Friday, March 30, 2012

Ethno-religious Hypocrisy

Najib Balala, the ODM Mvita MP, was on his way out of the Cabinet and he knew it. Ever since he began flirting with the leading lights of the Gang of Seven, his days in the Cabinet were numbered and it has nothing to do with the MoU signed between Raila Odinga and the "Muslim Community". When William Ruto and Isaac Ruto led their putative rebellion in the ODM, Mr Balala had betrayed a certain weakness for their line of reasoning. When Mr Ruto's attempt at commandeering the United Democratic Movement failed and he was forced to settle for the United Republic Party, Mr Balala must have realised that hitching his wagon to the Ruto vehicle was a recipe for disaster so he began formulating a strategy that would give him a say at the national level hence his persistent hints of settling for another party "to be announced soon" and his accusations of the dictatorial tendencies of the ODM leadership (read Raila Odinga).

Mr Balala, Mr Ruto and their ilk are the worst kind of hypocrites. If they feel that the manner in which their party is organised and managed is dictatorial, which it very well might be, they must stand on their principles, something they claim to do anyway, and resign their parliamentary seats and seek a new mandate from the political vehicles of their choice. That they have not done this is proof that what they say and what they mean have a tenuous relation with each other and that their principle reason for remaining in their dictatorial parties is so that they continue enjoying the trappings of power that have blinded them to the realities of the hypocritical positions that they continue to champion.

The paucity of the content of their arguments is belied by the reasoning of their apparent rebellions. Mr Balala and his supporters allege that Mr Odinga has broken an MoU with the Muslim community. If it was not tragic, it would be humorous the instances of politicians from other political parties ganging up to castigate Mr Odinga for his apparent break with the Muslim community. They are not members of the ODM so their input as to how the PM has dealt with Mr Balala is pure political theatre bereft of any substance or intelligence. What is surprising is that many of these leaders claim democratic credentials, that they have broken completely with the dark KANU past of many of the leading lights in government today. Yet, their claims to religious or ethnic chauvinism are straight out of the playbook of the dark days of the KANU interregnum.

This is similar to the claim, made with such pomp and circumstance, that the Women Vote will determine the general election, ignoring the fact that women do not identify themselves only on the basis of gender. They are also members of particular families, clans, ethnic communities, faith-based organisations, professional bodies, and socio-economic classes ad they will make their electoral decisions based on all these and other criteria. It is the same with religious or ethnic communities. It is not enough for the "Muslim Leaders" to claim that Raila Odinga has broken an MoU with them; they must demonstrate that when Mr Balala was a member of the Cabinet and a leading light of the ODM the Muslim Community benefited and that these leaders ensured that the benefits were shared equally or equitably among all Muslims in Kenya. Of course they cannot do so, for Mr Odinga and, by extension, Mr Balala and his fellow leaders will have discriminated against every other religious and ethnic community in the basis of religion, something the Constitution takes a dim view of. If their intention was to embarrass the PM, they have failed.

It is these kinds of leaders, however personable they may, that Kenyans must discard at the next general elections. Their worldviews are limited to their ethno-religious backyards and no further. Their economic blueprints, such as they may be, revolve around eating and no more. Their socio-cultural plans amount to pandering to the basest instincts of their political bases and no higher. They have lowered the bar of political maturity so low that it is surprising that they constantly fail to clear it. They are the albatross around the nation's neck that is going to lead us from one bad end to another. Someone must remind them that it is brand new day. The general elections offers us the opportunity to do just that!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Puppet on a string?

Has President Kibaki handed Eugene Wamalwa a poisoned chalice? The justice docket has felled more capable politicians than the young Mr Wamalwa. Charles Njonjo so enjoyed the power that came from the docket that when President Moi finally shoved him out of the Cabinet he could only lament about the vicissitudes of the political arena, staying out for a decade until FORD offered him a chance at redemption. Kiraitu Murungi proved once more, that legal skills are not the be-all-and-end-all of the capable politician, getting turfed out, albeit temporarily, from the Cabinet over the Anglo-Leasing scam. Martha Karua, after playing one of Mwai Kibaki's staunchest defenders, stomped out of the docket and Cabinet after Mwai Kibaki reminded her that she was not the chief lawyer for the government; that job is and remains that of the Attorney-General. Mutula Kilonzo seems not to have learnt from the travails of his predecessors, openly disagreeing with his colleagues over whether Uhurua Kenyatta could stand for the presidency at the next general elections. For his trouble, rather than being shown the door, he has been moved to that snake-pit that is Jogoo House as the new Minister for Education. Now it is for the relative neophyte, Eugene Wamalwa, to occupy what is arguably an accursed docket. On his way out Mutula Kilonzo could not help but cheekily remind Eugene Wamalwa that the docket is not his to do as he pleases, but that it has its own "owners" and that he would be dancing to their tune or be shown the door.

