Monday, August 27, 2012

Are we really victims of a vast CSO conspiracy?

In an OpEd piece in today's Daily Nation, Jennifer Shamalla, a founder of the National Conservative Forum, attempts to tar all civil society organisations with the same brush. She accuses them of ultimately forcing on Kenyans obscure ideas and values systems (Beware those fighting for your rights). CSOs in Kenya perform many of the tasks that the Government of Kenya has given up on. Who among us is going to seek foreign conspiracies in the work of the Kenya Red Cross or of World Vision? No one denies that some operate like puppets on a string, spouting the latest in global group-think on matters as diverse as the 'rights' of homosexuals or transgender persons. But on some issues, the CSOs have led where the government has been loath to tread.

Take for instance basic education for the millions of Kenyans children whose parents have given up on the government. If it was not for civil society organisations like the Catholic and Anglican churches, these children would have no access to education. Or to primary healthcare for that matter.

We cannot continue to bury our heads in the sand and give the government a free pass simply because it is building the infrastructure of the future. The shiny new highways being constructed by the government come at great cost. While the Somalia adventure may have eaten substantially into the government's finances, it does not, by itself, explain why teachers, doctors or nurses have to go without the pay-rise they all so richly deserve for a job we would like to pretend is easy to do. The reality is that without the CSOs making up the numbers, the provision of some basic services to scores of Kenya's neglected regions would remain the pipe-dream it has been since Independence.

Some of the services that CSOs provide include capacity-building for local operators, be it in the arena of environmental conservation or prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV. Without the participation of the CSOs in these crucial areas, these services would not be available to those who need them and the degradation of our environment would continue apace and the child-infection rate of HIV would sky-rocket to epidemic proportions. Not all CSOs are the tip of the spear of foreign influence-peddling in Kenya. Ms Shamalla must acknowledge this. Indeed, does the National Conservative Forum not fall into this category? We would be within our rights to demand that they publish their charter and their accounts to prove to us that they are not under the control of a foreign power.

CSOs, especially NGOs, have been the victims of baseless accusations for decades. But even in the politically charged arena of 'human rights' they have contributed significantly in moving Kenya forward over the years. If it was not for them, Kenya would still be held hostage to the former Constitution and its odious Section 2A that made it a constitutional one-party state (some may have called it a constitutional one-party dictatorship). Of course some of the proposals coming out of CSO chinwags are anathema to millions of Kenyans, such as the legalisation of homosexuality, of prostitution or the expanded rights of minority communities. But we should not pretend that the members of these groups do not form part of this great country we call Kenya.

Instead of groups like the National Conservative Forum concentrating their efforts in rolling back many of the reforms brought forth by the Constitution, they should expend their energies n ensuring that Kenyan social and political values, such as they be, are not hijacked by foreign powers out to line their pockets. There is no reason why the governments of the USA, the UK, China, India, Australia and others should pour millions, perhaps billions, of shillings in achieving 'human rights goals' in Kenya; they should do so back in their countries. It is for well-connected and, apparently, well-funded CSOs like the National Conservative Forum, to pick up the slack where the Government of Kenya is lacking.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Of bete noirs and character

The entry of Tony Gachoka into the murky waters of the imminent trials of the ICC Four barely registered on the political front. Together with Miguna Miguna, the Prime Minister's loudly estranged bete noir, he is the latest in the lineup of political hatchet men determined to ensure that the Prime Minister does not succeed Mwai Kibaki in 2013 to the Presidency. This coalition has somehow survived since its creation. Eternal optimists may wish to attribute this survival to the close working relationship between the President and the Prime Minister and their desire to do what it takes to get Kenya to the next level, politically and developmentally. Serial pessimists, of which I am a card-carrying member of the club, see only the desire of the members of the coalition to hang on to the privileges granted to them in their status as ministers and assistant ministers. The return of Henry Kosgey to the industrialisation ministry is proof that the politicians will do anything to hold onto the power they have amassed.

