate the budget cycle.

As for the Justice Minister's assertion that the lack of rules of procedure for the Supreme Court makes the Court unqualified to offer its interpretation of the Constitution as sought by the CIC, he should be reminded that the Constitution also makes provisions for this situation. Until the appointment of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal had responsibility for the subjects under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court. That is no longer the case. With the appointment of the Supreme Court and the swearing into office of the Judges of the Supreme Court, the court is fully constitution and competent to execute its mandate as envisioned in the Constitution, the lack of rules of procedure not withstanding. The provisions of the Constitution defining the Jurisdiction of the Court are absolute and do not depend upon the publishing of rules of procedure. Indeed, it can be argued that the Court can make up the rules as it goes, despite the confusion that will be sown, and make a determination regarding any matter that is properly within its jurisdiction.

This is the Constitution that an overwhelming majority of voters endorsed on August 4, 2010. Kenyans declared that they would no longer be led by the nose b their elected representatives or their Cabinet. They declared their sovereignty as a nation and as a people and the Cabinet or the National Assembly does not have the authority or the right to claw back this sovereignty. If President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga wish to be remembered as the First Defenders of the Constitution, they must shoot down this plan to amend the Constitution to accommodate a cabal accused of high crimes against the people of Kenya. It is the least they can do as they shepherd Kenya into a new beginning, a beginning we anticipate will come about on the first Tuesday of August of 2012.

Why Kingwa Kamencu should stand for the presidency of Kenya

Kingwa Kamencu is 27, single and a woman, and she wants to be the fourth president of Kenya. Her announcement was shambolic and was interspersed with tears for the suffering of Kenya. Experienced political hacks immediately wrote her off because she did not seem to know what it would take to win the presidential election in 2012, how she would govern or what her priorities would be as president. Her negatives are many and diverse. She has never run for high political office before; she does not seem to have managed a large organisation before; she does not seem to have a team, other than her parents and friends, to advise her on her presidential bid; she does not seem to have a Rolodex of political supporters behind her; she does not seem to have thought through where the money for the campaign will come from.

Despite the above, I would urge Kenyans to re-think their decision to ridicule her naive desire to rule in Kenya. It is still 12 months or so to the next general elections and the same faces that we are used to are the front-runners in a putative presidential contest. These faces have been behind the tragedies of this nation, indulging in massive corruption and theft of public funds for decades. President Kibaki is not only a holdover from Moi's regime, but also Kenyatta's. Raila Odinga is linked to both Moi's and Kibaki's regimes, both as insider and heretic. William Ruto reminds Kenyans of the dark days of the Moi regime, especially the deeply distrusted YK'92. Uhuru Kenyatta, scion of a political legacy, has nothing to commend himself to to Kenyans other than his political legacy and his father's name. Martha Karua, despite her Second Liberation credentials, will not erase the memory of her defense of the Kibaki election win in 2007 and 2008 or the suspicion that the only reason she quit Kibaki's government was because she was not getting her rightful pound of flesh after her robust defense of the Kibaki Establishment. While the Rev Mutava Musyimi may have cut his political teeth with the Ufungamano Initiative and his leadership of the National Council of Churches of Kenya, and his credible management of the Gachoka CDF kitty, his leadership of the Parliamentary Departmental Committee on Land and Natural Resources has been plagued with controversy, notably their acquittal of Charity Ngilu of the corruption scandals that have bedevilled the Ministry of Water and Irrigation. Raphael Tuju has kept a low profile since being defeated in his Rarieda constituency on the back of an ODM wave in Luo Nyanza, but his connections to the PNU gang raises questions over his independence and whether his presidential candidature is meant to split the Luo vote with Raila Odinga, Luo Kenya's favourite son. The same can be said about Peter Kenneth's candidature in relation to Uhuru Kenyatta's: is he the man who will steal votes from the House of Mumbi's favourite son? Eugene Wamalwa has nothing to recommend himself other than the fact that Mwai Kibaki promised to step down in favour of his decidedly more charismatic brother, the late Michael Kijana Wamalwa. None of these candidates comes to the contest with clean hands; it seems as if the foxes want to be in charge of guarding the hen-house.

