Wednesday, October 31, 2012

I was wrong. I am sorry.

I was wrong and I repent. Kingwa Kamencu should not be allowed anywhere near the reins of power. Youth is wasted on the young. Those words have never been truer. A year or so since she decided to throw her weave into the ring, Ms Kamencu is squandering whatever goodwill she may have enjoyed after her emotional declaration of her intent to stand for the presidency at the next general election. She is fast turning herself into a punchline. The final straw came when she declared that she supports "An Underwear Free Africa" because "the idea is to return to traditional African values."

The problems bedeviling Kenya today have very little to do with our having abandoned our African values; there are plenty of African values being applied today, from female genital mutilation to child marriages, from polygamy to concubinage. There are a few modern African values that we have perfected such as nepotism, tribalism, sexism, and ethnic-inspired violence. Genocide is fast becoming an African value, especially when we decide that the people from the "wrong" community can be dealt with simply by removing them permanently from the political scene. It is African these days to simply ignore any and all rules, whether they come in the form of legislation or they are in the form of social mores. It is time Ms Kamencu opened her eyes and realised that her campaigned has stalled and it will not be revived by sloganeering of the undergarment kind.

I was wrong. I am sorry. I will think twice before endorsing another political neophyte again.

The outcome is as clear as mud

Somebody put a clock on it already. March 5, 2013, is fast approaching. Alliances are yet to be firmed up. Mergers and coalitions remain in the realm of fevered imagination among the chattering classes and the punditocracy. The Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has studiously ignored the political to-ing and fro-ing of Kenya's political classes and chosen instead to attempt to bully Chief Justice Mutunga and Attorney-General Muigai into providing "more" evidence with which to hang Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Francis Muthaura and Joshua Sang, Kenya's pathetic attempt at duking it out with the likes of the former Yugoslavia (Slobodan Milosevic), Liberia (Charles Taylor) or Rwanda (Thomas Lubanga). Kenyans are not interested in party manifestos (though we will avidly devour their contents when they are published, if at all) or political ideologies. We don't give a damn about the "issues" that seem to animate our five battalions of civil society activists. We care about "the implementation of the Constitution" but only because the irrepressible Fourth Estate tells us that we must. The truth is we only care about the election date and whether "our man" will be elected (Martha and Charity will get honourable mentions; no one seriously thinks that they can win).

So it is trepidation that the saga of the BVR kits keeps unfolding in worrying detail. Few seem to remember that it was rumours of rent-seeking among the Commissioners of the IEBC and its secretariat that scuttled the initial attempt at purchasing the BVR kits. Few seem to care that the so-called "government-to-government" deal between Kenya and Canada ended up being way more expensive than the IEBC was allowed to budget for (Njeru Githae's explanations regarding the total number of machines and revised specifications of the kits will persuade no one). We are now set to spend more for an untested system for which we do not have trained personnel and which we expect to be used in a truncated period without a credible system in place to verify and correct any anomalies. All this is set to occur at a time when the scars of past violence are yet to heal, several hundred thousand Kenyans have not been restored to their properties, and the nation seems to be primed for more violence with the drip-drip-drip of violent events in the Coast and, rather disturbingly, Kisumu.

Ours is a single-minded focus on the general election. We have allowed nothing to distract us from the event-to-end-all-events. Not even the unmitigated disaster it may yet turn out to be. A careful analysis of the proposals of county government candidates should sober us up quick. Everyone is convinced that implementing devolution will be a cake-walk. After all, devolution is the next logical step from local authorities, right? A Governor will perform more or less the same functions as a Mayor or Chairman of a Council. That is the presumption. In is wrong. Any governor elected without a financial or administrative plan will doom his county to misery. And because the president will be busy discovering the perils of governing in a divided government, he will have no time to hold governors' hands as they navigate the treacherous waters of grass-roots development. Nairobi's corruption, devolved to the counties, will make everything much harder than they need be and only the ruthless, crafty, canny, wily and ambitious will survive. None seems to grasp this basic fact.

High on the go-go juice of constitutional implementation, Kenyans have refused to consider the pernicious effects of the candidacies of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. Of course the two have every right to claim innocence. They have a right to stand for election too. They should not do it, not while their indictment is hanging fire at The Hague. It is contemptuous of the peoples of Kenya and their Constitution. It tells Kenyans that regardless of the odium one is held in certain quarters, all one needs is a hard-eyed, money-fueled determination and all will be OK. The recent flashes of school-dormitory fires are a grass-roots reaction to this contempt for the rules that are displayed by the likes of Mr Kenyatta and Mr Ruto. So, somebody better put a countdown clock on it. When it ticks over to zero, we will either set this place on fire (again) or we will have reason to celebrate (having finally turned the page on KANU).

The Hair-do gets it wrong

Rachel Shebesh, the hair-do that recently threw in her lot with TNA, writes in the Democracy at Work column that she wants to "nurture the women agenda with the benefit of relatively moderate experience in grassroots mobilisation activities under "Wamama na Uhuru" initiative" (I switched political parties to one with realistic agenda for women and youth, Daily Nation, October 31, 2012). She really should not have bothered attempting to explain herself. But she did. Now it's our turn to interrogate her reasons and reasoning. Sadly, she sounds about as bereft of fresh ideas as Uhuru Kenyatta is.

Mrs Shebesh does not state unequivocally that she has broken faith with her erstwhile Parliamentary Party, ODM; she simply states that she holds dearly the values of democracy which she implies she will find in TNA and are absent in ODM. She may be right. Raila Odinga, over the past three years has demonstrated a Nyayo-like intolerance that has alienated his erstwhile deputies, Musalia Mudavadi and William Ruto. In his zeal to stamp his imprimatur on the party, he has done more to sully what may have been a reputation for consensus-building and servant-leadership. Today, Mr Odinga measures his reputation against that of men and women who spent their formative political years learning the political dirty tricks in the KANU School of Politics. He has realised the folly of his acts and is taking steps to reassure those who may have been disappointed by his party leadership that he is the best bet in a field full of political dwarfs. Despite Mrs Shebesh's admiration for the Prime Minister, she is strangely unwilling to draw the proper lessons from his political resume. Neither does she seem to willing to learn from Martha Karua's or Charity Ngilu's, women who have not only defied the received wisdom of patriarchal Nairobi, but who have defined their political careers independent of any male handholding. By hitching her wagon to Mr Kenyatta's train, Mrs Shebesh not only betrays the legacies that Mrs Karua and Mrs Ngilu will no doubt leave behind, she betrays her own ambition and submits it to the caprice of an untested national statesman.

Mrs Shebesh claims that "a mechanism that transfers hearings from The Hague to local jurisdiction can only serve to emphasise Kenya's sovereignty" when she seeks to pull more wool over Kenyans' eyes regarding the ICC Four who include Mr Kenyatta. The Sovereignty Debate is settled ground; it is in politicians with political chips to cash in that this debate is being waged. Mrs Shebesh is justified in defending the innocence f Uhuru Kenyatta against all comers; she is on less firm ground when she asks Kenyans to trust a Judiciary that is yet to be truly tested when it comes to the question of the trial of the four Kenyans accused of international crimes in connection with the thousands of deaths, billions of shillings in property damage and the displacement of hundreds of thousands after the 2007 general election.

What Mrs Shebesh should have done was to quit ODM without even bothering to explain herself. It is what politicians do in Kenya, what they have always done. If she was going to even attempt to justify herself, she should have avoided all mention of the ICC trials and instead concentrated in painting ODM and Raila Odinga as the undemocratic institutions they are.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Different forest, same chipanzees!

Prof Makau Mutua is on record as opposed to any rapprochement between William Ruto and Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Prof Mutua sees Mr Ruto as the apotheosis of all that is wrong with the political class and Raila Odinga as that of the reform movement. He must be gnashing his teeth today. In what is perceived as Mr Odinga's efforts at rolling back the animus between him and Mr Ruto, the Prime Minister 'apologised' to the Kalenjin community yesterday. Some interpret his 'apology' as a crucial development in his march to State House and an essential factor to be considered in the ongoing alliance talks between the other leading presidential candidates. On Citizen TV's Sunday Live, Kalonzo Musyoka was advised to seek similar alliances as the one Mr Odinga is apparently seeking with Mr Ruto. The Vice-President was advised, such as it were, to hop off his fence and seek an alliance today with either the popular Mr Ruto or the Prime Minister or he would be confined to political irrelevance, a punch-line come 2013.

