Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Only Sane Choice

So far the serious putative presidential contenders in next year's general elections are Prime Minister Raila Odinga (ODM), Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka (ODM-K), Uhuru Kenyatta (KANU, PNU Alliance), Internal Security Minister George Saitoti (PNU, PNU Alliance), Water Minister Charity Ngilu (NARC), Assistant Minister Peter Kenneth (PNU), former Justice Minister Martha Karua (NARC-K), former Higher Education Minister William Ruto (ODM, UDM), Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula (New Ford-K), the Rev Mutava Musyimi (PNU), former Rarieda MP Raphael Tuju and Safina's Paul Muite, the former MP for Kikuyu. Suffice to say that other than the Prime Minister, William Ruto, Uhuru Kenyatta and Martha Karua, the rest of the field is as inspiring as a bag of rocks.

The Justice Minister, Mutula Kilonzo, has successfully introduced in the National Assembly a Bill to amend the Constitution of Kenya, barely two years after it was ratified in August 2010 seeking, among other objectives, to move the date of the general elections from August to December. At the same time, the Political Parties Act has come into operation, compelling all registered political parties in Kenya to comply with its provisions or be struck of the Register of Political Parties. However, before this can take place, some Members of Parliament, convinced that the current Registrar is a partisan stooge of Mount Kenya-based politicians, have called for her replacement and the appointment of a new Registrar in line with the qualifications and requirements of the new Act and the new Constitution. 

Moreover, the Members of Parliament, in their wisdom, made certain amendments to the Elections Bill before it became law to permit the formation of pre- and post-election alliances among political parties, some say with selfish ends, including the desire to ensure that one man, the Prime Minister, was denied the opportunity to ascend the presidency, or if he did, the majority his party would surely command in the National Assembly, the Senate and the County Assemblies of the new 47 Counties. Seen in the context of the formation of loose alliances among the Prime Minister's most ardent foes such as the G7, the G7 Alliance and the PNU Alliance, this interpretation of the amendments to the Elections Bill seems to carry a grain of accuracy.

Meanwhile, the ICC Pretrial Chamber II's verdict over the confirmation of charges against two presidential contenders, William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta, is hanging fire over their fates. The Attorney-General has already made intimations to the effect that the verdict may (or may not ) influence the chances of the two men from being on the ballot in 2012 as the ICC is a 'non-political' actor in the affair and is only interested in the matters placed before it. He seems to ignore what amounts to a gag order by the court against the two curtailing what they can and cannot say in public regarding their cases in front of the court, including much of the political hay they may have made out of their circumstances and the role they believe the Prime Minister played in their indictments.

It is Kalonzo Musyoka, however, who seems to be getting the short end of the stick of late. A recent re-branding of ODM-K, replacing the orange-and-a-half logo with an umbrella and adopting WIPER as the party's slogan, does not seem to have transformed the fortune's of the bastard child of the 2005 Orange Movement many blame for the defeat of Raila Odinga at the 2007 general elections. His erstwhile allies also seem to have gone out of their way to isolate him within the G7 and the G7 Alliance, and his dalliance with the PNU Alliance does not seem to have received enthusiastic support from with the Alliance or indeed, from his own party. 

Regardless of the V-P's spokesman's assertions that his position was negotiated between PNU and ODM-K, the refusal of the President to endorse Mr Musyoka as his successor must surely rankle and diminishes his claim to the Presidency next year. Surely too must the unseemly spat between the V-P and the Minister for Medical Services over the former's decision to intervene in the affairs of the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital, though Prof Peter Anyang' Nyong'o did not react as viscerally when Mr Ruto visited the hospital with several politicians in tow and made the same demands that Mr Musyoka apparently was determined to resolve. It seems that the V-P's intervention was intended as a finger in the eye of the Prime Minister's allies, demonstrating who is the undisputed national leader at the expense of the PM.

Mr Kenyatta too seems to have troubles of his own. The low-level insurgency led by Gideon Moi and Nick Salat to oust him as the Chairman of KANU seems no closer to conclusion, such that even his involvement in the PNU Alliance has now compelled his allies to register a new party they are calling UDF to offer Mr Kenyatta a secure vehicle for the 2012 elections. His handling of the Budget fiasco in June and the deterioration in the fortunes of the shilling in September also seem to have cast doubt that he is a safe pair of hands in the handling of the nation's finances. It has also been suggested that there are forces allied to Mr Kenyatta that will cash in on the state of the shilling, shoring up funds for use in the general election on behalf of Mr Kenyatta. The plight of working class Kenyans, apparently, is no concern of theirs. As with Mr Musyoka, the President's refusal to endorse Mr Kenyatta as his successor, despite his apparent popularity in Central Kenya and the fact that he is the son of Kenya's founding President will hurt him politically too. So too will the differences between him and NARC-K's Martha Karua and PNU's Peter Kenneth in the hunt for votes in Central Kenya.