Miss Kamencu has much to learn about the political process in Kenya, but her youthful enthusiasm and relative guilelessness should be seen as advantages and not disadvantages. She offers Kenyans the best hope for a clean break with the past despite her youth and inexperience. Unless it emerges that she is sexually promiscuous or a thief or a compulsive drug-user, she should be given the opportunity to develop as a candidate and give her the chance to lay her vision for this country before the people of Kenya. We must be alive to the fact that the political field is not the preserve of the existing candidates and that all Kenyans, despite their backgrounds, have the right to lay their vision before the people. So hat if she broke down in emotion at the pain and suffering of people she hopes to lead; a good leader must empathise with the people suffering and offer them an opportunity to be heard in the corridors of power. I hope he has not been dissuaded by the poor response of Kenya's media and political class. If she can surmount the hurdles being thrown in her path, she has the potential to change Kenyans' perception of her and her heretical desire to lead. More power to her, I say, and may the good Lord guide her in this exciting period in her life.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Disaster and Impunity

It is time we admitted that disaster and impunity are inextricably linked. Over one hundred men, women and children were killed yesterday when a fire engulfed part of the Sinai slum in Nairobi's industrial area. As usual, members of the chattering classes were quick with why the disaster happened, who was to blame and what the solution to future disasters is. Also, as expected, were members of the political class, including the visibly agitated Head of State and Prime Minister, visiting with the injured at the Kenyatta National Hospital and on the ground at the scene of disaster. 

As usual, again, it was left to Kiraitu Murungi, the Minister for Energy, to make a stupid statement. It remains to be seen what the hyperactive Gideon Mbuvi alias Mike Sonko, the Member for Makadara, in which the Sinai slum falls, will make of the latest tragedy to occur in his constituency. The last time a fire took place in his constituency, Hon Mbuvi led his constituents in rejecting the assistance of the Ministry of Special Programmes, going so far as to kick out Hon Esther Murugi, the Minister, out of the area.

We have, over the past decade or so, concentrated on impunity at the political and Executive levels of government. Our attention, as primed by members of the press, has concentrated overwhelmingly, and justifiably, at the politicians and public servants who have benefited unfairly and unlawfully from the positions they wielded in Kenyatta's, Moi's and Kibaki's governments. We also turned our outraged attentions on the officials in our local authorities who had used their positions in the councils to enrich themselves at the expense of providing quality and affordable municipal services to the residents of our burgeoning and developing metropolises, cities and towns. 

However, we studiously turned a blind eye to the impunity with which we engaged in our day-to-day lives, the petty corruption that we fostered by our attitude towards officialdom and our animus against rules and regulations meant not only to protect our properties but safeguard our lives. As a result, we see no contradiction in calling for the resignations of government officials 'implicated' in scandals of one shade or the other, but turning a blind eye to the blatant violations of traffic rules, even simple ones as the use of prescribed bus stages to board and alight from public service vehicles.

Therefore, today we will call for the heads of the officials in the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Lands, the Ministry of Special Programmes and the City Council of Nairobi, but ignore the fact that the people living in the Kenya Pipeline Company's wayleave did so contrary to the clear provisions of law and in defiance of the numerous warnings from the Company and other stakeholders of the risks that they were courting in their continued stay. Reforms are taking place in government that it is hoped will make life bearable for the majority of Kenyans in the years to come. However, these reforms will be to no avail if Kenyans do not hold themselves to the same high standards they demand of their government.

Therefore, it is pointless to wring our hands and weep in sorrow when we refuse to do that which we know to be right. As a first step, the government must take steps to raze to the ground, regardless of the pain and suffering that will ensue, the Sinai slum and relocate its residents, either to makeshift camps, or as some will no doubt suggest, back to their up-country homes. Slum upgrading, as the Kibera and Mathare experiences have shown, are prone to the same corrupt tendencies of all major government projects so a new strategy is needed, one that empowers the residents of these slums and reminds them that regardless of their straitened circumstances, nothing in this world is free except the grace of God.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