Because the coalition encompasses all parties, save for the fly-by-night operations without a credible political footprint outside of the constituencies of the members represented in Parliament, it was not possible to have an effective opposition to keep the Executive honest. Everyone is in on the charade that Parliament will play a strong oversight role. The antics of the likes of Adan Keynan and the Parliamentary committees attempt the increasingly difficult task of pulling the wool over the peoples' eyes regarding the spectacular failures of the Grand Coalition. Indeed it is only the indefatigable Dr Willy Mutunga who seems determined to paint a different picture for a critical arm of government by spearheading the reform of the Judiciary and leading from the front. The Executive and the National Assembly (which, since the Promulgation has been doubling as the Senate too) have done everything in their power to disappoint the Kenyan public at every turn. We need not look far for proof. In a few days Kenyans will watch as 'senior government officials' and representatives of the armed forces and Parliament troop down (at great taxpayers' expense) to the Coast to welcome a 'military ship' that has been a decade in the making at great expense (and incessant intrigue).

In contrast, an examination of the political situation in Canberra, reveals that we have far to go before we can claim to have matured as a Parliamentary (or Presidential) democracy. Julia Gillard, the Prime Minister, is facing allegations of improper conduct from events that took place 17 years ago when she worked for Labour Party-affiliated law firm. She had helped a union boss to set up a trust that was embezzled from by the labour boss. Questions are now being asked on whether the Prime Minister knew, when she knew and what she did about it. The allegations have dogged her political career; she has always denied that she acted improperly. Her former partners at Slater Gordon, the law firm, stand by her; the opposition leader, Tony Abbott is determined to use the incident to his advantage during the general election in March 2013. What makes the Canberra situation remarkable (in my eyes) is the fact that all the hatchet men after the Prime Minister are known; none is operating in the shadows. There are one or two shady characters, but their identities are known. There is very little speculation as to who is in and who is out.

Kenya political operatives thrive on intrigue and rumour. It is what makes them such formidable operators. It is also what makes them vile and a hated species, reviled by all right-thinking Kenyans. Mr Gachoka styles himself as a patriot and a nationalist, pointing his fingers at all manner of skulduggery in government wherever he may find it. It is therefore strange that when he worked for the Prime Minister he sat in meetings in which he alleges the Prime Minister admitted to having committed grievous offences without coming forward. He had to wait for four years until he could reveal all to the investigators of the International Criminal Court's Office of the Prosecutor. As goes Mr Gachoka so goes Mr Miguna.

This is not to say that the Prime Minister is spotless; he is yet to weigh in on the Cabinet decision to butcher the Integrity Bill. While Mitt Romney, the Republican challenger hoping to face Barack Obama in November, faces increasingly loud calls to reveal his finances, the Prime Minister and his colleagues in Parliament are determined to ensure that their financial arrangements remain as opaque as possible, hidden from the sunlight that all Kenyans wish to see it in. The Tenth Parliament has distinguished itself as being the most perfidious in history. At every turn, be it the question of their tax returns or the question of pre-election vetting, they have determined that their interests supersede those of the Kenyan people. Without shame they have put themselves over and above the men, women and children they took an oath to serve. I dare you to find one Kenyan who believes he has been truly served by his elected representative. Just one.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

What Shikuku's death means to us.

Martin Shikuku's death exposes something else about our peculiar habits: we never prepare for the succession, whether it is in the political, corporate or administrative arenas. The man in charge of administration at the Western Australia Parliamentary Counsel's Office is retiring in 4 months, and he has a succession plan in place. Many of the senior drafters here are also retiring over the next three years and he is concerned that there are too few being recruited at lower levels. He has set in motion a recruitment plan that will pair new counsel with senior ones for mentoring over a period of 2 years so that as the older ones retire, the younger ones can step into their shoes and assume responsibility for some of the more demanding tasks.