Mr Wamalwa assures us that as a lawyer and a lawmaker his fidelity is to the law. This is an assurance that is set to be tested as Kenya engages with the International Criminal Court over the imminent trial of Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Francis Muthaura and Joshua arap Sang. Even the Attorney-General's panel of eminent lawyers has advised the Government that the State has no choice but to co-operate fully with the Court over the trial of the four Kenyans. Mr Wamalwa has identified himself with the Gang of Seven whose leading lights include Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, both of whom have expressed an interest in standing for the presidency at the next general elections. It remains to be seen whether the real reason he has been elevated to the justice docket is so that he can use his legal skills, such as they may be, to ensure that Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto weasel out of the clutches of the ICC Prosecutor for the Ministry oversees a great deal more than Kenya's engagement with the ICC.

The Justice docket is responsible for the smooth implementation of the Constitution, the proper functioning of constitutional commissions such as the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights, the Gender and Equality Commission, and the Commission on Administration of Justice. It is also responsible for the smooth operation of the Ethics and Anti-corruption Commission, whose appointment has been held up because the National Assembly is divided over the names of the nominees sent to it by the President and Prime Minister. Before he was sent to the education docket, Mr Kilonzo had drafted a law for the implementation of Chapter Six of the Constitution on leadership and integrity. Even with his political and legal skills, Mr Kilonzo was not sure whether the Bill would survive mutilation at the hands of the members of the National Assembly. It remains, again, to be seen whether Eugene Wamalwa has the moxie to get it through Parliament without it being defaced and watered down.

Mr Wamalwa has displayed a worrying lack of judgment in his political engagements, flitting from one association to another before running with the Gang of Seven as an "equal". Simama Kenya, which he was closely associated with proved to be a bust. His association with Maina Njenga, the feared former leader of the Mungiki, raised more questions than answers. A rally that the two intended to headline was violently broken up by the police. It is his continued association with the Gang of Seven that displays his lack of political maturity. It seems, and no matter how much they deny it, that the principal reason for the existence of the Gang of Seven is the prevention of the Prime Minister from succeeding Mwai Kibaki as president at the next general elections. The Gang has spent more time trying to link the PM to the travails of two of its leading lights than any other association in Kenya. They have spread lies, usually at 'prayer rallies', that the PM is to blame for the two being charged at the ICC glossing over the fact that both the PM and the President begged them to ensure that trials for the PEV be conducted in Kenya. In all this Mr Wamalwa has been complicit. It gives the lie to his assurance of fidelity to the law. How he conducts himself as the Minister for Justice will determine whether Mr Wamalwa is his own man or a puppet in a string.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Weeds in the Shamba

If all that the Limuru II Conference intended to achieve was the collection of two million signatures to petition the ICC to postpone the trial of the Deputy Prime Minister, Uhuru Kenyatta, rather than find replacements for the departed John Njoroge Michuki and Njenga Karume, then it was an unmitigated disaster, a failure of epic proportions. 

It becomes increasingly apparent that the leadership of the Mt Kenya region is so far off the reservation that it would not be amiss to consider them the wayward children of the legacy of the original GEMA. That they have been renounced by the likes of Gitobu Imanyara and Martha Karua is proof that they still have no clue what political unity means or what it is meant to achieve. It is also apparent that they do not speak for the peoples of the Mt Kenya region nor do they have their best interests at heart. It was sad to listen to the likes of Cecily Mbarire declaring that the interests of Uhuru Kenyatta supersede those of the thousands of victims of the violence that rocked the nation after the 2007 general elections.

The Constitution protects the cultures of the peoples of Kenya but it also implies that negative ethnicity is the bane of the nation. Striking a balance between the two will be an uphill task at the best of times, let alone during the middle of an election campaign and the process of trying four Kenyans for some of the most heinous crimes ever committed in Kenya against Kenyans by Kenyans. Old-timers recall the role that the original GEMA played in consolidating power in the hands of an elite few in Central Kenya; its most prominent members amassed great wealth and power and used it to enrich themselves while millions of Kenyans slept hungry. JM Kariuki's admonition of ten millionaires and ten million paupers still rings true when you look at the line up that purports to represent the GEMA peoples today. Njenga Karume and John Michuki epitomised the rot that accompanied the existence of organisations such as GEMA; but Moi's proscription of these organisations did nothing to redress the evils such institutions represented.