If the charges are confirmed, Ruto's goose is cooked

Kenya's Case 1 before the International Criminal Court, in which Confirmation of Charges Hearing was concluded before the Pre-trial Chamber II this past week, was an eye-opener. As expected, William Ruto and his defense team went for the Prosecutor's jugular, sparing no effort to paint his case as weak and motivated by malice. In this, Hon Ruto was joined by radio-man Joshua arap Sang and his defense team. Both decided to call live witnesses to proffer testimony that the violence that wracked Kenya in 2007 and 2008 was spontaneous, that the two suspects did not act in concert within a network, and, alternatively, that if they were to be charged with the masterminding the violence, they did so under the command of the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga. In contrast, Henry Kosgey and his defense team chose to confine their strategy to the matter at hand - whether or not the charges should be confirmed, hence the fact that Hon Kosgey did not testify (as his fellow suspects chose to do) or call live witnesses to testify on his behalf. In this, Hon Kosgey, who has also eschewed public statements regarding his innocence, he resembles Maj Gen (Rtd) Hussein Ali and Amb Francis Muthaura, the suspects in Kenya's Case 2. Uhuru Kenyatta completes the second triumvirate and resembles Hon Ruto and Mr Sang in his public statements. It remains to be seen whether the suspects in the second case will follow Hon Kosgey's lead or Hon Ruto's and Mr Sang's.

Hon Ruto and Mr Sang and their defense teams seem to have forgotten, or ignored, the fact that the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court did not establish an adversarial system in the same mould as the common law system from whence they come. The Rome Statute seems to have borrowed heavily from continental Europe's civil law tradition, where they give the court enormous powers to investigate and determine matters, and where the relationship between the court and the prosecution service is far more closer than in an otherwise adversarial system. While it is a toss-up whether the charges will be confirmed against the three, legal eagles familiar with the latter system are persuaded that the Prosecutor has met his burden and that the charges will be confirmed against Messrs Ruto, Kosgey and Sang. In their opinion, the question of whether the Prosecutor conducted credible investigations to warrant bringing charges against the three will only be determined by the Court at trial and not at the stage of the Confirmation of Charges. They argue further that the defense teams should have taken their cue from Judge Hans-Peter Kaul who wrote a dissenting opinion when the Prosecutor sought permission from the Court to open investigations into the Kenya situation back in March 2010. They should have relied on the premise that if offences were committed in Kenya, they did not rise to offenses that could be tried at the ICC.

Hon Ruto and his loudly supportive allies are determined to lay the blame for their tribulations at the feet of the Prime Minister. However, Hon Odinga and President Kibaki, the two principals in Kenya's Grand Coalition Government, went out of their way to persuade, unsuccessfully, them to permit a local mechanism to investigate and try the PEV cases in Kenya. Hon Ruto and Hon Kenyatta led the National Assembly in rejecting the Prime Minister's proposal, advocating that the matter be handled by an international tribunal where Kenyans would not be able of interfering. They got their wish and now they are crying foul.

In all this, the suspects, especially the politicians, have their eyes firmly on the presidential elections in 2012, one might say, to the total exclusion of sound legal strategy to protect themselves from the attentions of the ICC. In fact, what Hon Charles Keter, one of Hon Ruto's staunchest allies, did during his sojourn in The Hague confirms that in their animus against the Prime Minister, Hon Ruto and his supporters are unwilling to advance a legally credible defense if it means admitting that they made the wrong move in choosing The Hague over a local mechanism. Hon Ruto is a keen observer of Kenya's political landscape and he knows that regardless of what the opinion polls say, if he is a presidential candidate in 2012, he will be facing Hon Odinga at the hustings. He must have observed that the PM is no longer the President's arch-nemesis, but that the two have found a way of working together to achieve common goals and he is scared that if their relationship continues without acrimony into 2012, the PM may find a way of leveraging the successes of the government as proof that he is ready to take on the onerous role of President of Kenya. This is something that Hon Ruto and his allies do not want and if his pride prevents him from surmounting the relatively small hurdle of the ICC he will have only himself to blame when Raila Odinga gets sworn is as Kenya's fourth president.

Friday, September 09, 2011

No sir, you are not Lewis Hamilton or Juha Kankkunen!