We have come full circle since the dog days of 2008. Everyone had a spectacular falling out with everyone else since the Grand Coalition was created and now everyone realises that they need everyone else, hence the horse-trading and deal-making being broadcast across the land. It seems lost on the general public that same motives advanced in 2007 during that round of alliance/coalition-building are the same ones being advanced today. Ironic as it may seem, these motives have been advanced since at least the multi-party elections of 1992. What has changed in the two decades is the constitutional landscape; the political, quasi-political and outright hypocritical motives of our political leadership has remained remarkably unchanged. It is a bit sad to witness the "heroes" and "villains" of the reform movement simply going over plowed ground in their desire to succeed Mwai Kibaki and gather in their feeble hands the reins of power.

What boggles the mind is that all political players seem to believe that Kenyans are just as gullible as they were two decades ago or easily-manipulated as they were five years ago. In '92, we were so easily played by President Moi that even the white-wash that was the '97 election failed to register in popular imagination. The only thing that came out of the '97 election was a sweetheart deal between Moi and his opposition; the opposition effectively became the King's Party, playing to Moi's strengths while biding their time waiting for his peaceful retirement. When Mwai Kibaki, Kijana Wamalwa and Raila Odinga rode the NARC narrative to power in 2003, they pulled the wool over our eyes by promising the moon. They claimed that they had a popular mandate in the voters' repudiation of Moi's Project, Uhuru Kenyatta. They promised a New Beginning. They lied.

And they have lied ever since. Today, regardless of which party or which candidate is making pronouncement, all repeat the same lies we've heard for two decades, lies that have been exposed in the past decade of Mwai Kibaki's tenure. Whether it is the elimination of the factors that cause poverty or the just use of state power in the service of the weak and the poor, Mwai Kibaki's tenure has proven to be one filled with disappointment after disappointment. Except, of course, for those lucky enough to be near the centre of power, whether political or economic. The cast majority of Kenyans live from hand to mouth and have not only to contend with economic hardship, crime and corruption, but the unwarranted, heavy hand of their government that imposes ever harsher taxes and enforces its laws with and ever heavier hand. But the likes of William Ruto, Raila Odinga or their fellow presidential candidates continue to dip their hands in the national kitty at our expense. We bought the PM a 700 million shilling office block. We spent half a billion shillings on a vice-presidential mansion. It was not enough. Their colleagues in the National Assembly want us to give them a 2.3 billion-shilling golden parachute next year. In their zeal to strike deals with each other for the ultimate prize, not one (save for Martha Karua) has called this day-light robbery what it is. Tell me again how different 2012 is different from 2007 from 2002 from 1997 from 1992?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Jennifer Shamallah is wrong.

My senior, Jennifer Shamallah, is frequently prone to bouts of hyperbole and extreme exaggeration.Today is no different. In the Daily Nation, she attempts to conflate the views of Prof Makau Mutua with those of all liberals in Kenya (The intolerance of liberals gradually becoming a danger to this our land, Daily Nation, Friday, October 26, 2012). But she makes some big whoppers. Her assertion that "President Abraham Lincoln was a Republican. His political philosophy was conservative" is flat out wrong. Lincoln may have been a Republican but he definitely was not a conservative. His Emancipation proclamation that freed the slaves was the most liberal, progressive act of an American president since the founding of the Republic. Conservatism had been the preserve of the Southern Democrats until Lyndon B Johnson "betrayed" them with his Great Society progressivism. When President Johnson, a Southern Democrat from Texas, oversaw the biggest civil rights overhaul since the Emancipation proclamation, he ensured that the bulk of conservative Southern Democrats switched parties and become Republicans.

Lawyer Shamallah is correct, of course, when she states that conservative ideals are grounded on moral and human values, but she forgets that the conservative movement in the political sphere has lost its way since the halcyon days of the early 1980s. When Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, the political aspects of conservatism that she attempted to implement included the shrinking of the seize of government and the expansion of individual liberty as well as the reduction of government debt by reducing the size of the social safety net. Her kindred spirit at that time was the American president, Ronald Reagan, who also espoused conservative ideals. However, the Federalist Society, one of the strongest conservative movements in America, attempted to hijack his conservative agenda by incorporating divisive social issues into the movement. The result are what are known as the Culture Wars in the United States that revolve around the issues of religion in the public sphere, homosexuality and abortion.

Asia is the wrong place to point to the progress women have made in the political arena. Many forget that Benazir Bhutto, twice Prime Minister of Pakistan, presided over one of the most corrupt regimes in Pakistan's history, as did Khaleda Zia in Bangladesh and Megawati Sukarnoputri in Indonesia. Indeed, both Ms Zia and Ms Sukarnoputri were in charge when some of the worst human rights abuses took place in their countries. Many of the conservative governments in Latin America were frequently right-wing military dictatorships responsible for the "disappearing" of hundreds of thousands of leftists and progressives.

The true essence of conservatism has been lost in the neo-conservative obsession with social issues. In Kenya, this was starkly reflected in the opposition to the Proposed Constitution. Rather than worrying about the size of government, which we cannot afford, they obsessed endlessly over the right-to-life clause, the right-to-marry clause, and the kadhi's-court-clause. They were at the forefront of opposing the appointment of Dr Mutunga and Ms Baraza as Chief Justice and Deputy Chief Justice respectively. While the size and scope of the government grows unchecked, they are still obsessed with the person of the Chief Justice and thus, Ms Shamallah's reaction to Prof Makau Mutua's "rambling flattery" for the Chief Justice. Conservatives continue to stand idly by as the public service wage bill spirals to unsustainable levels, what with every special interest group in the public service demanding an enhancement of its pay and perks, and the ever-ballooning cost of paying for commission after commission. Sooner or later it must dawn on us that the billions we spend on the national and county public services are not value for money. The conservatives that Ms Shamallah speaks of must return to their true calling of limiting the size of government, enhancing individual liberty, and butting out of the private lives of individuals.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Who wants to buy a bridge?

The recent disturbing events surrounding the acquisition of Biometric Voter Registration kits should sound alarms bells regarding the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission's preparedness for the march 4, 2013, general election. Since the first tender for the BVR kits was cancelled because of the infighting within the Commission, it was always doubtful that the election calendar that the Commission had published in the middle of this year would be kept. The Committee of Experts, reacting to the pressure from human rights activists and other loud members of Kenya's civil society, ensured that the Constitution contained iron-clad deadlines for the conduct of elections, deadlines that were incorporated even more stringently in the Elections Act and the Political parties Act.

It is now emerging that the CoE and civil society simply refused to consider that the well-entrenched impunity amongst Kenya's leaders and its people would throw a spanner in the works. We have long obsessed with the political corruption that characterised the Moi and Kenyatta eras, forgetting that many of the beneficiaries of official corruption in those two eras were now in well-placed positions in the Kibaki administration. Not even the revelations of the Kriegler Commission or the complete elimination of everyone who had anything to do with the 2007 general election served to clean up the electoral process; the whispered allegations of kick-backs demanded and rejected regarding the BVR kits saga point to the fact that it is not new institutions that will rescue the nation, but a complete repudiation of the business-as-usual attitude that seems to hold all public officers in thrall, regardless of the men and women appointed to Commissions endowed with the task of righting the ship that is Kenya and steering her away from the roiled waters she finds herself in today.