Kenya is at a critical crossroads. Not only are we in the process of implementing one of the most progressive constitutions on God's Earth, but we are suffering through one of the worst drought-boom-drought cycles for fifty years. Our children attend state-sponsored schools of the most unimaginable squalor and deprivation. In the Twenty-first Century it is heartbreaking to read of innocent children who sleep hungry simply because their government has failed them and their generation. 

This morning it was announced that oil has been discovered in Turkana, one of the most backward regions of the country, beset not only by drought and famine, but also unimaginable violence. It is too much to expect that if the oil deposits prove to be of commerciable quantities that the so-called trickle-down effect will benefit them more than it will benefit Tullow Oil, the foreign company licensed to prospect in Turkana. More likely, the hyenas in the National Government and their successors in the County Government will spend their every waking hour thinking up schemes to keep the profits to themselves and none to the peoples of Turkana. It is how things have been and it is likely how they will always be.

Our history as a nation has been a tortuous one and the likes of Kiraitu Murungi's GEMA are not the ones to take us to the next level. What we have been calling for, struggling for and campaigning for is a paradigm shift in the power relations of the nation. It is why the deep black of the night continues to cover our land. Not even the popular Raila Odinga has a solution to our myriad challenges; he is too wedded to the ways of the past to see past the ethnic and special-interest considerations that have so riven the peoples of Kenya. Until these men and women coveting positions of power and influence lead the peoples of Kenya we will always be held hostage to the inanities of the likes of GEMA and the hundreds of Councils of Elders that seem to spring up like weeds in the shamba.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Footnotes of History

The local economy is in shambles. Once you ignore the illusion created by the Chamber of Commerce, the Central Bank and the Brand Kenya campaign, it will be rapidly apparent that this economy that is apparently growing and lifting hundreds of thousands out of poverty is an illusion. Every year, our primary schools, secondary schools, technical colleges and polytechnics and universities spew out tens of thousands of young men and women onto the market, expecting them to sink or swim in the ocean of job-seeking. Mwai Kibaki promised five-hundred thousand jobs to the youth of Kenya when he first made it to State House. It is not too soon to say that on that count alone, he has been an abject failure. Raila Odinga and his ilk have made similar promises in the past; their records in government have been a litany of failure after failure.

The place of Kenya in the regional economy is in grave danger. Uganda has struck oil and foreigners are flocking to Tanzania with cheque-books at the ready. South Sudan, once it resolves its disagreements with the North, will start extracting and exporting oil to the hungry engines of China and the West. Once Somalia is stabilised and the political gridlock that has fomented civil war for the past two decades is dealt with, the hyenas in the West will not only flock to the beaches of Mogadishu but they will make sure that is Western companies that will reap from the opportunities to be found. Once Ethiopia completes its mega-dams on the River Omo, not only will Kenya buy electricity from her at a price that she dictates, Lake Turkana will shrivel and die, taking with it the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of Kenyans, pushing them more firmly into an abyss of poverty the likes they have never experienced. To add salt to injury, the proposed wind-power projects on the shores of the Lake will be permanently crippled.

It is this that should worry Kenyans as they consider presidential candidates at the next general elections. Moses Wetangula, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, has expressed an interest in the presidency. He has demonstrated that he knows nothing of the importance of foreign policy on shoring up the economic fortunes of the nation. His decisions, and those of his predecessor Raphael Tuju, another presidential candidate, betray the fact that they see the flash of political union and partnership as the epitome of foreign policy. They forgot that foreign policy is wedded to only one overriding objective: the economic fortunes of the nation. A nation enters into political arrangements with another for the sole purpose of advancing its interests in the global market. We know nothing of the economic plans of the other candidates other than 'they will create jobs, they will employ the youth'.