The increasing incidents of death and destruction on Kenya's highways point to a sad, demoralising fact: President Kibaki has invested billions of our tax-monies in building and re-building roads, but almost nothing in educating and re-educating drivers on the proper use of those roads. The Executive is in charge of rad safety, but it is in the private sector that you will find the greatest investment in public transport. However, the investment made by the private sector in public transport is often placed in grave jeopardy by operatives of the black market, the Mungikis and other types of organised and un-organised criminal gangs. As a result, not only are the declared costs of operation in the transport sector high, they are pushed to draconian heights by the illegal taxes levied upon the sector by crime.

The Executive has invested in infrastructure that will be of immense benefit to this country down the road, but this investment is also becoming a drain on other parts of this nation's fabric. With the increasing deaths and injuries suffered on our highways, the Executive may begin to divert scarce resources from other parts of its administration to cover the costs of not only protecting but treating those who use our highways. Emergency response services are now primed to respond to an increasing number of road traffic accidents, at the expense of other kinds of emergency response. But it is the blase response of Kenyan road users that is staggering: not one person has admitted that our training and re-training regimen is insufficient to prepare drivers for the open road and not one person will admit that he is a poor road user, believing instead that he is Kenya's answer to Nigel Mansell or Lewis Hamilton.

The number and variety of used and second-hand vehicles on Kenya's roads is rising by the day. Even at this time when the cost of importing these vehicles has gone up by around 15%, the number keeps rising. these vehicles offer access and mobility to thousands upon thousand who cannot rely on an inefficient public transport system, where profit overrides everything else, including safety and comfort. many of the these imported vehicles are driven by inexperienced drivers who do not appreciate that the machines in their control can be turned into instruments of death if the circumstances prevailing during their operation are not optimum. They do not appreciate the crucial need to constantly have these vehicles serviced or repaired when parts break down. More often than not, even new-looking cars may have failing breaks, failing lights, failing gear-boxes or improperly serviced or pressurised tyres. Under normal conditions, these vehicles appear sound and safe; under even slightly abnormal conditions, these cars turns into death-traps, placing lives and property at grave risk.

We face diverse challenges in bringing down the high human cost of using our brand-new roads. It is imperative that all the regulatory and enforcement agencies involved in managing road safety in Kenya renew the zeal they demonstrated during the terrifying reign of John Michuki at Transcom House in the early 2000s. Kenyans must also admit to themselves that it takes more than 10 hours of class and theory to make a safe driver. Indeed, many of those who see themselves as Kenya's next rally and formula one stars would be best advised to enter re-training programmes to test whether they remember the basic rules of the road, such as those contained in the Highway Code. Finally, the Executive must embark and sustain a massive public education campaign on the duties, responsibilities and rights of all road users, including drivers, passengers, pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists of all stripes. A concerted effort among all the key stakeholders and the Executive is the only way that we can bring down and perhaps eliminate, avoidable death and injury on our roads.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Is this Raila's last tango?

Is it too early to declare Raila Amollo Odinga, the Member for Langata and the Prime Minister of Kenya, the front runner in next year's presidential elections? The man who has come to define politics in the decade since President Moi's accursed regime came to an end is being billed as the man to beat come 2012. His erstwhile challengers, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, have pending legal tribulations at The Hague, having been accused, rather ironically, of fanning the violence that engulfed parts of the erstwhile Rift Valley and Central Provinces in late-2007/early-2008; ironic because William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta were, during the last general elections, on opposite sides of the political divide, with Hon Ruto one of Raila Odinga's most strident supporters. Yet, somehow the two and Kalonzo Musyoka, all former staunch or current members of KANU, find themselves on the same political boat, determined to prevent the Prime Minister from ascending the presidency in 2012.

Prime Minister Odinga has come far since the fraught days of early 2008. Then, he was facing the worst aftermath of a general election in a generation; the country was engulfed in flames and his party was being blamed for the unremitting violence. The international community, though the good offices of the African Union and a panel of eminent African personalities, led by the former Secretary-General of the United nations, Koffi Annan, had stepped in and compelled Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki to set aside their mistrust ad suspicion for the sake of a peaceful Kenya. The ODM leader was facing five years sf political isolation if he did not agree to a deal; William Ruto, Sally Kosgey, Musalia Mudavadi and James Orengo spearheaded the ODM's negotiations with the PNU, hammering out a deal that saw Raila Odinga appointed the second Prime Minister in Kenya's history. The irony is not lost on Kenyans with an eye to their history: Uhuru Kenyatta's father, Jomo Kenyatta, was Kenya's first prime Minister upon Kenya attaining internal self-government, ascending the presidency after engineering Kenya's declaration of 'jamhuri' in 1964. In 1964, Oginga Odinga was Kenyatta's Vice-President. 46 years later and Raila Odinga is Prime Minister and Uhuru Kenyatta is Deputy Prime Minister.