In Kenya, it was always presumed to be malicious any consideration of the death or departure of persons in positions of responsibility. Indeed, the Attorney-General once declared it a treasonous offence to contemplate the death of the president. As a result, frequently, we are unprepared for the departures of leaders. Martin Shikuku, in contrast, since his exit from the political field, had always presumed that he was soon going to die and so he prepared himself for the event. He bought a coffin and dug his grave. It was a subtle message to the politicians in charge; prepare for your exit or the country will suffer.

This failure to prepare can be starkly demonstrated in the way the ICC Four continue to ignore the march of time and the changing environment. Messrs Kenyatta, Ruto and Sang continually fail to appreciate that the International Criminal Court is not a local Magistrate's Court in which their stature and prominence may be used to brow-beat the court into acting favourably towards them. When the matter first came up for public debate, they assumed that if anyone was going to be named in the famous Waki Envelope, it would be the President and Prime Minister. After all, in their opinion, they had been fighting for one or the other. So it came as a shock when their names were in the list after all. They had conspired with their colleagues to reject the President's and Prime Minister's pleas for a local mechanism for the 2007/08 crimes. They even ignored their friend and supporter, Mutula Kilonzo when he advised them against preferring The Hague Option rather than the local one. Today, they are compounding their error by concentrating too much on their political contest with the Prime Minister than in preparing for their trials, set to commence in 2013.

The same can be observed in the higher reaches of the civil service. Heads of department rarely have a succession plan in place; it is presumed to be the preserve of the Public Srvice Commission and the Directorate of Personnel Management. Many senior civil servants are appointed for their political loyalty and not for their technical abilities. For this reason many of them spend a vast majority of their waking hours conspiring to ensure that they keep their political masters happy than in ensuring their departments are well run or effective. The rest of the service views this as the preferred mode of operation and thus, tend to concentrate more on internal intrigue and politics and less on ensuring service delivery. The result is plain to see: the customer satisfaction surveys constantly rate the civil service and other arms of the government very poorly.

Perhaps a new government will be able to sweep away the detritus of 50 years of Uhuru. The Constitution lays the foundation for the establishment of an effective, efficient public service. Emphasis on merit is the key ingredient in reviving the civil service to its previous glory. Of course, success will not be achieved without expending serious resources. But in the light of competing demands - from the police, the teachers, university lecturers, doctor, nurses, etc. - the government must prioritise carefully. Favouring one over the other may be a recipe for chaos - strikes and go-slows. The late Shikuku shows that one can prepare; the question is: are we willing to draw the proper lessons from his death?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Being seduced

Meeting with the President of the Legislative Council of the Parliament of Western Australia, one is struck by how down-to-earth the man is. Maybe it the politician's skill of making everyone feel at ease, but his mirth and good humour must certainly come from a place of great confidence in his place int he grand scheme of things. One cannot help but compare the Hon Barry House, MLC, with the Hon Kenneth Marende, MP. Meeting with the Clerk of the Legislative Council, too, was a great pleasure. He knows more than he lets on and his job is simply to shepherd the business of the Chamber the best way he knows. His place in the political structure is neutral; he does not take sides in the business of the Chamber; all he does is to ensure that the business of the Chamber is transacted efficiently and honourably.

Our experience in Kenya is strikingly different. No senior government official will be seen around and about without an entourage of hangers-on and kiss-asses. The sign that you have arrived is a bevy of secretaries, clerks and factotums at you beck and call. Our arrival at the President's private office was heralded only by the Clerk and the President's secretary. Earlier in the week, it was the Parliamentary Counsel who came to our humble cubicle to introduce himself to his visitors from East Africa. He does not have a secretary; the receptionist will do. That she serves the entire Parliamentary Counsel's Office doesn't seem to diminish the fact that without his imprimatur, legislation will not be drafted.

The Attorney-General of Western Australia, whom we have not been officially introduced to, drives herself to work every morning. The only sign of her stature, apart from the fact that she is one of the most powerful people in the state, is the fact that she gets the nearest parking spot to the elevator door! She gets one secretary. Nobody seems to be out to get her; there wasn't a single bodyguard in sight the one time I saw her. Perhaps they were out to lunch or something. It is inconceivable that the woman who oversees the drafting of laws or the management of the legal apparatus of the state does not have a security detail.