Martha Karua seems to have entered into the campaign groove rather early, opening offices in as many Counties as she can over the past several months while also campaigning vigorously for NARC-K's candidates in various by-elections, though securing victory in only two, Makadara and Juja; she has since fallen out spectacularly with Gideon Mbuvi of Makadara, going so far as to expel him from the party for his 'gross insubordination' demonstrated by his support for non-NARC-K candidates in the by-elections since his election. Her relationship with Juja's William Kabogo is also on the rocks and she has since suspended him from the party for the same offences as Gideon Mbuvi. Hr determination to cut a swathe in national politics is admirable, but she brings to the presidential contest baggage that may doom her chances. Until her spectacular falling out with Mwai Kibaki that led to her resignation as Justice Minister, she was one of his staunchest supporters. Few will forget her spirited defense of his victory after the 2007 general elections and few will forgive her for it.

William Ruto's rapture with Raila Odinga is all but complete. He has now cast his lot with the outlaws of the ODM, leading a chunk of ODM's North Rift MPs to the UDM boat. So far Raila Odinga has not called for their expulsion from the party, but it is a matter of time before William Ruto's and his allies' incessant provocations lead the PM to demand their expulsion. His intemperate public utterances against the PM also seem to suggest that his interest in the Presidency has nothing to do with the public good but some perceived betrayal by Raila Odinga that he seems coy of publicising. Despite his acquittal by an anti-corruption court of claims that he profited illegally from the illegal sale of government land from one government agency to another, few are persuaded that the sources of Mr Ruto's apparent enormous wealth are legitimate. Whether Kenyans will consider this in the heat of the 2012 campaign remains to be seen. Whether too UDM will control a sizable proportion of the National Assembly remains to be seen.

Many events will shape the 2012 general elections including the success or failure of Mutula Kilonzo's amendment Bill, the verdict of the ICC Pretrial Chamber II, the continued rise in the cost of living, the continued high rate of unemployment among the youth, the continued demolitions of homes in land purporting to belong to the government and its agencies, the war against al Shabaab, and appointments to various commissions and independent offices. 

All these and more have the potential to poison the atmosphere as Kenyans head into the election year and how the presidential contenders manage the events will be a testament to how far Kenya has come since the dark days of 2007 and 2008. If they decide to paint the events as the fault of one or more of them, and apportion blame for the plight of many Kenyans, then the campaigns will be riddled with much ethnic vitriol. The effect may be to guarantee that the elections are neither free nor fair, nor free from violence and bloodshed. If, on the other hand, they decide to rise above the pettiness of their relationships and instead fashion the debates around the desire to find solutions to national problems, they may finally push Kenyans from a system that has ill-served them for a generation and instead inject a dose of hope in the air that may have far happier returns in the aftermath of the 2012 elections. We shall pray and hope that they choose the latter, but we must also stay vigilant and ensure that they actually choose the latter. It is the only sane choice.

Expedite all reforms

Self-serving politicians, whether as elected MPs or sitting out in the cold after losing their seats in 2007, have taken grandstanding to new heights recently, vociferously castigating the government for allowing the situation in Syokimau to deteriorate as it has. The history of the land saga in Syokimau indicts all of them as a class; after all, the issues surrounding the allocation of land in the vast plains of the Mavoko Municipal Council have been in he public domain since the Kenya Meat Commission went out of business in the early 1990s. Given the close proximity of the area to Nairobi it was only to be expected that speculators would descend on the area with plans for acquisition, subdivision and sale of the vast land. It was also to be expected that a villainous combination of Land Ministry mandarins, Mavoko Municipal Councillors, MPs and Nairobi businessmen and lawyers would take advantage of the situation and take innocent Kenyans for a very expensive ride.

The self-indulgent condemnation in the editorial pages of the nation's dailies and the self-righteous reports by news media of the pain and suffering of the victims of government demolition squads refuses to acknowledge that we are in the midst of one of the most complicated transitional periods in Kenyan history. Not only are we in the middle of implementing one of the most complex and complicated constitutions known to man, we are also attempting to reverse near forty years of one-party rule, corruption and gross institutional decline. In addition to the reforms that have been initiated in Ardhi House, we are attempting to reform the security services that have become a law unto themselves in all but name. And in all this we still have the spectre of a venal political class that blows hot and cold over the question of whether the Constitution should be implemented unamended or not.

It is callous to talk of teething problems at this time, but the demolitions that occurred in Syokimau this past week are just that in the grand scheme of reversing the effects of the corruption that flowered during the KANU era (1963 to 2002) and was allowed to entrench itself even more fully during the NARC administration (2003 to 2007). The first Kibaki administration failed to come to terms with the scale of the problems this country faced, concentrating almost exclusively in reviving the economy and Kenya's standing in the commity of nations. Perhaps President Kibaki was right in concentrating on these matters; after all, without foreign investment in Kenya, much of the programmes of his government would not have come to pass. Indeed, it is a s a result of some of the reforms he initiated then that the public infrastructure that had come to such a decrepit status was rehabilitated and expanded. Even with the failure of the first constitutional referendum in 2005, President Kibaki initiated many reforms in the public sector that are only beginning to bear fruit, including the publication of the National Land Policy in the second Kibaki administration.