Now Prime Minister Odinga wishes to use his office to vault onto the Presidency. Not only is he opposed by Uhuru Kenyatta, rekindling memories of the bitter rivalry between their respective fathers that nearly destroyed this nation in the '60s and '70s, he faces a rebellion from William ruto and his cohort from the North Rift and the possibility that he could also drive a wedge between the Prime Minister and other elected representatives of ODM from the former Rift Valley Province. Messrs Ruto and Kenyatta have managed to create the impression that the alliance arrayed against the Prime Minister is much larger than it seems, having persuaded the deeply distrusted Kalonzo Musyoka, the naive Eugene Wamalwa, the crass Chirau Ali Mwakwere, and a supporting cast of mouths-for-hire like the verbosely voluble Isaac Ruto and Joshua Kuttuny, to join the inaptly named G7. Trying to ensure that one of them becomes the Gang's torch-bearer, they have labelled the likes of Mutava Musyimi, Martha Karma and Peter Kenneth as traitors out to prevent one of their own from keeping Raila Odinga out of State House. It is the same case with talk of Raphael Tuju's candidacy as being sponsored by spoil-sports in PNU out to whittle down the Prime Minister support in Luo Nyanza.

The Prime Minister, as has become his norm, is two or three moves ahead of his rivals. he has set out to clean up his house, beginning with the realignment of his relationship with the lame-duck Mwai Kibaki. He followed this up with the removal of the ethnically-challenged Miguna Miguna, getting rid of a painful thorn in the PNU brigade's side and earning valuable brownie points with the President. Knowing how important it was for the President to have Prof Githu Muigai as Attorney-General, a man whom the PM respects and admires, he did not object both times the good professor was nominated, merely horse-trading this position for two others, the Controller of Budget and the Auditor-General. He has also undertaken a charm offensive, repeatedly visiting the Mount Kenya region to shore up what little support he had among its denizens, and commiserating with Kenyans in straitened circumstances in various parts of the country. he has also moderated his tone, preferring, to the utter annoyance of leading members of the G7, proverbs and metaphors to make his point. He has also demonstrated, quite ably too, that he can create an international coalition of development partners and Kenyans in the diaspora. But it is in wooing the business community that the PM hopes to reap the richest dividends, ensuring that his statements and actions have a calming effect on the stock markets and the export markets. He knows that he cannot blow his family fortune on a final presidential run, so he will need the even deeper pockets of the business world to bankroll what is sure to be the most expensive elections in a generation. His rivals, on the other hand, in addition to dealing with their ICC obligations, distrust each other greatly. Regardless of the public bonhomie between Uhuru and Ruto, or among the G7 three (Uhuru, Ruto and Kalonzo), none trusts the other to keep their end of the bargain, with Kalonzo frequently getting the short end of the stick. If by any chance Uhuru and Ruto get indicted by the ICC, there is every possibility that they will not work to ensure Kalonzo prevails against the PM, only that the PM does not prevail either. The revolving-door policy of the G7 does not help either with the apparent departures of Najib Balala and Dr Sally Kosgey. As 2012 approaches, the G7 must clean up their act or get their collective clocks cleaned by a revitalised Prime Minister.

Engage or perish

The seriousness with which we are treating the Confirmation Hearings before the International Criminal Court's Pre-trial Chamber II should compel us to re-think the criteria with which we choose and elect our political leadership. The strategies employed by the suspects to beat back the Prosecutor's case demonstrate that our political leadership still considers us children in need of a firm hand, to be denied critical information in the governance of this nation. Prof Githu Muigai, the latest Attorney-General must have advised the Executive that it was futile to challenge the admissibility of an ICC trial, hence the Executive's decision to abandon that line of attack. This is an important development in the reform of the government, admitting of the fact that tax-payers' monies should not be used to assuage the egos of the elite few amongst us. If only Messrs Ruto, Kosgey and Sang took this process for what it is, that is, an attempt to address the political impunity that has characterised political discourse n Kenya for nigh on forty-seven years, we wold not be treating the hearings just as one more in a long series of political spectacles that we are resigned to.