In Kenya, status is the currency that we all seek. It is more important to be seen with the trappings of power than being seen to be effective. It explains why we have more policemen protecting politicians and other high-ranking functionaries than chasing down the armed robbers and murderers who make life difficult for millions of Kenyans. The glass entrance to the Corruption and Crime Commission is right on the street, protected only by a key-pad to control access. There isn't a singe policeman in sight.

Not that the Western Australians are cavalier about their security. Far from it. Lifts are key-card controlled; as are all doors and entrances. One cannot simply waltz into the PCO's office or the Legislative Council's chambers without a hundred eyes following you around via CCTV cameras and discreet (but sometimes visible) security patrols. Kenya, in contrast, is fond of the overt; boys in blue are de riguer and motorcades are par for the course. Among the first things we were issued with in Sydney and Perth were electronic key cards for access to the areas that we were authorised to be in. We are trusted not to abuse the privilege accorded to us and we are not about to step out of line for anything or anyone. It seems to be the spirit that imbues the men and women we have dealt with so far. Even the friendly dukawallahs don't bother with security glass or watchmen. If you rob them, at least a half-dozen CCTV cameras will record your perfidy. It is a very seductive feeling to know that you can walk around town, a foreigner in a strange land, in safety. Very, very seductive.

Monday, August 20, 2012


It must be said: I am envious. Working in the Parliamentary Counsel's Office here in Perth is a breeze. The facilities these guys enjoy can only be dreamed of in Kenya. While we have to share computers and printers, these guys not only have individual terminals, but the place is littered with printers and copiers. I almost forgot I was in a drafting office and thought I was in an office supplies shop. Tomorrow we get to have a look at their drafting software. It is all Microsoft Office software but it has been tweaked for use by Parliamentary Counsel; it is great to use.

Compared to Sydney, Perth is a very slow city. In other areas, it is a revelation. While Sydney has its own free bus, Perth has three routes that are completely free and within the CBD, they'll get you to all the important destinations in the city. Like Sydney too, the wireless is fast, really fast. I don't know about affordability though; they do not have the same pay-as-you go system as Safaricom and Airtel offer, but for $30 you get a shit-load of airtime and data.

Perth is set out in grid and it is easy to get around on foot. Sydney has way too many cul-de-sacs and curves; it is very easy to get lost in Sydney. In one key respect, though, Sydney steals a march on Perth; there are way too many lound and angry people on the streets of Perth. They may be friendly most of the time, but you get the impression that the residents of Perth would rather watch you on fire than get water to put you out. The people we've met at the PCO's office, though, have been cheerful and friendly and they have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome and wanted. It is an odd feeling, to tell you the truth. My colleague can't get over the fact that very busy men and women are willing to set their work aside to answer some of our more inane questions.

We have a very tight timetable; every second of each day is allocated to finding our way in and out of the office. We are visiting the upper chamber of Perth's Parliament, the Legislative Council, tomorrow and the lower chamber, the Legislative Assembly, next week. I am looking forward to the visit, especially as we'll be meeting with the President of the Chamber. In Kenya, in contrast, I don't think the Speaker of the National Assembly would set aside an hour of his busy schedule to meet with students on attachment who pay him a visit.

We met with the Parliamentary Counsel and he was as welcoming and friendly as his position would demand. He has a killer office with a view of the Swan River and marina that is to die for. Sadly, my Chief Parliamentary Counsel only has Parliament to stare at or the statue of Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. But he does not seem to have a secretary; the receptionist seems to be the only secretary in sight. We simply walked to his office and introduced ourselves without a gate-keeper eying us with suspicion. It was surreal.

The food in Australia can't shine a candle to the fare back home. Without a reliable source of maize flour, we are forced to rely on supermarket chapatis, and rice and spaghetti. What is it with old people and high blood pressure? Too much youthful indulgence is what I think. My colleague can only eat white meat so we are forced t consume chicken night after night. I want to go home!