It is almost inevitable that if the general election is held on the date announced by the IEBC, it will not be a credible election. Given the timetable that the IEBC published, some of the crucial activities will have to be undertaken in a shorter period than published, including the registration of voters and the examination of the voter register. Time and again Kenyans are asked to place their trust in their leaders, whether in the political, business or civil society sectors and time and again Kenyans are disappointed. The very same politicians that asked us to trust them when we promulgated the Constitution, betrayed that trust when they fiddled with legislation meant to implement it as intended. The men and women we appointed to Commissions meant to ensure that the Constitution is implemented, have suddenly discovered the pleasures of dipping their fingers in the till that is the Consolidated Fund and today we are talking of 400 million shilling mansions for the Chief Justice and multi-million shilling pay-packets for the army of Commissioners that we have appointed since 2010. Anyone who believes that the IEBC deserves our trust or confidence...well, I have a bridge to sell you.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Homeschooling should be discouraged

Thomas Mundia, writing in The Standard on October 22, 2012, extolls the virtues of homeschooling (Homeschooling is viable, alternative form of education). He argues that homeschooling has these benefits: (1) Flexible learning schedules that compliment family life; (2) Education that is wholesome and tailor made for each child’s learning style; (3) Less peer pressure; (4) Close Parent-child relationship; and (5) Good Socialisation. These are benefits that we cannot challenge. They reflect the realities of today. Basic education continues to be underfunded on a colossal scale. The quality of basic education has been degraded to such an extent that more and more parents are taking to the private sector for the education of their young. Incidences of public sector strikes have interrupted the education of children at crucial stages. Despite this, it would be a mistake to encourage the growth of the homeschooling movement.

Mr Mundia is right that parents must direct the education of their children, but he is wrong when he insists that this right includes the right to remove their children from the formal institutions of the state and the private sector. Education serves more than to ensure that the youth have the basic skills to navigate a challenging environment. It cannot be reduced to ensuring that children have the necessary qualifications for employment alone. Education is more than the sum of the certificates that a person may accumulate in a lifetime of learning. It is the promise that a generation makes to another that life is a shared endeavour in which the energies and faculties of everyone are necessary for the survival of the community. In Mr Mundia's version of education, homeschooling will reinforce the worst instincts in Kenyans, including negative ethnicity, religious fundamentalism, nepotism, clanism or selfishness.

What Mr Mundia and the likes of the leaders of various parents'-teachers association and civil society should encourage is raising the level of government investment in the education of our children, especially public education. One of William Ruto's goals while he was the Minister for Higher Education, Science and Technology was to align higher education with the needs of the market economy. He had hoped to establish a system that would increase the level of investment in public universities with the aim of ensuring that with the increasing numbers of youth being admitted to these institutions, there would not be a corresponding decline in the quality of  higher education and that university graduates would compete effectively with the best of the best continentally and globally. When our children are educated together they are inculcated with common values and are infused with common goals. It is easier to demonstrate to them that children from different communities are not enemies to be distrusted or challenged, but that at the most basic level each has value and that the value is enhanced when it is put to the common good of the community. Homeschooling runs the risk of ensuring that in addition to the various social problems currently assailing our communities, the sense of unity that only children can demonstrate is slowly being whittled away.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Due process is fungible

Many things might have changed with the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010. Some have not. In the aftermath of the 2007 general election, politicians realised that they had a tenuous hold on power, especially when  it came to their dealings with the Executive branch. Raila Odinga prominently took the side of Maina Njenga while he was still a guest of the State at the Naivasha prison and called on Mwai Kibaki's government to "negotiate" with Maina Njenga's Mungiki sect. In time, Mr Njenga was released from prison when it could not be proven that he was guilty of the offences he had been sentenced for or the crimes he had been accused of masterminding from behind bars. He was feted by the high and mighty, including Mr Odinga, President Moi and Bishop Margaret Wanjiru. Today, it is the turn of the Mombasa Republican Council.

It has received the tacit support of unnamed politicians at the Coast. One MP foolishly offered to support its lawful programmes, forgetting that until it registers itself as a society, it remains an unlawful organisation a realisation that the Executive arrived at when it used the provisions of the Societies Act to prosecute the officials of the group. Many Kenyans have very strong opinions on the legitimacy of the group. Many hate it for its calls to secession. Many sympathise with its positions, especially regarding the continued marginalisation of the peoples of the Coast. What is not in doubt is that Mwai Kibaki's government is determined to crush the organization, regardless of the political consequences going into the 2013 general election.

The MRC has been courted at various times by the presidential candidates, from Raila Odinga to Musalia Mudavadi. Even the indefatigable Kalonzo Musyoka has counselled talking to the group's leaders rather than coming down hard on them. Mwai Kibaki is not persuaded that his government can talk to the group while it continues to threaten the peace and tranquility that the Coast is famous for. His instructions to the security establishment have been clear: crush them. Matthew Iteere, the Commissioner of Police, has been only too happy to oblige. The early morning raid that led to the arrest of the MRC 'president' and his colleagues was a testament to Mr Iteere's interpretation of the presidential diktat. The scene commander during the arrest spoke on camera of having employed the "minimum power" necessary to effect the arrest, but we know better, don't we. The picture the arrested men and women showed when they were arraigned in court on weapons' possession charges tell a different story. Any time you deploy the dreaded GSU to effect an arrest, "minimum power" is not the phrase that comes to mind; rather it is a message from the Executive that we may have a new Constitution with an apparently iron-clad Bill of Rights, but the Executive will do what t takes to ensure that it is obeyed by one and all.

This was the same message that was broadcast by the Executive when it embarked on a campaign to tame the Mungiki. Prof Philip Alston, the UN's special rapporteur on extra-judicial killings, detailed the brutal manner in which the police went about the exercise of bringing the group to heel. Many lives were lost in what was effectively a campaign of terror, but in the end the Mungiki are not the threat they once were. Maina Njenga has chosen to dabble in faith-based activities and politics and his erstwhile acolytes have chosen a very low profile in their day-to-day affairs. Now it is the MRC's turn to face the full brunt of Mwai Kibaki's security apparatus.

Due process in Kenya has always been fungible. If you are rich enough, powerful enough, or well-connected enough, the State will bend over backwards in ensuring your rights are respected. This is why serving members of the government, be they in the Cabinet or in the National Assembly will always be treated with kid gloves whenever their names are connected with a criminal investigation. You will not hear of them having their homes raided in the wee hours of the morning. You will not see them being handcuffed and hauled off to police cells in the dead of night. Even Dr Willy Mutunga's courts will be happy to grant them bail in the shortest time possible if they happen to be arraigned in court. If you are poor, or you lack a political constituency of your own, or your connections prove less than robust, the experiences of the MRC and the Mungiki before it are an object lesson in what you should expect. Indeed, due process will only be on the lips of the armies of civil society doyens who campaign for your innocence. Everyone and his uncle knows that the MRC, barring a political miracle, is toast. It is just a question of how much damage the Executive will inflict before it is satisfied that it will not be defied again.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ms Shollei is wrong

Gladys Boss Shollei, the Chief Registrar of the Judiciary, is wrong when she argues that there is no justification in protesting against the planned purchase of a mansion for the Chief Justice (Protest over CJ's residence is unjustified, Sunday Nation, October 21, 2012). Let us dismiss the flimsiest reason she gives for the planned sh. 200 million expenditure for the CJ's official residence, that "the Judiciary is equally entitled to the integrity, prestige and equality the taxpayer accords to the leaders of other arms of the government." This argument no longer washes with the people of Kenya. We, the taxpayers, have sat silently by as our "leaders", even those identified in the constitution, have raided the national treasury. In a country where more than half the people live on less than one one-thousandth of what Constitutional office-holders earn in a month, it is immoral to demand that a large portion of the billions the government collects from us be spent in making what are already very comfortable lives even more so. Ms Shollei is embarrassed that the Chief Justice is still living in rented accommodation. She should be more embarrassed that millions of Kenyans cannot afford decent accommodation.

She also argues that it is a matter of the security of the Chief Justice that he should have an official residence of his own. Dr Mutunga is on record as having declared that the rulers and the ruled are equal before the law. He has expressed solidarity with the masses. He has asked not to be treated any differently than other Kenyans are treated. It is for this reason that he had no compunction in recommending the investigation of the Deputy Chief Justice by a Tribunal for her conduct at the beginning of the year. For this reason, when it comes to the security of the person of the Chief Justice, a new home in a gated community will is not necessary. Wherever the CJ chooses to live, the government will find a way of making sure that he is not at risk. Is he not accompanied wherever he goes by armed guards? Hasn't the City of Nairobi become one giant security zone? One can hardly enter any building without being searched by serious-looking security officers and such is the situation that obtains wherever the CJ is. If it is a question of entertaining guests, and if it is official entertainment, the CJ can have it done in his swanky offices at the Supreme Court.