Its implementation has met stiff resistance, both in and out of Parliament. The opposition has taken a robust position against the reforms initiated by Ardhi House, including the process of repossessing government land that had been irregularly allocated to individuals. The victims of the corruption that flourished, especially in the 1990s, are frequently individuals who have saved all their working lives to provide for their families a security that can only come from owning a capital asset such as a house or plot of land. The beneficiaries are frequently well-connected men and women who served the government in various capacities, whether as suppliers of goods and services, political fixers, senior civil servants and military officers, or politicians of all stripes. The calls should not be for the reform of the land sector but the expediting of the process already underway, including the investigation and possible prosecution of every person involved in the destruction of the sector. Kenyans should not be held at the mercy of an avaricious political class; they must repose their full faith and trust in public institutions that execute their mandates without fealty to political actors. It is the only way we can avoid a insurrection of the have-nots against the haves.

The Land Question rears its ugly head again

The Government of Kenya may have acted within the letter of the law when it came to the demolition of houses constructed on land it claimed as its own, but no one with an ounce of humanity in them could deny that the spirit of the law was flouted egregiously. The images of grown men and women in tears and the confused, shattered faces of children out in the rain and cold should have turned the hardened heart of the state. There should, at the very least, been an acknowledgment that the persons who had purported to purchase land in Syokimau could not have done so without the active connivance of officers of the government.

The Land Question in Kenya is proving to be the nut that cannot be cracked. The Ministry of Lands published the National Land Policy in 2009 against the opposition of well-connected robber-barons of the Moi and Kenyatta Eras. The spirit of the Policy was entrenched in the Constitution ratified a year later and formed the basis of Chapter Five. However, many men and women have been victims of fraud when it comes to their dealings in land and the pain and suffering some of them are enduring today can be traced back to the dark days when Ardhi House was home to every shade of crook and conman known to man. While the Law Society of Kenya is lauded for having highlighted the shortcomings of the Ministry in the middle of this year, it is not absolved of involvement in the state of affairs there as man advocates of good standing were and continue to be involved in the shady goings-on that have landed the victims of the demolitions in the plight they find themselves today.

Land has always been used as a political weapon in Kenya, and the land clashes that rocked parts of the Rift Valley and Coast Provinces before the 2002 general elections can be traced to decisions that were made and enforced by Presidents Moi and Kenyatta during their long reigns. President Kibaki failed in acting speedily to reverse the rot that permeated the Ministry of Lands. However, with the National Land Policy and his spirited campaign for the Constitution, surely we must admit that he has redeemed himself. If the reforms that he has initiated come to pass, he will have done more to change the manner that we address the Land Question for a generation, at least. While we must sympathise with the victims of the demolitions today, we must be patient for all the reforms to be implemented in the land sector. The incidences where the Commissioner of Lands denies the authenticity of title deeds will be things of the past.

As always, politicians have taken advantage of the plights of their constituents to make hay while the demolition sun is shining. Hon Wavinya Ndeti and Hon Ferdinand Waititu have decided to take a front-line role in calling for enquiries into the demolitions and the circumstances surrounding the allocation of the land to the victims. They forget that over the four odd years they have been Members of Parliament, they have done little in the way of calling for or pursuing reforms that will protect their constituents from the actions of the very same government they serve as Assistant Ministers. Their utterances run the risk of inflaming already fraught emotions and igniting a fire that no one can put out save the government and its use of force. Going into an election year it may seem as smart politics to incite people against their government, but the effects may be much larger than the MPs intend. If they are not careful they may incite violence among the people that may lead to a situation as was witnessed after the last general elections. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga must step in and guide the process even f it means spending tax-payers money to assist the victims resettle elsewhere. It is the only way that we can avoid the mistakes of 2007 and 2008 and instill a sense of confidence in the government and its institutions.

Participate or withdraw

Mutula Kilonzo, the Minister for Justice, National Cohesion and Constitutional Affairs, determined to showcase the hypocrisy of his fellow Members of Parliament, went ahead and introduced in the National Assembly the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2011. Hon Kilonzo is adamant - in this he is supported by the Secretary to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission and the newly appointed Chairman of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission - that the 2012 general elections cannot possibly be held in August of that year because of the logistical arrangements that must be made. Mandarins in the Treasury agree with the Minister, arguing that the procedure laid down in the Constitution for the presentation, debate and approval of government estimates preclude an election in August. The Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution is not persuaded by the Minister's rationale for amending the Constitution to shift the date of the general election and it is one among other parties that have approached the courts to obtain a final word on when the elections can be held.