The placement is just beginning. Let us see how it progresses over the next fourteen days.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

What Public Transport shows about Sydney's Civic Leadership.

In Nairobi, public transport is the bane of every modern Kenyan. Before Nairobi became the preferred port of call for every man, woman, child and cow from the four corners of the Republic, the public transport was in the hands of the government. The Kenya Bus Service offered a service that was cheap and reliable. Then the government went to shit and handed over the running of KBS to the yokels in the City Council of Nairobi who in turn handed it over to the whack-jobs in the Nairobi City Commission and by the time the City Council was reinstated the rot had set in and public transport was in the doghouse. 

When the City Council gave the private matatu owners their inch, no one imagined that they would grab the one hundred miles they have so far or how fucked up public transport would become. All this was happening when the Kenya Railways Corporation was going through its own version of Dante Alighieri's Divine Comedy; it is a pale shadow of what it once was. It is the last choice of the truly desperate. No one alive can recall when last passengers willingly opted for the Kenya Railways passenger service.

The problems of public transport are not insurmountable. It has been done in jurisdictions more corrupt and dysfunctional than ours. It can be done. Whether it will depends entirely one whether Kenyans are willing to do what it takes to take back their roads and their services. The residents of Karen and Langata have demonstrated that sometimes even the strongest of wills cannot withstand the corruption in the halls of City Hall. But by refusing to stay the course, they betrayed themselves. They can no longer claim to be part of the solution to the problems that bedevil the City of Nairobi including, ironically, the lack of an efficient public transport system in Nairobi. Nairobians, and Kenyans in general, must play a more active role in the governance of the metropolis. It is the least they can do in order to drive the process of improving the quality of their lives.

Commuting in Sydney is an eye-opening experience. Sydney has its share of lawbreakers and miscreants, yet public transport is clean, safe, reliable, affordable and competitive. The buses and trains run on time. I may only have been here for a short while, but there have been no reports of buses crashing and taking innocent lives; no trains have gone off their rails or been held up because rail lines have been uprooted by rioting citizens. Perhaps it has something to do with the well-designed, well-built, well-marked roads or the fact that drivers stick to the rules and the police enforce them without favour. The emphasis on safety means that pedestrians don't wander into the road; they only cross at designated places and only when the lights are in their favour. I am yet to witness a driver jumping the lights, even at night. Perhaps the fear of the draconian fines keeps many in check; if not, the speed cameras surely do.

Special mention must be made of the buses. Regulated by the New South Wales Transport Authority, they are all of a standard design; there isn't the imagination of Kenyan transport companies in sight. While many play music, it is not the loud, intrusive noise that passes for music blasted by the crews of Kenyan matatus. Sydney's buses are massive behemoths that run on natural gas; the pollution is almost non-existent. Certainly you will not find buses belching diesel fumes like a smoker on his last cigarette. The seats are adequate and can accommodate even the widest of girths of which there are plentiful in Sydney. They are all clearly marked: Standing Room for 15 Passengers Only. It is reassuring to see that this rule is enforced by the drivers and obeyed even by the impatient passengers.

The civility that this engenders cannot be gainsaid. Passengers will wait patiently for others to disembark before boarding in sharp contrast to the rugby-scrum witnessed daily on the daily commute in Nairobi. If we are to make a success of our country we must take a less selfish approach to sharing the resources available and we must ensure that the men we entrust with the management of those resources are not only the best, but the most honourable. It is time we stopped holding our political, and other leaders, on pedestals and instead, held their feet to the fire.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

More Lessons from Down Under.

Australia has an awful lot of women in positions of leadership and power. Kenya, in contrast, is still in the shallow end of the pool, afraid of trusting its women withe either power or or leadership responsibility. The few women who have risen to the top have done so in direct opposition to the interests of Kenya's patriarchy. Given the givens, it is only natural that we focus our attention on the political class today. In this arena, it is the likes of Martha Karua and Charity Ngilu who have managed to defy the odds, much as their predecessors did in the late sixties and seventies. Others like Nyiva Mwendwa and Agnes Ndetei proved to be disappointments, behaving more like handmaidens to President Moi than potential presidential contenders. Meanwhile, in Australia a woman is the Prime Minister, a woman is the commonwealth Attorney-General, a woman is the Premier of Tasmania as is the Premier of Australian Capital Territory.