It is not enough to speak of the potential of the country. It is not enough that these men and women do not seem to understand that the fortunes of this country are not tied to the growth of the local economy alone but to the growth of the regional one and the dominance of Kenyans and Kenyan companies in that economy. What we need to do is review their records over the past two decades and judge them for what they have done or failed to do. In their public lives they have utterly failed to see the role Kenya plays in the regional, continental and global economies, selling the country to the Chinese at the expense of the West and refusing to advance the interests of the country. If they are incapable of understanding this fundamental truth, they do not deserve nor merit the votes of hard-working Kenyans. They deserve to be forgotten, dumped in the ash-heap of history. They deserve to remain footnotes for all eternity.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Hold their feet to the fire

They don't even have the competence to do bad things well. It is amazing that even decades after Kenyans finally started to attend institutions of high learning and to obtain degrees and post-graduate degrees, their political leaders continue to think of them as complete morons, stealing all they can in the brief time they enjoy executive or parliamentary privileges. They behave as if the power that has been conferred on them also confers invisibility, going about their affairs with the arrogant disdain of the gods of Greek mythology. It is staggering that they continue to play about with the rules that they swear to uphold, manipulating their executive or legislative authority to award themselves privileges that they do not deserve. When they make rules that instead of protecting the weak and the poor, empower the corrupt and deceitful, they are poking their fingers in the eye of the Almighty Himself and daring Him to rain down Holy Fire upon them for their perfidy and corruption. They go about their business quoting from Holy Scripture while milking the good people of this nation for every cent they can lay their greedy, grasping hands on.

Take a look at the laws that they have passed to fight corruption or to remove the stain of tribalism from public life and you are left astounded that they think so little of the men and women who toil in the burning noonday sun for a pittance. They have created Commissions to combat the evils that assail our politic ensuring that these bodies spend so much to achieve very little. Since President Moi created the Kenya Anti-Corruption Authority, then disbanded it, and President Kibaki oversaw the creation and destruction of the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission and, recently, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, billions of shillings have been spent fighting corruption but not a single politician has been arraigned in court or convicted of pilfering public funds. Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing have become bywords for impunity, a cruel reminder that regardless of the promises made every election cycle, Kenyans are going to find themselves bent over a barrel with their pants around their feet with their political class taking carnal liberties.

Look again at the laws that they have passed to cleanse ourselves of the shameful stain of tribalism. All that the National Cohesion and Integration Commission has achieved in the past three years is a library-full of warnings against the true purveyors of hate and disintegration. While politicians of all stripes parade themselves in front of adoring crowds, spewing hateful vitriol at their political opponents and their opponents' constituencies, the Commission is holding cohesion and integration conferences to teach Kenyans how to live together as one. Other than the fatcats living in Nairobi, enjoying their comfort and surfing the web for progressive ideas, the vast majority of Kenyans do not give two hoots about cohesion or integration, but about their daily bread, the safety of their families and a roof over their heads. No one has the time or the energy to sit through a do-gooding lectures on the need to keep a civil tongue in their heads while dealing with their fellowman. Hate keeps them going every day of their difficult lives and they do not need a well-fed lecturer reminding them that their lives could be so much better if only they observed the Golden Rule.

As the nation is dragged to the general elections by their political masters, the air is thick with uncertainty. The man and woman on the street is not sure that the nation will not be pushed to civil war once again just to satisfy the ego of a politician. As the Central Bank of Kenya keeps its bankers happy, the cost of living for those who can barely afford a bank account keeps climbing, pushing more and more Kenyans below the poverty line. While the Ministry of Roads oversees the construction of the highways to the future, dozens of children of those who walk for a living keep getting mauled by the driving population. As the children of the ruling class enjoy a tax-funded education, those of the forgotten masses study under trees or in classes without teachers. Or text-books, desks, chairs or black-boards and frequently, far too frequently, on empty stomachs. Kenyans have frequently refused to hold their leaders to account, keeping their politicians honest and they may yet fail to do so again at the next general elections. They don't have the competence to do bad things well and Kenyans will keep forgetting this abject lesson every time they are reminded that their community comes first, no matter the consequences.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Perils of Economic Salvation

Our economic salvation is at hand if one goes by the millions of inches of newsprint published over the past eighteen months. If it is not gushing stories on the Thika 'Super-highway', it is equally saccharine disquisitions on the Konza 'Techno-City' or the LAPSSET. When President Kibaki's government unveiled the economic blue-print for our future, the Kenya Vision 2030, we all stood to a man and cheered for the vision that promises to make Kenya a 'middle-income country' by the year 2030. Its flagship projects have been hailed as the panacea for the economic mismanagement of the past four decades, a cure-all that will not only bring us into the twenty-first century but will empower the nation to catch up with the Asian Tigers, such as Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan. The promulgation of a new constitution is seen in the same context, especially the provisions on devolution which promise to decentralise economic decision-making from the feckless, corrupt mandarins in Nairobi to the enlightened and highly motivated homeward-bound boffins who have made their mark in the world.