The blogosphere is awash with ill-informed speculation on the guilt or innocence of the suspects, reflecting once more the complete lack of depth in the way Kenyans consider matters of national importance. Examining only the public and overt portions of the hearings, we are making pronouncements that have no foundation, keeping the fires of mistrust and distrust burning in an attempt to shore up the weak arguments of our side. The Prosecutor, so goes popular uninformed opinion, is seen as fighting a losing battle where the victors will come home unscathed and re-enter their political trajectories to high office with nary a scar. What we seem to have forgotten in the height of our biased interpretation of the goings-on at The Hague is that thousands of Kenyans were murdered, thousands upon thousands more were injured and maimed, and driven from their homes by men and women in the pay of one or more political actors. We also wish to ignore the fact that at this juncture in the ICC process, all the Prosecutor needs to prove is that he has a prima facie case that can go trial; the trial is yet to begin and the fire-and-brimstone routine of defense teams at The Hague is mere political theatre, designed to keep the suspects' names in the media limelight for as long as possible, protecting their political careers at the expense of truth and justice for the victims. Whether Messrs Ruto, Kosgey and sang are guilty of the crimes they are accused of will be determined only after the process is seen to its logical conclusion, with charges confirmed and trial held. That day, sadly, is still some time away.

Meanwhile, the events of the past month should be warning enough that Kenyans must take a keener interest in the actions of their elected representatives and their government as a whole. Despite the failure by the Judicial Service Commission to strictly abide by the two-thirds rule, the High Court has ruled that it is powerless to intervene in the constitution of the Supreme Court; it has failed to offer legal succour to the women's groups that had challenged the appointment of five men and two women to the Supreme Court and now they are faced with the very real possibility of the selfsame Supreme Court ruling on their petition on appeal. The National assembly on its part, has not only rushed through its hallowed halls Bills designed to implement the Constitution that have been butchered and bastardised in order to protect MPs' interests, but has also seen fit to raid monies set aside for famine relief to pay for their long-overdue tax liabilities. It has also decided to petition the Speaker to offer direction on the question of whether the 209 MPs who have been sued for refusing to pay their back taxes may avail themselves of the services of the Attorney-General in defending the suit or whether they should secure legal representation out of their own resources. For the ordinary man in the street, the answer is pretty simple: paying taxes is an individual's obligation, ergo, legal representation is not a state responsibility. It is also becoming increasingly certain that teachers will disrupt teaching until the question of whether more teachers will be hired by the Teachers Service Commission is resolved. needless to say parents must surely worry that candidates sitting for their KCPE and KCSE face a daunting challenge of preparing for these crucial examinations without the full commitment of their teachers. Still, we continue to take a back seat in matters that surely affect the very fabric of our society.

We are facing monumental challenges in improving the quality of our daily lives. The cost of living is increasingly becoming a burden very few can shoulder without the intelligent intervention of our government. Public dissatisfaction at the way politicians have reduced everything to a simple political calculation is also running very high. Greater public engagement in these questions is imperative if we are to see a successful and peaceful future. Continued apathy by the body politic will bring only pain and despair. The choice is simple: engage or perish!

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Reflections

It is just about the right time to evaluate whether we are re-building this nation or, as some wag put it, re-arranging the deck-chairs on HMS Titanic as she goes down. Messrs Ruto, Kosgey and Sang are in The Hague attempting to persuade the International Criminal Court that they have no case to answer. on Amos Wako now goes by the honorific former Attorney-General, having been succeeded by Prof Githu Muigai. The Supreme Court is now fully constituted with the swearing in of Justices Tunoi, Dr Wanjala, Ndung'u, Ibrahim and Prof Ojwang', as well as the swearing in of Gladys Boss Shollei as the Chief Registrar. The National Assembly, keeping an eye on 2012, has completed the onerous task of approving all the Bills that were required to be approved before August 27th and the implementation of the Constitution is back on track.