In 2013, Kenyans will be electing not just the President and Deputy President, but the governors of 47 counties. It is instructive that just about NARC-K and NARC have women leaders, but not much more. It remains unclear whether the political parties have women waiting in the wings to take on the entrenched interests of the men who have laid our nation low. Instead, we get the impression that the men who make decisions are more interested in the tokenism of women representative seats than in substantially advancing the political careers of qualified and determined women in their political parties. It is the same when one looks at leadership positions in other areas: academia, media, manufacturing, the defense forces, the national security establishment, the public service, or even faith-based institutions.

What makes this phenomenon unusual is the fact that more women are registering for higher education than men. It has been suggested that many of the female university graduates graduate in disciplines that do not put them in line for positions of leadership or political power. It is more likely that decisions being made by boards dominated by men are blinkered in their options, seeing only the familiar shape of a man in a suit than of a woman with the necessary skills and qualifications to take over the reins.

It is disappointing that women were the most vocal in deriding Kingwa Kamencu's ambition to succeed Mwai Kibaki. She may not be the best candidate to take over in 2013, but instead of scoffing at the scale of her ambition, women should have taken it as their cue to pile on the pressure for the women of their choice, qualified or otherwise, to rise to the top of the political greasy pole. The ambitions of women are being realised in other areas should be taken to their logical end in the political arena; it is the only way that the lofty objectives of our not-so-new Constitution can be realised. Australia is proof that the participation of women in all areas of leadership and governance is good for the country.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

The V-Rod is still a ways away.

You will not believe the number of Exile v-twins on the streets of Sydney. It's like California out here. The thump-thump of those big vee-twins thrumming their way down Shepherd Street is music to all petrol-heads' ears. And when they are accompanied by the angry buzz of Japanese and Italian crotch-rockets, it is positively seductive like nothing else.

These Aussies have money to burn. Every way one turns the proof is in the choice of wheels some of these people choose to drive. Encountering an M3, a Porsche Turbo S, a 3-window '32 Ford hotrod, a Holden Maloo and an Aston Martin V12 Vantage - and all in one day - is the height of petrol-head heaven. As is encountering the King of Harley - the V-Rod...12 of them in full flight!

Kenyans have a habit of hiding their lights under bushels. Kenyan members of the fat wallet society hide their Jags, Astons and Porsches for fear of arousing the envy of the financially less well-endowed... or attracting the unwanted attention of Citi Hoppa, Kenya Bus or Forward Traveller drivers. It does not help that our version of city roads is a litany of potholes, mountainous speed bumps and corrupt traffic cops. Sydney, in contrast, is spectacularly orderly; this makes it easier for the petrol-head to strut his stuff without fear of damage to his precious metal.

We have a long way to go before Kenyans can spend their hard-earned case on the luxuries of life that are so commonplace in foreign land. Many of our captains of industry are adept at wringing the blood out of their hapless workers while at the same time evading taxes with the alacrity of Usain Bolt gold-medaling his way to Olympic glory. Our political leaders are more interested in hamstringing each other than in ensuring that the economy is firing on all cylinders. Our teachers spend more time plotting on how to get more out of The Treasury than in preparing their charges for the harsh world out there. Even the men of the cloth (and women too) are more concerned with lining their grimy pockets than in saving souls for Christ. If you think that that last point is too cynical, I point you to the shenanigans of one Bishop Dr Margaret Wanjiru and the NHC house allocations or any of our dozens of "apostles" and "evangelists" and their myriad sex scandals.