What a short memory Kenyans have of grand schemes and national targets. President Kenyatta promised to end poverty, illiteracy and disease. He failed. President Moi promised to foster peace, love and harmony. He failed. President Kibaki Mark 1 promised to end impunity and corruption. He failed and continues to fail. Policy papers have been prepared, some of them very good, to address our myriad challenges, from piped water for all by the year 2000 to comprehensive healthcare for all by the year 2015. Even our government admits that we are missing all our targets by a country mile. Now we have new targets and new objectives to achieve, old-challenges-dressed-as-new to overcome. The Constitution and Vision 2030 are the tools that we will use to attain nirvana. The record so far is as encouraging as can be expected, if our expectations were that they would be vehicles for rent-seeking, cronyism and corruption.

A look at constitutional implementation betrays that the ills that have plagued this nation for nigh on forty years are yet to be cured. The political class that has been at the helm of all policy-making and implementation has demonstrated that it is incapable of placing the nation ahead of its selfish needs. Even in the relatively simple area of appointments to national offices, whether constitutional or not, they have demonstrated that merit or the national good have no place in political discourse. All that matters is that the imperative of booth-capturing to ensure that Their Men occupy sensitive positions with the overall objective of keeping everyone else out.

Vision 2030 went off the rails a while back and it is only a matter of time that Kenyans wake up to the reality. Take the LAPSSET as an example: the plans for a port in Lamu have been on the cards since at least 1972. In that period, not only has our government failed to tackle the Land Question at the Coast, it has ensured that the matter never sees the light of day. The landless at the Coast are not just un-propertied, they are unlettered and disenfranchised on a colossal scale, their grievances given short shrift by all and sundry, relegated to the fringes of national debate. When the Presidents of Kenya and South Sudan and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia witnessed the groundbreaking ceremony for the project, President Kibaki capped it off by issuing title deeds to the peoples of the district, promising more in the months to come. Prime Minister Odinga had done the same some months ago when a nascent opposition movement against the project started gaining traction. Amos Kimunya did the same when he was Lands Minister when the project was first mooted. This has not prevented the well-heeled and well-connected from making a killing from the project.

Perhaps the LAPSSET will be completed; whether it will be a success depends on which side of the breadline one will be standing. Some will make a killing, literally, and laugh all the way to the bank. Most will find themselves not only landless, but also jobless for it is inevitable that if a majority of the jobs that will be generated by the project require technical or professional skills, these will be in short supply in Lamu or indeed, at the Coast. It will be the same case with the Konza Techno-city. 

Ukambani is not known for ICT start-ups but for eye-watering poverty, drought, famine and staggering levels of illiteracy and semi-literacy. The hordes of investors that will descend on Konza will bring more than their cheque-books; they will also bring a buccaneering spirit that is alien to the Kambas. I foresee decades of land-wrangles as the better-heeled, better-educated occupants take the locals for a ride as experienced by the millions of people in Coastal Kenya. Our economic salvation is at hand. Let it not blind us that economic salvation will benefit the few over the many.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

On the Political Party

The political party in Kenya is less a party and more an exclusive members' club where the needs of the members are at the mercy of the man with the fattest wallet. A political party is a political organization that typically seeks to influence government policy, usually by nominating its own candidates and trying to seat them in political office. Parties participate in electoral campaigns, educational outreach or protest actions. Parties often espouse an expressed ideology or vision bolstered by a written platform with specific goals, forming a coalition among disparate interests.

Take, for example, the United Republican Party. Formed as a last resort for the ambitions of William Ruto, its ideology or platform seems to revolve only around Mr Ruto's desire to deny the Prime Minister the opportunity to ascend to the presidency after the general elections scheduled for 2012 (or 2013 if there is not action from Mr Odinga or the President, Mwai Kibaki). The Party of Action, recently formed by Raphael Tuju, the immediate former Member of Parliament for Rarieda and a former Minister for Foreign Affairs, ostensibly cares for the plight for the youth and the oppressed, yet it seems to have been formed for the sole purpose of sponsoring Mr Tuju's candidacy for the presidency. So too are NARC-K (Martha Karua), New FORD-K (Moses Wetangula), PNU (George Saitoti), and indeed, ODM (Raila Odinga). None of these parties, it seems, have a discernible ideology that energises them, other than the capture and retention of political power.