Looking at the landscape of Kenyan political life, however, it remains unclear whether the changes that have and are being made are for the better or not. Take, for instance, the Supreme Court. While no one will gainsay the intellect or integrity of the members of the Supreme Court, do they really reflect the best that we could do? The CJ and DCJ are divorced, Ndung'u, LJ is unmarried, Dr Wanjala, J left KACC under a cloud, and for all their experience in the Court of Appeal, Tunoi, Ibrahim and Prof Ojwang', JJ are not experienced litigators. None of these people has yet to make a significant impact in the interpretation of the Constitution or the advancement of the legal profession. It is also increasingly unclear whether the Prosecutor of the ICC will be able to confirm his charges against Messrs Ruto & Co. The televised hearings point worryingly to poor ground-work, giving the suspects ample chances at poking holes in his case even before the charges are confirmed. And Parliament has kept the interests of its members at heart, to the detriment of national unity, by ensuring that Bills were either watered down to serve their interests, or bastardised to protect them. A keen examination of the Elections Act, the Political Parties Act and the law on recall show that MPs have taken the opportunity to cheat Kenyans of the gains they made up to 2010 just so they can carry on fighting with the Prime Minister in his relentless march to State House.

Meanwhile, civil society organisations have been left floundering, chasing after the chimeras of one-third representation in appointive and elective bodies in stead of keeping a beady eye on the shenanigans of our elected representatives or the full operationalisation of key institutions such as the Supreme Court, the Salaries and Remuneration Commission, the Commission on Revenue Allocation or the Ethics and Ant-Corruption Commission. Dr Ekuru Aukot and his panel of selectors of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission have been left to their own devices and despite his high-sounding words or his good intentions, his panel will fail if we, through civil society, do not hold their feet to the fir when they select the IEBC. The church in Kenya, and its leadership, seem to have given up the fight on issues that concerned them during the Referendum campaign and their participation in implementing the Constitution is significant by their absence.

Seen in the context of the aspiring and aspirational presidential candidates, Kenyans, concerned more with the cost of living, have reverted to their type: keeping away from crucial constitution implementation matters and allowing the political class and the elite of the civil service to lead them by the nose. We are called upon to make serious choices in 2012, from who will be our president to who will be our governors, senators and MPs. During the review period, we all demanded an accountable government, where our leaders would rule by consent and laws would be applied fairly and impartially. If we continue to think only of the short-term crisis that is the cost of living at the expense of strategic matters such as the quality of laws enacted or the quality of leaders elected or appointed, the next general elections will only serve as a speed bump on the road of impunity and political corruption, and not even our brand-new Supreme Court will rescue us from the problems that will surely follow.

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Pride

Why anyone should attempt to make me feel ashamed for being a Mkamba, or half-Kamba, half-Luo, defeats me. I am proud of my heritage, though I have done precious little to propagate it or to protect it. That ends now. 

I love the fact that we, and I mean my peoples from both communities, have our peculiarities; else how would we be identifiable from a crowd. As a Mkamba, my pronunciation may sometimes leave many others in stitches, but that will not detract from the force of my argument. As a Luo too, I may have difficulty navigating the terrain that is English pronunciation, but the extent and versatility of my vocabulary should leave you in no doubt that I am eminently comfortable comporting myself in the very best of the Queen's English. 

So what if many of my people from the rolling slopes of Kilungu swear by their local witch-doctor? His job is not just to dispense charms protecting my people from evil spirits, but also to dispense life-saving or life-enhancing portions that ward away ill-health and lethargy. Bar a few rotten tomatoes, I am the heir to a proud legacy. The Wa-Kamba were the original cosmopolitan people in this land, travelling thousands of miles for commerce. To protect their trade routes, they created a military tradition that to date is yet to be matched by anyone, not the Maasai and not the mighty Kalenjin. And of course, to reduce the chances of war, we had the best diplomats in pre-colonial Kenya. Even Kalonzo Musyoka could not screw that up with his stint as Kenya's Minister for Foreign Affairs. 

My cousins from the Lake have expanded the intellectual knowledge in Kenya for generations and they have set the bar high for what is intelligent. We are not merely clever; we are the gold standard when it comes to intellectual pursuit, surviving both Kenyatta's and Moi's attempts to water down the learning standards in our own back-yards. 