What Kenyans are being asked to do by their leaders is to sacrifice for the good of the country. The working poor are asked to bear with government austerity in the provision of key services including healthcare and security. We are being taxed at ever higher rates so that we can all benefit. No one seems to be thinking of reducing the enormous burdens our betters  have placed on us. It is time that they too started sacrificing for the good of the country. We could begin by downsizing their enormous perks. The half-billion we spent on the Vice-President's mansion could be recovered by the sale of that monstrosity to the highest bidder. The only person, in my opinion, who deserves an official residence is the President. Everyone else could sacrifice. We don't give them millions in pay and perks for nothing, do we?

Ms Shollei cannot rely on government procedure to justify what the Judiciary is attempting. A government that has lost the confidence of the people and has refused to change with the times is not an institution that could be trusted to think outside the box when it comes to the accommodation of its senior-most officials. Of course the Public Works ministry would consider buying a mansion for the CJ. It would give the Ministry mandarins an opportunity to engage in the rent-seeking that has characterized its nature since its establishment. For an institution apparently at the fore-front of the reform programme, the Judiciary is strangely wedded to the mistakes of the past.

Not the only game in town

A little-noticed ruling by the Supreme Court, according to Eric Ng'eno, my senior, will set the stage for a potentially interminable delay in declaring the results of the presidential election in future so long as the Supreme Court does not reverse itself. Mr Ng'eno is correct that when the Supreme Court decided to stamp its authority regarding the privilege of advocate appearing before it to ask for adjournments by permitting this privilege to operate as a right, it sets the stage for mischievous lawyers using the ruling to ensure that the results of a presidential election are delayed while the country waits on tenterhooks. However, Mr Ng'eno is surely presumptuous in declaring that the 2007/2008 violence was triggered by the delay in announcing the results of the contest between the ODM's Raila Odinga and the PNU's Mwai Kibaki, the incumbent and eventual winner.

The violence occurred because of a complex set of circumstances, the most critical event being the spectacular level of rigging that occurred in the period between the close of the polling stations and the announcement of the results from key constituencies. The late surge in the incumbent's numbers was suspicious as was the late surge in Mr Odinga's numbers in constituencies where he was the preferred candidate. Surely too, the manner in which Samuel Kivuitu and his disgraced Electoral Commission of Kenya communicated the results - indeed everything to do with the presidential election - ensured that when Raila Odinga and his acolytes refused to accept the results of the presidential election and they called for "mass action", the tinder would be set alight and the nation would burn for the next three months.

Mr Ng'eno has performed a valuable service in his analysis of the Supreme Court ruling. What seems like a minor issue has the potential to change the face of the nation by permitting certain acts that were not permitted or anticipated before by the law. It is sad that like us all, Mr Ng'eno obsesses over the effect of the ruling on the political landscape. Politics may be the glue that binds this country together (even the so-called Artur Brothers sniggered at a population of 30 million "presidents"), but it is not the only factor affecting our quality of life. The rule of law and the effect of the independence of the Judiciary have the potential to re-shape our destiny just as much as politics does. A little-reported contest between the US government and a Kenyan company has the potential to re-write the land law of Kenya. If the case goes all the way to the Supreme Court and it goes the US government's way, then one of the innovations int he new Land Act is set to be struck out by the court and it will change the meaning of the land law of Kenya with far-reaching consequences.

Land is the principal cause of our political problems and its management has been the cause of violence and corruption for the past 40 years. If it is true that Jomo Kenyatta at one time owned land that equalled what had been grabbed by the colonial settlers, we have a long way to go before we can even begin to see ourselves as a civilized nation. One of the goals of the constitutional review process was to reform the administration of land in Kenya. Many hoped that official reports such as the Ndung'u Report would be the foundation for creating a level playing field for everyone when it came to the Land Question. Evidently, this is not the case. Land litigation is still fraught with allegations of corruption and unfairness. Despite the new land laws, hundreds of thousands of Kenyans continue to be cheated when dealing in land. The MRC at the Coast has based part of its claim that "Pwani si Kenya" on the Land Question. 2013 will be a watershed year, but there is no reason why we should place all our national developmental eggs in the political basket; we need to spread them out to the Judiciary basket, the land basket, etc. The presidential vote is not the only game in town.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Debates won't move the needle on substantive discussion

Watching Barack Obama and Mitt Romney go at each other in their Town Hall Debate, one gets the sense that even when the Other Side is bereft of ideas, it has done its homework on the ideas it does have. President Obama is determined to be re-elected in November; Mr Romney is equally determined to ensure that he is a One Term President. In pursuing their goals, the two men, and their campaign teams, have spent the better part of a year preparing the candidates to face each other in a series of debates about their policies and, yes, their ideologies. In the tail-end of an economic recession that has wiped out a significant portion of global wealth, the ideas and ideologies espoused by the candidates offer a glimpse into the future each envisions not only for the United States, but for the world too. This is not the picture that emerges from the political campaigns of Kenya's presidential campaigns.

The past year alone has given rise to such intractable problems that it seems that our entitled political class cannot be trusted to solve them. Perennial problems continue to loom over the nation from drought and famine to road fatalities and preventable disasters. But in three areas, the government has failed: security, fiscal policy and political stability. Let us take security first. In the past three months alone, Mwai Kibaki's government has had to deploy increasing numbers of security officers to address a civil emergency in the Tana Delta and at the Coast Province generally. In the first instance, it seems that no intelligence was shared regarding the unrest that was brewing in the Tana Delta and public pronouncements by spokesmen of the security establishment mischaracterised the violence as a contest between pastoral and agrarian communities for access to pasture and water resources. Keener analysts have pointed out that the pastoral Orma and the agrarian Pokomo have lived peaceably with each other for decades and that they have never clashed using the sophisticated weapons and tactics employed in this round of bloodletting. The allegation that the violence in the Tana Delta was fomented in order to distract the security establishment from goings-on in other parts of the country are reinforced by the "spontaneous" eruption of violence in the other side of the country in Kisumu between political "gangs". The violence in Kisumu erupted spontaneously and just as spontaneously it fizzled out. No credible explanation has been advanced for either the violence in the Tana Delta or in Kisumu.

Second, the government's fiscal policies seem to have been skewed in favour of a pampered elite. Again, in the past three months strikes and threatened strikes by doctors, teachers, lecturers and nurses have almost brought the economy to its knees. Indeed, in some parts of the country the economy was crippled when teachers did not spend as they usually did. Many small businessmen suffered great losses. It was the same case with the doctors' strike. In addition to the deaths that resulted from the strike, the doctors' spending was suspended during the three weeks they were on strike and this crippled the economies of many rural communities. It was therefore, strange to listen to the Minister for Medical Services and his Education and Finance counterparts arguing that the government could not raise the revenue to settle the demands of the striking doctors and teachers while the National Assembly was preparing to raid the national treasury to inflate their already swollen remuneration packages. Despite Mwai Kibaki's threatened veto, the likes of Adan Keynan and Rachel Shebesh promise that the National Assembly will rally around this selfish goal and they will override the presidential veto and get their ten-million shilling "gratuity" for a job well done. To date, the mandarins at The Treasury have been unable to explain what Kenya's true fiscal position is, what challenges we face either in the short or medium term, and what devolution is going to cost the nation in the long term.

Finally, regarding political stability the presumption that all is well is belied by the nature of the statements being made by presidential candidates. Kenyans are still bitterly divided regardless of the efforts of the so-called Agenda 4 Commissions. The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission, appointed to look into historical injustices, was hamstrung from the start with the appointment of Bethwel Kiplangat as its chairperson. A whole year was wasted as various parties attempted, unsuccessfully, to oust him from the Commission. Even when members of the Commission resigned, including the Vice-chairperson, or threatened to resign, he stayed put. No one seriously believes that the Commission's report will be received as the South African truth commission's report was received. One suspects that despite expected sensational revelations and recommendations in the report, Kenyans will simply roll their eyes and carry on as before. Disappointment in the TJRC pales in comparison to the disappointment in the National Cohesion and Integration Commission, the one commission that was expected to carry forward the task of politically integrating the country. It has consumed vast resources while organising peace committees and cohesion seminars and workshops. Its commissioners have grown fatter and fatter as Kenyans have grown more suspicious of the intentions of persons not from their own ethnic communities. Inter-ethnic integration or cohesion remains a pipe-dream after the waste of vast national resources. Its report, too, is set to be derided as another national white elephant.