The main purpose behind an ideology is to offer either change in society, or adherence to a set of ideals where conformity already exists, through a normative thought process. Ideologies are systems of abstract thought applied to public matters and thus make this concept central to politics. Implicitly every political or economic tendency entails an ideology whether or not it is propounded as an explicit system of thought. It is how society sees things. This is not how Kenyans see things. Ideology in Kenya is a lost system; it has been abandoned either through neglect or through deliberate political action to strip the members of the party of their voice in the future and fate of their parties.

It is not possible for the implementation of the Constitution to be achieved if the political party remains the preserve of the ruling elite. In recent weeks, and up to the end of March 2012, political parties must ensure that they submit to the Registrar of Political Parties all documents that are required for the full registration, demonstrating that they have complied fully with the provisions of the Political Parties Act. But it is not enough to comply with the law; they must also demonstrate that they are capable of differentiating themselves from each other with clear policies, ideologies and manifestos. As it is, one could easily replace the names of one political party with another and none would be the wiser; they are cookie-cutter copies of one another. Indeed, I suspect that there must be a model political party constitution that they rely on for drafting the rules that govern their affairs.

Without a robust political party system, without a clash of ideologies, and without a robust public debate about the future of the political party in Kenya, we will be reduced to electing men and women on the basis of opinion polls and their perceived popularity, rather than on the strength or weakness of their arguments, programmes or ideologies. In other words, it will be business as usual. And in the short to medium term, we will continue to suffer political uncertainty and instability. This is not the basis for a sound economic renaissance or development.

Mis-education

Ex-candidates from Kenya's forgotten frontier are on the warpath. The Kenya National Examinations Council (KNEC) cancelled the Form Four examination results of a majority of the schools in Kenya's North Eastern Province. The political leadership of the NEP is united in condemning the decision by the national examinations body to cancel the results of hundreds of students for irregularities, including collusion and cheating. The news media report running battles between the aggrieved former students and the security officers in Garissa and scores of injuries among the angry youth. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education is busily rethinking the 8-4-4 system, proposing a radical overhaul of the system. There are those who support the overhaul whole others, including education experts, are vehemently opposed. A robust debate over the proposed overhaul is currently being held to determine whether it will be accepted or rejected.

We are nowhere near being ranked among global leaders in childhood and adolescent education and the scenes being witnessed from Garissa buttress the fact that regardless of the proposed overhaul, Kenyan students have a long way to go before they can be classified as among the best in the world. In 2010 and 2011 it was apparent that the resources allocated to the public education sector, despite being greater in proportion compared to other public services, were still grossly inadequate. When members of the teaching profession went on strike the last time round, they insisted that the government had to hire more teachers to cope with the massive influx of students since the decision to provide free basic education to Kenya's children was implemented. They also demanded better pay and working conditions; after all, they argued, without the teaching profession, the dreams of Vision 2030 or the development of the nation would remain dreams and nothing more.

The middle classes in Kenya's main towns have been isolated from the realities of public education for a decade or so, ever since they discovered that for a reasonable fee, their children could attend private academies where the teacher-to-student ratio is optimal to the education of their scions. The private schools their children attend have better facilities than most public schools and ensure better all-round development of their children. Public schools on the other hand, in line with the austerity measures being enforced throughout the firmament of government, have continued to suffer diminishing resources and stagnation. Teacher-quality is doubtful at best and facilities have deteriorated to such an extent that it is not unusual to visit a public school where black-boards are no longer black, and children share desks sometime six-to-one. So it is with anger that the parents and ex-students of Kenya's NEP reacted when the KNEC decided to classify many of the candidates as cheats and withheld their marks. In a region where the education of the youth is not high enough on the national agenda, every child that attains a grade sufficient to send him to university is an asset and a resource that is sorely needed, not just for the survival of the family but his clan and his community as a whole.