Members of Parliament are livid with the Minister for Justice because he has combined several constitutional amendments in that one Bill. While they have a near-unanimous agreement that the elections should be held in December, they are disunited on the content of the other proposed amendments. Hon Millie Adhiambo-Mabona and Hon Rachel Shebesh have led from the front in objecting to the proposals that the Minister says will improve the Articles dealing with the two-thirds Gender Rule in the Constitution, arguing that the Minister's proposals will water down the gains that have been made on the gender equality front since the 1990s.

But as is common with this Parliament, the issues are not being discussed with a view to compromise, but they as political weapons of mass destruction deployed by one side of the Grand Coalition against the other. Despite the fact that Prime Minister Raila Odinga has yet to state what his position is on the proposals, it must be presumed that as the proposals received the stamp of approval from the Cabinet he must have endorsed them before they were put together in Hon Kilonzo's Bill. This must be the case too with regards to the President's position; after all it is his government. The Speaker of the National Assembly was surely right to refuse to bow down to the wishes of the vocal opposition to the introduction of what they considered an omnibus Bill and by allowing the National Assembly to deal with the matter he has opened up opportunities for parties truly interested in shooting down the Bill to participate fully in the debate that must ensue. Article 255 is very clear about the participation of the public in the process of amending the Constitution and every person interested in this matter has 90 days to make their views known as fully and widely as possible.

We are notorious for manufacturing crises where none exist, and we take our cues in this regard from men and women who have proven time and again that they are very poor political actors. When the Cabinet decided that amending the Constitution was warranted, it did so after considering fully the implications of its proposals. It may have publicised its intentions poorly - the Budget-cycle argument persuaded no one. While I am convinced that shifting the date of the elections from August to December is foolhardy, I do not deny the right of the Cabinet to make the proposal nor that of the National Assembly to consider it. Kenya is still a republic and it is the representative nature of government that we have chose for ourselves. Therefore it is improper for an elite group of men and women to presume to speak for the entire nation without a proper debate being had. Whether the amendments are approved or not, it is up to all of us as right thinking Kenyans to particpate in the process. If we do not and the national Assembly acts contrary to our desires, then we will have none to blame but ourselves. The Constitution may be flawed in many ways, but the Committee of Experts did us proud by ensuring that the process of dealing with it required our tacit and explicit participation. We must take advantage of the 90 days granted us by the Constitution to influence the process to our own ends. It is the right and proper thing to do.

How stupid are they?

Ms Wavinya Ndeti, the Member for Kathiani (Chama Cha Uzalendo) and the Assistant Minister for Youth Affairs and Sports, was visibly livid at 'the government' when she appeared before a joint Parliamentary committee investigating the on-going demolition of buildings constructed in land that belongs to the government, or other state agencies, or those constructed near sensitive installations, such as the Moi Air Base in Eastleigh. Hon Ndeti had come out earlier in the crisis, visiting with the victims of the demolitions on the gorund in her constituency when bulldozers broke the morning calm of Syokimau and laid hundreds of millions of shillings of investment to waste. She has been accompanied on her crusade to stop the demolitions by her counterpart from Embakasi, Ferdinand Waititu (PNU) who has expressed his interest in being elected the governor of Nairobi City County and, at the same sitting at which Hon Ndeti appeared, claimed that the Prime Minister and members of his family were behind the demolitions because they intended to cash in on the properties once the trespassers had been evicted.

Hon Ndeti's outrage would be touching if it were not for the insincerity with which it was expressed. Since her election to the Tenth Parliament, the MP has done precious little to ameliorate what is turning out to be one of the largest land scams in the history of the Mavoko County Council, not counting the storied history of how land belonging to the Kenya Meat Commission changed hands at the fag end of the Moi regime. The Land Question in and around Syokimau, Athi River and Kitengela townships was a volcano waiting to erupt and any elected representative of the residents of these towns knew it. Indeed, there are suspicions that Hon Ndeti or persons connected to her and her family have been beneficiaries of the lackadaisical approach to land administration in Mavoko County and that her tears of sorrow for the victims of the demolitions are nothing but crocodile tears.

Hon Ndeti has not proven to be an effective performer in Parliament. She seems not to have contributed significantk7y to debate in the National Assembly nor advanced public discourse in government regarding certain policies or objectives. Indeed, as a junior member of the Cabinet, when the Executive branch embarked on its idiotic campaign of demolitions, she should have been the first to voice her opposition. If her voice was still not heard, she should have resigned as an assistant minister and taken her agitation to the back-benches and the streets. Instead, just like the big boys on the Cabinet, she is hell-bent on having her cake and eating it too by laying into the government for what she claims to be unlawful and unconstitutional practices, but retaining her sweet seat in government. She may run with hares and hunt with the hounds only for so long; her constituents are bound to learn the truth about her positions and make her pay for her dishonesty. Or perhaps they are as stupid as she thinks they are.

How the Raila v Haji battle reveals our ignorance

The Intergovernmental authority on Development (IGAD) that brings together seven Eastern Africa nations (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia and Ethiopia) is not, as Macharia Gaitho, in today's Tragedy of Errors, would have you believe, a regional security bloc (We handed Al-Shabaab propaganda tool and envoy added fuel to the fire, Daily Nation) but a regional development organization formed to address issues of development and drought control in the region. Since its formation in 1986, the organisation has expanded its mandate to address regional security too, but not in a comprehensive manner, responding when security issues overwhelm individual nations. But, at its core, it is NOT a security bloc and it was not designed to be one.