In the context of a presidential campaign, these are just three of the issues of national importance that continue to be ignored in favour of the question of whether William Ruto and Uhuru Kenyatta should stand for the presidency despite their ICC indictments, or whether Raila Odinga is a "true" reformer because of his "sacrifices" made during the Second Liberation. Kenyans are similarly obsessed with the question of the "integrity" of the presidential candidates and whether there is, among them, one who has remained "untainted" despite participation in the murky world of Kenyan politics. We know almost nothing of how, for example, William Ruto or Raila Odinga will attain 10% "economic growth" after their election or how Martha Karua or Charity Ngilu will ensure that gender-based discrimination is eliminated in the five years of their presidential terms. What we know is that all the candidates tell us that they have "plans" which will be detailed in their "manifestos" and which have received the approval of the "party members". What is true, though, and what they tell us are two different things. So long as we continue to die at the hands of terrorists and bandits, or so long as our hard-earned wealth is squandered to pamper our elected representatives, or so long as we continue to be held hostage to the superiority complexes of our ethnic kingpins, we may as well scuttle the presidential debates and spend that money on even more divisive television adverts. At least that way we will provide jobs for a few dozen men and women in the media industry.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

We don't care

Every time Members of Parliament do something outrageous, such as awarding themselves a sh. 9.3 million "gratuity", we claim to be surprised by their perfidy. Why? Listening to the likes of Adan Keynan and Rachel Shebesh extolling the virtues of the Tenth Parliament, one would be hard-pressed to deny the MPs their pound of Consolidated Fund flesh. It is the gullibility of Kenyans that should be the subject of examination. How we constantly underestimate the avarice and cruelty of our elected representatives is a complete mystery. This is not the first time that the National Assembly has ignore the prevailing mood or circumstances in the country to treat itself to or taxes and it is most certainly not going to be the last.

Every time we find ourselves in the middle of a general election campaign, MPs pull off such an outrageous move. Looked at in context, it is not surprising. This is the one time that they can get the presidential candidates to dance to their tune. For their political support during the campaigns, the presidential candidates shall not interrupt their colleagues as they award themselves billions at the tax-payers' expense. This impunity has now become an ingrained part of our national psyche. It is exhibited annually by the spate of school-dormitory fires that continue to claim lives of students and their keepers alike. Last night's televised images of the dormitory fire at Le Pic School in Nairobi's Riruta area is an excellent example of the impunity that we refuse to acknowledge we are guilty of.

There is no way that the mixed primary and secondary boarding school should have been authorised to operate in the compound that does today. The property is insuficient to support not just a primary school, but a secondary school and both being boarding schools at that. The dormitories, clearly, are not desinged with health and safety in mind but with the protection of personal property and not much else. Even from the images n TV it was clear that many of the dormitories at Le Pic School are crowded beyond their capacity, the windows are barred and the rooms are generally poorly ventilated. Their design meant that they became death-traps when fire broke out. The deaths of the caretaker and five students is a stark reminder that Kenyans have come to accept impunity in every part of their lives, even when it places the lives of their children in grave danger.

Take a stroll through any residential area and you will witness our acceptance of and participation in acts of impunity. Every time one sees a "school van" hustling children from school to home and vice versa, one gets the impression that their parents simply do not care for their scions' welfare. These, often, fourteen-seat vans are not designed to be school-buses, they are frequently driven dangerously, they are frequently loaded beyond capacity and the children inside get no safety equipment such as seat-belts. When road traffic accidents occur involving these vehicles, children suffer the greatest casualties. These acts of impunity are reflected in everything that we do and they are having a pernicious impact on the psyche of the young. Our blatant contempt for the rules is inculcating in the young a general disrespect for rules and an understanding that they will not be held to account for what they do.

It explains, to some extent, why children have no qualms about setting their fellow-students on fire or setting alight their dormitories and other school facilities. It also explains why children are no longer the responsibility of the community but of the nuclear family. Without a common purpose, especially in the raising of the young, parent have no recourse but to get paid help, frequently from people who may not have the best interests of the children at heart. Coupled with the degeneration of formerly strong institutions like the village, the church and the school, there is no moderating influence on our more baser instincts. We emulate our leaders by taking extreme positions regarding our own hedonism. Even the fates of our young are not enough to temper our appetites. WE are swiftly hurtling towards destruction. We don't care.

The debates are an opportunity

A nuanced examination of the records of the men and women seeking to succeed Mwai Kibaki is warranted at this moment. Regardless of the popular perceptions of these politicians' careers, their characters are not so easily pigeon-holed. Watching William Ruto take on his critics at a live television interview last night, it is increasingly apparent that Mr Ruto cannot be defined by the ICC indictment alone. He comes across, even in this hour of great stress, as a politicians capable of thinking fast, thinking clearly, and always having a plan. His declaration that he is innocent is made with the certitude that we only wish Mwai Kibaki displayed. If one has already made up his mind regarding his presidential ambition, there is little that can be done. But if one is still waiting to make up their mind, Mr Ruto will cause one pause.

Simplistic arguments have defined the presidential campaigns thus far. It is received wisdom that the top three candidates are Mr Ruto, Mr Odinga, the Prime Minister, and Mr Kenyatta, TNA supremo. Each is already defined by the media, the press and the opinion-polling community. But it may be that because of these definitions, the three politicians, and the dozen or so others gunning for the presidency, are yet to define themselves for the electorate. Other than Mr Odinga's suffering during the dark days of Moi's presidency, it remains unclear whether Mr Odinga's record in public life could be defined as a success or a failure. Since Uhuru Kenyatta became President Moi's "project" in 2002, has he done much to deserve the accolades and encomiums from the people who chant his name every time he appears in a political rally? Will Mr Ruto forever be defined by YK'92 and the ICC?

It is time we began to consider exactly what presidential candidates have done and what they claim to have done. The first opportunity to do so is the November presidential debate. Kenyans have never had the opportunity to question the claims made by their political leadership. The tradition is always to get paid for attending political rallies and to get paid for voting the right way. Political activity, as with many public activities, has been eroded by corruption and serial rule-breaking. We have the opportunity to set each candidate against another and to measure their worth in an objective and subjective manner. Perhaps many will remain unpersuaded as to the political worth of their candidates' challengers; but many more will for the first time have an opportunity to gauge whether the men and women seeking their votes deserve them in the first place. It remains to be seen whether the organisers of the debates will prepare effectively for them. This is Kenya's experiment; it is imperative that we do not turn it into a caricature of the US system.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Our MPs have let the KDF down

The Chief of Defense Forces, General Julius Karangi, is a happy commander. The Kenya Defense Forces have acquitted themselves professionally in their year-long adventure in Somalia. Operation Linda Nchi is a success whichever way one slices it. When it took the battle with al Shabaab to Somalia and after it joined the AMISOM forces, the KDF have done the nation proud and there isn't a soul in Kenya that would begrudge them their moment in the sun. There was, however, a troubling note in his address to the victorious troops. General Karangi went to some length to repeat that Kenya was owed money from the United Nations regarding its engagement in Somalia. This is something that Charles Kanjama explores in this Sunday's The Standard (We should look at public sector wage bill objectively).

When George W Bush decided to fight terrorism globally, he did so even though there was no plan for paying for his wars. The bill, so far, has come to hundreds of billions of dollars and has ensured that the US budget deficit has ballooned to many trillions of dollars. This is a truth that has bedeviled every country that has ever gone to war in the history of mankind. Before the start of the Second World War, all the belligerents spent years preparing their economies to cope with the strain that a war brings. It is only after Germany felt secure economically did Hitler decide to launch his war in 1939. If the United States had not, in effect, subsidised the British economy in the years leading to Pearl Harbour, Britain may have lost the Battle of Britain. So it is strange to listen to the Chief of Defense Forces refusing to acknowledge a truth that is known by all warriors: wars are won or lost by those prepared to spend to win them.