We have made a fetish of the KCSE and KCPE, holding them above all other means of measuring education in this nation. Without these basic certificates, our children are condemned to lives of penury and hardship. They are then exposed to the harsh realities of a nation in which jobs are apportioned according to the paper qualifications one possesses with the best jobs going to those with the best 'papers' and the rest being relegated to the fringes of the white-collar economy and, very often, the criminal underworld. It is no surprise that even parents are engaged in exercises meant to game the examination system, going so far as to spend vast amounts of their family fortunes to ensure that their children surmount the examinations hurdle on their way to well-paying government jobs. Cheating has become a national pastime, where everyone including the mandarins at the KNEC to the schools' administrations to parents and students are complicit. However, the punishment is only meted out against the youth of the nation, reminding them that they live at the sufferance of the official government. It is no wonder that many of them find attractive the likes of quasi-religious criminal outfits like the Mungiki or al Shabaab.

It is time that we woke up to the fact that the overhaul of education in Kenya requires more than just re-jigging the 8-4-4 system, but a complete overhaul of how we value human resources in this country. When Mwai Kibaki was seeking re-election in 2007 - indeed when all candidates were seeking the presidency - he promised that his government would create 500,000 jobs annually. That is a promise he has failed and continues to fail to keep. One reason is that i is impossible to assess what skills the youth possess when they do not have passing grades either at Standard Eight or Form Four levels or what skills are needed and in what proportions at the various levels of the national economy. It is sad that the mandarins overseeing the implementation of the Vision 2030 blue-print are yet to advise the nation of this either. Until we do so, the rage that is being expressed by ex-students in Garissa will continue to be a main feature every time the Minister for Education cancels the results of children accused of cheating and other examination offences and the nation will be the poorer for it.

ODM deserves pity not sympathy

It is getting increasingly difficult to sympathise with the leading lights of the Orange Democratic Movement party. Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi are engaged in a battle to determine which one of them will lead the party to the next general elections. William Ruto, still one of two deputy leaders of the party, is having a hard time persuading the rest of the country that the United Republican Party is a viable vehicle for electing the next President. Meanwhile, Prof Peter Anyang' Nyong'o, the Minister for Medical Services, is having a hard time persuading the striking nurses of Kenya to go back to work. He has made several intemperate statement, even being interviewed on TV to demonstrate that he is serious about the need for the nurses to toe his line. Because Mr Mudavadi and Mr Odinga are unable to come to an arrangement that would sort out the method of choosing the party leader, ODM's National Delegates' Conference has been postponed several times, leading many to assume that the two leaders are hellbent on rigging the outcome of the conference in their favour.

In 2005, during the last referendum campaign when Samuel Kivuitu's Electoral Commission of Kenya divided the Yes and No Camps into Orange and Banana, the Orange Movement was a cohesive, big tent that united a large proportion of the country behind their vision. Then, even Uhuru Kenyatta and Kalonzo Musyoka were solidly behind in the Orange Movement opposing what many presumed was Kibaki's coterie's power grab in the guise of the Wako Draft. As with all political maneuvering in Kenya over the past 15 years, Uhuru Kenyatta ans Kalonzo Musyoka split from their erstwhile Orange partners, Uhuru retreating to the comfort of his mother party, KANU, and Kolonzo Musyoka attempting a palace coup and running away with the registration documents of the Orange Democratic Movement Party of Kenya, forcing Raila Odinga, William Ruto, Najib Balala and Musalia Mudavadi to regroup in what eventually became the most popular party in Kenya. Even that semblance of political bonhomie did not last; William Ruto, unable to receive the recognition he sought, especially in light of the loyalty he had demonstrated after Kibaki's 're-election', sought to split the party, attempting at various times to pull out all the Rift Valley MPs of the party, or to take over the United Democratic Movement Party, and finally settling for the URP.

Now, it is Musalia Mudavadi's turn. In 2002, he stuck to President Moi's script and remained Uhuru Kenyatta's running mate even when Raila Odinga had led a rebellious bunch to the NARC bandwagon. For his temerity, the good people of Sabatia sent him packing. He learnt his lesson in 2007 and stood by Raila Odinga as his running mate, not only recapturing his seat, but also getting appointed a Deputy Prime Minister when the National Accord was signed between the government and ODM. Now he has gotten it into his head that he is the equal of Raila Odinga in ODM and has decided to challenge him for the party leader's position, and the opportunity to lead ODM at the next general elections. The two have spent the past three months traversing the nation meeting 'ODM delegates' and shoring up support in the 47 counties. One gets the sense that the thousands of delegates they have been meeting owe their loyalties not due to the ideologies espoused by the two leaders, but due to the 'inducements' they may have received.