None of us is prepared to play by the rules or to walk the legal straight and narrow. We take our cues from the men and women at the top. Our hypocritical complaints about impunity and the like are but mere fig-leaves for our avarice. Our hypocrisy is every day affirmed when we refuse to hold our elected representatives to account for their acts of commission and omission or to demand a fair wage from our employers or to put in an honest day's work for the money we are paid for our labour. We cannot demand probity from our elected representatives when we are determined to lie, cheat and steal our way to riches and glory. For this reason, I am going to be denied the pleasure of witnessing a 12-bike V-Rod motorcade down Kenyatta Avenue!

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Tears are no longer enough.

They may have died while on a mission for Christ in another country, but that does not make the pain of losing the mothers who died in Tanzania any less painful. It is an indictment of the system that we all inherited from the colonial government that we are unable to maintain safety on any of East Africa's roads. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania stand accused of failing to use self-rule and independence to improve the lot of the African. Instead the priorities of the leaders of the three nations, bar possible Mwalimu Julius Nyerere, to use uhuru as the fig leaf for their avaricious power grabs. The peoples of the East African community have paid for the sins of their leaders: poorly designed and constructed roads; corrupt road and traffic departments; carnage on the highways.

In the few weeks I have spent in Sydney, I have found myself being extra careful when crossing the road. It is easier to be careful here: the roads are well designed and built and there is ample space for pedestrians. Even in the rain, it is very easy to get from place to place: no sections of the pavement are muddy or filled with water. It is a pleasure being a pedestrian in this town. It is remarkable that there are hardly any traffic police on the streets and everyone obeys the rules. You only cross roads at designated sites and only when the traffic lights are in your favour. Drivers obey the traffic rules; speeding is unheard of. I am yet to witness a road traffic accident!

Impunity is a hackneyed word in East Africa yet it captures perfectly the distance we have to cover before we can assure the peoples of East Africa that their governments will keep their interests in mind at all times. When it comes to the enforcement of the rules, it should not be that men of power and means are given a pass while the hoi polloi get the book thrown at them every time they step a little out of line. Politics should not be the reason why innocent mothers are mowed down in roads that barely qualify as such. Documents should mean what they say; if a man holds a commercial driving license, it must mean that he is qualified to drive commercial vehicles of a particular description and that his driving record is unimpeachable.

Driving in Kenya reveals in stark detail the failures of governance that we have suffered for nigh on forty years. Drivers take their licenses as a license to commit some of the most flagrant violations of the Traffic Code. Traffic police take their uniforms for a license to extort and steal from the public. The courts are only to happy to shuffle the litigants as cards on a deck without laying out for all to read the facts so far outlined. Sunny Bindra is right: if we cannot keep public places, especially public toilets, clean, we will never be able to govern ourselves effectively, brand-new constitutions notwithstanding.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

My Land is Kenya...

There seems to be a large number of immigrants in New South Wales. There seems to be scores of Asians (Chinese, Vietnamese, South Koreans, Indians, etc.) walking the streets of Sydney. I find this reassuring. Despite what seems to be a national movement to restrict immigration to Australia, foreign-born persons don't seem to be as ostracised as the news reports seem to imply. This also seems to be why the student population is vibrant and animated.

We stood on the Sydney Harbour promenade and witnessed the melting pot of different languages, skin colours and cultures in full bloom, everyone click-clacking away on their iPads, iPhones and digital cameras. If there is one thing that seems to unite everyone in Sydney, it is that they seem to be owners and users of iPhones, iPads and MacBooks - Apple is well-represented on the streets of Sydney and the hallowed halls of University of Sydney.

I visited an Apple Store and it was all that I had imagined it was - vast, airy, well-lit and infused with the feeling of techno-efficiency. I felt like such a snob that I could wander about between rows and rows of iPads and iPhones knowing that there was no watchie who would be eying me with suspicion or an officious seller who would be pushing me out to make way for the "preferred" customers (if you are Kenyan, you know what I mean).