The events of the past three weeks have demonstrated that the elite leadership of this country is living a fantasy life, where the national treasury is a bottomless pit that is available to satisfy their every wish or whim. Mukhisa Kituyi, the former Minister for Trade, traces this phenomenon to the 8th and 9th Parliaments (1997 to 2002 and 2003 to date). The upper reaches of the public service are not immune. One of the dailies even reports that a former Commissioner of Police owns a one-hundred and fifty million shilling home in the leafy suburbs of Karen, a claim that has taken the good former policeman 9 days to deny. Our elected representatives and a selected elite of the civil service live like princes of the fairy tales children are taught. Meanwhile, the Kenya Defense Forces has to go hat in hand to the bureaucrats at the United Nations begging for money to keep fighting in Somalia. Kenyans are now called to dig deeper into their pockets to not only support the lavish income of their elected representatives and a bloated public service, but also to pay for mysterious send-off packages for the army of hyenas masquerading as honourable Members of Parliament. Meanwhile, doctors, teachers, lecturers and nurses must resort to industrial action to have their day in the sun when it comes to the question of their incomes.

In a nation where the highest paid public servant earns more than a hundred times what the least paid earns, what business have we claiming that the future is bright for the army of unemployed youth of the nation? At over 80% youth unemployment, it is perverse and obscene for the likes of Rachel Shebesh to claim that they have a right to the millions they are claiming for themselves in the name of public service. It is manifestly immoral for this group of men and women to go about their thieving ways when they have done precious little to ensure that Kenyan youth not only have opportunities to better themselves, but the state of the national economy is robust enough that the KDF will not need handouts to fight rag tag militias in failed states.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Presidential Debates?

The second decade of the twenty-first century is turning out to be filled with surprises galore. It began with the inauguration of the Second Republic by way of the promulgation of a new constitution that has become a lightning rod between Kenyan conservatives and everyone else. But yesterday's announcement that media houses were going to organise a series of presidential debates, in order to "present their ideas and engage voters", sent a ripple of excitement up and down my spine. "Finally," I thought, "I am about to witness history being made."

Upon reflection, though, initial excitement is misplaced. The level of political discourse, as is being pointed out by diverse voices such as that of the Chief Justice in this month's The Nairobi Law Monthly (Universities must reclaim their right in opinion shaping, The Nairobi Law Monthly, October 3012), is disappointing. David Matende,writing in the same issue of the magazine, contends that not even the media has escaped this malaise: "The incestuous relationship between journalists and politicians is so deep that actually some journalists have become 'insiders' in the various political camps and are in fact treated as if they were part of the entourage" he states in his essay, Media a captive of the political class.

It will be interesting to see whether the men and women seeking to succeed Mwai Kibaki have the capacity to rise above mere rhetoric if and when they debate one another "on the issues". NTV has been televising The Governors' Debates and to a large extent it has only served to introduce Kenyans to a class of politicians, businessmen and ex-civil servants gunning for gubernatorial positions rather than educate us on how they intend to make a success of their counties or devolution. Linus Kaikai, the moderator of these debates, has proven to be singularly inept at teasing out crucial information voters require to effectively vet the men and women seeking to head county governments in 2013 or the challenges we are all likely to face in the implementation of devolution countrywide.

So far, politics in Kenya has revolved around certain basic issues, none of them having anything to do with solving the problems Kenyans face or improving their quality of life. In a nation with conflicting priorities like Kenya, politics is supposed to be the oil that ensures that the machinery of government does not grind to a halt, lubricating the process top ensure that basic services are delivered to Kenyans in an equitable manner and that resources are spent as prioritised in an accountably transparent manner. Instead, politics is a weapon, to be employed against one ethnic community by another, to promote the interests of an elite few over the peasant majority, and to rob the peoples of Kenya blind without remorse. Politics has been reduced to a simple calculus: the primary justification for getting elected is so that one can keep getting re-elected. It is therefore difficult to imagine that, save for the views of one or two of the presidential candidates, the debates will prove illuminating or informative. They will certainly be entertaining, but they will not serve the interests of Kenyans.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Mr Opiyo lives in a fantasy world.


In Pirates & Fraudsters, Gordon Opiyo attempts to explain why Kenyans engage in economic sabotage (Kenyans never respect brands which is why newspapers are doing poorly, Daily Nation, Wednesday October 10, 2012). Mr Opiyo's premise is that the same motivations that led to millions of Kenyans purchasing and using counterfeit phones are at the root of why Kenyan newspaper companies are yet to sell dailies at their true potential. Mr Opiyo attempts to conflate two very different ideas: brand-building and consumer-protection. Let us begin with the latter.

When the Communications Commission of Kenya took the hugely unpopular step of switching off hundreds of thousands of counterfeit mobile phones, it was an indictment against the CCK, the Kenya Bureau of Standards, the Anti-Counterfeit Agency and the Kenya Revenue Authority for failing to protect Kenyans from the influx, lawfully or otherwise, of the counterfeit phones in the first place. It may appear that though many of the dubious handsets bore the names of established companies, the principal motivation of the Kenyans who bought them was their affordability; brand loyalty came second place to cost. this explains why the influx of cheaper Chinese-made mobile phones has almost decimated the market for brand-name counterfeits of similar price. Even with the relatively lower duties charged on mobile phones a significant proportion of the Kenyan market cannot afford genuine branded phones. Their reliance on cheaper knock-offs will not end with the CCK's Big Switch-off, mark my words.

Regarding the question of brand-building, Mr Opiyo surely must agree that even the main Kenyans newspapers have lost whatever popularity they might have enjoyed in the 1980s and early 1990s and one of the factors that has affected these brands is the cost of a daily today. Before Kenya's economy went into the shitter in the dark days of the Saba Saba riots, when a hundred shillings went a very long way, not only were daily newspapers cheap, they were well-edited and their Op-Eds, the bread-and-butter of the brands, were extremely well written, able to easily compete with global giants on quality and relevance. That is not the situation today. At at least 50 shillings for a copy, there is an elite few that has the capacity and wherewithal to purchase more than one daily newspaper every day. The quality of the papers has also deteriorated drastically. In addition to becoming outlets for self-serving politicians, the quality of reporting and writing is such as can only be expected of secondary school students, perhaps not even that; secondary school writers have the opportunity to improve.

Newspapers are no longer seen as brands that require the adoration and support of their readers; they are treated exactly as other brands in Kenya that are out of the reach of the man on the street, including imported branded shoes, clothes, watches, movies, music, books, mobile phones and other consumer durables. They are treated disdainfully such that many who cannot afford their frequently exorbitant prices make do with cheap facsimiles that could pass off for the genuine article. Instead of Mr Opiyo's whingeing lament over the death of brands, especially newspaper brands, he should look at a bigger picture in which the pool of brand consumers is small and shrinking. He should be proposing strategies for increasing the number of consumers who can pay the price his beloved newspaper companies are charging. It is the only way he can protect the brand against the onslaught it is facing today.

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Uhuru-Raila Show.

ODM is slowly being reduced to a Luo outfit with the indefatigable, never-say-die Agwambo as its standard-bearer. Meanwhile, Musalia Mudavadi's UDF and Uhuru Kenyatta's TNA are busily poaching sitting MPs from the Orange Party. William Ruto took a chunk out of the party when he decamped, finally, to the URP. It is the professional set-up of TNA and Uhuru Kenyatta's operation that must surely give the Prime Minister sleepless nights in his ambition to succeed Mwai Kibaki, come March 2013. Mr Kenyatta is a powerful orator. Having sen classic newsreels of his father, i is hard not to compare the style that he is adopting all his own, especially with the easy-to-get-along mien he has adopted. In 2013, he is the man to watch.

Since 2007/08, it has been all about Raila Odinga. That honeymoon is over. This is the time to set them against each other and measure their relative strengths and weaknesses. Mr Odinga is undoubtedly the champion of Kenya's Second Liberation, but he has squandered any political goodwill he may have enjoyed by the company he has kept. He wasted two years keeping the verbal diarrhoea-prone Miguna Miguna. He treated William Ruto and Musalia Mudavadi rather shabbily. Now it seems that even the loud Rachel Shebesh and the Bishop-Politician Margaret Wanjiru are jumping ship in his hour of need. In this so-called political transfer season, ODM stands to lose the largest chunk of MPs all to the benefit of TNA, UDF and URP. It seems strange that Kalonzo Musyoka's Wiper doesn't seem to be attracting any defectors. No one, it seems, is willing to hitch their wagon to that demon-seed of a political party.