In the absence of a credible manifesto and ideology, the only thing that distinguishes ODM from the briefcase political parties in Kenya is the popularity of the Prime Minister, Raila Odinga. Without him, indeed without Musalia Mudavadi too, the party is a mere vehicle for the naked power grab that characterises politics in Kenya. While Mr Odinga is likely to share in the successes of President Kibaki's government over the past four years, notably the promulgation of the Constitution in 2012, he is also likely to be tarred with the brush of the ethnicisation of the nation in the same period. He must also shoulder the blame for the corruption and impunity that has followed the government like a bad smell since Mwai Kibaki became president in 2003. So too must Musalia Mudavadi. They are yet to demonstrate that they are willing and able to slay the twin dragons of impunity and corruption. Mr Mudavadi may have survived the cemetery scam, and The PM may have survived the Kazi Kwa Vijana scandal, but neither demonstrated a willingness to be held to account for what went on in their respective offices. Rather than leading from the front, they buck-passed with alacrity and ensured that hirelings and minions carried water for them. Their contest, if that is what it is, for the leadership of the party is devoid of the serious intellectual political debate that this nation sorely needs. Without it, they are unlikely to lead this nation in a bold new direction if elected president. Therefore, it is not easy to sympathise with the travails of the party today, if ever.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

The Big Picture

The Big Picture obscures the details of our lives. A Parliamentary Committee was appointed to investigate the volatility of the shilling against the dollar in the Third Quarter of 2011. The shilling's volatility affected the cost of living of millions of Kenyans, pushing up the cost of food, energy and transport and pushing many Kenyans to the fringes of the economy. The Committee was not interested in how the shilling affected the lives of millions of Kenyans, but whether the Governor of the Central Bank was asleep on the job. The deliberations betrayed that, as with other political matters, it is the ethnic element of the matter that captured their attention. No one disputes that the ethnic equation is always foremost in the minds of the political class and they are loath to consider anything else when addressing the matters that come before them. The demands for the resignation - stepping aside - of the Governor of the Central Bank, seems to be tinged with the stain of the ethnicity that pervades political and public discourse in Kenya these days. With the tabling of the Committee's report before the National Assembly, the Members of Parliament predictably lined up along ethnic lines, with members of the Governor's ethnic community defending his track record. It does not help that when Uhuru Kenyatta stepped aside as Finance Minister, he was replaced by someone from his community.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has published a report that exposes the ethnic rot that pervades the public universities in Kenya. The report states that the lion's share of admissions to public universities are taken by the members of Kenya's five biggest ethnic communities. It also states that employment in the public universities reflects the ethnicity of the Chancellors. In our obsession with the ethnic question, we have blinded ourselves to the situation in the public and, to some extent, the private sectors. The Parliamentary Committee and the NCIC have taken the task of resolving the ethnic imbalances in the public sector as their reason for existence, engaging in spirited activity to root out one particular community from the levers of power.

This is their Big Picture. The details are writ large on the faces of the Kenyans struggling to stay afloat. Hon Adan Keynan, leading the pack of howling MPs is determined to cut down the Governor of the Central Bank a peg or two regardless of whether the Governor's resignation will improve the lot of the Kenyans. Now, the National Assembly itself has decided to take a less than casual look at the question of ethnicity while throwing a lifeline to the Governor of the Central Bank. This really tells you just where their priorities lie; not in resolving the relatively simpler question of economic growth and job creation, but one of the most intractable problems that has bedevilled the nation since the British employed their divide-and-conquer technique to keep the restless natives at bay during their 70 years of colonial rule. The picture politicians are determined to examine has nothing to do with the realities of day-to-day life but everything to do with their political longevity. Without the ability to point at an ethnic community and blame it for what ails his community, the politicians would have no choice but to do what they were elected to do: legislate. There are few of these characters that have the ability to read through the thousands of legislative verbiage that is published every Parliamentary session and look intelligent in the bargain. Few are capable of appreciating the impact laws have on the lives of the ordinary. They, instead, do not have any qualms in using the legislative agenda of the National Assembly to advance their interests rather than those of their constituents.

The recent debates on the fall of the shilling and the President's decision to reject the County Governments Bill expose the vacuum in leadership that is waiting to be filled. Kenyans have an opportunity at the next general elections to radically redesign their government, electing only men and women capable of improving their lives, instead of injecting conflict and hate into the process of governing. Their Big Picture and ours are different. If they are incapable of determining the relatively simple cause of the shilling's precipitous fall without raising the spectre of ethnicity, we cannot expect them to accomplish the Herculean task of ending the ethnic problem.

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...