That aside, Mr Gaitho's assessment of the Prime Minister's visit to the Jewish State is apposite; it was wrong of Raila Odinga to tom-tom the security pacts that he had secured with Israel and so was the decision of the Israeli envoy in Nairobi to divulge details of what the pact entailed. Mr Odinga has frequently been his own worst enemy; in this period of armed conflict on foreign soil, it would be expected that all members of the Cabinet would speak with one voice. The strategies that are to be pursued by the Cabinet in bringing this conflict to a close must be co-ordinated very carefully and we cannot have individual members of the Cabinet going of on their own tangents and deciding foreign or defence policy without reference to the grand strategy. By placing Israel so prominently in the middle of our national strategy with regards to the war with al Shabaab, Mr Gaitho is correct to argue that Mr Odinga and the Israeli envoy have handed the terror group a propaganda coup that may assist it to recruit more militants to its ranks in its jihad against Kenya.

President Kibaki has notoriously allowed his Cabinet a free hand to do as they see fit; the result has been a shambolic government, frequently reacting to national emergencies rather than being proactive in anticipating and heading them off. This autonomy has empowered members of the Cabinet to see themselves as operating outside the ambit of collective responsibility, free to contradict or countermand the decisions of the Cabinet. In effect, Cabinet members see themselves as superior to the Cabinet and, quite frequently, free of the control of the President himself. As a consequence, the members of the Cabinet frequently make poor choices and because of the political situation, the President has not had a free hand in disciplining them or calling them to account publicly for their errors of omission or commission. It is in this background that one can assess the recent public disagreements between the Minister for Medical Services and the Vice-President, and between the Prime Minister and the Minister of State for Defence.

As is our wont, Kenyans no longer care that much about our military operations in Somalia as shown by the rather swift shift of attention back to narrowly political matters. As a nation, we have been brainwashed to believe that the only subject worth our engagement is politics as narrowly defined as possible. The political questions that obsess us revolve around the issue of who will and who won't be elected, which political party will be his or her vehicle, and whether or not he will or won't be a member of the Cabinet. The larger question of policies and legislation receive scant consideration perhaps because a majority of Kenyans are functionally illiterate when it comes to the broader question of governance. Civic education in Kenya revolves only around the mechanics of voting and nothing else. Therefore, more and more Kenyans who have undergone civic education of one form or another are experts on election management and nothing else. Their knowledge of how their government is organised, the powers of the presidency and Cabinet, the Legislature or the Judiciary, and the manner in which revenue is raised and spent is scant at best. Kenyans are incapable of deciding whether deficit financing is a positive way of funding long term development projects or whether it carries inherent risks, especially with regards to debt-servicing. Until we begin to focus our minds and see the broader political picture that includes governance, we will continue to be led by the nose by politicians whose only claim to fame is that they are eager to hog the limelight even if it is at the expense of our national interests.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Do we still need these people?

As Kenya carries on in Somalia, going after the men who constitute the leadership cadre of al Shabaab, members of the Cabinet are going after each other, trying to paint the other as the stumbling block to a successful campaign against the terror outfit. The Prime Minister has been in Israel this past week, meeting with the President and the Prime Minister of the Jewish State and obtaining assurances of assistance in homeland security. Meanwhile the Minister of State for Defence and his colleague in the Foreign Ministry, have been doing their best to shore up support for Kenya's mission in Somalia from the diverse Arab world, securing assurances from the Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and Morocco among others. After the euphoria of the first few days of Kenya's incursion into Somalia, it is now becoming apparent that there does not seem to be coherent foreign policy or defense strategy with regards to Kenya's mission in Somalia bar the defeat of al Shabaab and its sympathisers, both in Somalia and Kenya.

Yusuf Haji and Moses Wetangula are not exactly Raila Odinga's biggest fans, but surely they must realise that regardless of their politics, all three have an interest in protecting and advancing the interests of Kenya. When the two of them go off the deep end regarding the Prime Minister's forays in Israel, they betray the fact that they are more interested in embarrassing the PM rather than securing any and all help that may help contain the fallout from the invasion of Somalia by Kenya's military forces. The PM is not blameless either; he should have co-ordinated his plans vis-a-vis Israel with the two ministers at the heart of Kenya's diplomatic charm offensive so that it seemed that the right hand knew what the left was doing. It seems he wanted to hog the limelight and that his discussions with the Government of Israel would shore up his foreign policy chops and show up those of his political detractors.