Since his indictment by the ICC, Mr Kenyatta has attempted to craft a personal narrative that brings him closer to succeeding the President. It does not hurt that he has a political pedigree to rival Raila Odinga's. As does Musalia Mudavadi. The dark horses are Mr Ruto and the no-hoppers attempting the impossible like Peter Kenneth, Martha Karua, Raphael Tuju, Charity Ngilu and Mutava Musyimi. Even the polls show that the two-horse race that Raila Odinga keeps praying for will be between him and Mr Kenyatta. The polls consistently show Mr Odinga in a run-off with Mr Kenyatta. Given the givens, the also-rans may choose to back Mr Uhuru against the PM just because they do not like the PM and Mr Kenyatta has not treated them with disdain or highhandedly. Mr Kenyatta may not have succeeded in wriggling out of the ICC hook, but he has largely painted the matter as a political witch-hunt by the PM and it seems at least 29% of the likely voters agree with him. They can't all be from the Mount Kenya region, can they?

Mr Odinga has attempted to woo away Mt Kenya MPs to ODM or into an alliance with ODM without much to show for it save for the rebellious Gitobu Imanyara. His attempts have the whiff of desperation while Uhuru Kenyatta seems to have the momentum. However, 150 days is a lifetime in Kenyan politics and Mr Odinga is cannier and more strategic than some have given him credit for. It remains to be seen whether TNA will survive the presence of the likes of Mike Sonko before the denouement in 2013. Mr Odinga still enjoys popularity at the Coast, parts of the South Rift, the whole of Luo Nyanza, parts of Western and he is a serious contender in North Eastern and Nairobi. It will be interesting to see whether he can reclaim the ant-Establishment sheen he enjoyed in the hey-days of the 2007 campaigns. If he does not rekindle his moxie, Mr Kenyatta may end up keeping him off the grounds of State House for good.

K24's jihad against the MRC

What the hell is happening in Mombasa? Since when have idiots with pangas taken on a Cabinet Minister and his armed bodyguard? In fact, how the hell did the bodyguard end up dead? What the hell is going on in Mombasa? The idiots on K24 would have you believe, without the benefit of an official police statement, that the Mombasa Republican Council is behind the deaths of the the fisheries minister's bodyguard's murder and that the three other men killed in the aftermath of that murder are members of the no-longer-proscribed MRC. What is K24's agenda in all this?

When the High Court reversed the Executive's order that the MRC be listed as a proscribed organisation whose membership would be an offence, it set the stage for continued instability throughout the Coast, but especially in Mombasa. This came in the aftermath of several terrorist outrages in Mombasa in which al Shabaab sympathisers in Mombasa were fingered as aiding that perfidious bunch of alley cats. Try as we might, we are yet to draw any links between the MRC and al Shabaab; until yesterday's incident, the MRC has not been linked to any terrorism-related acts or even to attacks on individual members of the government. Indeed, Mr Kingi, the fisheries minister, is not the only Coast MP who has refused to kow-tow to the demands of the MRC. If this is an MRC escalation, does it mean that it is no longer keeping away from violence in advancing its objectives and will it consider teaming up with the lunatics from across the border in Somalia?

Which brings us once more to what motivates K24 in constantly creating the impression that the MRC is a terrorist outfit or linked to terrorism and terror organisations. Perhaps we should be making enquiries about the ownership of Mediamax, K24 parent company, and whether the owners of or, shareholders in, Mediamax have land interests at the Coast and whether the activities of the MRC threaten these land interests. It s unusual for a media house to launch a jihad against an organisation all on its own, even one as reprehensible as the MRC. The demands of the MRC for secession should be rejected by all Kenyans. Their arguments based on the agreement between Jomo Kenyatta and the Sultan of Zanzibar are so much water under the bridge that it will take a war of secession for them MRC to get their way. But the official neglect of the Coast and the peoples of the Coast should be subjects of public debate with the objective of addressing them once and for all. At the heart of their complaints is the persistent theft of their land. No one should deny that when it comes to land, the peoples of the Coast, especially the ones on the historical ten-mile coastal strip, have received the short end of the stick and that their demands are legitimate and will continue to form the basis for complaints against p-country folk.

So, are the owners or shareholders of Mediamax property owners at the Coast, were these properties obtained using less-than-legitimate means, and are these properties at risk because of the activities of the MRC? Is K24 being used as a tool to foment official trouble against the members of th MRC despite the High Court declaring them a legitimate organisation? Is K24 asking Kenyans to trust that its Jihad against the MRC is not motivated by the selfich reasons of its owners? What are they not telling us?

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

Are we a nation of watchmen now?


Kenya is slowly being turned into a nation of worriers: the presence of armed police and somewhat armed private security reinforces the impression that the next al Shabaab atrocity is only a heartbeat away. The Police are not making things easier by appearing not to be arresting and prosecuting every nefarious terrorist plotter that appears on their radar. Perhaps it is the nature of security operations; one cannot openly disclose how and when an operation was conducted or by whom if one is to mount more successes against their enemy. We may have to trust that when the National Intelligence Service and the National Police claim that more terrorist plots have been foiled is true.

But it is in the way Kenyans have been persuaded to give up whatever shred dignity they had to the wandering hands and eyes of security officers that makes the situation so Kafkaesque. Because of decades of under-investment in the general security and welfare of the people, the Government of Kenya cannot claim to be able to keep its people safe from the likes of al Qaeda or al Shabaab. The main reason why Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Toroitich arap Moi built up the Kenya Police and the Kenya Police Reserves, as well as the General Service Unit and the Special Branch, was to use the state security establishment as a weapon to browbeat the people and to intimidate political opponents. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. Many thought that Mwai Kibaki would not fall into this trap; the build up of the Administration Police, the GSU and the Kenya Police belies this naive wish. But more police and intelligence officers has not translated into a feeling of security for the people, or indeed, actual security for the people. And now we are being stalked at every turn with gargoyles wielding beeping metal-detecting wands.

Everyone in Kenya deserves the feeling of being on top of the world, but that feeling is dashed every time we walk into a public venue or a venue where a large number of members of the public gather. The inevitable happens: you stop, spread your arms, have a beeping wand waved perfunctorily over your body, before you are admitted. Whether you are armed or not, it is the rare occasion when the wand-wielder will demand you empty your pockets. The charade played out in thousands of venues across the country does not inspire confidence. Neither do images of burning police headquarters, even if they are located in towns teeming with al Qaeda or al Shabaab types. Nor too images of little boys and girls nursing shrapnel injuries sustained when their Sunday School class is bombed. Not even the images of triumphal KDF troops on the streets of Kismayu can erase the feeling that we are living a Kafkaesque tragedy.

Don't these people have another way of keeping us safe that is more sophisticated than the security of sledgehammer-versus-mosquito model they have pursued for the past decade? If a person is determined to do us harm, the presence of the KK Guards and their ilk standing oafishly at the entrance to every Uchumi Supermarket in Nairobi will not deter them. This is not Uganda, a police state if there ever was one. This is Kenya, a nation that aspires to civilisation-status. We won't be attaining it if we flood the streets with poorly-paid, over-worked, badly-trained watchmen and police. We need a better way of keeping away the gunmen and bombers out to do us harm. Or killing them without bringing down the wrath of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Killings upon us.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Are we up to the challenge?

Let us not pretend that we are ready for a civilised debate on the issues in Kenya. It is the political equivalent of regional balancing that is all the rage today. If Prime Minister Raila Odinga, Deputy Prime Ministers Uhuru Kenyatta and Musalia Mudavadi, NARC-K's Iron Lady Martha Karua, NARC's Mama Rainbow Charity Ngilu, Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, blowing hot-and-cold Mutava Musyimi, photogenic Peter Kenneth, youthful Eugene Wamalwa, combative Moses Wetangula, former ODM's man in the Rift Valley William Ruto and the dark horses that are Raphael Tuju and James Ole Kiyiapi are honest with themselves too, they are not interested in a debate on the issues. In the transitional elections of 2013, Kenyans will still be held hostage to self-destructive acts, including election violence, ethnic jingoism and political corruption of all shades.