So! I love the school. I love the Harbour. I love the streets. I love the hotel. I love the experience. Yet! I want to go home. I miss the noise and chaos. I miss my colleagues and family. I miss the No 58 Mike Sonko-owned ma-three. I miss the Haile Selassie Nakumatt and its rude watchies. I miss the APs outside our office gate. I miss the constant barrage of anti-Raila and pro-Raila rhetoric. I miss the shady 'preachers' who accost me on my morning commute to work. Lord help me, but do I miss Kenya!

Monday, August 06, 2012

Where's the beef?

It is strange being in a country that does not live or breath politics 24/7. The experience is strangely disorienting. I have been here now a week and it is unusual not to have the faces of politicians plastered all over the TV screen like it is back home. There is a leadership battle in the Labour Party and Prime Minister Julia Gillard is facing opposition from members of her coalition but you would not know it. In Kenya, when William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi had a falling out with their party leader, it became a story that lasted months on TV and in the Op/Ed pages of the newspapers. In Australia, the biggest news is the Olympics and then the 2014 G20 meetings in Brisbane and Cairns.

Kenyans have elevated their politicians to the levels of the gods of Greek mythology without getting any love in return. It is embarrassing to compare Kenya and Oz in this regard: politicians Down Under are important but their importance is seen in the context of the work they are supposed to do including the proper management of the economy in the face of such global cataclysms. In contrast, Kenyan politicians are important because they are politicians not because of the achievements or the policies they may or may not advance. Looking at the state of the economy or the environment or education in Australia, one is struck by the conscientiousness of the local politician in meeting the needs of his constituents. The same cannot be said for the his Kenyan counterpart who is more interested in being re-elected to the total exclusion of everything else. What a vomit-inducing parasitic class!

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Time will tell.

The most striking thing about walking around Sydney so far has been the utter lack of drama on the roads. Barring the occasional biker motorcade, the roads are spectacularly free of the lunacy that Nairobi drivers frequently put all other road users through. It seems that the pedestrian is king in Sydney: whenever you come upto to a pedestrian crossing, and the lights are in your favour, the drivers will wait until everyone is across the road. Even the drivers of public transport will wait for all pedestrians to cross before proceeding on their way. What makes it even more amazing is the fact that the lanes are very narrow so that you only occupy the width of road that is absolutely necessary. If the drivers did not stick to the rules the narrowness of the lanes would make it almost impossible to move from point to point.

My colleagues from Cameroon attribute the orderliness of Sydney, and Australia generally, to the patriotism of the citizens here. The people here are used to playing by the rules such that only the criminal elements tend to break the rules. Getting through Immigration at the airport was a breeze. Even when one of our colleagues lost his bags, there was no panicking; the Qantas officials assured us that either his bag would be delivered or he would be compensated by the insurance. They tracked his bag to Johannesburg and it was delivered in two days. Meanwhile the airline had arranged for clothes and toiletries to be delivered to him at the hotel while he waited for his bag.

The University of Sydney campus is a beautiful place to be in. It is clean and the noise that one associates with Kenyan universities is absent even though the students seem to be holding a very large number of rallies over one cause or the other. Our orientation was completed by our guides in good humour. You get the sense that had it been an official at UoN or KU, the orientation tour would have been done with a level of grumbling that would have demonstrated his displeasure at being forced to guide a bunch of country yokels around his beloved University.

We visited a massive white-shoe law firm in the middle of the city and it can show a thing or two to the HHMs and Daly & Figgises of Kenya. They laid out tea and sandwiches. The water is clean so all they added was ice for the more adventurous. The conference rooms are well-appointed with WiFi and internet. Maybe they wanted to impress the Africans but we got the sense that this is how things work. No one had any airs about the fact hat they worked for the largest law firm in Australia.

I have been struck by the dozens of historical buildings in Sydney. They seem to be in great shape for their two centuries of existence and use. Many of the main buildings on the campus date back to 1850, though some were completed before the First World War. Of course there are those of more modern vintage but they complement the old ones rather beautifully. I wonder if this love affair with Sydney will last. Only time will tell.

Listen to what Gen Z is saying. Hear them.

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