Four years is a long time to be sorting out the teething problems of the Grand Coalition and it is incidences like these that show that Kenyan politicians are incapable of seeing beyond their noses politically or strategically. Our invasion of Somalia is a watershed moment in our history. Kenya has managed, through thick and thin, to live in relative peace ad harmony with its neighbours, bar a few unfortunate incidents. Indeed, it has frequently acted as an honest broker, helping violent factions in Somalia and Sudan to come to terms with each other and agree to live in relative peace and harmony. Such was Kenya's reputation that its participation in UN peace-keeping missions has been the norm than the exception, conducting itself professionally and with dignity. But the violence of 2007 and 2008, the formation of the Grand Coalition and the invasion of Somalia have revealed that perhaps Kenya's, or Kenya's politcians', stellar reputation has feet of clay. The longer these people keep behaving they way they are, the more they reveal the depth, or lack thereof, of their intellect and patriotism.

The post-election violence failed to bring our politicians together for the greater common good. So has the invasion of Somalia. Perhaps it is time we asked ourselves whether we would be better off without any member of the Tenth Parliament being trusted to walk the hallowed halls of the National Assembly, Senate, County Assembly, Governor's residence or State House. Time and again they have been presented with chances to demonstrate that they appreciate the plight that the people of Kenya find themselves in and tie and again they have deeply disappointed. They came up with new rules to control the price of fuel against the advise of experts in the field; the result has been that the price of fuel has only gone even higher. They set up a Parliamentary committee to investigate the rising cost of living, but all it seems to have done is to pay the members of the committee hefty sitting allowances with nothing to show for all the money spent. Kenyans are now afraid that if they enact a law to control the price of essential commodities, it may end up raising rather than lowering the price of these goods. They say that it is madness to do the same thing over and over again and expect a different outcome. It is tine we said enough of the Tenth Parliament and sent them all home where they deserve to be. It is time that only their families suffered heir presence; Kenyans are tired of being taken for very expensive rides.

The time is now to resolve the Land Question

The land law of Kenya is as clear as mud, and only the foolhardy enter into a transaction over land without a battery of white-shoe lawyers attending to the nitty-gritty. The residents of various parts of Mavoko Municipality and Nairobi have had the sad experience of watching millions of shillings in investment leveled to the ground by bulldozers of the government with armed policemen standing by to ensure that the operations are not hindered or stopped. The Minister for Lands and his Permanent Secretary have declared that their intention is to repossess land that lawfully belongs to the national government and that the occupiers of thee properties are, essentially, trespassers.

Tears of grief by the hapless victims of the demolitions have not softened the heart of the Government of Kenya; nor have the crocodile tears of politicians hoping to cash in on their plight in time for the 2012 general elections. Pundits have gone on air and online to decry what they see as the heavy handed response of a government that is to blame for the situation and the extent of the corruption that has led to this sad state of affairs. None, however, has sought to examine whether this could have been avoided, or whether the victims had any role to play in the disaster that has now befallen them.

When President Kibaki was sworn in in 2003 among his first acts was to appoint a Commission of Inquiry on illegal land allocations in Kenya, the result of which was the Ndung'u Report which catalogued all the land that belonged to the government that had been irregularly or unlawfully allocated and to whom. President Kibaki's government, perhaps afraid of antagonising the men and women who run the private sector, has sat on this report for the past 8 years failing or refusing to implement its recommendations. The Minister of Lands has had to resort to, quite frankly, unlawful acts to repossess some of the parcels of land that were so irregularly or illegally allocated. The recent exercise to demolish houses in Syokimau and the Mitumba Slum near Wilson Airport seems to be part of that programme; the Minister states that the land belongs to the Kenya Airports Authority and that the occupiers do not have valid titles to these parcels. The victims have not helped their case; they have nothing to show for these parcels save for share certificates in land buying companies that were behind the demarcation and allocation of these parcels of lands. Indeed, the government also managed to publish a National Land Policy, much of which was incorporated in the new Constitution, but it is yet to be implemented.

The pain and suffering experienced by many Kenyans and the continued failure by the government to come to terms with the shambles that is land administration in Kenya hide the fact that unless and until the land question is resolved, there will be no meaningful development or that attaining the goals of Vision 2030 will remain a pipe dream. The political environment will continue to be poisonous so long as politicians can use the land question in their political campaigns to paint one community as benefitting at the expense of another. Many young families are now alive to the fact that even when they have followed due process in purchasing land and setting up their homes, they ay not be safe from the rampaging bulldozers of their government. The effect of the these demolitions on the family and family life are yet to be examined, but they cannot be positive or life affirming. It is time, as a nation, that we expedited the process of reforming land administration in Kenya and putting to bed one of the most pernicious aspects o colonial administration adopted by Independent Kenya.

Monday, November 14, 2011

You will pay tax. And then you will get shot.