Gen Johnson Mulinge, Col Ronald Kiluta, Justice Philip Waki, lawyer Argwings Kodhek, Ramogi Achieng' Oneko, Justice Proj Jackton Boma Ojwang' ... remember these names, for they are proof positive that my peoples are truly great.

Make abortion safe, accessible and rare

Why pro-lifers insist in conflating 'maternal health' and 'reproductive rights' with abortion defeats logic. Their insistence that a pregnancy is the beginning of life borders on the sacrilegious - only God creates life. No one will quibble with the demand that abortion be reduced or eliminated entirely. It is in the manner by which this laudable goal is achieved that he pro-life and pro-choice camps have pitched tent debate and waged their culture wars that have defined the debate. Each has sought to marshall their forces to demonstrate why the other side is wrong. Since the United States Supreme Court ruled in Roe -v- Wade regarding this intractable question, the pro-choice and pro-life camps have waged their wars increasingly on a global scale, trampling on the traditions and cultures of others in their pitched battles. This war has now crossed over into Kenya, and Charles Kanjama is one of the soldiers in the pro-life camp, and his valiant efforts at defining the law on the question in Kenya are both laudable and worrying at the same time. Writing in today's Standard on Sunday, Mr Kanjama attempts to describe a conspiracy by the pro-choice camp to expand the meaning and the limits of Art 26 of the Constitution (Constitution is being assaulted like 1812 Moscow).

In Kenya, maternal healthcare and reproductive rights are not subjects that come up in ordinary conversation. Kenyans, to an overwhelming degree, are concentrated almost religiously to the political questions of the day and the increasingly high cost of living. Banner headlines in Kenya's newspapers ted towards the chances of one politician or the other at the presidency or the cost of living as experienced by the working classes. The subject of abortion is limited to the elite in Kenya, men and women with time on their hands and food in their belly to address a subject that very rarely affects them or their own. In fact, this is demonstrated by the very fact that the politicians who would be charged with passing legislation over this contentious subject barely give it the attention it deserves, what with their being preoccupied with either retaining their political power or ascending to the residency some time in their lives.

Primary healthcare in Kenya, as with other social programmes that were once fully financed by the government, is no longer a priority. A corrupt government, coupled by a corrupt political class and a weakening economy have conspired to reduce the per capita spending by the government on primary healthcare. As a result, crucial funding for maternal healthcare has plummeted and the statistics regarding the number of mothers and infants that survive pregnancy for the working classes are shocking, to say the least. In Kenya if you are poor, young, semi-literate and unemployed, an unplanned pregnancy is a risk that you can ill afford. Not only will you not receive the best pre-natal and ante-natal care at you local hospital or healthcare facility, it is unlikely that you will offer your infant child the kind of life that he deserves. The choice to terminate the pregnancy, eve when your life is not at risk, begins to look attractive when you factor in the religious and socio-cultural stigma that you will attract from the opinion-makers in your community, not to mention the strife that will befall you in your own family. Dr Jean Kagia of the Protecting Life Movement Trust is correct when she says that the problem of unwanted pregnancies is a social, not medical, problem but she is wrong in prescribing an absolute ban on abortions as the solution.

Social scientists will inform you that it is near impossible to change a people's culture and so it has proven in Kenya regarding the place in the community of teenage mothers or single mothers. The church and society have conspired to stigmatise these women regardless of the hardships they endure. The Protecting Life Movement Trust, in addition to campaigning for a ban on all abortions, could also take the lead in ensuring that the religious and cultural norms and mores of Kenyans are more accommodating of women in crisis situations, such as unplanned pregnancies. Even Dr Kagia and Mr Kanjama will admit that there is something inherently morally wrong in a girl carrying to term a pregnancy that was as a result of rape or incest and they must advise us in how we can protect young girls and women from such situations. We must learn from the mistakes of the Americans and not turn this subject into an either/or demand; American society has been the poorer as a result of the cultural wars waged by the pro-lifers and pro-choicers. Until we can improve the situation in our hospitals and until we can protect women and girls from crisis pregnancies, we should, as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama have asked, ensure that abortion is safe, accessible and rare.

They all fall, eventually

The member of the National Assembly for Mumias East is a spectacularly unpleasant character. But he is not unique. A former member of the Na...