This should not cause the Makau Mutuas of this world to lose faith in the process. When the revolution that ended KANU's hegemony brought Mwai Kibaki to power in 2003 began, our euphoria at ending 24 years of Nyayoism should have been tempered with political honesty from the men and women at the centre of the revolution. They should have reminded us that other than violent revolutions that bring about cataclysmic changes as they unfold, Kenya was not yet ready for the required institutional and political changes that would see Kenyans enjoy freedom and economic progress. It took a hiccup in the revolution to bring home this sad truth, the violence that rocked the country after Mwai Kibaki's re-election in 2007 and the creation of the coalition in 2008. But make no mistake, the revolution is yet to run its course. It has bequeathed upon the nation a new constitution and new institutions to oversee the reform agenda.

Like the much tom-tommed Vision 2030 flagship projects, the revolution has already snagged its first flagship project: a reforming Judiciary under the leadership of the CJ, Dr Willy Mutunga. The reform of the Executive branch is unfolding in unexpected ways. Mwai Kibaki has allowed his Cabinet a relatively free had to experiment with their leadership principles and styles with mixed results. Some members of his Cabinet have been at the heart of some of the most spectacular crimes against the people, while others have been at the forefront of transforming the government. The same is true of the National Assembly. Under the leadership of Francis Ole Kaparo (2003 to 2007) and Kenneth Marende (2008 - ), the National Assembly has grown more assertive and has played a key role in keeping the Executive on its toes. Of course the greed that legislators have demonstrated over the past decade is something Kenyans would wish to reverse; it is unreasonable for the legislators to earn millions annually without much to show for it from a political point of view. This, however, is the price we have paid for the relative stability we have enjoyed in the decade, the violence of 2007 and 2008 being an aberration many hope will not be repeated.

Reform is yet to seriously change the way Kenyans play their role in the political process. It is argued that their political apathy, except in the participation in political campaigns, stems largely from the vicious cycle of poverty and illiteracy. Mwai Kibaki set to break the cycle when his government abolished all fees for primary education and some of them for secondary education while at the same time expanding the opportunities for higher learning for the hundreds of thousands of annual secondary school-leavers. The benefits of a liberal university education will be enjoyed down the road. It was too much to expect that all sectors of the economy would be firing on all cylinders in the midst of a global recession; the foreign direct investment essential to taking advantage of the graduating university masses was simply not there.

Progress so far is a mixed bag. Some institutions are laying the foundation for even more significant change while others still need a kick in the pants to get over their entrenched hurdles. The missing ingredient is an enlightened and engaged public. We will get there, one way or the other, but it will take a mixture of luck, political courage, changing global economic dynamics and the active participation of the people to do so. Are we up to the challenge?

Small enough to drown in the toilet.

In an insightful piece in this week's The wag, Waga Odongo makes the case for a second look at the Communications Commission of Kenya's obsession with switching off counterfeit mobile phones (I don't trust the CCK over this fake-phone switch-off, Daily Nation, Monday, 1, 2012). Mr Odongo is right to ask why counterfeit phones are being switched off by the regulator when their International Mobility Equipment Identity (IMEI) numbers play no role in tracking their use or their ownership; Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) cards serve this purpose. The only credible reason for switching them off is to protect the intellectual property of mobile phone manufacturers and to protect the Kenya revenue Authority's revenue-collection target from the sales of genuine mobile phones after the Big Switch-off.

It is hard not to blame CCK, KRA or the Kenya bureau of Standards for this event. After all, it is principally KRA and KEBS that are supposed to keep counterfeit goods out of the Kenyan market. And CCK has no business pretending that its actions are going to put a dent on the proliferation of counterfeit mobile phones. Who is to say that this programme will be sustained? Once the fanfare of the Big Switch-off is over and done with, isn't it in the realm of possibility that the mobile phone companies whose revenue streams rely on the continued use of handsets will simply refuse to switch off new counterfeit phones that come online on their networks? It is almost guaranteed that continued importation of counterfeit phones into the country will not be stemmed by the Big Switch-off. Since when have smugglers obeyed the law, especially revenue, consumer protection or standards laws?

Because of its pervasive presence, Kenyans have been made to believe that their government and its agencies can solve all their problems. As a result, the size and scope of the government to interfere in our lives has increased tremendously, especially since the promulgation of the Constitution in 2010. It seems that in preparation for a new government after the next general election, each ministry, department or agency is busy setting up new "autonomous" units to regulate or oversee one aspect of our lives or the other. What Kenyans should be asking for instead, to paraphrase Grover Norquist, an American anti-tax fundamentalist, is a government small enough to drown in the toilet.

For a nation that can barely afford to pay its teachers, doctors, nurses or lecturers and has shown to be spectacularly poor at protecting the rights of workers or marginalised, poor communities, it is too much to expect that in the area of the economy, it will be even-handed in its dealings, punishing the smugglers and their distributors while switching off the mobile phones of the poor. There is no reason why we should be expanding the size of the public service if we have so far been unable to use the already massive public service to protect the people of Kenya. It is manifestly unfair for the State to collect revenue and then turn around and demand that they dig deeper into their depleted pockets to purchase new, genuine phones conveniently being rushed to market at the price of the dead, counterfeit ones. The law should not be a weapon to browbeat the poor; it is a tool for levelling the playing field and give everyone an equal shot at the brass ring. It is time the mandarins of agencies such as CCK took this to heart or one day we really will shrink government into an easy-to-drown-in-the-toilet institution.

Battlefield or Strategic Intel?

Battlefield intelligence wins battles, but it is strategic intelligence that wins wars. Battlefield tactics may shift the balance of the war, but when a belligerent is willing to do all that it takes to win, what will the other side do to restore the balance or tilt it in his favour? It is reported in the Daily Nation (How KDF used spy planes to seize Kismayu, Monday 1 October 2012) that the Kenya Defence Forces employed drones and human intelligence to steal a march on al Shabaab in their Kismayu adventure. Soon after, two Administration Police officers were murdered in cold blood on the streets of Garissa Town, a known hotbed of al  Shabaab sympathisers. On Sunday, church-goers in Nairobi's restive Eastlands, a Sunday School class was bombed by suspected al Shabaab sympathisers,although other reports indicate that the land on which the church stands is hotly disputed between the church and a group of "private businessmen".

Since the attack on the US embassy in 1998, Kenya has faced an increasing barrage of attacks by terrorists. Bombings, kidnappings and shootings have become the order of the day. Police officers claim that it could be worse; that they have thwarted more threats against Kenyans than Kenyans will ever know. The view from the cheap seats, though, is not so rosy. The growing death toll from the atrocities inflicted by al Shabaab and other terrorists is slowly sapping our confidence in the Kenya Police, the National Security Intelligence Service, the National Security Council and the army of private security operators. It seems that every month another outrage is perpetrated on the people of Kenya and that no one is brought to book. Our war in Somalia is now a year old and shows no sign of ending. Are we an occupying force now like the Americans and their adventures in the Middle East?

In all this it seems as if Kenya is increasingly relying on battlefield intelligence at the expense of strategic intelligence assets. The KDF claims that it had infiltrated al Shabaab prior to the Kismayu attack, Operation Sledgehammer, but it is not clear whether this is propaganda designed to demoralise al Shabaab and sow dissension in its ranks or it is true. If KDF had infiltrated al Shabaab, then why isn't the intelligence information gleaned from this operation being employed to keep the homeland safe?

It is all well and good to claim "national security" when it comes to intelligence operations, but the intelligence community needs to be reformed to more accountable. Billions are appropriated for the national security sector, but it is never accounted for nor is it clear what the priorities of the intelligence community are. No  one is asking for the NSIS to walk buck-naked in the public arena; all Kenyans want is to be reassured that their taxes are being to the best use. If it is true that NSIS is spending more money spying on village headmen than in keeping track of foreign enemies, we really are fucked.

As by law established

The members of my profession, the ones with a pompous sense of importance, tend to use phrases whose value has diminished greatly since the ...