The Executive Branch enjoys two powers which it is loath to delegate or share: the power to levy taxes and the power to wage war. The Executive Branch, the implementing arm of the government, has entered into an implicit and explicit contract with the people of Kenya that of the monies it raises in various taxes, charges, levies, duties and what not, none shall be wasted or spent on political vanity projects aimed at assuaging the feelings of a person, a group of persons or a class of persons. The record of the Government of Kenya over the past forty-seven years, all three Branches of them, has been abysmal when it comes to the collection and management of revenue. The chickens of this mismanagement are coming home to roost on the back of one of the most progressive Constitutions in the world. The recent industrial actions by university staff and medical workers at East Africa's largest referral hospital point to the fact that Presidents Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki have used the public purse to pursue projects that at best had symbolic value and at worst were downright criminal.

There are certain public goods that can be provided only by the State, especially through the Executive Branch: healthcare, basic education, national security and defence, diplomacy, clean water, etc. When Kenya gained self-rule in 1963, President Kenyatta declared the national policy to eradicate ignorance, disease and poverty. When President Moi was sworn in as Kenya's president three months after President Kenyatta's death, he swore to follow in his predecessor's footsteps. When President Kibaki brought to an end forty years of KANU hegemony, he promised Kenyans a better life under his administration. All three were failures. Significant numbers of Kenyans have no access to basic healthcare, let alone specialised healthcare; have access to basic education but only of the most rudimentary kind; and still live well below the nationally-measured poverty line, subsisting on less that two dollars a day. It is not uncommon to witness hospital-bound patients sleeping two to a bed in our public hospitals (when beds can be found) or of doctors and nurses going on strike to demand better terms and conditions of service. It is heartbreaking to witness thousands upon thousands of young boys and girls taking their education under trees or in buildings with no doors, no windows, not blackboards, no desks or chairs, sometimes in environmental conditions so dire that the children are in constant war with their environment rather than concentrating on their lessons. But it is in the persistence of the number of Kenyans living in poverty that the Government of Kenya has demonstrated consistency. Since 1963, the proportion of Kenyans living in poverty has never fallen below forty per cent, and in some periods over the past forty-seven years, has risen to nearly 60%. It is this poverty that has contributed significantly to the political and socio-cultural challenges experienced over the past twenty-five years, demonstrated starkly in the post-election violence of 2007 and 2008.

Martha Karua, Peter Kenneth, Eugene Wamalwa, William Ruto, Kalonzo Musyoka, Bifwoli Wakoli, Raphael Tuju, and Raila Odinga have all declared that they will stand for the presidency in 2012. In one form or the other, all these men and woman have been involved at the highest levels of the Executive over the past decade. Indeed, some of them have served in the Executive in both the Mwai Kibaki and Daniel Moi governments. What they all have in common is that they are capable of making high-sounding promises without actually following up on them. It is a story that can be traced to every single politician ever to serve in the Executive Branch since Independence. When President Kenyatta exhorted his Ministers, Assistant Ministers and Civil Servants to 'eat' where they served, he could not have predicted that this what they would do to the complete exclusion of everything else. Today, the Executive Branch and its agencies are more prone to exercising its coercive power to enforce unfair rules and regulations that punish the weak and poor.

All the putative candidates in next year's presidential election have failed to explain how they will be different from the presidents that have gone before them. They have failed to publish what laws they intend to enact and what programmes they intend to initiate to fulfill the promises that were made at Independence. They have, instead, consistently and viscerally accused each other of the same offences over and over again that it is near impossible to listen to the news without flinching (if you are new to these parts) or rolling your eyes in derision (if your not). Until these people concentrate their, and our, minds on the real challenges that face us, and propose viable solutions to address them, we should continue to ignore them whenever they open their mouths.

Cohesion and integration - A way forward

All the pundits on TV and in the Sunday papers have it wrong - Kenyans are not interested in integration or cohesion, and the see nothing amiss in supporting their tribal chieftains in their marches to State House. When Raphael Tuju went campaigning in Luo Nyanza, he was stepping on the toes of Raila Odinga, and his legions of supporters in the area. The Odingas have controlled Luo Nyanza for as long as we have been an Independent nation and, for better or ill, their political fortunes are intertwined with those of the peoples of Nyanza. This is the same case in all the other 'major' areas of Kenya.

For decades, the Akamba were led by the nose by Mulu Mutisya, the Kalenjins by Daniel Toroitich arap Moi, the Kisiis by Simeon Nyachae, the Ameru by Jackson Harvester Angaine, the Embu by Jeremiah Nyagah ... and the list goes on. When Kenyans set upon each other with bows, arrows and pangas in the aftermath of the 2007 general elections, they did so at the behest of their political godfathers, completely forgetting that we are one nation and one people. The halfhearted and insincere attempts by members of the political class to pacify the warring people had no effect. It was not until President Kibaki ordered the police to use all necessary force to quell the violence that the politicians sit together to hammer out a power-sharing arrangement that gave birth to that demon-seed of a government, the Grand Coalition.

One of the outcomes of the National Accord was the Cohesion and Integration Act and the formation of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, chaired by the rather excitable Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia. Under the Act, the actions that followed Mr Tuju's Nyanza forays may be investigated by the Commission and criminal responsibility assigned to those who may be seen to be complicit in fomenting the violence. However, in its larger mission to integrate the nation and foster cohesion among the forty-two recognised ethnic communities in Kenya, the Commission has his a brick wall. Perhaps it was too much to expect that the Commission would reverse two decades of ethnic jingoism that has been practiced by all politicians in Kenya to forward their interests at the cost of those of their voters or of the nation. This has become so pervasive that the Committee of Experts decided to entrench ethnic and regional balancing in the Constitution, the shortcomings of such a policy becoming more apparent with the appointment of each successive Commission. The ethnic and regional balance rule has distorted the formation of Commission, ensuring that not the best and brightest will be chosen to serve.

The narrative that Kikuyus have taken over the government has gained ground at the expense of a coherent national debate about what it means to be Kenyan. There is more that unites Kenyans than divides them, and until we agree that the political class is not the solution to our problems we will be no better off than when we were under the yoke of the KANU hegemony. The economy is a drag on all our wallets, yet the fatcat politicians seem to be doing well for themselves. Our poverty has nothing to do with the languages we speak but the mismanagement of the political class. All the cohesion and integration seminars of Dr Kibunjia's outfit will not rescue us until we can come to grips with this basic fact.

We are so screwed!

It is time we admitted to ourselves that the politics of issues and policies is a ways away here in Kenya; in the here and now, politics will be dominated by ethnic arithmetic, 'hate speech' and personalities. In fact, political parties, regardless of what the Constitution and the Political Parties Act say are mere briefcases holding the personalities of the 'party leaders', and not much else. Unlike other advanced democracies, even here in Africa such as the Republic of South Africa, political parties in Kenya are mere vehicles for demonstrating the clout and wealth of the men and women who helm them, and it is for this reason that despite the ratification and promulgation of the Constitution, and the enactment of the Political Parties Act, the good men and women atop the ODM, ODM-K, KANU, Ford-K, PNU, GNU, NARC, NARC-K, et al have been loath to give up the positions of authority in their parties, giving the lie that the rule of law is alive and well in Kenya.

Many well-meaning but misguided men and women are shouting themselves hoarse over the question of 'issues' in 2012, believing fervently that that their frequently sincere entreaties of the political class will bring them the light of day and they will cease obsessing over Raila Odinga's, Kalonzo Musyoka's, William Ruto's or Uhuru Kenyatta's chances at the hustings next year and they will instead start considering whether or not the National assembly and Senate should exercise a greater oversight over the Executive, what form devolution should take place, and what local government's place will be in the devolution structure. Kenya is today divided among those who dream of a more perfectly cohesive and integrated nation and those who do not give a hoot about national cohesion or integration. The reality is that in the midst of the worst employment crisis for a decade and the out-of-control cost of living, very few Kenyans give a damn about 'issues' and 'manifestos'; all they care about is keeping a roof over their heads, food on the table and clothes on their backs. Healthcare, even for the desperately in need, barely registers as a possibility today.

As a consequence of the prevailing economic condition, the apathy and malaise of the electorate, the bitter memories of 2007/2008 and the constant roiling of the waters by prominent members of the snake-oil selling class, the 2012 general elections will be anything but informed or informative. Instead, I fear, the world will be witness to a people who will have gone bat-shit crazy and the flames of 2007 and 2008 will look like Boy Scout camp fires. This time round, regardless of the entreaties of Koffi Annan and his Panel of Eminent African Personalities, there will be no voice of reason that will pull back the craven men and women of the political class from plunging this country headlong into an abyss that will have no bottom. We will no longer talk of IDP camps; the entire country will be one IDP camp.

The seeds of this destruction were sown the day that Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki smiled and shook hands and formed the Grand Coalition Government. On that day, schemers and plotters on both sides of the political divide were screwed over, and their chances of ascending smoothly to positions of greatness and power were shattered forever. Many were joining the Official Government for the first time and they felt cheated that 'their' side did not take it all; it was not right that they had to share spoils for which they had fought so hard with their bitter rivals. In time, however, they settled down into a symbiotic relationship of sorts; neither side wants the Coalition to collapse before the general elections and they are working hand in hand to ensure that the date of the next elections is pushed back as far as it will go. The wishes of Kenyans are irrelevant and they will see to it that they, and they alone, get their way; ordinary Kenyans can go take a hike if they don't like it.

It is strange to witness the gradual self-destruction of a nation; but the euphoria that accompanied the change of guard in 2003 marked a bleak and dystopian truth. The Treasury was bare; so were the halls of ideas, our universities, hollowed out by the constant, relentless and ruthless evisceration of their core beliefs and core principles. By the time NARC was coming along, we were well and truly hardened to everything good and reliable; we have become the very caricatures that amuse us of the basket-cases of the world, from Libya to Lebanon, and from Haiti to to Kyrgyzstan. We are pale shadows of our pasts; our futures will bring nothing but pain and despair. It is time to admit that in this country, whether one is wealthy or not, educated or not, young or old, male or female, we are well and truly screwed and it will take the intervention of all the gods we know - and those that we don't - to get as a fair shake.

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...